Yossi Faybish - hobbies - prose
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Pure Alien...

    I wasn't one to believe in aliens. Green, yellow or polka dotted. I see one, I pinch myself and I know I will wake up. Elementary. Yes - I did steal that from Sherlock... there is such a shortage of good words in the English language... Sorry, I get side tracked and it is not my nature actually. But the events described further on jarred my system to such extent, that I am glad this is the single noticeable side effect. This and a certain uncontrollable impulse to giggle. Yes, I know, side tracking again... (here I giggled but how do you relay giggle in a narrative? I wonder...).

    First let me present myself. John Wood, professor emeritus in nuclear physics and micro-biology. My original name was Yaakov Finkelstein Jr, but you get nowhere in the states with an Irish name. Therefore my parents’ Cuban neighbor proposed the Cuban name of John Wood. My editor claimed I was a crackpot. He also claimed Finkelstein was not pure Irish. The idiot. We were great friends. I am an IQ 211, should have been 212 but the bastards always round the result down. If at times I act as a moron it is due to the fact that my IQ is all of it concentrated in facts. Behavioral sciences are beyond my comprehension, and this is a fact. Lol. (My editor, the same idiot I already mentioned, insisted that I add this idiocy here and in other places; he claimed it would make this “story” sell better.) I am no male chauvinist but I am balding. I have no sense of humor. Lol.

    I met a woman. I meet many women but I met a woman. Being as unimaginative as a snail in heat (I think I will change editor...) I passed her by, on my way to the university, exactly five months and twenty seven days ago at the time this story is written. Then I heard a terrifying scream and I saw her struggling with a shoe sunk in a melted asphalt spot, cursing the parents of her ex husband. I would not have paid any further attention to this incident if she would not have removed the shoe and walked on with one high-heeled foot and one bare foot. Like it was the most natural thing. This was the first hint. She had beautiful legs, therefore I decided not to pinch myself. I knew I would not wake up and this would be the end of my sanity. Aliens do exist and they live among us. But my IQ refused the obvious evidence because of those beautiful legs (that’s preposterous, I will kill this editor...). On the other hand my scientific intellect took control over me, we scientists being the Peeping Toms of the intellectual world (hey, I like this one... maybe this editor is not so bad after all...). I decided to follow her as inconspicuously as possible. She entered a hamburger restaurant, which corresponded perfectly with the image I started forming in my head of aliens if they would exist... if she is not of “here” (ha...) she probably has no money to buy another shoe and neither teeth for chewing, she probably has to suck in all her food. I got in after her, spotted her sitting by the window sucking (aha...) a milk-shake. I passed simply by, unperceived, sat three tables away from her and asked for the menu. When the unkempt waiter asked a very impolite “huh...?” I acted nonchalantly and detailed most inconspicuously my wish for an aperitif Campari on the rocks with two half slices of lemon, a cherry cut in two one half squashed and one half pinched, three drops of Finnish vodka cold but not frozen dropped after stirring the Campari with one slice of lemon and before adding the pinched cherry, and a slight twist of soda water preferably Perrier but Canada Dry would do if it came from Denver... then I was about to go for the entrée and I don’t know why the waiter started shouting and gesticulating in some unknown slang (it seems he knew my parents since he kept referring to my mom, could have been he was a Finkelstein too?...) and his breath smelled terribly. God, the poor man had probably a terrible toothache, and as I was trying nevertheless to explain the difference between chopped onions in butter and NOT (as he probably understood wrongly) bashed onion heads... this lady suddenly gets up, approaches us, puts a hand on the waiter’s hand, whispers something in his ear, and the guy simply walks away without finishing taking my command; then she smiles at me (she had teeth, bet they were plastic-covered steel as a cover-up), floods me with these big blue batting headlights, and says “Hi”. Damn, I knew my carefully calculated cover was blown and there was no way for me to act surreptitiously again.

    But I am not a 211 for nothing, a devilish plan started taking shape in my brain how to make the most of the situation. “Hi, can I help you?” I asked her. She started laughing, but I mean laughing... no one ever even smiled at anything I ever said and this... alien (by then I got to be quite honest with myself and with regard to my predicament) was rolling on the floor, holding her belly with both hands and laughing like I was Bob Hope on stage or something. Did I need more proof? Yes I did and I intended to have it. And I did (...well, I AM human...) like her legs as they were revealing as she was rolling. She finally got up, took my hand in her claws and dragged me to her table. We sat down facing each other. “Say, why are you following me?...” Bingo, she could see from the back of her head... I gave myself three full points and answered immediately to prevent any suspicion as to my real goal. “Because you are an alien, and I will prove it”. I knew she could not use her blaster in full view without giving up her cover, so I expected her to call a cop and get rid of me in some legal way (I tried to rape her, broke a marital promise... something like that). Instead she called a cab. I started shivering, I was too young (forty eight in August) to die.

