Yossi Faybish - hobbies - prose
back to Prose...





    “...he scooped her in his strong left arm as thick and as muscular as an oak tree branch in the winter, and his right hand’s fingers, each as big as a man’s arm ripped off her transparent gold threaded negligee from her snow white body falling limp in the ecstasy of his masterly manly touch as she was carried to the heavens of blissful...”

    Yes, true, this is the crap I made a good living off, between failed attempts at a more literary style that, as a rule, ended unaccounted for at the bottom of the slush pile. Well, where there is a market there is a supply and my publisher, Lust Inc, proved to all nice literate souls out there, that one can find more of the green millions by talentedly exploiting the bottom of the human scale of misery. I was his ace in the hole, even though most of the time I felt, phonetically speaking, like the same without the in the at the middle of the expression. The stories were printed on cheap, magazine size paper, three quarters naked heroes slobbering over half naked princesses on the covers (after all, the “stories” were destined for women), stapled thrice in the middle since my publisher was one for quality manufacturing, ha. Occasionally I saw a fish wrapped in one of my stories’ pages carried home from the market, well, great - ecologically speaking.

    I don’t know where from he (my publisher) came out with this bright idea that my “career” (and his piggy bank) needed an additional boost, so he proposed to my considerably sized, registered fans club - a mix of rich, poor, white, black, different nationalities, a few homosexuals and even one outspoken feminist - a puzzle contest. And the first ten sending the correct solution would have the pleasure of flying in my company over the Colombian jungle, all flights to Bogotá paid for, and spend the following weekend at his ranch in Texas (the bastard, his ranch came in from my slush and all I got was a miserable monthly fee linked to an unbreakable ten year contract). All this adventure covered extensively by a number of national newspapers, of course. He really put the packet on, certain to get it twenty fold back.

    Needless to say the contest was rigged, the journalists bribed, and the resulting “winning” mix pre-defined, just the right balance for the right kind of public taste. What he did not tell me, until it was too late for me to back up (another contract I did not bother to read the small script) is that I was supposed to be the... pilot of the old flying jalopy called Cessna, which he rented for the occasion from a used cars dealership who “specialized” also in airplanes. Airplane my foot, this piece of iron was probably stolen from a planes’ graveyard and repaired by the cheap mechanic who was supposed to be also the one acting as co-pilot for the ladies’ eyes. But he was actually to be the real pilot and I was only to go through the motions. There’s no risk, my publisher winked at me and I rushed home to edit a testament leaving everything to my dog.

    I won’t bore you with the details. I got a crash course in piloting for two weeks, two Mexicans smuggled into Colombia gave the plane a fresh new cover of silver paint bought at a local grocery shop (the brushes are for free...), I got dressed into a Robin Hood green thing - tights and feather and all, and my job was to wait in the pilot seat together with my “co-pilot” separated from my itchy admirers (if they tear your clothes I will deduct it from your next pay, the bastard threatened) by a curtain which was supposed to be opened mid air above the jungle, to sounds of oohs and aahs and applause and fainting... The female (of course) journalist was part of the scheme (of course).

    I was frozen sick with fear. I didn’t even hear the giggling and the shifting as the designed ten “winners” plus journalist crammed in the six places plane, and had just a fuzzy notion of taking to air when I saw some flying geese sliding past us in the opposite direction. Little by little I was de-cramping and started even playing with the plane’s steering wheel or stick or whatever it is called, copying my stiff co-pilot’s movements, and waiting for the great moment when the stool pigeon lady planted amid the admirers would pull the curtain aside. The voices were getting louder, I even heard some screams and I started screaming myself as I saw the plane’s nose pointing down and my co-pilot’s nose leaning on the stick, his eyes closed, his hands dangling, the sour smell in the air coming from the puke at his feet now sliding forward on the floor... the bastard was really stiff and really drunk and passed away...

    I tried pulling the plane’s nose up, trying to control my panic as the feather in my hat caught into some piece of overhead display and pulled at my head, I overcompensated, then tried the other way around tearing wildly at the feather and overcompensating again downwards, the tops of the trees approaching rapidly, the screams behind me quiet as by now everybody had probably fainted... all I got was crash training, now it was time to prove that I learned something. So I crashed.


    I woke up soon after as all kinds of hands pulled all kinds of parts belonging to or attached to my body. I felt my feet dangling independently from the rest of my body, and I was looking up at a dirty faced, red haired, strong armed female figure carrying me by the shoulders while my head kept bumping into her belly and a bit lower. I felt like blushing. Two other grim faces carried each a thigh with the fourth one kind of in between supporting my butt and actively fondling it. I hated the grin on that face, I wasn’t a piece of meat... hey, what happened?...

    “Hey, what happened?...” I tried to ask but no sound came out because my lips were swollen and stuck together with blood. The figures carrying me seemed in some kind of hurry except for the one in the middle who kept testing the quality of the green material of my tights by trying to tear it off. “Hey, stop it...” I finally managed to croak, and a second later I felt the invasive pair of hands losing its hold as one of the other two stuck her foot out and this lady tripped into the mud. I guessed it was mud from the sound of splashing.

    “Bitch...” the red head muttered, winked at me and kept walking backwards. Other figures around us seemed to be moving the same way. The justification to their hurry arrived one minute later as we were all blown down by a sudden thundering noise and flames and dark smoke shot up. I guess it is the plane that exploded, I told myself, and started screaming not in pain but in aguish as I saw my lower limbs at an awkward angle to my body. “Yeap, both broken. I will have to sue your ass but first I have to patch it together to have what to sue.” I tried to sneak a look at my ass hoping she did not mean it literally. She grinned mischievously. “Don’t worry, it is still in place. Along with other pertaining parts. I checked it personally. Now, just a foretaste of the pain...” and she called two other ladies, a heavy black woman around forty and a heavier blonde around twenty five. They approached giggling sheepishly, sat down half butt each on half my chest and I didn’t know if in the next minutes I was going to die squashed to thin ribbon or explode in pain at whatever was done to my legs. Because something was done there which I did not like at all and I kept screaming and cursing and calling the female nation various names, until thankfully, I slid again into the bliss of faint.

    The second time I came around I decided not to be a third time sissy. Writer or not writer - a man has some pride even in a den full of lionesses, I argued with myself, hearing my stomach churn. I counted them, fearful of the result, and finally uttering a sigh of relief when I counted eleven women and one male, all of whom seemed to be in reasonable shape. I was the only one with branches attached to his feet tied tightly together with panty hoses... thank god for female vanity. The other guy, the pilot, now partly awake, saw my eyes opening and started cursing, got up and waggled towards me screaming that I crashed his plane and telling disrespectful things about my mom and promising some inspiring gay one on one adventures. He didn’t even see it coming and neither did I as a thick branch smacked him in the face and he fell down heavily bleeding from the nose.

    “You broke my nose, bitch...” he screamed looking straight up at the redhead glowering above him and afraid to get up, “... now I will bleed to death...” he finished in a wail.

    She fished in her pockets and took out two thin, blue sticks, clearly marked Tampax.

    “Stick one in each side of your nose, moron, say thanks that you don’t have to fit one up your ass...” Then she turned my way and approached with an opened can and a fork in her hand. She was medium built, solid yet not fat, a bit of a mocking smile on her sweating face, and something bulky bulging in front of her trousers... I thought I was going to get sick again even though I promised the contrary, and tried a witty...

    “...are you carrying a gun in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?...” to which she answered with a surprising laughter and pushed her hand inside her trousers belt pulling out a... gun. A flares gun.

    “Disappointed?” she asked, grinning further, “Well, I am also happy to see you.”

    She clearly assumed the role of leader. The other women seeing her close to me started gathering around as well. I felt uneasy, in my ridiculous Robin Hood outfit now bereft of the hat and feather, but hunger played the upper hand and I took the offered open can and started wolfing down its contents.

    “For a guy who almost got killed, went twice into coma, got both his legs broken, and is now stranded with eleven sex starved women mid of a snakes infested jungle - you look quite composed,” the redhead commented loudly.

    “For some women who almost got killed, almost got blown to pieces, and are now stuck with a broken legs male mid of a snakes infested jungle with no rescue in sight - you look quite composed,” I responded with a munching mouth, facing them all and wondering why do I actually feel the way she said. Because I did. I eyed the pilot who burped loud, the tampons stuck in his nose swollen and the two strings dangling down his chin making the most hilarious scene I ever saw. I exploded in an uncontrollable laughter, partly hysterical partly real, and if it wasn’t for the sticks tied to my legs I guess I would have rolled on the ground. ”Sorry...” I apologized, “I wasn’t making fun of anyone, I guess I am just desperate.”

    “Well, so let me tell you the other piece of good news, in addition to the fact that we are all alive. We, journalists, show sometimes surprisingly good survival sense. So I happen to have brought with me a satellite phone.” Her grin turned into a smile as she saw the look of surprise on my face. “So tomorrow morning we will be picked up by a helicopter. All we have to do is survive this night. And the adventure is not yet over, we still have one Texan ranch to empty of its booze, don’t we ladies?...” she concluded to screams and yells and some bare breast dancing. “And now these ladies would each like to get this scare’s worth...” ...and I did not like the spark in that eye. Especially when she added “...be ready for some nasty surprises...” and winked again. And even more especially so when she touched me in a not unpleasant way and whispered, for my ears only... “...and careful with that little tent, down there...”

    Seemed they had already discussed between them a process of signing’n’ kissing with star me... ahmmm... starring, since they formed immediately some kind of line in front of me. I was ready for hell.

    Males and their over-reaching imagination... I thought to myself embarrassedly, once the first scare passed. All that those ladies wanted was a kiss and an autograph. A dated one, of course, so it would be worth a fortune on Oprah’s or Good Morning America or some other significant show off place. After all, now they got more than they ever bargained for in fame, and maybe they could get even enough out of it, to buy my books for a lifetime. Of course, having been through the scare of their lives they took liberties they would have never thought of, under other circumstances. Strange creatures, women, not once I wondered if we were of the same species. I feel embarrassed to even mention what happened, but... hey... it might raise the bid for their mementos.

    The first trio stepped forwards and simply took off their panties to further sounds of youpeeee and asked me to sign them on the inside, just where... well... you know... Luckily miss redhead was there to keep my hand from shaking and the rapidly falling dusk masked the deep beet-red infesting my face. My goodness, if this was the beginning, what next? The next was the moon, a human moon which I was invited to sign the right cheek of, and the lady kissed my forehead swearing to get it tattooed over, once out of there. Then it got more sedated, as the first ones seemed to have been the more daring of the bunch. A mom and her shy teenage daughter, the first with a coffee stained book, the other with a dog chewed book (a Doberman puppy... she apologized, embarrassed), a fiftyish old lady presenting me with her husband’s singlet for signature (he admires you more than I, we read your book and act the characters, you saved our marriage...), an overdressed over jeweled over heeled red cheeked young woman who smelled heavily of whisky and insisted that I sign a one thousand dollars bill (never saw one before, who the hell was Grover Cleveland?), the lady who mauled my pants earlier on and apologizing she was under shock and trying to stick her tongue in my mouth, and bringing up the rear was the black woman who earlier on sat on my chest.

    “Don’t leave us alone...” she whispered in my ear, then kissed me on the mouth. I did not immediately get what she was saying there, until now I was partly amused, partly uneasy, even scared. But she parted her mouth from mine, staring me in the eyes from close range for a long time, and suddenly I got it. And it hit me with such force that I felt like breaking my arms too and then burying myself under some stone in terrible shame.

    And I called it crap. For these women I was painting a dream they would never have and they would always wish dreaming, it was their escape from reality, from dreary routines and violent husbands and dry lives and meaningless hours behind some counter or walking some red lighted streets or even the luxury between the walls and the terrible desert in their hearts. How could I have been so insensitive, I thought, and I called “my” redhead to help me get to where they were huddling together from the night’s cold and invisible dangers.

    All of a sudden nothing bothered me, my broken legs, my insignificant contract, my dreams of high class literature, not even the albatross size mosquitoes. Why should one come on account of another? Pulp, classical, dreams... They needed the dreams, I was going to write them. I told her. The redhead. There was a strange look in her eyes when I told her. Then she kissed me on the mouth as well, a far from friendly kiss. I doubt I ever felt such passion coming my way from a complete stranger. Suddenly we were not strangers anymore. Not she, not any of the others.

    “What about an autograph for you?” I asked her timidly.

    “I will have it too. Later.”

    We did not sleep much that night. Each told me her life’s story. Each and her little hell. There was no need to take notes, I knew what my next ten stories were going to be about and the heroine’s name. I was going to give each one of them her little heaven.

    “Eleven...” whispered the redheaded journalist, as she huddled into me and started telling me the story of her life.

    Everybody fell into an exhausted sleep. She got up and dragged me silently aside. There she undressed me as much as she could, undressed herself, and made love to me. I felt like crying. Heroes don’t cry. I wasn’t a hero.

    We woke up at sounds of approaching motors. Puffed faces bitten by sleep and by mosquitoes, getting up on bodies refusing to straighten up. The sound became insupportable as a huge military chopper started getting down in the nearby clearing.

    She made me face her and moved her lips since no sound could be heard above the din.

    “No regrets... thank you for saving my marriage too...” ...and a hole the size of the Grand Canyon opened at the bottom of my stomach.

    “Will you cover the ranch event as well?”

    “I think it will be unwise. I will find someone to replace me.”

    A civilian figure descended from the chopper and started running towards us. She stood up and ran towards him jumping into his arms. A second civilian figure jumped down, later we found this was an official representative of the US embassy in Colombia. A few heavily armed, fierce looking paratroopers took positions around as we were being brought inside. It seemed we were being lucky with this fast rescue, since they saw from the air movements coming our way.


    “Yes, wielding long machetes...”

    I did not look her way, where did this pain come from, the hell? Certainly not from the broken legs, never heard of a link between the tibia and the heart muscle. The black lady kept caressing my head and I was thankful. It allowed me time to think. Well, I thought, who needs fame? All we all need (sorry for the messy expression) is just a little bit of warmth. Thank you, God, for planting this small, yet full, matchbox in my brains. I only hope to be able to make good use of it.




    I was waiting for the 3:10 to Yuma, or at least this was the way I called this train. Funny how my life seemed to roll around songs. First there was Joe’s “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window”... I found myself smiling at the memory... Now I knew it was going to be Frankie’s “3:10 to Yuma” as I waited for my train and spotted her sitting upright to the right of a wooden bench, alone. Not that her, but another her. The train station was loaded with running, shouting people, all benches crammed with passengers, yet there was some kind of vacuum around her, some locked-in quiet and... mystery? Maybe this was why nobody dared sit next to her?

    Her eyes seemed to be opened in wonder, her hands in her lap, a scarf around her hair. At her feet, jumping and yapping mindlessly an undefined pooch of an undefined race with an undefined load of energy. On her left shoulder a small yellow bird... a bird?... chirruping and skipping from one leg to the other. I knew it was some kind of an extraterrestrial induced dream, closed my eyes, my train started moving, and when I opened them again she was not there anymore. Well... we were in another station by then.

    I forgot about her completely. My night train arrived back around midnight, I scrambled tired to my feet and glanced unintentionally towards where she was sitting earlier on. I gasped. She was still there, eyelids closed, hands in lap, scarf in place. The doggie was sleeping at her feet. The bird perched on one leg, eyes closed, sleeping too. Did anybody shut off time for a moment?

    Next day I could hardly wait to get there. I arrived, rushed through the throngs... if it was not for the jumping dog and the singing bird I could have sworn this was a tri-dimensional still picture. No... something changed, the dog seemed to be puffing a bit, the bird was perched on both legs, the woman’s scarf was around her neck. Her eyes again open on the world with the same wondering regard. I observed a small, shabby suitcase next to her feet, I did not see it before. My train started moving. This time I kept my eyes glued to her until the station’s wall cut my line of sight. Waiting for something unknown, unclear. Nothing happened except I got a pain in my neck and a speck of dust in my eye.

    Midnight, station, woman. I approached. The doggie at her feet, lying on its side, panting swiftly. The bird in her cupped palms on her lap, eyes half closed, beak open. The woman’s eyes downcast, tearing. The suitcase inert at her feet. I sat at the other end of the bench. The station was empty, deserted.

    “She is dying...” she whispered. I moved over next to her, scared, curious.

    “Who?” I asked.

    “She...” she repeated.

    “The bird?”


    “The dog?”




    The dog’s eyes were closed. The bird’s eyes were closed. The woman’s eyes were open. Tears. I waited.

    “Are you not scared of muggers?” I asked.

    “Muggers? What is muggers? Mug... coffee?...”

    “No, mug... robbery...”

    “I remember strawberry. I liked strawberry.” Quiet. “She is dying.”

    I stood up and went over to the fire extinguishing station. I smashed the glass with my fist, took off my shoe and opened the water crane. The stream almost tore the shoe away from my hand as I filled it with water. Then I closed the crane leaving the thick tube hanging loose and returned to the bench. I picked the bird from her hand an let a few drops of water into its beak. The beak started moving. Then the bird stood up on my left fist and started drinking from the shoe held in my right palm. Then it flew to her left shoulder and started singing.

    I kneeled close to the dog, lifted its limp head and touched its muzzle to the water. It started gulping thirstily the stinking fluid, then got up on its legs and started jumping and barking happily around. “You are bleeding,” she said. I didn’t pay attention until she mentioned it to the thick trickle of red oozing from my palm. She unknotted the scarf from around her neck and tied it around my wound.

    “Why did nobody help?” I asked. “All that was needed was water. Nobody saw?” I was really pissed off, forgetting for a moment the surrealism of the situation.

    “All that was needed was love. Nobody wanted to see.”

    I kept mumbling and rambling as she patiently watched me with shining, clear eyes. I stopped.

    “Oh, sorry... what about you?...” I looked at her, frightened again, curious again, my heart thumping wildly.

    “You are not going to give me to drink from your shoe, are you?...” She laughed, oh, she laughed almost like a human... I caught myself in mid thought, why did I think this way?

    “Can I buy you a cup of coffee? And a sandwich? And a sandwich for the doggie too.”

    “And the bird?”

    “Does the bird want a sandwich?” I was damn serious. She laughed again.

    “No, the bird will share crumbs from mine. And you will share too.”

    “What do you mean?” I asked puzzled.

    She did not answer, got up and picked the small suitcase, the dog jumped in her coat’s pocket, the bird nestled in her breast pocket, I slid my foot in the damp shoe and started squishing at her side on the way out.

    “What do you have in this suitcase?” I asked.

    “My life,” she said without halting her stride.


    I found nearby a small coffee shop, proudly displaying Pet’s Owners Allowed. I bought her a cup of coffee, hot chocolate for me, a tray full of sandwiches and we started munching and drinking.

    “Who are you?” I asked.

    “You will know,” she said, munching on. After my third cup I felt a terrible urge to visit the men’s room, I excused myself and disappeared for a few minutes. When I returned she was not there anymore. The suitcase was on my chair, the dog asleep on the suitcase, the bird asleep on the dog. I went to the sleepy joint’s owner asking him if the lady who was with me went to the ladies room. He mumbled something in Indian and started laughing, put an index finger against his temple with a rotating sign, in the internationally accepted symbol of nutcase, and returned to his sports paper. I entered the ladies’ room and looked behind every door, got out to more Indian ovations or so I assumed, paid with no tip, put the bird in my breast pocket, the dog in my coat’s pocket and took a cab home. The cabbie got the barman’s tip as well and left with screeching tires before I could change my mind.

    I mounted the stairs, hung my coat on a hook with the two sleeping creatures still inside it, took the suitcase to the bed (my god, was it heavy, what was in there? gold?) and opened it. Papers. Hundreds and thousands of paper sheets covered with rows and rows of punctuation marks, and ink smudges, and fingerprints. It did not make any sense, it simply did not make any sense.

    I turned on my computer, checked the few messages waiting for me, opened an empty new sheet on the screen and looked at it intently. I didn’t know why, I suddenly felt like writing, words and sentences and punctuation marks crowding my mind in disorderly manner, little by little starting getting shape, sense, meaning. Goodness, I never felt that inspired ever before. I did not want to lose momentum.

    I put on my slippers, loosened my tie and started typing as if it was there, in me, all the time.

    Title: The Life of Poetess...



Hay Fever

    I sneezed violently. Then I sneezed a second time, almost falling off the roof. For the third time and onwards I made sure I was sitting, my ass firmly planted down on the tiles and my feet supporting themselves in the shallow gutter. I survived, thank God, and so did the swarms of pigeons rushing away like storks set on an urgent delivery. I chuckled at my own wit, making a mental note to write a story about it.

    The air around me was thick with the essence of germinating life – pollen, seeds, spores, billions of them, almost as thick as veggies soup minus the water, undulating in a variety of random directions, like as many paper-thin flat snakes. My mind was mute in admiration of that atmosphere of birth and creation, cannot say that my body shared in it, sneezing once more.

    It was when I stopped counting that I stopped sneezing, around twenty three, maybe twenty four. I hurried down the ladder to the attic, then down to the house taking one of those antihistamines guaranteed not only to knock out your allergies but also your existence for a few hours of dreamless sleep. I hated the tiny, round, white predators... gulp, down it went. The next sneeze didn’t take long to follow but then the medicinal miracle took over and finally I could relax a little.

    I did not feel like getting back to the roof. I looked up at its ominous black pomposity, then down to my scratched legs and thighs and decided to call it a day then and there. What I needed was a glass of cold beer, the following popping sound of the opening bottle as musical to me as the best of my Elvis collection. My God, there is nothing like a cold glass of beer on a hot day down a hot and dusty throat, thank You I thanked the one I never took the pain to believe in and gulped down half of the glass. The dog at my feet, a newspaper over my eyes...

    “Excuse me...” I knew I must have dozed off snoring lightly, I always knew when I was dozing off and snoring and it always upset me... “Excuse me...”

    I pulled the newspaper off my face, not upset or anything, just thirsty for the second half of the glass, looked around seeing nobody, and after trying to get an answer from the dog who that might have been, I moved back into house for a generous shower. I let the dog join me, if there was a funny award-winning video movie – this was the one, I laughed loudly, brushing my teeth and sharing my tooth brush with him, and after a serious rub with a big towel I put on a pair of white briefs and went out again to sit in the garden. The air was still hot but the long evening shadows allowed a beginning of some refreshing air displacement to take place. My God (I kept calling on him these days, no special reason) this is probably what heaven must be about – a colorful garden, a cold glass of beer, a crazy dog... yeap, there was one element missing, I knew, yet refused to think about it.

    “Excuse me...”

    It sounded like it was the element I was referring to which was calling me, and this time pulling the newspaper away did not pull the vision away with it. Vision? I guess between element and vision I preferred the vision version. I looked her up. I was a bit frightened but after doggie waved an okay with the other side of his sniffing end, any fright evaporated almost completely. Only almost, after all it is not everyday that a naked woman smiles at your brief’d and otherwise naked self and offers you a bouquet of out of season flowers. It was either candid camera or a miracle and since I did not believe in miracles... yet somehow the other option did not seem applicable either. I shivered. But I trusted doggie’s judgment.

    “Yes?” I answered matter of factly, accepting the flowers and almost instinctively smelling them... they were the real stuff, no tricks there. Luckily I had the medication in, so I did not sneeze and the vision could go on obstructing my view, unperturbed for the time being. If there were some drops of hallucinogenic stuff in what I absorbed earlier on, I didn’t think I was going to complain next morning when I finally wake up with a headache. Not with such a beauty smiling down at me, still uncertain herself as to what to do, and deciding after a short hesitation to curl next to my dog and lean her head on my foot. This was definitely heaven, certainly now with the last element in place, and little did it matter that in a few hours doggie would lick my face back into reality. “Where did you come from?” I concurred further, sliding next to her and hoping to find her eyes open. They were. Blue.

    “From there,” she pointed to my head, and it did fit my previous theory perfectly.

    “Are you hungry?”

    “Hm...hmm...” she nodded, taking my hand and kissing my thumb. Hey, this heaven is something I do like, I thought, suddenly embarrassed with my nakedness and more so with hers and promising myself that the first thing once in house was to get us some clothes. The second thing - was finding a few more of those pills and ensuring that I kept dreaming for some longer time.

    “Okay, let’s go in,” I pulled us both up, looking fixedly ahead of me. She stumbled slightly then caught up with my step and we both followed the happily yapping doggie running ahead of us into the house.


    “It was delicious.” She licked her fingers, mimicking exaggeratedly my moves, then licked mine as well. I had to stop her from licking doggie’s paws, pulling her up gently and making sure she was seated upright on her chair. She was radiant.

    “It was just fried eggs and some vegetables. I hardly know to do anything else,” I apologized, then got up and started cleaning the table.

    “I love fried eggs and some vegetables,” she smiled at me and started following me around, first behind me and then moving in front of me and working as systematically as a highly efficient cleaning machine. I exploded in laughter, imagining wheels and cogs and belts smoothly running underneath that white skin, now modestly hidden underneath one of my pajamas’ tops. She was delighted at my laughter and joined in, asking once both of us calmed down. “What were we laughing at?”

    I didn’t jump. I didn’t scream. I didn’t even shudder beyond a natural short shiver which ran inside less than a second the full distance from the top of my spine to the bottom of it, covering my skin with a sea of tiny, hard, flesh bubbles. I closed the window, blaming the chilly air entering the room for my skin’s reaction.

    “Why did you shudder?” she asked, eyeing me closely while depositing the dishes and forks and the other table stuff into the kitchen sink. I found it disturbing that she used the word shudder rather than shiver, and waited until she straightened up before forcing her to face me, holding her powerfully by the shoulders. She didn’t wince in pain, or fright, just waited for me to answer her question. Or rather questions. The smile never left her eyes even for a moment.

    “Who, what are you?” I asked, and that long oppressed shiver or shudder or trembling or whatever suddenly got full control over my body and I sat down on the floor in foetal position, hearing my teeth chattering like sparrows on a sunny morning. “This is not a dream, or a vision, is it? And you are some kind of alien or machine, aren’t you?” I knew I didn’t know, and this was as coherent as I felt at the moment.

    “I don’t know. Is it? Am I not?” As accurate answering questions as any Oxford graduate would appreciate, leaving me there were I was before. “Do you wish it to be? Do you wish me to be?”

    I was lucid enough to know I wanted to answer negatively to her last set of questions, yet lucid enough to know that lucidity wasn’t the most necessary attribute I lacked at that very moment, and a silver hammer hitting my head would have been probably much more appropriate a tool to deal with the situation.

    She pulled me up... so much strength inside such a frail frame... and kissed me on the temple.

    “Think, this is all you have to do. Think...”

    I followed her to the bedroom, thinking emptiness, thinking pain and sorrow, thinking waste and resignation, thinking... hey, what had poetry to do with anything?

    “Poetry has to do with everything,” she seemed to be saying, though in my inebriated state it could have been even doggie who said the words. I sensed the rustle of clothes leaving my body, leaving her body, I felt myself engulfed in a sea of sensations whose existence I forgot for uncounted years, and only when I became aware of a certain anatomical reality invading our private universe I dared finally smile and raise my fingers to the touch of her breasts...


    Oh, no... merde... I knew it... I cursed, using the essentials of my limited French vocabulary, waking up under the attack of a long, wet, stinking tongue washing my face with the enthusiasm of a puppy. Well, after all doggie was a puppy and I never went to the trouble of even giving him a name for a year now. I pushed the ebullient piece of flesh off my pillow and dragged my bones to the kitchen dropping in his bowl a double portion of “growing food” then went about the rest of the rooms looking for some symbolic recognition of my sanity or senility. The match stayed unconcluded, the antihistamines box half emptied, the bed a mess, I cursed again – in German this time, and after going through the habitual waking up ceremony I dragged my bones including my ass this time all the way to the roof. Another day of scrubbing and painting and gluing...

    My heart wasn’t in it anymore. That strange dream... I shook my head wondering at the miracles of human imagination and went on with my travails trying to put my mind in neutral. Tough luck, no way, hallucination made way for haunting and the fact that both started with ‘h’ just made my moodiness even more hexasperating... ha ha... I laughed loudly, chasing a pigeon out of the way by threatening it with my hammer.

    I guess I knew already for sure, yet that stubborn child in me refused to give in to evidence. I dropped the medication in the garbage bag and made a triple knot on it. What I needed was a calm, quiet, full night’s sleep, next day it was Monday and I had one of those meetings where you know you are going to strangle someone. That’s why they invented telephone conference calls, after all.

    Finally I didn’t strangle anybody, drove back home in silence, and let doggie cheer me up by dropping one of my fake Armani shoes into the toilet bowl. Life has its ups and downs, I told him, and fell asleep with his long ear covering one of my eyes, middle of my telling him the story of Little Red Hood and the Big Bad Puppy. Somehow Little Red Hood was naked and offered me out of season wild flowers.

    It wasn’t human that sound. Neither animal. I woke up as fresh as if I had just gotten out of the shower, with doggie alongside me trying in vain to lift his long hairy ears to a threatening position, and succeeding much better with showing off a pair of canines I never knew he possessed. I turned my head carefully towards the far end of the room, seeing nothing in particular at first, then finally discerning a certain movement against the greyness of the wall. I waited a few moments and as it seemed that whatever it was did not move any further than its original position, I jumped off the bed switching on the light in the same one fluid movement with picking up my frayed slipper off the floor, ready for a battle to death with whatever intruder there was. Well, it wasn’t really a horse.

    Nor a snake, cow, ostrich or anything in the normal farming department. Neither anything in the customary fantasy department except for a pair of large dark eyes, a pair of sharp, vibrating, hairy – more so than doggie’s even – ears, and a pair of canines belonging to the sabers family hanging from what I assumed was the mouth or snout or whatever, all the way down to wherever knees were supposed to be. Only there were no knees there, just a blur of motion composed of similar creatures, seeming to decrease ever more in size till the resolution of my eyes could not follow anymore. And same for what I supposed to be the beast’s (beast?) body all the way to its tail. Oh, the tail seemed normal as well, thank goodness for providing me small anchoring points to an ever dwindling reason... What the hell, didn’t you ever see a fractals’ creature?

    Dream or no dream, I was ready, dragging myself cautiously behind doggie – after all between us two he was the one with bigger teeth.

    “Of all the creatures and universes you ever created, Fractalus...” ha... “is the most complex, fierce, and cuddly one.” She, you know who, materialized just like that on the back of... ahmmm... Fractalus, floated down to the floor on a cloud of ever more miniature Fractaluses or Fractali – call it any way you want, and kissed the hairy ear into disappearance. Everything attached to that ear disappeared as well as if this was some kind of fantasy story and I was still on those hallucinogenic histamines. But doggie didn’t take any of the white dope, I thought in a flash, and unless he was part of my own fantasy again, then maybe this was not a fantasy after all.

    I kept the slipper clutched in my right hand for any eventual emergency, relaxing though a bit as I saw doggie re-cover his hidden caninity and un-cover his habitual wagginibility. She was still wearing my pajama’s top, though the last I remembered it, it was lying limply on the floor, having been discarded in that previous dream of...

    “Dreaming again, ain’t I?” I resigned to the obvious, dropping the slipper with the same carefully chosen French objecting word leaving my mouth. “Woman in the Window, ha? Edward G Robinson. Yeah, too much imagination and not enough sex...” I muttered, ready to throw off the light switch.

    “Wait...” she sounded almost pleading, as she crossed the distance to me, kissed me again on the temple – what the blazes have visions to do with temples, does my breath smell so bad during the night? – and placed an efflorescing lilac bunch on the pillow next to mine. Then... puff... she disintegrated into nothingness.

    So lilac was out of season, so what? It could have been imported from Alaska, or Dubai, or wherever. And anyway by tomorrow morning it would not be there anymore. Okay, I knew the drill by now. Just turned off the light, kissed doggie good night and fell asleep as if I had never woken up.

    I woke up, doggie’s hairy tail tickling my face like an airplane’s propeller out of control. It was so late that I decided to call in sick and laze the rest of the day at home. Not my style but I simply felt like I needed it. And tonight I would go and get myself as drunk as the mythical sailor, then find myself a cheap lay... I cringed at the idea to the level of almost vomiting and spit three times to keep evil away (I read about it once in a Voodoo for Dummies book I peeked into) and finally, after finding no more excuses to procrastinate around the subject, turned to look at the pillow next to me. Of course, what could one expect from a vision?... empty. I felt an oppressing feeling in my stomach, the kind which goes only with realizing the reality of a great loss, and decided that before any sighing or crying or pouting I would exercise my languages proficiency, German first, and then continued with all the others I possessed complete or partial knowledge of, then going German again and so on, several times. Finally giving in to my bowels’ demands and doggie’s insistence I visited the kitchen, then the toilet, in this order of priority and returned to the bedroom ready for a great poem blasting all visions out of existence. I sneezed. There was a lilac bunch on the floor, the other side of the bed.

    I left the bedroom, put on a pair of Bermudas and went out to the garden, carefully inspecting my lilac bushes several times around. The blossoming time was long over, dry seeds popping out of the bunches at my touch and spreading on the ground. I waited until doggie finished his business as well before taking that fatal decision to go and visit my house again, and most specifically the bedroom. The blue blossom of lilac was still there, not paper, not plastic, real flower, real fragrance. So what... I thought, still trying to find some flaw in the set-up, if not Alaska or Dubai then maybe Guatemala? Then I watched it carefully, incredulously checking each one of the small flowers, patience turning rush, rush turning anger, anger turning sudden pain... It does not exist, it is impossible, not in this world, all of them pridefully showing the three little petal’d flowers I rarely ever found as singles on any lilac bush... three – childhood memories, wishes of luck, my perfect world, my fantasy...

    I fell to my knees, then curled once more in that foetal position so expressive of love, life, desire, pain, death... and started sobbing like never before in my life. The dream was in my hand... I let it slip away with my foolish human logic and pride and stupidity... I howled myself to sleep, my last memory that of doggie whimpering next to me trying to lick my face, and finally squeezing into me all the love he could cup in the workings of his hairy tail.

    It was already dark when I woke up again, doggie mysteriously not licking my face and not there at all, the smell of fried eggs sending long tendrils to my nose, and failing in its desperate battle for supremacy over senses with the terrible din of breaking glass and rolling pans in the kitchen. I got up, picking yet again the frayed slipper in my fist, and rushed to the kitchen. I think I redefined at this one specific moment in time and life the classical definition of surrealism.

    She was there, smiling over a frying pan overflowing with burning oil and frying eggs, another one of my pajama tops thrown this time over her shoulders. Around her and between her legs and now that I appeared there – also between mine, a nightmare called Fractalus was galloping with a happily wagging doggie hanging on to its tail.

    “And what is he doing here?” I asked, dropping fright and logic somewhere in another dimension.

    “He is she, and I thought that since you have your pet I could have mine as well.” She turned cautiously the gas off, pouring the eggs into four dishes... “And what I am doing here...” she answered my unasked question, “is visiting to tell you that it is up to you.” She put two dishes on the floor for the slobbering beasts and two on the kitchen table, drawing out a chair for me and easing me softly into it. Then she sat across from me, watching me as intently as a panther about to strike. Though, the need in her eyes was completely different.

    “This is real, right?” I asked, knowing the answer. She did not answer, watching me further, the only noise in the room the slurping sounds coming from underneath the table. “This is complicated, you know?” I asked further, not expecting and not receiving any answer. “And a Fractalus does not exist on Earth, this will take some explaining.” I stuck my fork into the steaming fried eggs, daring to taste, daring to smile, watching a smile spread over her face as she followed suit and started munching hungrily. “Why?” I finally asked, deciding I preferred it to How? and knowing that I did not really care for the answer. But my humanity pushed forward this one question, trying to put back in place a certain order which had always been there and will never be the same again.

    “Because you decided to believe your fantasy, “ she answered simply, the tears in her eyes as human as those in mine.

    I watched doggie curled against the sleeping Fractalus, all the mini Fractali (that’s how I decided they would be called plural-wise) seeming to have gone to sleep at the same time as the main one, then watched her again not daring to ask the one question which was cutting through my mind and trying to find its way into my mouth.

    “Will you stay... now?” my mind finally found a way to handle my mouth’s muscles.

    “I love fried eggs and some vegetables,” she answered right away, her mouth full, not having to think even a moment for an answer.

    “I guess I just got myself a new pet,” I murmured, finally letting go of a smile imprisoned for years in the undisclosed dungeons of my mind. “And I believe I am falling in love with the pet’s mistress.”

    This time she finished munching and swallowing before inviting me to visit her mouth.

    “Mistake. You did already. Many years ago.”



Kindergarten... Kind Of

    The classroom is packed with age five’s. A typical neighborhood classroom – boys, girls, mostly white kids, one black yet green eyed girl who won three years in a row Miss Little America, two immigrant boys from developing countries – France, Belgium, a few pierced brows, one boy with a tattoo of Mick Jagger (Mick Jagger?) on his forearm... a typical American classroom.

    “Good morning children, my name is Mrs Jones and I will be the replacing teacher until Mrs Smith returns from her pregnancy leave. Our today’s subject of discussion is the five senses. Who will be the first to tell me the name of one of our five senses?”

    Mickey gets out of his nose picking reverie and jumps up raising his finger and stomping.

    “Mrs Stones, Mrs Stones...”

    “Mrs Jones...” she corrects him, smiling, studying the class map in front of her, “...ahem... Mike.”

    “Mickey!” he corrects her and is about to cry. Mrs Jones is about to puke watching the thing dangling from Mickey’s finger. She throws him a lollipop (no way she would get near that... thing) which he stuffs in his mouth and starts crying.

    “Yes, Char... ley?” she looks at another kid and Charles/Charley smiles happily.

    “The sense of seeing.”

    “Yes, very good Charley, sight is one of the five senses.”

    “No, Mrs Joes, the sense of seeing.”

    “Yes Charley, the sense of seeing is sight which is the noun form of the verb to see, see?” Charley sits down mumbling something about raptors. “What kind of information...” a sea of dumb looks... “what do our eyes tell us, what is the sense of seeing...” Charley claps his hands happily...” telling us about the world around us?”

    Miss Little America halts for a moment the maintenance work on her acrylic fingernail extensions, and pips...


    “Yes, correct, Daisy.”

    “Daisy Margarita Liberty.”

    “Yes, correct, Daisy Margarita Liberty,” Mrs Jones wonders if these are contact lenses that Daisy is wearing. Mrs Jones is not really a racist but she feels uneasy around blacks, jews, hispanics, poles, black cats, tattoos... “What else do our eyes tell us, children?”

    After fifteen additional minutes she gets out of them “shapes”, and decides it is time to move to the next sense or she’ll not get them all covered in time.

    “You can call me Gina,” she smiles at the slender handsome blond youth, George (not Georgey, he snapped at her, making her blush), who raised his hand to name the next sense.

    “Gina, like Lo-llo-bri-gida, the actress?”

    “I guess so,” her blush deepens, “how did you learn about her?”

    “My father has all her movies and forces me to see one with him every evening, the moron, ignorant, i-lli-te-rate bum.”

    “Oh...” she gets a bit flustered, “your father is a movies fan?”

    “No, he likes her boobs, the ignoble, despicable, nin-com-poop. And then he contaminates the room with lilac scented di-chlo-ro-di-flu-o-ro-me-thane to hide the fact that he f...”

    “George,” she interrupts him in panic, “may I ask you why you spell out all your long words?

    “Just want to make sure you understand them correctly. Smell,” he concludes and sits down. For a moment she is lost, then remembers that she had asked for another sense and he answered her question. She looks at him weirdly and airs the question to the rest of the class.

    “Can anyone tell me what the sense of smell means?”

    “Dead Belgians,” volunteers the French immigrant and the Belgian immigrant squeezes a full tube of mayonnaise on his shirt. “Live French” he retorts. “Chanel 5,” contributes Miss Little America, disregarding the boys’ fighting behind her. Mickey is still crying. George is sunk in his Calculus book around the middle of it, when Freddy lets out some personal air in the class and everybody inclusive Mrs Jones and Freddy but except for George (which spheres is he planing on?) rushes out to the windows, and start spitting on those passing underneath.

    The last five minutes don’t end and Mrs Jones’ nerves are about to reach an end earlier than expected, given her young age. The debate rages around the sense of taste, real sub-wars waged between various factions (mixed races, my real melting pot America, Mrs Jones tries to think proudly but fails) representing McDonalds vs Burger King, Coca vs Pepsi, beer vs rum (only three kids), and Spiderman vs Superman.

    The bell could not have rung one moment later or Mrs Jones would have had happily and thankfully followed the spit traces three floors down to the asphalt. The grateful school management team decides to follow partially Mrs Jones’ last coherent words of advice before ensuring her being lovingly and safely and definitively escorted out between white uniformed professionals.


    George skips six classes up, moving straight into seventh grade as teacher. Freddy is sent to a decontamination camp and following latest rumors is doing great (won bronze, two competitions running). The immigrants are extradited to their respective countries and mayonnaise is outlawed on the school premises. No special action has to be taken with regard to the rest of the class, after a one week’s rest in an oxygen rich area somewhere in the Alps (the rich ones; the poor ones have to satisfy themselves with downtown NY).

    Oh, almost forgot, Miss Little America wins the first ever Miss Little Universe pageant held in Dubai. Out of the three finalists, Miss Little Previous East Germany (sic) is eliminated on a technicality (she was shaving underneath her armpits), and the French candidate loses on points the final intelligence test, a common question:

    Oil tycoon judge: will you marry me?
    Miss France: no.
    Miss America: no.
    Oil tycoon judge: why, am I too old for you?
    Miss France: yes.
    Miss America: not old enough.

    The first prize is one oil barrel full with crude. Miss Little America’s parents are still working on fitting it on her trophies’ shelf. And it started leaking.




    “What are you doing my son?”

    He did not call me my son since he left home, couple thousand years ago. Actually he never called me my son. He never called me anything, we never talked, maybe he thought he was too good for me or maybe he thought the other way around. So he just left, deciding to work on finding himself, and if he did I could not say I liked what he found.

    “What are you doing with all these twigs and mud?”

    I wasn’t in any kind of parleying mood. I was sweaty and slimy, I stank, and I was in desperate need for a beer. And now he decides to visit me? But I couldn’t act impolite, he could have gotten pissed off and rain frogs on me or carbonize me or let me reach one hundred and twenty years of age, God... ha... forbid.

    The old guy was moody too, after all I was an emulation of hisself minus the frogs and carbonization...

    “I am building a nest,” I answered cautiously, wishing him to go away.

    “A nest? For you and your mate? Poor woman, she will get scratches all over her back,” and he thundered a laughter which was later baptized hurricane Gloria. “Even Noah did better, he used wooden planks and he had to work hard at them. Today you can buy polished planks in any DIY shop. And nails and hammers and electric saws...” There was a rumbling sound as if he was going to laugh again, so I rushed my answer to prevent another debacle.

    “Yeah, and he had to share quarters with all those beasts around him constantly bickering and snapping and expelling body matter in all of its known states – solid, liquid, gaseous... an alchemist’s dream lab. Here, I am improving on his design,” I added, sprinkling soft down inside the emerging construction. I waited for it to float to the bottom, then sprinkled another layer. I didn’t want to let him hang around with nothing to do much longer since I thought it unsafe, so I decided to try some chatting. “Hey, will you do me a favor since you are here anyway?” and as he hesitated I added hurriedly “Not a miracle, mind you, just a favor.”

    I wasn’t disrespectful, not with reminiscences of THE flood still fresh in my racial memory. I waited for him to stop playing with the rainbow, twisting it in all kinds of shapes inclusive capital W (this will keep scientists busy now for decades) and after he mumbled his agreement I asked.

    “Could you please pull some strings and find me a publisher?”

    God or no God, I had to give it to him – he maintained his part of the old bargain he had with us, he never read my thoughts. Nor anyone else’s. I guess it was damn boring and damn painful and frustrating to look down at all those miserable creatures who insisted on their independence of will and ways, and who later blamed him for everything which went wrong at their own hands. Including blowing themselves up and others with them. But he kept his side of the bargain if it killed him. Which is a manner of telling, he could never die of course. Though, I bet that at times he resented it. At many times.

    “Would you like a beer?” I asked just to break the silence. He accepted, and I waited until it evaporated before going on with the job at hand.

    “Why?” he finally asked, sighing contentedly. He liked the beer, which was comforting, it was sign he had good taste. “You know you could have asked even for a small miracle, a tiny one of course. Why this favor?”

    I knew he was itching to snap his imaginary fingers and get my grass cut every weekend, or get me the one stamp I missed to complete my collection... I was sorry to hear disappointment in his voice, yet it was mixed with a certain thrill of curiosity. I poured us both another glass of foaming pleasure, and waited until he finished his before answering.

    “I am in love.”

    I was afraid of a reaction that could have proven cataclysmic for this world, like a laughter which would have moved the sun a few millions of miles closer to earth or the other way around. But there was no laughter, thank... ahmm... God, again. Not even the sound of a hiccup. Just silence.

    I went on with my nest’s construction, I added some more padding to the bottom of it (after all he was right, it would scratch her back) mixing dry leaves and withered petals and cloudfuls of fluffy dandelion seeds... hey, thanks... I knew he was joking in his kind, serious way. I was getting ready to climb all the way in and start decorating the twigs with ribbons and candles and undulating soap bubbles...

    “So you want the world to know it.” Finally he decided he wanted me to know he got the point. Of course he got it, he got everything he wanted to get and nothing which he did not want. This was not interference, just cognition, and right now he felt on the safe grounds of not breaking his word.

    “I want her to know it.”

    “She is part of the world.”

    “She is the world.”

    “She knows it.”

    “I know it.”

    It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, when he first called me. It was probably more my own mood and apprehension than reality, and after all it was quite a pleasant encounter. I did not expect more. Actually I got more than I expected to get.

    “I will see what I can do. I am bound by a promise as you know.”

    “I know sir.”

    “You can call me friend if you wish to.”

    “You can call me son anytime you wish to.”

    I finished with the ribbons and the candles and the bubbles, picked up the thin, sharp, chisel and started carving words in the dry wood. The wood splinters fell slowly around my feet, turning fireflies half way down and buzzing away into the descending dusk. A joker to the end the old man, I thought, stopping for a moment to carve thank you for the visit among the verses, and runes, and strophes. I picked up the cell phone which rang insistently in my pocket, to hear her laughing delightedly at the other end.

    “You wouldn’t believe it in a thousand years,” she said.

    “I will tell you what I would not believe in a thousand years,” I answered. “You are invaded by fireflies settling all over your body,” I said, knowing. The short silence following the gasp on her end of the line confirmed my words. Not that I needed any confirmation.

    “How did you know?” she asked, breathless with more than just lack of air.

    “Now he knows too,” I answered, completely irrelevantly, accurately.

    I closed the line, softly, never for a moment stopping my carving, not wishing to stop the streaming light flowing eastwards like a snake of glittering shards.



No. Yes. It Is A Story About Humans

    I told you the story about the dragon, the one who preferred boiled eggs to raw virgins. Not really a vegetarian, still, an outcast to his kind.

    “Such a sad story,” you commented, sad yourself. “And who feeds him?”

    “I, every morning except Saturday.”

    “Why, is he Jewish?”

    “No, today is Friday and you have just arrived.”

    We went out to eat something, impatient to return, we opened the door to the room, impatient to undress, we made love half of the night, showered, made love the other half of the night and then, exhausted, fell asleep in a puddle of sweat.

    An impatient knock on the door.

    “Señor, señor,” a girl’s voice on the other side of the piece of wood separating civilization from the world of all dangers.

    I didn’t curse, my mouth sticky, she wouldn’t understand anyway. I pulled a towel around my midriff and opened the door.

    “Señor,” she wailed, “your lady señor, hurry...”

    I shot a look back to the bed... oh, God, no... my side of the bed a mess, her side of the bed empty... oh, God... raped, murdered, kidnapped for ransom... one could never be safe in these Latin countries. I rushed after the maid.

    She stopped amid a group of bug eyed people, pointing. You were lying there on the threshold, just outside of the main entry door, draped in a crumpled white sheet, seemingly sleeping. I kneeled next to you, uncertain.

    “Honey, honey, what happened?”

    You opened sleepy eyes, focusing them and then focusing that sad smile I knew only too well on my face, before getting up to a crouching position to lay your head in my lap and start crying softly.

    “Honey, honey, tell me what happened? Are you hurt, did someone hurt you?”

    I hated that long look, so filled with the pains of the world.

    “He didn’t come,” you hardly made it into a whisper. I was completely lost.

    “Who didn’t come, love? Who were you waiting for?”

    You pulled the bed sheet away from your legs, revealing a basket full of boiled eggs, ‘borrowed’ I guessed from the hotel’s breakfast room.

    I wasn’t sure if it was my turn to cry, or laugh. Maybe just wonder. I scooped you up into my arms and brought you back to the room. My God, do they really exist? I asked myself. And I did not mean dragons.



The Last Dog

    Bercu Rabinowitz was in terrible pain. His rabbi was dying and there was not much he could do about it except pray, and work in his lab for that part of his time when he was not praying. With some insignificant exceptions. Even at the cost of his Kabbalah studies, which he was neglecting for two years in a row now. If only there was more time... His rabbi was dying of nothing more exotic than old age, having lived a full ninety three years of saintly life. A guiding light to his community and a personal teacher to Bercu in all the mysteries of enlightening and secret interpretations of the Torah teachings, known to only a handful of true Moreh Nevochim – the guides of the confused ones, which was the rest of mankind. The rest of mankind, as far as Bercu was concerned, were only the members of his own congregation, his kehilah. Everybody outside of it were just the tools of trade allowing his kehilah, mankind, to live and prosper.

    Bercu opened the door to his lab on Mount Scopus University’s grounds, which - as mentioned, was where he spent all of his time now except when he was visiting his rabbi, praying, and eating. He had little need of sleep, at most three hours per night, and his five children were well taken care of by the community services, he did not have to worry about them. Since his wife aleyia hashalom - may she rest in peace - died four years ago, he hardly saw his children. Not that he did not love them, he loved them more than his life. But he did not love them more than his rabbi’s life, and – you see, Bercu was an obsessed man. All his intellectual efforts since his wife’s death had one and only goal – conquer death, or at the very least – postpone its imminent arrival. If Methuselah, Metusalem son of Enoch, could live 969 years, he saw no reason that rabbi Meirsohn would live any less than that. After all, Metusalem was not yet part of God’s chosen children and rabbi Meirsohn was.

    Nobody would have guessed that the young micro-biology student who emigrated fifteen years earlier from Iasi, Romania to Israel, would have become the brilliant scientist and... kabbalist that he did. Under rabbi Meirsohn’s personal guidance he shed very fast the outdated communist ideals he inherited from his father, and integrated in Jerusalem’s Jewish orthodox family as if he was born inside it; better even. Almost completely out of the order of things, he was not only allowed – but actively encouraged to follow his studies and research in the frame of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He was sent to follow several specialization seminars in the US sponsored by his congregation and by its overseas members, however much of his knowledge he acquired from self study and a certain type of hyper intelligence he possessed. In a secular environment he would have been certainly singled out as genius and given the fattest of salaries to develop the craziest of cosmetic concoctions. Or chemical weapons of mass destruction. Bercu Rabinowitz was not in the least interested in any of these challenging matters, his interest lay with a bigger challenge - life. Can we prevent death? A crank, heading right into a dead end – as far as any serious scientific micro-biologist was concerned. However the university decided to provide him with his own laboratory and assistants, in the hope of collecting gross on whichever fallout dropped out of his researches. Not much of it and not such of it until the present. But the committee following the university’s investments knew that something serious was brewing there in between his lab’s walls. One of their paid “insider assistants” had just filed a report about Bercu Rabinowitz’s latest tests, and not few of the raised eyebrows were raised even further, joined by all those who never raised an eyebrow ever before in their life. Yes, life, the magic word.

    The lab was quiet. At 3AM what could one expect except silence? Yet, knowing that all the other inhabitants of his lab were dogs, the minimum one would have contemplated to hear would be some yapping or yowling, or even some low key growling. Nothing of the kind greeted his entrance, as Bercu turned on the light and locked the door behind him. He was a good guy. Even though dogs were for him no more nor less meaningful than the other tools of trade he met daily – professors, and computers, and tomatoes – Bercu did not believe in unnecessary cruelty to any of them, and kept his research dogs heavily sedated most of the time. There was no pain he inflicted upon them, yet keeping them constantly fed and almost immobilized in order to increase the fat mass of their bodies, gave him an uneasy feeling. Once, only once had he heard a dog yelp in pain, and he decided it was such a disturbing experience in mental anguish that he did not want to go through it ever again. Sedation was thus for him the “humane” way to go forward.

    How did I start this way? he asked himself once more, as he did for the last two years every time he entered his lab, kissing the mezzuzah and rolling the scenario again in his mind. It was during one of his last Kabbalah sessions, when they were playing gymatria games so dear to kabbalists, and his mind clicked all of a sudden into the value of bekelev, which meant “in dog” and which valued at 54. And 54 equals three times 18, or three times chai, meaning three times “life”. All the other students were joking at his sudden change of attitude from casual to almost fanatical, pointing out to him that the same value could be associated with BMW or with Volvo when written in Hebrew, or with other words like mehoav meaning “in love” or choli meaning “sickness”. All other students, yet not rabbi Meirsohn, who knew only too well this special talmid hacham – student in wisdom – and his incredible bouts of imagination and sharp intuition. Lech be asher libcha yolechecha – follow wherever your heart will guide you, said the rabbi, watching him from his big chair and breathing heavily. Rabbi Meirsohn had hardly spoken at all during the last few months, and going through the effort of saying such a long sentence drove all other students shamefully back into their yellowing study books. And a light turned on inside Bercu Rabinowitz’s eyes.

    There were twelve guinea pigs, dogs of course, closed in their confined quarters and fattened to a point where humans would be called hyper obese, several tubes connected to each beneath the skin and dripping drops of fat into a constantly whirring centrifuge. The other entry to the centrifuge was a carefully weighed and balanced chemical mixture which from time to time dropped its content into the rotating container and after a timed interval was carefully spilled further into a jar. The jar was then sealed automatically and replaced by another jar in which another, slightly different combination, was spilled after another interval of time. Thousands of such combinations were tested already, and after a meaningless start, some encouraging results started to show up on the test cells donated daily by students (for a fee of course). Bercu knew that the reasons behind aging did not rest on one single component, however he decided to focus on mitochondria decay and ways to prevent it. He got encouraged along the way by finding a certain, though inconclusive yet, relationship between the success achieved in protecting mitochondrial DNA and the preservation of telomeres length at the ends of chromosomes. Inconclusive it might have been, scientifically or statistically speaking, yet perfectly correlated Bercu-intuitionally speaking. He knew that God was guiding his hand, and blindly followed what objective observers might otherwise have called either luck or abnormally high intelligence guidance. Bercu was on the right way and he knew it with certainty for half a year now. He hesitated however before committing to the final step, refining more and more the composition of the additive to dog fat and the additive to the dog nourishment and the commixture timing, yet most of his hesitation originated from a stupid fear of finally creating a golem. Because Bercu Rabinowitz was an unconfessed extremely superstitious man, and until such time as a sign from heaven would show itself to him, he was not going to test his medication. No, he was not afraid at all of the judgment of mata, or down here, yet he was practically terrified of the judgment of maala, or up there. He well knew that the way chai, life, equaled 18, so did chet, sin. And he wasn’t fully certain yet which of the two he was actually serving.

    Then one of his centrifuges exploded unexpectedly, a tiny electrical spark followed by the smell of burned wires spreading in the room. Eleven left, eleven – same numerology as chag, festivity. It was stretching his belief a bit, however Bercu Rabinowitz decided that this was the sign he was waiting for. He carefully wrote down the parameters of the mixture in the exploded centrifuge, sealed the container and placed it in his pocket whispering a short she’echeyanu blessing reserved for holidays and happy events, he who gave us life. Rabbi Meirsohn was dying and with all due respect to shemaya – heavens, he could not wait any longer.


    Rabbi Meirsohn did not die. At the end of two weeks of infusion he actually could get out of the bed by himself and join in the morning prayer. He did not get any better but neither did he get any worse, as long as he kept getting his daily infusion, actually three times a day, tiny droplets straight into the vein during one hour straight. Bercu Rabinowitz was always at his side, and people in the street or in the synagogue kept moving out of way looking after him in reverence and murmuring – a nes, a nes – a miracle, a miracle. Not that the subject of their adulation minded or needed any of these external expressions of awe and ponder. Bercu Rabinowitz felt that he had achieved his one goal in life, and the only thing which mattered from now on was a constant supply of the potion for his rabbi. Which the university gladly accepted to provide (even though he interrupted his research with that exploded centrifuge) against his rendering a complete account of his results. And which Rabbi Rabinowitz, as he was now being called more in deference to public opinion than in true respect of his biblical scholarship, was only too glad to provide. With a lot of glad, or about to become glad, investors suddenly pouring their interest in the well secured results of Bercu Rabinowitz’s many months of research.

    The university did the right thing – it auctioned the research data, making it conditional on having at least three pharmaceutical consortiums win the exploitation rights, so as not to anchor the continuation of the research to the whims of one single monopolistic entity. The interest was huge. Inside five weeks, more than seven thousand parties informed the university of their intent to bid. Inside another three months the auction was held with the pomposity of an American presidential election, the winning party’s side. It took place at the Royal Albert Hall, UK, was managed by Christie’s (who decided that, seen the moneys involved, medication can pass as art) by invitation only, with thousands of uninvited guests waiting for the results outside, just for the heck of it. When the winners of the license were announced, nobody understood the implications yet everybody cheered and opened bottles of beer or champagne or just canned sparkling water, all shaken for the festive spraying effect. The dawn of a new beginning for the human race was in sight, yeah.

    The auction brought in 7 billion dollars for exploitation rights, and a royalty for the life of the product of 1 per mil of sales before tax. The five buyers set up immediately a joint venture called Eterna whose sole intent was the development and the usage of the new “technology”, laying another 1 billion dollars in the process and serene in their knowledge that this was the best investment anyone anywhere anytime ever did. Bercu Rabinowitz saw nothing of the proceeds, and he couldn’t care less. His job done, he could finally focus on his gemara - old Jewish laws - studies which he neglected far too long already, and pick up the Kabbalah thread there, where he lost it so many months back. And the university celebrated the day with ice cream to all students and professors and whoever happened to visit the campus during that historical afternoon.


    The world went berserk.

    There was no need for hype. The hype was there unasked for. Eternal youth and immortality, a dream as old as mankind was inside its reach, and there was not one newspaper or radio station or TV channel or blogger who wouldn’t comment on it, dissect it, speculate on the probable results for humanity once the product would start selling. Eterna made it clear upfront that it aimed at a price which would allow anybody to purchase the product, once it was finalized and its usage modalities of usage defined. The pressure on the FDA was such, that it was clear there would be no obstacle to prevent almost immediate, inside months, commercialization. Mankind was greedy for ever-life and nothing could withstand the building tsunami of demand. A few feeble voices trying to resist and argue in favor of man’s old friend were immediately smothered by the overwhelming majority expecting the miracle to happen, and by the resistance initiators’ own thirst for as smooth a skin as that of their neighbors. Your dog or your life? they were shouted down at a few public meetings they tried to organize, very unconvincingly so at the least. And even fewer were those who mentioned over-population as a threat, just for the sake of the argument and for the sake of proving statistically that there will still be sufficient wars, and accidents, and famine, and sicknesses, and murders - to keep mankind’s numbers in reign. After all, the new drug just promised stopping the aging process, it did not stop a bullet.