    “I am going to show you something.” She dragged me to the cab with the force of a dragon, pushed me in, snuggled close to me and said - “I like you, bet you are a professor...” (reading minds too...) “...tell me, did you ever take the Ride to Hell?” The truth was coming out, will I live to tell everybody I was a fool not to believe in aliens, and now that I really found out it was already too late for me and for humanity to save our species? The cab stopped, I did not know they kept their headquarters at Disney World. She bought entry tickets, still holding my hand... I kind of liked the touch, afraid to imagine she was probably all green, all scaled under the skin camouflage... then dragged me to some hideous contraption on which was written “Ride to Hell” , forced me in and sat next to me making sure the safety belts were locked. “You know, there are several of us around, and all of them except me work here. I don’t work here, I just have fun here.” She was trying to distract my attention but she was so stupid, revealing all this crucial information. The train started moving, then sped up like a tiger from hell. I did some fast mental calculations, found out there was nothing to worry, and relaxed in my place. Why the hell was everybody, inclusive the alien next to me, screaming their heads off? After the train stopped, the gentleman in me helped her get out (God, she is again flashing those divinely inhuman legs, I am dying big, little by little... hmmm... what kind of English is that?... lol... oops, this lol was mine). First we walked - I walked, she limped still wearing that one single shoe, this probably being the most natural thing to do in her world. Then we bought cotton candy and while I was still trying to get the sticky spots off my lips and fingers after finishing the first stick, she finished three (!) and then asked “Can I help?” “Yes, please.” She... my goodness, approached her face to mine and softly licked some spots off my lips. Then she refused to move her face away from mine, waiting for me probably to do the cowardly move first which as a decent representative of the human race I most certainly would not, and then she put my hands around her waist, put her hands behind my head, pulled my head close to hers and... oh my God, oh my God... she kissed me... like a dragon from outer space and I didn’t give a damn at that specific moment about her hidden scales. I certainly found that her teeth were not plastic and her tongue seemed to have a lot of human flexibility...

    “Hey, professor...” I woke up with a start from my selfish dream (the hell with humanity I thought for a moment)... her face was still close to mine and those huge eyes were smiling, as much as dragons can smile. “You know, I will tell you a secret, you did not pick me up in that restaurant, I was trying for three months already to draw your attention and you were always looking through me. Luckily, the asphalt melted today.” I was listening, but not really caring what she was saying. I may have had a 211 IQ, but I just found out a few minutes ago that there are other attributes not less valuable that I possessed as a ...hmmm, male? And this creature made sure I knew it.

    “Tell me”... my voice had a high pitch so I adjusted it carefully back... “tell me, I know you are an alien, are you?” This time she didn’t laugh, she just kissed me lightly on the lips, pushing me back as I tried to follow her departing mouth, and said “Don’t call me, I will call you...” Then I blinked and she was gone. But I still refused to pinch myself. And I still wonder for which of the two reasons.


    I got home late that night and Gina was there, of course. Not the alien - Gina, my companion. She ran to greet me, eager to please and happy as always to see me any time of the day or night. Sweet Gina, never complaining about anything. I bent down allowing her one small peck on my cheek. Then she happily started pecking the corn grains from my hand. At the beginning it was a pure business relationship - I was the mad scientist and she was the chicken I ran my tests on, trying to understand the reason for the dinosaurs’ extinction. It turned out she was more intelligent than the average chicken and also more so than some of my lab assistants. The relationship turned into a mutual affection. Finally I risked it, asked the dean for permission to roast Gina for Christmas, and with this excuse I brought her home with me. Since then she learned to answer commands like “dead”, “attack”, “kiss” (almost lost my eye at the beginning). Never could teach her “roll” and only partially “fetch” (most of the time she swallowed whatever I threw for her to fetch). Sundays I walked her on a leash in the park and I was the envy of all dog owners - Gina was the only pet around that could jump as high as my shoulder and stay perked there.

    I was still groggy from the alien’s taste in my mouth, not bad I had to admit, but awakening fast to my real task this exhausting day. I may have been a virgin but I was no dope. I rang a private eye that I was keeping on a monthly retainer for my divorce needs after I get married when I get married after I find a suitable candidate. A bizarre guy, never understood his affection for me, but an accomplished professional. His previous assignment to find a mate for Gina ended with a beautiful peacock. Poor guy is not to be blamed that the peacock was a runaway from a zoo and police knocked on the door three days later claiming it back. Having memorized the alien’s credit card number and name when she paid for the entry tickets (I can remember a maximum of 723 random digits after one single glance), I asked him to find her address and run a tight watch on her. Then I undressed, showered, brushed Gina’s beak and we went to sleep. She insisted sleeping on the window side of the bed and I didn’t mind it.

    For the following three weeks I shut off the incident from my mind. Easier said than done. The alien kept a strangle-hold on me by some unclear means. I kept seeing these beautiful legs and was embarrassed again and again when thinking about her kiss. Especially when I had company, I had to sit behind a desk each time she invaded my mind. I started recording my speech, hoping to get it ready in time for the Nobel prize awards of next year, category - aliens. It was a new category that would be invented once I disclosed the truth. I was very busy, one day, proving that the theory behind the circle’s Pi value was completely wrong at the 21st digit after the decimal point, when I received my private-eye’s report on the alien, and the proof was there, unshakable, devastating:

         Monday - filled in gas, left the nozzle in and pulled away half the station with her (my remark: trying to destroy our civilization)
         Wednesday - got into a fight with a traffic cop then smiled at him and left without a fine (my remark: subconscious manipulation of our civilization)
         Saturday - went to a movie, Disney’s Jungle Book (my remark: studying our civilization in view of taking over soon)