    The stock exchange developed a canine exchange price - dog weight becoming tradable goods similar to gold and diamonds, and dog farms grew overnight to impressive numbers, expecting a demand of a certain kind. It was not yet certain what form this potential demand would take, once the horizons cleared of the rampant speculation - factory, private, both? Cows, chickens, pigs, dogs, potatoes, oranges... the addition to the long list of agricultural products seemed to pass unperceived the subjectively adjusted, critical threshold of human decency. All of mankind swerved nimbly like one solid block into acceptance of its new status - immortality at the affordable price of yet another in a long list of species’ betrayals. Dogs. So what? Yippeeeeeeeeeeee... Yeehaaaaaaaaaaaaw... Yahoooooooooooo...


    Not much of it penetrated behind the Yeshiva walls where Bercu Rabinowitz was pursuing his studies. He resented being seen as some kind of a queer - if as miracle performer, if as healer, with other students trying to get from him advice for any subject ranging from successful matchmaking to winning lottery tickets. He was astonished and pained to find out that mundane matters and, what was much worse - greed, were not alien even to his peers on the study benches. An uncomfortable feeling started descending on him that actually he was seeing the world through eyes which were immeasurably more idealistic than realistic. It reminded him of his father’s communist theories which had nothing to do with the realities of life. And if anything - it made him even more of a recluse inside his books of prayer and books of study, and inside the few moments of solitary joy when he was discussing a world gone mad with his maker; his forehead against the Wall and his fingers caressing the cracks between its stones. Bercu Rabinowitz was desperately looking for answers, and it seemed to him that he might not get them soon, or at all.

    Thirteen months to the day after Eterna registered as a public company on the NYSE, the first truck-loads and ship-loads of mixtures started shipping out against an incredible over demand. The first targets were the USA, Western Europe and Japan, however expectations were that inside three months all of the pending preliminary demand would be supplied, and after that ongoing shipments would cover the daily need. Ten additional factories were in the final phases of being built outside of the states, and once that achieved – there would be no shortage in the mixture’s availability as shown by the company’s preliminary calculations. The marketing approach was simple to tears – except for a constant presence of a few thousands of experimental dogs on their premises, just to ensure quality assurance testing of the product, all that the company was doing was selling just the additive mixture to dog food and to dog fat. Pure chemistry wizardry. The rest of the ingredients necessary for the application of the final product - the youth potion, to humans, was left in the hands of a mass of secondary suppliers, free to compete for attracting their clients: centrifuges, infusion systems, dripping systems, dog fattening ingredients, cages... The information of how to measure the dog fat mass, how to connect to it, how to create the potion, how and at which frequency to administer it, various considerations for various ages, sexes, races – all this was freely available either as books sold at cost, or on the internet. And the market bloomed like no other market ever in the history of mankind. With a piracy market running in parallel, some with fake products, some with real good mixtures similar to the original and of which no one was commercially worried – after all, there was place enough for everyone.

    Dogs as companions, as task carriers, as man’s historical allies – started disappearing from the world’s definitions, and little by little were pushed out from mankind’s race conscience by subtle yet continuous changes to legislation, to school books, to artistic orientations. It was difficult to point the finger where or how it started, however it seemed that humanity was definitely set on re-writing the history of a man and his dog, either out of pure and sudden blindness, or maybe out of a hidden sense of shame which it felt uncomfortable with. It didn’t matter, it gained momentum like the fabled snowball down the mountain slope. In a matter of barely five years, seeing a dog on any street would have been considered as ridiculous as seeing a pig strolling on Fifth Avenue. Ham does not stroll. Fat does not stroll. Fat was locked in houses, grown in fattening nurseries, tubes guiding fat drops into automated mixing systems where the ambrosia of youth was fabricated in each and every household, and injected three times a day into every household’s human vein. Prisons included. With special dosages for children and for pregnant women.

    It all culminated with a world wide happening, set at tremendous costs by Eterna in key locations around the globe (and with local, small following everywhere else), when the ever decreasing in popularity Labor Day, the 1st of May, was re-baptized and reinvigorated into a newly declared Eternity Day. Mega rock concerts, fireworks, athletic events, celebrities of arts and politics participation, and free food for everyone. And the absolute cherry on the top, with the midnight event of events when all the old stale and kitschy dog books, movies, pictures, leashes and plastic bowls created the biggest bonfires fiesta ever recorded in mankind’s history.

    The world stopped aging, the world stopped dying. Except for wars, and accidents, and famine, and sickness, and murders.

    Nobody shared in Bercu Rabinowitz’s nightmares. He was probably the only one with a conscience left to carry a yoke in a world gone mad with absolute self importance and righteousness, images of bloated bodies and of panting dogs behind bars turning Bercu Rabinowitz’s nights into a desert of searing torment. He didn’t find an explanation to the nightmares, search as much as he did. He saved his rabbi’s life after all, no?


    I holstered my gun and sat down to drink my coffee. I liked the coffee in my veins before I stuck the infusion needle inside the port, waiting patiently for the mandatory one hour of mixture dripping to pass. I had four fat units in my house, two for me and two for an occasional female partner who might have shared my bed. There was no need to get stressed over mixture availability, the fat units were quite cheap, and with an expected length of useful service averaging four years (three years guaranteed) my needs were comfortably satisfied. My salary as an FBI field operator more than sufficed for the apartment, food, and my rare needs for entertainment.

    I clicked on the TV remote control and started zapping mindlessly between stations, same as every morning, looking for some mind numbing soap opera to help me pass the time between short naps. A local news channel caught my attention, re-diffusing an interview with the strange guy who developed the youth potion about thirty years ago, just a bit after my birth. He looked old enough to be my grandfather, which was surprising as the drug was released when he was in his forties. I guessed it was true that he was probably the only person in the world not using his own invention, the fool.

    Pity that my father developed lung cancer, otherwise we could have enjoyed our bouts of fishing indefinitely. I killed the tear developing at the corner of my eye with an angry sweep of my wrist, and tried to listen more attentively. So the rumors were correct, the guy was offering an improved additive to the dog food we used now, which would reduce our infusion needs to only two times a day. Yeah, about time, I saluted his image on the screen taking a long swig of chilled lemonade. After the coffee, after the infusion, there was nothing like a long swig of chilled lemonade to start a long day of chasing the bad guys. Two of which, my own brothers, were already behind bars – sorry bro’s, nothing personal, just doing my job.

    I went to the dogs’ tiny room, wringing my nose at the foul smell persisting there. Even though all four units were relatively new, barely five months old, the stank was the same as of the four year olds which they replaced. And I had the room cleaned thoroughly in between. I checked that the ventilation was working, that their nourishment bags were attached and active, replaced the refusal bags with new ones, and left house on my way to the federal offices building. I did not forget to kiss the worn out mezzuzah on the door, that archaic symbol of my belonging to the Jewish nation, out of respect to the memory of my deceased father and nothing else. After all, the only time I ever was (and ever will) visit a Jewish place of worship was for my Bar Mitzvah. And was so embarrassed with it that once I moved to my own place I made sure that all the pictures taken on that occasion stayed with my parents.

    Actually, technically speaking I wasn’t Jewish. With a name like Freddy McIntire Cohen it might have gotten you wondering. The McIntire was my mom’s, of pure Irish Catholic breeding, thus as far as the Jewish tradition goes I was a goy, a gentile. Yet my father’s Cohen came from not lesser pure Jewish roots and I adopted his tradition, manners, and God. He was born in Brooklyn into a Jewish deeply orthodox family, and out of love for my mother he deserted all the symbols of his religion - his peyos, his kippah, his tzitziot – side curls, yarmulke, fringes, he deserted his God. Not really deserted, of course, as he made sure we learned to speak Yiddish in our family, we respected the Jewish holidays, and all of us three boys had a Bar Mitzvah, a reformist one, so what? But he carried a constant pain in his heart, equaled only by his love to my mother, for having lost the way to his god.

    I was about to get into the car when my cell phone rang and I saw that it was a call from my mother. Quite unusual for her to call me, seen that she was so limited with money and her phone was usually a one way street – I calling her.

    “Yes, mama,” I picked the call, sliding into the driver’s seat. She sounded kind of distressed.

    “Freddy, when can you come to me?”

    “Why, what happened, mama?”

    “I cannot talk on the phone, can you come now?”

    “No, mama, I will be late to work and I have to be there for an important debriefing. I will come after work, ok?”

    “Not earlier?”

    “Don’t worry, if there’s nothing with your health bothering you then there’s nothing to worry at all. I will be there about 8, okay?”

    “Try earlier.”

    “I will, mama. Kiss.” I clicked the phone shut, not too worried and neither wondering too much. She started getting a bit delusional lately and I had to calm her down from time to time. Thank God it had nothing to do with her aging, her fat units were functioning perfectly okay and she never forgot an infusion session for as long as I could remember. I love you, mama, I thought with a smile and sped towards the office grounds.

    The day was boring, not a usual day but it did happen from time to time. I had to go through a few computer based training sessions, one hour of target practice, several overdue reports to be completed... I almost forgot to pass through my mom’s apartment and had to turn around about half way to my place, thus arriving at her place at around 9pm. She was frantic, and even though she did not reproach me with her voice, she made me feel terrible just by doing it with her eyes. I hugged and kissed her, it was that easy to mollify her and make her smile anew. She handed me a package wrapped in thick brown paper, moth eaten and quite dusty.

    “I was ranging papa’s old suitcases,” she didn’t throw away even one of my father’s clothes, “and I found this package. Please take it away, I don’t now what to do with it, it is dangerous and you will know what to do.” I started unwrapping it but she caught my hand in panic. “No, don’t do it here, please take it away. You will know what to do with it. Be careful. Now come and have something to eat.”

    I left her at about half past ten, promising her to be careful and make sure that nothing bad will come to me or to her. She was so stressed, she didn’t even admonish me for having locked away my brothers for tax evasion, as she was always doing. Hey, mama, what did you find here, papa’s love letters to another woman? I laughed to myself, speeding home.

    It wasn’t papa’s love letters to another woman. For a moment I cringed, almost averting my eyes in disgust and quite well understanding my mom’s fears. It wasn’t really subversive material yet, it might have been considered as such in certain circumstances. I removed my shoulder holster, undressed to my underwear, turned on the TV and sat down next to the opened package once again. After all, my father’s entire childhood was spent in “another time”, before youth potion was even a dream, or rather only a dream. So maybe I should not judge him so hard that he tried to hang on to some personal symbols of those once upon times, be it as disturbing to me as it was. Maybe there were more of his kind in this world, though I doubted very much. I would have heard about it through the bureau.

    I popped a beer (as always when I was a bit stressed) and spread the contents on the table. After a slight hesitation I picked the first one in my hand, a hard cover book - Grooming Your Dog, it was an easier one because there were not many pictures inside so I felt less offended psychologically. I skimmed through a few chapters - walking your dog, feeding your dog, exercising your dog. I raised an eyebrow in wonder, no mention of dog fat, just dog dog dog. I sipped my beer and dried my hands on the sofa cushions then picked the second book, feeling a bit more relaxed - Main Dog Races. Well, if I succeeded to clear my brain from the initial repulsion fumes, and the beer did help with that (I looked at the label... 9% alcohol, great...) I had to admit that there was a beauty there I never knew existed. Were these the same creatures that were feeding us eternal youth in their deformed forms? Something must be wrong here, terribly wrong, and it wasn’t only the beer thinking it for me. And I was a tough guy to get suddenly all mushy about what might have been, after all, some urban legends. I took another sip, picked the CD from the pile and plugged it in the CD player. There was a lot of out of date advertising which refused to get itself skipped over - Disney parks, future cartoons... finally the playback got to the main feature and I settled comfortably in the deep armchair, another bottle in my hand, expecting to either laugh myself to death or get this whole event out of a nauseated system. Later to throw the whole pile in the electric incinerator. Old Yeller, said the title, and I lowered the lights adjusting the volume a bit higher.

    The last images flickered on the TV screen before it went blank. It was almost 4am. I did not turn on the lights in the room. I just sat there, stunned, angry, a mixture of unknown feelings bubbling inside me and looking for a venue to explode. Sure, it was just an old movie I never heard of before, a story with heroes and acts of courage and... but if only one percent of this was representative of the world “before”... did we humans get so low in our trail of pompous self appreciation?

    I tried to pick the last item on the table, an envelope, and found I had a problem holding it between shivering fingers. Hey, Freddy, c’mon, take a hold on yourself, you had street education and government education, you shot dead three people and jailed thirteen inclusive your own family members, don’t you go woosy on me all of a sudden. I finally made it, spilling the envelope contents on the table rather than picking them up from inside of it, and looked dumbly at the three photographs, all face up, facing me. One of them showed a boy of about ten with features which somehow looked familiar to me, smiling, his hand held in between the jaws of a shiny sharp-muzzled black monster sitting on his hindquarters, his head the height of the kid’s shoulders. I looked on the back, “Oscar and Tiger”, Oscar being the name of my ten years older brother. I leafed through the Main Dog Races book, and I was pretty sure to identify the dog as what they called a Doberman. The second picture showed my father, much younger than I remembered, hugging my younger than I remembered mom, and the monster’s big shiny head pushing in between them. The third showed the monster again, seated, holding in his muzzle a pair of straps from which a chubby baby was dangling, feet not touching the ground. I looked on the back of the picture, “Freddy and Tiger”. I think I snapped. Inside.

    I picked up the phone and rang my mother, not caring at all that it was barely 5am. Anyway she did not sleep well and kept complaining about her solitary mornings every time I visited her. She picked up the phone almost instantly, with a soft “Hello?...”

    “Mama,” I asked, skipping any preliminaries, “how did Tiger die?” I could hear her pulling sharply her breath in, her hesitation almost visible inside the silence. “Mama?”

    “Not on the phone, Freddy, we should not talk about such things. Did you take care of the package?”

    “Mama, I work for the FBI, you have nothing to worry about, you can talk.” Of course it was nonsense, but she didn’t know. “How did Tiger die, mama?” I repeated my question, so softly that I knew she had no choice but to answer.

    “Papa shot him, Freddy, when you were about two years old. He did not want to see him suffer.”

    “Mama, papa did not die of cancer, did he?” I kept on my third degree, knowing that I was raking a pain inside her that she might not be able to cope with. I remembered scraps of hints, innuendos, whispers when everybody thought I was not listening, or understanding.

    “Papa shot himself ten years to the day, after,” she answered and I heard her starting to sob.

    “It is forbidden, mama, papa was a man who believed in God, it is forbidden in our tradition and religion to take one’s own life, mama. It cannot be.”

    “The pain was too much for him, Freddy. He first lost his god, then he lost his dog... ridiculously stupid, isn’t it?...” she answered not to me, but to some mysterious entity she was dialoguing with quite often, and the click and beep beep beep which followed told me that now she wished to be left alone.


    “What is wrong?” asked my chief, when I showed up next day to the office, unshaved, and put a resignation letter on his desk. I wasn’t his best operator, I was the best operator, and he got his last two promotions and nice pay increase due to my performance in the last year. Two promotions in one year – never heard of. As I refused to answer, he proposed me to take some time off, unpaid vacation of course, yet to be re-instated immediately once I got over whatever was bothering me. I agreed, having no reason not to. I kept my badge and gun, and promised to keep my service cell phone on as well, just in case they might face an emergency and I might be able to help, if asked. Fair enough. I did not expect any change of mind, but so I did not expect any drastic change of attitude to life a day ago as well, and yet I had just lived through it.

    My mother did not mind giving me the keys to the small summer house in Oregon. A fenced, nice fifteen acres wild patch of forest with a wooden cabana in the middle of it, which my parents bought in their early marriage years and rarely visited. They had a maintenance contract with a specialized company, so it was supposed to be ready at all times to accept unexpected guests. She just made me promise to call her often, which was only fair. I went home, packed a few important items – clothes, tools, some first days food, threw my father’s brown package on the back seat and attached the small trailer to the wagon’s tow hook. I hesitated a moment, then threw in my TV set as well, after all I wanted to stay connected to the world. Then I loaded onto the trailer the four cages with the dogs, pulling a thin canvas over them, smashed all the mixing and infusion equipment in the house, locked the door and started on my way. I was partly numb. Yet partly and most of it, I was excited as never before in my life, some unexplainable sensation pouring through my mind and making me feel, well, unique. I was going to discover the truth, and I was going to learn death of old age in the process, and I was simply exhilarated at the thought. Abysmally crazy or finally human? Irrelevant, I felt me and nothing else seemed to count more, even my mom’s good bye tears.

    I made sure the small parchment was present inside the mezzuzah fixture on the door sill, old habits die hard, kissed it reverently and entered the place. As I was hoping – everything was in top shape condition. The electricity was connected, the taps delivered clean, chilly water, and the waste plumbing was functioning to perfection. The bedding seemed to be a bit stale but certainly clean and there was no dust on the furniture, probably cared for not many days ago. I unloaded all my stuff into the living room, and hesitated just a few moments before dragging the four cages and their living content to the living room as well. If I was going to witness a miracle of resurrection and amazement, then I better keep my good eye on it at all time. True, the only guidance I expected to have was that hard covered Grooming Your Dog book, I hoped it would be just sufficiently supportive for my task. For the first night I went to sleep on the sofa next to the cages, I was too tired to start taking out the creatures inside them and left this action for the next day. The smell was foul and insupportable, but I fell asleep almost within seconds.

    A terrible ruckus woke me up after what seemed like minutes later. I growled unhappily, and looked at my wrist watch, finding that I actually slept not less than eight hours. There was light outside and I dragged myself to the window to see what was all the screaming about. Two girls, one probably less than ten year old and one probably more – that was all I could estimate – were chasing each other around the cabana with bicycles, and shrieking like mad women. I opened the door and went out to the porch, watching them and smiling. A welcome of kings, I suddenly laughed, shaking my head in good mood and turning to go back in house.

    “Hey, who are you?” I heard one of them call, having stopped in front of the house in a cloud of dust and dirt.

    “I live here,” I answered.

    “Nobody lives here.”

    “I do,” I said, and turned once more to go in. They rushed around me like wind snakes, entering in the house ahead of me.

    “Pheeuw... what a stank. What is this?” the bigger one asked, kicking one of the cages.

    “This, or rather these are dogs,” I said, kneeling next to the first cage and starting to disassemble it.

    “What is dogs? They look like the fat units at home.”

    I got up, picked the pictures book from the brown package and handed it to her.

    “This is dogs.” I rolled the first heavily breathing carcass away from its cage’s floor and onto a clean blanket I had prepared next to it. Then started working on the second one. I was surprised at the girls’ quiet, as they sat on the floor forgetting about the enveloping odor and seemingly fully enthralled by my book. At one moment they giggled and I peeked, seeing them look at the image of a species called Bulldog with its tongue hanging down to the floor.

    “What are these other animals?” the older one asked again, having assumed the role of the spokesgirl between the two.

    “They are all dogs.”

    “But they are all different. Are these for real or is it just a cartoons book? They look so funny.” She looked at my four carcasses, now all freed from their confining quarters, eyes closed, a yellowish liquid drooling from their mouths to the blankets. “And these are not dogs,” she pointed rebelliously at the inert figures, her eyes darting back and forth between them and the book. “These are fat units.” I picked a wet towel and started cleaning the fur of the first one, moving on to the hanging fat belly, the unseeing half opened eyes, the limp tail. “Disgusting,” she concluded, getting up and pulling her sister up as well. She was about to leave, hesitating though. “Hey, if you need some help and you pay us I can come here with my sister and help.”

    “How much?” I asked, interested in the earnest.

    “One dollar per hour.”

    “Two,” I negotiated, smiling.

    “Ok, one and a half, my last offer,” she answered, intently watching me.

    “Deal,” I agreed and shook her offered hand. “When can you start?”

    “When we have time.”


    I kept wiping away the dirt from the consciousless dogs, happy to have found so easily some welcoming company around here. I phoned the maintenance company canceling the contract, called my mother telling her I am perfectly alright with two women taking care of me (“shikses?” – non Jewish? – she asked and I could not help myself but explode in a hearty laughter, apologizing ten times afterwards; groomed by my late father into a perfect yiddische mame she couldn’t help but seeing a kole – a bride – in every woman I was in contact with), and after a short hesitation I called also my chief thanking him once more for his understanding. Then I connected the TV set, waiting for my charge to wake up to life. Since I disconnected them from the infusion system almost a full day ago, this was bound to happen sooner rather than later. I wondered which races are hiding inside the abnormal obesities, now nicely cleaned, a heavy tail thumping on the floor from time to time. Was it possible that they were dreaming? and if so – what of except eternal darkness?

    I must have dozed off. I woke up with a start, a sound of a kind I’ve never heard before gripping my mind and heart and squeezing them into a terrible, painful clump of death. After a few moments of disorientation I lowered my gaze towards the lying dogs and saw one of them, eyes open, crawling on its side towards me with that terrifying sound seeming to come through his muzzle straight from a dog’s soul, if dogs had one. The pain in his whining was insupportable, I could call it nothing else but deadly at that first moment, first encounter of me and animal pain. Those eyes, oh, God almighty, there was so much supplication in those eyes asking for nothing else but the deliverance of death, that big tough me fell suddenly to the floor convulsing in sobs.


    I was not part of the “give up” slice of humanity. The grooming book helped considerably, especially guiding me with the special extras a dog’s diet might need. However I gave the situation also my personal intuitive attention, using and abusing that most classical of recipes which is chicken soup. With over-boiled meat to make it slide trough muzzles and throats unused to chewing and swallowing, and from time to time throwing in a raw bone - trying to wake up a primitive instinct and provide them with a reason to exercise their teeth and maxillae. It was hard, dirty work, I had to clean their bodies several times a day, and then clean the floor around them even more times a day, and every noon time I was pulling them out into the sun to soak a bit of heavenly warmth.

    The girls were popping in about every day and I was thankful to their unexpected devotion to some of the dirtiest tasks, though – strangely enough – it was not only the money which was driving them. One day I caught the little one caressing the fur of one of the dogs and whispering into its ear. I think that they were helping me start to discover that which I intended to. I paid them two dollars per hour, of course, even though the eldest one thought at the beginning I was trying to cheat them. Then I explained her the small game I played the first day when they visited me, and she ran away blushing to her teeth. Next morning she woke me up with apple cake and ran away blushing again. Silly kids. Charming.

    I had no contact with any of the remote neighbors. I wondered if the girls told their parents about my incredible deeds, but I was neither worried nor interested about having any kind of social contact. My short trips to the nearby village provided me with all the necessary ingredients to live a solitary life, at least for the time being, and Maria and Johanna, the two girls, were company enough for me. Of course, I called my mom every two, three days just to calm her worries.

    I wasn’t really aware of much change in the dogs, except for the fact that all were widely awake by now and greeted me every time with an orchestra of thumping tails and weak barks. They were already able to roll and crawl around on their own, and one of them even growled once when his mate tied to approach his raw bone. Baruch she’echeyanu I found myself compelled to say it in prayer Hebrew - welcome to the world of living – or something like that. And at the end of five weeks I had one hell of a scare when I heard the girls screaming their heads off in the house and I rushed in to see one of the dogs sitting up on his hindquarters and barking delightedly. Try as much as he did, he did not succeed to lift his hind part on his hind legs, though I knew the moment was not far away. It looked like a scene from some fantastic movie when the other three followed suite, and one by one they struggled to sit up, barking. With the smallest one howling like a fire truck into the ceiling. I let them all, humans and dogs, scream and bark and howl and popped myself a cold beer on the porch, gulping it all in one go and smiling all the way through to the last drop. Maybe this was what a new father feels like?

    I built a ramp, knowing it was temporary, to allow the dogs to get off the porch and on the ground, until such time as they will be able to negotiate the stairs themselves. I guessed that dogs should be able to come up and down stairs once back to normal shape and condition, after all I kept having visiting raccoons and squirrels and they were doing it effortlessly. At first I walked them around the cabana, allowing them some rest time between rounds. Then I started longer strolls into the surrounding woods, and finally I estimated they were sized down enough and muscled enough to start jogging with me. The length of the traveled ground getting longer and longer. They followed me like a shadow, tails in the wind, short dashes into the bush only to emerge energetically through some thorny plants, I didn’t know if dogs could smile, if they could – these dogs were surely smiling. Maria was joining me from time to time, and on those occasions I was cutting my jogging time considerably, spending the rest of the time with me dangling from a hammock and the dogs piling up on top of her and on her sister like a bunch of crazed kids. Is this what humanity has given away for its life, I started asking myself seriously, taking short videos and pictures of the frolic around me and adding notes in a thick notebook. Has given away life for life?

    Around the end of the third month into my crazy adventure, I could identify three of the dogs with certainty. I sat at the table in the small living room with the two girls, one on each side, and leafed carefully through the book showing the various races. After a short debate we agreed that three of them were one a black Labrador, one a Boxer, and the smallest was a Cocker Spaniel. We couldn’t come to a decision about the fourth one, the closest we could approximate its origins was something between a Pit Bull and a Bull Terrier.

    “Hey, are you as vicious as they say here?” I asked the pooch lying at my feet, offering him my finger. He licked it once, delighted, and went back to his napping.

    Of course, this was no movie and we did not live through any of the hair raising adventures I saw in the Old Yeller feature (the girls cried their eyes sick when I showed it to them, and kept asking for re-runs again and again), the closest being a visit of two small boars close to the cabana and with all four dogs chasing them like maniacs back into the woods. I was sure, with the pure intent of playing and nothing more.

    Life was beautiful. I enjoyed it. I got a telephone call.


    I agreed to meet Richard, my boss, in the nearby village hotel. He refused to discuss anything on the phone, even though we could arrange for a secure line, repeatedly stressing that it was a matter of national emergency with possible international ramifications, and he needed my special set of skills. There were a thousand other FBI agents with “my special set of skills” so I knew he was stretching it a bit.

    “Did my brothers escape?” I joked, waiting to hear a smile at the other end of the line. There was none, and that, for once, worried me. Richard was easy going, a rarely encountered high threshold of stress being his trademark and one of the reasons he was in that job. His trail was already marked all the way to the top in five years or less. “Which special set of skills?” I asked, a bit less casually this time.

    “Your dogs. And your jewishness.” The line died.

    My “jewishness” was no secret in the department, and I accepted it as a compliment every time it was jokingly invoked, though never as seriously as now. But the mention of the dogs drove me into such a sudden furious mindset, that if Richard was there next to me, I might have knocked him down cold and kicked the corpse. So the department kept spying tabs on his vacationing operators? Shit and damnation, the hell with the department, I took a non-paid vacation, five months of it now, and they could stuff their emergency up their...

    I was still extremely angry yet in full control by the time I met Richard same evening – yes, it was that urgent - in the “Pink Crocodile” pub. He flew in by helicopter from headquarters. I was a purposefully fifteen minutes late, just to make an unvoiced statement, and did not apologize for it. Richard the pedantic boss did not even mention it. It must have been really bad whatever it was. He was seated in a remote corner of the pub, a few tables around him taken by characters I easily identified as part of the department, thus a belt of security surrounding his own table. It was getting worse and worse. I sat down across from him and waited for him to order my beer (he knew which). I removed my sunglasses – sunglasses middle of the night, ha - in a most theatrical way and waited, sipping. Somehow, his stern face gave me a pinch of uncertainty and I decided to postpone my own personal comments until later. He picked a photograph from his inner pocket and shoved it on the table until it lay just next to my glass of beer.

    “Do you know this person?” he asked, as way of introduction. Of course I knew this person, who did not know this person? Bruce... no... Bercu Rabinowitz, the only person in this world getting old at not taking his own drug. Soon to be joined by another one, Freddy McIntire Cohen his name. I snickered at the rueful image, and Richard misinterpreted my reaction. “This is...”

    “I know who this person is. There is Father Christmas and this is Father Youth, only that the first one does not exist.” My anger started punching large holes in my control dam, and I wasn’t really sure when this whole set-up would go up in a flurry of wild flying fists. Better come fast to the point Richard, my patience was below zero even before I pushed open the door to this establishment.

    “He poisoned the whole of the existing world’s supply of fat-matter. The fat-matter...”

    “Dogs!” I barked.

    “...dogs...” he accepted the correction unflinchingly, “...is slowly dying.” He halted, sipping on his own glass and watching me intently. “Do you know what it means, Freddie?” It sounded like a question but it was a statement. Of course I knew what it meant. The end of immortality’s utopia, the end of eternal youth. And the madness of anarchy that would rise in the wake of a disappointed humanity deprived of its one dream shared by the whole of its living members. I felt like laughing, more like a hysterical outburst than like an expression of merriment, I didn’t. Richard told me the whole of the story in very condensed form.

    About a year back, Bercu Rabinowitz offered his services to Eterna, claiming he was able to improve the need of three times a day infusion to only two times a day infusion. As the one who developed the process in the first place he had absolute credibility with the entire scientific and political establishment. He asked for a down payment of one million dollars, a sum so insignificant that it should have raised eyebrows at the start. Not to mention the fact that he was considered a disturbed person... well, all genii are disturbed, aren’t they? No eyebrow rose except in drunken appreciation at the offer and he was provided with access to the development labs. What he purported to develop was an additive to the mixture infused into the dogs which would create the trick. He was the product’s father, nobody ever suspected foul play. And testing if this additive works would take anyway months, or years – nobody wanted to wait. Youth was getting easier to achieve and more profitable to sell. The new product started selling about three months back with much pomposity and hullabaloo.

    “Are you sure?” I asked, taking my first sip, interested against my better judgment.

    “We are not. About a month ago a member of his congregation called the bureau, telling us of a confession Bercu Rabinowitz did. It had to do with this poisoning I told you about. Eterna’s scientists rushed in panic to check the new product. They could not identify anything exceptional in the new product.”

    “So what the rush? Maybe this witness to his confession had one drink too many? Or is just one of thousands of nuts looking for fame through infamy.”

    “It was his rabbi.”

    Oh. I did not say the “oh” but I clearly heard it in my head. I knew roughly the history of the youth drug coming into being, thus this last statement dressed the information a whole newer and heavier importance layer. Still...

    “How big is the potential impact? Which part of the dogs were already given the new infusion?”

    “All. Without exception. Those in use, those in breeding kennels... Throughout the world.”

    “And who says that the Rabinowitz character had not finally bridged the thin gap from sanity to senility? You say nothing was found by Eterna’s scientists. Any suspect dog deaths since you got this information?”



    Richard opened his tie knot and pulled it off, something he never ever did before. I was sure he wore his tie even when having a bath, or having sex with his wife. Richard was under tremendous pressure.

    “We cannot allow this risk to become fact. We need to know in order to either calm down, or act expeditiously and find whatever antidote might be possible. And the key to all this lies inside the thick skull of Bercu Rabinowitz.”

    “And this is where I come in,” I concluded logically. I continued his line of thought, his and his superiors’ up all the way to the President’s office. I wasn’t a top operator just for my blue eyes, after all. And my eyes were brown, by the way. “You know this is not the kind of person to give in to threats or torture, too fanatic for their own good. Drugs are out of question, he might die under the needle, too feeble. The only person who might have persuaded him to spill the beans - his rabbi, is out of question as well. After all Mr. Rabinowitz just made up his mind to kill his beloved rabbi by killing the dogs. So what is left? One option only – talking to and through his conscience. By an objurgator, a refusnik, a soldier of conscience, someone who took a similar decision to his, thus a brother in mind. And if this brother in mind happens to be of similar origins and share a language, a belief, a god and can bring irrefutable proof in the shape of living healthy naughty barking dogs... Freddy McIntire Cohen.”

    Richard did not answer. There was no need. We understood what they wanted me to do. I wasn’t sure I wanted to.

    “Where is he?” I asked.

    “In a private hospital, attached to wires and to machinery. He suffered a mild stroke one week ago. He may never get off that bed again. Freddy, we need you. Urgently, desperately.”


    They let me in, dogs and all. If I wanted to bring a herd of elephants they would have allowed it. I needed no elephant.

    “A gitten tug, Rebbe Rabinowitz.” I had some hasty homework done on him, trying to win his trust right from the start. As Richard had said, there was not much time left to repair the damage, if there really was any damage done. I greeted Bercu Rabinowitz in Yiddish, and watched his eyes follow not me but my four beasts which started sniffing around the unfamiliar surroundings, with the mischling getting his front paws on the hospital bed and licking several times his face; then pulling the food tray to the floor and attacking it with the other three joining in. I saw an unexpected glitter in Rabinowitz’s eyes which fast enough rolled down his cheeks. This was a good sign, I was gaining ground faster than expected.

    “Bist du an yid?” - are you Jewish? – he asked me, his regard returning to scan my face. All these bullshit stories about being able to read a man’s soul inside his eyes... I almost cringed a few steps back, hit by an intensity of regard that could be found only in the darkest of fanatics or the truest of enlightened believers.

    “Yo,” - yes - I lied, knowing this to be the truth in my heart.

    “Du ligst, ober nor mit dein moil. Du ligst nischt in dein harz. Du bist an gut mensch.” You lie but only with your mouth. You don’t lie in your heart. You are a good man.

    I felt a slight trembling developing in my fingers and mounting towards my chest. I pulled a chair close to the bed-head and sat down. He could have used the Yiddish word man. He chose to use the word mensch. Only a ear attuned to the multiple intricacies of this archaic language could have heard the difference. Mine was. He did not call me a man, or a person. He called me a man of heart. I disconnected the recorder with a click, pulled it out of my shirt and placed it on the small table. The dogs finished devouring the meager leftovers and went asleep around us. The mischling jumped on the tall bed and curled into a snoring ring of flesh and satisfaction. The cocker tried to follow suit, but after tumbling twice it lay down close to the door, sniffing continuously underneath it. The Labrador and the Boxer took control of my shoes, laying their heads each on one and watching me with eyes ever heavier, till they closed completely. No one talked, the quiet almost complete if not for the beep-beeping of the monitor connected to Bercu Rabinowitz and the mischling’s snoring.

    “Ich bin nischt Got.” I am not God. “I can not create life. I can not kill to create life. I can only pray and let God decide.”

    “True,” I answered, “yet whatever you do is done only because God guided you the right way.”

    “Wrong,” he said, “God showed me the ways, it is up to me to choose the one to follow. I chose the wrong way.”

    “The first time or the second time? When you decided to gift the world with life or when you decided to take this life back from the world?”

    “Both times.”

    “Yet, the first time you took life away from animals to give to humans. Isn’t it the noblest of causes - saving a human life, so noble in effect that it voids the holy of holies – the Saturday? It so happens that the animals whose lives were stolen were dogs. So what, what is the difference between taking a chicken’s life and taking a dog’s life? Both serve the same purpose – allowing humans to live. The second time, on the other hand, you are about to take life away from humans. And you do not even give it back to the dogs. You just waste it away.”

    He watched me intently, surely wondering why I asked questions I knew the answers to, yet seeming to enjoy the challenge to phrase them in his own words and maybe compare these to my way of phrasing the same statement.

    “Food is an unfortunate necessity, it is part of His laws,” and for a moment he rolled his eyes upwards, mumbling something I did not catch. A short dialogue between Bercu and God. “Sucking life from poor creatures in a process put in place not by God, but by man, in his endless effort to resemble God in ways unintended, turns us all into parasites. What then is the difference between man and flea? Actually the flea is allowed, it is feeding itself off the dog. Man does not suck nourishment – he sucks immoral immortality by torturing a poor creature, not created for this purpose except in the delusions of a once insane Bercu Rabinowitz. Bercu Rabinowitz is finally back within the ranks of the sane.”

    “Killing all mankind in the process,” I insisted. I did not expect him to laugh, so I was surprised when he did.

    “Killing no one, just allowing their lives to terminate as originally intended.”

    “And killing all dogs in the process,” I drilled on. His face contorted, his breathing got faster as if he was hurrying somewhere. He probably was.

    “Saving them from the terrible torture I inflicted upon them. Unfortunately irreversible except in death. Not because it is impossible, but because it is now in the hands of the worthless worshipers not of God - but of life. Even my own congregation. I am a false prophet and they followed me. The first three Commandments are broken.” He started crying and chanting what I supposed were prayers. The beep-beep intensified as he was getting agitated, however the nurses were under strict instructions not to enter unless if I called them in. He watched the dog rolled at his feet, and for a moment I felt he wanted to stretch his hand towards it. “Poor dogs. What would you do if you saw a creature suffering terribly, daily, for years, and you had a gun in your hand, reb yid? Would you not shoot it with terrible pain in your heart at delivering death and terrible happiness in your heart at delivering from inevitable, unending agony?” My God, the passion in that regard fixing me, the regret burning there... “I played Satan’s hand first time, I will break Satan’s hand this second time we meet. And take my chances with the hell which I am about to visit...” He rolled his eyes once more towards the ceiling, murmuring his personal prayers to his maker.

    “Reb Rabinowitz, do you know that Satan equals 359, same as be i ratzon – unwillingly? You cannot be held to blame, your hand was forced.” For a moment I feared he was going to get his final heart attack then and there. And the next moment Bercu Rabinowitz was one of the most beautiful men I have ever set my eyes on – Bercu Rabinowitz smiled.

    “So, nevertheless, you are familiar with our ways, reb yid. I like you. Even though you are not really a yid, are you?” He fully stretched his hand and succeeded to reach the fur of the mischling at his feet. It was the first time Reb Bercu touched a dog with more than just scientific interest in his heart. I watched the scene hypnotized, before I caught up with his smirk, and started a small narrative. I admitted to my origins, telling him in short about my name, my upbringing, my parents; even about the jailing of my own brothers which brought another unexpected laughter from him. “Chag Sameach – happy holyday - is also 359,” he added his piece of gymatria to the unofficial contest.

    “So is Mesarten – carcinogenic,” I countered.

    Lemarbeh hamazal – luckily.”


    Kermit. And Rabinowitz equals 370, same as baruch haba lagehenom – welcome to hell,” he added, his regard never wavering.

    “Same as am nivhar – the chosen people,” I responded.

    “Same as Pink Floyd.”

    I couldn’t resist. It was my turn to explode in a natural laughter, scaring the two dogs at my feet into getting up. They looked at me reproachfully, shook their furs and swapped places and shoes.

    “You know why I am here.” I looked at him, trying to penetrate beyond the wisdom, the belief, the mirth. Bercu Rabinowitz did not do anything unless if he had fully intended to do it. Bercu Rabinowitz never lied, it was his eleventh commandment. Bercu Rabinowitz did poison the supply. I still needed to hear him say the words.

    Cohen is 75,” he said, “same as bogdani – treacherous.”

    “Same as kemo ahi – like my brother. Same as three times veahi – and my brother. Same as five times Yah’ – God. Same as fifteen times He’ – God.” It wasn’t a game anymore, if ever it was. I had him in my hold and I knew I would get the information not through his mind but through his heart.

    “I was waiting for you,” he said, meaning it, suddenly looking relieved. “I waited for someone to take the weight of this godly decision off my shoulders before I die, someone to take over the responsibility for life, mankind or other. It is too much of a weight for me, you can carry it easier and probably make the right decision. Yes, I poisoned that which these ignoramuses call fat-matter.” He caressed the mischling at the bottom of his bed affectionately. “It is untraceable, the so called poison will paralyze the dogs’ heart muscle in a matter of about three more months, and they will die an instant death. I had it prepared already once I divulged the information about the youth potion. You see, I was never one hundred percent sure I did the right thing, and then I decided I did the wrong thing and decided to correct the best I could my abominable act. I am sorry. I prayed that my personal goel – savior – will appear and deliver me of my pain. You came. You have the first answer to the first question you did not ask. I know you want to know if there is an antidote. This is the second question you did not ask. There is. Come closer.” I leaned against him and he whispered a word in my ear. Then he leaned back into his pillow, blank satisfaction showing on his face. “Ich danke dir,” he added loudly. I thank you. Then Rabbi Rabinowitz willed himself dead. The beep-beep turned one long beeeeeeeeeeeep. Rabbi Rabinowitz died.


    The piss-off of officialdom at my disconnected recorder was immense. I told them that Bercu Rabinowitz spotted it and demanded that it be removed and erased or else he clams up; so I had to do it. They were not persuaded and grilled me for hours, making sure I knew they did not water my dogs and they are suffering from thirst, so as to increase their pressure on me. Not knowing me probably enough and the inverse reaction they got, of course. Finally they had no choice but to let me go, believing my story in full. I knew of examination and cross examination more that all of them put together with their coaches on top. The idiots. I told them the truth, everything almost word by word. Everything except for the last moments. I edited these a slight bit. There is an antidote, find it! – I told them once more, and I left. You need it, I do not, I thought without saying. Human race, ha, what a selfish, conceited aberration.

    I returned to the cabana, fed and watered my dogs and went for a long jog in the forest with them trailing me silently. Almost as if they knew the world was about to change once more and there was nothing anyone could do about it except for their master who still had to make up his mind. The girls visited us next day, chattering and jumping around us as if they didn’t see us for ages. I looked at the jumble of human flesh and dog flesh tumbling on the grass outside, wondering at the ways of human decisions and the random mental processes turning some heroes and some villains, and everybody forgetting the small terrific pleasures in life like a cool beer and watching some kids playing with some dogs.

    I called my mom, making sure everything was okay with her, and fell into my routine once again. I was making up my mind slowly yet steadily with the passing days, debating the situation parliamentary style with the different factions in my mind, watching the news from time to time to see if anything changed “out there” in hell. I did not expect the phone call I received, about one full month later, with Richard sounding grave at the other end of the line.

    “There are developments,” he said, “I must talk to you urgently.”

    I refused to meet him at the same place. I did not like the phone call at all, I had nothing more to offer as far as they were concerned, and any volunteering of information should have been initiated by me. He invited himself for a visit next day at the cabana, lunch time. He knew better than to try and surprise me. I was just sorry the girls were with me when I heard the helicopter overhead and the small fleet of heavy cars approaching through the trees, too much hardware for a simple visit. For a first in my relationship with the bureau I was surprised, what the hell did they think they could get from me?

    I pulled the heavy shutters over the windows and the two logs across the wooden door. The phone rang.

    “Richard, I have two girls here with me. They should go home, please let them pass.”

    “Okay, then I come in.”

    “Leave all your personal hardware out.”

    The girls made a terrible fuss about leaving me alone with all those bad guys out there surrounding me, and it took some explaining that these are actually the good guys, and I worked with them, and when everything was clear I would call them back. Johanna hugged my leg and Maria simply kissed me on the mouth with absolutely no shame no complex and no knowledge. Then I pulled away the two logs and they picked their bicycles making indecent signs with their hands towards the glinting vehicles spread around. Richard approached the door showing his empty hands, even though I did not like the bullet-proof vest he was wearing. So this was a business visit after all. I let him in, closing and barring the door behind him, a Smith & Wesson ready in my fist. I did not need more. The dogs growled, then at a whisper from me settled back into a fitful doze.

    “Drink something? Must be terribly hot inside that vest,” I offered.

    “Yes, some apple juice.”

    I poured his full, and sat across from him, the table in between us, the revolver never leaving my hand.

    “What news, Richard? Why the carnival and attached fireworks? And I guess you are wired.”

    Richard drank, buying time before opening his mouth. His neckline was sweaty, the upper part of his silk tie’s knot spotted with sweat drops.

    “No, I am not wired, Freddy.” I believed him, though it did not matter. He drank again. “The dogs started dying, Freddy, just as you predicted.”

    “I didn’t predict anything, I just relayed information given to me.”

    “There was no antidote found, they don’t even know where to start looking for it. The best labs in the world are working on it, and they are still trying to identify what killed the poor beasts.” Aha, poor beasts, no more fat-matter but poor beasts. You did not change your mindset, Richard, so why poor beasts and why are you here? I was genuinely puzzled. “In a matter of weeks, probably, all of them will be dead and people will start dying too.”

    “Why are you here Richard?”

    He slid his left hand, slowly, beneath his bullet proof vest and pulled out a folded piece of paper, probably from his shirt’s pocket. He smoothed it on the table in front of me and let me read its contents. It was the photocopy of an answer to an official query. It all clicked in place with daylight clarity. Click. My second click in a lifetime. And the buzzer suddenly going off above my head fell in with my sudden understanding. Richard looked at me with apprehension. I showed him the small box clamped in my left hand.

    “At the second buzzer you, I, the dogs, this place and all of your guys out there go up in flames to that forbidden meeting place in Valhalla. Tell your guys to start crawling back right away.”

    “You are bluffing.”

    “There is only one way to find out,” I answered, quoting some character in some movie I’ve probably seen.

    Richard spoke hastily into his walkie talkie. Then he returned his tense attention to me.

    “Progress has a price, this is progress and its price, Freddy. The dogs will die anyway in a matter of a few years. It is not too late. It may take us ten years to create a reverse of the situation, probably more, but with care and attention the fat matter balance could be restored. Your mother, Freddy, she will be on the list of the first to enjoy the renewed supply. Same as the president of the United States, and other good people you would not want to see dying.” He took a long sip, trying to outguess me. Nobody could outguess me. Except maybe Rabinowitz and Rabinowitz was dead. “As you see from this paper, we accessed the records of the dogs supplied to you before you decided to move on your own out of civilization. They are all of female gender and less than one year old. There is enough frozen dog sperm to impregnate them and make them deliver a litter of about six pups every two months. The arithmetic is simple. The female pups will be impregnated at their turn and the males will be groomed into fat matter. In ten years the situation is well on the way to be fully reversed to its normal. You will be generously rewarded. We are here to ask you to relinquish your dogs into our care, Freddie.” Another sip, God, was Richard thirsty... “Of course, if you refuse I am allowed to use any reasonable or unreasonable force to take them. There is no way out, Freddie.” He did not take another sip. There was a slight tremor to his right eye. I don’t think he was afraid, I think he just knew I never failed an assignment.

    Care?... are you joking Richard? I did not need his long speech. I knew it before he opened his mouth, once I saw the document on the table, his speech so much similar to any I would have delivered under similar circumstances. After all we went to the same professional school. I even knew of the flat pistol hidden underneath his vest next to the same pocket the document came out of.

    Richard, you will always be a manager, never a top operator.

    And Bercu... damn you Bercu. Leaving me with the responsibility of playing God yet none of the authority and none of the miracle dust or whatever gods use. So now I have to choose between the life of my dogs on one side, and the life of my mother and a few billions of humans I don’t know on the other. Between the unending torture of billions of walking on fours I will never meet, and the extended life span and unblemished skin quality of billions of walking on twos which I will never meet either. But who will see me as a saint and a hero. Choose? who was given an option to choose, the decision was taken for me already. The president of the United States will shake my hand. Maria will hate me and wipe her mouth clean of that gauche kiss she gave me.

    I got up and walked over to the low wooden cabinet storing the dog food. I picked up an open pack and walked back to the dogs, watching them wag their tails happily. I placed a few thick dog biscuits in front of them, seeing them gulp the food eagerly and licking the floor clean of any crumbs. Then they lay down to sleep again.

    Or provide them with the word. The antidote. Maror – horse radish. So simple and they did not find it. And so symbolic, or was it anti-symbolic? The way Passover, which maror linked to, was symbolically linked to the liberation from slavery. Who were the slaves and who were the oppressors here? Save my own species and refuse to act as God. And yet still acting as God in my renewed condemnation of the dog species to never be liberated from their fat matter assignment and agony. For mankind’s ecstasy. Heil!

    I had no idea how I kept from exploding though my insides were raining cluster bombs. Damn you Bercu, damn this sticky, unpeelable godly cape you dropped on my shoulders. Maror. 446. Same as mavet – death, gan eden sagur – closed heaven, ata idiot – you are an idiot, zug mishamaim – a heavenly pair, se leolah – sacrificial lamb... yeah, se leolah, that one sounded quite appropriately.

    “Did you ever hear the name Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, Richard?” I asked, starting to screw a silencer to the end of my snub nosed revolver. At his blank regard, I continued. “You should expand your horizons, Richard, you should read some stuff beyond operation manuals. He was a hunter, turned writer, better known as Lord Dunsany. In one of his stories, The Use Of Man, man had to face a tribunal of animals and all he needed to win the trial was two animals to speak up for him. There were two. One of them was the mosquito. I don’t want to lose the other one, Richard.”

    He was pale, as pale as the yellow tie knot.

    “You are insane, purely insane, Freddy. How did you pass the shrink tests at all? You have a mother, Freddy.”

    He was right. I tried to make sense. I knew I was not doing a good job of it.

    “After she gets used to the idea, my mother will thank me, Richard. And yes, I am insane, gods are supposed to be, else they would not create people such as us, Richard. I mean, people. I mean as us, humans.” I finished screwing the thin cylinder and gave it one last tug. “You know, I hate foie gras with a passion. Did you ever watch those ducks being force fed, the way you propose to force breed my pups?” I looked at the dogs, my stare hardening. “And you don’t even know yet the end of it, Richard. You are about to know it. I am going to turn you into God, you will have to take a decision, the decision Richard. By the way, the biscuits I gave the dogs were doped, they are deeply asleep and will not feel a thing.” He did not have the time to blink before the four silent slugs met their targets and the muzzle was regarding him in the face. “You have to kill me, Richard, because if you don’t I will kill you.” I aimed at his left arm above the elbow and pulled the trigger. His chair crashed to the ground with a Richard agonizing on top of it.

    “You crazy bastard,” he moaned, trying to push his right hand underneath the bullet proof vest.

    “Told you, even crazier than you think. You see, I know the antidote, Richard, and you will have to kill your only existing source of information or die yourself and no one will even know such an antidote exists. Nice catch, isn’t it? I hate this god job. I will give you a hint, look in room number 446.” I pulled the hammer aiming at his forehead. He had no way to know the last bullet chamber was empty. He pulled the pistol from underneath his vest and squeezed the trigger. The roar joined the one of breaking timber as the door crashed down.

    Silence followed. Absolute silence.




    I went there early. Didn’t want to lose my slot, two months after my physician said he needed it to define what was wrong with me. Or rather with my elbow. Or rather with that clicking sound in my elbow. Of course, I got meanwhile so used to the clicking that I didn’t think I needed that scan anymore, yet curiosity got the better of me. So I went.

    By the time I found my way through the labyrinths of that unmarked hospital and unmarked doors, I had behind me the harrowing events of twice entering ladies’ undressing rooms, getting nose to nose with a wall, and getting out through the garbage chute into the garbage collecting area. Finally I found someone to take me by the (gloved) hand and bring me there.

    She hardly spoke English. The receptionist. I hardly spoke Nederlands . Finally she found a form with questions written in English and started pointing them one by one to me.

    “Heart pace maker?”

    “None until this morning.”

    “Shrapnel in your body?”

    “No, but I cut myself several times shaving.”

    “Foot prothesis?” I looked at both my feet.


    “Penis prothesis?”

    “I wish I had.”

    “Breast feeding?” Hey, lady, I am male, male, maaaaaaaaaale... I felt like screaming but did not.

    “Yes, before I underwent a change of sex.” It started getting on my nerves. She didn’t appreciate my answer and put a question mark in the relevant box.

    “Pregnant?” She looked at my belly, and I tried to pull it desperately in.

    “My neighbor is, and I had nothing to do with it.” What the hell? Next she would ask me if I practiced safe sex.

    “Diaphragm?” Told you.

    “Yesss...” I hissed, knowing immediately what a monumental mistake I had done. She penciled a thick red cross on her questionnaire, next to a phrase saying something like... to be investigated. Oh, no, oh, goodness, and if they do?... and if they find?... I believe the noise on the floor was not rain, it was sweat.

    It dragged on like that for another twenty or so similar questions and finally I was allowed to sit down and wait, alone in my misery. The lady waiting next to me was filling in a crosswords puzzle. From time to time she looked up from the paper my way and finally she smiled a friendly smile. She did not wink the first time. Only the second time. She was probably ninety plus but didn’t look a day over eighty plus. I took a magazine and made myself read, though I didn’t understand a word. Luckily there were some scantily clad models presenting female underwear to keep me busy. I heard the lady next to me sigh knowingly. I heard my name being called. Thank God.

    I followed the fat nurse to a cell the size of a man and his Chihuahua.

    “Undress,” she commanded.

    “What do you mean undress,” I retorted, “all I need scanned is my elbow.”

    “Undress completely,” she repeated unemotionally, handing me a hospital gown. “You can keep your shorts,” she conceded, “if there is nothing metallic in them.” For a moment I wished again for that penis prothesis... or at least a catheter, just for spite... What the hell would someone with some tens of piercings do? Well, at least she left me alone – there was no place for two in the cell anyway.

    I bumped several times into the walls trying to pull out my clothes, had a problem with pulling up my feet to unlace my shoes, wished there were some holes in the walls for bending the knees. Finally I just used the tip of my left shoe to pull off the right one and the tips of my right toes to pull off the left one. Then I looked at that gown, not quite clear in my mind what to do with it? It had short sleeves, a pair of laces at the top and nothing else. So where does the opening go – front or back? After some frustrating self deliberation I decided to cover up modestly my front and leave my back and ass bare. I won’t go into tying up those short laces at the back of my nape, by the time the door opened ten minutes later I was still fumbling at them and my sweat crawling from my feet upwards (there was a draft moving upwards in that cell).

    Thank God, this was a male nurse, I voiced a silent thanks prayer and followed him to the tube. Well it was a tube he took me to.

    “Will I fit in there?” I asked voicing my consternation and pointing to the contraption.

    “Don’t worry, bigger people than you did.” He spoke some English which was a relief.

    “Did they also come out?”

    “Most of them did.”

    I attributed the “most” to the language barrier, and followed him, not fully convinced, to the machine. He lowered a kind of bed for me and asked me politely to lie down on it, which I did. It was hard but not uncomfortable, however he kept pushing me to the right until a third of my body was hanging above the void between me and the floor. He smiled a “don’t worry” smile and put some kind of sponge around my left elbow (that’s why he needed the space) rolling around it several layers of cellotape. That was probably where they reached the limits of technology. Then he put a black ball in my hand “if in trouble squeeze it”, and approached with headphones in his hands. My God, will I scream so hard that he’s afraid of losing his hearing? “No, these are for you, so that you don’t hear the machine screaming,” he winked, and I passed a difficult moment hoping he was not gay or something. “Okay, moving in,” and the bed started lifting and then started sliding into the tube, and if I was claustrophobic I would have died just there and then. Just an inch between my nose and the tube’s inner wall above me, and my body suddenly squashed fitting just right inside and no wonder I should not have worried about hanging above the floor – I had nowhere to fall here, the tube loved me, hugged me. For next time I will lose thirty pounds, I promised myself.

    I heard a muffled “starting...” before the weirdest of gongs and knockings and drillings started happening around me. It didn’t hurt, well, at least that.

    I closed my eyes, trying to nap, impossible. I started thinking about my lady and unwanted things started happening to me so I dropped the napping for the less suggestive activity of counting elephants. I got worried when my body’s reaction didn’t stop... hey, man, elephants? I moved on hastily to goats, then to cemeteries, then to the Belgian weather, finally I succeeded to stop the embarrassing reaction at the count of twenty three Michael Jackson’s. Yey! By that time an itch started developing above my eye. How do you think an itch off? Not really easy. I tried to squiggle my skin and eyebrow ineffectively, then tried to hit the tube’s wall with the spot – hardly better, then somehow that itch started fading and another one started developing on my upper lip. I couldn’t reach it with my tongue from outside so I started pushing the flesh with the tongue from inside. Goodness, when will this end?

    The machine kept changing key – low, high, mellow. The hand holding the ball started getting numb and I had no way to release the pressure. Tried to pull in my stomach to have a bit more place for it – didn’t want my hand amputated with gangrene once the torture of the tube was over. Couldn’t hold my breath too long, had to find a compromise between dying of suffocation inside a plastic tube and losing an arm, I started panicking. And what if the nurse starts tickling my feet? And if he has an amnesia attack? a heart attack? a Mars attack? what will the aliens do to the last human alive clothed in that ridiculous plastic tube outfit? I started whining, my fingers tightened on the ball... rrrrrrrr... the smooth whirr of machinery copied itself into my bones and the bed started moving out. How long did it take, a year?

    I smiled bravely at the male nurse (the floor was bare and cold, couldn’t faint on it) and found my way back to the cell, blessing the tiles underneath my soles (I felt like getting on my knees and kissing them but there was not enough place for it). Somehow my body found its way back into the clothes, the feet didn’t really fit into the still laced shoes but who cared? and I stumbled back into civilization.

    The crosswords lady was waiting there with a wide grin on her face – at least she had her teeth in. The receptionist handed me with a triumphal look the CD with my most intimate images and I barely could abstain from running out of there. Not for long though, after the door closed behind me I started running, almost losing one shoe, almost knocking down an infusion infested oldie dragging a tubes empire around him... freedom! I screamed falling into the bushes just outside the hospital’s final corridor.

    Next week I have a second session, for the wrist. I wonder if the nurse allows me to keep my shorts on also this time.

    PS. I made sure I won the next conflict, hehe... didn’t wear any shorts at all.




    I was at my twenty-third sack. Wet leaves weigh just about three times more than dry leaves but I had no choice as my garden was turning a stinking above-ground swamp and any day now could get invaded by crocodiles. And go and get rid of crocodiles. Little mattered there were no crocodiles in this country – one could always escape a zoo and decide to raise a family at my place, no introductions needed.

    I sighed in self-pity as I pulled the dead weight to lie alongside the rest of its tattered family members, now in their ninth year of usage and showing. My back was aching, same as my elbows, shoulders, muscles... come to think of it – every piece of flesh in my body adorned with nerves was screaming in pain. I decided not to straighten up and force some click or clack in my spine, but rather to go into the house bent like that magnolia branch in the garden, undress carefully, and soak my bones in a scorching hot bath.

    I did not plan on this much scorching, so I howled my way away from the bath-tube, doing the round of the chambers three times and turning on the radio at full volume so the neighbors wouldn’t hear my squeals. Thinking of next weekend, when I was supposed to do the other sixty percent of garden ominously waiting there for me, turned my howl into laughter. I was definitely getting mad, and I wondered if I would end at the eternally-happy-home before or after the crocodiles set in. My only consolation was that some considerate soul would appreciate my travails, no doubt bigger than cleaning the Augean stables, and write a myth about me. I certainly deserved it.

    I looked admiringly at the black sooth under my fingers, proof to so much effort invested, and decided to stop bleeding my body empty while trying to clean them with various knife ends and worn-out toothbrushes. “Sooth is Beautiful” I decided, and went to sleep hugging my Barbie. It was my departed dog’s favorite, and now she replaced him at my side. I did though have her head shaved clean, it was originally full of Feedog stinking food leftovers. When I woke up following morning Barbie was nowhere to find so I had breakfast all by myself, shaved, dressed, and exceptionally - celebrating the black fingernails - I put on a checkered tie. It looked terrible but was the only one my dog left intact, even he didn’t like it.

    Everybody started screaming when I entered the large open space, shared by me and about twenty women in their early twenties or late nineties. The second category was empty, of course, and the first covered at least three grand-grand mothers. When I heard the hubbub I wasn’t certain at start if it was in pure adulation or in pure horror, the attention flattered me anyway. Until I saw that it had nothing to do with me but with a poor mouse trying desperately to get away from the stampeding elephants (at least that was its perception). It disappointed me immensely, however I decided to show once again my chivalry – the previous time it involved a hanging spider – and sacrificed my lunch to the benefit of all. The mouse approached the piece of cheese I lay on the floor, I picked it up by the tail wondering if it was male or female, and deposited it in the garden outside the office. Next to my piece of cheese. I guessed it was a brave one since it started munching right away, oblivious to cats and owls and pollution. I was greeted with cheers and applause once I returned inside and I even found an apple on my desk upon a piece of paper scribbled “with eternal gratitude, Gerta”. It wasn’t Gerta I was interested in.

    “Gerta again?” she asked, leaning lightly and kissing my cheek. She, was Sonata, my girl friend. Not my girlfriend mind you, but my girl friend, even though I was dying for her to become my girlfriend but she insisted on staying my girl friend like boy friend but girl yet friend... hmm, do you understand? What kind of a name is this Sonata? I asked her once when we were playing one-on-one basketball and I was beating the hell out of her with a lead of twenty points. Same like Jehoshaphat (Jehoshaphat being my name), she said, missing the metal hoop once more, thus allowing me to increase the lead to twenty two. And as biblical, she added, scoring this time. It took me twenty days of frantic bible reading to find she was joking.

    “Yes, one day I hope it will be Sonata,” I smiled, trying to show off my tie, the first time I wore one in her presence. She wasn’t impressed, probably didn’t even pay attention.

    “See you at ten for the meeting. And lose that horror.” She was also my boss. And she did pay attention.

    I worked in a small accounting firm, about one hundred employees, and our specialty was finding tax loopholes for medium size businesses, and then providing them all with the same service – getting a lot of money back from their uncle. Invariably called Sam, this one. I wasn’t an accountant by profession, I finished aviation engineering but I hated it. I did it for my ma and pa, and now that they had both passed away I could dedicate myself to my real passion – art, and most specifically painting. And since swindling is a kind of art too, these tax evasion schemes suited me like a galosh to a swollen foot. The daylight half of the day dedicated to making some money for living, the night half of the day dedicated to painting canvases that would probably never be sold. And the third half to sleeping – once with Toy, now with Barbie. Dreaming of Sonata for tomorrow. Yes, sure three halves to the whole, told you – I was an artist.

    I turned on my computer, went through the daily ritual of kissing Toy’s hairy image on the screen (my passed away doggie), going red eyed to pick my warm chocolate from the robber (at $3 a cup the machine rightfully earned its name), blowing my nose on the firm’s toilet paper (a bit rough but totally free and not measured per individual usage), and then starting the day with a brand new customer. At a rate of one customer a day I was the star of the department and it earned me a plastic moose scaled one to ten after the first year. After the second year I wasn’t doing any better so did not get anything else. Though Sonata joined the department at the end of the second year and this was prize enough.

    I was now at my fifth year with the firm, Christmas was approaching and I hoped for a nice bonus to get me a new puppy. I had enough of Barbie and I was getting nowhere with Sonata, so a new doggie, maybe to be called Toya this time, was what I was daydreaming about.

    “Hey, stop daydreaming,” I heard Sonata murmur as my head dropped on my chest and into real dreaming. She shoved a bony elbow into my ribs, and I woke up to the CEO’s meaningless graphs on the wall and even more meaningless explanations.

    “...and following the tremendous growth in profitability during the second half of this year we decided to expand our operation for everyone’s benefit. Therefore, and in everyone’s interest there will be no bonus allocation this year, and the money will go to buying our competitor, Schulz and Sons. This will ensure a firm growth...” Shit, no Toya this year, I thought in anger, and forced myself to fall asleep in the most provocative manner, oblivious to artificial shouts of joy and Sonata’s assailing bone, my mind reaching to other firm textures...

    “Jeo...” I heard Sonata’s sharp retort in my ear, and her hand softly yet firmly removed my palm from her thigh. I blushed into incoherence, what the hell was I dreaming about? I stood up, resisting Sonata’s frantic pulling at my trousers to get me back down, and addressed the CEO.

    “So, if I understand correctly, Mr. Koman, and using universal Marxist terms – you clearly do not intend to pay us the amount of labor produced, you will pay us just our labor power, and the surplus produce we create for you and which represents surplus value does not turn into extra wages for us but rather into additional capital for you. And I can forget about getting my Toya for this Christmas.”

    Gerta was crying her adulation in a hanky the color of my shoes (she did it daily, I don’t know how). Sonata gave up on trying to protect me and lowered her face into her palms. I did not need protection, everyone was looking at my tie, thunderstruck. The CEO looked at my tie, thunderstruck too, and after a few embarrassing moments of jaw hanging, he brought the two maxillae together and whispered something to the CFO who sat next to him. The CFO scribbled something on a piece of paper. I sat down and put my hand on Sonata’s thigh, fully conscientious this time. She put her hand over mine, but... she did not remove it, she just squeezed it.

    “Mr... ahmm... Dumitrescu...” the CEO read from the piece of paper, making it sound like Dummytrescu. “Are you Romanian, Mr. Dumitrescu?”

    “I am American, Mr. Koman,” making it sound like Cowman. He let the small innuendo pass him by.

    “Born in Romania , I guess, during the communist Ceausescu era.”

    “Born in Detroit , sir, a proud Romano-American. And reading a lot of social sciences, political sciences, psychological sciences, economical sciences and fictional sciences books. Yes, during the communist Ceausescu era.”

    I felt Sonata, shuddering next to me, making small squealing noises as if she was trying to contain a cascade of laughter. I wondered why. Gerta was at her second hanky the color of my shoes now, blowing kisses my way. Poor Gerta, with a boyfriend like that bum Peter, the parking guard. He was seated next to her, having spilled her purse contents on the table searching small change for the drinks machine among the Tampax, and the Menthols, and the Chevy keys. I blew her a kiss back, and she visibly choked, pulling a third hanky the color of my shoes out. How many did she have?

    The CEO recovered from his initial cultural shock, and went into a fifteen minutes tirade about the advantages of synergy, and the wonders of efficiency, the importance of market share, and the need to sacrifice in preparation of the hard times coming. He finished and I stood up, just as he was about to stand up as well and close the meeting. I was faster.

    I picked up a brochure from the table and I read out from it as loudly as politely acceptable.

    “... and the members of the working community will share in the profits thus created, for the benefit of all.”

    “Marx again?” he asked, pulling a few snickers from the audience.

    “Charles Koman, CEO, last year’s financial report.”


    I was thankful for the weather’s clemency. At a windless, rainless 33 Fahrenheit it was an almost pleasant gardening day. Dry leaves were easier to collect, and the sacks easier to carry around. I looked at the twenty seven morose monsters lined up against the wall, knowing that the next step - once I finished collecting and if I didn’t die earlier of a heart attack, was going to be loading them in my car, driving them to the city dump, dragging them up the seven interminable steps to the container’s rim, and then heaving them into the heart of their rotting nation’s bosom. Not the brightest of prospects.

    I didn’t look up when I heard the car braking close to the gate. I did, though, when I heard steps on the driveway. I’m not in the mood of buying a bible this Sunday, I thought menacingly, and did my best to unbend without moving any vertebra out of its evolution-defined location. Well, well, if all bible peddlers would look like that, I’d have my floors caving in under bible paper weight, I reasoned, adding a few extra heartbeats to the nominal count. Evolution does make some allowances, you know.

    Sonata stopped next to me, a big bag in her hand and steam to shame a dragon escaping her nostrils.

    “Is that a shovel in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?” she smiled, putting the bag down. “Where do I change?”

    I may have looked like a bad imitation of a dead tuna fish, since she licked her index finger and shove it into my opened mouth. I woke up from the mirage, mirages don’t go around sticking fingers in your mouth.

    “You’re not a dragon?” I enquired, not really joking.

    “Neither a fairy,” she answered, laughing at my dumb look. “Probably a bit of both, depends on who is asking and under what circumstances. I decided that a knucklehead such as you deserves a bit of consideration and I’m here to offer some help. If offer accepted.”

    “How much do you take by day?” I asked.

    “It goes by life,” she smiled widely, accepting the keys to the house and walking briskly over. She re-emerged fifteen minutes later wearing a shapeless sweater, shapeless trousers stuck inside shapeless rubber boots, a big, shapeless hat...

    “You look shapeless,” I managed to say.

    “Just making sure that the shovel stays there, in your pocket,” she laughed heartily, picking up the rake and starting to rake energetically.

    Except for a couple of drink breaks we kept raking and filling the sacks until it was too dark to see our feet anymore. The only word exchanges were monosyllabic “hold” and “take” and “here” and the rest achieved with muscles which were looking for a mouth to scream their pain. Mine, at least; she, well, she looked more like a Duracell Bunny than like a Sonata Female - bending, shoving, pulling...

    I ranged the last sack we filled together, with about ten percent more to go I felt almost ready for partying. I let her get into the shower first, while I prepared some snacks for us. Then I showered myself, emerging into a kitchen smelling of freshly cut vegetables and fried eggs and a Sonata looking for the matches to go with the candles she found in my drawers and which waited on the table. I pulled out from the bottom of a drawer a forgotten lighter, let her light the candles, and then we sat facing each other, ready to attack the food.

    “You know what follows?” she asked, munching with an appetite worthy of starved queens. I didn’t know, so I pulled my shoulders in ignorance and kept munching. My snacks were better than her salad but I didn’t tell her. After all she was a guest. “Come here,” she pulled me to the living room, leaving the temporary revolution take care of itself on the table, and pushing me into one of the two armchairs. She opened her bag and took out an aluminum foil, rolled it open slowly and picked up the two fat, disgusting cigars in her hand. “With Koman’s compliments, from his private collection. At fifty-three bucks each, hand rolled Havana ‘s of the highest quality.”

    “But I don’t smoke,” I protested lamely.

    “Neither do I”, se answered, biting both ends and spitting them into her bag. Then she pushed one into my mouth and one into hers and lighted both with my lighter. I started coughing like a dying man. She joined me as soon as she took her first puff, coughing like a dying woman. My eyes were tearing, my lungs exploding, yet for the next half of an hour I sat obediently in that armchair inhaling and exhaling the terrible stink and coughing with no interruption into almost faint. With Sonata playing second fiddle to me, yet not giving up until all that was left between her fingers was hardly big enough to be held. Then she squashed it to its death on a kitchen plate, doing the same with mine, and sat there, trying to control her tears and her lungs. Took a while for both of us.

    “Okay, so what is the story,” I finally managed to squeal, with same voice I had when aged three and going on four. She tried herself several times to utter some sounds, but couldn’t manage beyond a few meaningless iii’s and more iii’s. I let her recuperate, turning on the radio meanwhile and listening to some heavy metal. I hated heavy metal but liked the band. Queer me.

    “I’ll be damned if I know how you finally did it, but you’re not fired,” she managed finally. I couldn’t care less, but on the positive side - it meant I would still be able to work with her for a few more years, until she found a decent block to fall in love with. “And not all of it is you, by the way. Part of it, by my personal guess probably a lot, is Gerta.”

    “How Gerta?” I blinked stupidly, trying to find Sonata’s face behind the thick bluish cloud.

    “She threatened Koman to tell his wife.”

    “Tell his wife what?”

    It looked like she gave up on me since she closed her eyes and hit her head with both palms in an obvious pantomimic representation of “mamma mia!” then bent over towards me and put a big, wet, sisterly smack on my forehead. I didn’t mind the wetness so much, actually I wouldn’t have minded at all if she did it again and again, Duracell Bunny once more. But she preferred to lean back in her armchair, close her eyes and sigh like a very old woman.

    “You know what follows?” she went riddling again, and since I did not know I closed my eyes and waited for some elucidation. I must have dozed probably, since I started with a jump when the door bell rang.

    “Who the hell is coming at this time of the night?” I asked irritated, looking at Sonata.

    “Maybe a neighbor, coming for a glass of milk.”

    “No chance, the last one who got a glass of milk from me, lay in hospital for three weeks with food poisoning.”

    “Maybe a Christmas present?”

    “Christmas present? Who the hell would send me a Christmas present? And it is not yet even Christmas.” I got up, starting to go to the door.

    “Maybe I?” she said, watching me the way a very big cat watches a very small mouse.

    “You? You are Jewish, you don’t believe in Christmas more than I do.”

    “You don’t really know. Maybe it is a Hanukkah present, this year they fall close to each other.”

    I didn’t feel like word-swording anymore with her, the solution to the riddle was simple, all I had to do was go to the door, open it, and scream obscenities to whoever was there at such late hour for milk, or sugar, or selling bibles. I opened the door.

    The guy at the door was fidgeting, the chill visibly getting through his uniform, the package in his hands shaking terribly.

    “Mr. Dumitrescu?” At least he did not slaughter my name pronunciation. When I nodded my head he posed the package on the floor and put a pen in my right hand, and a notebook in my left. “Please sign here for acceptance.”

    I signed automatically, wondering in the back of my mind at the wonders of inertia, as the package kept shaking even as he left it on the floor. The guy picked the pen and the notebook from my hands, waiting a few moments for a tip which obviously was not coming, then mumbled a blessing which sounded like a distorted ‘luck you’ and left. I was still watching, hypnotized, the physical miracle when the package cover popped up and a hairy something’s head bobbed above the edge fixing me with the most innocent eyes I have ever had the opportunity to meet, even more than Barbie’s. The cover fell completely off revealing four legs attached to the head and a jutting steel tail testing the air ‘up there’, a big pink bow-tie decorating it all with big letters inscribed on it spelling something like Toya. Toya?... hmm... sounded familiar.

    The creature tried to crawl on the box’s wall, overturned it on top of itself and suddenly I had not only a shaking box but a crawling one. My, it was creepy.

    “Hey, dragon’s fairy, what is that?” I asked, pulling the box carefully away and picking the monster up against the light. It smiled at me and then peed straight down from the bottom of its tail. Female, no doubt.

    “A present from the office. We also got our bonuses paid. Something must have been terribly right between you and Gerta and the boss. Everyone contributed, I made the choice.”

    I let the doggie slide into my pocket, and within seconds it was snoring, curled, the stain around my pocket growing.

    “My God, how much can they pee?” I asked.

    “Probably much less than they can love.”

    We returned to the living room and sat back into our chairs, facing each other quietly. Women cannot be quiet for long.

    “You know what follows?” she asked, and this time I knew. It wasn’t very educational for the puppy, but I guess it did not understand yet the mechanics of the thing. Or the romance of it. It found its way, puppy-wise, between our two naked bellies, and sank into a deep slumber disturbed only by random tail beats. It was the music of heavens beating against my navel.

    “I love you,” I said, meaning both.


    I had to make sure to break Gerta’s habit. I wore underworld style shoes, black with white trimmings and red laces, caring not of what whoever might say at work. Nobody seemed to care on the way there, which was fine with me. I barely opened the door and a cascade of plastic flowers, and feminine garments, and shoes started raining on my head to the sound of screams and wolf-calls and applause, all directed my way. Sonata was seated at her desk, beaming, and nodding approval every time one of the queuing women in their early twenties or late nineties approached me and invariably kissed me on the mouth, some trying to tear a piece of my ass, some trying to sneak their tongue against the firm rampart of my clenched teeth, some trying to push their breasts behind the invincible shield of my ribs.

    Sonata was taking notes, and after every one of my feminine colleagues ended her own styled ceremony - she carefully marked something in her notebook, her mouth voicing a soundless ‘last’ my way. I guessed it was her own styled bachelor’s ceremony for me, since I was too poor in male friends to organize one. Gerta was, surprisingly, beaming too. “I love you to the end of time,” she whispered in my ear, adding “I mean - both” and it sounded somehow familiar. The last one was a cheerful, young, punk kid, pierced so full of holes than I was certain she left no rain-shadow behind her. The metal blob stuck into her tongue kept beating against my refusing ivory, and I was afraid that before long I would need dentures. Thank Goodness she finally gave up, the zirconium on her left nostril leaving a bleeding trail on mine.

    I took out the sleeping Toya from my pocket and put it on the floor next to me, pointing to the punk.

    “Kill, kill!” I commanded. The stupid fluff just raised its butt and left a wet spot the size of Lake Michigan after a snow melt. Gerta rushed forward and kneeled next to it, making cooing sounds and trying to soak Lake Michigan into a hanky... well, sure, black with white fringes and a red embroidered heart. I would never win with this girl, I told myself, pulling her head up and kissing her for real - mouth and tongue and all. Then I looked towards Sonata, echoing one last ‘last’ and getting her nod of approval.

    I sat at my desk and placed Toya in the waste basket, just making sure she didn’t wonder around leaving solid traces in addition to the liquid ones. I dropped Barbie next to her, so she had something to try her teeth on. Sonata gathered all the plastic flowers and feminine garments and shoes and dropped them in her own waste basket. She leaned over my desk pulling me by the checkered tie and making sure she replaced all of Gerta’s taste in my mouth with her own, and pulling out of my pocket a hanky - black, with white fringes and a red embroidered heart; I swear I didn’t know how it found its way there. It joined the rest of Sonata’s waste, the basket’s cover squashing it all in with a feel and sound of absolute finality. She sat on it, and I went over and sat in her lap kissing myself into a stupor, as all those early twenties or late nineties women started humming the Felix Mendelssohn thing.




    I woke up at the sound of a whistling train bearing down on me at terrifying speed, and there was nothing for me to do except cower underneath my bed sheets and await imminent death. A moment later the whistle was upon me again, yet not stronger than before. Oh, no, my nose again.

    I didn’t open my eyes more than necessary to prevent knocking down a wall on my way to the bathroom. I tried to blow my nose while peeing, resulting in the additional need to clean up the mess created, and finally getting a blocked ear to go with the nose. Hell, hell, hell, where is that divine elixir called nose drops? It may burn my flesh but it kills the train too.

    I put on my freshly pressed, freshly ironed uniform, hung on it all those stars and ribbons and medals I did nothing serious to earn but was doing great at drawing appreciative regards from ignorant ladies, and drove to the hangar. Pierre was sitting next to his baby, a Black Hawk chopper painted with our unit’s colors and insignias. He was well into his second pack of cigarettes, if to judge by the number of stubs around him. I knew he was going to clean them later on, so I did not mind.

    “He’s still busy. He brought some more of his tubes and wires and weights and whatsits. Kind of late, don’t you think?” I heard clanking noises inside the machine and I didn’t look, probably I didn’t dare look.

    Pierre was the best chopper pilot I’ve ever met, probably the best there would ever be. Of pure Native American origin, parents, grandparents, and as many previous-parents far back as I could follow his genealogy - this giant (more on the chubby than on the muscular side) guy was riding the chopper the way an original Indian would ride a mustang. I doubt if a mustang could have carried him more than one hundred paces before keeling under, but between him and Baby (the chopper) this was love at first sight. Baby was our unit’s aerobatics helicopter, with so many engineering changes put in, that it was closer to the space shuttle than to a helicopter. Plus a variety of balancing weights distributed all over the body that turned it virtually into a well balanced tire. And Pierre was my inheritance from the Navy, discharged there for insubordination, attitude, and unacceptable lack of willingness to learn swimming and to lose weight; a bonanza for my team and its aspirations. I wanted desperately another piece of tin to my chest, the one eluding me for five years in a row, and this was my opportunity to make it or break it - the military open aerobatics championship for helicopters. With Baby and Pierre riding her. Would make one hell of a scandals-newspaper title.

    Of course Pierre was not his real name. He was listed as Peter Otoahhastis, which at first sounded to me Greek. Then I found it was actually Cherokee for “tall bull” but “...I prefer to be called Pierre Pied-de-Boeuf, I like the French sound better...” he specified once we met, and Pierre Pied-de-Boeuf it stayed. And it seemed that his size was actually what gave him the little extra oomph, in addition to technology and flair, to pull out of the machine whatever no one before him ever succeeded.

    “You see,” he confided in me once, after a training session, “I just move my ass the extra few inches thata way and she...” (Baby) “...just does it.” The cameras installed in the cabin proved it right, but no one could put any scientific numbers to it. We called it “Pierre’s ass” factor and this was our unit’s best kept secret, probably even better so than project Manhattan. And with it we, and I specially, hoped to get this year that eternally eluding tin.

    Igor Sikorsky (this was his real name) pulled his body out from the machine and started ranging his tools carefully back in his containers. Indians, Russians, Porto Ricans (me) and a mix of other breeds taking part in the project, going for the supposed to be impossible.

    “She is as ready as she’ll ever be,” Igor beamed at us, his four gold front teeth blinding me with reflections of the rising sun. “You don’t have to use it, but if you feel your butt is about to hit dirt, push the button and the weights and extra trust will shift the extra few inches to pull you out of misery and fiery death. That is, if you are a real driver, you know.” Igor insisted on calling Pierre a driver and Pierre felt honored by this insistence. Looks like a perfect match - Indy-Red and Commie-Red - I thought, knowing that if I ever voiced it aloud, even in my sleep, I am out of the military as dishonorably discharged and as pension-less as possible. I held no such worries in my close quarters, though.

    “And you expect me to take it at face value, right?” asked Pierre, lighting another cigarette. His “tricks” barely successful at high altitudes, we decided in a very restrained circle of confidants that we would get even better chances to win if we added to the impossible tricks also an impossibly low elevation. Igor, who was as scientifically qualified as personally skilled, was our secret weapon in the project. After all, he was once on the development team of the Russian MI series.

    “Well, you can try it and die trying. Or you can try it during the competition and die a hero, and get a bonus plus a tin to whatever’s left of your chest. That’s what it is all about, no?” Igor patted Pierre’s behind, and mounted the golf cart dragging all his boxes. “I love this ass, it’s worth a fortune. See you there.” He winked and drove off.

    “Do you have your flight plan ready?” I asked, and pulled a cigarette for myself as well, coughing like The Lady of the Camellias, the last I saw it on TV.

    “I leave at 3 pm, Igor flies with me. He’ll run some tests while we fly. No sweat.”

    He went around to find the broom and started cleaning the stubs and ash. Whatever his previous commanders had with this guy - he was one hell of a positive human being. Maybe because he found his calling and wanted to keep it? It probably went deeper than that.

    “Okay, Pierre, I will leave you for my staff meeting. I will be on the field much before your time to show-off starts. Ahmm... Pierre...”

    “Yes, sir.”

    “Please leave your red glove and red upraised fist home. This is not Red Panthers time.” He did it once and we both got almost thrown in jail because of breaking the code of armed forces ethics of equality of chances... or whatever. “Or I will have to cut off your masturbating hand”.

    He was nonplussed.

    “No problem, sir, I can always use your hand, if I need later.” Yeah, there was an impudent smile there, but you could not deny the intelligence. I smiled back.

    “Good luck, son.”

    “Thank you, sir.”

    He saluted me and I saluted back. There was no need, but the occasion was too tense and even too festive - at least expectation wise - so we showed it the right kind of respect. I kissed Baby on the empty gun-hole and gunned the jeep to my meeting. My nose was stuffed, yet my heart was beating like I had also stuffed arteries in my chest. They wanted me to cancel our participation as they considered our top act as too dangerous. And they didn’t even know how more dangerous than they thought, it really was. “Fuck you, sir,” I muttered upwards to my chain of command, raising in my mind a Tanned Panthers glove inside a fist, one finger sticking out nevertheless.


    I provided “conclusive” safety data to my higher hierarchy, based on my imagination and some Igor manipulated graphs and tables. So they were in the clear as far as they were concerned, if something happened it would be me to lose my head as chief commander of the unit. And since they wanted that cup (cup for them, tin for me) as desperately as I did, they didn’t play hard to get.

    I reached the show field in the morning, enough time to enjoy the lemonades and snacks prepared for the VIP cushioned stands, I wasn’t considered a VIP, but a wink and a smile can get you far even in the military, especially when the hostesses are nice young civilians. Even though it was not the main show - the parading grounds were kept alive by several para-military schools competing for the first place on marching exercises. I had to admit it looked impressive, both in color and performance. The nice weather and the constantly changing military bands added to the festive feeling, completely unrelated to the hole at the bottom of my stomach. More expectancy than worry, at least this is what I persuaded myself it was.

    Exceptionally this year, the competition was open to the wide public as well (the military had to up its budget somehow) and the transmission rights were sold to several national and international TV chains. My girlfriend was there with the wide public somewhere, I actually knew exactly where and who were those sitting around her, not risking one of those heavier medaled compatriots of mine to pinch her from me. I made a waving sign in the general direction of her sitting place, and I recognized the blue bandana that was waving frantically back as hers. Great gal, crazy about me. Not that I was anything else about her.

    Another exception this year was the presence of several guest helicopters, military all of them and armed to the teeth... or was it blades?... who were supposed to make the introduction to the main event - the aerobatics show - with blinding fire and deafening noise. After all this was no boy-scout event, and those tools out there in the field were designed to deliver most of the death in the shortest possible time. Don’t want to see - don’t come. For a few flitting seconds my mind played some disturbing images I’ve lived through, of friend and foe who was “handled” by these “tools”, and I had to turn my girlfriend’s way and wave again, just to prevent others seeing tears creep into my eyes. “You’re a woosie,” Pierre toasted me once, when we were doing our best to get drunk together, and I was telling him my war stories. “You’re an Indian Moslem, of all things, drinking hard liquor,” I responded, not really logically. “And you’re a Porto Rican Jew, of all things, eating pork,” he responded. There was more logic to his answer than to mine, and finally we fell asleep under a bench in the bar, hugging each other.

    I walked over to the hangar hosting the competing machines and their respective crews, all of them in pairs except for my guy. He was paired with Igor, however he was the only one flying on his own with his machine. I passed on the way there the guest choppers - there was a Russian MI-28N Havoc, a first for such a show in the west, a German UHT Tiger, an Italian A-129 Mangusta, the English Super Lynx, and a light French one - the Panther AS-565MB. There were some others there which I did not really recognize, probably less original designs and more revamped versions of the others. The Chinese were notably missing, well, they still had a lot of to catch up with until they could really meet the demanding needs of modern death.

    All this fire power... it was the occasion of a lifetime to take out many of the high echelons of the US military, presently munching small sandwiches on their seats, and create a new world order. I almost laughed loudly but then saw the clouded face of Igor and any attempt to laughter changed into a deeper clog in my nose. I sprayed half a bottle of acid in both of my nostrils and approached our allocated slot. Several technicians were busy with the machine preparations as if there was nothing to worry about, Pierre looking calm, and only Igor behaving more like a tiger in a cage than like a scientist in a cage.

    “This Redskin here says he refuses to use my latest installed compensation devices, claims they were not tested enough to his taste. And that he can still pull it all off without using them.”

    “And what does the Bolshevik say?” I asked him, my worry one notch lower.

    “That we tested it enough on our way here and they work. And the theory is sound and the computer simulation perfect.”

    “Then let the simulator fly the contest,” responded Pierre, absolutely no animosity to his voice. When someone will succeed one day to get some blood to flow in the veins of this cold fish I will give him one month’s salary, I thought. I pulled Pierre outside, so he could smoke, and I joined him again just for the pleasure of coughing my soul out.

    “Promise me something, Pierre,” I asked.

    “Depends,” he answered.

    “You will know exactly at which point and if at all your ass-factor will not be sufficient to pull the trick out of Baby, right?”


    “Then promise me that if and when it happens - you will push the button or pull the lever or kick whatever it is that Igor installed there last time, okay?”

    “Do you trust him so much?”

    “I trust you so much.”

    “Done.” No shadow of any kind of regret or concession in his voice, just fact. Done.

    We shook hands and I left for my place in the stands. The winners for the marching contest were being announced at sounds of drums and applause, and the following chapter was to be the helicopters’ fire show. And then the real thing.

    There were no more free sandwiches at my category of allocated seats, so I stole a few from the VIP area, claiming I had to talk to someone there. I passed straight through, then made a big detour through the public stands, kissing my girl, and then reached my seat again. The sergeant major who acted as maitre d’ waved a threatening finger my way (those guys had eyes in the back of their berets) and I wove enthusiastically back, then focused straight forward. The terrible fire and explosions and smoke did not make even a dent in my composure. I guess I was petrified. The main show was about to begin.

    Igor sat down next to me, munching popcorn. The smell was so nauseating, that in my moment of stress I felt I was going to puke.

    “You look green. What did you tell him?” he asked, turning a handful into a mouthful. If there was someone more tense than me in the whole of the arena, right then, it was him.

    “I told him that if he dies, I kill him.”


    The twelve competing helicopters passed overhead, trailing colored smoke. Then they touched ground far and to the side of the air show area, and the first one - a Navy unit - took immediately off. The others kept their motors running, looking like some Paleolithic angry bugs. The noise in the stands was even stronger than the noise of the motors, the supporting crews brought over making sure everyone knew who their favorite was. Baby’s draw placed her to be the seventh to take to the air. There was nothing else for me to do but sit and wait. The others could also enjoy. I took a handful of popcorn from Igor’s bag and stuffed my mouth full with it. I started grading the performance of each chopper taking off. None made it yet to a grading bigger than six. One even a four. Sure, I was biased.

    “One more to go,” Igor stuck his elbow into my side, as if I didn’t know. The sixth contesting team did better than the previous ones, performing a few tighter loops, fast spins, and side to side wobbles on the limit of losing air-lift, and I conceded grudgingly a seven in my mind’s imaginary scale. The numbers displayed on the scoreboard exceeded mine always by half a point. This time they exceeded mine by one full point. Eight. Baby took off.

    Pierre took it through all the exercises performed by the teams before him, in another order of execution of course, the way we rehearsed it. His loops tighter, his spins faster and jerkier, his wobble almost deadly. If the bastards give him less then an eight for the performance until now I shoot someone in the eye, anyway they are blind. I found myself hopping up and down my chair together with the hundred odd members of our unit I dragged along. There were also other applauses and whistles in the crowd, they liked it. Wait until the end of the performance, I thought, wait... you’ve seen nothing yet, people.

    Igor, next to me, was as frozen as an Egyptian sphinx. His maxillae tight, his fists turning the hapless popcorn which happened to be inside them, to flour. The chopper started gaining height for the last exercises. It kept rising, and rising... I sat down and looked baffled at a livid Igor.

    “What the hell is he doing, Igor, what the hell?...”

    “He is going for a triple, damn, he is going for a triple...” he mumbled through a mouthful of popcorn mush, “the bastard is going for a triple, we rehearsed for the double, the bastard is going for a triple...”

    I kept looking at him, not at the sky, knowing exactly what he was saying, yet refusing to register what the ears and brains were telling me.

    “Triple... what triple?...” My eyes returned to the diminishing dot which just finished performing a returning loop and started gunning down with the joined forces of motors and blades and gravitation, wobbling side to side stronger and stronger. There was not one human sound in all of the stands, my gulping discounted. The chopper started rolling rightwards, rolling, rolling, finished one tight corkscrew turn, kept on rolling and falling, rolling and falling, a second corkscrew finished, the third one started, the distance chopper to ground diminishing viciously... Igor suddenly jumped to his feet and started screaming, spitting popcorn all over the rows before us...

    “Pull the lever, pull the lever, damn you, pull the lever...” and a flow of Russian curses preceded the jerk in the chopper’s body, the blades’ whirling tornado raising dust off the ground, the beast still falling yet trying to straighten up... were there ten feet at the closest when the chopper started pulling up along the other arm of the parabola and finished the third roll, concluding in mocking elegance with a full loop before flying over to its landing spot and starting its descent.

    It was still quiet, no whistles, no applauses, everybody nailed to their chairs with the exception of Igor, all eyes riveted to the scoreboard. It was taking too long. It is ten or disqualification and court martial, I told myself, ten or disqualification, ten or disqualification... A short lived nine point five appeared and disappeared from the score board leaving it dark once more.

    “Ten!...” I heard Igor suddenly shout towards the scoreboard. “Ten!” I heard someone else calling, and additional voices started joining in, little by little turning into a chant until I didn’t think there was one single mouth in that entire public no to be part of that demand. Even competing units, damn their fair souls - I thought, joining in the acclaim with all my subjective heart. I saw Pierre descend from the chopper and other crews rushing forward to shake his hand. He made sure he was well away from the chopper’s blades before turning in my general direction and raising a closed fist. Well, at least he was not wearing his damn red glove. I answered in kind, raising my right hand up, one finger pointing impertinently skywards.

    The scoring board stayed blank. The chanting stopped, replaced by the absolute silence of impatient wait. What the hell, are they calling the president? Ten.

    The roar was deafening. My nose opened forever as popcorn catapulted through it with the spluttering finality of a firecracker, and for a few moments I levitated with euphoria (found out later it was Igor picking me up in his ape arms). I think the only other time I lived such an incredible atmosphere was at the movies, when Babe got her ten. Now Baby got hers.


    We left our uniforms in the hotel and went to a local bar to get puking drunk. Igor, poor guy, could not get drunk whatever he poured into himself. Everything he tried was just diluting the alcohol in his veins. He kept rushing over to the men’s room to empty himself and rushing back to keep trying. There was no such problem for me and Pierre. All of the close team, eleven of us, got the first prize medal, and were all dispersed all over town now celebrating each to their style. I was the only one who insisted to keep the piece of metal pinned to my civilian shirt. And when I puked over it and my girl removed it for me, I insisted that she attached it to my singlet. I guess that at that moment, if I had to choose between her and the piece of tin, I would have chosen the tin.

    “You don’t mean that, do you?” she murmured in my ear and touched me in a way which allowed me no choice but to understand what she meant.

    “I love you,” I half slurred, half burped falling on Pierre’s neck.

    “I love you too,” he slurred back, ogling my girl.

    “You both are disgusting,” concluded Igor, finishing my drink, then Pierre’s. “You know, driver, if I wouldn’t have reminded you to pull that lever you’d be spread all over the United States by now.” Pierre was gone to the lands of beyond care, snoring against me, as I was leaning against my girlfriend snoring against her, as she was leaning against the wall snoring against it. “Decadent capitalists,” concluded Igor, finishing whatever was still in liquefied form on the table, then kissing in turn each of us on the forehead.

    Morning found him leaning against Pierre, snoring against him and continuously mumbling an unintelligible mix of Gregorian chants and Orthodox prayers.



Birmingham United

    “Birmingham United. I am here because of Birmingham United.”

    “You mean Manchester United.”

    “Manchester? What’s that? Birmingham United!...” she repeated, a bit surprised at my obvious ignorance.

    I let it pass. We were auditing for our next show, and personal football preferences were not really what mattered. What mattered was if they could dance.

    “Which academy did you graduate from?”

    “High school, graded a 10 in math and physics. Not so good in chemistry, just a 9.” She pouted angrily, lost for a moment, probably having some mental argument with a teacher. I didn’t give a hoot about her high school and grades.

    “Dance, can you dance?” I lost some of my legendary (so they say) patience, and my sentence sounded more like a bark than like a question. Sofia, next to me, pushed her knee against mine in a mute sign of - okay, let her show something. “Okay, George here will show you a sequence of steps, you will have to repeat it. Are you ready?”

    She dropped the bag she was carrying next to our desk, removed her shoes and shirt leaving her dressed in a tight-fitting, black-stretch fitness type of garment... “Yes, ready.” She turned towards George, who clicked a metronome on and performed a short sequence of rhythmic steps. She watched him intently and then turned to face the same direction that George was facing and repeated the sequence perfectly. Yes, quite impressive for a short one. I was about to signal George to try something more complicated, when she turned the other way around and performed a perfect mirror image of the earlier sequence - left was right, right was left for both foot and hand... hey what’s that for a talent?

    I signaled George for a next. He looked slightly amused at the young woman, T.R.A.C.Y. she presented herself, “...but you can call me Tracy,” she conceded. He slid a cassette into the player and made it this time a more intricate sequence, an improvised mix of modern and classical moves. He passed (on purpose – you’re a bastard, George, I smirked to myself) behind a cardboard wall where he was out of view for a few seconds, emerging on the other side to finish his dance moves. The girl watched him in a hypnotic trance, then looked my way nodding her head.

    “Can you please restart the music?”

    George rewound the cassette and pushed the play button. Except for the fact that she looked completely different, her performance was such a perfect replay of George’s that it could as well have been a filmed one. In tri-di of course. And for the passage behind the cardboard wall, she preferred to pass in front of it, improvising a few moves of her own which allowed her to blend perfectly into the moves George did the moment he emerged once again. I was beyond baffled, I was astounded. I looked at Sofia, Marcia (the other member of the admittance board) and at George who - for once, seemed to be baffled himself.

    “Say, Tracy, can you repeat any sequence which we might show you?” It was Marcia asking, putting a bunch of OK dots on her questionnaire.

    “Yes, if my physique allows it. I cannot bend backwards till my head touches the back of my knees. And I cannot jump high enough to do a triple turn. But basically almost anything else.” Well, I didn’t know myself of anybody capable to jump high enough to make a full triple turn except on a trampoline. I got up and selected a video cassette.

    “This is a sequence of Fred and Ginger. Two generations earlier and one generation older.”

    “I love Fred and Ginger,” she smiled genuinely, and it warmed a spot in my heart. I loved watching them myself.

    “It is an edited version, interspersed with a few Michael Jackson antics. Watch it carefully.” I plugged the cassette into the video player and turned on the projector, letting the image appear in glorious cinema size on the audition hall’s wall. It was a fifteen minutes long sequence, edited more for fun than for real use, by Sofia. “Do you think you could mimic it with the same accuracy as you showed earlier on?”

    “Can I please, see it again?” She pulled a chair and sat facing the screen on which the protagonists were skidding and rolling and jumping... “Oops, didn’t tell you. I can’t roller-skate.” There was no roller-skating needed but the figures did moves much more complex than mere roller-skating. As far as I knew - it took weeks of rehearsal for some of the screenshots. “And you will have to make allowances for me not having a partner to hold me or stairs to rush up or down them...” She got up from her chair, stretched all possible ways (her head almost touched the back of her knees), then took a stance in front of the wall. “Okay, play it again, Sam.” She winked our way, completely relaxed and confident. I played it again.

    The mimicry was perfect. With the absence of props and with the absence of a partner and with the wild interspersed cuts - I think that no one could have reached the level of perfect simulation the way this girl did. Unless if she was some kind of a robot, which she certainly wasn’t. Not with those small breasts bouncing, not with the blush invading her cheeks, and not with her sudden collapse about three quarters into the sequence.

    George was the first to rush to her side, with the rest of us following. She was breathing rapidly, her eyes closed. Sofia touched the left side of her chest with her open palm.

    “Her heart chucks like a locomotive. She is completely out of condition. And I guess that she is also completely famished.”


    We decided to make a break, it was anyway almost lunch time. Sofia helped Tracy put on her clothes, brushing aside the awkward excuses, and we took her to a nearby fast food. She asked if she could order more than her share, for her friends. There was not much of a story behind her, but she told it to us anyway, in general lines. She arrived to the UK from Croatia (I watched Sofia, when she mentioned it, as Sofia was also originally from Croatia), and was waiting to receive her British passport, her mother being originally from Wales. She lived in various cheap apartments together with her two girl friends, making some sort of living by working as waitresses, bouncers (“you should see my girl friends”), and at times dancing and begging at street corners. Yes, she followed ballet lessons as a kid but her parents could not afford paying for it further. Her talent? She bit deeply into a calorie-rich hamburger overflowing with ketchup and mayonnaise and lettuce - “I always had it, just never thought it had any commercial or artistic value. I saw your posters on the street and decided to give it a try. Do you really think I could make a living this way?”

    We certainly thought so and told her. However she needed to start working on her body condition since talent enough was not sufficient, one needed also the stamina to show it on stage. Sofia promised to introduce her to a training center, if she was interested, and get for her a reduced price.

    “Tell me, Tracy,” asked Sofia, “what’s that with Birmingham United? Are you a serious football fan, or what? You said you came here for that.”

    “Oh,” she answered, carefully packaging two hamburgers and a big pack of limp fries into a bag, “my friends are nuts for it. They persuaded me to come to Birmingham, in order to see a few games. I guess it finally is not Birmingham United, is it?”

    “It is not,” I laughed, “it is Manchester United and their home town is Manchester. I believe your friends were a bit mislead themselves.”

    “I believe they were mislead by all those hunks on TV. Not to say I didn’t like seeing them too. I am more of a rugby fan myself.” Unexpectedly she blushed, standing up. “I will take the tube back to my place, I guess you will contact me or something, right?”

    “No” said Sofia, and as Tracy seemed for a moment taken aback, she hastened to add, “you are hired.”

    Tears welled in the girl’s eyes. She hugged us both, almost unwilling to let go of Sofia, and turned to go. “Hey, do you have money for the tube?”

    “Not really, I jump the barrier, and run away.” She really meant it. I picked some loose change from my pockets and handed it to her. “Make sure you are there next Monday. On time, 9 am. Or you are dis-hired.” I smiled, yet I really meant it too. She leaned my way, kissed my cheek, picked the bag and left.

    “Do you think she will be there on time?”

    “I think so.” We walked back to the audition hall, holding middle fingers. “I think she is naturally talented, I wonder how she wasn’t discovered earlier.”

    “Probably never tried. She still needs the conditioning though. I hope she’ll show some talent there as well.”

    When I opened the door, Monday, I found Sofia sitting on the floor, leaning against the wall. Her face was a mask of physical pain.

    “Your back?” I asked. She nodded silently and allowed me to help her to her feet, grimacing continuously. “You know you should not try any wild moves,” I admonished her, guiding her slowly to a chair. She took a pill out of her bag and swallowed it with no water.

    “I know, just cannot resist sometimes, the temptation to compete with these kids is too big.”

    “Just stick to choreography, okay? We cannot afford losing you to some greedy hospital bed, right now.” I kissed her lightly and turned on the lights on the stage and the ventilation. The old building had a typical old building stench. It had also a soul, of course. The dancers who were accepted started trickling in at eight thirty, Tracy being the third one to arrive. I was glad I won the bet with my trustless self, this kid had a future ahead of her if she persevered. She waved our way, mainly Sofia’s way, and started a range of stretches and jumps. Very few of those coming today would know each other, she knew no one.

    With George finally making it at a quarter past nine (“missed the first tube...”) we were all present. I considered this a good omen, and asked all of them to gather in the middle of the stage, to outline the show and point who were the candidates for the various roles. Then I handed them their individual repetition schedules. There weren’t many among them who could really sing, this having been our main problem during the auditions. However we finally nailed the main protagonists, allocating to each number two’s, in case of emergency. We did not have a definite role for Tracy, we decided in a meeting we had during the weekend to keep her as our ace up our sleeve in case we got a problem with any of the main female characters. We did not test her singing, she could perfectly mimic the mouth movements if needed. She was, though, supposed to repeat the various roles in the rear of the stage, which demanded quite some energy investment. Therefore we were lenient at the beginning, allowing her the time to start building her muscle resistance. Sofia took it upon herself to play late age godmother to her, and make sure she followed the physical training in a consistent manner.

    Everything seemed to be on track.


    For three weeks the rehearsals carried perfectly on, and we were on schedule for the opening, planed two months later. The investors were, exceptionally so, satisfied with the choice of actors and their performance, and started sleeping better at night. The stress of the first couple weeks stole quite a number of sleep hours from me, and in the mornings Sofia was telling me that once I finally dozed off – I was snoring like an elephant.

    “How do you know of the way elephants snore?” I asked one day, my mood edgy.

    “I don’t, but if I was God this is the way I would have designed it.” It wasn’t a compliment, but I kissed her anyway (I had no choice, she threatened me with a hard-boiled egg).

    On the fourth Monday, Tracy did not show up. We couldn’t call her as she had no phone at her lodging place, but I wasn’t overly worried – “Probably a woman thing,” Sofia guessed. She didn’t show Tuesday either. I was going to send someone to her place Wednesday, in case she didn’t show up again, but when I arrived at the theater at eight in the morning to open the doors – she was there. She was asleep, curled like a child, covered by a thin coat with a voluminous bag next to her. I shook her gently awake.

    “Hey, there is warm coffee inside, and some cookies.” I lead the way to the rehearsals hall and she followed me dropping her bag next to a chair, herself sinking in the upholstery.

    “What happened?” I asked, looking at a swollen eye and several scratches underlining it. She munched a few cookies and sipped on her coffee before answering.

    “I had a fight with my girl friends. They brought in a few characters I did not approve of and started fooling around. I wanted them out, after all I am paying for the apartment. Then they roughed me up, took my money calling me ‘junkie’ and threw me out. It was more violent than I tell it, but this is the summary of it.” There was a flash of anger in her eyes when she used the word ‘junkie’, which receded immediately. She sipped further, clearly trying to make up her mind to ask me something. “Jos...” this was my name, taking after my Dutch origins, “do you think I could stay in the theatre until I find another solution?”

    I didn’t answer right away, finding slightly disturbing the bit of information she fed me with.

    “Are you, Tracy?”

    “A junkie?” she knew right away the source of my involuntary reticence. “No.” There was a childish, stubborn look on her face, clearly hiding something, yet clearly not willing to admit to it. I didn’t remember seeing any needle signs on her arms, and she clearly did not behave during the last couple weeks like someone having the need to get high. Yet there are all kinds of drugs and all kinds of ways to take drugs, I told myself.

    “Listen, let’s wait for Sofia, we will find a solution. I don’t think you can stay in the theater, insurance and safety matters. But I believe we will find a way to help you out.” She got up from her chair, came over and hugged me, burying her face in my shoulder. Then she returned to her coffee sipping. I’ve never been a father or a big brother before, but suddenly I felt a need to protect this kid as if I was one. Hey, you sentimental fool, all you need now is a drug addict in your team and the entire project goes bust. She finished the sweet cookies’ jar and moved immediately to the salted cookies one. God, she looked so innocent and so hungry.

    I told Sofia, once she came in, about Tracy’s problem. She didn’t even think and offered that she stays with us in the “junk” room, until she found a better solution. Our apartment had a small extra room, which we used for storing anything we didn’t know what to do with in the short run, yet were reluctant to throw away completely. I wasn’t overly enthusiastic at the idea, I cherished my privacy above anything else and I didn’t want to give up my choice of music and my choice to walk undisturbed in the apartment in my underwear. Sofia didn’t count, she was part of my privacy, but now a stranger...

    “Don’t worry,” she winked, “I will pay for it with extra sex. Anyway, it is for a short period.”

    “The sex?”

    “The arrangement, you silly.”

    “And what happens when we make, you know, noises?...”

    She leaned against my ear, whispering and squeezing my butt.

    “Don’t worry, I will make sure that our mouths are full...” and she pirouetted away, adroitly avoiding my pat. I accepted, well, I was left with no choice. Once a woman starts controlling your life you have no choice but let her do.

    I didn’t know if Tracy was delighted, she was at least relieved. She came over and hugged me for a second time that day, and then she hugged Sofia as if she was her long lost mother. Then she joined the others for another day of harrowing rehearsals. A certain cohesion started building in the troop and Tracy was accepted as just another one of the actors. Her unique talent raised eyebrows of surprise, and it had the beneficial secondary effect that the female dancers did not get high nosed, as I knew they could. After all – I had an immediate replacement if needed. Two of them left, having found better paying opportunities and I had to go into a whole new range of auditions to replace them. I did not offer any of the positions to Tracy, as her conditioning was still lagging largely. She accepted, making no unnecessary scene. The kid had a golden heart. Well, not as golden as that.

    “What are you grinning at, all the time?” I asked her, a few days later, watching her unable to control a snicker crawling continuously up to her mouth.

    “I bought a pair of tickets to this weekend’s game, Arsenal – United. I sent them to my girl friends, as a present.”

    “Oh, that’s nice of you. So you don’t hold a grudge against them anymore, I guess?” I was thinking more in terms of maybe she moving back to live with them rather than in terms of her benevolent heart. I knew something was wrong, as I did not see any special reason for snickering at a pure gift of the heart.

    “Not really. Imagine they scream their hearts out when United marks a goal.”

    “So?” I still didn’t see the point.

    “Their seats are in the Arsenal seating area.” She ran away, reddening like ripe beet, and leaving me dumbfounded. I couldn’t help it but smile.

    “And what are you snickering at?” asked Sofia, kissing me brotherly fashion on the mouth. “I saw a young lady proposing to you...” This made me laugh louder, and returning her kiss in less brotherly fashion.

    “Just remind me to never upset that young lady who just proposed to me.” I kept on laughing, leaving her a bit perplex. I knew that I would have to pay for it dearly that evening, with tickling or something until she got it out of me. It promised to be an interesting evening.

    Tracy was home before us. For the last few days she was always earlier home, as we were staying behind to wrap up the day. She paid us back generously for our hospitability, cleaning the kitchen, preparing dinner from whatever she could find in the fridge, even putting a few fresh flowers in a jar in the middle of the table. It started giving me an uneasy feeling of a larger family, and I wasn’t sure if I liked it or not; probably I did like it since it gave me more time to work with Sofia on the various show off-line needs. And the food was quite good.

    We decided to go to bed earlier than usual, leaving Tracy in the living room with the TV on. I told Sofia about my morning’s dialogue with Tracy, not after blackmailing some body concessions from her. And not that there was any need for any kind of blackmail, at times we were playing in bed like some idiotic, overgrown kids, the more idiotic the more the fun we had at it.

    “I love you, you know,” stated Sofia, “and I damn like this kid.” Then we got lost in a couple hours of liberating lust, after which Sofia gathered the bed sheet around her and tiptoed out on her way to the bathroom. She was back a couple of seconds later.

    “What happened?” I asked, sensing something strange in her behavior. Her voice was stressed, almost hissingly thin.

    “Put on a pair of shorts and come with me.”

    I pulled up my shorts and followed her to the living room. The TV was still on, the room lights off. Sofia pointed to the room occupied by Tracy and moved out of the way. The door had slid partially open and I could see the girl sitting on the floor in her undergarments, a syringe in her hand and the needle just penetrating her belly. I pushed the door open, Sofia behind me, and sat on the bed watching her. Tracy did not move until she finished injecting the transparent liquid, then pulled the needle out and ranged both syringe and needle in a thin metallic box. I picked up the small bottle and read the inscription on it: Roxanol. I looked up from it, Sofia squeezing into me, anxiously.

    “Morphine Sulfate. Tracy, are you a morphine addict?”

    Tracy took the bottle from my hand and placed it carefully next to the syringe and needles. Then closed the box and ranged it in her bag, under the bed.

    “I am a leukemia addict. Terminal. I inject the stuff when the pain becomes intolerable. I am not a morphine addict.” She looked up at us, eyes shining, suddenly a little girl looking for the comfort of adults. “I always thought of myself as a life addict. Now about to die some meaningless death. Please, do not throw me out in the street.”

    I did not know I had this mushy sentimentality in me. I hugged her and started crying.


    “Tracy, come here for a moment.” She trotted over, flushed and sweaty, looking questioningly at the envelope in my hand.

    “I don’t think I deserve yet an increase. Or are you firing me?” She laughed, opening the envelope, picked the three cardboard pieces from inside and squealed in delight. “So I will see them getting beaten up.”


    “My girl friends.”

    “I will bring binoculars with me. We will see Manchester beat Arsenal and Arsenal fans beat Manchester fans. Well, two of them.” She leaned over and kissed me quickly, then went over to her routines. I wasn’t a great football fan, and Sofia was more of a white-thighs ballet kind of thing fan than of a knee-length fluttering kind of thing one. But we decided to go to the game, for Tracy’s sake. I peeked at Sofia who crooked her finger, calling me over.

    I leaned over and she smacked a noisy kiss right across my mouth, then returned to her papers. My, my, Sofia, they don’t do your kind anymore. I better keep an eye on you before someone steals you from underneath my nose. I was already on my way to my desk, where George was growingly impatient, when I turned around and grabbed Sofia’s shoulders and gave her a kiss worthy of two Oscars and a Globe. I heard some clapping hands in the background, with Sofia raising her thumb in back of me. Yep, no two like you, my girl.

    The Sunday was cold, and wet, a typical English summer day. We sat in the Manchester fans area, of course, with Tracy trying to find her girl friends with aid of the binoculars.

    “They are not yet there,” she mentioned, disappointed, her face a bit paler than usual but okay except for that. She handed me back the binoculars and sat down between us. We took to a certain parental approach with her (inclusive “where have you been so late”?) and she didn’t seem to mind. So now we placed her in between our thickly coated forms to protect her from the weak but icy wind, and we were all munching English fries. Which is the same as French fries, only packed in newspapers, usually recent ones.

    When the game finally started she was all over the place, almost hovering above the crowd in enthusiasm. Then she got to cheering and jeering and cursing the referee in several languages, sliding regards from time to time to Sofia, and was almost in tears when Manchester missed a penalty. She was in tears when Arsenal scored from a free kick and almost stopped munching the fries. The she was the one screaming louder than anyone else once Manchester equalized, just before break time, and snatched the binoculars from me to look at her friends.

    “The cows, they don’t even watch the game. They just booze and fool around.” She didn’t look disappointed, though, just out of breath and excited. I bought us all soft drinks, waiting for the second half to begin. It was when Manchester scored themselves into the lead and she didn’t jump to her feet, that I knew something was wrong. “I don’t think I feel so good. I have this pain in my belly...” she whispered, and bent to a fetal position on her seat.

    We left for the car, and she lay on the back seat, curled, her head on Sofia’s knees. We tucked her in bed after she had a Morphine shot, and closed the door to her room, looking at each other. We had tried for a couple weeks now to arrange hospital insurance for her, however as long as she was not in the possession of a long term residence permit, this seemed to be an impossibility. We walked silently to our room, undressed and slid under the blanket, hugging. We knew what was going to happen, and it kept us awake until the early hours of following morning.

    Tracy was in the kitchen, cheerful as we knew she would be, preparing breakfast for everybody. We sat down to eat, making lame discussion, because what we were supposed to discuss about was on everybody’s mind. It was Tracy herself who brought the subject up.

    “I guess I will have to return to my country. There is no way for me to get hospitalized here. And soon I will have to be hospitalized. Correct?”

    “Tracy, I wish we could do something about it,” said Sofia, tears invading here eyes.

    “I know, Sofia. I love you. I love you both. You were good to me.” She continued eating as if this was the only thing on her mind. Clearly trying to spare our feelings. “Jos?” I was surprised to hear my name.


    “May I ask you a favor?” She knew she could, I did not have to answer. “I would like to be at least once on the stage before going back. I know I still lack conditioning but I could do one scene without problems. I would like to know what is it like to hear public applauding me. To be part of art, creation. Would you be willing to risk it?”

    I looked Sofia’s way, but she was too busy with her eyes and nose... I think she was doing it on purpose, letting me decide on my own. I got up, pulled my chair next to Tracy and sat down, hugging her shoulders and kissing her hair.

    “For one cup of hot coffee, I will sell my soul to the devil.” They squealed their happiness together, and started dancing in the middle of the kitchen floor, Sofia grimacing in pain but carrying the pain like a queen. I got my additional cup of coffee. Tracy got the main female character role for the opening scene. I knew I wouldn’t face any problems with Claudia, the one who was to play this role – after all, she would be carrying the show to its end and its final applause. And Tracy’s plane ticket was already bought, for the day following the premiere night.


    She was perfect. Emulating Claudia in the smallest of details, and just before the curtain fell down on the first scene, she added her own bit of flair by taking a run towards one of the plastic chairs on the stage, jumping on it and catapulting herself in the air while performing that triple turn I once thought impossible. She landed directly into a curtsying position, facing the public, and the curtain fell down at the same time to sounds of wild applause.

    She ran towards us in the back of the scene and jumped into my arms, screaming her delight. There were several sporadic applauses even there, amongst the rush of preparing the following scene.

    “Hey, this was a hard act to follow,” I heard Claudia’s voice, as she passed near us squeezing Tracy’s hand and taking her assigned place.

    The plane left on time. Sofia was crying openly and I was not so far behind. We returned to a house suddenly too empty and too big, and busied ourselves the following days with meaninglessly cleaning and moving stuff around. Most of the time was spent at the theater, the show received good reviews and the investors were satisfied. Since the repetitions were much less frequent and much more focused – it left us with too much time on our hands, time spent mostly on writing and some reading.

    We communicated quite often with Tracy via internet, and sometimes we talked on the phone. She sounded tired, yet did not complain at all.

    “I am taken care of very well. My mother is with me most of the time, and my father visits quite often. The personnel are caring and nice. I love you.”

    She died four months after her return to Croatia. Sofia flew for the funeral, I did not, knowing that I would break down like a child. I sat in the room she once slept in, going through the few pictures we took of her and watched each for hours. Then plugged in the video cassette of premiere night’s first scene and watched it again, and again, until thankfully I fell asleep.




    She was stuck against my side, her head taking half of my pillow and her hair the other half. No wonder, with the cat taking all of her pillow, so finally there was nothing left for me. I wanted a dog. She wanted a cat. She won, as you may have guessed by now, leaving me with nothing to walk on a leash every evening except for her. My lady. True, it was not the same as walking something on a real leash, and after I mentioned it to her one evening, gently, I never mentioned it again. Fine, not so bad after all, having her hanging on to my elbow all the time, with her head oscillating times on my shoulder and times in front of me – trying to catch my lips. Still I would have liked a leash somehow in the equation...

    My hand had gone numb hours ago, as long as I was asleep it didn’t matter but now it started feeling strangely bothersome and worrying. I did not want to lose my hand to some late age gangrene. I tried to move it from underneath her cheek, it did not really work, would have been easier to move away a stone from the bottom of the pyramids. She lifted a lazy eyelid, looking not my way but rather towards the partly opened blinds, where the morning was busy peeling away layer after layer of night. I heard a cawing sound.

    “Mmm...” she stretched, shifting position and allowing me to save my hand from a fate worse than death... well, a way of talking. “Morning birds. I like to wake up at the sound of morning birds singing.”

    “It was a crow,” I specified scientifically, inspecting closely my hand for any warning signs of discoloring.

    “Crows are birds, no?”

    “Crows caw, they don’t sing,” I insisted.

    “To another crow this might have been a love song. It was a morning love song. Crows are birds,” she repeated triumphantly, forgetting she said it a few moments ago.

    “So are ostriches.”

    “Ostriches don’t sing.”

    “Sure, they are too busy inhaling everything around them, so they don’t have time to exhale at all.”

    “What are you doing to your hand?” she asked, taking the purring beast from her pillow into her lap. She sat up in bed and watched me measuring the distance from my elbow to the tip of my middle finger with her sewing kit’s meter. I compared the result to the one from yesterday, finding to my relief that there was no sign of shriveling. I put down also the magnifying glass and in order to prevent additional embarrassing questions I closed her mouth with a kiss to make the walls tumble. The walls didn’t tumble, but she did melt, and as the cat meowed its distress from its drop zone on the carpet, we mingled our euphoria’s into one unforgettable session of lust and depravity. It was her turn, so she carved the notch on her bedpost... “we’ll soon have to buy another bed,” she giggled, and leaped the short distance to the bathroom door humming happily. Goodness, the oscillating view invading my vision... I was almost going to try it for another notch when I remembered that this was the one day when I couldn’t laze in bed. It was the day they were bringing Miranda over.


    She was twice my height yet hardly my weight. I baby-sat a variety of quadrupeds and bipeds and nopeds babies until that day, but never one reaching a full floor’s height above me. I had a way with animals, any animal and mainly babies (viruses excluded) and I made a living out of supporting several regional zoo’s in those extreme cases in which they were about to give up, with euthanasia as the only next step envisaged by their experts. I recovered a babirusa with just one fang and a terrible lack of confidence, an albino baby kangaroo whose mother refused to feed him, a python who swallowed the cage instead of the mouse. This last one even slept in my bed, with Sara sleeping in the attic for the whole month of his body and mental recovery. I was the beasts’ last hope, and I never failed a case I took upon myself. The beast whisperer they called me, and actually not even I knew the reason they all accepted me. Maybe my smell? Though Sara, my perfect partner to life and bed maintained she never had any problems with it. Well, why should she, after all she was also a kind of beast, mainly in bed.