    The situation was desperate, I was fighting a supreme force, my time was limited, but I still wanted to wait for the Nobel prizes ceremony before springing the news on the world; mad scientists have also weaknesses, you know. I was home, it was evening, just about to start preparing my favorite aperitif, when the door bell rang. I looked at Gina, if there was danger I wanted her alert and ready. She ran to the door and hid behind it. I was as ready as I would ever be for whatever lurched behind the door. I opened it and all I could see was legs. Long, interminable legs, ending somewhere very high in a pair of devouring red lips decorated even higher up by a pair of killing blue eyes. “Hello, professor, may I come in?” Gina, the traitress, started rubbing against those fascinating legs, joining my eyes in their travel and cackling happily. Women. They are all either poking each other’s eyes or immediately joining a sisterhood. “My name by the way, is Kitty.” Without waiting for an answer she stepped into my empire kicking the door shut, dropping the coat on the back of the first found chair and crossing straight into my kitchen. I heard her calling “...on the rocks with two half slices of lemon, a cherry cut in two one half squashed and one half pinched, three drops of Finnish vodka cold but not frozen dropped after stirring the Campari with one slice of lemon and before adding the pinched cherry, and a slight twist of soda water preferably Perrier... hmmm... I see you have it... is it correct?” One minute later she emerged with two glasses in her hand, pushed me in the chest so I fell on the sofa, sat next to me making sure I could see way up her thigh, and handed me one glass. “Bet it is the right taste?” I forgot all about aliens. I may have been a virgin (did I tell you already?...), and a professor, and a square, and IQ 211 (...did I tell you it should have been 212? ... think I did... the bastards...), and living with a dinosaur postdecessor, but the sight of those Martini wet lips three inches away from my face did something to me. Gina, the bitch... can a chicken be a bitch?... did “roll” for the first time in her life trying to get the alien’s attention... I’m gonna have to pull some feathers lately, I thought to myself while the three inches got down to a miserable one followed by an absolute zero... Was it suddenly summer in the room?...


    I think I lost half of my IQ during the following three months. I stopped believing in aliens I never believed in and I started believing in fairy stories I never believed in. I registered only 13 patents per month compared with an average of 25 earlier, my dean claimed that I should go back to wearing a tie and give up the ridiculous pink shoes, my life was becoming a disaster and I didn’t want to change it. I fired the private dick, got my fifth Dan by memorizing all Karate books in the library, found Gina a worthy rooster to keep her company (she was the smartest of the two) in a den padded with feathers and seven yellow noisy chicks, with Kitty waking me up every morning with a kiss and a peanut butter toast (we gave up eating chicken, lol...) and sending me to work every day with a pat on my butt. I even learned to dance “slow”. It is damned slow to dance slow. And all the time I knew I was evading the truth, and one day I had to face it. It had to be done.

    That morning, after she kissed me I took out a hanky and wiped my lips with it. Then, feeling like the traitor I was, I went into my lab at the university, locked the door, and entrusted the hanky to the DNA deciphering machine, my personal model, results guaranteed in one hour. I chatted a bit with Jeremy, the parrot that could say “shit” in seven languages except English, and speak fluently four Dutch dialects. He tried to encourage me, but I didn’t understand him and anyway felt I was betraying somebody that loved me and that... well... I loved madly too. But as a scientist, I had to have my proof. The machine stopped whirring and clicking, Jeremy closed his left eye (I taught him “wink” and now he was inspired to do it), and I looked at the computer screen. I wanted to scream. I was right all the time. She was an alien. All humans have their DNA spirals rolling one way, she had it the other way around. Which meant also we could not have kids.

    I didn’t return home straight away. I tried to get drunk, picked up a fight in a bar with a guy that was laughing at my pink shoes and I forced him to wear them. Then a cab took me home. Gina rushed to meet me, saw my boo-boo, cackled several times in sorrow and rushed back to her family. I wished I was a hen too. Kitty was there, knitting. She didn’t ask questions, just washed my face, put a big band-aid over my left eyebrow, handed me my bunny slippers and took from my hand the small diskette that held all my past and none of my future. She turned on the computer, looked at the information on the screen and still without talking sat next to me, lifted her blouse and placed my palm on her belly. I must have looked my usual moron self, since after feeling the warmth seep into my fingers, I asked her “Tummy ache?” “No, baby ache.”

    I didn’t feel like strangling her or anything, not in front of Gina. “Who is the father, I know it is not me?”

    She smiled. Took a small knife, held her wrist up and made an incision. I was going to jump but her look nailed me to my seat. She opened a small drawer and took out... what was that? a coffee machine?... let a few droplets fall in and connected it to my computer. I didn’t feel like “hey, what’s this hocus pocus?”, I rather felt like... well... “hey, what’s this hocus pocus?” She cleared the screen, and in a few seconds the familiar spirals rolling the wrong way around popped up. Only that everything else about the coding was wrong too. I didn’t recognize it. I blinked.

    “My dear husband, you married an alien. The tests you showed me are alien too. They are your DNA, my dear professor. You are an alien. And you are about to become the father of a little alien girl.” Found out later Kitty was an IQ 223.

    Gina would never forgive me for frightening her chicks this way. I yelled and screamed and started running around the room, with her rooster chasing me about to rip me to pieces. When I finally calmed down, we lay in the big bed, side by side, dreaming of a world of aliens. I, Kitty, Gina, the rooster, the seven chicks... Jeremy joined us later, I phoned him while I was still screaming. The only thing he could say seeing us all lie in the bed as one big happy family, was “shit”. His first word in English.



    I thought I was alive,
    I thought that’s what being alive was meant to be -
    Bit of ripple on the water,
    Bit of hum... higher, lower,
    Waking each day, dying never,
    Laughing, never smiling...

    Then one day I closed my eyes,
    Moved fast, hit a wall,
    Passed right through it,
    And when I opened my eyes I was suddenly elsewhere,
    Where am I? I asked myself,
    Was it where I always wanted to be,
    Never daring asking,
    Never believing I could?
    Was it a child’s dream, an adolescent’s fancy,
    A grown up’s madness?
    Looked like an out of world sun was shining here,
    Maybe two suns? maybe more,
    The sky strewn with glittering stars...
    How could I see the stars against the sun’s glare?...
    And music... did I hear music or were the tiny voices flowers opening to the sun,
    To the stars,
    To me?...

    My eyes inquired my surroundings,
    Not trying to understand, trying to absorb,
    To listen, to smell...
    What was it, a shadow, a transparency suddenly growing dull before my eyes?
    Then turning opaque, then soft,
    Then moving, floating, then breathing,
    Slowly shaping itself into... a woman?

    Open your eyes, she said.
    They are open, I said.
    Open your eyes, she said, they are closed.
    I refused. If it was a mirage I wanted it to stay that way,
    If it was a dream I didn’t want to cut its life’s wick,
    If it was madness maybe I should just stay mad.

    She laughed. I knew she did because I smelled it, a sudden burst of fragrances tickling my frozen senses into delirious delights.

    “You are laughing” I said.

    “How do you know?”

    “I smell it.”

    She shrieked with pleasure and started pulling my shirt’s sleeve.

    “Come, it is time now to count the grains of sand.” The madness theory was getting the upper hand, stronger and stronger.

    “Why do we have to count the grains of sand?”

    “Because if we don’t, how will we know how many there are?”

    “And why would we want to know how many there are?”

    “Because I want you to build me a castle of sand, and I want to know exactly how many times I have to kiss you.” Probably she still saw a puzzled look on my face and added. “For every grain of sand you get one kiss, isn’t this the way it is done in your world?” My world. For the first time there was something about a thing called “my world” and I was probably supposed to know things about it. Mad or no mad.

    “No, in my world one does not get a kiss for every grain of sand. In my world there are not so many kisses.”

    She pouted for a moment.

    “Sad world. No wonder you came visiting mine. You want me to kiss you, don’t you?”

    “Are you alone in this world?”

    “No, you are here with me.”

    “I mean except for us two, is there anybody else on this world?”

    “Why?” This line wasn’t getting me anywhere. She started hopping on one leg, then the other.

    “Ouch, the sand is hot... pick me up...” I picked her up. She was so light, I feared that if I squeezed stronger my arms would go right through her. Undeniable feminine soft curves molded themselves against my body through the thin cotton dress. She clasped my neck with both her hands and let her head rest on my shoulder.

    “You smell nice” I said.

    “I am a woman.” I got near to the water... hey, didn’t see before there was a sea here... and let her down on the wet sand. She sat in the water and started gathering shells. “I lied, I know how many grains of sand there are.”

    “How many?”


    “And why did you lie?”

    “Because I like you. You are the first one I like.”

    “Were there many here, before me?”

    “Nope, you are the first one.” She went to her knees and started chasing a crab that seemed to have lost its way. Well, at least there were some other creatures here.

    “There are some other creatures here.” She said it and I swear I did not whisper loud my thoughts. “Do you find me weird?”

    “I find this whole place weird. I am probably mad and you are my specific type of madness.”

    “This is true. Not your madness, this is not true. This place is weird, this is true. I was just born and I am in love with you.” She said it as casually as if she was talking about the crab, but she stopped her chase, rested upright on her knees and looked me straight in the eyes. Something was flickering there, was it the reflection of the uncountable suns?

    “No, it is my love for you. I love you for many years now.”

    “But you were just born.”

    “True. Is it not the same in your world?”

    “No, in my world people have to wait many years after they are born to grow up, and then fall in love, and then one day to kiss.”

    “Sad world. No wonder you came visiting mine. You want me to love you, don’t you?”

    This woman was worse than a broken record, yet she started getting through to me, somehow.

    “What about your sand castle?”

    “I am waiting for you to build it for me. Then we can make love in our sand bed.”

    “Do you know how to make love?” She blushed. My God, she really blushed, weird world or mad dream but she really blushed, lowered her eyelids and slowly nodded her head in a mute yes.

    “I know to make love. Do you love me?”

    It was like getting hit in the solar plexus by a battering ram. I had to catch my breath, I had to answer, did I have to answer?

    “You don’t have to answer. But I know you love me. You came to my world, didn’t you? You were looking for me.”

    “Listen, before I wake up in a padded cell or in a sweaty bed. It is the first time I see you, it is the first time I am in this world, and tomorrow morning I am going to check just what kind of a drug they mixed in my beer last night. I admit I like you.” She smiled.

    “I will teach you to smile.”

    “I laugh a lot in my world, that’s one thing I remember.” I wanted to sound superior but somehow I sounded hollow even to myself.

    “Yes, sad, sad, sad this world of yours. No wonder you came visiting mine. You want me to make you smile, don’t you?”

    “I told you, I laugh a lot.”

    “Yes, I know, but do you smile?”

    “What’s the difference in heaven’s name?”

    She frowned for a moment.

    “Heaven, what is heaven?” Then continued as if it was the most natural thing to be unknowledgeable of the word. “When you smile you are happy. When you are in love you smile. When you are happy you are in love and you smile. I want to make you smile.”


    “Because then you will know what is heaven.”

    “Hey, wait a moment, it is I who said heaven and it is you who said you didn’t know the word.”

    “I don’t know the word. But I know heaven. And I am willing to share with you.”

    I was losing it, my mind, my sanity... She suddenly jumped and clapped her hands.

    “You smiled, you smiled... happy, happy, happy...” then pirouetted on one leg on the wet sand, and let herself fall on her back, her chest rising rapidly and the music of her laughter echoing against the mountains... mountains? didn’t see them before either...

    “You are laughing,” I said reproachfully, almost hurt in my human pride.

    “I taught you to smile, you taught me to laugh. And I am human too, you know?”