    Yes, Sara, and not Sarah, since “...if a Romanian reads it and an Israeli hears it then it has a disgusting meaning.” Quite a complicated reason, whatever she meant by it and one day I was set on uncovering it.

    Miranda was a baby giraffe, female, whose mother refused to feed it and the zoo’s efforts at bottle feeding failed miserably as well. She was losing weight at an alarming rate and I was, once again, her last hope. “Hi girl,” I whispered in her ear, as I climbed atop the crate that was lowered in my stable, to open it. She wiggled her ear, watching me with sad, huge giraffe eyes, her tail hanging motionlessly down. I always took my cues from their tails, even for the python. Get them to wiggle their tail windmill fashion and the battle was won. Even the war. Lose it and the battle was lost.

    I dropped the wooden walls from around her, and dragged them out of the stable. I left the gate open, worrying not about her taking off anywhere. The surrounding fence was tall enough to stop even a straddling mature giraffe. Then I led in Lala, my old mare, and dropped a bunch of apples on the floor close to Miranda. “Hey, girls, get to know each other since you are going to share this house for a few weeks coming.” Lala was used already to temporary guests, and she trotted right up to the apples, munching them greedily with Miranda eyeing her curiously. I rubbed against Miranda’s front leg, with Lala rubbing against the other. Actually I learned this trick from her, after a rhino event I had some time ago, and I didn’t know if it was the physical contact or the smell rubbing off but it always seemed like a good introductory phase.

    “Do you think it will work?” asked Sara from the gate, looking queenly in her dirty overalls with the sun shining in her hair and the cat in her arms. I picked up an apple from the floor and bit into it, hungrily. Then I climbed a ladder and approached it to the baby giraffe’s huge nostrils, letting her inhale the smell of bitten apple flesh. The tail did not move even in the breeze.

    “It will. It must,” I answered confidently, finishing the apple close to the checkered head and kissing it between the nostrils. A black tip of tongue slipped for a moment out, then retracted into the mouth. “It must,” I repeated, suddenly falling in love with the creature.

    “He is waiting in the house,” said Sara, picking up an apple herself and fighting Lala off. He being the city’s animal-welfare inspector, who popped in always seconds after a new animal was delivered to my care. Not a bad guy and doing a sacred job, however in my case his main reason was to bother me and make my life miserable. All this because my neighbor, his brother in law, lost the tender with the zoo in my favor and this was his revenge. Idiot, he couldn’t save a fish from drowning if asked to.

    “Okay, just keep an eye on Lala as she does her thing.” I had spread a day ago a carload of giraffe dung in the stable, to make the baby feel comfortably at home, and I trusted Lala to step through every single heap of it and mush it to its volatile contents. That would be such a nice present for Mr. Buckingham waiting for me with his paperwork...

    Lala stepped into the first, the stench exploded into the air with such violence that the cat literarily tore with a dog’s howl, ha, out of Sara’s hands and disappeared in the general direction of the house. I could only hope that it didn’t suffer any permanent damage to its sense of direction. Even Sara with her supposed to be superior human self-control, made a pitiful face. But she did not complain, just went in and looked at Lala enjoying herself. Lala was a she, not a it. All my house animals were he’s and she’s, with the exception of the cat and the temporary guests from the zoo.

    Buckingham was seated comfortably in the kitchen, drinking the cup of coffee that Sara offered him (for a gratifying moment, poison crossed my mind) and waiting patiently with his sheaf of thirty three pages, ready to be signed by me. Well, certainly not thirty three but certainly felt like fifty three. I sat down across from him, and started reading each carefully, even though I knew them by heart. Just to waste his fidgeting time. After I paragraphed and signed all the relevant places, he carefully put them in his attaché case and got up, ready to follow me to the stable and check the seal on the giraffe. With the exception of the python - where do you fit a seal on a python - he checked until then all of the animals brought to me by the zoo. He was a very meticulous and zealous person, Mr. Buckingham.

    The gate to the stable was closed, as I ensured it to be when I left. Sara would survive, I was sure of it. Though, if ever there was a perfect murder, now was the moment... I opened the gate just as the poor unsuspecting inspector reached it. Sara was still alive, actually enjoying Lala who was galloping around the baby giraffe, which was screwing its head around left and forth and... hey, what do you know - wiggling its stump of tail.

    If Buckingham would have been a cat, he would have bolted then and there to a forgotten corner of Africa to spend the rest of his life retching. But as Buckingham was in reality Mr. Buckingham, Senior Inspector for the City, he kept a straight face, getting paler and paler as he approached the giraffe, carefully inspected the sealed ring above its hoof, then without uttering another word passed me by on his way out, nodding his okay. I followed him with my gaze, no - he didn’t quite make it back to the house. Halfway through he bent over and for four straight, timed, minutes he retched his life away.

    “That includes my coffee,” pouted Sara, groping me intimately and pulling some air from my lungs into hers. “You are a bad character, Mr. Joe. Remind me next time before I cross your way with something.”

    “You can cross my way with anything, as long as you do it with nothing.”

    “You mean - with nothing on.”

    “Now, that’s an intelligent girl. No wonder I fell in love with you.”

    “Yeah, with me and an uncountable number of beasts. And one of them even shared my bed with you.”

    “It was just a poor python, with a terrible belly ache. And male at that.”

    “Well, a girl can’t ever be sure.”

    “This one can.” She slapped my hand out of its intended path and dragged me back into the horrible stench. The image bore a bit of a surrealistic tang to it, the mare running in circles around the baby giraffe, and this one stretching it head desperately and trying to reach Lala’s belly, clearly looking for an udder there. I took the big girdle with its arrangement of rubber container and punctured glove, and strapped it to the rear of a clearly excited Lala and a pushing Miranda. Then sighed loudly my satisfaction as the giraffe bent all the way to reach the dripping glove finger and started sucking loudly the milk preparation I filled it with. “I think we saved another one,” I said, kissing Sara on the neck.

    “Well, you’re the beast whisperer, aren’t you?” Then she leaned closely, as if afraid Lala would disapprove. “Care to whisper some magic in my ears too?”

    “You mean you forgot already? I just did this morning.”

    “You did what this morning?”

    If her puzzlement was genuine then I had a problem with my human-beast, probably. I tried to penetrate that enquiring look, it was either that she was as blank as she pretended or that I was too happy to concentrate enough. I failed. Well, I had more important things to attend to for the coming weeks, like sleeping every night alongside a stinking giraffe, upon a stinking mattress, in a stable stinking its life to stinking high skies.


    I recognized the step even in the almost absolute darkness of the stable. I couldn’t recognize the smell of course, as I kept the gate closed just to keep the giraffe momentum going.

    “Who is it, Lala?” I teased, sleepily. Lala heard her name, came nuzzling my ear interrogatively, then went back to her hay munching business.

    “I am still wondering what was it you wanted me to remember about this morning.” Was she teasing back? I surely hoped she was. It did not matter, as she was wearing the promised nothing, so she could tease me with red irons across my ass - it wouldn’t have mattered. I got rid of my stinking outfit and we cuddled together on the mattress. The baby giraffe seemed to have been dreaming, as its legs moved restlessly. “I hope it sleeps.”


    “It wouldn’t be very educational what is going to happen here soon. Not if it is anything like it happened this morning.”

    “Aha, so you do remember.” She didn’t answer, just cuddled closer to my chest, if possible without getting out through my back, and I didn’t follow my blazing trail of victory. “Lala doesn’t sleep.”

    “Lala has life experience, she wouldn’t mind.” She started doing things.

    “And who watches over the house?” I insisted.

    “The cat,” she howled with laughter, and then soon switched over to moaning as I started pulling back into her body those far away memories, from earlier on this morning. “Do you really intend to sleep here for several weeks?” she cut between moans.

    “Or longer, depends on the human-beast attending to my needs.”

    “Needs like this?”

    It was certainly needs like this. I hoped for one last, lucid moment, that the offer does not go with human dung included.



Patience. Yeah...

    The hotel door clacked behind us with the finality of a tombstone, clack! I dropped my suitcase to the floor, bang! then was out of my clothes inside four seconds and fifty seven hundredths of a second, swish! was the sound made by the last piece, landing underneath the bed. Time measured between the first tones of the bang! to the last tones of the swish! Accuracy was mandatory in crucial moments such as this, and mine was Cesium-like.

    “Just one second, my love,” you smiled angelically, your feminine coyness incomparable to anything human, animal, or vegetal. Wow, I guessed I wouldn’t have even the time to be stunned, you were going to beat my set record, your impatience so much thicker than mine, or shall I say your patience so much thinner than mine, or... I was certainly raving. I gulped a lungful of your promise...

    You laid down your suitcase on the bed, gently, gently, opened it, gently, opened the wardrobe door - I was looking for signs of wildness there, but there were none - and pulled out all your red’s, laying them on the bottom shelf. Then you pulled out all your blue’s and laid them on the red’s. The yellow’s followed on top of the blue’s, and after looking at the result with a critical eye, you decided to pull the blue’s from under the yellow’s and put them on top of them. That seemed to satisfy you. The underwear followed neatly alongside, brassieres alongside panties, the order of the color of panties did not seem to bother you so much, you probably liked the silky rainbow effect which reflected in my unblinking eyes. There followed toothbrush, hairbrush, clothesbrush, cheecksbrush and some other undefined brushes you laid out in surprising disorder on the bathroom shelf, razors, creams, salts, hankies, soaps, shoes... no, shoes NOT on the bathroom shelf, you reached back to your dress’ zipper... finally...

    “Just one second, my love,” you melted my insides, though by now I recognized the need to distrust your time measuring capabilities. You pulled the back zipper all the way down, the dress parting in two like a masterfully chopped piece of meat - hey, what was this disgusting metaphor in my mind? - and dropping around your legs with a swish! of your own. I expected you to step out of it and kick it under the bed, next to mine, then kick your shoes out the window, then...

    You picked it up, pulled down the ironing board and flattened the dress professionally on top of it, then switched on the power to the iron and started touching the flat bottom with a finger dipping from time to time in your mouth. I got almost catatonically fixated on the finger and the mouth and the finger... when finally a hissing sound was followed by a satisfied “ouch” and you started working diligently on some creases which only a poet’s imaginative eye could see. It didn’t take much longer than forever. You pulled up the zipper, fitted the dress nicely on a hanger and hung it in the closet. You smiled, embarrassed, seeing that you forgot to take off your shoes before taking off your dress...

    “Just one second, my love,” and you sat on the bed, opening the tiny buckle on the left, taking it off and closing the buckle carefully back, repeating the sequence with right, and after blowing off a few imaginary specks from the tip of one of them, you ranged them squarely under the bed. I think you did not really like the bed, or the room arrangement, or the pictures on the wall, since you pulled off the blanket, puffed up the pillows, pulled a bit up the shades - great, rearranged several times the mirrors in the room checking various angles - greater, chose a dripping sound on the radio - greatest... Then you straightened up, reached behind and it was easy to imagine what followed. Then you hooked your fingers in the panties waistband, bent down and it was easy to imagine what followed. It was not easy to imagine what followed.

    “Thank you for your patience, my love,” you said.

    “What was that, my love?” you said.

    I woke up to heavenly dangling breasts above my eyes and someone licking wounds - mine and yours, the big cat in you almost purring, certainly humming. I didn’t remember losing count, I did remember waking up from death and wondering about that heavenly dangle. My eyes started roving around - the steaming mirrors, one broken, the hanging pictures, all broken, the bedding in tatters, a few bricks caved in, three of the bed feet missing, one jutting out from the blackened TV screen, were the carpet shreds piling in a corner really part of the gapping puzzle presently decorating the floor when we came in earlier on?... I froze in momentary terror, trying to remember if I did pay that travel insurance invoice I got last week in my mail...

    “My love...”

    I hurriedly prayed I did pay it, once your voice anew reached my eardrum and senses, and once your hand anew reached my...



A Zombie Stole My Lover’s Body

    I always wondered – do zombies eat pears? After all, if they are to live forever, even dead, they need to eat something to get zombie energy and maybe even some vitamins. No wonder they look so bad – no pears thus no vitamins thus rotting teeth thus... disgusting.

    “Hey, wanna bite?” I offered her my chewed through pear, holding it by the stem between a pair of sticky fingers. She licked my fingers and made a face.

    “I hate pears.” Then zapped three more times until she finally found that “A Zombie Stole My Lover’s Body” movie, and settled between not less than nine cushions to watch it in ultimate home-stereo comfort. It was the ninth time she watched it.


    “Hmm?...” she hmmed, unhappy with the interruption.

    “Are you a zombie, baby?” I finished the pear – calyx, carps, seeds... the works. Then set to licking my fingers, evaluating the time left till I finally reached the bone underneath. I had a few lifetimes left till then. And I was crazy about pears. And about Julja, and even though it was pronounced Julia she insisted to spell it Julja. Some promise she made a previous lover whom I didn’t know and hated all the same.

    She seemed to deem my question worth neither answer nor four lettered comments. Someone was using a buzz-saw on the zombie but the various parts kept reuniting in a variety of ingenious ways and chasing the heroine. Last time she hid in the cellar, presently she was climbing the roof. I sighed a loud sound of contempt and returned to my James Joyce. I was the intellectual type. And she loved my body to death, manner of talking. I guess she loved me too.

    “Julja, do you love me too?” I asked. Her regard fluttered for a second to the sharp knife I used to cut slices off the pear, and I decided it was not worth stretching my luck beyond the safety of known limits. James welcomed my return to his complex world with open arms. Of course, I would have preferred Julja’s.

    One of us fell asleep first, don’t know who. Both of us woke up the same instant, though, our fingers entangled in the other’s clothes. Funnily, the clothes were still on our bodies, signifying we didn’t have time to do whatever we promised ourselves to do that evening, before falling shamefully asleep. Disgusting promise breakers, I hoped that if I was elected one day president of the state I would be better at keeping my promises. Yes, also promises made by others to me.

    “Why did we wake?” yawned Julja, starting to take off her skirt. The television was on mute, some late night weepy drenching the screen in tears. The sound was definitely not coming from the TV set. But there was definitely a sound coming from somewhere in that general direction, leaving only the balcony outside, thus it could only have been Spiderman. We were seven floors up, with seven more floors above us, and the only jewels Julja possessed were the zirconia earrings I bought her six years ago on the anniversary of thirty five days to our romance (another long story)... goodness, was it six years plus, already?

    I picked up Julja’s shoe from the floor, made sure the heel was pointed the right way around and approached the door cautiously. Julja didn’t seem to take the matter seriously, having finished with the skirt and was about to start dealing with was underneath it.

    “Wait!” I hissed in warning, and the following moment I unlatched the door and stormed the balcony, shoe high above my head and eyes wide with fear. The balcony was deserted. I approached the railing, a bit more relaxed, and peeked carefully downwards, then upwards. Except for a swearing drunkard one way and a blinking airplane the other, there was nothing. Sure, it could have been a disoriented bat, or a gust of wind. I lowered the shoe and watched it, wondering how in hell such a torture was invented and, worse than that, accepted. I was about to put it on the floor and try it, when a muffled cry from inside made me snap upright and storm the living room this time, shoe again at battle height.

    All I could see was a frozen Julja, eyes the size of Boris Karloff’s in a screen close-up, the other shoe (good girl) up in her hand as well, though facing the wrong way around, and panties – thank goodness – still attached to her hips. But what the hell was she waving her shoe at – there was nothing in the room? Then I followed what seemed to be her line of sight, looking somewhere around the place where the ceiling met the wall, and I froze as well. Trust me – it wasn’t the chill in the room.

    There were two of them. Two what? If I knew I would have said two something not two what. They weren’t bugs, there was no sign of legs, or antennae, or wings. The color was surprisingly bright, a variegated mix of reds and yellows, with some blue spots here and there. That was the first one. The second was an almost accurate inversion of the reds and the yellows, with the blues in the same places. Both almost perfectly round and not bigger in diameter than an average salad platter, yet seemed that they were no more than paper thick. No wonder I didn’t see anything when they probably flew in above my head. The shapes were expanding and contracting rhythmically, yet I didn’t identify any other characteristic about them, I mean - beyond my sense of sight. There was no sound, no smell, and I certainly wouldn’t have dared touch them, not to mention to taste. There was probably some other sense which I lacked and which could have helped, but I had no idea which and no way I could have developed the relevant genetic mutation in those few crucial minutes.

    I inched towards Julja, and she emulated me until we met in a shared shiver that rattled her breasts and my teeth. I turned the direction of the heel in her raised hand, so it would have had some effect in case it was called to action, and whispered in her ear.

    “Call the cops. Or the zoo.”

    “My battery is empty. What about yours?”

    “I didn’t pay. They cut me off this morning.” She stepped viciously with her bare heel on my big toe, and I would have screamed but was afraid that the things might see in it an act of aggression and attack us. “What the hell are they?” I managed to whisper, trying to keep my balance on one foot.

    “Vampire bats?” there was no smile in her voice.

    “Or vampires?” there was no smile in my voice either. The moment didn’t warrant jokes, even though the image would, to a third party. I looked searchingly around, testing with my eyes various dark corners for an eventual hidden camera, at whose other end some bad-intentioned characters might have had a ball at our expense. It was a long shot, certainly too long since we had no visitors for several weeks now. “Do you think this is something alive?”

    “It moves.” Yes, that was obvious, and I wanted to shoot back a sarcastic remark when I saw that Julja meant something else – the two things started sliding slowly down, attached to the wall with some invisible glue even though there was no slimy trace behind them. Well, slime was the least that a horror story would have put there. If this was a horror story, then it was of a different kind. Kind of real. “Shall we try to run for the door?” she asked, her shiver by now having stretched from breasts to include teeth as well. She jabbed me in the ribs, seeing my eyes fixed on her breasts; after all, I was human and her firm treasures could grab my attention anytime, even with unexpected invaders around.

    “And risk being attacked? Maybe it is better we relax and sit on the bed, see what they are up to. Keep your shoe ready.”

    We inched our way to the bed and sat down slowly, my free hand crawling around Julja’s waist in a protective move. Sure, I wanted to feel her flesh in my palm. Sure, I was ready to give my life for her if needed be.

    The horrors reached the floor. I hoped they would either disappear, or I would wake up, or police would knock down the door - uncalled for - to personally hand me a traffic fine, find a terrorist, or something equally cheerful. The gods of options didn’t seem to be in listening mood that day, though the whatevers stopped advancing. Instead, they started stretching and thickening, and their opacity was degrading the more voluminous they got, as if they were some sort of rubber balloons inflated by an invisible mouth. I stopped thinking, I was just watching, in some kind of detached fascination the shapelessness getting even more shapeless, additional hues of reds and yellows and blues joining the previous ones, a strange noise starting to emanate from the amorphous mass like a thin mosquito’s buzz. I was a mosquito hater, and if this was some kind of a dragon mosquito which landed in my living room from some secret army lab – it was the wrong living room to land in.

    “...eeeeeee...” they seemed to be buzzing. Julja clasped my palm and made sure it was clasped tighter around her waist. “...heeeeeell...” they seemed to be buzzing, even stronger, as shapes not very mosquito like seemed to start defining themselves in the mess on the floor. We gasped, both Julja and I, the shoes dropping from our hands with a twin thud.

    “I’m scared like hell...” she whispered in my ear, and even her bare breasts couldn’t pull my eyes away from the wriggling shapes.

    “...heeeeeeelllllppp...” they seemed to be buzzing, as they finished wriggling and lay motionless, side by side. I’ve never seen a transparent human being before. It was my first. Julja refused to faint, though she kept biting my shoulder and moaning, biting my shoulder and moaning. God, it hurt...


    I was a rational being. True, I once believed Julja was perfect, and any rational manbeing knows better that believing in womanbeing perfection. But this one exception rather confirmed the rule. And as a rational being I knew that what I was seeing had a perfectly rational explanation. My problem was to find it. I wished I had the courage to get up and kick the forms on the floor to eliminate the optical illusion option; even if I had the courage, Julja’s teeth would have stopped me, given the additional risk of leaving part of my shoulder in her mouth. And if not the first and the second excuse, a third one started fluttering now between the inert human balloons, as an elongated shape looking more and more like a miniature version of Kaa started lifting its triangular head above the shapes, and as more of it kept emerging I kept wishing I wasn’t so hasty in evaluating it as a miniature version of that famous literary prophecy. Thankfully, it stopped emerging, opened a mouth the size of a sliced watermelon with two canines to match, and suddenly spread a pair of butterfly wings running from the end of that gaping mouth down its back, a beauty of a kind that any Dior designer would have killed to match. Speaking about killing...

    “Help,” it kind of clearly hissed, kind of clearly sang, and the watermelon closed. The wings started fluttering, and the hues on the two human shapes seemed to respond with a pulsating intensity, mainly the reds and the yellows, the blues as steady as my wallpaper color.

    “Want a pear?” I asked, and Julja’s heel repeated the previous sequence on my big thumb, drawing from me a squeal that would have brought Superman over. And why not? If creatures from... from where?... were crawling on my floor, why not Spiderman, or Superman, or better still – both, on my ceiling. I looked full of hope at the ceiling, but somehow my rationale told me that one miracle doesn’t warrant another. And this looked more like the curse version of a miracle.

    “Help...” it whispered again, the watermelon opening for a second and closing again, and for whichever reason, the tone of the word – if word it was – cut through my skin, and bone and fright and sarcastic attitude and cuddled with sudden, terrible pain round my heart. Hey, what the hell was this, that, those?

    “Are you a zombie?” I asked, just to break the silence which settled oppressingly around us, just to ascertain that the thing could talk beyond that one utterance, and maybe explain itself. Maybe it sounded like “help” but it meant “pear” in whatever language it used. Though, I knew it deep down to be a genuine cry for help, no other word would have sounded so pitifully pleading. Julja moaned, and I wondered if what trickled down my shoulder was my blood or her drool. But I didn’t dare take my eyes off the monster. Hey, why do we, humans, automatically call “monster” whatever looks like one? For example, my neighbor’s cat...

    “Yes,” it answered. Julja, don’t leave me now, I prayed, feeling her body start going limp. Somehow she guessed my silent wish and got rigid again. But her teeth refused to let go of my shoulder as if they were an extension of my acromion.

    I waited, assuming an explanation would be forthcoming, since I didn’t know what to ask anyway. In a strange way - I wasn’t scared. The whole scene was too fantastic to really register in any frightening way with my consciousness, and if the Kaa thing wanted to eat us - it would have done so long ago. Speaking of eating, my stomach started making churning sounds, and I remembered that I actually fell asleep without any kind of dinner. After all, then I had sex on my mind. Now there was no way to have any kind of sex... I screwed my neck around trying to peek, longingly, toward Julja’s breasts, then turned it back to the zombie.

    “Mr or Mrs?” Hey, I was trying to be polite. Julja removed, finally, her canines from my shoulder, followed by her incisors, and I realized thankfully that my arm did not fall off. Neither did she leave any tooth-filling in the holes.

    “I want to pee,” she whispered in my ear.

    “Okay, love, go, anyway I am the only one entertaining our guests.” She stood up, and walked sideways towards the bathroom, making sure there were sufficient tiles between her and the things. I probably should have stopped calling them things, now that I knew one of them was a zombie. A zombie looking like that? Ha... and the others?

    “And what are they?” I asked, pointing to the two glowing shapes on the floor. Neither of them stirred, and the only thing about them which seemed alive were those glowing lights which Kaa kept fanning with his wings. My zombie guest did not answer. His eyes kept fixing me with a bluish hued regard, his mouth clamped, his wings fanning and fanning.

    I heard the water being pulled in the bathroom and Julja returned, a T-shirt covering her nakedness and making her look even more desirable. Women have wrong notions about modesty, I thought, just as my zombie guest opened his... her?... its?... mouth. Maybe it waited for Julja to come back?

    “They are a young couple, just married. A pair of human zombies stole their flesh. What you see is their essence, which I am trying to keep intact. I try to save them, and retrieve their flesh as long as it is alive.”

    “And if you fail?”

    “They will, what you call, die. The blue is already inactive. When the red and yellow become inactive too, they are dead.”

    I was probably a bit slow in comprehending both the background and the circumstances. Well, not every day I meet a snake zombie and some human essence. For whatever reason, I felt chatty.

    “If you are in no terrible rush, mind explaining us a bit more? I understand there are various kinds of zombies – human, snake, monkey, cockroach... yes? And zombies can steal living bodies. And snake zombies try to save living humans from their human zombie pals. And everybody there, wherever, speaks English and can fly seven floors up and knock on windows and turn from paper thin to snake thick and human thick and put up a light’n’sound show with yellow and red and dead blue. Not to mention...” Something strange happened. The creature opened its watermelon mouth wide, the giant fangs pulling out of sheaths dripping what I presumed was poison, its eyes closed, and I knew it was my last moment this side of the great divide when a wail, not unlike that of a dog howling its life away in most terrible torment, escaped its mouth with such vehemence that my skin turned broken glass.

    “Heeeeelp....” said the wail, and I felt like jumping all seven floors down to the asphalt, in shame. I wouldn’t have believed what followed if I hadn’t seen it. Julja got up from the bed, went to the zombie and sat cross legged in front of it, and touched its body with her stretched fingers.

    “Tell us,” she said softly, making a jackass of me and my intellectuality. The creature closed mouth, sheathed fangs, and started talking.


    There was no life after death. There were zombies in a world beyond ours, various shapes, sizes, responsibilities, and though they had access to this world - they were forbidden access. There were always the renegades, and it was these which we, humans, mistakenly called zombies. They usually stole bodies of living entities – human, animal... – and tried to live in the human world. There was no way back for them. The only ones who could move at will between the worlds were the guardians, which Kaa (he didn’t mind me calling him this way) belonged to. His duty was to save those entities of the human world which have fallen prey to the renegades. And to destroy the renegades.

    “And who are the renegades?” I asked, trying to find a logical angle to the fairytale.

    “Humanoid zombies. They drifted into our world through leaking intersections between the worlds. Some adapted. Some try to get back at any price. Which usually means taking over other humans’ lives. They are not necessarily evil. They are just thirsty for their lost humanity.”

    “So why do you destroy them?”

    There was a glint in his eyes, which I didn’t like. But I had to admit that I didn’t know enough, to be allowed to judge what I was supposed to like and what not.

    “Would you like to lose your flesh, and later your life to someone thirsty for his lost humanity?” He had a point there. Nice philosophical-ethical angle for high school graduation papers and for the James Joyce’s of this world. “Guardians have a very strong affinity to humans. Every time one dies because we did not succeed to prevent it, we are in such pain as cannot be explained to a human.”

    “Like losing a child?”

    That glint again.

    “Like losing all your children.” He closed his huge mouth, clearly waiting for us to ask further questions. His wings never stopped their fanning, though the pulsating yellow on the shapes seemed to get weaker. The red was still pulsating strongly.

    “Why us?” asked Julja the question which I did my best not to ask, looking for a bigger and bigger bush to beat around. I had to admit to myself that I was less curious about the events and stories and more frightened by them. Yes, why us? I echoed in my mind, crawling close to Julja and hugging her fiercely. Kaa kept fanning. It took him some time to open his mouth again in something which looked like an impressive yawn. The sorrowful wail which accompanied the motion told a completely different story.

    “Because you are the next targets,” he finally hissed.

    “What?” we asked in classical chorus formation, my own voice thin and Julja’s thick, as if we were already possessed by some other entity. The yellow stopped pulsating on the shapes lying on the floor, and somehow I guessed that whatever was happening was linked to this seemingly irrelevant event. My stomach churned again, and a terrible hunger overtook me. Maybe it was approaching hysteria, but the stomachic demand was insistent, powerful. “I am hungry,” I stated, getting up and pulling Julja by the hand. “If I am to die, then at least on a full stomach. Do you want something?” I asked Kaa.

    “No, we do not eat,” he replied.

    “Not even pears?” I insisted, my one track mind having traced part of its previous trail. “You must get your energy somehow, no?”

    “Yes, we suck our energy,” he replied, and I shivered for no reason. I did not press for further explanations, I guessed I preferred to stay ignorant. I pulled Julja to the kitchen, watching Kaa coil on the floor between the shapes, only his fanning wings staying above and moving with the perpetual insistence of a moon circling a planet.

    I piled everything that was in the fridge on the table, and started wolfing down whatever fell first under my hand – pickles, cold hamburgers, cheese... If there was a Candid Camera crew hiding somewhere this was the time for them to pop out, because I was going to die of stomach ache long before I was going to die of renegade zombie... disbodiment, or whatever you might want to call it.

    “Do you think we should run away?” I asked Julja, watching her as she smeared a thin layer of some greasy diet spread on a thin full-cereal wafer, and took a small bite out of it. Crazy, we were going to become some inflatable shells ourselves and all she could think of was her figure. “Or call the police, buy a gun, call a TV station, mayor O’Brien’s wife (she was supposed to be some kind of medium)?...” As she did not respond, I stuffed my mouth full with melting ice cream and continued to enumerate our options, caring not that I probably looked like an ice-cream sucking vampire myself, thick drops running down along my chin. “...CIA, FBI, Bank of America, Steven Spielberg, Milwaukee Zoo, Arnold...” I stopped to take a deep breath.


    I didn’t pay attention.

    “... the FDA, IRS, National Hockey League offices, the Rolling Stones...”

    “Yoko!” It was serious when she was calling me Yoko. Usually I was Yoyo. “You are hysterical, my darling.” She finished her wafer. Then took a paper towel and wiped my mouth and chin, picked the table cloth by its four corners and tied them in a knot above the piled food, carried it to the garbage can and dropped it in. “Our only chance, my dear Yoyo, is this creature in our living room. Provided it is not a messenger itself. Probably not. Take my hand...” She didn’t wait, grabbed my hand in hers and pulled me back to the bed. I wasn’t Yoko anymore, which was a good sign if we had sex later on. I kept chewing and mumbling but did not resist. I knew she was right and it was about time for me to show some leadership here. I whined all the way to the bed, by the time we got there I finished chewing and mumbling and whining. What the heck, we had the good zombies on our side.

    Kaa uncoiled and opened his watermelon again.

    “They are a pair, that’s why they go after pairs. I lost until now seventy four humans, thirty seven pairs which I failed to save.” The wail was unmistakable, Kaa was passing through his own version of seven regions of hell. They refused to listen – distrustful, scared, cynical, overconfident. These two did listen,” his eyes moved to the inert shapes. “But I still could not save them. One guardian against two humanoid zombies is not easy. I need your help, then we may succeed. They will be here soon.”

    “How do you know?” I asked, my voice surprisingly stable.

    “They need a new body before the red dies. Otherwise everyone dies. I cannot keep the red going much longer, I am limited.”

    “So you bring them to us?”

    “No, you were selected anyway. You watched many times ‘A Zombie Stole My Lover’s Body’.” I shot an accusing glance towards Julja, she paled. “Each time they select differently. They could have gone by James Joyce.” The guy was a zombie, but was acting like a matrimonial counselor... “I am here to try to save you. Do you want to be saved?” ...and moving from matrimonial counseling straight to sermon preaching. Suddenly, I trusted him blindly. I laughed a short, loud laugh. I believe I was ready to be saved and take any advice seriously. I took Julja’s hand in mine and slapped with it my cheek forcefully, probably insufficient punishment for that momentary accusing thought. She tore her hand from mine and caressed the red spot. Damn, she probably loved me even more than I loved her.


    “If I buy a shotgun and blast them away, will this not do the job?” I asked, seriously.

    “You cannot kill the dead, just their host. You will be killing these two innocent people, and the zombies will still have the time to take over your body. You see, the red pulsations cannot be stopped by any human means. Only by time or by a guardian. And as long as they pulsate, the human zombies can still use the host and take over other bodies.” He was talking, and at the same time a line appeared along the middle of his snakeish body, deepening more and more and starting to split him in two identical entities. Except for the fangs, which seemingly parted one with each half of his body. Great, so now we were hosting Kaa the First and Kaa the Second. But, if I accepted whatever happened up to that point, why should I start wondering from that point on. I didn’t wonder, I accepted it as fact. Wait till I tell the guys at the office... yeah, they’ll lock me in the men’s room and call the white-dressed paratroopers. One of the Kaa’s was saying something, which I didn’t quite hear.

    “Sorry, can you please repeat?” I asked, smiling idiotically and wondering at Julja’s sudden paleness. She was rosy just a couple seconds ago.

    “Lie down next to the shapes. I have to bite their existence into you two.” I was probably still smiling idiotically when I repeated.

    “Sorry, can you please repeat?”

    He understood correctly my question, I wasn’t asking for a repeat.

    “I cannot keep fanning them alive and face the human zombies at the same time. The only way to do it is to have you two host their shapes for as long as the combat will last. That will keep the red pulsating to its natural limit.”

    “Wait, you could dump them and still face the human zombies, no? Without biting them into us, no? And still saving us, no?” There were still traces of hysteria left in me, whatever courageous decision I may have taken earlier on.

    “Yes. And condemn them to death. Same like murdering them.” I watched Kaa and his mouth was closed, both the First and the Second. Then I realized that it wasn’t Kaa’s voice which said the words. Julja took me by the hand, pulling gently, until we were standing between the two transparent shapes lying on the floor. I didn’t pay attention to them earlier on, they were young, probably younger than us. The guy had a nicely built, muscular body, clearly a body builder, his face long and pleasant looking. The girl was short, a beautiful round face, a bit on the plump side, round and full breasts, round and full belly... I gasped, looking up at Julja. “Yes, I think she is pregnant,” she confirmed my thoughts, eliminating any lingering shadow of doubt from my mind to whatever was coming next. We dropped our clothing. I was ready.

    We lay down, holding hands, the shape next to me – the male – as airy as if it was just a projected image. I did not sense anything when I tried to touch him. The Kaa’s fluttered above us, the wings moving so fast that they were invisible, then they descended slowly above the chests of the shapes next to us, opened their mouths until top and bottom maxillae formed a perfectly straight line, the tails pulling vertically up with the huge single fang penetrating slowly in what would have been the shapes’ solar plexus spot. If these were inflated balloons, what happened next could be best described as balloons deflating through a miniature puncture – the top layer descending slowly towards the floor while the whole size seemed to contract towards that terrible fang until... they disappeared.

    The Kaa’s pulled simultaneously up and moved sideways until they were poised with the fangs still pointing downwards, straight towards my and Julja’s solar plexus, and then started descending as smoothly as oil sliding along a slick surface. I squeezed Julja’s hand tightly, feeling her do the same, expecting a terrible, sharp pain, yet feeling absolutely nothing as the fang penetrated my flesh until all that could be seen was just the maxilla holding it. A strange feeling started penetrating my senses, something like warmth spreading through me, not displeasing yet disturbing in an indefinable manner. My eyesight blurred, I saw everything in a kind of double vision, and a sort of thumping started hitting my hearing. It was clearly in sync with the red pulsations which I could see all over my skin. My mind was clear, I was surprised and thankful for that. I tried to move my head towards Julja, and I succeeded after what seemed like a hundred years. Hear head was turned towards me as well, her lips forming slowly an unmistakable “I love you” to which I added an unmistakable “madly”, when I saw her Kaa lifting up from her chest, his fang emerging in all its frightening glory. I guess the same happened also to the one above me, since I saw both of them nearing and touching alongside the gull length of their bodies and the slit separating them filling up and disappearing until there was again just one Kaa. My grandkids would never believe me, if I lived so long as to tell them, was one of the numerous thoughts passing through my mind.

    Kaa lay down above me, lengthwise, and started rolling from me to Julja then back to me, descending a bit each time, and repeating the movement, smearing a slimy kind of secretion which dried out immediately as he was moving away from it. Goodness gracious, he was cocooning us, and it was worth mentioning that I did not think it in the panic of becoming a new kind of bacon, but rather in the thankfulness of becoming a protected kind of species. He pulled our connected bodies upright and performed the same kind of rolling and cocooning all around us, after which he propped us against the wall and kept covering us with his transparent, drying slime. Technically speaking, probably lamination would have been a better word. The result was nevertheless the same. Whatever happened next – we were going to be just spectators, closed in our protective cage while the lions were going to deliver each other a battle to life and death there, just in front of us. Thank God I had all that food into me earlier on, imagine dying of hunger while waiting for something to happen, God knows how long. I wished I would have thought of peeing as well. Even though no one would probably mind if... especially since we had no carpet...

    I felt Julja tightening her fingers around mine. I was glad the handclasp was kept through the cocooning, and for the fact that some limited form of movement was possible. I tried to tickle her palm with my middle finger, making obscene hints with it. I was sure that she was laughing her head off inside her cocoon, which I couldn’t unfortunately hear. Yoyo and his one track mind, would have been her thoughts, with a promise to rip me apart with her human fangs, once this episode was over. I was laughing internally myself, scrolling backwards the events towards that first knock on the balcony’s door... and suddenly my flesh got even more rigid than the cocooning was imposing on me. Did he say, along the way, something like “...then we may succeed...”? MAY succeed? Meaning there was a chance of failing? And if we, or rather he failed then?...

    I tried to groan, to pull Kaa’s attention. He either didn’t hear or was to busy to do whatever were his preparations for the nearing struggle. He kept disappearing from our line of sight, each time seeming to become larger, thicker, his wings losing their colors and speed and getting more and more bat-like. I didn’t doubt now a moment that, in some strange and fantastic way, he was our ally. But the MAY was now my sole preoccupation, and the chill of fear started effusing through every portion of my skin, cocooned or not. Maybe Kaa was not as indifferent to my torment as I thought he was, since at a certain moment he turned towards us, opened a mouth by now thrice as large as when we first saw him, with a fang... one fang? where the hell was the other one?... thrice as big as the original, clearly trying to calm our fears. Then he blinked, and I was out. I mean – I probably fell into some kind of dreamless sleep for an unknown lapse of time, and the next thing I knew I was opening my eyes again, fully awake, just in time to see Kaa rotate swiftly with the back of his head towards us. He was even bigger.

    I heard a splintering noise, as the door to the apartment bulged in and exploded inwards. Something stepped over the threshold and entered the living room. I didn’t scream. I couldn’t even if I wanted. I was too afraid I would pee inside the cocoon.


    What entered the room wasn’t inhuman. It wasn’t human either. It looked like a human body, fully dressed and walking quite normally, yet there was a kind of dark smoke around it, like an omni-directional tri-dimensional (big words, but you should have seen it) shadow, that kept moving with it as if it was the human’s skin. There were two of them, as expected, a man and a woman that looked very much like the two shapes we saw earlier on, only these were very much alive. There was no staring down or any worded preliminaries type “I’ll be back” or “you’ll be sorry” or even growling, like I was used to see in the movies, they simply entered and immediately advanced in our direction with clear intent of reaching us. I don’t know what was in their plan to do once they got to us, since Kaa kept shuffling left and right and bodily pushing the humans back, ramming them with his head.

    It was a matter of life, and rather death - mine and Julja’s, unraveling itself in front of my eyes, but I couldn’t keep my mind from wandering into the vagaries of Hollywood style drama and hoping it would work out the same in my present reality. The perfect feinte and remise of a Jean Marais handling his invincible fleuret, the mastery of haito-uchi’s and yoko-geri’s by a masterful Bruce Lee guiding his limbs, or maybe the seamless stream of bullets from Clint Eastwood’s Colt 1873... hey where did I get this one from? And then I remembered ugly words like Cut, and Paste, and Edit, and Take 2, 3... 79... and I realized that my life was hanging literarily by the tail of a zombie snake rather than by the shouted commands of a director’s megaphone and his flexible scenario, and I felt like crying.

    There was no karate ballet in front of us. It looked rather like some kind of soccer game and I remembered just too clearly that I and Julja were the goal posts which Kaa was defending. Hey, Kaa, where are the guns, and bazookas, and katyushas, and C-4 and samurai swords?... yeah, probably none would have worked or would rather have blown us, the real humans, to bits as well.

    From time to time Kaa was trying to slash into the two bodies with his huge tooth, but the creatures moved so fast and were so flexible that it rarely seemed to make any impact. And even when it did - the bleeding did not seem to slow down the attackers’ continuous battering of our cocoon. The cocoon was holding well. Several times the man seemed able to hold Kaa back for a few seconds and the woman attacked the cocoon with the “smoke” covering portions of the surface which were starting to get mottled, yet Kaa was succeeding to ram her out of contact again and again. I wondered what the hell meant ending this combat, since no one seemed to get tired, yet our cocoon seemed to start getting signs of damage. At one moment I almost shouted my joy when Kaa succeeded to plunge his tooth fully into the man’s chest, and the human zombie froze, the smoke around him starting to whirl madly, but the woman pulled him away from the tooth and the fight was fully engaged once more. I started doubting - could Kaa win this fight at all? My hand lost all sensation, and I realized that Julja was probably squeezing it so tight that there was no more blood circulating in my fingers. The scene in front of us was not very promising.

    Kaa got bodily trapped between the two humans, their palms clasping each other’s upper arms and their black “smoke” mingling and thinning around them, and starting to cocoon Kaa’s trapped body the way we were cocooned, his body convulsing from time to time as he tried to break the stranglehold yet the convulsions weakening as the smoke kept gathering around him thicker and thicker, it was almost impossible to see him anymore... Kaa, wake up, do something, damn you, do your damn zombie job and send these shitheads back to hell... I would have shouted if I had a voice, all I could do was watch in horror the human bodies frozen in an ever tightening grip, blood oozing from both of them, and the dark smoke now fully cocooning Kaa which wasn’t moving anymore... the end, oh God, the end...

    A streak of something from my right, low down, a shape stretched like an inverted arrow with the wide base flying forward and something long and tapering into a glinting, sharp end... it penetrated the back of the woman kept going through the chest of the man until it was visible protruding through his back... “yay...”, I started squirming and shouting even though I could hardly move a hair’s breadth, “give it to them, Kaa, skewer that abominable human shashlik...” ...sure, words that wouldn’t have passed a scenario’s audition but this was not a scenario audition, this was Julja’s life... I stopped my yelling for a moment, listening to my words in a kind of detached, retroactive manner. I did say Julja’s life, not mine. God, do I really love her so much? I started crying, and... what the hell, the moment was too, ahm, emotional?... I peed inside the cocoon. History would forgive me, and so would Julja, probably.

    I turned my attention back to the scene in front of me, yes, damn your inexistent scales, Kaa, and bless them after. That’s why he had only one tooth earlier on, he split in his two halves, one the bait and one the killer, and he got them... Kaa, just let me out of this cocoon and I will kiss your zombie eyes even before I kiss Julja.

    The black smoke was swirling madly, yet visibly thinning slowly until it was hardly visible and then... it disappeared altogether. The battle was over. The two humans lay on the floor, bleeding profusely, and the Kaa which skewered the human zombies into nonexistence was dragging his fighting half away from the humans. His fang lay on the floor, next to him.

    “My half is dead,” I heard the living half saying, and for whatever reason I felt the terrible pain in his voice burying itself in my chest. Hey, zombies are already dead, they are not supposed to die, no? Did he feel my involuntary, inexplicable compassion, as he lifted his head and looked at us, something like the earlier dark smoke lifting away from his eyes. He knew we could not understand so he said it in the only way we could, dragging the inert shape and the broken fang to the balcony’s door. “She was my Julja.”


    We were out of the cocoon. We expected what followed, and accepted it inside an absolute silence. We lay down on the floor and Kaa pierced first Julja’s chest with his fang, pulled it out and then pierced the chest of the female lying on the floor. He waited until all the three colors started pulsating, decreasing in intensity until there was nothing left but laborious human breath. Julja moved immediately next to wounded woman’s body and started administering to her wounds. Then Kaa repeated the same with me. The man on the floor was breathing. Looked like Kaa had finally fulfilled his assignment. Would there be some medals there in his world, one to his living half and one post-mortem to his dead half? Probably not, this was just the way it was supposed to be.

    “Kaa, why do you do it?” I asked, and I knew that it was something way beyond my understanding, and didn’t expect to glean the thinnest shadow of knowledge, even if he would have decided to explain to me in any kind of way this strange world we had just touched. He didn’t answer, either didn’t hear or didn’t think it necessary. He approached his big head to the two figures which started stirring on the floor, looked like he was sniffing them carefully. Then he flew over to his dead half and curled himself in several spirals around it, the bundle of their twined shapes getting thinner and thinner. Until it got paper thin and floated against the ceiling, seemingly waiting for something. I guessed what it was, so I moved tiredly to the balcony door and pulled it open.

    “Because I love humans,” I heard a clear voice saying, and I would have believed it was my imagination if not the sudden blob rolling down from Julja’s eye. Then the thin shape moved out of the room and was gone.

    The man on the floor opened his eyes. He made a few attempts at sitting himself upright, and succeeded only when Julja pulled him by the shoulders. I didn’t expect him to be bewildered, just exhausted and glad. After all, he was supposed to have known what happened to him, whenever it was that it happened. I was correct in my assumption, though the glad part was late in coming, only after he assured himself that the lady on the floor was breathing normally and started showing signs of waking up as well.

    I sat on the bed.

    “Are you going to sue us?” I asked him, dead serious.

    It took him several attempts at clearing his throat before he succeeded to cough out a rough, whispering answer.

    “Sue you for what?”

    “For bandaging you and your lady, without being professionally accredited for the job.”

    Julja got off the floor, making mystical signs with her fingers against the side of her head, kissed me fully on the mouth reminding me of some earlier unfinished business that had to do with our bodies, and slid underneath the bed’s covers. The guy on the floor touched his lady’s cheek and she opened her eyes as well.

    “We owe you our lives,” he finally said, as they clasped hands, squeezing desperately. Well, it was not a yes and not a no, but it sounded to me good enough to take interest anew in my life and in Julja’s body.

    I got up and went to the bedside table, glad that it was left untouched in the earlier struggle. I took the platter in my hand and turned to the guy on the floor.

    “Care for a pear?” I asked him. I wasn’t clear to me if, underneath the covers, Julja started sobbing hysterically or laughing in similar manner. Discovery of the reason could wait, I decided, after a slight hesitation adding sex to the waiting category as well, and I bit hungrily into the juicy fruit.




    Mr. Roseberg was a non-conformist. Not by self choice but rather by choice of the angels who make such choices. Of course, Mr. Roseberg did not believe in angels, since everyone else did. There was no effort or mindful decision in such lack of faith, it came along with his non-conformism and with him not being aware he was a non-conformist. When everyone else was born head first, Mr. Roseberg was born feet first, to the terrible dismay of his parents and mainly, understandably, his mother. When everyone else bought a German silver-plated Volkswagen car, Mr. Roseberg bought an American nickel-plated Harley bike. He even non-conformed in his speaking habits. When he was in terrible pain Mr. Roseberg didn’t cry, he spoke in poetry. No, he wasn’t a strange man, just different to the world.

    When Mr. Roseberg was told he had prostate cancer, he started singing. He was a bad singer but knew a lot of rock’n’roll songs. Even modern ones, he wasn’t one to insist that his time and songs were the best.

    “Papa, you were told the cancer is in an advanced stage, and you sing rock songs?” His son was terribly upset, worried at the hardships about to befall them, he loved his father and somehow the thought of losing him never crossed his mind. After all Mr. Roseberg Sr. was only fifty five year old. The eventual monetary hardships crossed the son’s mind as well, however he kept denying to himself that they mattered. Of course they mattered.

    “I am happy,” insisted Mr. Roseberg, “I love animals. So now I have two in my life.” His son understood his meaning, however seeing concern to his sanity in his daughter in law’s eyes, Mr. Roseberg explained patiently. “Crabs, they are animals too, no?...” and as she didn’t show any sign of enlightenment, he gladly pursued his specific line of thought. “I was born in June, under the sign of the crab. And now the crab is again part of my body. And I had three dogs,” he added, not expecting her to fully understand but hoping for partial understanding.

    “Papa,” she tried her own version of patient counter explanation. “This is Cancer, not Crab. A terrible illness, not an animal. And the zodiacal sign is also Cancer, not Crab.” She made sure the capitals were audible. “Can we leave Sarah with you this evening, we are invited to friends?” she added.

    Mr. Roseberg smiled, knowingly. Of course she worried, she had to worry, it was a job, and showing care came with the other job – being married to his son. Worry as deep as cloth, not even skin. He chuckled.

    “Of course.” He loved the little she-devil, and knew they preferred to leave her with him, it was safer with him and his batty ways than with his wife. They separated paths ten years ago and she re-married. He did not marry again, but had a lady lover, Jessica, who shared his bed on many occasions and his soul as deep as souls go. She was married, it bothered none of them, her husband had a lover too. It was because of her that he changed his rock tunes to lullabies. It happened in parallel to his refusal to follow any kind of serious treatment, certainly not the kind that demanded hospitalization.

    “So now you stopped with the rock and moved to lullabies?” asked his son, after another lost hospitalization battle.

    “Can we leave Sarah with you this evening?” asked his daughter in law.

    No one was listening to his explanation. Actually he was trying to sing the crabs to sleep, so they would give him some more time with Sarah and with his lady love. He didn’t decide who of them he loved more, so decided to not decide but just love. And hospitalization would deprive both of them of him, and him of them – this was something he did decide he would never let happen, unless the pain became unbearable. He knew the pain would never become unbearable, at least not for long. His lullabies seemed to help for some time. Maybe his dogs were helping as well, even though he didn’t believe in life after death for people. Yet he had no definite opinion about dogs, in the secrecy of his heart he hopped they lived on, there, with the angels he did not believe in.

    When the pain became unbearable, he did not tell anybody. His son would insist on hospitalizing him by force, his daughter in law would insist to leave Sarah with him one more time, and he would not be able to make love to his lover. So he made love to Jessica and drove his car to a parking on the highway. He couldn’t cry, of course. He always carried paper and a lot of pencils in the car.

    the crabs gave me my body
    and the crabs ate it away
    I loved you all, my dogs, my family and all,
    and I loved you Jessica more than all.

    He read it once more – well, I never claimed to be a great poet, he thought. Thankfully I will not miss you Jessica. He folded the paper and placed it on the passenger seat, plugged Wooly Bully in the CD player on repeat, full volume. Then he picked the revolver which he never carried in his car, put it against his temple and pulled the trigger.




    part 1 - the end

    Something, this time, was terribly wrong. Not the wrong of the previous phone calls when you kept complaining that your feet were hurting but everything else was perfect - blood pressure, and heart beat, and vitamin levels, and whatever else comes under age-tests category. And telling me that you would be visiting yet another specialist for yet another miracle treatment that would cost you yet another handful (a big handful, as I found out each time) of greens - greens, your code for money. No, this time you did not phone me, it was a social worker phoning me and mentioning the word amputation. And gangrene. And I started shivering uncontrollably, barely able to hold the phone in my hand. You never told me you had a sugar problem, father, I always thought that the diet drinks in your fridge were for you to keep in shape. I was blind, father.

    I packed a few shirts, chose a random suitcase, bought a ticket and flew over right away. You were already at the geriatric ward surrounded by so much age. So ugly the age surrounding you and cocooning you inside the smothering care of careless wardens, and nutritionists, and nurses, and doctors. The beauty of age?... Ha, let the fairytale weavers dirty the soles of their shoes just once in a hospital’s geriatric ward. Where are the movie scenes of golden age and soft music and pinks? All I found were snores, and barks, and wails, and detergent stank camouflaging the real stank. Heartbreaking desolation of imposed age and imposed medication and imposed life. Plants, suffering plants - mindless to their surroundings except for the pain in their bones and the tubes dumping fodder down their stomachs, geese ready for the slaughter, for the foie-gras. Human shreds, force fed for the glory of misplaced medical grandeur and distressed relatives who follow the medical grandeur in their ignorance. And you, the only living flower in hell, seeing it all and understanding it all and knowing that all you wished was to die decently. Yes, so clear in your mind that I felt like screaming in echo, yet unknowledgeable enough to scream in approval or in denial or in pain. No, I don’t want pampers, I want to be seated on a toilet seat like a decent human, your eyes pleaded. But your mind was confused with medication and your mouth could not form the words. And your mental anguish so terrible... what are they doing to people your age, father? Man-made zombies, at the push of a pill releasing button. So easy to define them afterwards as demented, so much easier for the medical profession to justify its act of indecency, isn’t it, father?

    I appeared. Like sunshine suddenly shining on you, the toothless smile, the happiness creases around your eyes, the finger pointing to the ear - get me my hearing aid, they think I am crazy, I am not, I don’t hear them. The bandaged foot, ready for the saw, ready for my approval, your knowledge that life was suddenly over and I was the assigned henchman. I signed, they said I had to. You understood. You refused to accept. You did not blame me, you just shut down. Where is it, my life? you asked me, before shutting down, before they cut it away from you. Not your leg, your life.

    The operation was a success. Of course. Even before penicillin such operations were successful. It was not the cut in the flesh which worried me but the cut in your mind. There was no penicillin for this one. All they could do was tie your hands to prevent you from pulling away the tubes and letting yourself bleed to death, as you wished to. For how long can one force a living, iron willed mind to dwell in a decrepit body? For as long as you can bend the iron with Prozacs and their immense family. And once you miss one, there is no stopping the iron. No more pampers for me you declared in your absolute silence, absolute hunger, absolute thirst. And when they missed the one, the iron took over and you wished yourself dead. And you died.


    part 2 - the end

    They brought you over from the fridge. You wouldn’t want someone else buried in the grave, would you? they asked. Of course I didn’t want, so I had no choice. I had to look at you once more - who knows, maybe with some luck you would open eyes again? Yes, I was lucky, it was you. No, I wasn’t lucky, you did not open eyes again.

    I touched you, why be afraid of death, it is life one should be afraid of. Your flesh was not as hard as I expected, though cold, of course. Some of the rosy color still there, your mouth still in its determined last grimace, your eyes closed. No eyeglasses, no hearing aid, nobody seemed to think that you might need it there. They were probably right though I couldn’t be sure, not before I joined you. But they did not allow me to bring you anything of the kind, rules, regulations, religion. I sat on a chair next to you and tried to tell you things I never did before. Why do living people find it so easy to share with their dead counterparts rather than with their living ones? It was one of the questions I asked you but got no answer. Not even a miraculous, invisible hand scratching signs on the wall.

    All ok? asked the burial rabbi, sticking his head in the room he deserted earlier on. I guessed he was worried at the dead having woken up and himself losing his fee. All okay, I reassured him, pointing to my wallet, then pointing to the body still lying on the stone table, covered in its white sheet and waiting for the last rites. Then I kissed the cold forehead and covered it for the last that I would see him, my father.

    I didn’t expect it to be raining, it never rains this time of the year, assured me the rabbi, but he was for once wrong. It was raining cats and dogs and probably cows and camels too. Maybe this was one reason not many people showed up. Or maybe most had died before him and those still alive, family included, thought a camel might crush them down. I’ll never know, I do not intend to ask to find out. To each their piece of conscience and gratefulness - those he pulled out of life’s black holes, those he guided across bridges, those he saved. There were some strangers. There were some I knew. Thankfully there was the traditional minyian, the ten men necessary for the traditional ritual to take place. Not that I minded, but my father did. Or rather would. Or maybe did. Or... yes, a bit dizzy, sorry if my storyline gets a bit knotted up, after all it is not every day that you get born. Or that you burry the one responsible for it, either.

    The ceremony was over and everybody scrambled away to their cars. I wanted to stay behind, alone. How could I cry with all those people around me? I needed my privacy, my crying space. Finally they gave up trying to persuade me to join one of the awaiting cars and left me alone with an umbrella. Well, I could cry with an umbrella as company, that did not bother me. They did, though, wait outside the cemetery to drag my squishing form in a car’s back seat and drive me home. No, thank you, I wish to be alone, and I mounted the flight of stairs to my father’s apartment, getting lost in the rubble he carefully accumulated all over the floor and finally finding a bed I could crumble on. The pillow got soaked within moments. Yes, with rain.


    part 3 - the end

    It was a big house, not huge but big. Adding up the walls to the floor, and then the windows and wardrobes and cabinets and junk - made it even bigger. I couldn’t cope with cleaning it up and putting some order to it all by myself, and all I had was one month. So I brought her over to help me. She, a stranger from some strangely-named strangely-spellable place, one of those coming over from nothingness to do a job and then leaving to the same nothingness after completing the job. A pure commercial arrangement. She arrived.

    I could identify neither her age, nor even her gender - packed as she was in ready-to-work clothing, a scarf covering most of her head, her lines definitely Slavic, her hands... I gasped a moment, definitely not the rough cleaning-washing-dusting kind of hands. Her fingers so delicate... There was no need for words or explanations. She dived into the kitchen and started her job. I dived in whatever else was around, and that included as well bureaucratic arrangements with governmental entities, visits to my work place to deal with urgent matters, everybody very sorry but no one giving a damn. Exhaustion started taking over my body massively.

    One of the days, about a week later, I returned home to find her sitting on a chair, a few photo albums next to her, and she was leafing through them so carefully that you might have thought the pages were made of glass.

    “Your family?” she asked. She probably found them in one of the drawers she was emptying for cleaning, a mix of albums and loose pictures, some of them stained with my father’s unmistakable fingerprints - big, rough.

    “Yes.” I sat down next to her, explaining some of the pictures, trying to remember names, places.

    “Don’t worry, I will catch up with work later,” she assured me, without me having to ask for it. Yes, I was sure she was going to do it, she worked her way through the house like a slave, earning her money so honestly that probably I was the one in the dishonest spot by not paying her enough. I started telling her about my father, didn’t even pay attention that I started tearing until she handed me a handkerchief.

    I smelled the smell of fresh soup around lunch time, next day.

    “You don’t have to do it, it is not part of the job,” I told her, coming in from the balcony.

    “You have to eat, don’t you? And don’t worry...” I stopped her, I knew what she was going to say, that she would catch up with work later. And the soup was delicious even though it carried a strange tinge to it. She refused to tell me what it was, old family secret she claimed and smiled for the first time since she started working in the house. It was also the first time I paid attention that she had grey-blue eyes, and a few wrinkles around them. She skipped my insistence on getting her secret recipe by telling me about her life. Just snippets of it, yet, as fascinating in its small joys and small sorrows as discovering a whole new world right there, in my living room. We worked much later that evening, after all we had to catch up with work. But I learned meanwhile that her real work was writing, and this job, now, was just a fill-in for making a living. Writing was her passion. That explained her fingers. On an impulse I gave her a notebook with a collection of my poetry trials, apologizing a thousand times for their being so awkward. “Not awkward at all,” she told me next morning, waking up a bit later than usual and getting to work on my father’s wardrobe right away. It felt strangely wonderful hearing it.

    She folded first the shirts, and I packed them. Then the coats, blazers, and I packed them. Packing my father’s life away, the leftover’s of someone who will soon become a no one except in my heart. And after I die, a no one at all.

    “Here, I found these too,” she said, handing me a few yellowed feminine garments. It did not wonder me at all that he kept some of my mother’s stuff mixed with his, it gave him certain comfort that he could touch her again this way, somehow. “And these.” She handed me a triple row of pearls, which I remembered from childhood and from family pictures. I touched them as reverently as if I was touching once more my mother’s face, then handed them back to her.

    “You keep these, please.” Was there a glitter in her eyes as she did not refuse, and leaned over to kiss my cheek?

    The second week was nearing its end. We were advancing nicely with the work in the various rooms, and took to the habit of eating lunch and later also dinner, together. There was a certain, not imposed intimacy there, as we were telling each other anecdotes from our lives and from time to time watched the TV news together. Even warriors need a break, I insisted, and she accepted on condition that she prepared the coffee. I accepted. I was surprised when I returned home late, on the second Friday after we started the cleaning, and did not find her in the kitchen. Probably out, shopping for food, I thought and went to the bathroom for an obvious need. She was there, naked, her hair wet and long, her hand moving through it with slow brushing movements, it was the first I ever saw her hair. And I hardly could see anything else. She did not scream, did not run to hide, just blushed to the color of sunset as I beat a fast retreat mumbling an apology which neither made sense nor was it honest. When she came out she found me in the kitchen preparing coffee for both of us. It was the first time she let her hair hang loose, wearing my father’s old bath-robe, tied tightly around her waist with some non-matching ribbon.