    I stopped asking myself questions. These were the rules here, and whiffs of memories from the other world penetrated dimly my consciousness, aware of her questioning stare, of that undefined glimmer in her eyes...

    “Do you remember?” she asked.

    “Do I remember what?”

    “Do you remember wanting to come here?”

    Flashes. Voices. Pain. I refused. I refused what?

    “You refuse to not forget, you refuse to not remember.” She stood up, nearing me, her bare footed imprints soaking full with water, the shy crab now following her imprints on the sand. “You know where you are, you refuse to decide.” She took my right hand and placed it on her left breast, closing her eyes. My hand shook like a leaf in a storm. “It’s my heart. My heart shakes like a leaf in a storm. I waited for you a lifetime, all this day long from the moment I was born. You too, all these years long from the moment you were born.” She let go of my hand. I did not move it, the storm slowly soaking into my heart too.

    “I am leaving,” I said.

    “I know. This evening I die.”

    “No, don’t say it.”

    “I don’t say it. I lived my life. I loved you. You offered me a sea. You offered me a mountain. Now I can die. I will wait for you to go. I don’t want you to see me dying. There is enough sadness in your world. You should take my smile there. Promise?”

    “I promise.”

    “I still owe you a kiss.”

    “I owe you my life.”

    She touched my lips. Softly... I felt her breath flowing into my lungs... the smell of lilac flowers... forcing me to breathe... searing pain... voices... reality... not reality... I bellowed a raging “Nooo....”... but it was out of my hands, I didn’t control my life anymore, somebody else controlled it... machines... people... I didn’t want people... I started sobbing pulling uselessly at leather straps tying my hands to stainless steel bars...


    Something was wrong. What was it? At first I thought it was the noise of the breathing apparatus. Then the fists hammering at the locked door. Locked? I blocked the noise out of my mind and out of the equation. Something else was wrong. The lack of noise? The strange smell? Why strange?... I opened my eyes. The breathing machine was turned off, the infusion disconnected from my hand. I looked at the small desk usually cluttered with hospital bed emergencies, it was clean and in the middle of it a small flowers vase imposed its miniature majesty on the bleak surroundings. The smell, I was right, it was the smell, the smell of flowers forbidden in a hospital room. The smell of lilac, hundreds of miniature violet creatures perfuming the world with their eternal wonder. One branch in the small vase. Hundreds all over the room, white, violet, blue...

    “You offered me a flower.”

    I looked at her.

    “You offered me a flower. That means you love me. In my world love is not allowed to die. You were allowed to bring me over to your sad world. You said you wanted to love me.”

    I looked at her. I touched her hand. It was warm, human. She smiled. I loved her smile.

    “I told you I was human. And I am glad you love my smile.”

    She bent over, lips hovering close to my ear, her music painting with soft pastel tints the grayish surroundings of my brain cells.

    “I want my breath back, I want my storm back, I want my kiss back... I want your love, I want your years, I want your life...” Her fingers touched my lips, praying me quiet, silence... her fingertips’ invisible fragrance invading my senses with its inebriating, lilac flavored promises...


4th Of July...

    It was my lunch break. I was leaning against the thick tree close to the newspapers stand scanning the day’s titles, when I felt a strangely pleasant kind of warmth embracing my left leg, dissipating through my sock and reaching my toes.

    “Tiger, no!... Oh, I’m so sorry...” A momentarily undefined shape rushed towards me, bent down and started brushing my trouser leg with a pink handkerchief. I looked down, stunned, as the miniature sharp nosed brown pooch was getting on his three’s ready for a second round on my other leg. I woke up and jumped away, screaming.

    “What the hell?...” I watched horrified at the dark stain spreading slowly in all directions, feeling my wet sock sticking to my shoe. “What the hell? Lady, this is an Armani suit, your dog destroyed it. And it also stinks...” Some grinning faces passed by, careful not to pay too much attention.

    “Oh, I’m so sorry, so sorry...” the hell she was, she was grinning... “...he does it only to people he likes. He never did it before on the street... I am really so sorry... Didn’t expect him to take a liking at first sight.”

    “Like me? And what does it do to people it does not like. Shit on their shoes?”

    “You are lucky, my previous dog was biting whoever she liked.”

    “And what do YOU do to whoever YOU like? Run them over with a semi trailer?” I kept swearing, looking at my ruined pants, really pissed off, truly said both pissed on and pissed off. Somehow it sounded funny in my mind and it made me smile against my will. I took a closer look at both of them. Thirtyish (the lady, not the dog), dark sunglasses, wild peroxided blond hair, a thin silken blouse above a bare midriff, tight revealing pants... what am I doing? I suddenly asked myself. Let me get out of the damn park, now I have to go and change my pants somewhere before returning to the office...

    “Listen mister, I really am sorry. Look, let us go to Woolworth and buy some really expensive trousers and I will pay for it. Okay?” Woolworth?!... heaven have mercy... She moved closer and started opening her purse. I wanted to put as much distance between me and this... phenomenon, and I put my hand forward to stop her. I froze in mid movement. I did some fast mental calculations... let’s see, the closest zoo was about thirty miles east, there was no circus in town I was aware of, no loose elephants, crocodiles or lions to the best of my knowledge... I looked carefully downwards, the pooch who was supposed to like me poised low, staring upright at... what? my throat?... one fearsome fang showing beneath a twitching nose and a lion deep growl escaping its partly open jaws. “Don’t move...” she whispered, then pointed an accusing finger towards the tense figure... “Bad boy, down, Tiger, down!” Like air being let out of an exploding balloon - the pooch went all of a sudden limp, rolled on its back and started wagging the tail stump still attached to its hindquarters, and I swear it was grinning. Mary, mother of God, help me out of this madwoman’s vicinity...

    “Lady, please, keep your money, buy yourself some real expensive jewelry with it at Woolworth, buy some real plastic stones, I have a meeting, I must rush...” I looked worried in the dog’s direction... “Tell him to stay, okay?...” I started retreating fast, my last crumbs of dignity preventing me from simply running away.

    “He won’t do anything to you...” she shouted after me “... now that he showed you who is the master...” A real nuts case... I spotted a cab and signaled frantically. The guy just gave me the finger and rushed on. “Hey, mister...” my God, she was running after me. I swallowed all of the leftover crumbs and started running away from her. That was without taking into account my pee filled shoe that slipped away from my foot and I tumbled on the grass. I was beyond caring... God, let it be over fast... She reached me, panting heavily, the dog yelping happily around me and trying to bite my nose off for all I could see. “You forgot your attaché case.” She held it out to me, let it drop on the grass, and started walking away. “He just wants to comfort you. Come Tiger.” My attaché case, oh my God, with my laptop inside and all of my brains stored on that hard disk. Suddenly I felt as stupid as an IRS form.

    “Hey, lady, wait...” She kept walking disregarding my call. “Hey... ahmmm... Tiger.” I didn’t believe it. The pooch stopped, looked inquiringly in my direction, then rushed back like a wild demon slobbering all over my face with its disgusting tongue.

    “You are the first male he did it to.” She was back, looking down, part frowning part puzzled, then stretched her hand and helped me up. “He licks only females, human or otherwise. Males are competition.” She was fixing me with an undecided stare. It was really difficult to judge with those dark glasses hiding half of her face. I looked at her even more carefully now. The mouth nicely shaped, a touch of lipstick stressing the blood color, small breasts party visible through the thin fabric, nicely shaped fingers ending in pink polished fingernails. Not really bum appearance, actually quite chic. She waited patiently for me to finish my inspection and suddenly I felt embarrassed. “Listen, I will pay for your trousers, whatever it costs, just give me a pen so I can leave you a phone number. Or would you prefer to see an ID card?” She was not mocking me, she was serious.



    “Jim, the name is Jim.” I stretched my hand cautiously, my ears alert to the least sign of danger in the air. Damn dog, his head was now on my clean shoe and he was snoring already. She smiled, for the first time since I saw her. I almost lost my sight, goodness, did this woman have a blinding smile...

    “Carol.” She looked puzzled at the snoring piece of fur and shook my hand...”He trusts you. So I trust you. No dirty calls please, okay?” Now I could hear the gentle mockery, was it a good sign of some kind? “Do you have this pen and paper so I can give you my phone number or shall I write it with lipstick on your chest?” She was on the offensive, the once born smile never for a second setting beyond her face.

    I took out a business card, a pen, and wrote a few lines on it.

    “I guess you live close by, this address is three streets away from here, it’s a small Italian restaurant. The owner is a friend of mine. They let in dogs. Eight o’clock?” I handed her the small piece of paper. She didn’t take it. I felt ridiculous, my hand hanging limp in the air towards her, my face starting to lose its pale color and I hoped she was mistakenly considering it fast tanning. “Please?” Truth was, it was the most daring attempt to showing self confidence since the day I was born, more so than that time when I talked back to a parking agent and then he found out my tires were not inflated correctly, and my left winker was dead, my registration plate the wrong color... I smiled involuntarily at the memory. I think she looked at my mouth.

    “Tiger!” The pooch was instantly on its feet, sharp as a fully stretched bow. She pointed at my hand, he jumped, bit into the card and ran away like an army of bitches was waiting for it on the other side of the park. Then she turned around and followed him. I wasn’t completely certain I was not going to regret my sudden childish impulse. But this nut case had something to her. Was it charm? “Don’t forget to change your trousers...” was what I think she shouted twenty yards away. Making it sound like some kind of a vague promise.


    Angelo was the owner. Luca was the chef. We were not as much friends as they were thankful that I kept bringing in customers for business lunch and at times also for expensive dinner occasions. As a result I had access to all the Italian trimmings around whenever and whatever dinner I felt like, rarely in gallant company, mostly by myself. It did not bother me. At thirty five I was still too young for going steady, or at least that was what I kept claiming, and I enjoyed my messy apartment, my loud hi-fi rock, and my occasional uncommitted affair. They stopped wondering and went always out of their way pleasing their “amigo” or “amici” or whatever they call friends by in Italian. Truth is I suspected at least Luca to be of pure South Dakota origin, but I never whispered a word about it. That’s what friends are for.

    I was there already at seven thirty, asked them for a table looking into the rear lighted garden, a fresh table cloth, and sent one of the waiters to buy some freshly cut flowers. I looked around, don’t know why it reminded me of Disney’s Lady and the Tramp. That’s a good one, maybe we should order some spaghetti?

    I started worrying around eight fifteen. At eight twenty five I knew she would not show up. I stood up to leave at eight thirty five, Angelo doing his best to console me with a bottle of Chianti he insisted I should take home. I was glad he kept arguing with me since five minutes later she appeared. Something was wrong, I could say it, if from the fact that she kept her eyeglasses on, if from the small visible tear of her dress’s shoulder strap, if from the dog’s slight limp. She saw me, waved, smiled, and I felt Angelo staggering by my side, his mouth dropping a few inches below his shoulder level... well, this smile certainly conquered one big Italian small restaurant owner. I heard him mutter a suppressed “O, mamma mia, O, sole mio, O, madonna...” and then rushed to the kitchen to call out Luca, both peeping through the crack in the door. I did not know she was that beautiful. This morning in the park I was partly stunned, partly blinded by the sun... I think my jaw dropped as well for a few seconds before rushing over and guiding her to our table. She sat down and the dog slipped underneath the table and lay down to sleep within seconds. There was no sign of stress on her face, no hesitation.