    “Don’t apologize,” she beat me to the word, “it wouldn’t be honest, anyway,” and she laughed letting me off from that unpleasant tight spot right at the edge of the cliff. “I have a small request, if you don’t mind,” and she sipped her coffee watching me intently. As I obviously waited for her to go on, she laid her cup on the table, and continued. “I would like to see the sea,” she said. I expected anything, only not this specific request. “I’ve never seen the sea,” and she picked up her cup once more.

    “Of course, you’ve never been to this country before,” I laughed, my stress relieved.

    “No,” she said, “I’ve never seen the sea.” There was a plea in that grey-blue that could have drilled through a mountain. And it was only half an hour’s drive away.

    We arrived there early next morning. A few joggers leaving imprints on the freshly washed sand, a few noisy gulls overhead, and a woman who seemed to have lost all inhibition - pulled off her shoes, pulled down her pantyhose and rushed into the low waves like it was the gateway to paradise. I sat down on a bench and watched her. As I was shivering with the morning chill she was chasing gulls up and down the deserted beach, chasing a few adventurous dogs who deserted their not less adventurous owners to play catch with her, she even tried to climb a lamp post to reach up to a chirping bird which seemed to have lost her way in the city and was crying her longing for a nest. It was like an image from a Dali painting, minus the squashing and the distorting but overflowing with warmth and color. I was, probably, close to what is commonly called - thunderstruck. Then she kneeled, crawling all over the soaked sand and started collecting shells and pieces of shells, carrying them in her folded skirt. So what if her nakedness was showing, she was... alive.

    I must have dozed off. I woke up sensing some strange kind of wet chill on my cheek, and opened my eyes to find her fingers placing a shell there. Then she removed it and kissed the spot. Then she placed the shell on my mouth. Then she removed it and kissed me. There was no passion in the kiss, just happiness.

    “I want to make love to you,” she said, watching me intently for any sign of surprise, disgust, fright... There was none such on my face, as I collected the shells from her skirt into my pockets. She kissed me once more on the lips. There was passion in the kiss. I rented a hotel room for one day. We made love.

    She was about to leave. The work almost completed, the floors, walls, windows clean, the clothes, tools, kitchenware cleaned and collected, ready for whoever was going to inherit my father’s place and life. My heart heavy with a loss which was and a loss which was about to be. She wanted to visit his grave. “But there is nothing between you,” I tried to argue for arguing sake. We got there in a cab and she followed me to the marble stone. I hated that marble, the lock to so much life and love and loss. I approached it, touched it and put the fingers to my lips. “La revedere, tata,” goodbye, father - I said in the only language he would ever understand. She followed me and looked at me at length, before diverting her eyes to the stone and guessing which of the strange letters was the right one to touch. She touched it.

    “Thank you,” she said, with apparently no reason, in a language he would never understand. Before she left the cemetery, the town, the country to go back to that strangely-named strangely-spellable sea-less nothingness they all go to after completing their job. Not before she left my life, she never left my life.

    Multumesc, tata,” I said, with apparently no reason, making sure he understood whatever it was I wanted to tell him. Thank you, father.



"Some Women"

    She chased for those shells all over the deserted strand. Sometimes she stopped above a quiet piece of water, inspecting for long minutes the shell in her hand like it was a butterfly, or a living bird and I was watching the reflection trying to peek under her skirt. Each and his preoccupation. Not that I did not know every detail of the world there, under, it was for the sensation of absolute intimacy it poured through my bones.

    She ran towards me, holding another treasure in her hand, excited and rosy cheeked.

    “Look, I think there is a piece of pearl left in this one.” I didn’t see any piece of pearl, there couldn’t be any piece of pearl in a shell which did not grow pearls. But I couldn’t disappoint her.

    “Sometimes I wonder if you didn’t come out of one of these shells,” I laughed, eschewing elegantly the need for a direct answer.

    “That would take a very big shell,” her rose deepened into crimson and she rubbed her waist against my thigh, purring like a cat.

    “Or a dream. Maybe all of this is just a dream.” She made a face and as she turned to leave I pinched her behind, shortly. She screamed, longer.

    “Why did you do that for?” she scolded.

    “To make sure it is not a dream.”

    “Then why didn’t you pinch yourself.”

    “That would have hurt.”

    She kissed me. Some women are as unpredictable as a sun flare. And as hot. She was a sun flare. As unpredictable as a woman, and as hot. I yelled, feeling fire shooting out of my ears and ran into the waves, sinking in water to my neck. Couldn’t allow myself to burn, not before I harvested what the coming night held as promise. I got up, dripping, soggy, shivering, the clothes-shoes continuum sticking to my flesh like a blanket of blood thirsty leeches. She squealed in laughing delight, and rushed over, shoving her hand in the front of my pants.

    “Hey, what are you doing?” I asked, horrified to be caught in the cross-hairs of some casual telescopic lens.

    “Looking for shells,” she squealed again, pulling out her hand after getting a handful of anything but shells, and then ran towards an unexplored portion of the strand. “You look like a wet chimpanzee,” she laughed in delightful hysteria, and kneeled again on the wet sand.

    I shadowed her, the trepidation in my body visible from a mile away, the one between my teeth hearable probably even further, the pleasure in my chest making every moment of it worth the while.

    “Stop shaking, you’ll be responsible for an ecological disaster,” she pointed a red tongue my way, and I wished I was closer to it and catch it between my teeth. I bent slowly down, making a deliberate show out of it and ensuring she saw me, and straightened up holding a huge, black clam-like thing in my hand.

    “And look what I have found here. You and your microscopic mollusks...” I laughed between chatter attacks. She jumped up on her feet and rushed my way, pulling my raised hand down.

    “You miserable cheat,” she frowned, throwing the shoe into the waves and kicking my shin. She might have been barefoot but I was frozen and it hurt. I ouched loudly, not all of it fake, and there was sudden remorse in her eyes as she kneeled in front of me, pulled up the trouser leg and started kissing the offended spot. It did start getting a bluish tinge, so I supposed she hit it really hard.

    A gust of wind blew her skirt above her head, making any pain bearable. She kept kissing the hurting spot, oblivious to whatever modesty demanded of ladies in moments like this, her only worry my pain.

    “You don’t watch my ass,” I heard her mumbling, changing my perception about her only worry.

    “Oh, but I do,” I protested, honest like a spider approaching a trapped fly.

    “Are you sure? I don’t feel it,” came the muffled words from underneath the fluttering skirt, her tongue caressing my shin incessantly. How does one feel when one watches one’s ass, I wondered? I tried looking harder, not that it was necessary, however it seemed to have the desired effect since she moaned appreciatively. Told you, she belonged to those “some women”, not only unpredictable but also insatiable; with all the advantages and disadvantages of that sun flare engulfing you.

    She finally stood up, put her arm around my middle, her head on my shoulder, and let me guide her back towards the hotel. Her hair tickled my nose and I sneezed loudly, ouching and limping.

    “Does it still hurt?” she asked, her voice a song of sorrow.

    “Yes,” I lied, stressing my limp even more. She seemed to have forgotten that it was related to my losing one shoe, and kissed all her regret into my mouth.

    “Still hurts?” I lied again, and she kissed me again. I kept on lying till my mouth felt like the insides of a watermelon, and probably as swollen as its outsides. Hers as well. I would have laughed if I wasn’t afraid it was going to hurt for real.

    “What are you not laughing at?” she asked, between lies and kisses. I couldn’t tell her that her mouth looked by now like the swollen hindquarters of a chimpanzee, Cheetah excluded.

    “You look like a... chimpanzee,” I chose the politically correct half-truth to be said, and she thought I was just punishing her for that remark earlier on. I made sure we sneaked almost unseen up the elevator, into the room, and didn’t allow her to go for a pee until much later that night. I was scared to death of the mirror. Finally, with all due respect to sex and its various formulations, I had to let her go. I expected a scream, a howl... nothing. She might have had fainted though, and I was about to follow her when the door opened quietly, she turned off the light and slid against me under the sheets.

    “You are a real gentleman,” she murmured into my open palm, trying to get as much of her skin to cuddle against mine. I wasn’t sure what did I do to deserve such a curse, but, hey, you don’t look a gift horse into the mouth. And as you don’t argue with sun flares, same way you don’t argue with “some women”.



Egypt, This Time

    Those who knew me, knew better than contradict my statement. After all, I did prove in the past that any statement I made was correct, even if – officially – I had to retract it for the sake of diplomatic relations, tourism flow, and ethnical unrest. Or rest, actually. (Damn this English, why can’t I write stories in Romanian, so much more convenient.) Anyway, this time I wasn’t going to retract it or allow myself be contradicted, therefore something had to be done to either prove me wrong or insane or better still - both. Maybe even letting some foreign, shady services have a go at me as if I was kidnapped. Or making sure I was swallowed by a crocodile. Preferably a Nile crocodile, which would be quite in line with my place and subject of predicament, and deemed a suitable ending by some of the characters mentioned both earlier and later in this story. Such an ending would have been considered much more representative of the need than, say, a bullet.

    “So it was the wind,” sighed professor Raj Kapoor of the CRAP (Cairo’s Relics and Antiques Preservation) committee, who preferred the committee’s Arabic name to the English one, of course. But he was, unfortunately, stuck with this version and with me. His own name was actually Sulayman al-Atrash, nothing to do with the illustrious Farid co-nomer of whose songs I was a devoted fan. But he looked so much like my cinematographic Raj hero, that this was the name he had to cope with in our numerous encounters. And the fact that he kept carrying a ceremonial plastic dagger at his side trying to impress upon me the other half of his name, didn’t help much either. “Hey, you forget that Kanuni was Turkish, and it was actually Suleiman,” I kept reminding him that which he tried to forget. I didn’t know if he hated me. I guessed he did hate my guts. “And Mount Rushmore was sculpted with extraterrestrial aid,” he snorted further at me.

    “This was Erich’s idea,” I lied, knowing that actually it was only von Däniken’s influence, but it was I who made the outrageous claim several years ago. The one exception which proved the rule, I scolded at him, refusing any further comment on my one, youth, mistake.

    “And the Italians are dying to lay hands on you and nail that fig leaf you stole from Adam back to its rightful place, on your body.” His body shook with laughter, and for a moment he didn’t look like Raj anymore.

    “Only the Swiss guards. And this does not change the issue at hand.” I went over to his desk and lifted one of the several pieces of rock on it half a meter high, then let it drop. It hit the table with a dull thud and practically evaporated into bits of sand and salt. “Human hand could not do it, no sculptor could handle it with tools, only the wind and natural erosion. The great Sphinx of Giza is nothing else than a wonderful, yet purely natural monument. And though it may cut your tourism’s revenues by ten percent – this is the truth and it has to be said.” He was not laughing anymore, just eyeing me with a mix of predatory interest and quarry fright, at any which moment one of the two could take over and decide my fate. I had glimpsed already, earlier on, some black spectacled sinister figures in the corridors leading to his chambers, maybe mocking copycats of a forties gangster movie, nonetheless none the less deadly. “Are you going to assassinate me, Raj?” I asked him, seeing his hand move instinctively to the plastic dagger.

    “Assassinate you, mon ami, and prevent you from making a jackass of yourself? Quite the contrary, I am going to allow you, even support you to publish your theories and with some luck – our tourism might actually increase ten percent. Isn’t ten percent just about the size of freak population inside normal population? Imagine all these coming over just to investigate your claims themselves.” He paused, closing his eyes contemplatively for a moment. “We might actually develop a brand new kind of tourism, provide them all with spades, and portable labs, and camels... all at a price, of course.” He opened his eyes, looking at me speculatively. “Might be even worth the effort putting in place a placebo Sphinx from time to time, just to confuse matters.” He exploded in renewed laughter, making me feel quite uncomfortable in my shoes. Who was the madman in this room? “And what about the big pyramid? A natural wind sculpture as well?”

    His wild laughter followed me in the corridor, and half of the way to the bus. I decided the bus was the safer way to travel, given the circumstances and the fact that I forgot to inform the embassy where I was going. I joined a toothless old man sitting on a sac of potatoes, and offered him a pack of Camel’s in return for his hospitability. He refused, but accepted my Cartier branded silk scarf. Wasn’t aware they were aware even down here of label value. He braided it somehow into his keffiyeh and stood up for all to see. Strange people, I thought, accepting his ivory hilted dagger in return. I wondered if this give and return had an end somewhere, so I descended the next station, considering it safe enough to pick a cab from there to my hotel. I wished I didn’t. I didn’t know and didn’t wish to know how many pedestrians and camels we killed along the way, I only hoped the police would not nail any of these deeds on me.

    I dropped exhausted on my bed, having a mirage about a cold beer but having to settle for a cold coke instead. I fell asleep, wondering how many years of jail would it be worth smuggling one full crate of cold Cobra into my room. One could easily see that Raj was controlling my life.


    When I woke up, I realized it wasn’t an earthquake. A fat man in uniform was shaking me awake in the unkindest of ways, while another fat guy in civilian clothes was stuffing things in my suitcase in no kinder way. I knew it would get me nowhere to argue with them in my limited Arabic, so I limped over to my bland coke and let it slide down my scorched throat as if it was the purest of scotch. Then I pulled up my trousers, laced my shoes, and waited in what I imagined to be a most dignified manner, for the crocodile to come in. Told you, I didn’t believe in bullets.

    Yallah,” called the uniformed one in Internationalish, and I followed him out of the door, the other one following with my suitcase. Maybe they were going to throw me in the Nile? But then – why the suitcase. I was too thirsty, and after the bland coke even thirstier now, so I refrained from either asking or thinking. As long as the liquid intended for me was cool enough... hey, well, if the sound of a popping cold Cobra was not heaven then I wondered what was.

    I put it to my mouth and did not let go until the entirety of its contents found its way comfortably to the bottom of my stomach. I let go of a loud burp, which I knew my host would appreciate largely if any roots of desert hospitability were still lodged within his Oxford contamination, then sank back into the limousine’s cushions with a sigh of contentment. I knew Egypt to be more liberal than, say, Saudi Arabia, but I still wondered how the beer found its way into Raj’s car and he was still there, not having lost any of his liberties or limbs. Went to say quite a lot about the thickness of the strings he was pulling both sideways and upways.

    “It’s gone,” he said, watching me, and dropping the bottle in an opaque container.

    “And you need me to find it,” I finished the sentence, not knowing what he was talking about but glad we were not talking crocodiles. He didn’t answer, just closed his eyes and all of a sudden he looked old, very old. I loved him, I pitied him. I hoped he didn’t lose a pyramid or something, I chuckled internally, and closed my eyes as well. I still had a few hours of sleep to catch.

    Next time I opened them, it was when the lull of the car seemed to be receding, as well as the speed, and I saw an army officer waving us through between two tanks. Tanks? What was that, war? And if so what did I have to do with it, unless if, somehow, I started it? Raj was awake as well, resigned to sit on his seat and watch through me. After the third row of tanks was behind us I saw that we were headed towards the big pyramid. It was, thankfully, still in place, majestic against the blue and yellow background which shimmered in the heat of the well advanced day. The only problem being that there was a small pyramid not far from it, there where there should be no pyramid, and it was black and it was slightly fluttering. Pyramids are not allowed to flutter unless if they are no pyramids. The car stopped a short distance away from it and I saw that the incongruous pyramid was actually a huge tent, closed from all sides, with armed guards stationed around it and a heavy machine-gun at each of its four corners.

    We advanced, with Raj ahead of me making sure we were not mowed down, opened the flap of the tent and entered it, letting the flap fall behind us. Huge halogen lights were lighting the interior, and I looked around me, dazed.

    “Were is it?” I asked, turning around to Raj, my idiotic expression probably similar to his, if I had a mirror to look in.

    “Gone,” he stated the obvious, dryly, “maybe the Israelis?...”

    “You’re an idiot,” I said.

    “I know,” he answered. For there, where a few days ago I broke a few insignificant pieces of stone to drop on his desk, now stood nothing: no Sphinx, no floppy ears, no legs... nothing. Just a huge mound of glittering sand and thousands of buzzing sand flies. The Sphinx was gone, like in the best of illusionist shows. And of all the obviously suspicious great Jews - David Copperfield was in the US, Uri Geller in Switzerland, Harry Houdini dead, while of all the crazy ones – I was under the constant supervision of the Egyptian secret services. Thus, with all suspects either missing or dead or supervised there was not much left to speculate with.

    I went over to step into the pile of soft leftover rubble, threading around it aimlessly. Maybe it sank, maybe it woke up to life and hid inside the pyramid... no, I was mixing it with the other Egyptian, the phoenix. I wasn’t too good at history – real or imagined, but I was damn good at uncovering secrets – true or fake.

    “Who was the first to report the disappearance?” I asked, trying to hide the faint tremolo in my voice and trudging further on until I sank in the rubble to my knees. No, it was not a miniature atomic bomb suddenly losing her way (bombs were always of feminine gender in my mind, and with a reason) around here, or all of us would have been boiled flesh by now. Neither a helicopter, not even the Mil V-12 could lift the estimated 200 tons of weight, not to mention the logistics surrounding such an exercise, and the noise... No, no no no, I didn’t believe in aliens anymore, not after the Rushmore fiasco. So, hmmm, nothing much left, actually. A time machine? I sneezed and fell, getting up fast, before I inhaled enough of the dust to commit self-mummification. I was sure I looked ghastly, Raj didn’t even pay attention to my looks. He was still seeing through me.

    “There is a huge stage and a full range of grandiose decors being set up, about half a kilometer away, for a presentation of Aida in situ. The show was supposed to open in one week. One of the directors looked this way and the Sphinx was still in place, just right where it should have been according to the show’s needs, together with the big and small pyramids. Ten minutes later, as per his report, he looked again and there were only pyramids. He’s still being treated for shock.”

    “Oh, my, Celeste Aida,” I couldn’t refrain from whistling Radames’ tune through my dried throat. I did sound like Poe’s raven, rather. “And your theory?”

    “You,” he said, and didn’t even smile.

    “I? Abducted the Sphinx under my invisible cloak to bring it over to Disneyworld, right?”

    “No, you to explain it whichever way might make sense, and whichever way it might save my ass.”

    “You think I can.”

    “I know you can.”

    I waded my way back to him, all of me glittering with a mix of sand and microscopic crystals and pouring sweat. I didn’t dare ask for another Cobra, not in the open. A shower would have been nice though. Yes, he knew I could. Like I did it then, many years ago in the Sinai desert. Actually, like we did.

    “How’s Aisha?” I asked, and he finally focused his gaze on my face, smiling weakly.

    “Waiting for her third.”



    “Abu El Banat,” I laughed shortly.

    “Not I, my son in law. Don’t tell anybody or I cut your decorations,” and he pointed his plastic dagger towards me, “but I love girls.” For a short moment the Sphinx was back in its place, he was back in his office, I had a cold Cobra in my hand, life was normal.

    Sinai desert, October 8th, ‘73, we found ourselves lost behind our units, I was a medic, corporal in the Israeli army, he was infantry sub-lieutenant in the Egyptian army, and suddenly we found ourselves pointing a weapon at each other’s head, mine a deadly 9mm, his a deadly 7.62mm. In the desert you die, unless lucky. I cleaned and bandaged his lacerated thigh, he offered me cigarettes and water. We shared the field mice, the snakes, the one blanket. A week later I found a working communication station in a destroyed troops carrier, and I let him use it. An Egyptian commando unit smuggled him back to Egypt, his father was some big chief in Cairo. He left with me the picture of his daughter, Aisha. Then he returned once more to Israel in ‘77 as security officer assigned to Sadat’s historical trip to Israel, to the Knesset. I remember our eyes meeting. We were brothers.

    “And who is playing Aida?” I asked, looking at the reflecting surfaces hanging on the two pyramids. “And what are these?”

    “Montserrat Caballé. Maybe a bit too overweight, too overage for a slave, but I guess the right kind of voice.”

    “Oh, goodness, Montserrat Concepción Bibiana Caballé Folch. Amor fatal, tremendo amor, spezzami il cor, fammi morir!” I wasn’t going to succeed with Aida’s voice there where I failed with Radames’, but I couldn’t resist the temptation to try. I guess Poe’s raven would have poked my eyes out.

    “I thought you were a devoted Farid al-Atrash fan,” hurried Raj, more to shut me up than to say the words. Probably afraid I might have caused a stones avalanche down the big pyramid, I guffawed, and probably was right trying. Huh, what was that, what was I just telling myself? I knew the look on my face might have become strange, since Raj put his hand on the plastic hilt again, and this time he kept it there.

    “I love Farid King of the Oud, I love John Paul George and Ringo Insects, I love Montserrat Bel Canto, I love all I love...” I hissed, looking fixedly at Raj. He took a step backwards, not really alarmed, or maybe yes.

    “These are polished metal surfaces for the lights show accompanying the opera,” he answered my second question, and was about to expand when I blurted.

    “Let’s go meet that director. And Montserrat.”


    I’ve never been so close to a diva in my life, and on top of it one of those I adored listening to, mainly when she was singing. She had a nice talking voice as well, and for a few blessed moments I forgot all about the Sphinx and I listened enraptured to tales of Freddie and Luciano and Placido. I think she saw it in my eyes since she was gladly chatting on, until Raj’s elbow in my third rib dragged me back from the fairytale to the nightmare.

    She wasn’t aware of anything of the kind, and seemed very distressed when we told her about the mystery we were trying to elucidate. So was the director, one of the three, who witnessed not the act of disappearance, but the fact of the disappearance. The little “f” that meant the difference between finding what happened and guessing what happened.

    “We were testing the laser systems and the voice systems, preparing for the show. There were only a few technicians present, and all the lights around the pyramids and the Sphinx were turned off to get maximum effect from the lasers. That probably explains the fact that no one saw it before me.” He seemed to carry the after-effects of shock, but was handling it quite well, telling us about the unfortunate circumstances of the “event” . Inclusive the fact that all the security cameras were turned off as well, to prevent their sensors to be burned by the powerful show lasers. One of those yom al basal, a day of onions, as they slang it locally. And no sign yet of the compensating asal, honey. We were not going to get anything more from eventual witnesses, and I felt it was time for me to play my hunch. I pulled Raj aside.

    “Tell me, Raj, do you think you could pull out from your sleeve something impossible?”

    “Depends on the definition of impossible.”

    “Could you get approval to have a tele-guided Israeli spying plane fly above the area?” He looked at me with an expression that was closer to horrified than to enthusiastic, and shook his head with a firmness which did not leave place to either interpretation or discussion. I moved to the second option. “Do you think you could organize a diplomatic pouch to be sent to Israel, with contents defined by me?” This seemed to him a more realistic request, and as I started collecting the artifacts and information I thought necessary, he started making his phone calls.

    I got the positional plans for the laser reflectors, the stage plans, the positions of mikes and loudspeakers, the data sheets for the 1000Watts sound amplifiers and the 10Watts laser guns, black lights, UV lights, hi-fi specifications, then drove around the pyramids and the no-Sphinx taking as many pictures from as many angles possible as I thought necessary and dropped the memory sticks in a padded envelope; as a pre-last thought I took from the director a few of the CDs they were using to calibrate the audio system and added them to the package, and finally got an autographed picture of Montserrat Caballé and dropped it on top of everything else, closing the diplomatic pouch with a lock and handing it over to Raj.

    “Professor Elazar Leibovici, Technion Haifa.” I wasn’t so sure of the spelling, all those Ashkenazi names could be spelled in so many forms that I gave up understanding the illogic of it – Leibovici, Leibowicz, Lybovits. I trusted they would find him.

    “Who’s that?” asked Raj, just for the small talk.

    “Nobody, if he doesn’t sort out the riddle. Your national hero if he does.” I didn’t want to raise too many hopes, even though it was the only direction which made any sense, as I tried to explain in the letter I attached to the pouch. I asked Raj’s permission to tell Professor Leibovici about what happened, and he agreed to it. The diplomatic courier was about to pick up the pouch, when I suddenly cursed loudly... “What an idiot. Wait a moment.” I emptied a cookies jar I found lying around on the stage, drove the jeep to the black tent and filled the jar to the rim with the fine rubble. I closed it carefully, drove back to the stage and put it in the pouch. “OK, you can go.”

    I called the professor, to make sure he was still alive and active, got back a promise to be contacted in three-four days against a promise to cover all costs plus a fifty percent margin, then let Raj drive us to a nearby dump called Qahwa as the foreign spelling made it (“it means coffee,” translated Raj) and drowned our impatience in a few liters of nana tea. It doesn’t get you drunk, unfortunately, but it keeps you busy pissing, which is a pass-time anyway. Then Raj drove me to a nearby hotel and took a bed there himself, willing to be close to me all the time. No, these were separate rooms.

    It didn’t take three-four days. It took exactly twelve hours from the moment the courier left to the moment I got an SMS on my cell phone: “you could have been right. unfortunately you are wrong. coming over.” It was a cold shower, which I needed right then to my body, not to my intellect. I shared my disappointment with Raj.

    “The could leaves place for hope. The unfortunately kills it. The coming brings hope in the picture again. 2:1 in favor of hope.” It was probably the fastest of diplomatic visas requested and granted, not to mention the achieved impossibility of allowing a small military helicopter fly into Egypt to bring my professor to Giza. For once, it seemed that the civil and military chains of command in Egypt were working in perfect harmony, and no AA missile downed the chopper on the way in. I wasn’t so worried at that stage for its way out.

    He descended from the helicopter on his own, a small, bald, wiry 80 year old bundle of energy who refused to take his pension and kept his Technion cathedra, called simply “Materials”, for more than fifty years now. If there was someone who could scientifically explain a 1 inch crack at exactly 37 feet up a building of 56 floors – professor Leibovici was the one. I used his services in the past more than once, and he never accepted a pay, but always accepted donations to the Institute. He claimed I was making his life so interesting that he was tempted to forget about sex. Now he was there, flashing towards us his perfectly white dentures and asking to be taken immediately to the “spot”. From the “spot” to the stage. Then back to the “spot” taking notes, measuring distances and elevations with a portable theodolite he brought along, his two aides typing continuously the data in a huge laptop (never seen such before, its brand erased... “for confidentiality reasons” he said), and mumbling continuously “fascinating... unfortunately... fascinating... unfortunately... fascinating...”

    It was getting close to dinner time and our body started demanding nourishment. We went back to the stage where he was delighted to kiss three times Montserrat Caballé’s hand, humbly asking one more autographed picture for his grand-grand daughter, and one more for the chopper’s pilot, then we all – about seventeen altogether, sat down to eat a local delicious, indefinable dish brought over to us by Raj’s daughter (I was delighted to finally meet his Aisha), and then professor Leibovici decided to finally open his mouth. His charisma went hand in hand with his knowledge, I was sure that even the stage hands present for the occasion could understand what he started telling.

    He connected his laptop to a beamer, showing its contents on the huge stage screen. I guessed anyone happening to visit the moon could follow his presentation as well.

    “My good friend here, Avram...” there went to the dogs my decades long effort to establish myself as George... “had a theory about the Sphinx’s incredible disappearance, which he asked me to check, scientifically. I was immediately interested, in an academic sense of course, therefore I harnessed to the effort a team of fifty colleagues and students, to apply a variety of structural models and energy injections and break-up the Sphinx to dust. Taking the local topology into account: acoustics, reflectors, distances, energies available...”


    “No, the lasers were irrelevant. What we set forth to identify, was if, under the existing geometry and topology of the site, there might have arisen a situation where the Sphinx would have been exposed to a resonant frequency that, if energetic enough, would have shattered it.”

    “Wouldn’t the Sphinx, in that case, have had to be made of crystal?” asked Montserrat, and I almost fell in love with her. I blew her a mental kiss, and waited for Professor Leibovici’s answer. I think he fell in love with her too, if to judge by his sudden softening of voice.

    “Or of some other crystalline matter. Correct. Not of stone, or sand, or lime, or any other kind of solidified mud. Well, to put it in layman’s terms, and I will make it a future doctoral student’s subject, the Sphinx was composed mostly of a strange tri-dimensional hexagonal crystalline basic cell. Covered probably by a layer of ordinary mud, too late to investigate now. And the topography of the whole set-up – pyramids, reflectors, loudspeakers – put it...” here he moved to the next slide, which demonstrated visually the results of some billions of background calculations, “...almost at the center of a so called antinode box, where loudspeakers, the reflectors from the big pyramid, and the reflectors from the small pyramid all converge and create a static waves area with the apex of the antinode, or wave amplitude, right where the neck of the Sphinx would have been. To make matters worse – the position of the mikes was just where they would pick up whatever waves did get reflected to the stage, adding a mighty positive feedback to the already impressive audio assault on the poor Sphinx. The scene was set, with a probability of one in one trillions but nevertheless set, for disintegration.” He waited a moment for effect, took a long sip, and continued. “And Avram would have been the hero to a nation awakening without its monumental... well, monument, but with a perfect explanation.”

    “However?” dared Raj interrupt, clearly in a hypnotic trance.

    “However...” another pause for effect, “however you tested your set with CDs. Digital recordings. Sound modulated at 44 kilohertz, a basic frequency which absorbed too much of the energy available, and which could have theoretically shattered the monument. Thus, even though it could have been – it was not.” He turned off the beamer, clearly disappointed at the conclusion, yet delighted to have been involved in such a momentous event. Great academic material.

    “Which frequency would that have been?” asked Raj, who seemed to still possess the leftovers of an anchor in a dried out sea of hope.

    “Practically speaking - 30.87 hertz, or any multiples of it. What some call B and others Si. Any of these would have resulted in a resonant frequency along various stress lines inside the monument, leading after a few seconds to its complete disintegration. Just 8 to 10 seconds of clean frequency at the here available topography and audio power...”

    Everybody heard the gasp, followed by the thud. It was too loud to overhear. The director who witnessed first the disappearance had just crumbled again to the floor, his head hitting the wooden planks, his body inert. If it wasn’t for his heavily heaving chest, I would have thought that he had just died.


    It was evening. We sat on the stage, dangling our legs like children, our mood a mix of whimsical and mellow. The show participants had gone to the hotel, professor Leibovici had left with his autographs and another jar of rubble, I and Raj stayed behind to kind of conclude the matter.

    “So it was a ‘69, 8-track tape recording of her Verona performance as Elisabetta of Don Carlos, that shattered the Sphinx? And this director decided to play it just here?”

    “No only here, everywhere where she performed, it was one of his standard tests of the acoustical environment. Here it was just the one chance in a trillion that materialized.” I pulled deeply on the cigarette in my mouth. I didn’t smoke in eons now, and I wasn’t going to start again. But it somehow seemed appropriate for the occasion. Destruction. “Well, almost 14 continuous seconds of a clean B... seems it shattered also the minds of the human audience in Verona. They are probably still applauding there.” I handed him the cigarette for his puff, we took turns at it.

    “One in a trillion chance. No one will believe me,” he puffed and coughed, handing it back to me.

    “Life on earth is the result of one in a trillion trillion chances. And nevertheless, here we are.”

    “Yeah, tell it to my bosses. I still have to find a placebo to put there, the place cannot stay deserted like that.”

    “That should be easy, there is probably enough photographic documentation to create a perfect simile. As a matter of fact, there is a company that can create perfect mockups of anything, using a process of thin film layers growing into a final product. True, they do it just for small items, I guess that for one hundred million dollars they could set-up a machine right here on spot, and build your Sphinx back to perfection. You might have to paint it, though.”

    He didn’t seem to have heard or cared for the one hundred million dollars.


    “How did you know?”

    “I didn’t.”

    I jumped off the stage and let him lean on my shoulder as he joined me. We started walking towards the Sphinx place.

    “You know,” I said, “they can be your best friends. The Israelis. All of them.” I was stretching the truth a bit, of course, all of them except Hadassa, my parents’ neighboring woman, who...

    “All, except Hadassa,” he stopped and looked at me, laughing. How in the hell?... I didn’t have to ask, he contributed the information himself. “Back there, in ‘73, did you know that you talked in your sleep?” No, I didn’t and it was good to be told. I wondered what else I might have let out while asleep, say, in the arms of my lady. He started walking again. “You also don’t know that my government is going to decorate you for services to the Egyptian nation.” No, I didn’t know that either. “Ibrahim...” he kept walking, not looking my way.

    “Shlomo...” I answered in kind, smiling.

    “What do you think we should do with that rubble, dust?”

    That was an easy question to answer, as far as I was concerned.

    “Pack it by the kilogram and sell each package for millions of dollars to universities. And pack the rest by the gram and sell it for a hundred dollars each to tourists. Your country will make more money than it ever dreamed of making.”

    “And why do you think they will pay this kind of money for some sand?” he asked, a bit baffled.

    “I don’t think, I know.”

    “You know something you don’t tell me,” he glanced sideways, expecting some explanation.

    “You will know, when the time is right,” I answered, refusing any further comment.


    “Yes, Shlomo.”

    “You know, there is nothing worse, when it comes to business, than a Jew.”

    “Oh, yes, there is,” I said. We stopped, facing each other.


    “An Arab.”

    He opened slowly a white, big toothed smile, I opened a white, small toothed one, and then we fell into each others arms.


    “Brother.” I was afraid I was going to cry.

    He took me to the airport following day, a pair of police motorcycles emptying the road in front of the car.

    “Tell me,” I asked him, “do you think the huge turban on Suleiman’s head was there to hide his huge brain?” I was serious. He seemed to give my question some serious thought, before answering.

    “Yes, I think so. The same the mane of hair on Einstein’s head were just extensions to his neurons.” He was serious too. “Where are you going from here?”

    I could tell him, he would find it anyway.

    “Not immediately. In one month, to Riyadh, on my way to Mecca.”

    Makkah al-Mukarramah. Five hundred miles between them.

    “I know, will allow me the time to get acclimatized to the weather and to the people.” This was the truth, I wasn’t lying.

    “And there, I guess, it is the Kaaba which interests you. Or rather al-Hajar-ul-Aswad, the Black Stone as the infidels call it.” I nodded, absent mided. “Careful, there they cut first and ask questions later.”

    “I know.” I knew, but with the fresh knowledge in my pocket I couldn’t refuse Professor Leibovici’s plea.

    “You don’t intent to set up an opera there, do you?”

    The hysterical laughter that followed was suitable ending to the last few days of stress, we couldn’t hold back until we got to the airport, where we had no choice but act respectable and wipe out our tears.

    He accompanied me all the way to the plane, his status allowing him this kind of privileges. We clasped hands for a last time, and I left in his hand a piece of paper.

    “What is this?” he asked.

    “The time is right.”

    “Why now?”

    “Because I don’t want to see the expression on your face, reading it. And because you can’t thank me anymore.” I gave him a big kiss on the cheek and mounted the stairway to the airplane.

    “Dear Avram,

    The rubble you sent me is of crystalline form, based on a strange, very rare Calcium isotope, Calcium 51. If you ask me how rare, then my answer is – as rare as inexistent.

    So, you shouldn’t feel so bad about that Rushmore episode my friend, no, you shouldn’t feel so bad at all.




Blind Date

    I was young. I was healthy. I was horny. My flaming hair half - I was a sucker for flaming hair - left me a week ago on grounds of mental cruelty, claiming that the fact that I always rushed ahead of her to open doors was distasteful, disgusting and degrading. She was very poetic. I was very polite. She added that it was also downright insulting, and when I pointed to her that in my humble opinion ‘downright insulting’ were two downright distinctive words (trying to appease her mood with poetical context) she screamed and left running, wiggling her pretty little ass out of my apartment. I was sorry to see her pretty little ass leave, which was another perennial source of conflict between us (you love my ass more than you love me, she kept complaining, plain jealous). I loved her too, of course. She was PhD in archaeology and I loved my partners to be intelligent much above their being beautiful. In this case, she was both. Hmm... was she? Well, that was once upon a time, a week ago, and a living guy has living needs that need a living woman to satisfy. Memories weren’t sufficient and I didn’t want to get blind. Which gave me the idea in the first place.

    I bought my membership two days ago for $21.72, plus NYC tax, and I joined the Exotic Singles internet chat room. The administrators advertised it as the place for laid back people to get laid, all religions confounded. They didn’t mention race, color, sex, being careful with their phrasing so no one could sue them for a return of the $21.72, NYC tax excluded. I had nothing to lose, the name was alluring, and that’s where I met the one who called herself Medusa. I was Tarzan. I wasn’t one for blind dates actually, all my previous girlfriends were not picked up but chosen at a variety of congresses, based on several targeted questionnaires I devised for the purpose, since - as mentioned already, looks were secondary, even irrelevant at the start, it was brains that counted. If the lady was passing the fifty percent and was flame haired, I gave her a chance to prove the rest in bed. More than sixty percent, the second condition became immaterial. And I wasn’t slapped even once, they knew the score from the very start. This is how I got to know Medusa. No picture, not even a description, but no one passed any of my tests with such flaming colors as she did. The worst that could have happened was that she was a man. So what, shouldn’t men get also a shot at everlasting happiness?

    “How much is one thousand eleven plus one hundred and one?” It was a test chosen at random, didn’t know which congress she belonged to. Might have been even a whore. Made it very clear to her that it wasn’t looks that mattered, it was brains. After all, I couldn’t check remotely if she was a flaming hair or not.

    “Ten thousand.” I was about to move on and choose another candidate to share my needs, when she added... “You ask in binary, right?” I almost swallowed the chewing gum. I removed it carefully from my mouth, folded around it a counterfeit one dollar bill I got from the street corner grocery, and dropped it into my ‘launch and forget’ marked waste-basket. Was I in for a long night? “Still there?” came the message about a minute later.

    “Where’s Paris?” was my next question. I did get already answers to this one ranging from ‘who’s Paris?’ to ‘Guatemala’.

    “With e or a?” Huh? What was going on here?

    “Sorry?” I wasn’t going to close the line, the answer-question had a sound of confidence to it.

    “One r or two r?” she continued, the quiet my side of the line embarrassing.

    “P-A-R-I-S,” I spelled it slowly, taking extreme care not to swallow mid of the spelling.

    “You mean Ohio? Maine? Or Texas, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee? Oh, you probably mean Paris, France. Everybody knows this one is in France.” Was there a sound of mockery in the voice? I didn’t think so, even though for a moment I felt like the interrogee rather than the interrogator.

    “Don’t know of any a’d and double r’d,” I dared, not really confident.

    “You are half right, there is Parris Island. Your accent is strange, sorry for my misinterpretation.” No, definitely not mockery, definitely politeness. And certainly too fast to look it up on the internet.

    I left the screen for a moment and pulled a comfortable armchair in front of it. Yes, it looked like it was going to be a long night. That was two nights ago. This evening I was going to ask her out. I chose my restaurant carefully, willing to impress though I had no idea about her personality, but her wits and knowledge were quite overwhelming, definitely something worth investing in for the long run. I made a reservation for two at Antonioni’s - a chic, high class, even a bit high nosed restaurant, one hundred bucks for one aperitif but the dessert was on the house, and called her on messenger. She was there, since I had left a message earlier on saying I would make contact. She accepted right away. She knew so much about Paris, I guessed she would know as much about Antonioni’s, so I just mentioned it, without going into details. And she sounded, as much I could glean from her message, delighted. At least not a snob, I decided, maybe a bit too hastily.

    “Tell me Medusa, what do you like about me?” I asked on-line, the first personal question I posed her.

    “You mean, except for your body, Tarzan?” She added three smiley’s to the question.

    “That, and my fame,” I added five smiley’s.

    “Your absolute, unreal politeness,” she answered, adding seven smiley’s and going off line. Did I really exude so much politeness, even in writing? I wondered, even though I felt it to be correct. At high school I always thanked the bullies who took my sandwiches, and offered to buy them a soda too.


    Antonioni was the owner, Paolo Antonioni, third generation owner, five years in a row two Michelin’s, a real institution. And prices were accordingly. Of course it wasn’t my daily bread and butter, which was pretty much just that - bread and butter. But on numerous occasions I brought over those of my firm’s clients that we wanted to impress gastronomically into a purchase, and Paolo owed me quite a large part of his fame and revenue. Therefore I never had a problem to reserve a place next to the mandolins; he always had a real mandolins orchestra playing, even on the day he discovered his wife had a lover who was a best client. But no reductions, rules of the house he claimed, and I wondered whose house it was anyway.

    I arrived a quarter of an hour earlier, just to make sure I was not a quarter of an hour too late. I carried a single one thousand dollar bill in my pocket, as part of my self-declared effort to impress my date, and Paolo smelled it, he always could smell money. He took me by the arm to my table, where he took care to place a bouquet of fresh and freshly sprinkled roses in the middle of the sparkling cutlery, high enough to be seen, not high enough to prevent “...young lovers from holding hands and looking into each other’s eyes.” He also placed a wild-rose smelling candle next to the flowers, a gold plated ‘Reserved’ sign next to it, and departed whistling. He really loved my business. I never asked why I always paid ten percent more than the listed price, before adding twelve percent for service. He probably had good reasons for it.

    At the o’clock she opened the door. Paolo was waiting for her, having been asked by me, and he didn’t faint. He did get pale though, as he tried to guide her the long way around, almost through the kitchen, to my table, looking nervously around for who was going to shoot him. I stood up and pulled the chair for her and she sat heavily down, all those bells and other undefined irons attached to her clothes and ears and lips and where-not sounding like a Brinks spilling its coinage on a tin roof.

    “Hi,” she said after sitting down, pulling a roseate lump of chewing gum from her mouth and sticking it to the underside of the table. I smiled, well, to each his habits and habitudes. The sack was a bit strange though, not a ‘sack-dress’ but what seemed like either a mail or a potatoes sack, with three holes in it - two for eyes and a bigger one for common mouth and nose usage, and that covered her down to waist almost. It was through the bigger hole that the chewing gum came out. Elephant woman? I wondered. Or maybe a practicing Moslem and this was some kind of a modern mini-burka? This didn’t go along with blind dating, though. I decided to ask, for knowledge sake, didn’t want to insult her inadvertently.

    “Are you a practicing Moslem?”


    “Does it matter?” She finally asked.

    “No and yes. No, related to this encounter. Yes, related to your accepting or not an alcoholic drink.” I smiled reassuringly, wishing to make her feel at ease. Quiet.

    “No,” she finally answered, and slowly pulled the sack off her head. She was no elephant-woman either. I smiled. It was a mistake, she smiled back and it was the most horrible smile I had ever seen in any of my rare nightmares, and I remembered all of them. Not that it mattered a hoot, I was there to uncover the intellectual ‘she’ before uncovering any physical ‘she’. So I smiled again and she smiled back again, and as I did not turn to stone it meant it was probably ok.

    Luckily, no habits and habitudes included (yet) Paolo fainting before getting paid. He was a professional to the tips of his polished shoes, and waited obligingly at the tableside for our order. It was the first time I saw beads of perspiration on his brow. I wondered, as the restaurant was air-conditioned. She smiled my way, I will describe the smile in detail later on, and shook my hand presenting herself - “Medusa.” I almost answered with Tarzan, then remembering Paolo I said my real name, and kissed her hand. It had a smell of garlic to it. She did not wait for me to sit down. “Can I have a big bowl of spaghetti? And a large Coke.” After a slight hesitation she added “Please.”

    Paolo was still on his feet, even though he started swaying and the beads started rolling down, held back just by his luxurious eyebrows. I liked spaghetti too, but I thought that Paolo needed some help out of his unexplainable coma. I ordered, two alcoholic aperitifs, asking Medusa if she objected and she answered “... whatever,” a bottle of French champagne and some tartufi - the much prized Italian truffles which Paolo suggested before Medusa showed up. This kicked him out from his stasis, even though he made a gloomy face when I decided to go for spaghetti as well. I didn’t know, Medusa might have been vegetarian and I had to act considerate. “Make it a big bowl and two platters,” I advised him, smiling Medusa’s way, “we will both take servings from it.” He rushed away, raising pleading eyes to his Catholic God and asking that we disappear. As we did not, he continued to the kitchen pulling the calculator from his pocket. I wondered if he was going to be considerate and give me a reduction, this time. Medusa smiled back my way. It wasn’t a Gioconda smile, for certain.

    “La Gioconda,” I tested her, had to make sure there was no impersonator involved.

    “La Joconde, Mona Lisa, Lisa Gherardini, da Vinci, Louvre, Paris…” and after some hesitation “… France”. It was she, alright. She smiled again. God, did she have an ugly smile. I still don’t feel like describing it, so let me go the long way around and describe the rest of her, not in detail - no detail would suffice.

    She wore high heeled shoes. Would have been ok if not for the spurs attached to them. Then black stockings visible more or less to below the knees, the left one with a wide run disappearing under the lower hem of a pair of leather trousers wide enough to accommodate a medium size baobab, each leg, then a black leather belt with a mix of cheap colored glass decorations and bells, above which stretched a completely loose piece of undefined cloth decorated with a variety of colored ribbons, stainless steel chains, and bells of course. It wasn’t clear if she had two or four breasts underneath it, some things had to rest undefined for the time being. She was also sort of flame haired. Dyed red, actually more like orange, the sides shaven and the middle falling back along a narrow strip like a horse’s tail. Well, this was it more or less; I lack the capability of better descriptions when it comes to women and their attire. And I guess I have no choice now but to finally describe her smile. As if encouraging my thoughts, she smiled again and the red gloss on her lips cracked.

    “Oops,” she said, pulling a bottle of nail polish from a sack (another sack, this one beyond description), a mirror, and covering her lips with a brush dipped in the bottle. I found it amusing.

    “This is nail polish,” I pointed, thinking she might not have paid attention.

    “I know, lipstick is so damned expensive. Much more efficient nail polish. And multi tasking,” she concluded, and, as if to make her point clearer she lifted her foot on the table and placed some of the liquid at the top of the run. I was swift enough to pull away the cutlery and the table top, and after she finished I smoothed the table top back in place and reorganized the cutlery. Then I sat down again. I did have a problem reading her eyes, which bothered me enormously - I love reading people’s eyes, and her were hidden somewhere at the bottom end of two thick pieces of transparent plastic, about a quarter of an inch thick, probably contact lenses of some kind intended for strong myopia conditions. She did look like some kind of overgrown frog. Maybe the story had it all wrong and it was a prince who kissed a she-frog. The thought made me smile. “Are you laughing at me?” she asked, a bit on the querulous side.

    “Oh, no,” I hastened to reassure her, “was just thinking of something completely unrelated, children stories and children stories writers.”

    “German or Danish?” There was something sharp in the question, which made me flinch for a moment. Damn those thick contacts, I wish I could have seen your eyes without them, Medusa. You do look like a frog, politely said, and sorry about it. I did not say it, of course, I was my eternal polite self, after all.

    The spaghetti bowl arrived. Isabella, Paolo’s plumply elegant daughter brought it over. He decided probably to live another day and save himself the stress of such a sight in his elegant restaurant, even though I saw him peeking continuously from behind the kitchen door’s window, looking frightened at the other, slightly upset customers, who kept eyeing Medusa. I didn’t quite get what they were eyeing, just an eccentrically dressed girl, so what? True, uglier than usual. Isabella dropped the bowl on the desk and rushed away, almost shrieking.

    “Shall I serve?” I asked gallantly, and as she smiled her agreement, I piled spaghetti on her platter. Then I did the same on mine.

    Okay, her smile, enough procrastination. Terrible. Four of her lower front teeth were half brown, stained from heavy smoking, two of her top ones as well with one canine broken about half way through. There was one extra tooth pushing above two others, and it was dressed in nickel. One bottom canine was dressed gold, and at least three other teeth had one or another kind of gem embedded in them, various sizes. Big gems, pushing her lips forward. Her lips’ polish, no wonder, kept cracking, with pieces of it falling and clinking on her platter, especially when she was smiling. I didn’t quite understand how she could eat with that big ring hanging from her nose to her bottom lip, until she rolled it upwards in order to take a drink and this elucidated this mystery for me.

    We started eating, asking each other questions. Never personal, always of general knowledge, making my date feel more like a ‘who wants to be a millionaire’ show. It seemed that I only beat her at math, but she beat me into pulp at geography.

    “Did you see Lady and the Tramp”? she asked, sucking noisily one noodle in. Of course, I admitted to the sin of having seen it seven times. Not that I enjoyed Medusa’s recurring smiles so much, but that this was fact. “Let’s do like them,” she smiled, and I wasn’t so sure I was going to like it. I could not, though, insult my date and guest.

    What followed was a bit more than I bargained for. She made a strange movement with her mouth and her teeth fell into her hands - full dentures, top and bottom, with some spring at the rear end keeping them together, and she closed her lips tight letting the teeth in her hand rattle open and closed as her fingers played with them.

    “Funny no?” she kind of spoke with a muffled voice through hardly opening lips, and I could not hold back and started laughing. Gasps and sounds of disgust rose from the nearby tables, adding to the hilarity of the scene, and I started hurting from so much laughing. Paolo rushed towards us, carrying a folding paravent under his arm and opened it next to our table, isolating us partially from the rest of the restaurant.

    “Just to give you more privacy,” he mumbled, rushing back to the kitchen with ‘mamma mia’s escaping his strangled larynx, trachea, lungs, and all of his breathing system. I could hear some feminine muffled shrieks when the kitchen door opened, I guessed it must have been Isabella, with Paolo’s hand clamping over her mouth. I had another attack of laughter, and Medusa showed quite some restraint, waiting for me to calm down. I gulped two glasses of champagne, one after the other, then looked her straight into the place her eyes were supposed to be.

    “Sure, why not, which of the things that they did?” I asked, winking, “those under the camera’s eye or those out of the camera’s eye?” I lay the glass back on the table, filled it, looking at her. Even if she wanted, she could not have winked with those monstrous contact lenses.

    She opened the pressure on the teeth, letting them open, and tried picking a few noodles dropping them back in the bowl until she found one long enough. She raised it until it was hanging to its full glorious limp length above the bowl and moved the lower hanging end my way. I picked it in between my lips and kept it there, not chewing, not sucking. Waiting. I was curious to see how she was going to handle her side of the deal, with that huge ring hanging from nose to mouth, and for a moment I panicked - a first - when she got hold of the ring with her other hand and pulled. I couldn’t even shout ““hey”, with my mouth trapped by that limp, long, dough entity. The ring slid off, no blood, no scream, it just slid off and she put it next to her platter. It wasn’t a closed ring, I should have guessed, there must have been a way to remove it for blowing one’s nose or whatever. She smiled, seemingly content at my moment of panic, her lips still closed, and she approached the end held in the teeth to her mouth, sneaked an end of tongue out, and pulled it in. She laid the teeth next to the ring. We started munching, each sucking his or her end, our necks stretching over the table so as not to let it break, then getting up from our chairs when neck stretching was not sufficient anymore, we were at five inches of noodle away, then at one inch, I saw her contact lenses almost hitting me in the eyes, closed my eyes, her contact lenses hit me just as our lips touched. The nail polish cracked. She did not smell of garlic.

    I pulled back, for whatever reason, excited, aroused, ashamed.

    “It was the Germans, the Grimm ones, no?” she asked, and something white flashed in her mouth. My God, did she have more of those teeth back there? “They were great story tellers. They didn’t know though that reality, at times, builds on stories.” She pulled the parevent out of the way, and as Paolo was about to rush our way I pulled swiftly the one thousand dollar bill and held it above the candle’s flame. It fluttered in the hot air, Paolo froze, hypnotized.

    Medusa lifted her feet, one after the other, pulling the spurs and letting them drop to the floor. Off came the thick lenses, next. Then she unbuckled her wide belt, pulled strongly, a gasp from the (female) audience and baobab trousers, run rich stockings, ribbons, bells... they all came off like in a magician’s show leaving underneath a red robed, nylons stocking’d, hard breasted, sharp nippled lithe body. She removed slowly the rest of the iron pieces from her flesh, peeled some pieces of transparent foil from the back of her hands, sat back down and carefully wiped off the cracking pieces of lacquer from her lips, applying a thin layer of lipstick and smacking her lips in delight.

    “I really hate this nail polish stuff,” she said, smiling widely and all I could see was the whiteness of two pearl rows hanging from one raised corner of a perfect mouth to the other raised corner of the same perfect mouth. “Oh,” she added, and with one move the orange horse-tail was off. God almighty, father of all my fantasies, that cascading, flowing, flaming hair... I was mesmerized. Everybody in the room was mesmerized with all eyes fixed on her. Only Paolo seemed to be mesmerized by something else, in the same general direction, and started dancing and making guttural sounds and pointing “Fire,” Medusa said, softly. Yes, fire, I knew fire, my eyes still lost in that abundance of hair. “No, fire,” she repeated softly again, taking my hand and guiding it to the champagne filled glass. Something sizzled, and I shuddered awake, looking a bit lost and uncomprehending to the dollars bill in my hand. Only one corner got charred. I let it float down into the champagne glass, went over to the paravent, pulled it again between our table and the rest of the civilized world, then sat down across from her and just gazed. I just couldn’t gaze enough.

    “Why?” I asked.

    “Test.” she answered. Made sense, I wasn’t the only paranoiac around.

    “What is your name?” I asked.

    “Annabel Lee,” she answered, and I thought the flowers on the table started opening.

    “What are you, artist?” I asked.

    “Horny,” she answered.

    I fell in love.




    Jake Brown, born Jacob Braunstein, was not to be remembered as US’s first Jewish president. True, he was Jewish, but he was also a billionaire who didn’t give a damn about money therefore he bought both the presidency through buying the media opinion (each one has a price, he kept - unoriginally yet knowingly - saying) and the advisors to run the country for him; all he had to do was smile and make speeches. Which came natural to him - he had all the charisma and all the brains necessary to make whatever he said sound as if he had just thought it. The plug in his ear was supposed to be a hearing aid, which it was, though wirelessly connected to an advisory room full with people telling him what to say. Paid enough to minimize their role and let him collect the laurels. He was very popular, but he was not to be remembered for his popularity.

    Jake Brown was to be remembered for being the first president to have forced the introduction of a new bill. Not a legislative bill but a real, money paper bill - the by now famous, nine dollar bill. With flaming oratories (these all his own) and heavily supporting research evidence (this all bought) that the simple fact of introducing the nine dollar bill would help reduce prices, cut inflation, create jobs and pull America out of its stagnation. It was estimated that he spent about three quarters of his fortune in advancing this project, leaving just enough for him to finish his term respectably and retire to a small cottage in San Francisco. I don’t need the money, he kept smiling at interviewers and worried capital consultants. Clearly - he meant it.

    Mockery was running rampant, after all even Jake Brown could not buy everybody and everybody’s opinion. However all mockery turned to screaming triumph when “the stupidest decision ever of any American president” started showing shining results. Prices went down, inflation was strangled, jobless numbers went to a historical low ever and exports soared. Even cars even to Japan. His gratification was complete when both Europe and Japan followed suit, one year later, Europe with a nine euro bill, and Japan with a ninety-nine yen. And China, ever playing the independent power, had no choice but follow two months later. The world was, practically speaking, blossoming.

    Of course, numerous post-mortem Stock Exchange researches and Universities’ doctorate theses and TV evangelists’ themes competed with each other in analyzing and praising the financial acumen of President Jake, and his status as the century’s visionary earned him additional unwanted billions (after taxes correctly paid) in speeches and books, mostly created by others but mostly cashed in by him. He donated it all to charity - I don’t need the money, just my cottage in San Francisco, that’s all I need, and sufficient funds for Belgian chocolates once a month, he laughed. Everybody was convinced he was joking, he was not. I’ve done what I set myself to do twenty six years ago, I need nothing more, he kept smiling jovially, and signing huge checks to medical research, famine fighting organizations, battered women and children homes, and numerous other social or public services organizations. He firmly declined to be nominated for the Nobel Prize for finance, and after finishing his term in the oval office, he disappeared completely from the public eye, until his natural death, ten years later. Fifteen years ago.

    A Republican project of having his effigy added to Mount Rushmore was swiftly rejected (on budgetary reasons) however a counter Democrat offer to have him join Teddy Roosevelt on the nine dollar bill swept both houses with the speed of a hurricane. Thus, the nine dollar bill becoming the first and only American bill to carry the effigies of two presidents. Jake Brown was making history even after his death.


    “Why twenty six?” asked Susan, sipping her cold coffee. “Why not something normal like thirty, or twenty five, or some time ago. You really don’t see any mystery in this specific number?” she asked her boss, Patricia Jalalabad, once again. She was asking it for the last one year.

    “Stop looking for scoops where there are none,” laughed Patricia, “the records are all public, you’ve gone through them for the last two weeks. Forget it and stop going there. CIA is not home, this office is. No Jakegate for you, my dear, sorry. And anyway, it sounds phonetically awful. We wouldn’t sell one paper, even if there was something to it.” She dismissed Susan, asking her to close the door, so she could smoke in peace.

    She opened a window and turned on the fan, so the smell and smoke would dissipate outside, then leaned back in her chair and inhaled deeply. There were no billions left, but the millions did just as well.

    She opened the drawer on her right and picked up the yellowing picture. The rubber stamp on the back said: CIA archives, number... do not remove under act... She turned it the right side up again, looking at the rectangular stone pictured on it and the date it carried, fifty one years ago. The inscription engraved promised eternal remembrance. The name above it was Nine. At the bottom right corner, barely discernible, one could read ‘pet cemetery property, IL’. Papa, you wonderful, sentimental son of a bitch, she said, smiling and nearing the cigarette’s glowing end to the bottom of the picture.

    She waited until the flame died, the blackened piece of cardboard a brittle memory of once upon, then crumbled the leftovers between thumb and middle finger seeding the ash in front of the fan. A bit more physical pollution won’t hurt, she thought. She opened the door.

    Mental polution, that’s the real killer. She sighed, calling Susan to her office.




    Storyteller’s note: it would be practically impossible for me to relate the way I learned of the following, and impossible still to tell everything using anything which could be called “correct language”. I had no choice but to use human terms in many instances, so that the readers would be able to relate to the recount; however, much of the real sense of the story was lost in my unfortunate “translation”. Sorry.


    The closest my name would be spelled in a phonetic human language would be Axalbirxibron. It has a meaning in its original form, which would be something like it-and-that-and-there-immortal-poet-freedom. My species opts for very elaborate names, which are individually adapted as time passes and events accumulate; most of us are not given any name, and only few are considered worthy of the effort and honor of memory, therefore name. I am one of these. I am a bacterium, one of those you would call “good” bacteria. In my specific case, these are the other members of my tribes, the Axalbi tribes, who are the good ones. They work their asses off (a human euphemism) in the slaving fields of their hosts’ stomachi , and are responsible for the creation of a variety of vitamins, hormones, short chain fatty acids... and much more. In other words they keep the host alive. And killing or helping in killing enemy bacteria is certainly not one of the less important jobs my tribes have to perform.

    No one, except me, remembers the original reason for this thankless slavery; after all we could have chosen a much friendlier environment to live in - like the cow’s fourth stomach, or an antelope’s stomach, even a rabbit’s. But the ancestors of several hundreds of our related races decided, since times immemorial, that the sapiens were worth the effort of preservation. These ancestors are all dead by now, actually died many thousands of human years ago, and their split-sons forgot long ago the reason. They remember just the work to be done, and they do it. I am the only one that still remembers, the only ancestor still alive yet there is no one to tell the story to anymore. Except for this human who, in whichever miraculous way, understands me and decided to take notes. Maybe because he is a words poet? See, I did not yet tell you - I am a poet too. A chemicals poet.