    “Sorry I am late, usually I am dead on time.”

    “Don’t tell me, you went out to buy a dress especially for this occasion” I smiled.

    “Actually I did. Armani. Damn expensive. Would you think of me small if I told you I didn’t know about them before?” This time I had good reason to let my jaw drop. I looked at her, with a certain different regard. There was something strange about this woman, something forbidden, enticing. She saw my eyes getting dragged involuntarily to the small tear in her garment but didn’t seem bothered by it. She opened her purse, took out a small piece of paper and pushed it towards me. “This is a credit note for two hundred dollars. They told me it would do amply for a pair of trousers.” That moment I wished I was a worm and could bury myself in the wooden chair. I did what was expected of me, like starting to refuse, though I knew it was a doomed effort. She smiled again (my God, just please keep smiling...) took the note and pushed it in my shirt’s pocket. “Keep your money, Jim, tonight is going to be an expensive night for you.” She looked appreciatively around. “You know, it reminds me of Disney’s Lady and the Tramp. Maybe we should order some spaghetti?” That was it, I was doomed. I knew at that one moment in time that this woman was going to be my lover and my wife, if I had to go all the way to hell and back carrying a horse on my back. Which might actually still have been the case. For the first time since this morning I felt like asking myself - who are you miss mysterious Carol, and why do you keep wearing those dark sunglasses in this dimly lit restaurant.

    She removed the dark sunglasses and laid them on the table. I felt the dog stir underneath, then return to his slumber. I regarded those eyes. Blue as only the Italian god who created the Grotta Azzura could have created. And around one of them a dark blue, shapeless stain of coagulating blood underneath a strip of wounded skin decorated that angelic face. She did not want me to ask, I knew it. I didn’t ask.

    “Jim. You order. I want something Italian...” she winked... “good, tasty, enjoyable, some delicious wine to go with it, a delicious dessert and then some sweet Italian music. I would like to dance to some soft Italian sounds.”

    Alberto was melting. He listened to the short speech, I think almost trembling, kissed his fingertips every time she mentioned “Italian”, and I knew we were in for one of those professional treats that not even my most expensive, heavy paying guests ever got. The Lady and her Tramp were going to get an undreamt of evening. It was an undreamt of evening. I could hardly tell or recognize the different food names and combinations that were brought to our table, I was sure that on this specific evening the small restaurant could easily have claimed at least one Michelin star for service, food and wine. I hardly tasted anything. She wolfed down everything, from time to time sneaking a good piece of meat under the table to a thumping, burping Tiger, guiltily eyeing Alfredo who made as if he did not see. I tasted a bit of everything myself, most of it she fed me with, taking a piece herself and a piece for me, a piece herself and a piece for me. She kept softly chatting, small daily nonsense, little anecdotes, I knew then how a fly must feel when the spider starts weaving its net around it and I could only hope that it felt the way I felt. I wanted to be trapped, cocooned, bitten, sucked dry.

    Most of the time she talked about... the dog.

    “It’s called a mini pinscher, you know? I found him in Canada, tied to a tree in the woods and half starved. One of those Christmas presents, you know, that people don’t really know what to do with later on. Lucky he wasn’t eaten by a bear. Though...” she stopped for a moment pushing a chunk of pasta underneath the table “...when in full form I don’t envy any bear trying to tackle him. He is my first male dog. There is something special about male dogs, you know. They would try to stop a runaway train if it was for saving you. Me in this case.” She was hinting at something, but not yet ready to let go of it. She leaned forward and whispered... “On his collar it was engraved ‘Cutie’...”


    “Shhhhhhh... not so loud...” ... her whispering and her shushing clearly justified by the sudden munch-quiet underneath the table followed almost immediately by a short low pitched growl... “...he is very sensitive about his name, don’t say it loud again. When I finally brought him home from the animals’ hospital, I tried to call him by the name on the collar. Within seconds all my high heeled shoes became flat sole shoes. He bit off all the heels. Until I apologized.”

    I choked on the wine, started talking, then at a sign from her I reduced myself to whispering.

    “C’mon, Carol, it is just a dog, don’t you push it a bit too far?”



    “He. Not it. Dogs are he’s and she’s, never it’s.” I wasn’t so sure who was the nuts case here - she for saying it or I for listening to what she was saying and arguing about it.

    “And how, for God’s sake, did you apologize?”

    “I proposed him another name.”

    I was dying. My God, forgive me for invoking your name so many times during one dinner...

    “And I imagine it was Tiger.”

    “No, you silly, I started with the usual - Rex, Laddie, even tried Rin-Tin-Tin. He didn’t like any of them. Then I came up with Tiger and that’s the one he liked. And that’s his name.” The dog pushed up the table cloth, licked her hand and returned to his food demolishing business.

    Alberto, bless his soul, sensed a bit of tension hanging above the table. With a dramatic air he stamped his foot once, went out of the dining room and within seconds was back holding to his chest his old gramophone. I heard clapping in the room, seemed some additional clients were familiar and appreciative of the act. He pulled out from a drawer one of those old collectible 78s, spit on it and cleaned it with his sleeve, then laid it gingerly on the turntable and turned several times the handle stretching the spring. Then picked up the half pound heavy needle and laid it lovingly on the rotating record.