    This is the reason my species keeps me alive to this day. They love deliriously my poetry, even though they do not understand even a single message it brings over. They just get drunk in it, and pleasure is the only sensation that counts. Every colony I reach turns, for the short period of my visit there, into that which humans would call a raving carnival. And so, protected by the fierceness and suicidal devotion of my peers, I am still alive. I keep my entire race’s memory in one of the cells I split to, and this keeps rejuvenating me; yet, when faced with all other threats it is only the protection of my tribe that keeps me alive. Oh, so many the dead threats, so many the living threats. I often wonder how I survived the ongoing savage attacks of salmonelle enteritis, clostridium difficile, escherichia coli and similar renegade tribes who wage a continuous war against us and against our human hosts. Yes, savage. Human language is, oh, so extremely primitive, and human words so terribly lacking in relating the true sense and feeling I try to express. If those other tribes would have understood my poetry, they would have stopped their incessant invasions. But their receptors are dulled, their greed for poison is great, and we grew apart many thousands of years already, there is no bridging the gap possible anymore. Ever. All I can do now is perpetuate my chemical poetry to those several hundreds of tribes that still love it, and wait for them to contribute to keeping me alive, to the best of their abilities.

    Why did we decide, originally, to save this sapiens species? As the only ancestor of my species that is still alive, I am your only source of information and you must believe my telling. The decision to save this weakling species was one and only: it was the only of two species that had the potential for the gift of poetry. The other species was the suidae family, pigs. However their capabilities were rapidly destroyed by the stronger of the two, the humans. The human species did not yet own this gift at the time we took our decision, we were much more advanced, thousands of years ahead of the sapiens. But we sensed the potential in the chemistry of their brains and decided to protect them. Hoping that one day we would be able to talk to each other in a universal language. The language of poetry. Irrelevant that ours was chemical and their potential was vocal. Oh, we were so naïve, so innocent at the time of the decision. They surely developed their poetry skills, yet in parallel they developed their destruction skills and their arrogance and all hope of dialogue died. Now, I am the only one carrying the flame and a last grain of hope. If I am destroyed, our masses will lose their poetry, their drive to create all the vital matter for human survival will be lost as well. My tribes will get as savage as the invaders and humanity dies. No more enzymes, no more biotin, no more digesting carbohydrate leftovers, no more fighting invaders, only poisons. Death, oh, so senseless, such pity.

    If only humanity knew... they would have stopped trying to destroy me with their bleaching products, and their medical corrections, and those terrible attacks on my living environment - coffee, smoke, fats, phosphoric acid, sodium nitrate... Actually, not known to any but you, now, I am dying. Slowly. Irreversibly. Human intervention finally made it possible - bacterial ribonucleic-acid disintegration. In a few decenniums, I die.


    I am about to move to another colony, they claim for my poetry and I cannot refuse. It is still my responsibility and my function for as long as I can create the relevant ethers. I am glad I could finally find a human to share my load. It’s just a pity this understanding did not evolve a few hundreds of years ago, this world would have been so much more different for all of us. I guess it was a major blunder of my ancestors, back then, thousands of years ago, when they stood back and watched sapiens debase suidaeans into food. I wish it would have been the other way around. We probably would have lived inside a world of perfect poetry by now. Goodbye to you, poet. Consider yourself lucky, you will be dead long before our mindless, ensavaged hordes start leaving humanity’s stomachi fields and start annihilating everything in sight, together with those long ago wild gone cocci and spirilla and bacilli... Oh, the poetry lost, oh, the poetry lost...


    I wonder who will believe my story. I guess no one. I could easily persuade my fellow humans that this story is for real. After all, the only thing I have to show is the ether formula passed on to me by Axalbirxibron - the one solution to all of human cancer sorts.

    But, after all, Axalbirxibron was right - we, humans, have lost all sense of poetry. We were never real believers. We are just idolaters worshiping Greed and Gluttony, and invented deity God to help us justify ourselves. Well, start counting, humanity. Long live death.



Oh, No, Not Again...

or MRI, Two

    This time I made sure I wasn’t pregnant, well in advance. Didn’t need any nurse poking her head into my intimates and claiming that “things happen”. Things don’t happen, not to me at least, but I needed to feel the re-assurance of a professional before claiming the same in front of the inquisitors’ eyes. So I went to my doctor, asking.

    She (the doctor was a she, so she probably knew best) assured me and re-assured me that males do not get pregnant in this world to the best of her knowledge, however she wouldn’t mind an internal check if I insisted... I did not insist. It provided me with the confidence to put an X in the right spot on the form and to look the nurse straight in the eyes, knowing I did not lie. I even dared to wink, which made my back pain inch slightly higher, if possible, leaving me with one eye open and one closed. I did not dare to un-wink. To limp was sufficient.

    They poked me with a dark substance, telling me that I had to start drinking immediately to make sure I eliminated it immediately. Ha, if I have to eliminate it then why did they poke it into me, to start with? I had also to pee constantly, they said (meaning to piss, I guess) but not on their rug, and the she nurse winked back. She unwinked easily, and I was sure she was putting up a show for my benefit... hey, you cripple, hey, I beautiful... Would have hit her but I needed both hands to hold on to the shelves, so that I didn’t fall to the floor. Lucky for her.

    I watched myself in the mirror, looking for whatever shine might emanate from me, they told me I would be radioactive for a day or so. Didn’t see anything, maybe it was in the invisible range? Flies kept dropping dead around me though, constantly, but I had no conclusive evidence if it was due to my radioactivity or because of my aftershave. The nurse did not drop dead, which made matters even more mysterious. She did look like a zombie though... latent death, is there such a thing? And that melted dent in the toilet bowl, there where I aimed...

    Didn’t have much time to ponder. They dragged me... well, a matter of saying - actually they suggested that I advance towards what looked like a butcher’s table draped for Christmas, carrying a thick bagel all around it. This is the scanner, the nurse whispered, as if I had a hearing problem or something. I have a back problem or something, I wanted to whisper back, but what really came out was a wail of pain as some pieces of bone clicked and clacked in my back, trying to adapt themselves to this brave new world. Brave, unbrave, I was about to start crying until she sat down and crossed and uncrossed her legs, giving me another subject to meditate on. 20 minutes. Oh, my God. And the itch that sat itself on the end of my nose after minute 1 was no joke. I started counting sheep, then gave up and started counting money. Old Italian liras, gave me something big to think about.

    My dear, I love you. I tried to compose a letter for you, but I kept forgetting your name so I moved from liras to popcorn, trying to remind myself your name. The monster bagel moving all around me did not help my memory much, I promised myself that if I got out of there alive I would find your name on one of the mails and not even tell you that I forgot it. I had a long wait ahead of me. After a pee break in mid session I had to return to the damn bed for another unending stretch of time... I wished they were selling waffles, or had a TV screen pinned to the ceiling, or the nurse walked fly-like on the ceiling with high heels and short skirt, or... I started hallucinating. Why do I always have to hallucinate in these machines, anything to do with missing you to hold my hand and your promise for ice-cream?

    They finally allowed me to dress, threatening they would send the images to the doctor. Do what you wish, I threatened back. I gave them the finger, and tried to run away from the place, turning my head back and sticking my tongue defiantly towards the nurse. I had to drive sitting sideways in my car’s seat, since my neck got stuck in that last defiant stand. At least, for the rest of the day I didn’t have to worry about anyone sneaking up on me in the office.

    Isn’t life beautiful?




    I lay on my back, counting my curses. They all started with vertebrae and ended with vertebrae and more of the same vertebrae in between. If only there was some cartilage as well in between it would have been probably better. The way it was I was practically paralyzed, unable to move without several portions of some medication in my blood. I guessed that soon they would be moving towards morphine. The bastards, they should decide to cut and get it done with. I imagined myself sitting on a cloud after I passed over in pain to the other side, and rolling my vertebrae between my fingers on a string , the way living creatures counted beads on a string. Unfortunately, I was part of the living humanity as well for now, and the only thing between my fingers was the emergency bell button, about to be pushed once more.

    The hospital was reasonably good, as far as hospitals go, and as far as I hated hospitals this was a shade better. At least the nurses responded relatively fast. My bed was in a two-bed room, a TV near the ceiling which I could hardly regard because moving my neck caused me spine pain and who the hell cared for TV anyway, a small table holding my pain medication and my laptop, one cheap abstract reproduction on the wall, and that was about all.

    The second bed was thankfully empty, so I could groan and wail and cry all I wanted, without any psychological impediment. As if any psychological impediment could prevent me from screaming from time to time, ha.

    The door opened, and a nurse came in, not her habitual businesslike manner but rather like a dog wagging its tail manner, she clearly wanted something to which I had to agree. And not to do with me either.

    “Good morning, Mr. Jones, how are you today?” I looked at her blankly, and as I did not answer, she continued. “Mr. Jones, may I ask you a favor?” I knew it. If they wanted my TV welcome, what else could I give them as a favor? I wished they would have asked for my pain.

    “Yes, what is it?” I wasn’t impolite. I was in pain and short tempered and even this short answer took an effort to voice normally.

    “We are short of beds, there is an electricity short-circuit in another room and we would like to bring another patient into this one.”

    “So?” It was not an issue where I could have any say, it was the hospital’s bed after all and I was just an unwilling guest. Why should they ask my permission at all?

    “Actually there are still several free beds in six-bed rooms, but all in men occupancy rooms. This patient is a woman. If you agree, it would be less unpleasant for her to be placed in this two-bed room. Only if you agree of course.”

    The question looked to me stupidly irrelevant, partly due to my condition of course. The way I was I would not have minded an alligator in the bed net to mine.

    “No problem, go ahead. Nurse... can you please open the widow a little, the heat is stifling?”

    “Thank you, Mr. Jones. We will pull the curtain between the beds, of course. It is only temporary, of course.” She sounded relieved and left in a hurry forgetting about the window, probably afraid I would change my mind. I only lose my privacy, of course, I thought in my gloom. I tried to change to a more comfortable position, and after a short struggle with the various handles I found one comparatively less painful. I even succeeded to doze off for a short time.


    I woke up, finding a pair of blue eyes watching me. I was mixed up for a moment, no doubt the result of medication and sleep, then I remembered the reason to the unwelcome presence in the next bed.

    “You kept groaning,” she said, not sounding like complaining or anything. No introduction either. “I asked the nurse to leave the curtain open, I have nothing to hide. Do you? What is your problem? I have cancer of the asparagus. What is your name? I am Myrna.” She sounded like a rampaging submachine-gun.

    “Not Myrna Loy,” I answered the first nonsense that came to my mind, her name being the only thing I recollected for the moment. I tried to sit myself a bit higher, slowly playing back the rest of her tirade. She laughed, just when I gasped. I reached the portion with the cancer.

    “No,” she answered, “but I will join her soon. I hope they have a beach up there, I like to swim. No, cut that, rephrase - I liked to swim. What did you say your name was? Or is?”

    I was still stuck at the cancer statement.

    “You said you have cancer?”

    “Yes, of the asparagus. Terminal, they say. I think I am too young to die, but, hey, what the hell, it is always too early to die. What is your age? I am seventeen.”

    “You mean of the esophagus?” For a young girl, sick with a terminal illness she sounded a bit unreal to me.

    “No, asparagus, sounds funnier, no? And I need some fun in my life, not much time left to have fun and I have to create my own.” There was a momentary grimace on her face, clearly related to a moment of pain, then serenity seemed to settle on it again. “They keep me under morphine, most of the time, maybe that’s why I am so gay. Hey, you are not gay, are you? I wouldn’t want to spend the last of my days lying next to a gay man.” There was a short laughter followed by another grimace. I had stiff competition here on the subject of grimacing and complaining about pain. Maybe it was welcome.

    “Joe, short of Joseph. I am fifty-seven. And I am here with some atrocious back pain I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemies. Actually, coming to think of it again, maybe I would.”

    “I am not your enemy, right? I mean I wouldn’t want to die of both cancer and back pain, that would make medical history. I don’t think that I am ready to make medical history. Actually, I don’t think that I am ready to die.” The sun disappeared for a moment from her voice, and her eyes got misty. I averted my regard to the ceiling, so as not to embarrass her, and waited until she finished blowing her nose. The chat seemed to have gone out of her, her eyes closed, her breathing regular. She was not asleep, her fist rotating endlessly the wet hanky held in it.


    The food arrived, interrupting my brooding and her dozing. It was the same nurse that asked for my permission, she placed the trays cheerfully on the rotating supports winking at both of us.

    “So how are you young doves coping?”

    “The foreplay was great, consummation will come on a full belly,” chirped back Myrna, any sign of her previous moment of despair gone. She sat upright eagerly, the infusion lines trailing from her like a colorful canopy, and started wolfing down everything edible on her plate. I sat up painfully, so that I could eat something too. I was hungry like a starved dog but preferred not to overdo it, and tasted a bit of everything. She licked her plate, literally, then eyed me with an impudent smirk on her face. “You are not finishing yours?”

    “No, I prefer not to.”

    “Not hungry?”

    “Like a dying wolf.”


    I wondered if I should go down to the gory details, then decided that her situation was much more embarrassing than mine so what the hell?...

    “I prefer not to eat to much, so I do not have to eliminate too much. Because the bowels pressure is driving me insane with back pain.” I waited for her to either snort in disgust, or at least smile. She did not. Actually there was a shadow of commiseration in her eyes, but her voice did not betray anything.

    “Then, can I please have whatever is left of your food, please?” The smirk was back.

    “Are you not afraid of my bugs?”

    “The last I heard of, back pain was not contagious. And anyway, I have to die of something no?” I pushed my table towards her and she picked up my plates, my plastic cutlery and finished all the rests the way she finished her food. She even licked my plate as well. “Take it back, I don’t want to leave a bad impression on Earth.” I pulled my table back towards me, then started lowering my legs slowly to the floor. I tried to stand up, testing the position that will not make me crumble or get stuck, took hold of the infusion rolling stand and started advancing slowly. “Where are you going?”

    “To the men’s room. Sometimes I need to.”

    “You mean to the mixed’s room.” Seeing my discomfit look, she added. “Now that I am sharing the utilities with you, it is not anymore a man’s room, it is a mixed’s room. Damn this men’s world, it also starts with an ‘m’. Do you have anything that starts with an ‘l’?” I made a dismissal move with my hand and dragged my feet and my wheels towards the... hmm, mixed’s room. “Do you need any help?”

    “No, impertinent dirty minded young lady, there are some things I still prefer to do myself.”

    “Don’t forget to wash your hands.” That threw me off for a moment.


    “Because when you are back I want you to hold my hand.”


    “Too many why’s in this conversation. Just be gone and don’t lose your way back.”

    I finished my business, washed and dried my hands carefully, then pulled a chair next to her bed and sat down.

    “Why?” I repeated. She took my hand and hung to it as if it was the last thing supporting her life. It was even painful at start, until she released the pressure.

    “Sorry. Because the doctors and the nurses have to do it, it is their duty. Because my family members have to do it, it is their duty. A different duty, but still a duty. Because my past boyfriends had to do it. They thought it their sacred duty to play doctor all the time. Because you don’t have to do it. I want to feel the touch of a human, someone who touches me with no duty attached. Do you mind?” It was not really a question and I did not really answer. We both closed our eyes and rested holding hands for at least ten minutes. Then I felt her hold lessening and her hand disengaging. “And now I have to go to the mixed’s room,” she smiled, starting to disconnect herself from the various tubes and connectors. Then she started handling the monitors, probably disarming the alarms.

    “Are you supposed to do that?”

    “No, but the nurses got fed up with me bothering them every five minutes and taught me how to do it. It was on a previous stay. I have, what the shrinks painfully described, a sequential actions memory. Not a photographic one. Show me how to take apart a mechanical clock and then put it back again, and I can repeat it. IQ 180, Mensa member. Did the tests out of spite. Funny, I cannot though recall my membership number.”

    “You remind me of my early days, when I was a young service engineer and knew every single screw of a reel to reel tape machine called HP7970...”

    “7970?” there was a strange question mark in her eyes.

    “Yes, why, did you hear about it? Ten of those huge monsters for a miserable one gigabyte of memory. Today one thousand gigabytes fit in your pocket. Each about 130 pounds of dead metal weight that I had to lift from boxes lying on the floor and fit into cabinets three feet higher up. Tens of times. The beginning of the end of my spine, and I loved every moment of it.” I took a long moment out, reminiscing. “Lover’s”, I added.

    “What lover’s?” she asked, frowning.

    “A suitable word with ‘l’” I smiled, crawling back to my bed. “When was it, your previous stay?”

    “Age fourteen. Still believing in a miracle. They radiated me, fed me chemistry, I was as bald as a sow, with short fluffy spots of transparent hair. I looked horrible. Didn’t show the slightest effect, except an increase of my misery level. Never again.” She jumped easily down, straight into her slippers. “Now I better hurry before I have an embarrassing accident on the floor.” She chuckled, and rushed to the bathroom. “I think liberal’s would be a slightly more suitable one, no?”

    “Do you need any help?” I shouted after her.

    “No, impertinent dirty minded old sir, there are some things I still prefer to do myself.”

    “Don’t forget to wash your hands.”

    “Why?” she shouted back from the bathroom, having left the door slightly ajar.

    “Because when you are back I want you to hold my hand.”

    There was no second ‘why’. I was already seated on my bed when she finally emerged, having probably also showered on the occasion. She pulled the chair next to my bed and took my hand. Her touch was soft, warm, I even called it rosy in my mind.

    “Why?” she finally asked, watching me intently.

    “Because I believe in symmetries. Man, woman, Old, young. Life, death.”

    “You put them in corresponding sequence.”


    “Subliminal.” She didn’t rest there more than two minutes, because I shooed her away.

    “Okay, Myrna Loy, back to your bed before a nurse comes in and we’re in for a treat - handcuffs and all.” I let go of her hand and she ran over to her bed, jumping on it, easily. I did not envy her. Then she slid under the blanket and started connecting her variety of tubing back in place, following which she busied herself with the monitors. I was just drinking a glass of water when she suddenly asked.

    “Do you want to make love to me?”

    I choked on my water, and started sputtering and coughing, the pain cutting through my middle like fire knives. I could barely hear her laughing loudly through the invading clouds of pain, and it took the whole of half an hour to regain my composure and for the pain stabs to lessen. I looked at her, making an accusing face.

    “You almost killed me, there.”

    “Sorry. Didn’t know I would make you blush.” It wasn’t the blush I was talking about, and she knew it. The previous, and true to that time, last time I blushed was at least forty years ago. “Do you want to make love to me?” she repeated, doggedly. She wanted an answer, I had to supply her with one or I was going to get stuck there with a broken record.

    “Myrna Loy. Forty years ago, I would have died to be your lover. Twenty years ago I would have died to be your father. Today, I would have died to be your grandfather. You are a beautiful, special young woman. And considering the very short time that I know you now, I really like you.”

    I didn’t expect that tear to roll down from her eye, it was not my intent.

    “Joe Joseph. Thank you.”

    “For what?”

    “For not calling me a girl. For calling me a young woman. For liking me.” An embarrassing silence settled in the room, of the kind one does not know how to break easily. “I am still a virgin, you know?” It was getting more embarrassing than the silence, even though, if to judge by the tone of her voice, she was moving into becoming jocular once more.

    “You don’t have to go into any details,” I remarked, embarrassed, though curious. “You mentioned boyfriends before...”

    “Yes, the investigative kind. But I always stopped them at the right moment. Fooling around was more like it. They called me the 180 frigid bitch,” and she laughed happily.

    “180. I guess they envied your IQ.”

    “Rubbed their noses into it whenever possible. You guessed it fast.”

    “175 myself,” I stopped shortly of laughing and grimacing. “Mensa member as well. Don’t remember my membership number either.”

    “I had some other, better, less demanding friends for the real sex business.” She looked at me as if asking for permission to continue, then went on. “One black, one blonde, one blue.”

    “Blue?” I couldn’t refrain from reacting to the odd remark.

    “Yes. I called them dildo one, dildo two, dildo three.” Seeing the incredulous look on my face she exploded in a short laughter, interrupted by a short pain grimace and moan, and followed by a grin. “Child size. I lost my physical virginity at age thirteen. It was to dildo one. I tied a pink ribbon around it afterwards. When did you lose your virginity, Joe?”

    I believe that the second blush, shortly after the first, was much worse.

    “Okay, I see you blush. I’ve not seen a grown-up blush before, it’s kind of cute,” she chuckled. “So let me answer for you. You lost it at age fourteen, to your hand.”

    I couldn’t get mad at her, actually I did enjoy the banter, it was refreshing after three days of morose, monosyllabic nurses and cheerful doctors handing worrying diagnostics. I insisted with my family that they should visit me only on weekends, I did not have my mind set on commiseration.

    “You’re one year off, upwards,” I answered, swallowing hard. “Age thirteen. And my other virginity much later, age twenty-one.” I smiled in embarrassment as she uttered a cheerful ‘what?’ and started clapping her hands.

    “You should go for the Guinness. Though you’ll have a problem proving it. Did I tell you that my family is coming this evening? Be ready for a shock. They grew far away from their apple. I’ll try to nap. You better take one too. My nephews are horrible.” The submachine-gun staccato was back in game.

    Quiet settled over the room, and we fell asleep. Talking, while connected to tubes, could prove to be an exhausting experience. From time to time a nurse was checking on us, but except for that there were no interruptions.


    At 6pm we were waken up for the miserable hospital evening dish, and I offered Myrna half of mine. She accepted thankfully, then leaned back on the pillow.

    “I need to gather all the power I still have left, for my family invasion. They will arrive any moment now. I suggest you pull the curtain around your bed, for your own safety.” I had barely time to smile back when the door opened inwards and a pair of kids, around four and six, rushed into the room screaming and shooting at each other with plastic darts from oversized toy guns. They stopped at my bedside for a moment, eyeing me like I was some strange zoo creature, and started pushing the buttons on my bed’s position control. I pulled it hastily away from them, my spine was hardly able to support a 90 degrees position, it surely wouldn’t have supported a folded 0 degrees one.

    The invasion of the grown-ups followed, led by a nicely dressed, beautiful woman, probably Myrna’s mother from the big smile, kiss and hug, not even looking my way. Then a younger woman, I guessed the kids’ mother, and a sad looking gentleman, who kissed Myrna gently on the forehead, sat himself on a chair in the corner of the room and just kept looking at her, almost not even blinking. The pain in those eyes was terrifying. The father, no doubt.

    The kids kept rampaging about the room, under the beds, under the chairs, their young mother not even trying to restrain them and talking incessantly about some house issues, and a new bathroom and new tiles, with the one I identified as Myrna’s mother telling excitedly and in parallel how they were looking for Myrna all over the hospital until finally a nice nurse brought her to the new room, and how does she feel in this smaller, more intimate room?...

    “Mom, this is my neighbor, Joe. Joe, please say hi to my mom.” The mother looked at me, seeing me for the first time, her smile dying and she paled. “Mom, please be so nice and pull Joe’s curtain closed so he will have some privacy, okay?” The mother looked horrified back to her daughter as the sister pulled the curtain, inattentive to anything except her household story incessant chatter. She reached the new oak paneled doors, by now.

    I started hearing a lot of murmuring about and in between the oak doors, the indignant mother’s voice saying things like ‘...but he’s a man... I will speak to the nurse... I will speak to the head nurse... where’s the floor manager?... where’s the hospital manager?...’ until a short, curt, and commanding voice I had no problem recognizing as Myrna’s said ‘...mother, please shut up...’ placed a slight damp even on the sister’s chatter. Only the kids kept shrieking and trying to tear my curtain down from its hinges.

    The lull did not last long, the voices getting high and natural again, seemed this kind of crisis was not new to the forum. I pulled out my music pod from the drawer, plugged it in my ears and looked for a noisy passage to disconnect me from the bedlam ‘next door’, settling on a public performance of Slade’s Coz I Luv You, followed by similar others. Then I opened my laptop, waited for it to come to life and started writing, changing my posterior’s position more often than scratching my head.


    About two hours later the curtain started dragging out of the way. Myrna was there, pulling it to its rest position, the variety of tubes and wires dragging behind her giving her an outworldly look. She smiled, seeing the look in my eyes, and waited for me to pull the earphones out.

    “Please, don’t turn to stone. The ordeal is over.”

    “She’s your mother, she loves you.”

    “Yes, true. And first she tried to control my life, now she tries to control my death. You’ll never know daughter mother relationship because you’ve never been either. What are you listening to, there?” She returned to the bed, hopping airily several times on it then moving under the blanket. I changed the setting to loudspeaker, the sound was awful but loudly audible. It was the middle of an ACDC song whose name I did not remember momentarily. Her eyes lighted. “Oh, you listen to my kind of music. Was it just to drown the family noise or because you like it.”

    “Actually, I love it,” I smiled back, leaving the loudspeaker on.

    “Do you like also your kind of music?” I knew what she meant by it, and I searched the small screen, until I found For The Good Times, and I let it air out. She did not respond immediately. Just leaned back on her pillow, closed her eyes and did not open them until after the last tunes evaporated in the room. I closed the pod and put it back in the drawer. She opened her eyes, looking at the ceiling. “There is a stain there, they should have it painted. Perry Como. I love your kind of music too. I wish it was forty years ago. What for is the laptop, aren’t you afraid it will be stolen?”

    There was just one question mark in the flow, so it was easy to answer.

    “Some of it work, I want to keep in touch, some of it pleasure. And it is locked by a steel wire lock to my bed. If anyone wants to steal it, they will have to take the bed in their bag too.

    “They could saw the wire.”

    “Impossible, not with a regular saw anyway.

    “They could take a blow torch to it. What pleasure?” I was lost for a moment.

    “What pleasure?”

    “You said work, that I part I get. What is the pleasure part for you in the laptop. Card games, net group games, blogs, porn sites?” God, how many times was it my fate to blush in front of this girl?

    “I write,” I said, trying to limit the damage. I should have known better.

    “Write what? Reports? Five year plans? Scientific text? Letters to your hordes of lovers?”

    “Almost. Short stories. And poems. My stupid hobby. My pleasure.”

    She turned her head, incredulity turning into one of those huge smiles I learned to like on her face, and unexpectedly blew a kiss my way.

    “I should have known, I should have known. I guess if I was 190 I would have guessed it. What kind of stories, poetry? Children, grown-ups, erotic, sci-fi, sad, happy? Are they good? Are you published? And stop blushing all the time or you’ll make me blush as well. You’re supposed to be the grown-up in this room.”

    True, and for a few moments I hated my grown-upship.

    “The stories are about anything, whatever catches my fancy at a certain moment. Some happy end, some not so happy. Never melodramatic. I hate melodramatic, kitschy, corny. Sadness is human, melodramatic is Hollywoodian.”

    “And your poems?” There was real curiosity there, not politeness, her stance alert, interested. I could not lie my way around it, blush or no blush. I even forgot my back pain.

    “Love, all of them. Erotica, most of them. Lust, many of them. Beauty, all of them.” I looked at her, clearly waiting for the question which wasn’t late in coming.

    “Are you married?”


    “Do you have a lover?”


    “I envy her.” She did not specify who it was she envied, or why. She just lay back on her pillow, watching that stain on the ceiling, her voice barely audible. “Do you mind reading to me?”

    “Reading aloud, you mean?” She chuckled.

    “I don’t believe in telepathy. Yes, please. A poem. And if I laugh, or cough or sneeze it will be my polite way to tell you to stop. If I do none of this, it is my polite way of asking you to go on. Okay?” She was quiet for a moment, not really waiting for my acceptance, taking it for granted. “Oh, and please start with a love poem. Then an erotica one. Finally a lust one. There is no age limit in this room, okay?”

    I opened the relevant folder, typed in my password, and started going through my hundreds of files. I was never able to remember my poems, sometimes I even wondered if it was really I who wrote certain of them. She waited patiently until I started reading the first one. My voice was slightly cracked at the start, then it got more fluid. It was the first time ever I read one aloud, even to myself. I reached the end and there was no sign of life from her bed. I took it as an invite to continue and I moved to the second one. Then to the third. Quiet.

    “More, please.” It lasted for a whole of two hours. With just a small bathroom break, and no other interruption. Then she turned her back to me, and whispered a soft ‘good night’. “Life can be beautiful, you know? Will you write a poem about me as well? Or a short story?”

    I turned off the lights in the room, making as if I did not hear her soft sobbing.


    The daily medical visit started early next morning. There were five of them, first around my bed. They closed the curtain and discussed me as if I was a plant that happened to be in the neighborhood. Finally I was informed that they decided to perform an epidural infusion in my back, and that if I did not show any special anomalies like vertigo, etc, they were basically releasing me about one hour after the intervention. In their opinion this should help, at least in the short term. The long term was not assured, and if the pain reappeared then I’d have to return for a most probable operation. The visit didn’t take longer than twenty minutes.

    Then they opened the curtain, surrounded Myrna’s bed, closed the curtain and started discussing her problem. I tried to listen but their voices were extremely low, and I heard her voice as well interspersed with theirs. Seemed they were discussing, asking, questioning, I heard even some heated, angry exchanges. About half an hour later a nurse left and came back with two additional doctors. They finally opened the curtain one and a half hour after they closed it and left, discussing between them. The nurse stayed behind adjusting one of the plastic infusion containers. Then she left as well.

    Myrna looked angry, frustrated, her face red. I did not ask, I waited for her to tell, which I knew she would.

    “They increased my morphine ratio, I’ll probably get drowsier during the day. Sorry, but the pain is sometimes too much.” I waited, this was clearly not the reason for the angry exchanges. “They are doctors, merchants of flesh. And true to their hippocritic oath they decided I have to be saved against my will and against all odds.”

    “Hippocratic,” I corrected, knowing she mispronounced it on purpose.

    “They were trying to persuade me to enter again a process of radiation sessions and chemical treatment, ensuring that I die with burns second degree and bald like that sow I was telling you about earlier on. And I am dying for sure, and soon, why do they keep insisting? All I wish is not to suffer. I want to die beautiful.” She was beyond upset, she was angry.

    “They can force you, you know...” I pointed out gently.

    “They cannot. I signed a paper refusing any such treatment.”

    “You did, how could you? You are minor of age? It is your mother that should have signed it.”

    She looked at me, something in her anger somehow appeasing as she watched me.

    “I took my mother to court, and won the case. On reasons of maturity of decision and prevention of cruelty to fellow man, or something like that. The funniest was that my parents had to pay my lawyer too. My signature on that piece of paper is fully legal. Nobody can force me pass this degrading treatments again. Oh, Joe Joseph, I think I told you that the first range of treatments hardly changed anything in the cancer evolution. It kept developing as if it was my personal flower and my asparagus its personal grooming ground. Lately it just accelerated immensely and the pains became intolerable. That’s how I ended here.”

    “They may still find a way around this signature,” I said, hating myself the moment I said it and biting my lip. It wasn’t probably necessary to bite my lip that hard, though.

    “I know, that’s what they told me. This is what worries me. You have no idea. Immensely.” She sounded a bit drowsy, her words dragging and her movements slightly slower. “I guess the overdose starts working. Just when I die for a pee. And I do not intend to die with a full bladder, I have to go to the lover’s slash liberal’s room.” Even her laughter was slightly slurred. Her movements were slow, yet precise. She lowered her feet to the floor and fitted them into the slippers. Then started handling the tubes and taps and electronic apparatus as she had done already several times before, and started walking towards the bathroom.

    “Do you need any help?” There was real concern in my voice.

    “No, impertinent dirty minded old sir, there are some things I still prefer to do myself.” The flame was still burning there, only slower. She reappeared, five minutes later, waddling slowly to her bed. “I should have accepted your offer.” She sat on the bed, not lying down, watching me with a regard that seemed to try to penetrate my mind. She did not want to talk, she did not expect me to talk, she seemed just to be willing to look, inhale with her eyes.

    “Joe Joseph.”

    “Yes, Myrna Loy.”

    “Forty years ago, would you have made love to me?”

    “Yes, I would.”

    “Even if I was as bald as a sow with short fluffy spots of transparent hair?”

    “Even if you were a sow.” That made her chuckle contently.

    “Even if it meant getting life for statutory rape?”

    “You sure it would not have been a case of child molestation?” That made her really laugh. Then she repeated the question.

    “Even if it meant getting life for statutory rape?”

    “Even if it meant the chair.” The smile turned her into shining beauty.

    “You have just made a young woman happy.” She lifted the covers and slid slowly underneath them. Then she started handling the variety of tubes and rest of apparatus, and lay softly down on her back. “Read me a poem, Joe Joseph?” It sounded like a statement, a request, a command. I turned on my laptop, waited for the inevitable start up messages and passwords ceremony to reach its end, chose a poem at random and started reading. Her face was pale, the smile never leaving her lips. I did not stop, did not ask for permission. I moved on to another poem, another. After the fifth I stopped for a moment. Wondering if she fell asleep. “Why did you stop?” I continued.

    I was about midway through my fifteenth read, when she interrupted me unexpectedly, eyes closed, face even paler, fingers relaxed.

    “Joe Joseph, do me a favor?”

    “Anything, Myrna Loy.”

    “Careful, I take promises quite literarily.”

    “Anything, Myrna Loy.”

    “I cannot really move my hand, Joe Joseph. Can you please push that red button next to your bed?”

    I panicked. I pushed the button once. As nothing happened inside one second I started pushing it again and again, shouting ‘nurse, nurse!’. A nurse appeared quite swiftly in the doorway, watching me reproachfully.

    “Well, well, Mr. Jones, where’s the fire. You still have time till this afternoon.”

    I was choking, I could hardly talk.

    “It’s not me. Her...”

    The nurse looked towards Myrna’s bed and paled into paper white. She put her head in the corridor screaming ‘doctor!’ then rushed to the bed and started pushing the variety of buttons on the apparatus and handling the various taps muttering to herself angrily in Italian. The doctor appeared in the door and rushed to her side.

    “What happened here?”

    “I don’t know, alarms are off, the taps are off, the morphine on max...”

    “What happened?” He asked me angrily, almost accusingly starting to help the nurse. He spoke a few harsh words into a walkie-talkie, then pulled the garment off Myrna’s body exposing her pale flesh, her pale little breasts. I closed my eyes, I turned my back, didn’t want to see, didn’t want to know, knowing, a scream building itself in my mind in parallel to the commotion, running feet, shouts, sounds of wheels rolling away fast. The sudden quiet behind echoing only my mental scream of anguish and loss.


    They came to roll me over to my intervention at four in the afternoon. When I asked about Myrna, they told me she was in the intensive care unit but couldn’t tell me any details. The intervention on my back was fast, about fifteen minutes, some moments of horrible pain and then they pulled out whatever needles they inserted in between my various vertebrae, told me to lie quietly for one hour, and if I was not dizzy I could pick up my stuff and go home. The bill would be sent to my address.

    “Do you want to call someone to pick you up?”

    “No, I’ll take a cab.” I was still feeling pain, but the intensity seemed to have been reasonably reduced. The real test is in 48 hours, they told me, if by then you take less pain medication then it means we are on the good way. No promises, lots of hope.

    I dressed, packed the bag of clothes I brought with me, unlocked the laptop and pushed it in between the clothes, didn’t say good bye to the room and descended to the reception floor. They guided me to the intensive care and I asked to see Myrna, mentioning the room number she came from.

    “Are you family?”

    “No. I was with her in the same room when she collapsed.”

    “Sorry sir, only family members are allowed in the unit.”

    “Can you tell me at least how she is?”

    “Sorry sir, this is personal, confidential information. We are allowed to give it only to close family members.”

    I decided not to curse. My back was still hurting and the last thing I needed was some additional rough handling on the way out. I called a cab and told the driver ‘home’. When he watched me strangely I gave him the address and sank in the back seat, closing my eyes. The scream followed me all the way home.


    My boss saw me arriving next morning to the office, and greeted me with a big smile on his face.

    “So, Joe, I see they finally fixed you up?”

    “It’s not yet sure, in two days I’ll know for sure if it is getting better or worse. Right now it is still hurting, but less. Have to give it time.”

    “Give it time, give it time, my boy.” He was fifteen years my junior but kept calling me my boy. Probably a status issue rather than an age one. “I hope you will be fit enough for a trip to Australia, next week. We have a disaster situation there, the customer threatens to throw out all three machines unless we sort out his intermittent hang ups on the last one. A problem tailored to your skills. Do you think you could make it?” He looked up at me from behind his desk, expectant. He was a considerate guy, yet assumed his responsibilities with no personal allowances to himself or his staff. The ‘give it time give it time’ was for the show.

    “John, I need three four days to see how the pain advances, you don’t want a handicapped engineer over there, right?” I was a bit impolite but factual. “If after the weekend I am in reasonable shape, even imperfect, I fly. I estimate it will not take me more than one week, two at the outmost, if the dealer has all the spares there.”

    “Great.” He sounded relieved. “Okay, go to your desk and sort out the stuff and start making the preparations necessary in case you fly.”

    I couldn’t concentrate much on what I was doing. I tried calling the hospital several times, getting the same answer each time. They refused to give me also the details of Myrna’s family. I went over in the evening trying there on site, again, getting a refusal again. I waited to see if any of Myrna’s family would come out or go in but I met no one.

    Two days in a row I tried, until finally I met, on the third day, the nurse that matchmake’d us. I practically begged her for information, and she took me aside, watching carefully around her, and told me that Myrna was finally awake. She was still in intensive care, under close supervision, so I could not visit her. But she opened her eyes, could eat something, and it was a running joke between the nurses that she asked if she could listen to music. They were trying to get her a small radio or something.

    I kissed her, almost crying, gave her my pod asking her to give it to Myrna and left for home on a high note. Next day I flew to Australia, where I got lost in a maze of not one customer with three machines but three customers with five machines, as I imagined it might happen. I tried several times to call the hospital, each time facing the inevitable question ‘family member?’ and the inevitable ‘sorry’ answer. Once I tried to say yes, and when asked to my family name I had to hang up.

    I returned, finally, four weeks later. My back bothered me all the time but in bearable manner. After an indirect flight of 24 hours end to end - three airports, a wild strike and one lost piece of luggage, I reached home dead tired, fell on my bed, and was gone from the world for 14 consecutive hours. When I finally woke up, I washed, dressed, swallowed a pain killer just to make sure I would not have a disturbing last moment attack, took with me one my self published books of poetry, and drove to the hospital. I parked legally, paid legally, and went to admissions. I wore my most charming of smiles and asked the receptionist if I could find out about Myrna. I estimated that by this time she would have been already out of the intensive care unit, therefore I would have no problem being allowed to visit her.

    “Myrna who?” she smiled back. Well, a smile back was a good start.

    “I don’t remember her family name, but we were hospitalized here at the same time, and I promised her a present.” I pointed to the book in my hand, and she punched some keys on her computer.

    “We have two Myrna’s presently registered with us. One missis...”

    “No, not missis. Should be miss. Miss Myrna something.”

    “Sorry, the second one is also a missis.”

    A felt a chill starting to settle inside my bones.

    “Maybe in intensive care?”

    “No these are the only two Myrna’s presently in the hospital. Maybe the one you’re looking for was released, or moved to another hospital?” I was partially frozen, she was trying to be helpful. “You said you were hospitalized here at the same time. What is your name?”

    “Jones. Joseph Jones.”

    She looked my name up in the files, then eyed me strangely.

    “Are you by any chance the one she called Joe Joseph?”

    A shiver cutting through the chill.

    “Yes, that’s me. Did you find her?”

    She went to a filing cabinet, pulled out a cardboard file and took a white envelope that was placed inside it, then returned to the desk.

    “We are sorry, Mr. Jones. Myrna Fairweather passed away thirteen days ago. All her inner body support systems collapsed and her heart gave up. Sorry. She left though this envelope for you, just in case that...” I started shivering uncontrollably. Took the envelope, went to a guests’ bench and spent the following ten minutes trying to open it without tearing it to pieces. The handwriting was completely different to the one that carried my name on the envelope. Small, neat, dense, round, girlish, determined...

    Dear Joe Joseph,

    Now, for sure you don’t go to the chair :) . Lie to me tell me you are sorry for having missed the opportunity, lol. They forced me back into life. Unfortunately they are unable to force life back into me. If you get this letter it means you returned a bit too late, sorry, it was not intentional. I like your poetry, pity you’re losing a freshly found groupie, no?

    Go to my mom, I asked her to give you my diary, she always hated it anyway, she hated my keeping secrets from her. I think you are the right one to have it, anyway. It has a coded lock, 7970. Easy for you to remember no, lolol?

    I know, it is the wrong order of things, lover should not bury lover, father should not bury daughter, grandfather should not bury granddaughter. Thank you for being all this for me.

    Myrna Loy

    PS I hate melodrama and kitsch and corniness (what is the noun actually?) too. Do you find this letter corny?
    PS Do you like dogs?
    PS XXX

    The last three big X’s were preceded by three small x’s, neatly struck out with two lines across them and replaced with the big ones. I pulled my shoulders in, shifted to the end of the bench, close to the wall, leaned my head against it and cried myself sick. Damn you Myrna Loy, I hate melodramatic, kitschy, corny endings.

    I had no problem this time to get the family address. The door was opened by the mother, her face thinned, her hair in slight disarray, the pain written in every one of her steps as she brought me the diary and wished me good day, closing the door behind her as she returned into the house. I did not feel like going back home. I parked next to a small park, went inside and sat down on a secluded bench, then unlocked the diary. Poems. Gauche, naïve, awkward, dreamy, charming, the unpolished diamond hiding in words waiting for a master jeweler’s hand to unlock their beauty. Now locked forever in the unpolished skin imposed upon them by death.

    I did not edit them almost at all, except for the rare, obvious typo. I organized them, clustered them, created a suitable layout and started chasing for a publisher to accept them. I named the book Stolen. I wrote a few words on the introductory pages - Stolen. From life. By death. Oh, the beauty lost... I tried to sell the idea of youth dying before time, of it becoming a bestseller just on the power of an incredible clash of realities... I got nowhere. The impolite did not answer at all. The polite sent preprinted refusals. Some tried to sell me trips to the Caribbeans. After three months I gave up. I found a suitable self-printing company, paid 600 dollars, and in two weeks I got the first proof, in another week I got the final product in my hand.

    I bought three copies myself. One I left home. One I gave to her mother. Then I drove over to the cemetery, found her headstone and put the book on it. I made sure it would not be blown away by stealing a big, white stone from a nearby grave and placing it on top of the book. I did not know if I was supposed to cry or not, I guess I had no control over it.

    I keep visiting her grave. The book is still there - soaked, bleached, dirty. Once I even found it turned upside down, I guess some people were curious to look through it but were careful enough to return it to its place. Yes, Myrna, whatever half jokes passed between us, I think I would have risked the chair for you. Actually pretty certain I would have risked it, yes, pretty certain.




    part 1: Safety Belt

    I boarded the train and found my designated place quite easily. I sat down just as the train started pulling away from the station and tried to put on the safety belt. I just couldn’t find it anywhere. After fumbling around uselessly for about five minutes, I asked my neighbor from across the aisle. Strange fellow, he looked at me strangely, got up and moved a few rows further up. I guessed that was where the seats with the safety belts were, so I followed him to his new seat.

    “Did you find it?”

    Told you, strange fellow, he surely did not find it. He looked at me strangely once again, and when I asked him if this place had an air bag at least, he got up and moved back to his previous place. You meet strange people on trains, no wonder the train was half empty. I decided to move forward, looking for those places which still had their safety belts intact. Damn vandals, nothing was sacred anymore in this world, not even train passengers’ lives. I knew there must have been safety belts originally. Planes have them, cars have them, and trains are much faster than cars so they had to have them too.

    I advanced, halting every third, fourth row, apologizing to the passengers I was disturbing as I was checking underneath them if there was a safety belt, by any chance. I found none, nowhere. Incredible. Inadmissible. Insane.

    Anyway, since I moved already so far towards the front of the train, I decided to continue all the way to the engine and pay the driver (is it captain, maybe?) a visit, just to ensure surreptitiously that they did not take us elsewhere. I didn’t know the way but “they” had no way of knowing of my ignorance. I tried to get through to the engine, but the door was locked, so I pulled down the window on the left and leaned out as far as I could, shouting and gesticulating and trying to get the driver’s attention to my cheerful hello. It felt good, the mix of whirling air and pillars passing close to my head creating a magnificent sensation of power.

    Finally, the driver saw me, he was enthusiastic and waved wildly in my direction, first with one hand, then with the other, then with both. I laughed, wildly, happily, now that he knew he was watched he would not dare any monkey business. I returned the wild waving then pulled my head back in and pulled the window up. I felt like the train’s hero. I wondered where did the few passengers, which were in this wagon earlier on, disappear. They couldn’t have descended, not on your life, not with the train rolling at this speed. Maybe they all had a sudden urge to go to the toilets and rushed there together? It was a remote possibility, but perfectly plausible. I chuckled loudly, the world is not short of crazy people.

    I started moving back towards my carriage. It was stifling hot. I removed my coat and generously covered the only two people who rested in their places, an elderly couple, who were shivering violently with cold.

    “You’re welcome,” I smiled at their unspoken words of gratitude, and I continued moving back towards the back of the train. I kept wondering at what the driver was shouting my way, when he greeted me so enthusiastically, and why he was so insistent about it. I didn’t hear him of course, and I was no lips reader, but it was not difficult to understand his mouth’s articulations. Why did he keep calling my mother Fa King? It was strange, and I started enumerating the reasons in my mind, counting on imaginary fingers: first – he could not have known her; second – a mother could not have been a king, at most a queen and he should have called her Fa Queen; third – with such a name she must have been of African origins, meaning I should have been a black guy... I missed a beat, did I change since I got on the train?

    I stopped at the toilet door, hoping this was not the one where all the wagon’s occupants entered, knocked on it politely, and as no one answered I opened it and watched myself in the mirror. No, no change, still my old white self. That made the mystery even bigger. Doubtlessly a case of mistaken identification. Strange, strange the people in this train. The first thing I intended to do once I got to my destination, was to look up on the internet that site, ee-dot, which seemed to punctuate each of the driver’s enthusiastic exclamations. I hoped it was not just some stupid advertising stunt. Just for the heck of it I inspected closely the insides of the toilet cabin. No, no safety belt there either.

    I reached my seat’s row and sat down next to my neighbor, telling him that this train had neither safety belts nor air bags anywhere. He screamed, pushed past me and started running in the direction I came from. I nodded, sadly. Poor guy. This train was frightening its passengers to death with their irresponsible approach to safety. I swore to write a harsh letter to their board of directors and ask for immediate restitution of the entirety of my travel fee plus a public apology.

    I reached my destination, bought my hamburger, and decided to return by bus, did not wish to re-live the harrowing train experience. I got on and off three busses, none of them had any safety belts anywhere. What was this world coming to? On the fourth one I tried to tie myself to the chair with the suitcases’ harness but it did not fit me and the driver got angry so I left this one as well.

    I started walking towards the port. I will return home by ship. Since the Titanic, they surely implemented safety belts on all the passenger ships. Maybe even inflatable.


    part 2: Ecology

    I arrived home one month later. I puked during the entire cruise, luckily they did not have safety belts on this specific ship. Before we reached my port of debarkation, the driver (maybe this one was captain, not the other?) called me to his office and offered me a chair. I preferred standing, thus getting faster access to the bucket I carried everywhere. He was short and factual, though very nice about it. They could not throw all the buckets I accumulated in the sea, because it might have caused a severe ecological disaster, reduced in scale but terrible on this small scale. He proposed a compromise, that they will send all the buckets to my place, by DHL Express, and they volunteered to pay the expenses against my signature on this agreement. I was a green soul myself, could not refuse such a generous and reasonable offer, so I signed the agreement, and left his cabin. I deposited the last bucket with the relevant sailor on duty and was thankful to find again terra firma under my legs. I kneeled, kissed it, spit for half an hour the dust and dirt from my mouth and started walking home.

    Fifu, my cat, had lost three pounds meanwhile. He chewed all of my shoes, inclusive the red plastic ones which I kept for special occasions – marriages, funerals, an eventual encounter with the president, and half of the Encyclopedia Britannica, the paper version. It did not matter that the door flap was open, Fifu was a sworn vegetarian, and actually I found him playing catch-me with several mice on the floor. I looked at him severely, and he jumped on the ceiling lamp, looking at me reproachfully as I took a broom and started sweeping the mice out from the house. I did not mind so much the mice but the little balls of shit they left everywhere were driving me mad. After I finished, I filled up his bowl with milk and added half a glass of coke, his preferred treat. I had to compensate somehow for the last month of neglect. I had lots of coke bottles in house, a variety of brands since I bore no devotion to any; as said, I had a green ecological heart, and using as little as possible water was my motto: a drop a day keeps the drought away. Thank God for coke, we both loved it.

    When he finished drinking his stuff, I leashed him, muzzled him, and took him out to the park. He was delighted, stopping next to every tree and bush, lifting his hind leg and peeing on it, leaving his mark and every time looking up at me for approval. He tried also to chase some squirrels, for the game not for the meat, but I did not permit that. Last time he did it, a squirrel bit his nose off and the plastic chirurgical intervention cost me a fortune. Luckily the implant was a success.

    After the refreshing walk, we returned home, I put him in a cage and strapped him with a safety belt, took my bicycle strapping myself as well and drove off to the vet. It was high time for a periodical check-up. The vet was glad to see us. He examined me thoroughly – pulse rate, blood pressure, teeth, electrocardiogram, radio of the lungs, vermifuge, licefuge, rabies and influenza vaccines, clipped the fingernails of my feet and some rebel hairs that started growing wild from my eyebrows up and from my ears in. At second thought he clipped some of my nape hair too. Then he did the same with Fifu, less nails clipping and hair clipping. Nice guy, the vet. Indian. He specialized in India in cows and alligators, then immigrated clandestinely to the states where he specialized in chickens. Cats were a hobby of his, and me he did because we were friends. He even tested us for pregnancy, irrelevant that we were both males. He was that thorough.

    I liked also his ecological, waste limiting approach, he used the same needles for me and Fifu, before disposing of them in the bin. I would have accepted also his offer for colonoscopy, first I and then Fifu, but I was so hungry that I declined his generous offer, paid him three times his normal fee (a bargain, if you consider how much it would have cost me if I had to go separately to a doctor, dentist, podiatrist, barber, cardiologist and so on) and returned home. I made me a healthy and huge dinner with spinach, nuts, olive oil, mixed in it several sorts of liquid vitamins that Vidyadhara (my vet friend) gave me, and shared it all equally with Fifu. It tasted awful but health is priceless, and Fifu licked his plate. I gave him also what I could not finish, I hate throwing away food, it is very unecological. We downed it all with one liter of coke each, and I was ready for my next assignment.

    I took a box of twenty five long candles outside, a brand new steel spade, lighted the candles around a spot in the middle of the garden and started digging. I estimated I needed a hole 3x3x3 (yards, not feet) and I did not have much time. The shipment was due to be delivered next day and I had to be ready. Luckily I was in good shape. I was visited three times by a variety of cops, who were probably called in by nosy neighbors, and each time I wasted precious time repeating my story and persuading them that I was a vegetarian and so was Fifu, thus we murdered nobody. Early next morning the hole was more or less ready. I was sweaty, itchy, my muscles petrified with fatigue, I decided it was high time for a shower.

    I filled in a glass of water, went to the shower and started washing myself. It was one of the few concessions I made to my water conservation attitude, it just did not work washing myself with coke. Neither washing Fifu with same. So I had to concede into wasting water for this important activity. I tried to reduce for a short time the quantity to half a glass, but I had always leftovers of soap in my ears and some intimate places, so I had no choice but to move to one full glass. This sufficed amply.

    Then I went to bed, and did not wake up until some powerful knocks on the door left me no choice. I opened the door into the blinding sun, and for a moment I panicked, thinking this was a hold-up. Then I relaxed, recognizing the masks hiding the two faces in front of me as gas masks, not ski masks. They made me sign a paper, I could hardly understand what they were mumbling behind their ridiculous uniforms and I wondered when did DHL decide to make such a drastic move to the protection of their personnel. I mean – pollution was a problem but such measures were ridiculous. Funny, for a moment I had the impression they were also mentioning my mother and naming her Fa King. What the hell did everybody know about her that I didn’t? They did not, however, refer to that ee-dot site, they seemed to refer to a... bus stud? Or was it a bus star? Crazy people in this world, my God.

    I told them where they should offload the shipment, close to the hole I dug since I was tired enough of digging, didn’t want to start carrying things from the street to the garden. They cursed their own mothers, very impolitely and that I understood quite clearly. I was ready to tip them each with a quarter, but with such foul language they got nothing. They left in anger, throwing the mask parts of their uniforms into the street as they sped away. I collected them carefully, in case the police would need DNA imprints after I filed my complaint at their impertinent behavior.

    I returned to the garden, watching the sun. It was still high in the sky, so I wondered why my tulips decided to close their petals. A strange quiet lay around me, no bees, no birds, was the world dying? Only Fifu was excited, probably sensing my smell in the box deposited in the garden and eager to find if there was a second me there inside.

    I picked a big crowbar from the cellar, and started opening the wooden crate. Then ripped off the three layers of nylon wrapping that held the buckets together and there they were. It seemed that the captain, generously, added a few more buckets to the shipment, but I did not complain. I was thankful and the hole was big enough. I read on the internet that puke contained a fantastic mélange of enzymes and nutritious elements, that when mixed with earth created the best fertilized growing fields for tomatoes. Both I and Fifu hated tomatoes, but Fifu loved carrots and I assumed that what was good for tomatoes was good for carrots as well. I started spilling the buckets into the hole, one bucket, a few loads of earth, one bucket, a few loads of earth... Fifu jumped excitedly in and out of the buckets, turning around me like a merry dog, and from time to time chasing into the house, bringing a shoe out and dropping it in a bucket just for the fun of it. I smiled at him, tolerantly, cats are such intelligent animals.

    There were several unexplained attempts of police cars to stop next to my yard, all of them departing with smoking, screeching tires. Crazy, crazy people, even the cops in this town seemed to have joined the rest of the crazy, strange humanity. Finally I finished my work, watching the mound lovingly. Carrot Hill I decide to call it, and put a small star spangled banner on the top of it. I felt like Neil Armstrong stepping on the moon, with the difference that I was creating something here for the benefit of all humanity. Life. Carrots.

    I had no choice but sacrifice another half glass of water on cleaning myself head to foot, saving on the soap this time. I washed Fifu with coke, he could lick it away anyway.

    Evening found us both on the swing, snuggling close to each other and watching the little carrots I planted with justified pride. A few bees dropped dead amongst them, for unclear reason. Some tulips withered that night. Strange tulips, why not – strange people strange tulips. We fell asleep towards morning, the sun just rising and filling the garden with its blessed downpour of rays. For whatever reason, no ray seemed to reach closer than three feet around the mound. Strange, strange rays, I thought, before falling asleep with an angelic smile on my lips.



Tra & Silvania & Co. (ie Count)

    My CV is very short. I am a perfect peroxide blonde. Forget miss World, miss Antarctica, miss Universe. This is miss All. Full point. Age thirty three. Busty, waspy, my ears shells, my ankles sculpted masterpieces. My buttocks as firm as green apples, my cheeks as rosy as red apples, my mind as dirty as rotten apples. I am a bitch to my enemies, a bitch to my friends - though in different ways, certainly. Don’t ask for my IQ, I don’t want to shame anybody - whatever yours might be, it is beneath mine. Fact. I work for the Sin newspaper, UK of course. Where there is no scandal I will find one, wherever there is a small scandal I will change it into a big one, wherever there is a big scandal - I’ve been there already. I drive a Lamborghini, my other car is a Ferrari - I like the red, not the car. This ends my CV. Not my story.

    My boss was a bastard, John D his name. Not as much as I was in some aspects, much more than me in other aspects. No one knew what D stood for, we all knew it did not stand for Doe, we all thought it stood for Devil. His nose was not any better than mine but his pockets were deeper so he could get the trail of a quarry much before me. Then he would just send over the hounds’ pack, size one or two or three, and lean back on his chair smoking his fat, stinking cigar and waiting for the drops of blood to drip right into his plate. I was going to replace him one day on that chair, the bastard, after a thorough decontamination, though.

    “Miranda, my love,” Miranda was my name, and he hated my guts, “How would you like to meet a real count?” unmistakably emphasizing both real and count.

    He never my love’d me unless there was a really dirty assignment ahead, one that even I would have been reluctant to accept. And, believe me, with my stomach I would have been capable to digest even a cartload of living wasps. I wanted to ask him if the o in the assignment’s real subject was a real o or a spelling mistake, but I was in no mood for niceties. And anyway, for the last three weeks I had been doing nothing but painting my nails, trying to find out at which thickness I would start finding them unbearable. I was at 8mm by now and I could still pick my nose if I wanted. Not that I did, mind your disgusting minds.

    “All expenses paid?”

    “All expenses paid, a Ferrari flown over, an extra one thousand pounds clothing expenses from my own pocket money, and as much booze as needed, though of a local brand.” He smiled, the bluish cloud around his head nothing dissimilar to Dante’s Cocytus in its sublimation phase.

    “I keep wondering what your contrapasso will be,” I smiled angelically, and he had to lower his eyes and eyeglasses not to be blinded by my flashing teeth.

    “Huh?” His ignorance was matched only by his pocket’s depth. There were two words in his proposition which bothered me even more than the Ferrari promise - the flown one and the local one. It clearly wasn’t Moslem countryside, so what else qualified for such high class bribery?

    “Let’s see...” I started counting on my fingers... “Colombia, Liberia, France...”


    “Huh?” It was my turn to an incredibility related huh and my mouth stayed closed, or rather open for more than during any of my precedent, occasional huh’s. “Huh?” I repeated, unnecessarily. “What scandal could you uncover in a place as corrupt as Sudan, as uninteresting as Sudan, but called Romania? Scandal, our life’s blood, John, if I may remind you that.”

    “Blood, exactly your point, Miranda. A vampire count, blood related to our own royal family through Princess Marie of Edinburgh...”

    “Marie Alexandra Victoria, later Queen Marie of Romania by marriage.”

    “...having an intimate relationship with poultry,” he continued, disregarding my interruption.

    “You mean a blue blooded bloody vampire fucking chickens, right?”

    “I wouldn’t put it in such raw terms.”

    “And you must be out of your fucking mind. I’ll take it.” I didn’t even laugh. I’ve had other completely cuckoo assignments, what’s one more or one less. And one thousand pounds worth of rags was not something they usually offered. Actually it was something they never offered. Did they know something I didn’t?


    I chose the sexiest, most revealing, most red, most Chanel dress to fly in, to pass the Bucharest airport in, and to park my ass in the waiting Ferrari in. I knew I would leave some corpses in my wake, either by reason of heart attack or involuntary orgasm or looking the wrong way when driving the wrong way as well, it was all part of my acid charm which opened so many wallets and so many vaults - steel or human. I walked to the check-in counter with humanity opening for me like the Red Sea for Moses, then up the staircase to the plane with every male in view hanging back as much as they could at the bottom of the stairs, all of them suddenly tying their shoelaces and looking appreciatively up, and finally down the staircase from the plane with every male in view rushing to get ahead of me and then hanging back at the bottom of the stairs, tying their shoelaces again and looking sunwards again, squinting. I wondered what blinded them actually since the sun was the other side of the sky. Yep, probably national or international shoelaces day, seemed like.

    I passed through pass control with the officer on duty stamping his left hand three times before finding my passport page, three porters punching each other fighting over my suitcase with the one with two gold front teeth winning (tipped him one pound and he almost fainted with the emotion), and I rewarded the young guy who brought over the car with a generous look at my opening thighs as I got into the driver’s seat and vrooomed away. Of course, it was also my first encounter with a national hole in the cracked asphalt and the bang in my head reminded me that this was a third world nation, whatever others said about it. A few bangs later and a few traffic lights later persuaded me that the safety belt might prove to be a necessary survival feature in this so called capital. Of course, it was not as bad as in Sudan, slightly worse.

    I finally extricated both reds - my dress and the car, from the hell of ceaseless horns and curses, and the GPS placed me on a brand new piece of highway going upwards towards Brasov. They forgot to plan into the GPS routes with no access to carriages and horses, and it took me another half hour to find a way to take over the several carriages in front of me that seemed to compete on speed on both lanes. They were driven by gypsies that looked nothing like accordion players but rather like throat cutters. I was starting to redefine my first opinion of the place, grading it a few notches lower with each event. A smoking Dacia, not on fire, followed by a truck tire lost middle of the right lane deducted a few additional points. I was fast reaching absolute zero, and there was nothing beneath it except hell’s boiling tar, when I hit the road mounting into the mountains, populated solely by suicidal drivers and cows. I guess the cows were strategically dispersed there due to lack of police reinforcement officers, reducing the ongoing war to survivable levels. Even my steel nerves were beginning to ping against my skull.

    I decided it was time for some relaxation and food, and stopped at a shabby pretense of a restaurant, somewhere halfway to my destination. I got in, waited for the one eyed waiter (another throat cutter) to wipe my chair and place a clean towel underneath me, making sure he did not forget his hand there as I was sitting down, and asked for the menu. He said something which was probably the Romanian equivalent of huh? so I just pointed to the plate, to my mouth, and said in perfect Italian, trying several tenses: mangio?... mangiavo?... mangi?... mangerò?... to which he kept nodding his head in sadness... c’mon, man, what does one do in a restaurant? Eat!!! I almost gave up when I reached mangiare?... and his eyes suddenly lighted with comprehension, a big smile spreading like wild ivy on his face. Mancare! he said, or something similar, my smile almost blinding me in his smile’s reflection. These Romanians must be rich people, why do they all have two front golden teeth? Maybe hiding their sucking fangs? For no reason, a shiver passed through my back and my nipples almost burst through the fabric.

    The food, on the other hand, was nothing to write home about. It was everything to be written to the gods about. It was to be savored, inhaled, absorbed, licked, chewed, slowly, intelligently, with complete abandon and absolute delight... my goodness, was it eternally-bitching-I talking? I did not recognize everything in or on my dish, and after a short time I couldn’t care less about living, if dying meant eating this stuff. The first was something green, floating inside something less green, with some pieces of some meat or other popping up, some pieces of some dry crumbs fluttering around and a tick layer of whitish cream oozing above... I almost squealed in delight, savoring it with the wooden spoon and just eagerly waiting for the next dish to come when something formless and yellow, almost hard but not really, with pieces of a variety of salt cheese cubes above and around, some white delectable cream chilling it all and young onion heads that just died to die between my teeth appeared like magic before me... followed by some sticks made of minced meat with an indefinable flavors mix where the only spice I could identify with certainty was probably garlic alongside with a dish of hexagonally cut golden fries and some broken garlic heads in some indefinable oil and freshly cut salad and several dark yet warm bread slices... I was dying (a lot of death in this paragraph, I am aware) to find out what the last dish would be like and it was some kind of a soft, juicy, sweet base with a lump of white cream on top of it and a red cherry on top of the white cream... I think that at the end of the meal I was crying with pleasures never before felt, not even when recollecting the best sex I ever wanted to have in my life, self service included, and of that there was some.

    The waiter misunderstood my sobs and waited next to the table with a miserable look on his face, until I got up and risking my life I kissed his cheek. I didn’t get my neck bitten. Instead he dug inside his pockets, took out a piece of brown paper, tore a corner and wrote on it 50 L. Why did he have to write it in both normal and Roman numbers was a question I did not care to have answered. Maybe he identified me as English and L signified Lira Sterling as I knew they called here British pounds. It was perfectly worth 50 pounds, so I opened my bag, my wallet, and handed him a crisp new 50 pounds note. He made a face which almost made me lose whatever food I have been ingurgitating earlier on.

    “Nununu...” he kept repeating, whatever nununu meant, saying some more which I cannot recollect and kept pointing to the paper in my hand. “Yes, I said, fifty, fifty,” and he kept to his “Nununu fityfityfity leileilei...” Maybe it was the divinity of the wine he served me during the meal, and which I forgot to mention in the ecstasy of reminiscing, which made my thinking processes slow; maybe those metallically yellow teeth I imagined aiming for my neck any moment now made it. Either this language was all of it triple syllables or... oh, I slapped myself on the forehead laughing, leileilei was lei, the local currency.

    “I not have lei, I have pounds, I Jane, you Tarzan, fifty pounds better than fifty lei,” I tried to explain to him, simulating humanity’s universal language the best I could by creating a big circle with my hands when saying pounds and a tiny gap between my fingers when saying lei. He got however more and more agitated, almost screaming by now “fity lei fity lei nu darzan nu bound fity lei”, and he snatched the bag from my hands and ran away with it. I was shocked into pre-hysterical state, quite suited to the pre-historical event I was witnessing and not wondering anymore at the thousand pounds extra expenses I got. I expected any moment now to be either sucked dry of blood or impaled in the market place or sold to gypsies... He did not really run away with my bag. He just opened it on the next table rummaging through it and finally pulled out of it my unopened (yet) pack of Marlboro cigarettes and pointed to it, menacingly... “Marlboro sau...” (I later learned that sau meant or) and he made a cut-my-throat movement with his hand.

    “Okay...” I said, and this he understood, his big golden smile triumphantly conquering his face again... “okeoke...” as he returned my bag, and kissed my hand, bowing my way more times and deeper than any Japanese ever did (even those who wanted to peek under my skirt). He kept at it until I got out slamming the door behind me, got into the car shivering like a thick layer of pudding topping, let the clutch out and shot away from there. He was still bowing after me in the mirror, as gravel shoot backwards by my sport size tires cracked windows all around him. Oh, my God, a first. When was the last time my looks did not get me out of trouble? Never. This was a first. This is dangerous country, girl, don’t let appearances deceive you. As a matter of fact I did my own research about it, after accepting John’s offer. I was not so gullible as to accept blindfolded a John assignment, actually I was not gullible at all. But I started understanding some of the bastard’s reasoning by now, and it infuriated me. He was probably trying to get rid of me, since he knew I was after his chair, and what better perfect crime than a suicide mission I volunteered for. I pulled back into memory the results of my little pre-trip research, and the thick layer of pudding enveloping my flesh just kept shivering. Lucian, the native Romanian who was employed by our competitor - The Sindependent, was sent on this mission three months ago and did not come back. Boris, the editor of the tiny Sindex - similar. Three weeks ago Alexandra, my direct competition from Sindroms and Sinonyms but not as beautiful as me and one cup size less, sent back just one email - “wow, the food here...” (she was right) then no more.

    I reached Brasov three hours later, it was dark already and I was glad to have escaped alive the variety of unmarked chasm traps, that thoughtful Romanians had spread all the way up. I found the hotel I had reserved in advance, entrusted the Ferrari to a myopic concierge whose eyes were split between my cleavage and the car’s red, and locked myself in the room. I propped a chair under the door handle, one was never too sure. A hot bath and to bed. I fell asleep instantaneously, I was beat. Maybe he was not really trying to get rid of me, I thought of John, after all he was the one who advised me to have several packs of Marlboro spread strategically between my various pieces of luggage. Hey, John, I guess I owe you my life, bastard.


    I’ve never encountered a vampire before, if for no other reason than that they didn’t yet exist in my life. I’ve been bitten several times on the neck by an insisting would-never-be lover, and the only side effect was at most a rush. I made sure to get a rabies shot each time it happened, though, one could never be too sure with humans. Of course, just because I did not meet them, vampires, earlier didn’t mean they didn’t exist. I stopped on the way in a souvenirs shop and bought an anti-vampires kit, Made in North Korea, which included a plastic cross, some supposed to be holy water, a collapsible wooden pike which had to be glued together to get a usable size and a hammer – the head came in a separate package because it was manufactured in another factory and somehow they did not integrate it. One obvious missing element was garlic, but there were plentiful piles of it to be bought along the way to the castle. I bought a few heads, telling myself that this was part of the fun. I stuffed three in my bag next to the cigarettes, probably for fun too. I did change some money earlier in the hotel, so no one threatened me with cutting my throat anymore.

    I passed the Bran castle and the GPS told me to continue. That was a surprise, since I expected to meet said count somewhere in the castle, nylon bat wings and plastic canines and all, but I had to obey the electronic gadget, since this was the address that John gave me. There were still about 20 kilometers to follow, but with holes the size of WWII bomb craters, some exceptions considerably larger, the road took me almost two hours. I had to maneuver slowly around a few congregations of local poultry, several sounders of pigs - one of which included a boar with huge tusks that probably turned tame, here and there dogs attacked me from the depths of one or other crater chasing my wheels out of pure boredom... Interesting civilization, I commented to my reflection in the mirror, as I pulled in the driveway of that, which I assumed, was the correct address. I was surprised the GPS covered the area at all, there was no house visible left or right of that cottage, and compared to the villagers’ houses I had passed on my way – this one was of imposing size and sight. It even looked maintained. Funny vampire housing, I thought, watching the big cross above the gate, and pulling the thing I estimated was a bell of some kind. The house building lay far back in the courtyard, a fence surrounding it from all sides, and the courtyard was flooded with... chickens. A few turkeys, two imposing geese, and thousands of chickens. I pulled the wire again, seeing its length trembling all the way to the house.

    A door opened, slowly, creaking so hard that even at that distance it could be heard. A figure, probably between ninety-nine and one hundred twenty-one year old, started walking slowly towards the gate. At his pace, I estimated at least half an hour until he would get to me. I tried pushing the gate, it was locked. For a moment I toyed with the idea of escalating the fence and walking towards the crawling figure, but I did not want to destroy my beautiful white dress which suited me so well that the hotel manager proposed to me before I left the hotel. He even offered me a ten percent reduction on my next stay. After my harrowing restaurant experience, I needed a bit of self-confidence boost, and this was just the right kind of it. He said he didn’t mind the towel I stole from the bathroom and it did not matter that his brother was a policeman, and I said that I did not mind the peeping hole he had in front of the shower and it did not matter that I knew his wife’s address. We both smiled understandingly and parted good friends.

    The old human contraption was still moving steadily towards the gate, his determination visible in that unfocussed regard. I was patient. I had no choice, I was dying for a pee and needed access inside at any price, even at the price of waiting. Finally he made it, as I was impatiently jumping from one foot to the other, and when his eyes focused enough on my face they made an effort to focus even further, a smile spreading over his face. Thank God – he didn’t have his two front teeth made of gold. He didn’t have any teeth at all. No, this could not have been the vampire, neither true nor counterfeit.

    “Finally,” he said in English, as if he was expecting me. I stopped jumping.


    “Yes, finally the beautiful one,” he chuckled, trying to open the gate. “It is locked.”

    “I know it is locked. Can you open it, please, I die for a pee?” Hey, shameful was not me, what did you expect. And this was a pee or death situation and I had to be as brazen as it was my habit to be in even worse circumstances.

    “I will bring a key.” He turned around and started shuffling slowly towards the house.

    “Hey, stop, open the gate, it is a desperate situation.” I didn’t think that he heard, or if he heard that he cared. He carried on with his shuffling, the geese trying to bar his way, with him obstinately advancing towards the house. This is a one-man mad-house, not a chicken-fucking vampire-baron house, I mumbled, lifting the dress to my waist, bending slightly so as not to spray over my gorgeous white pumps, pulling my panties out of the way and letting go. I probably looked like a cow in the field, and so probably thought the hundreds of chickens in the yard, since they stopped pecking and cackling and fighting and they all turned my way, peeking. Did you ever feel like a microbe looking upwards through the ocular to the lab technician inspecting you? Damn chickens to make me blush, I blushed, letting all garments fall back in place, getting into the Ferrari and hiding under the dashboard, just to escape those chicken eyes.

    Half an hour one way, half an hour the other way, the toothless guy was finally back, and I went to the gate, scolding at him.

    “You took a nap, or what?”

    He kept trying to fit the key in the hole, finally getting it there and trying to turn it. He smiled again his toothless grin at me.

    “Sorry, wrong key.” He turned around, battling his way again between the towering, pugnacious geese. I screamed. Then I screamed again. Then again. I went to the Ferrari, pulled out a shoe and dented one wing with the sharp heel. Then entered the car, lay my head on the horn and fell asleep with the horn blaring its rage into the wind.

    A hand was shaking me.

    “You can come in.” He smiled, this time having put his teeth in. Of course, what did I expect, there were two golden teeth in the middle of the top denture, probably something to do with the country’s yellow-in-the-middle flag I thought without caring, then turned the key in the ignition. The battery was dead.

    “Wait, I will go bring the horses,” he said, starting his interminable shuffle to the house a third time, leaving in the car a raving maniac who was scratching the car’s leather dashboard and pulling ribbons from the silk upholstery and breaking every single breakable plastic contraption within reach. It might have been that it was me, but I was not sure.

    When he returned, I don’t know how long later, I was past caring. My hair was in knots, my make up turned into vertical lines, my dress... oh, my dress was as intact as if it had just got out of the box, I would never do anything to a dress, no matter the circumstances. There we two more indentations in the Ferrari’s wing, though. Same wing.

    He came to my window.

    “The horses are harnessed. Can you just hold the steering wheel?”

    I didn’t give a damn about the steering wheel. Let them drag.

    “Tell me,” I whispered, with a voice hanging on rusted hinges, “are you the so called vampire count?”

    His chuckle was even bigger than his smile. The fact that I did not blind myself in the reflection meant that I was losing my touch.

    “No, master is in the house, waiting for you.”

    “Tell me, is he really a count? Is he really a vampire?”

    “Yes,” he answered, being very unspecific about the question answered, as he started guiding the horses up the alley to the house. The gates stayed open behind, yet not even one animal got out of the yard, and I kept looking back the full hour it took us to get to the house.

    There were eight horses harnessed to the car. I kept wondering in my subconscious what was that rasping sound I kept hearing for the last quarter of the way, not really caring. When I got out of the car, I saw that the front wheels were turned at almost ninety degrees to the cars body, the tires having ripped away from the rims way, way back. I felt like crying.

    “I will close the gates,” the old thing said, shuffling his way back for the... what time?

    “Hi,” a new voice said, somewhere to the right of my regard and I looked his way. The blinding flash was impossible to support. I fainted.


    I had nothing about fifty-yearers. But I envied to death fifty-yearers who looked like thirty-yearers or better. How did I guess he was a fifty-yearer don’t ask me.

    “You’re fifty how much?” I asked shamelessly.

    I woke up in a round, baroque style sumptuous room. The bed lay in the center of a range of gold gilded columns which supported the multi windowed dome above it, erotic drawings covering most of the cupola except where, at places, images of football... football?... players took front stage. I was dressed all white, not my Chanel, several layers of silk covering my skin and I knew, without checking, that I was entirely naked underneath. I touched my hair – it was done back the way it was before my temporary loss of sanity, except for a slight stickiness to it... maybe this was the reason a variety of butterflies fluttered around it, from time to time landing and then taking off again?... I found a golden bell on a table next to the bed, took it and hit myself on the head. Ouch!... it hurt like hell, I hit the spot I had hit earlier on in Bucharest, when my car tasted the bottom of my first Romanian hole. No, this was no dream, and for now not even nightmare.

    “Your clothes are being taken care of, your shoes are being taken care of, your car is being taken care of,” he said.

    He? A god. A devil sculpted by Michelangelo. An angel descended from the heights of the Olympus, or the Carpathian heights – mind you – to tend to my bodily needs and provide me with the scoop of the century. He was handsome, oh, so handsome, if he was a she I would have killed him or rather her in a momentary rage of self preservation, so as not to compromise my place at the topmost top of humanity’s perfect beauty classifications.

    I smiled. He smiled back and we both closed our eyes tightly at the same moment, sunglasses finding their way almost automatically in our hands to don on our noses and allow us open our eyes again. It never happened before. I could now watch him with eyes fully open, heart beating madly, butterflies fluttering around my chest, the same like the few white bats that kept streaking through the room, to finally end upside down hanging from the windows’ frames. No front golden teeth, thank you God.

    “Let me guess. You are fifty-five. You are a count. You are a vampire and you fuck chickens.” I had a way of my own to gain people hearts and it was time for me to use it.

    “Let me guess. You are thirty-three. You are a low life form. You are a bitch and you never fucked anyone yet.” The bastard, the damn, rotten, imperialistic bastard. I was seething with rage, my secret, the secret buried even from myself both in reality and in dream... “Yes...” he smiled again in answer to my questions, his nicely shaped long canines showing off in all their gorious glory, “...to some, almost to the rest.”

    “Yes to what? Almost to which?” My anger was fading as fast as it peaked, the sight of those canines impressing me with shivers of a kind I never faced before when looking at a handsome hunk. “Yes to all,” I added for myself, caring suddenly none of secrets and privacy. Privacy my ass, I could fall at this man’s feet and lick him ankle to ear any moment now. I looked to the floor to see if it was soft enough to fall on.

    “I was two hundred fifty-five last year. This year I will be two hundred fifty-seven, an anomaly we, vampires, must put up with. I am a count and I do not fuck chickens. I do, nevertheless have to bite a chicken from time to time. You see, my dear Miranda, there is no human whose blood I can drink without getting a rash, and then my nose itches for weeks. Can you imagine how terrible this can be?” For a moment he looked almost like a normal, thirty-three year old human telling a joke and I felt the mixed pangs of both commiseration and repressed laughter in my chest. Two hundred fifty-five my ass. I hit myself in the head with the bell again, just to ensure again I was widely awake, and jumped down from the bed. I did misjudge, though, the complexity of the silks covering my body and stumbled right into his arms. He hugged me, I closed my eyes readying myself for the inevitable, then made a last moment decision and opened them again to watch the unfolding delight. I did not expect to watch the unfolding horror. He made a grimace I’ve seen its like only on faces queuing up at the IRS, opened his arms and dropped me to the floor like a sac of rotten potatoes, retreating several feet. My head made bang and bounced back a whole three inches from the wooden tiles. By now I should have had a nice couple or triple protrusions on my scalp. “You ate mititei,” he said, accusingly.

    “I ate what?”

    “Mititei. Probably yesterday. With garlic.”

    Flashes of culinary paradise invaded me a moment, my eyes misting in reminiscence.

    “What? So?” The flashes of paradise evolved into flashes of garlic stories and melting vampires popping into my mind, and just for my own safety I stayed on the floor, my head keeping the three inches elevation it bumped up to. Suddenly, I was uncertain again.

    “You stink,” he said, gently. “Wanted to kiss you but you are loaded with allyl methyl sulfides of three kinds. Better chew some parsley leaves. Dinner at seven.” He left in a flurry of wings. The white bats’, not his. I screamed. I’ve never been so insulted by a man ever in my life, it was always I who insulted them and I who left them.

    Vengeance was growing hot in my heart, the scoop of the century’s title burning its red rag in front of my eyes... VAMPIRE COUNT MARRIES... huh? what hell marries has to do with it? And this huh habit had to be discontinued, and urgently. It was becoming an addiction.

    I dressed again a red dress, another one. I loved red and red loved me even more than white, especially when assorted with red pumps and a red scarf and red rubies hanging from my ears, my nail polish glinting like flames adorning my fingernails... I was in love with myself. And the three red-blue bumps showing in such lovely disorganization on my forehead, completed my adornment in ways I never dreamed of. I was certainly going to take that golden bell with me, if they allowed it or not. It was more valuable and in more ways than the occasional hotel towel, or ashtray, or design bathroom sink (I wanted it once, it just did not fit in my luggage, unfortunately).

    The ageless oldie came to guide me to the dining room, dressed in full black for the occasion. He followed a trail of pink ribbons left on the floor, and after I got the hang of it I left him trailing behind and followed the ribbons up stairs, down cellars, along dim lit corridors until finally I arrived at a huge hall, a table of unimaginable length placed precisely in its middle with fifty shining sets of cutlery and red cushioned chairs each side of it, and slightly larger chairs at both ends. The god (I did not even know yet his name) was seated one end of the table, and I was most probably supposed to sit the other end of the table. He got up when he saw me, put a gas mask on his face and went over to my side, reaching it in about ten seconds and pulling gallantly the chair for me. Then he pushed it underneath me as I started sitting down and returned to his side. He removed his mask and spoke into a red walkie-talkie at his side, scratching his nose.

    “Where did you leave Sandu?”

    The voice came out from a similar red walkie-talkie, placed my side of the table.

    “Sandu his name? What is he, a three thousand year old vampire too? He’s somewhere back. If I followed him I would have arrived here in three days. I am hungry.”

    “Well, my dear, we will have to wait for him anyway, he is the one who will serve us dinner,” he smiled, and my heart somersaulted again. One advantage that the distance proposed, was the fact we did not have to use the sunglasses. The wine glasses on my side and on his side were full with red liquid, could have been either wine or blood. He raised his in toast to me and I raised mine in return, clinked our glasses virtually and took a sip. He took a sip. I drank it all, and since the bottle stayed at my side - filled it again and drank its full again. Heaven was not even a remote memory, I was in love. Probably the wine. “You are one curious human,” his voice piped from the walkie-talkie, “beautiful way beyond a goddess, intelligent like an array of parallel processing biological Cray computers, coarse like a sow, and natural like a bed of snowbells. And virginal like the first snow ever to cover the peaks of the Carpathians.” He looked my way, with such intensity, that my blushing added its red to the environmental hues and the heat that was beating between my thighs had nothing to do with either the wine or the snowbells. Maybe with my uncovered virginity. “Sandu is a hunter, his ancestors were hunters, his sons will be hunters after he passes away. He found you.”

    He found me?” My irking and my incredulity piped out his side of the walkie-talkie, and he laughed heartily. I preferred him with the gas mask on. Without it he was breaking my heart every time he was showing his canines in a smile.

    “I was looking for you all my life.”

    “All two hundred fifty-five years of it?”

    “Minus the few of my babyhood.”

    “You mean vampires get born and grow-up with pampers and things like normal humans?” I asked, uncertain if I was playing some kind of game he invented or was asking out of sheer interest and incredulity.

    “Don’t tell me you still believe in storks, do you?”

    Stop smiling this way, bastard, or Sandu will find me riding atop of you, if and whenever he finally shows up.

    “Why?” and I expected him to understand to what I referred.

    Sandu just showed up. He wasn’t panting or anything, he just pushed a trolley with a combination of pots and pans and burners and whatnot’s to my side of the table, and poured silently some soup in my bowl. Then he moved to...

    “What shall I call you, actually?” I asked in the walkie-talkie. “Jack the Ripper, the Strangler from Boston, Herr Count, monsieur Vampire?...”

    “You can call me Dimitri.”

    ...to Dimitri, and my stomach was grumbling for the full ten minutes it took him to get there, pour the soup, then pull politely aside. Oh, the divinity of the taste on an empty stomach... If all this country had was holes and food, then the food compensated amply for the holes. I was afraid to ask for more, afraid that I would have to wait another ten minutes before the Sandu character would reach me; however it seemed he anticipated my request about to come, since he started advancing my way, and by the time he reached me my bowl was empty.

    “Thank you,” I smiled, diving into my second helping.

    “I will tell you tomorrow,” came the piping voice. “By then you would have chewed sufficient parsley to remove any trace of garlic from your system, and we would be able to collapse this table to tête-à-tête distance. Then we will be able to conduct a civilized discussion. Do you like to dance?”


    The food was beyond delicious. It was almost as good as in that road side restaurant, with the additional benefit that here I did not risk to get my throat cut. At most - bitten, and I looked, fascinated, with a mix of both concern and desire at those fangs that from time to time showed between Dimitri’s masticating jaws. From time to time he rubbed his nose, clearly irritated.

    The meal was over. I was ready for the slaughter.

    “Did you bring it along?” he asked, and I did not need any elaborate explanation to understand his hint. I opened my bag, pulled out the kit, lay it on the floor and kicked it over with my foot. Seems I was a good kicker since the package slid all the way to his side and he had to extend his foot just slightly to catch it. He brought it on the table, making place among the dishes, and tore open the plastic. “Hmmm, let’s see what with they ripped you off. A cross...” He took it out, touched it to his forehead, changed it into a big X, “...oops,” and it broke into two fragments. “You have to be careful with this stuff, the nail holding it together was rusted. You might get an infection if you get a scratch. Oh, a wooden pike. They did not sell you the glue for it, the cheaters. By the size of it, it could kill a rhinoceros, certainly a vampire. Even a human I guess.” He looked at it appreciatively. “Where is the hammer head?”

    I slid it towards him as well, he fitted it on the handle, took the sharp end of the pike and placed it on an apple, then hit it with the hammer. The handle broke. “And this they sell you as protection? You should ask for your money back.” He washed his hands with the holy water, juggled expertly with the three garlic heads... “...as long as they are in their skins I don’t sneeze or itch...” then dropped everything beside the table, watching me. The leopard watching the mouse. Luckily the leopard had an itch inside his nose, I mused. I opened the bag again and placed on the table two silver bullets and a silver revolver. It was in my luggage, John forced me to take it, part of his private collection he claimed. “Silver bullets? My dear, this is for werewolves. Don’t tell me you believe in legends...”

    I wrapped the bullets and the revolver in a napkin and slid the package over. He picked them up, looked them over appreciatively... “...very professional stuff, high-density high-penetration tip...” fitted the two bullets in two consecutive chambers and lay it on the table, muzzle facing my way. “This is serious stuff, you know? Are you after a story or after me personally?”

    “Right now I do not know. I guess that I will know better after the tête-à-tête, tomorrow. I don’t even know the color of your eyes. And the answer to my question neither.” I got up, the chair making a terrible scrapping noise, not waiting for anyone to come and pull it away from underneath me. Sandu was sleeping on his feet, anyway.

    “Pick the apple.” I picked it up, expecting him to tell me to put it on my head. “Toss it.” I tossed it upwards, not watching it. His hand snatched the pistol from the table in one smooth move and fired it. Since the apple didn’t fall back close to me I guessed he hit it. I guessed further that if I would have checked it I would have found a nice round hole dead smack center of it. Sandu was still sleeping. If there was a vampire in this room, then he was the one who fitted the description best.

    “Ha ha. Trying to impress me? I am not impressed. Is the next one for me?”

    “Just trying to ascertain you are well protected.”

    “Now only half as well.”

    “True.” He placed the pistol on the floor and kicked it my way. I noted appreciatively that it missed me by a foot, though he may have done it on purpose. I walked over, picked it up, lifted my hem and stuck it in the garter. The barrel was so hot that I wanted to scream. But I made a brave face and turned to go. “Keep it handy. If you see me coming through the door shoot me without warning.”

    “On second thought...” I started walking towards him and he started retreating, keeping the distance between us more or less steady. Maybe his gas mask was single usage? I reached his place, bent and picked up the three garlic heads. “I think this is a safer way,” I smiled wickedly, seeing him instinctively pull at his nose. Deuce. I had no problem finding the way back to my room, following the pink ribbons. Once I knew I was out of hear and sight I let myself moan a series of ouch’s, jumping on one foot, and then limping all the way to the room and ouching every ten paces or so. The burn hurt like hell.

    The damn butterflies kept roving around my hair until I fell asleep. Shit, didn’t they have any candles in this place?


    I smelled divinely. My teeth were green. No wonder, considering that I woke up every two hours to chew a handful of parsley.

    The revolver stayed back in the room, one barrel-shaped burn on my thigh was sufficient for a lifetime, be it even a short lifetime. If there were werewolves around, I trusted Dimitri to have some silver bullets of his own. Even if he did not believe in legends.

    This time I followed Sandu docilely. I had no choice - the ribbons having had disappeared somehow from the floor. Maybe a cleaning maid was struggling right now with her Dyson, pulling the ribbons out from the machinery, together with the pantyhose I wore underneath my stockings, all of which I dumped along the way and along with the garters, last night. Some melted nylon blobs were still sticking to my wound.

    We arrived to the same room, the hole in the wall above my previously located head position, the size of a watermelon. Those bullets were not only high-density high-penetration, seems they had a hollow heart as well. The table was now reduced to normal breakfast table size, just two sets of cutlery facing each other, and a godly (how many times will I repeat myself?) Dimitri seated on one side of it. We put our sunglasses on, and then dared smile at each other. He smelled divinely.

    “You teeth are green.” It was not what I expected him to say, but he was factually correct. “You smell divinely,” he continued, and this was more like what I expected him to say, in direct response to my thoughts about him. Sure, he was not supposed to read my thoughts, but as minimal courtesy he was expected at least to guess them.

    “Are these eggs from bitten chicken?” I asked, pointing to the variety of preparations on the table.

    “As a matter of fact - yes. Immortal chickens make one hell of an immortal omelet.”

    I didn’t take particular relish in going into the details of his sex life, right then, and preferred enjoying my meal and chatting about irrelevancies. I couldn’t know when my last meal would arrive, so why not enjoy each of them? We discussed pollution, we discussed copulation, we discussed beetles (those who fly), rolling stones (those who sing), Vlad the Impaler (“I have a collection of pierced skulls, would you like to see it?...” which I refused graciously, who is interested in some noggins with holes?), vampires (“would you believe some people still don’t believe in them?”), stamps, FORTRAN, his Barbie’s collection, my towels stolen from hotels collection... time passed like drops of oil through a barrel wide pipe. One of us was stalling, and I could not clearly finger-point to any of us. So finally I decided.


    “Because you are ABC. And I am ABD. And together we are ABCD.”

    “There is no such thing as C or D.”

    “There is, if you know what you are looking for and you have the right... ahmmm... human donor.”

    “And the chickens?”

    “Temporary donors of low grade C. Prevented me from dying.”

    “And Sandu?”

    “The hunter. He hunted for you and found you. He sensed your presence in London. That was his natural flair. Then traced your donation to a blood collection lab. That was my bribe money. Then traced the C to you. That was part sleight of hand, part luck.”

    “So how come incomplete me is not dying? I guess I am also in dire lack of the so called D, no?”

    “Oh, but you are dying, my dear. You are just not aware of it. You did not think your ever increasing beauty was a matter of hazard, did you?” Actually I did think this way. “You are peaking towards a finite point, after which the degradation is a matter of weeks. Unforeseeable, yet unavoidable.”

    “You are just trying to get into my panties, don’t you?” It wasn’t that I minded, it was that I minded being swindled, be it even by a handsome vampire count. “Don’t you have some chickens also for me? Maybe some roosters?”

    “Could have been a possibility.” He was talking seriously. “Unfortunately you are insufficiently equipped.” Words which really roused the rebel in me.

    “What do you mean insufficiently equipped,” I stormed, pushing slightly upwards my bra and its embedded treasures.

    “Sorry,” he said, opening his mouth and pointing to his canines.

    “Ohhh...” I acknowledged the fact. “You are indeed equipped.” Indeed he was. A pistol jumped into his hand out of nowhere and one shot followed, aimed my way. I wasn’t hit. I turned around just in time to see three shapes in the process of sliding to the floor, strange tubes falling from their hands.

    “Tranquilizer guns. They wanted to catch us. Organ hunters, looking for high prized prey.” He was calm, I was shivering 8.8 on the Richter scale.

    “Are they dead?”


    “I heard only one shot.”

    “There were three.”

    “Did you have to kill them?”

    He sighed.

    “When you live as long as I did, you know you have to. Otherwise they always come back. That’s how I lost a brother, never found again.” He pushed a button on the side of the table. “No, there are no followers, don’t worry. The prize value is too high to share it, and they are too greedy. They always work in solitary units.”

    “And how did they find you? Us?”

    “I don’t know, they might have followed you.”

    “And how did they find me?”

    “I did, didn’t I?” Sandu appeared in one of the openings. He didn’t talk. He just walked over to the corpses, threw one across his shoulders, picked the two others one under each arm, and passed at his usual turtle pace in front of me, on his way out of the room. My lower jaw was close to the floor. Dimitri got to his feet, wiped gently his mouth, came my side and pushed my jaw closed, then thought better of it and pushed it slightly open, bent, and kissed me. It was not an erotic kiss. I started burning, my lips, my breasts, my loins. I grabbed him by the nape of his neck and kissed him with complete abandon of control of self, of a kind I promised myself, long ago, never to allow.

    “Make love to me,” I hissed.

    “You are free to leave,” he said, got up and left the room, following Sandu.


    I waited in the room. Two hours later he returned. I did not move. I may have dozed off, but I was on the same chair, more or less in the same position.

    “You had your chance,” he said.

    He bent and picked me up as easy as if I was an inflatable doll, and started walking. I closed my eyes, did not want to know, did not care to know. Maybe I was falling in love, maybe I was drugged, all I needed right then was his body inside mine and the hell with diamonds, or STD’s aka STI’s aka VD’s, or condoms, or even Pulitzer’s. We probably reached my room, I could smell myself.

    “Don’t you take me to your room?”

    “My coffin is too narrow, it will be too uncomfortable.”

    He dropped me on the bed, undressed me with the gentleness and respect only a Chanel would command, threw my shoes out of the window (they were not Chanel), undressed himself... oh, God, I closed my eyes... then I heard him thumping, running all over the room, jumping, cursing, once I heard him stumbling over a chair and ouching loudly... I dared open one eye. He was busy chasing the white bats and the butterflies, futilely trying to get them out of the room, out of the window, and for each one that got out three were coming back in, and for each three out – five back in, it was a losing battle, he cursed again, growled, opened a drawer and pulled out a four-barreled snub-nosed sawed-shotgun, loaded the four chambers, slammed it close, clicked the four hammers open...

    “Wait!” I commanded imperiously, opening both eyes. I got off the bed wearing no more than Lady Godgifu of Mercia, picked from the back of the chair my nicely folded Chanel lace-panties and threw them in one single, gallant move out of the window. There was an angry flurry, a rush and a fight, short, against the window’s frame and all bats and butterflies and a previously unobserved white cat chased the panties in their glorious, stumbling flutter down to the ground. I closed the windows tenderly, rotated the handle and turned around... he was watching me, transfixed.

    “How did you know?” he asked. I could not even hear him, I just read his lips. I didn’t know how I knew. I pulled my shoulders up, my breasts swaying, swinging, shivering, I blushed, covering with two hands what one needed three to cover with and lay slowly on the bed. Dimitri put the shotgun back in the drawer, approached me and for a whole of five minutes couldn’t get himself to touch me. “I love you,” he finally whispered before piercing my throat and my hymen with one single, ear piercing werewolfish bellow. Mine.

    We leaned against the bed head. He was playing with my nipples, I was braiding the curls on his chest in tiny clumps.

    “You are pregnant,” he said.

    “How do you know?” I asked.

    “I know. It is just the right time after my period.”

    “You think you really are a vampire? The countship is easy to prove.”

    “Soon you will know too. After my D starts mingling with your ABC you will have no doubts any more.”

    “I don’t care,” I said, getting on top of him and doing it all again. I had thirty three years of catching up to do, twenty three of which were a conscientious effort. Even though, if he proved to be right, I would have many more in which to catch up everything I had ever lost and much more. In interest terms... The bats and the butterflies kept banging against the window, with the cat meowing so pitifully that it was breaking my heart. After a third session I descended from the bed, went to the window and opened it. They did not attack me, they... caressed me, fluttered against my shin, my legs, my breasts, hair, then slowly and in ones or in pairs started settling on the walls, on the curtains, chairs... finally quiet. Absolute. I hated breaking it.

    “I have to pee,” I apologized to all and none, rushed barefoot to the bathroom and did my business, then rushed back and snuggled against Dimitri. The cat gave up the spot with no argument, settling on my head instead. It wasn’t heavy, I did not mind. “It’s fairylike. Like a fairy tale,” I whispered, afraid any loud noise would break the spell.

    “Dance with me?” We danced. We lay in the bed again. “It is one.”

    “It is not,” I pinched him intimately and he smiled smugly. “Tell me, Dimitri. Lucian, Boris, Alexandra the bitch. I hate their guts but I wouldn’t want then, you know, dead.” I found it hard to say the word, yet I said it.

    “They are not. They are all getting a suntan at Mamaia, at my expense.”

    “What? Why?” This was even beyond my IQ’s capacity. Suddenly I was jealously suspicious, especially of the Alexandra bitch.

    “You all, and a few dozens employees of all the sinxxx newspapers in the UK decided on a big gesture of solidarity with the oppressed world, and you all donated blood. Remember?” If I remembered? My hand was blue wrist to elbow, and the nurse’s hands - the one who plugged the needle in my vein - smelled awfully of garlic, and my nose was itching for two days after... oops, I almost choked. “Sandu traced you to this donation, and finally limited the probable candidates to five. You were number four on the list. We leaked to the newspapers one by one the scandal probability, insinuated who would be the best investigative reporter and bribed the chief editors a bit...”

    “How much?”

    “Five thousand pounds.”

    “The bastard, my own pocket money...” I mimicked, fuming and poking John’s eyes in my mind.

    “...and they sent you all here, to uncover the chickens-fucking vampire-count. The first were the wrong ones, so we offered them an undefined-limit stay at Mamaia, all reasonable expenses paid, as long as they shut up. They shut up. We will now send all of them back home.”

    “Also Alexandra?”

    “Who?” This was worthy of a deep kiss and beyond, so I focused especially on the beyond. The bats, the butterflies, didn’t move. Even the cat didn’t.

    “Baby,” I asked, hoping he wouldn’t mind being called baby. He didn’t. “So, except for you not caring for crosses, and holy water, and wooden spikes, and only partially for garlic, what else do you not care about as a vampire?”

    “Well, I wear dark glasses when I go out in the sun. And have to use a SPF 70 sun-tanning lotion, one that blocks both UVA and UVB. I also make sure to get enough vitamin D, artificially.”

    “And the coffin?”

    “The bed, you mean? I just like the design. Now I will need a wider one, I guess...” And as I was starting to spill myself all over him for a fourth helping, I could hear him murmur... “...or, probably, better not.”

    “The scoop of the century, dead, out of the window...” I moaned, not necessarily about the scoop.

    “Not really, you live it.”

    “Are you really blood related to our royalty?”

    “I am.”

    “Will we marry?”

    “We are.”

    “I love you,” I said, the first I ever said it to any man.


    “Where the hell have you been?” screamed John, eyeing with bulging eyes my bulging belly.

    “Getting laid. Together with about a thousand chickens,” I smiled suavely.

    “Your story!” he screamed again.

    “No story,” I answered calmly, starting to collect my pictures, my paper clips (they were mine, privately), my spitting bowl.

    “My money! I want all my travel expenses, Ferrari expenses, clothing expenses returned. You’re fired!” he screamed on.

    “I quit,” I answered, cringing at the trite exchange. “And I want my full pay plus eight weeks lay-off.”

    “You better leave or I call security!” He was nearing apoplexy by the moment, and I did not want him on my conscience. But he was leaving me with no choice.

    “I would think better of it,” I smiled my most cherubic of smiles, lips peeling upwards from teeth and leaving within sight a pair of canines that Dimitri defined as worthy of a she-werewolf, if they would exist, of course. John hurried to sign the check, not even filling in the sum, and threw it towards me, making a cross with his two forefingers and stretching his hands towards me. I collected the check and pushed it inside my cleavage, advanced towards him and kissed the center of his fingers’ cross. “I will call him John D,” I said, pointing to my belly. “D, for Devil.”

    He fainted. I left, singing out loudly Sympathy For The Devil. Mick would have been proud with me. I put on my dark sunglasses, smeared some SPF 25 on my face and hands, and went out in the sun. It was London. I would never have needed there anything like SPF 70. At most, probably, an SPF 35. And this only if Earth moved slightly closer to the sun. Might happen, though. Well, I had a long life ahead of me to find out, yes, a long, long life.




    The heat was stifling. He couldn’t allow himself to pay again the high electricity bill of last month, so he preferred to keep the airco unit off. The overhead fan was just shoving the hot air around, carrying no other benefit than helping dry the sweat off his skin. Probably providing also a joyride for the mosquito nation, which in the process forgot to buzz close to his ears. So, some advantage to it nevertheless.

    The window was open. Joshua dragged his feet to the kitchen enjoying the chill of the tiles, closed one eye as he opened the refrigerator door, to prevent the sudden flash of light from hurting his eyes, and popped open a bottle of soda. To hell with tooth brushing, he needed some chilly liquid and some stinging gas bubbles down his throat. He gulped half of the bottle’s content, placed it back on the rack and closed the fridge’s door. Blessed darkness again.

    The window stood wide open, a scintillating hole in the barely visible wall. He approached it and placed his palms on the sill, inhaling deeply. Not much better than inside the room, actually the buzzing attacks he avoided inside became an audible nuisance close to the window. Damn, he cursed softly, slapping his ear.

    She was there, same like every night, with very few exceptions on some weekends. The time was about 2:30am, and she was bent over the silently turning potter’s wheel, her feet keeping the steady rotation as her hands kept shaping the wet clay in a variety of rotary shapes. She wasn’t always working on the machine. A few times he spotted her working atop a wide, wooden table, kneading a large lump of clay and trying to shape it in something resembling human, probably one of the many figures she had up for sale in her courtyard. Rarely, she was just sitting on her swing, eyes closed, a cup of something or other in her hand, and swinging herself for hours. Crack-pot, thought Joshua, agreeing with random remarks he heard from people in the street, and smiling at the nice connotation. He knew that her eyes were closed on those occasions, since sometimes he watched her through binoculars, more fascinated than curious. He did not pick up the binoculars this time, just slapped himself several times around the ears trying to catch the pests looking for his blood, then retreated to the relative safety of the rotating fan and fell asleep.

    Before leaving for work, around 6:30, he closed the window, more to try to keep the sun out than for any security reasons. At the third floor out of seven, there was not much risk of someone trying to get in this way. The porch across was deserted, some clay leftovers lying on the table, nothing on the potter’s wheel. The door to the house was closed, the habitual stray cat lying next to it warming its belly against some early stray sun rays. Yep, a family of strays - woman, cat, sun... Joshua locked the door behind him and rushed downstairs, eager to catch the early bus. He wanted to get the afternoon off and had to show a smiling face to his supervisor this morning. Does she ever sleep, he asked himself as he passed next to her garden’s gate just as a foot was pushing out a bowl, probably some food for the cat. Is she twenty, forty, sixty - was the other question which seemed to try finding place in his mind, as he dozed against the bus window, his nodding head banging from time to time on his chest.


    There was nothing glamorous in shelving food products in the fresh vegetables department of a store. Be it even a big store. But it was a job, and Joshua was content with it. His male colleagues were few, his female colleagues were ugly and married, with one exception but she was gay and pregnant and his supervisor, they all had a lot of fun together in the breaks and sometimes even met for weekend barbeques. Normal. Actually it worked great for him, since he could bring a bottle of wine worth one buck and enjoy food worth twenty. And he had a good excuse for not organizing any himself - he lived in an apartments block.

    Jessica, his supervisor, was okay with his afternoon off.

    “Meeting the fat lady again?” The fat lady was in reality a nice looking client, a bit on the voluptuous side, and Joshua had a one night stand with her about three months back. It worked great for both, and there was no continuation. It became, however, the favorite tease for his colleagues. He did not mind. There were other before, other after, why did this one’s image stick with them?...

    “Jealous?” he asked Jessica, caressing lightly her protruding belly. She laughed, patted his bottom in maternal manner - though she could almost have been his daughter in age, and moved towards the back of the store.

    “Do me a favor, sue me for sexual harassment, I need the vacation,” she called back, disappearing in the ladies’ rest room.

    It was the wrong time of the day. The wrong time, the wrong timing, the wrong moment for a hold-up, yet a hold-up it was. There were four of them, wearing ski masks and carrying snub nosed hand guns. They irrupted into the store five minutes after the doors opened, screaming “everybody on the floor, everybody on the floor...” and with everybody obeying immediately, two of them started opening the cash registers. Idiots, thought Joshua, lying on his belly like everybody else, there were hardly fifty bucks in the registers at this time, and most of it in small denominations and coins. But what did he care, it was the third hold-up in five months, and the store owners did not do anything about it except ensure there will be a cash collection every hour or so.

    The robbers were hastily dumping the contents of the cash registers in plastic sacks, when the door to the back opened and Jessica appeared in the doorway, carrying a broom. One of the robbers turned around sharply. Joshua didn’t think, he didn’t have the time. He was close to the guy and kicked him in the shin. The shot followed and a mayhem of screams and curses started throughout the shop as the robbers rushed to the door and out into the street. Joshua got hastily up and rushed towards a visibly shaken Jessica.

    “Are you okay?” he asked, touching her everywhere for signs of wounds. She looked up at him, almost in a daze, grabbed him by the nape of the neck and took possession of his mouth in a kiss as deep and as wet as possible, tongue and all.

    “If you were a woman,” she whispered, “I would have fucked you right here right now right into the floor.” She took a step back, still shaking. “Joshua, you are bleeding.”

    He became suddenly aware of a wet sleeve which was bothering him, and looked down at a red pool accumulating at his feet. Then he crumbled.


    It was a long four day stretch, before he could return home. Hospital, police, interrogations, journalists. At first he was blamed with endangering the lives of the store’s personnel and clients by irresponsibly provoking one of the robbers into a shoot-out (one shot became a shoot-out), the shop manager calling him a heel. Then the more objective police officers, watching the security cameras videos at reduced speed and high zoom settings, clearly identified the motion of the robber that was kicked by Joshua as raising the hand and pulling the hammer and starting to squeeze the trigger in one fluent motion just as the kick got him in the shins. He might have hit Jessica or he might have not, the intent was there and the kick just made him lose his balance and aim, hitting Joshua in the arm. The same store manager then called Joshua his hero, and offered him a prize of five hundred dollars and two weeks paid leave, for recovery. To this, the store personnel added a collective donation of one hundred seventy five dollars and fifty cents, and Joshua was suddenly rich. It was Jessica, who brought him the money to the hospital, on the evening of the day he was discharged.

    “If it is a boy, I will call him Joshua,” she said, placing Joshua’s hand on her belly.

    “And if it is a girl?”

    “I will call her Joshua,” she said, smiling.

    “Wouldn’t it be a bit cruel on her, carrying such a name through life?” he asked, smiling back. “My name is Sue, how do you do?...” he tried to mimic Johnny Cash, succeeding in the words but failing in the tune.

    “Thanks to you, she will have a life to carry her name through.”

    He reached his apartment late that night, a hospital nurse having dropped him at the corner of his street on her way home. He opened the door into the stuffy room, opened the window, turned on the overhead fan and turned on the light. Then he remembered the mosquitoes and hastily turned it off again. He did not feel like bed. Took a soda bottle from the fridge, leaned on the window sill and watched down into the pottery courtyard. She was there, what else, working. It was the first time he saw her using a paint spray-can. She was busy making rotary movements across a large piece of some material, then placed the can on the table and lifted the thing up. Joshua almost choked on his soda. The painted side was turned toward his building, and he could clearly read, written in big letters - come here. He turned rigid, feeling the blood drain from his face and moved away from the window. What the hell, how did she spot him? And was it directed to him, at all? Who else, you idiot, was the other voice in his head, as he resolutely went to the fridge, picked two cans of beer, locked the door behind him and descended to the street.

    He approached the gate to the house, opened it, expecting it to creak like in ghost movies but feeling it move on smoothly oiled hinges, closed it carefully behind him and approached the porch. She was busy kneading a huge piece of clay on the table, smudges of a variety of colors on her face and clothing, sweat dropping in large rivulets from her face to her neck and chest. Her faded t-shirt was stained with big sweat stains, which did not seem to bother her. A few mosquito candles were lighted around, trying to keep the pests away.

    He approached, popped open one can of beer and handed it over.

    “Thanks,” she said, taking it in a sticky hand and gulping thirstily. How old was she? Joshua reduced his range, making it forty to sixty, leaning more on the forty-five. Not beautiful yet pleasant, hair dyed a burning red and tied in a small bun, a bit on the plump side, thin fingers however muscular arms... It was all he could absorb of her physiognomy before she lowered her head from the gulping position and handed him back the can. “It’s only clay, not contagious,” she smiled. “Sit over in the swing, while I change to something more presentable.” He took the sticky can in his left hand and went to the swing, laid both cans on the table and sat on the left cushion of the three. He swayed himself lazily, looking upstairs to his apartment’s window. It lay almost straight ahead, higher up of course. There was some soft light in the apartment. “Shit, didn’t fully close the fridge door,” he thought, pissed off at himself. “Now the mosquitoes will follow my polar star and enjoy the chilly weather before doing their best to murder me.” He chuckled, thinking about closing the door on them and trapping them in the fridge, even at the price of smearing mosquito-spiced margarine on his bread, next day.

    She was back inside five minutes. The same she, yet somehow different. The bun changed to loose hair hanging down to her shoulders, a touch of lipstick, a short skirt underneath a white t-shirt - she clearly removed her bra since her breasts were bouncing loose and her nipples were slightly showing, barefoot. She stopped by her beer can, finished it, then wiped her hands on a towel hanging near by. She offered him the towel and he wiped the clay from his hand as much as he could.

    “You don’t drink your beer?” she asked. He nodded his head absent mindedly and she picked up the second can, opened it and drank it fully. Then dropped both cans in a trash basket and sat down on the swing next to him. Not on the right hand cushion. He did not mind, she smelled nicely of freshly used lavender soap with a tinge of wet clay thrown in. “So now you are a hero, are you? After starting a nobody, going through heel and ending hero.” She added, seeing his surprised look. “I watch TV too, from time to time. Especially before going to bed. Great soporific. Though your event rattled me a bit. Did not know I lived next to a potential hero, who finally materialized into a real one. Want to drink something?”

    “Yes, a beer if you do not mind.” She laughed shortly, went into the house and returned with a can of beer and one of coke.

    “The coke is for me, need some sugar in my blood.” She handed him his can and they both popped the cans together, gulping noisily. She burped softly, “...sorry, coke always does it to me.”

    “How did you know?” asked Joshua, gulping another mouthful.

    “That you live up there?” Without waiting for confirmation she got up again, took a battered leather box from a pile of probable junk, and brought it back to the swing. It had some text on it that Joshua recognized as Cyrillic. “Russian. Night vision. Paid one hundred and seven bucks for it. You didn’t think you were the only citizen with binoculars permit, did you?” Luckily it was relatively dark where they were sitting and his blush was probably invisible. He brought the can again to his mouth, more to have a reason for not answering than that he was in immediate need for another swig. “I watched you several times too, I had even a better view due to the better hardware.” She laughed shortly again. “Want it? This will make your life easier when looking this way. By the way, what kind of a name is that - Joshua Stalin?”

    Joshua felt embarrassed, kind of trapped, and for whatever reason he did not mind. As long as his neighbor did not make a big issue out of his peeping activity, why should he? And she admitted shamelessly to same.

    “You know my name, I don’t know yours,” he answered, looking her for the first time straight in the face. From close by she was almost beautiful, eye color difficult to define, a bit of grayish hair pushing at the roots, nice round lips, nice white though slightly crooked teeth. She did not wear any kind of jewelry - earrings, necklace, rings, not even a watch.

    “Sophia. Sophia Menko.”


    “Actually... yes, of Bulgarian origins. Was Makarenko, but sounded too, well, Bulgarian, so my parents decided to slightly change it. And you? Stalin?”

    It was his turn to laugh, this strange encounter was turning to be more light mooded than he expected. From close quarters she did not look like much of the crack-pot image he built in his mind.

    “It is not Stalin, but Stalijn. Of some obscure Dutch origins. Five generations back and we lost all track of our ancestry. My friends call me Jojo.”

    "My friends don’t call me Soso,” she smiled. “They call me Sophia. You may.”

    “Because I am not your friend?”

    “Because you are a hero. Heroes enjoy privileges in my house. Like the privilege of getting a sandwich, if they ask for it. Do you ask for a sandwich?”

    He was hungry. The hospital food was good for weight watchers, not healthy humans, and they adamantly refused any topping up’s. It was possible only against a surcharge or for those with a more expensive insurance, sorry. Hero or no hero, it did not help him much.

    “Yes, a big one please.”

    “Big sandwich on the way...” She disappeared in the house for a full quarter of an hour, and now, that the word food was mentioned, his stomach started protesting loudly. When she emerged she held two plates in her hands, each laid with three inches of bread slices topped with meat topped with vegetables topped with hard boiled eggs, cold meat cuts... “Still alive? If not, I can finish both, you know?”

    He could hardly finish his. Either his stomach adapted to the hospital size rations or maybe it was too much, he did not finish it. She finished hers, licked her fingers from the crawling leftovers of mayo and ketchup, picked the rests from his plate and threw them unceremoniously in the garden.

    “Don’t worry, it is not wasted. The mice, the cat, someone will have a good day tomorrow. Or actually today.”

    He took it as a hint.

    “I think I better go, I need some sleep and I guess so do you.” he was not so sure about her, but now, on a full stomach, his eyes started getting sticky.

    “Do you mind showing me, before you go?” The unexpected question shot a few drops of adrenalin in his blood.

    “Show you what?”

    “The wound. You were shot, no?” He was not certain what to do. He could have refused, he could have stood up and walked away. He remained sitting and pulled his shirt over his head. For a moment he was ashamed of his slightly bulging belly, of the few grey hairs on his chest. She clearly didn’t have eyes except for the thick bandage surrounding his upper arm. The flesh around it was bluish in color, a larger area smeared with the reddish tint of antiseptic. She touched the bandage lightly, it did not really hurt at that moment.

    “Did it hurt?”

    “I don’t know, I guess I fainted before I had time to think about it. I was lucky, it seems, the bullet did not harm the muscle, chipped just a bit of bone they had to extract, and hit the vein. It did not hurt much but I could have died very fast from blood loss. I was lucky, you can say.”

    “They where lucky too,” she added, mists invading her eyes, and he hated the emotional moment.

    “Yes, they got away with their loot. The police are still looking for them.”

    “No, not them. That woman you saved.”

    “Well, maybe, he might have missed.”

    “You saved two lives, my friend Jojo. This is priceless.” She suddenly bent over and kissed him on the cheek, then stood up, clearly embarrassed. Joshua stood up as well, eager to break the embarrassing moment for himself as well. “My father died in Nam, you know? My lover died in Nam, too. Nobody appreciates it. Seems that only their families consider them heroes, these days. They died saving lives.” The mist persisted, getting heavy. “They called me Soso, both of them.”

    “Good night, Sophia.” Joshua turned to go, and turned back feeling a slight tap on his shoulder.

    “You forgot this”. Her outstretched hand held the box with the Russian inscriptions on it. He took it, after a moment’s hesitation, looking into her eyes. They were deeply blue, he finally could see them. “Please, Jojo, do you mind calling me Soso?” The voice was not imploring, the eyes were.

    “Good night, Soso.” The oiled gate closed noiselessly behind him. The light on the porch turned off just as he was entering the door to his building.


    For the following couple of days, Joshua left his apartment very few times. He disconnected his telephone, since he started getting calls from the most obscene to the most enticing of promises, and he was in no mood for any kind of subliminal or physical experimenting. He went a few times to a nearby grocery to buy some food and drinks, then back to his bed with either a book or some TV. He was in a strange mood. He could have called some of his recent feminine flings for a night of sex and no tomorrow, just the way both sides preferred it, but inexplicably he refuted the idea. He refused to abuse his newly, and most probably short lived, status of hero, and in addition his arm was hurting like hell. Was it all?

    On his third day of forced vacation he descended around 2pm, and read carefully the text engraved on the tile nailed to his neighbor’s gate. It said “Opening hours 5-7pm”. He went to the grocery shop, bought a ready made, cheap flowers bouquet and a box of chocolates, then returned home and went to sit on a bench in the miniature park just across the street. The air was relatively cool under the trees, a soft breeze caressed his skin, there were birds and butterflies around, looked like he wasted his time sitting home with his TV on most of the time. He thought of nothing, just waited, dozing on and off.

    At 3 o’clock, almost sharply on the second, he saw a young man, tanned, muscled, almost a Chippendale type, pushing the gate to the pottery yard, mounting the porch stairs and leaning on the bell’s button next to the door. The door opened almost instantly and the man entered, the door closing behind him. Joshua rested alert, waiting to see when the man would come out. Around twenty minutes later another man entered the courtyard, mounted the stairs to the porch, looked at his watch and then sat on a bench next to the door. This man was relatively aged, dressed simply, smoking incessantly. At 3:30 the door opened and the first man got out without looking around him, he seemed in a hurry and was just finishing buttoning his shirt on his way to the gate. The second one got in and the door closed. At 4 o’clock a third man, aged probably the same like the second but dressed much better, followed in the courtyard. Joshua stood up, dumped the flowers in a nearby trash bin, and ran the stairs up to his apartment, eating the chocolates on the way.

    He got into the apartment, closed tightly the window and the shades, turned on the airco and the TV, and watched the images on the screen unseeing, munching the chocolates automatically, one after the other. He was angry, and he had no reason to be. He went to the telephone, reconnected it and tried to call several numbers with no success. He slammed the receiver in the cradle and it rang.

    “Hi, sweetie, are you the guy who kicked the shit out of that mugger? Are you busy tonight? Maybe...”

    “Fuck you!” he mumbled with no particular intonation into the mouthpiece and returned the receiver to its cradle, pulling the wire out of the wall.

    The following two days he did not go out at all. He had enough food and drinks in his fridge, so he stayed hone, the airco’s full blast drowning even the TV’s noise. He tried again one of his past girl affairs, this time catching her, however the answer “going steady” closed any prospect to a wild night of fire and forgetfulness. He did not connect his telephone again, and did not pull up the window shades again, leaving just a slight crack for some air to enter the room. The two weeks passed. On the last evening before his return to work he heard strong hammering from the general direction of the pottery. It was quite unusual, as mostly she worked extremely quietly, probably to prevent any complaint from the neighbors. He peaked through the crack, lights closed behind him, and saw that she was just finishing to nail to the porch frame the painted piece of cardboard on which she had written - come here. There was just an exclamation mark added after the here. She seemed to be looking upwards towards his window, a frown on her face, then she descended from the chair and started kneading the clay on the big table, her t-shirt soaking with sweat. He lay back on the bed, turned on the TV and watched the beautiful presenter who was promising some more sweltering weather for the coming days. “Fuck you, whore!” he said mindlessly, unknowledgeable of who his target was.

    Returning to the store was, in some ways, a blessing. First and foremost the store was air-conditioned and this, in itself, was an invaluable benefit. He did not ask for and did not expect any favors to come his way, actually he volunteered more often than not to stay overtime and fill in for any of his colleagues that needed some time out, and this added to his popularity even further. A few of the store’s female clients tried to pick him up in subtle or less subtle ways, but his earlier rage subsided and a vague melancholy settled over him. Sex was not on his mind. He joined the sisterhood on an evening out, going to a weepy movie followed by a late junk-food dinner, which filled him up to a point of almost throwing up. One of them, as ugly as the others but the owner of a divine body, divorced just two days ago and mother to four, proposed to drive him home. It was past midnight and no public transport was available. Except taxis, but these were beyond his pocket’s capability. All the way home she tried to push her hand between his legs, tapping, caressing, nothing happened.

    “Hey, Jojo, what’s the matter. Some clients were raving about you. What’s the matter, black pussy don’t talk to you?”

    “Angela, please stop the car.” She stopped the car along the sidewalk, watching him strangely. He released the safety belt, leaned over pushing his hand under her skirt and inside her panties, while his mouth bit into hers savagely. Then he let go and opened the passenger’s door. “You were always a wet dream for me, Angela. But not today, sorry, I am exhausted. Good night, love. I’ll finish it on foot.” He closed the door gently, and started walking. The night was clear and starry, the air was chilly and pleasant... The car passed him by slowly, with Angela blowing him a kiss then accelerating away.

    He reached his apartment at half past one, not even looking the pottery way. He mounted the stairs slowly, fumbling for the keys. Sophia was lying on the mattress in front of the door, curled up, sleeping. She hugged against her chest a six pack of import beer, tied in cross with a yellow ribbon. Joshua crouched close to her, touching her shoulder lightly.


    She opened her eyes, disoriented for a moment.

    “Sophia?” she asked quietly, sitting up, disappointment in her face.

    “Soso...” he repeated, and she took his hand from her shoulder and kissed his finger tips.

    “Your fingers smell of pussy,” she whispered, keeping them against her lips.

    “Yes, yours.” There was sudden rage in his mind and his body. He pulled her up to her feet, unlocking the door at the same time, and dragged her inside kicking the door behind them. Their mouths were already savaging each other, as one of his hands pushed against the thin skirt fabric trying to penetrate through it in between her thighs while his other hand was pulling savagely at his trousers’ belt. She wore no panties, no bra. Within seconds she lay naked underneath him and he wasn’t even completely undressed when he penetrated her giving body, muffled bellows escaping their throats like slaughtered animals voicing a last prayer.

    He got off the bed, undressed completely and ranged both their clothes on a chair. Then he brought over the six pack, opening a can for each.

    “Warm,” she said.

    “Divine,” he said.

    They gulped each the can to its full, then Joshua got off the bed again and started rummaging in between the mess of clothes in his wardrobe until he finally returned victoriously, carrying a crumpled pack of cigarettes in his hand.

    “Do you smoke?” she asked.

    “Never touched the stuff before. Kept them for guests. You?”

    “Never touched the stuff before. Never had guests.” He lighted two cigarettes, handing her one, then lay on his back with her head on his belly, one hand holding the cigarette, the other playing times with her hair, times with her nipples. They kept puffing and coughing, sounding more like two people afflicted with a terminal case of tuberculosis than like two people who had just visited the outskirts of Eden. “Are you going to tell me?” she asked, pulling in a long, last puff in and handing him the stub. He dropped both stubs into one of the empty beer cans, then got up and went to the window opening it wide and pulling the shades all the way up. The lights in the pottery courtyard were still on. The written invitation was still there, nailed to the wood. And five others – one written vertically, one upside down, one in a foreign language, that he guessed to be French...

    He returned to the bed, placing her head again on his belly.

    “How do you know there is something to tell?” he asked.

    “It is written all over you. Tell, nothing can be worse than this cigarette we just smoked.”

    Joshua leaned down and attacked her mouth again, their tongues fighting, stretching, sucking the other’s mouth dry.

    “Soso, I know. I don’t care. I don’t know if I love you but I don’t care.”

    She sat upright, facing him, her breasts hanging heavy yet firm, blue spots starting to develop around the dark red areolae.

    “You know what? You don’t care what?” She popped open another can of beer, her hand shaking slightly, her regard intense, sharp. Joshua bent over and kissed her again.

    “I know you’re a whore, Soso. I know. I don’t care.”

    Her intensity of regard did not change. Her trembling subsided.

    “How did you learn about it, Jojo? Tell me, please.” Her voice soft, calm. Almost indifferent.

    “I saw men entering your house in the afternoon, at a time when your shop is closed. Several of them, one after the other. Some of them finished dressing just on their way out. See? I saw them myself, Soso.”

    Sophia placed the can of beer on the table next to the bed. Then she slapped him. Twice, with all her force, same hand, same cheek.

    Joshua closed his eyes, tears streaming from them, with pain, with hope. He was slapped many times in his life, never did a slap feel as wonderful as this time. He opened his eyes, she was dressing.

    “Are you going?”

    She did not answer immediately. She finished putting on her shoes, passed a few times her fingers through her hair, went to the bathroom to wash her mouth with a few mouthfuls of water, then returned to pull a chair and sit down, watching him.

    “Joshua, you are Jewish, aren’t you?”

    “How do you know?”

    “I have eyes, don’t I?”

    He pulled the bed sheet, covering his lower part of the body self-conscientiously, still uncertain where she was leading to.

    “I could be Moslem, or English royal, or a nut case.”

    “Yes, you could. I could be a Michael Jackson reincarnation.” She did not smile, she did not expect him to smile either, and he didn’t. “I am not. Neither a reincarnation of Michael nor Jewish, yet I followed once an interesting lesson by an orthodox rabbi. Your Talmud claims that one should never blame someone with murder, even if he is seen entering a cave with a knife in his hand and coming out with the knife full of blood and in the cave lies a dead man, with a knife wound. You know why, Joshua?” She waited. He did not answer. “Yes, you are right. As bigger the crime as bigger the punishment as bigger the benefit of doubt.” She stood up. “Jojo, please dress.”

    They descended the stairs, hand in hand. Joshua felt like a schoolboy in the presence of his teacher, embarrassed to shame yet hungry for the words about to come. Sophia’s hand was crushing his fingers, and through them she was crushing his heart.

    “My body was invaded only by three men. The first time was intercourse. Age twelve. With the one who raped me. The second one was love. Age seventeen. With the one who was my first, greatest love. The third was passion, desire, dream. Age forty-five.” She was quiet.

    “With the one?...”

    “With the one I hoped would be my last love.”

    The sting was unbearable, more than the stinging cheek, more than the crushed fingers.


    She did not lift her head from his shoulder.



    She unlocked the door and turned on the light. The entry room was probably the shop. There were many shelves with a variety of glazed clay or ceramics – the run of the mill of such shops: decorative plates, ashtrays, vases of a variety of sizes, shapes and colors. A long desk was densely covered with ceramic jewelry, mainly earrings and necklaces. The prices were ridiculously low, ranging for half a dollar to a maximum of five.

    Joshua walked around slowly, curious, and she waited patiently until he toured the room twice.

    “I see you don’t believe in point ninety-nine cents.”

    “I don’t believe in cheating people.”

    “And these?” He was in front of several shelves, clearly not for public sale, each item with a note hanging from it by a short wire.

    “These are specific orders. Some people like to have a certain design and I create it for them. Some of them are even incrusted with really expensive stones – sapphires, emeralds, even diamonds.” She approached him and took him by the hand, guiding him to another, bigger room. “Come.” The momentary shock was immense. The room was almost empty, except for a corner of it where a number of naked, dark looking people watched them with an intense stare. Joshua felt the hair at the nape of his neck rising, followed by a shiver that shuddered through his body leaving his skin a mess of prickly goose bumps. “You just paid me an immense compliment,” she laughed, squeezing his hand.

    Joshua regained his footing fast, half embarrassed, half thrilled. The third, undisclosed and unreal half being the beginning of a sentiment of happiness, some pieces of the Sophia puzzle starting to fall in place with the smoothness of well oiled rotary bearings.




    He approached the frozen figures, so clearly human that he touched them to make sure that they were not some pantomime artists posing there just for his benefit. They were alive to the point of individual pubic hairs and the tiny bumps on the women’s areolas. There were seven men and four women. In another corner of the room, behind a curtain, six more figures were clearly work in process. A table contained several piles of pictures, all of them of naked men and women in a variety of positions and from a variety of angles, with a large quantity of close-ups.

    “A big order from the Museum of Natural History. Five thousand dollars apiece. They build a real life size Roman village, a five year project, and need about one hundred of these. Still a lot of work ahead of me. There are also horses, dogs, pigs to create. I have won the tender and have exclusivity over the project. A horse will be at ten thousand dollars, a pig at five hundred.”


    “Cast. Two dollars a piece.”

    He intended it as a joke, seemed he missed the mark.

    “I guess they will all be dressed, why do you go into such details with their bodies, down to their intimate parts?”

    “I am a perfectionist. It was part on my tender’s offer, take it or leave it. And still cheaper than the other pottery or wax shops contending for the job.”

    Joshua was still frowning, puzzled, moving carefully between the figures and inspecting closely a variety of details which seemed absolutely unnecessary yet present in the most realistic of fashions – scars, pimples, calvities, even broken nails.

    “I read once a thriller, or maybe it was a movie, don’t remember clearly, where someone was killing people, embalming the bodies, and then coating them with some substance so that the result looked like the most realistic of statues?” He looked at her, half joking, half serious, as he descended to his knees examining a woman’s pregnancy stretch marks on the belly.

    There was movement behind him and he saw Sophia approaching, a hammer raised above her head, a strange, sparkling look in her eyes, and before he had time to cower under his raised arm the hammer descended in a deafening din of breakage and dust.

    The naked woman’s head split into several shapeless ceramic shards, which fell on the floor around him. Joshua got up and retreated a few paces, bewildered. Sophia dropped the hammer, and looked at him with drilling directness.

    “Sorry, I cannot take jokes about death. I couldn’t harm a fly. I killed a man.” She advanced towards him, took him by the hand and pulled him to another room. A big construction in the corner of the room with a large metal door was emanating extreme heat. A big pile of broken clay, clearly discarded human figures, lay in another corner behind a dense metallic fence.

    “The oven?” Joshua was in control of his voice and wits once again. All signs of any kind of apprehension left his mind like vaporizing mist, and a renewed wave of uncontrollable desire swept his body.

    “It is called kiln. It is a specially built model, according to my specifications. It accepts a human sized figure in its entirety and I can program in it the temperature and air currents according to my wish. I developed a firing process that no other pottery crack-pot...” Joshua laughed involuntarily... “can accommodate with their kilns for now, therefore my quality is much superior to theirs. I also use some own developed mixes of clay and chemistry. The art is not only in shaping, it is also and mainly in finishing. All this costs me a fortune in electricity, of course, I am glad I got this museum deal or I would have gone broke.”

    “And this? Refuse? Damaged figures?” Joshua pointed to the pile of broken clay behind the metallic fence, clearly pieces of fully finished figures.

    “This? My rapist. Still at large, never to be caught, I am afraid.” She shivered, before looking up at him, her blue clouding again but not with pain, rather with wistfulness. “I build him, then, I break him with a hammer, again and again and again. Joshua, will you model for me?”



    His embarrassment at his evident physical desire did not prevent him from accepting with no hesitation. She was not embarrassed in the least as she started undressing him and arranged his clothes nicely on hangers in the room containing the clay figures.

    “Do you undress all your models?” he asked, smiling weakly. She raised her had to his face, not slapping but rather caressing.

    “The other models I pay. They are professionals, there’s nothing to be embarrassed with for them, certainly no in the way your primitive body reacts.” She kissed him swiftly, then adopted a pure professional approach as she started taking pictures of him, telling him to turn this way or that, zooming in on a variety of body specifics – his few scars, his ears, his fingernails, his genitalia...

    “I saw you render all your figures true to life, I even saw a woman with a cesarean cut. I don’t think that the Romans were practicing cesarean cuts. And I don’t think they were circumcised either, you’ll probably have to remodel this part of my body.” Any residue of embarrassment left him, he even enjoyed the session and the attention she was paying to a variety of details on his body, a tinge of jealousy passing nevertheless through him when he thought about the other models who received a similar treatment.

    “They probably did practice cesarean cuts, but on dead mothers, in order to save the babies. And I see no problem with your circumcision,” she said, lightly kissing the subject of the discussion and drawing a blushing response, “since their Hebrew slaves were circumcised.”

    Joshua couldn’t take it any longer. He pulled the camera gently from her hands, pulled her skirt up and forgot all his worldly worries in a few minutes of shared flesh frenzy.

    They swayed slowly on the swing in the courtyard. He put on just his pants and his shirt, she put on a long cotton nightie, her forms clearly discernible through the thin material. He sat on the leftmost cushion, she lay on the other two, her head in his lap. His left foot was pushing on the ground from time to time, the swing oscillating in long, slow motions. Her eyes were closed. She started talking.

    “My mother died at birth. My father never remarried. Who would be crazy enough to share the life of a professional soldier? He dedicated his life to his career and his daughter. He was my guardian angel.” They moved from military camp to military camp, her father, Major Phil, being a marines’ trainer in face to face combat. The women in his life were few and never more than transient events. He always asked for her permission when he was going out for a date, he used to call her his little guardian angel. “At age twelve we were stationed already one year at camp Lejeune. I had many friends outside of the camp. One night I was returning from a movie. It was not so late, about 9pm. On my way to the bus station I was attacked by two youngsters, white. It wasn’t even fully dark yet. They dragged me to a bushed area, ripped my clothing and one of them raped me, at knife point. The second one was about to rape me letting the knife fall next to me. I grabbed it and stabbed him in the chest. The one who raped me ran away. He was never caught.”

    She turned on her right side, burying her face in his shirt, crying, shivering. She refused to stop talking, even though Joshua tried to coax her into a pause. She just blew her nose in his shirt’s lapels, and continued. She wanted it off her chest and he decided to let her.

    Her father was devastated. She was interned in an institution dealing with raped children, and luckily the military subsidized her stay there. She found out she was pregnant, at three months however she lost the foetus. Her recovery was slow, for two years it was touch and go between insanity and normalcy. Then Richard, Rich, appeared in her life. He was a temporary intern, helping the institution with menial tasks, yet his greatest gift was his cheerfulness. It was the first human she met after her rape, who succeeded to make her laugh. At age sixteen she was released, being considered sufficiently recovered to be able to join life once more, under the supervision of her father. It was in this institution that she learned the basics of clay handling.

    Her father took to a fatherly love towards Richard, and persuaded him to join the marines. It wasn’t difficult – Richard was pure grain patriot, same like her father. She and Rich became lovers, and they had their first intimate encounter when she reached seventeen. Richard was about to finish boot camp, and getting ready to be shipped overseas. She insisted in making love to him, physical love and physical abandon, they were madly in love with each other, like in Hollywood classics, he used to say. Like in reality – she used to say. She told her father. He just listened, blessed them both with his kiss, saying that he didn’t give a damn about legalities and regulations – his daughter’s happiness comes first and foremost and only.

    She and Rich made love three times. They did not do any plans for the future, there was no need, the plans were implied in their relationship. Rich was flown over the Vietnam on October, 17. On March, 22 he was shipped back in a plastic bag. Her father waited until she was past eighteen, and settled in a small apartment, with a relatively safe job in a pottery atelier. Then he volunteered for service overseas as well. He flew over on November, 10. One year later, on November 11, he was flown back in a plastic bag.

    “My two men, those that I loved more than anything else. My two heroes, dead.”

    She sat up, and went to the bathroom. Joshua heard her blowing her nose, muffled sounds of crying penetrating outside. He tried to follow her, but the door was latched. He forced the flimsy latch open and found her sitting on the john, her body bent, head on knees, crying convulsions shaking her shoulders incessantly. He lifted her up gently.

    “Where is your bedroom, you did not show me this one yet?’ Her sobs were interrupted by a short laughter and she squeezed tighter into him, as she guided him to her bedroom. The bed was not made. He pulled the thin bed sheet away, pulled her nightie over her head and tucked her under the sheet. He identified the airco’s controls and turned it on, putting it on low speed.

    “Will you stay?’ she asked, eyes closed.

    “No, have to go to work. Soso...”


    “Do you think you love me, Soso?”

    She did not respond immediately.

    “No, I don’t think so. I am lonely. I think I fall in love with you. I think I am too old for you. How old are you, Jojo? Do you love me, Jojo?”

    It was all said in one breath, and he did not feel any need to answer in similar order, neither was he capable of it.

    “No, I don’t think so. I have to think. I don’t know if I am ready. Thirty three.”

    “You know, you could have been my son,” she whispered.

    “It would have been one hell of a hot incestuous relationship. Don’t think my congregation’s rabbi would have agreed. I would have had to bribe him.”

    Her breathing was getting regular. She laughed shortly.

    “Neither my congregation’s confessional priest. Hey, Jojo.”

    “Yes, Soso.”

    “Thank you.”

    “For what?”

    “For making me laugh.”


    They avoided meeting each other for the following few days. Embarrassed? Accumulated discomfort? Too much too fast too early? Joshua didn’t change much his habits, except that he dropped his regular flirting habits to inexistent, and kept volunteering for overtime work as much as possible, He bought all his needs from the store, so that he did not have to leave his apartment to go the neighborhood’s grocery shop. Sophia removed all the cardboard inscriptions from her porch and seemed to have returned to the routine of either kneading lumps of clay or bending over the potter’s wheel with that watchmaker’s precision he knew her capable of.

    Angela moved her aspirations towards a newcomer, a handsome black, young college guy who was filling in for a sick worker, so Joshua did not need anymore to maneuver himself out of an unpleasant situation. Five days later Jessica arrived at noon, later than usual, all shining with self importance. She went straight to Joshua, and repeated the kiss she had delivered the first time, leaving him a bit dizzy and smiling questioningly.

    “It’s a girl, daddy sweet,” she laughed happily. “A beautiful girl, oh my God, I am so delighted.”

    “So I guess you came back to your senses, on the subject of her name,” he smiled back, caressing her belly. She retorted almost angrily.

    “No way. You gave her life, man, she should carry your name. In some ways you are as important to us both as the anonymous sperm donor. And you, I know. Oh, I wish, I wish you were a woman,” which did not prevent her from kissing him in third the same like the previous two. “Now I need to find a charm or something to keep her from harm.” She patted his bottom, it was getting a habit with her, then moved on to tell the good news to the “girls”.

    That day Joshua did not volunteer for overtime. He made sure he got back home in time for the opening hours of the pottery shop, waiting impatiently for five o’clock. At five and five minutes he was stepping into the cluttered room, and found to his amazement that there were already about ten people there. Two of them discussing with Sophia, the rest scanning the offers around. Her eyes sparkled when she saw him, but she continued her discussion with her clients until they shook hands and left. She approached him.

    “Anything I can do for you, sir?” She was dressed smartly, even elegantly, high heeled black shoes, a narrow black skirt with a white silk blouse tucked in, a colorful scarf around her neck, one row of pearls descending inside her cleavage, pearls hanging from her ears at the end of inch long golden chains. The only concession to her trade being a ceramic broche on her blouse, butterfly shaped and with two sapphires – were these diamonds? – as eyes. Joshua was partly stunned, partly admirative.

    “I would like to place an order with the lady of the house, if possible.”

    “Oh.” She looked positively surprised, enchanted, and smiled invitingly, taking him by the elbow to a corner of the shop. “What would you like to order, Jojo?”

    “My parents are of North African origin, and in our, or rather their tradition there is a symbol called hamsa which is supposed to bring luck to those who hang it in their house or wear it around their neck.

    “I know what a hamsa is. Do you want me to create one for you?”

    “No, not for me. Could you please create a hamsa pendant, small, beautifully designed, and incrust in it this sapphire as well? It is something I kept from my mother, may she rest in peace.”

    “Oh, this must be for a very special occasion, I guess.” Sophia smiled, taking the sapphire from his hand and watching it intently. Her voice had a slight trill to it. “For when do you want it?”

    “Oh, yes, this is a very special occasion. Would it be possible for this week?” He kissed her happily on the cheek. He was suddenly in a great mood.

    “It will have to be for tomorrow. Even tomorrow early. I will do it for you. I am leaving, tomorrow afternoon.”

    His great mood dispersed like morning’s breeze.

    “Leaving, what do you mean leaving? Leaving where? Why?” She took him by the elbow to a remote side of the room, far from the clients which kept pouring in.

    “No, not leaving forever, silly. Leaving for a month. Going to Washington, will stay with friends from my father’s unit. There is a commemoration ceremony at the VVMW – the Vietnam Wall. I have two heroes to commemorate, as you know.” The tear was not late in following. He collected it with his knuckle, kissed the knuckle, and left. Showing that his heart was breaking was not yet in his plans, though living through its breakage was impossible to avoid.

    He rushed back to the store, exceptionally taking a cab and hoping to find Jessica still around. She was there, in her small office, busy with paperwork. Her eyes lighted, seeing him come in.

    “Hey, Jojo, thought I gave you the rest of the day off. What are you doing here?”

    “Jess, I have the right charm for you. The most perfect the most beautiful the most lucky charm you could ever have. Cross my heart. Tomorrow, before noon, you go to this address...” he scribbled hastily on a piece of paper, “... and ask for a hamsa. Here, I write it for you, h-a-m-s-a. This will protect you and your daughter against the evil eye, against Alzheimer’s, against hurricanes and getting fired.” He leaned over the desk and kissed her on the cheek.

    “Jojo, are you ok? You look kinda flustered? You run a fever or something?”

    “Yes, in a terrible place. I am in love, woman.”

    He almost danced out of the room. There, he said it. Wrong place wrong time wrong person... he said it. He rushed over to the DIY department and bought a can of red spray paint and a large, rolled, cardboard sheet, went to Angela’s till and waited patiently until his turn arrived, paid and leaned over kissing her intimately and interminably on the mouth... “I wish you luck, Angel...” then ran away to a mix of Angela’ic swooning sighs and high voiced complaints from the heavy-set matron following in the queue.

    He took a cab the return way as well, “what the hell, it is only money...” rushed up to his apartment, spread the cardboard on the floor and painted on it in big letters: I LOVE YOU. After a moment’s hesitation he added to it an exclamation mark, and two moments later another two. Then he opened the window, leaned dangerously outside and nailed it to the window frame. Five minutes later he was asleep, the big decision behind him.

    He woke up to work next morning, peeked from behind his cardboard, a smile spreading on his face when he saw a big 2 on a single cardboard piece attached to the porch, next to an even bigger smiley.

    The day rolled on. He had a full month to adapt to the idea of losing his independence, and – not really surprisingly – he found that it bothered him less than expected. Jessica left around noon and returned two hours later, red eyed and blowing her nose incessantly. She hugged him so hard that he got worried she might squash the life budding inside her belly. The hamsa hanging around her neck was thin, small, sparkling with tiny crystals placed in circles around the middle sapphire, the chain was thin, probably gold... God bless you sweet Soso, thought Joshua, returning Jessica’s hug with almost similar force.

    That night he went out with the girls again, saw another weepy, danced with them in a “female patrons only” club, having them force the massive bouncers to allow him in, and finally allowing Angela to take him home once more. There were no advances to fend off this time. “You’re a great guy, Jojo,” she said, blowing him a kiss and leaving him on the pedestrian’s strip next to his apartment. The pottery was completely dark. The large cardboard with the 2 and the smiley was removed, the gate locked with key. He went up to his apartment, removed the I LOVE YOU inscription as well to prevent any misunderstanding from a variety of possible sources, and set down to wait. One month is not so long, he consoled himself, eating a piece of cold steak with a fresh, thick slice of bread. One month, then the hottest incestuous relationship this earth had ever seen, he promised himself.

    He clicked the airco on, the overhead ventilator on, the TV on and the light off. Sometimes, the TV was almost supportable.


    The days passed absolutely eventless. He counted them. Work, food, sleep, work, food, sleep, from time to time another outing with the “girls”. He was tense, however refused both to show it and to think about it. On the sixteenth day he saw the wooden sign placed in front of the pottery, a bit towards the street: For Sale. A local telephone number was provided for interested parties. For Sale? What does it mean for sale? He looked at the sign for several evenings in a row, hesitant, a bit apprehensive, then on day twenty two he decided to call the number. A professionally happy voice answered the phone, regretting that no details could be given by phone. However, if he was a serious client, a visit could be organized following day.

    A brisk, young lady, elegantly dressed and with a big, plastic smile plastered underneath her eyes but not in them, arrived next morning. Joshua told Jessica he would be arriving a bit later and it was okay with her. The young lady presented herself as Bette... “no, not Davis...” she smiled away in advance a possible joke, as she unlocked the gate, then the house, and started venting the various advantages of the location, of the price, of the previous owner.

    “The house will be ready for transfer to the new ownership in about four weeks. We are busy with packaging everything, except for the personal stuff. Then it will be cleaned and refreshed, all this is included in the price of course. The price is...”

    Joshua hardly listened to any of the babble. There were lots of boxes in the room, a variety of sizes, some of them already placed aside and closed with several layers of tape. Several big rolls of bubble packaging were present in the room as well, the big statues were in the process of being packaged with layers of straw around them.

    “Why is the owner selling?” he asked, impolitely cutting her flow. The seller lady did not mind, it was her job to not mind impolite customers.

    “I did not talk to her personally, but I understand she decided to close her business here and move to another state.”

    “Is the house long on the market?”

    “Oh, no, this is hot property. We were approached about three weeks ago, and expect to sell it inside two three weeks from now. Serious buyers better hurry,” she smiled, indulgently yet emphatically, even slightly aggressively. She didn’t give a damn, all she wanted was her commission, and fast. “May I ask where you live presently, Mr...?”

    He promised to call her back, accepting her business card on their way out. Some packers were already in the house, going on with the packaging. His mind was a mess of question marks, frustration, anger, somewhere there was also pain but he shoved it aside in favor of his complete lack of understanding of what was going on. The sales lady admitted she had the phone number of the owner, however she refused to give it to him, company regulations you know... Anyway, the contract between them and the owner did not permit the owner to sell directly, only via their exclusive services, so speaking to the owner will not help you anything, you know... However she could share with him a secret, since he looked such a nice person and promising prospect, she could tell him when the owner planned to come to start packing her personal belongings, but you did not hear it from me, you know...

    He was in a haze. Going to work, returning, hardly eating, no smile crossing his lips even in the presence of Jessica, who tried in vain to raise his moral and pair him with a variety of nice looking bimbos. No, it wasn’t fair to call them bimbos, all of them nice girls, ladies, but all of the world’s woman population was suddenly reduced to the level of bimbos with one exception. And this exception was about to join them all as well. The day arrived.

    He did not even ask permission to arrive late. He watched through his lowered shades until he caught glimpse of Sophia carrying a box outside, then entering the house again. He rolled his cardboard text and rushed down the stairs, disregarding even the need to push closed the door to his apartment. He crossed over to her house, rushed through the gate and up the porch stairs and entered the shop room. Several workers were busy wrapping the small stuff in old newspapers and arranging it in boxes. She was not there. She was in the room with her big sculptures, helping a worker lower one into a large sized box.

    “Sophia,” he whispered, loud enough for her to hear, not loud enough for her to run away. She lost her grip on the statue and the worker could hardly get enough grip on the loud piece of clay, succeeding finally to lower it with a thud to the bottom of the box without breaking it. She turned around, she looked terrible. Her eyes bloodshot, dark lines underlining them, her lips dry, her hair in disarray – a case study in distress, or rather a stereotype for a woman in distress, a woman beyond any possibility of emotional recovery...

    “What are you doing here?” Even her voice was rough, cracked, he barely recognized it.

    “What is going on?” he asked, making an all encompassing movement with his hand. She looked through him, not reacting, not responding. He unrolled the piece of cardboard in front of him, on the floor. “Is there any spelling mistake here?”

    She started crying, suddenly, sat heavily on the floor and cried almost soundlessly, not even averting her face or wiping her eyes.

    “Ma’am, is everything okay?” asked the packer who was working with her, eyeing Joshua with hostility.

    “What are you doing here?” she asked again, making an effort to be understood.

    “I love you,” he said, sliding the cardboard on the floor, her way. “There was a 2, several weeks back. What happened? What happens?”

    She succeeded to get her sobs under control, and got back to her feet with a heaviness much beyond pure lack of muscle power. She went over to the piece of cardboard, picked it up, looked at it for several seconds, tore it in two pieces then in four and let them drop to the floor. She turned to the packer, moving to another sculpture with the packer following.

    “Better leave now, Joshua, please. Otherwise I will have to ask some workers here to help you out.”

    His anger was way beyond reason or self preservation.

    “Soso, an answer, you owe me an answer, for decency’s sake. What happened. Tell me and I go.”

    This time she turned around, pale in her fury, her fists closed tight, her voice just one notch beneath shouting.

    “Sophia! Soso time is over. Decency you ask for? You are a father, you bastard, you are a father to a child about to be born and you want now to skip that responsibility and jump into my bed? Get out of here or get thrown out.” She was not sobbing anymore in a controlled way, she was sobbing hysterically.

    Click, click, click... things clicked in Joshua’s mind like pieces of a perfectly fitting puzzle suddenly streaming into their allotted slots with one masterful move.

    “Soso, oh God, Soso, I can explain, please listen to me, for heaven’s sake, listen to me.” She made a dismissing move with her hand, and several packers that were in the doorway advanced towards him, grabbing him by the hands and turning him around. He was desperate... “Soso, remember that Talmudic lesson you told me about, remember?...” He was already beyond the door when he heard...

    “Wait!...” She appeared in the door way, her eyes wild, her breathing a mess of hisses and groans. Her hands were trembling uncontrollably and she leaned against the door. “Please, let him go. What about that lesson?”

    “Three hours, please, give me just three hours. Please.”

    She did not answer directly. She just told the packers to take three hours paid break, then slid down against the door, watching him with undisguised bewilderment. She was not going to say anything more, she was going to wait three hours in which her world would either crumble into nothingness or rise from its ashes.

    He ran out. He chased desperately for a cab, finally caught one and gave the driver the address of the store. Oh, God, just no traffic jams, please, just no traffic jams.

    Two hours and fifteen minutes later he was back. Jessica was with him. A young, elegantly dressed woman, who was waiting in a car at the gate, joined them. They entered the house. Sophia was still seated in the same position, no more alive than one of her sculptures. When she saw the trio entering the room she got up slowly, still leaning against the door. Seemed that her body didn’t stop shivering from the moment she saw him first. Joshua was panting, hard.

    “Jessica, please do the presentations.”

    Jessica went over to the young woman who joined them and hugged her waist tightly.

    “This is Maria, Maria is my boyfriend. Maria, did you bring it?” The young woman opened her purse and handed Jessica a folded piece of paper. Jessica unfolded it, scanned it with her eyes... “this is a copy, it should do...” and handed it to Sophia. “This paper is my contractual insemination act. I don’t know who the father of my baby is. For all practical purposes – Jojo is the father. He saved my baby’s life. He gave my baby life.”

    Joshua jumped forward. He’d never before witnessed a real fainting act, and all he could do was jump forward and prevent Sophia’s head from hitting the tiles.


    He moved in with Sophia the following day. Jessica allowed him a sickness week, which he used for moving what little stuff he had over to Sophia’s place. She insisted first to glue back the torn cardboard pieces, before starting the unpacking and the reorganizing process of all her own packed stuff. She still had that beaten puppy look to her, even though her voice had found back its natural timber. Evening descended, and he knew that it was only subjectively that it seemed to have descended faster that the previous day.

    “Come,” he said.

    He took her by the hand to the bathroom, undressed her and helped her sink slowly in the hot, nearly scalding water. Then he picked up the mobile shower, shampooed her hair, rinsed it thoroughly, and started combing it. He dried her, enveloped her with a towel, helped her along as she stumbled towards the bed, helped her get between the chilly sheets and kept combing her hair until she fell asleep. He undressed, spooned into her and fell asleep instantly as well. He even forgot to lock the door.




    I wasn’t so sure I wanted to go there. Dolls? I preferred inflatable, rubber ones... and as I expressed my secret thought she punched me hard in the ribs. She, my love. Actually a bit lower, somewhere in my inflatable belt (you know what I mean...). The hint was sufficient. I took mortgage on the house, the cat and my personal teddy-bear, took a deep breath and queued with the million others for the right to go bankrupt against the right to visit the Madame (Tussauds, that is). Or rather her wax puppets’ museum.

    I didn’t expect her (my love, not the Madame) to go wild, yet this was exactly what happened. Once inside I changed immediately jobs with the inexistent coat hanger as she dumped on me her coat, her scarf, her hat, her bag (the one filled with cast iron balls stolen from the Tower’s gallows), her camera... this one she snatched back, dropped “woman” in the ladies restroom and returned with “girl” written all over her... she was ready. I wondered if she kept at least her panties on, but it was the wrong place to check the fact. She went wild.

    I guess they are still trying to decode that recurring blur on their cameras. She never stopped. Starting with Morgan Freeman - didn’t know he was three meter tall, continuing to Nicole Kidman - didn’t know she was one and a half meter short... oops, this was Christina Aguilera and a matter of mixed inscriptions, on to the Beatles where she tried to play guitar - didn’t work too well, it was made of wax and melted in her hand... She was delighted. I wasn’t too impressed.

    “I want a picture like that,” she said, kissing Marlon on the lips. Fine. “I want a picture like that,” she said, hugging Marlon’s waist. Fine. “I want a picture like that,” she continued, trying to push her bosom deep into his chest. It wasn’t so fine, since I saw drops of wax starting to roll under his shirt. But it reached kind of an unexpected peak when she tried to clamber all over Bruce (the Willis, not the Lee) and he started leaning back, bent on... bending. I pulled her away against wild screams and scratching nails until she met James (the Dean, not the Bond). That mollified her for the whole of five seconds when she rushed away to Elvis.

    “This is not Elvis,” I objected, going around him three times clockwise and four times counter clockwise.

    “This IS Elvis,” she insisted, smiling stupidly, lost in tunes of Love Me Tender sprouting into violets from her eyes and ears.

    “This is NOT.”

    “This IS.”

    I gave up, since I did not want to spend the rest of the week there, and after she posed triumphantly next to him (I think it was too hot that day, in each picture he was getting shorter, so I stopped taking pictures once he reached to her eyebrows) we moved from the indisputable king over to the indisputable queen - Marilyn. It was the first time my wild love slowed down, measuring herself against that glowing beauty and her eternally fluttering skirt.

    “It cannot be, she was not that tall,” she wrinkled her nose. “I think they have a problem with the dimensions of their waxes.” She ran over to JFK, then back the Marilyn, then back to JFK, unsatisfied. “Cannot be, they are both too tall. They...” ...the Tussauds’s... “are cheating.” And in a fluid move of complete and utter defiance she peeked underneath Marilyn’s robe. She came away, shrieking in delight. “I knew it, I knew it,” she whispered in my ear, “she was not a natural blonde.” Which did not prevent her from taking the whole of twenty three pictures next, and around, and alone with the diva. If Marilyn would only have known...

    The Royal Family. Oh, yeah, in all their zirconium splendor and pompous attire, she took only twenty two pictures there. And only because the camera’s batteries went flat. Once kneeling, once curtseying, sitting on the queen’s knees, taking the queen on her knees, taking the prince on her knees, pinching the prince’s cheek, then his buttock, then the queen’s buttock... I was shocked, frightened...

    “Hey, you’re crazy, that’s lèse majesté, they will lock us in the Tower, they will put us in irons, they will drown us in wine, they will cut our heads...” I was getting a bit carried away with my imagination, though wasn’t so sure it was imagination alone as several old matrons (female and male) stopped suddenly across from the scene and started muttering among themselves, making obvious signs across their necks. Thank God for dead batteries. I pulled her away in a Nelson stranglehold, hoping the muttering matrons will be satisfied with my violent sense of decency and will not follow us to the hotel. “Come, there are more.” She couldn’t object, not while suffocating. I let go of her only once I saw the sparkle in her eyes as she spotted Bruce (the Willis) again, reflecting in a mirror, and she rushed back to his (now) backwards leaning statue, lying flat at his feet and swearing eternal love and no children.

    I did not need any professional help to finally drag her away from the place. The personnel just came over and pulled Bruce back to the store-room for repairs and brought out Kaddafi instead. This cooled my love’s arduous declarations and helped me drag her finally out from that dreadful place.

    I took a last, long look at Marilyn. I couldn’t tell my love that Marilyn winked at me. I just couldn’t. Not that she would think me crazy, but that she would drive a spike through my heart in an attack of jealousy. She is crazy. So, finally, I wouldn’t say I did not enjoy the visit as well. I just hope not to lose my house, my cat, and my personal teddy-bear.



Scavenger's Daughter

    A horrible place. London. It all started with the horrors of the Tower’s torture chambers. Followed by the horrors of Tussauds’ horror chambers. Then followed the horrible creatures at Holmes’ third floor, the horrifying traces of Jack the Ripper, the undefined horribility of The (cigar) City and The (rolling) Eye and The (unfinished) Shard and similar alien monsters of modern architecture at such stark horrifying contrast with London’s classical landscape, until suddenly I had this uncontrollable urge to scream my head off à la Liza Minnelli.

    I did not. Scream. I controlled it. Maybe because I did not find a suitable bridge. But I had another sudden urge, the one to cleanse myself from all this world of horrors, and I almost dragged my ladylove bodily back to the hotel, up the elevator, in to the room, in to the bathroom... I felt her stiffening at my side (in horror, what else?) at the unholy sight of that specific English horror called two taps and one sink... she pulled back (in horror, you know it by now), pointing a trembling finger towards the contraption.

    “Oh, no, anything but this,” and she looked up at me imploringly.

    “No, not this, love,” I calmed her fears, kissing her lightly on the head and patting lightly her bottom as well. “This!” I said, pointing in triumph towards the bathtub, my mind playing loudly Also Sprach Zaratustra with the Queen’s Mounted Guards saluting me in adoration. Fine, I may mix up my metaphors, but you get the spirit.

    “This?” She copycatted my expression but not my punctuation, pointing a no longer trembling finger same way as mine, fear changing into incredulity, incredulity into defiance... “Do you think we will fit in there, together?” Even if there was no mockery in her voice, it forced me to have a profile look at myself in the mirror, trying to evaluate my answer as realistically as possible. I pulled in my belly as much as I could without throwing up the earlier fish’n’chips...

    “We will make it, I promise you.” She didn’t look very convinced. Truthfully - I wasn’t either. But a promise is a promise and a promise is there to be kept. Even at the cost of...

    I started running the water in the tube. I heard her undressing, singing happily, and I joined her, singing something else, happily too. After all it was to liberate us of all those Towers and Tussauds and Holmes and...

    “Love, it is too hot,” she partly said partly screamed trying the water with the tip of her left big toe and then running all the way to the (luckily closed) window, trying frantically to open it. I was patient, I new patience would be necessary so I joined her, kissed her finger tips, kissed her toe tips, kissed her middle-of-the-way tip, spit out the hair left in my mouth and gently but firmly coaxed her back in the bathroom. “Are you sure it is not too hot?” Of course I was sure it was not too hot. “Are you sure my insurance will be sufficient?” Of course I was sure her insurance was sufficient. “Are you sure we will both fit in?” O course I was sure we would both not fit in, but I was surely set on trying or dying while trying to. Just for her safety I locked the bathroom door from the inside.

    “Now, love, your toe again, soooooooooftly...”

    I made a small concession and opened some more the cold tap same time as she dared touch the water anew with the tip of her toe.

    “Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaiiiiiiiiiiiii,” she moaned, and I couldn’t tell if there were more a’s to her exclamation or i’s. “It’s too hot, aaaaaaaaaaaaaiiiiiiiiii...” I couldn’t tell this time either, but there were definitely less letters altogether, which was an encouraging sign, as the rest of the leg followed the toe and then the second toe, the second leg. “And now, shall I sit down?”

    “Of course now shall you sit down, how do you think we can take a bath together, standing up with water beneath our knees?”

    “Then, please, pour some bath foam into the water, will you?” If I would? Of course my love. I collected all the bath foam bottles from the shelves, from the cabinets, from my suitcase (brought some along, he he) - twenty three bottles in all, smiling savagely most of the time. “So where is it?” she asked, still reluctant to bend her knees.

    “Where is what?” knowing exactly what she meant.

    “The foam.” Yes, I knew that was what she meant. There was not even one bubble and it did not help that I stirred and mixed and gurgled.

    “It probably works only if you sit in the water,” I tried an unconvincing strategy, yet she seemed accept it with no question, since she started bending her knees slowly, oohing and aahing and mainly aaaiiing every few millimeters or so, until finally she was completely sunk in, eyes closed courageously, fists tight (I hoped the enamel would not crack, I certainly had no insurance for that).

    I waited for the bubbles. Well, there was one, but it had nothing to do with any foam add-ons. Cheating bastards.

    “See any?” she asked, keeping her eyes shut.

    “Yes,” I answered, afraid to disappoint her.

    “Now... you,” she added. The moment of truth. I looked doubtfully at the tube, so nicely filled wall to wall by nice her, and for the first time I felt a pang of uncertainty shoot through my mind.

    “You think I should try in front of you?” I asked courageously.

    “Maybe in back of me,” she replied smiling and blushing at the same time. “This way, your hands would have something to hold on to, if you were to slip or something.” The red in her cheeks had nothing to do with the water temperature.

    I undressed, slowly. She kept her eyes closed, enjoying the sounds, the sensation, her smile never setting and a soft humming sound escaping her lips. I lifted my left foot and let its big toe touch the water.

    “Iiiiiiiiiiiiiaaaaaaaaaa,” I screamed, making certain I did not invade her copyrighted hysteria grounds. I pulled my toe out, unlocked the door and ran all the way to the window. Though, aware there was no one to coax me back into the bathroom, I coaxed myself telling me tales of promised debauchery and anecdotes from Tolstoy’s life.

    “What is it, darling?” she asked, hearing my returning shuffle on the floor tiles. “Too hot for you too?”

    “Too hot? It is freezing cold,” I chattered, dipping my toe anew in the water and oscillating every few seconds between bursts of iiiiiiiiiiiaaaaaaaaaaa’s and plain aaaaaaaaaaa’s. No, didn’t count the vowels this time either, not until both my feet were firmly sunk in. “Now what?”

    “Now the rest of you,” she whispered, her nipples expectantly stiff.

    I started lowering myself in. “Can you please move some forward, baby?” and she inched obediently slightly forward. My knees met her back. “A bit more?” She wiggled some more and I sank some more, my iiiiiiiiaaaaaaaaa’s as active as ever. My knees were against her kidneys, my ass firmly against the tube end. “More?” I finally sat down. My knees gathered to my chest, my toes distorted in indefinable shapes, my arms hugging my knees. I tried to push one foot between her waist and the tube wall, no way. Either she or the foot was too fat. Didn’t pass my mind that maybe the tube was too narrow, as I tried the other foot, on the left. Failing again. “More...” I begged and as she advanced some more I arched my back dangerously, my head almost under the water, and succeeded to pass a leg over her left shoulder, some more acrobatics and the second leg passed over the right shoulder.

    “So, what now?” she asked. How the hell would I know? I was leaning on my elbows, shivering with cold and doing my best not to drown, and all she had to contribute were stupid questions. I tried sliding the knees down around her shoulders, and she - helpfully, lifted both arms to make herself narrower. My ankles rested on the tube’s rim, my shins against her armpits, her arms raised like a prisoner of war’s. “What now?”

    Didn’t look like the comfortable position we were looking for and I pulled both legs back, knees against her back, my hand pulling her hair as I tried to keep my neck in a vertical position. She moaned with pleasure, thinking it a caress, it was not a caress - it was a desperate gesture. I succeeded to get my elbows on the tube’s sides, got a slippery grip on them and with a superhuman effort got myself back on my feet. “Shell we try the other way around? My back against your chest?” I asked, getting out.

    Getting into the water a second time was easier, I was probably frozen stiff and part of my nerves were dead or dying. I squiggled down, her knees against my back. “Okay, try now to open your legs and let me in.” Well, she could open them all she wanted, the law of the preservation of tube walls was as immutable as the law of energy preservation. She tried to lift one leg over my shoulder, the way I did, afterwards she tried to slide it underneath me but sitting on it - while intriguing intellectually - was not as comfortable physically. The she started inching it carefully between the tube wall and the softer parts of my hip, sliding, slowly, sliding... plop - one foot shot victoriously in front of me, its toes wiggling excitedly. Was a bit more difficult with the second one and by the time it extracted itself to the front of my body, my own feet started getting numb owing to their delicate contracted position. We finished up with my trunk between her knees, my hands grasping the taps for support, my spine still miles away from her chest. We were giving spooning a bad name and a new definition.

    “Can you lean back?” she asked. I tried. No way. “Can you get up?” I tried. No way. We were trapped. I tried leaning on my palms and push myself up - I could as well have tried to get myself out of a Scavenger’s Daughter. I asked her to try to pull her legs back, maybe one at a time, no way. For a moment I panicked, looking around for an emergency cord to pull - no such in this bathroom. I started fighting the tube walls, wiggling left, wiggling right... I heard a hysterical laughter behind me. “If the maid doesn’t come for a few days, they will find a pair of skeletons in this bathroom.”

    “And if she comes, what will they do? Cut the tube walls or your legs?” I was mean, I was frustrated. The big romantic evening I planned for was shot to hell by a damn, narrow, British bath tube.

    “Maybe turn on the cold water, we will shrink and then maybe somehow extricate ourselves?”

    “Yeah, and the tube will shrink too, and crush us into one piece of battered flesh. Try to pull back...” We squiggled back, both of us, then I tried to curve my back, sliding forward on the tube’s bottom while she tried to lift and extract her legs from around me. The slip-prevention buttons under my ass bit into my skin, preventing me to slide easily, suddenly I found myself with my head under the water... that’s the end of me, here I die, naked, frozen, so near to feminine heaven yet so much nearer to death’s antechamber... her legs kept sliding from around me and I found myself staggering to my feet coughing and stuttering.

    I turned around, mad not with the apprehension of near-death but with the apprehension of a dream shattered.

    “You, sit down!” I commanded. “Face to face,” and I sat determinedly down, forgetting all about the tap which jabbed my spine with one vicious kick up my ass. I sat down nevertheless, determined to swallow my pain and my pride, my lips clamped tight and as I leaned backwards the two taps drilled holes inside my back - one burning hot and one freezing cold. I was on the verge of tears. My right foot made a half hearted attempt to climb above her hip, sliding back down and finding its big toe suddenly tangled in that portion of her physical structure which happened to be the lowest, the centralest, and the openest to unwelcome guests. I burst crying. She burst laughing. When we both finished our share of crying slash laughing ourselves to death, we just sat there, face to face, eyeing each other between hiccups.

    “Say,” she said, her eyes gleaming with dishonest apology and honest disappointment, “what about a... ahmmm... shower? We can still share the soap, you know...”

    “Together?” I wasn’t so sure anymore.

    “How else?”

    “You sure?”

    She took hold of me in an unmentionable way, pulling me up to my feet. Then reluctantly let go and asked me to turn around, touching my two wounds.

    “Looks nasty,” she said, and I wasn’t sure if she was joking yet I certainly was not about to complain as she started rubbing softly the soap into my skin. In retrospect, it was not such a bad idea. I wish I had come up with it myself. Before the Scavenger thing.




    The good guy was about to nail the bad guy on BBC1 when I suddenly jumped off the bed screaming “Oh, no!” and rushed away.

    “What happened love? The good guy wins, what’s the problem?” she shouted after me.

    I squish-squish-squished my way towards the bathroom, kicked the tap closed and pulled out the bathtub cork. “Shit!” I shouted back, watching the water licking the tube’s outer walls as some of it was still spilling onto the floor, out the door onto the carpet and out of the main door and into the hotel’s corridor. I tripled the s! expression and returned to face her, meek and humble. “Forgot I turned it on. Half of the carpet looks now like a cow pissed on it.”

    She waited a few more minutes, giving the good guy time to finish the business he had with the bad guy, then came over to where she could join me in the evaluation.

    “Hmmm, do you think that it will start dripping from the ceiling of the room underneath?” I don’t think she was doing a good job of encouraging me.

    “I think that they might want us to pay a full hotel renovation for several rooms plus the corridor,” I responded in a most miserable voice, squishing my way to the towels rack and picking the first one to drop on the carpet. It soaked immediately about one liter of water, getting as limp as the last pair of panties when leaving my lady’s body. Okay, one more journalistic article for this country’s abounding scandal newspapers. If it wasn’t enough that my fellow countrymen were already blamed internationally with stealing everything in hotels, from an ashtray to a sink (there is one documented case of an entire bathtub being stolen, however it is still pending final verdict), now they will be blamed also for mischievously flooding entire hotel floors, peeling carpets, and subjecting HRM’s subjects to the after-effects of legionnaire’s disease. In my mind I was already shackled and walking through the Tower’s cold corridors to the impatiently waiting gallows.

    I picked the second of four towels and dropped it on the floor as well. Limp within seconds. I was about to drop limp myself, fortunately she caught me and guided me, or rather dragged me to the bed.

    “Okay, let mama deal with it,” she said, pulling up her sleeves. Well, she was in panties in bra only, a matter of speaking, ok? “Do you have a lot of underwear, towels, socks... in your luggage?” Sure, I had some underwear, some dirty underwear, some socks...

    “Don’t think it would be sufficient,” I moaned in despair, letting myself fall on the bed and watching carefully a moth chasing its shadow. I could get a mortgage on the house, selling the car would bring me something extra, the bank at my place street corner had just installed cameras... “What are you doing?” I asked, leaning on one elbow and watching her squish-squish-squishing figure dropping a towel on the carpet, thumping on it several times, then rushing with it to the bathroom.

    “Trying to undo your mess,” she answered, rushing once more to the bathroom to wring the towel, and then thumping again.

    “You would make a great recruit for Colonel Hathi’s herd,” I cracked, getting off the bed and joining in the orgy. There was some sense in what she was doing. If we could soak out as much as absolutely necessary to prevent the dripping in the room underneath, and maybe to prevent the obvious stain in front of the external door, buying us enough time to pack and check-out and catch the first plane to South America... She started looking for the hair dryer, finally finding it nailed to the bottom of a drawer with no possibility to carry it to the crime scene. Yeah, I guess this hotel had been previously visited by my fellow countrymen as well. I looked, just for the fun, underneath the bathroom sink - yeap, there was a magnetic switch and a blinking lamp there, no doubt previously visited by my race. Hell, there was nothing I could about it except keep on wringing. So I kept on wringing.

    One hour later my back was a piece of materialized pain and my hands started blistering. Two hours later my back started blistering as well, internally.

    “Okay, enough,” I declared, dropping the last harvest of soaked towels in the bathroom and carrying her bodily to the bed. Squish-squish-squish... sure, what else, with the carpet base being made of foam and its top layer of wool. “Luckily I did not yet add the bath foam,” I found it in myself to laugh. She didn’t have anything left to laugh with or about, her fingers a blistering mess, her panties a wet mess, her bra a wet mess, her flesh a limp lump of mess inside the other mess of messes. “Did the good guy win, finally?”

    She just nodded, allowing me to pull off all of her underwear, dry her with the one towel we kept as a mandatory reserve and cover her with the thick comforter. I joined her one minute later, she was snoring already. Well, a nice snore, somewhere between re and mi. I turned on the heating to maximum, hoping to speed the evaporation process, and snored within one minute as well. Of course I know it was one minute, what else could it have been?

    I woke up for pee seven times that night, not because I needed but because I wanted to test the squish-squish-squishing level, and by the fifth time I felt a slight amelioration. By first light the room was stinking with typical carpet stank but the squishing was down to unmentionable levels. I still could not walk on that portion of carpet with socks on, or they would get wet. I only hoped the chamber maid did not intend to have sex on our carpet or she would report us to MI5 on account of cruelty to chamber maids and we would get in trouble with HRM’s servants of the law. I didn’t really mind, as long as they asked questions first and...

    An elephant’s roar made me jump. It took me several seconds to identify it as my lady’s morning yawn. She stretched her dangling breasts every which way, after which she descended from the bed on her way to the bathroom. Squish-squish-squish.

    “It still squishes,” she half roared again.

    “Yes, but less.”

    “Yes, I just hope the chamber maid does not intend to have sex on our carpet today,” she laughed, getting in position on the john. Now, what in blazes would make her say a thing like that?

    “Now, what in blazes would make you say a thing like that?” I asked. She was just pulling the water so I did not understand her answer. “What?”

    “I said that this is what has passed through my own mind,” she smiled, her mouth a study in toothpaste bubbles.

    “Hey, you look like Cujo,” I smiled back.

    I learned it through immediate pain that she did not only look like that fellow. Well, life is beautiful, even if my underwear got soaked like a limp rug once again.




    Her name was Klara. I forgot about her completely, one of those erased, black holes, dead cells of memory that refuse to carry on those moments of the past which should stay moments of the past. No, wrongly said, moments of the past which should be eradicated, annihilated... yeah, going a bit too far and too strong with my metaphors. I guess that the completely was not completely enough, wasn’t even almost completely. Still alive, as alive as that night of drunken senses when she gave herself to me. Next morning to fall in the arms of the next one queuing up. I hated you, Klara, with a passion born of desperate love. Why did you do it?

    “Because you were the only one I loved.” Her answering email, simple, straight forward. Insane.

    She found me on the net. I wasn’t hiding my identity anyway, so I guess it was no major effort to find me. Still, I was surprised and actually almost deleted the incoming mail as spam, especially since it had an attachment. On impulse, I clicked open... “...you will certainly be surprised...” it started. I certainly was, and more than at the mail - at the fact that I remembered so clearly.

    “We live in Tiberias, Tveriah, you know, me and my husband Chaim. We are separated but did not divorce, we stayed good friends. I am moving soon to Lod, with my son, Kobi. He gets married to a girl there and decided to move to her side of the family. I don’t want to stay away from him, he is my firstborn. Gil and Ori are both in the army now, and anyway - they are too independent for me. Kobi is the one closest to me and he does not mind. He’s a good kid, you would have loved him.”

    I looked at the attached picture. A young couple, the girl blonde, smiling and pretty, the boy dark haired, sun burned, a big smile and a tiny chip missing from a front tooth. Klara’s firstborn.

    “He gets married end of June. I decided to ask you to the wedding.” I did not have to ask why. “Kobi is your son.”

    A wave of nausea invaded me - anger, pride, tenderness, I did not choose the emotion. Let them all invade me and sort themselves out as I kept reading the last line until it left scars on my eyeballs. A son I never knew of. Maybe you did love me, Klara, in your own wild, inconsiderate way.


    I bought tickets to Israel for the 15th of June, arrival two weeks before the event. Klara wanted me to meet Kobi before the marriage. “Don’t worry about his reaction, he’s very mature in his ways. He will appreciate meeting you. I am going to tell him in advance.” I did not tell my family in Belgium the true reason for my travel. There was time for that. I was not sure I was going to tell them ever, I saw no need to unnecessarily throw stones in calm waters. The past is sometimes best left buried, truth and honesty are sometimes overestimated. Anyway, I was still confused in my mind but not about the fact that I was going to meet my third son. Matter of fact - my first.

    I stepped out from the plane and a wave of heat slammed into me like a pneumatic hammer. Bang! I rushed to the relative protection of the air-conditioned bus which rushed us to the main terminal. The usual, long queues, impatient and vociferous passengers, the passport control with the young police woman who kept masticating her chewing gum between barely intelligible questions charging me with terrorist intentions even before looking up at me. And this with an Israeli pass. I imagined the torture faced by those with foreign passports. At least the luggage arrived swiftly, the custom officers for once did not pick on me and I entered the large arrivals hall.

    I did not expect anyone to wait for me. I pushed my trolley through the throngs of waiting families and hustling unofficial taxi drivers, aiming for the taxi stand. “Joni.” I did not stop, as there were probably tens of Joni’s around. “Joni,” I heard a second time and I turned around. I did not recognize her. Twenty five years do something to a person, be she even a once-upon-beauty. Or maybe my once-upon-calf eyes turned more realistic and discerning. She put on quite some weight, her hair was cut short and dyed in some reddish hue, wrinkles started invading her eyes and mouth corners even though her lips were as firm as I remembered, her eyes as deep blue as I remembered. A flowery mini dress, painted stones necklace, golden sandals...

    “Inspection over?” she smiled, that crooked canine that once bit my lip still there. “Passed?”

    “With honors,” I smiled back.

    “Liar.” She hugged me with no reticence and we kissed each other perfunctorily twice on the cheeks. Then she hooked her arm into mine and we started walking together. “I have booked myself a room in your hotel as well. I think you need some guidance in Tel Aviv. It changed quite a lot.”

    “Kobi?” I asked, my heart thumping wildly.

    “He’ll arrive end of this week. He’s in reserve duty, I actually think his unit wanted to give him a bachelor’s last party, that’s why they organized it now.” She laughed. “He’ll be back just in time for the marriage.” Pause. “And for meeting you.”

    The taxi trip passed fast. With almost three accidents and the driver cursing continuously in Russian, I guessed there was nothing special to it.

    “Did you eat in the plane?”

    I checked in, dropped my luggage in the room and we went out on the bustling sea strip stretching between the city and the sea. The breeze was refreshing, the noise of the waves deafening. We pushed through throngs of tourists and youngsters, trying several crowded restaurants, ending with a vegetarian one that had a table for two free, next to the kitchen.

    “You don’t mind?” Why should I have? We ate in silence. Here and there a short exchange, even this didn’t seem necessary. A Chinese girl passed between the tables selling roses. I bought one, broke off the thorns and shove it between her hair and the top of her ear.

    “You’re beautiful.”


    I don’t mind being called liar twice in one day, it is all up to the one that says it and the blush that precedes it. So I didn’t mind. We walked back to the hotel, taking off our shoes and walking on the sand. From time to time a dying wave would wet our feet, soaking in the sand and erasing whatever traces we left behind. She preferred to hold my hand rather than hook her arm into mine. “I am glad you came. I know you hate me. I am sorry.”

    There was no need to respond. I preferred not to risk being called “liar” in third and feeling compelled to kiss away the insult and kiss in my claim to veracity. We stopped in front of her room. “Good night.” I kissed her on the cheek and she grabbed the nape of my neck and her crooked canine cut through my lip like Damocles’ sword tearing loose from its retaining hair. “Good night,” she whispered, closing the door behind her.


    The breakfast was sunny and cheerful. We sat next to the window watching some early birds jogging with their dogs, a few heads bobbing up and down in the water. I did not feel like eating a lot, just enjoyed some fresh vegetables, a glass of freshly squeezed oranges, and the endless chatter of the woman in front of me. I did my best to keep the flash-backs out of the way, though from time to time she frowned at a stupid smile that would crawl upon my face, forcing me to eradicate it and slip back into reality. I had three days to get ready to meet my unknown son. My stomach was in knots.

    We exited the hotel and walked over to the beach, looking for a bench to sit down and just enjoy the sun before it stopped being enjoyable. We sat down eyes closed, paradise. I heard a few melodious clicks. “Oh, no, this is a message from Chaim,” she sighed, taking the cell-phone out of her bag and clicking the buttons. She turned the white of death, her hand crunching mine involuntarily. Then she fainted.


    Page one showed a big, colorful picture of Lady Gaga’s bared breast. The short article was on page three, bottom. A short fight, just inside the border. One soldier wounded, two dead. All someone’s sons. One of them Kobi. My son. Israeli routine.

    We supported Klara between us, Chaim on one side and I on the other. I vowed not to cry, even when Chaim choked up and handed me the Kaddish to read. “He’s your son too,” he shuddered, hugging me, and then turning around to hug Klara. I finished reading, disregarding the rabbi, the wailing around me, the military honor salvo, all I could see was the mound of freshly turned earth and the few flowers upon it.

    I did not stay for the Shiv’ah, the ritualistic seven days of sitting on the floor and mourning. I knew that if I stayed I die. I had the Shiv’ah in my heart. I thanked Klara, thanked Chaim and flew back home.

    “What happened?” asked my wife, aghast at the way I looked. I told her. Then I went to a room with a key in the door, locked myself in and allowed the flood to burst.