    I got up and took her hand.

    “You said you want to dance to some soft Italian sounds. May I have this dance?”

    She looked up at me, the candle flicker unsteady in her humid eyes.

    “And how long will this dance last, if I may ask?”

    “I don’t know. Shall we start with, say ...one lifetime?”

    She took a sip of wine, letting the moisture linger on her lips, stood - or rather undulated up, pressed her body in real slow motion against mine, one hand holding my hand, one hand on my back, her head on my right shoulder, and started moving slowly, following my body and the soft Neapolitan creaking sounds. I swear I saw Alberto wiping a tear away. I swear.

    We left the place quite early, around eleven. Alberto jokingly threatened me with the kitchen knife when I wanted to pay him, and almost lost his arm to the dog. Truthfully said, I started thinking quite big of the small pooch. We walked hand in hand. The air was still and pleasant, the streets empty, I felt at home and safe in this part of town. After a few gangs tried to enter the area and the “natives” took some exemplary action against them, the place became one of the safest suburbs around.

    “He is a cop.” I knew at one stage or another she would start talking about it, and I decided not to ask any leading questions. One I had to ask.

    “Are you married?”

    She lifted her left hand for me to see.

    “You were looking at it all evening. You know I don’t wear a ring.

    “Which does not mean much.”

    “You are right. No, we did not marry. We live together ten years now. Five years heaven. Five years hell.” The dog suddenly took off with a wild bark. “He’ll be back, don’t worry, he always gets back. Chases anything on four till they admit he’s the master. Then he comes back. May take a while though.” I knew the futility of arguing about the dog and his megalomaniac attitudes, and actually this was not what I had on my mind right then.

    “Let’s sit down. Tell me.” We sat on a bench scarred by hundreds of x-loves-y’s, she snuggled against me, lifted her feet on the bench letting her shoes fall to the ground, let my hand cup her left shoulder while her head found a suitable nook on my arm, eyes closed, talking.

    “I shot him today.” I startled, was about to jump up and scream, but the steel fingers holding to me with unbearable urgency kept me down. I was frozen, yet within seconds I relaxed. Funny the incredible hold this woman got over me in less than... what?... twelve hours?

    “I believe in dates’ symbolism. Do you?” She wasn’t really asking so I did not answer. “We met on the 4th of July, exactly ten years ago. He had just graduated with honors from the Police Academy, and he was leading the parading unit. Tall, proud, strong, handsome. I was there with a few girlfriends looking for uncommitted flirts with these handsome young uniforms. I remember screaming on the tribune and clapping hands with all the other guests when our eyes clashed, locked, and for one split second his head lost its stiff position and moved a fraction of an angle back fixed to my place in the crowd. He could have looked at anyone else there, but I knew it was me. The same day I moved in with him in his small apartment. Heaven had descended to meet me on earth. And it was heaven.” A soft fast patter I hardly heard made her stop for a moment, her eyes still closed, till she heard the familiar breathing settle down to a soft snore underneath the bench. She went on.

    “I started studying psychology and pedagogical sciences. He advanced very fast in the police ranks, our evenings were mostly soft, romantic. Our sex was wild. He loved me with a passion. I returned his love with much the same. It lasted five years. He started hinting at having more than just a good relationship. It almost happened. But the gods of fate stuck their nose in. He was on duty the 4th of July, was called out to a bar brawl, was shot in the leg and later found out he would limp for life.” I didn’t know if the short break was to allow me to ask a question. I did not, waiting for her to continue. “He snapped. Just like that.” I heard a sharp dry noise and saw her break a toothpick between two fingers. The soft snore of the dog told me the mood did not change and there was nothing for me to worry. “From a proud, athletic, sharp minded policeman he changed literally overnight into an abusive, vulgar, overweight cop. The kind the street likes finger pointing at. The department was considerate and found different suitable jobs for him, but it was clearly the end of his styled path. We stopped making love, we stopped discussing any future plans, I became his housekeeper and he my abusive master. He never raised a hand against me, physically, but mentally it was raining blows. Then he started drinking.” The mood changed. The soft snoring stopped. I was getting accustomed to using the dog as some kind of barometer for the next mood to come. She suddenly stood up, pulled me to my feet.

    “Let’s walk.”

    “Wait, your shoes...”

    “Leave them there. It’s only Armani. The asphalt is warm and friendly.” She smiled, and for the unknown-th time I saw the street lamps’ brightness dim in the background of this shining smile. She held my hand tightly, my arm was numb, but this was the way I wanted it to be. We started walking. The dog followed us with a single shoe dangling from his jaws.

    “He was never drunk at work. He was always drunk at home. He was shitting in his underwear, throwing up on the bed, spilling the food on the floor, cursing, shouting. I cleaned, mended, washed, ironed. Now it was hell that descended to meet me on earth.”

    “Did it ever occur to you to leave him?”

    “Never, I owed him for my heaven.”

    I heard far away soft thunder. Couldn’t have been thunder, not that often and short lived. I looked up and saw streaks of fire pouring into the sky and exploding in millions of scintillating fragments. What the hell?... then I remembered, it was midnight, the morning of the 4th of July. I looked at her, she was watching the skies too, her other hand swiftly cleaning a rolling tear before I could see it rolling.

    “4th of July, told you I believe in the symbolic power of dates. Independence Day. Carol’s first Independence Day.”

    “You are going to jail, Carol. What happened? Tell me.”

    She tore away from my grip, I hadn’t realized that her hold of my hand became my hold of hers. She started walking eastward.

    “Come, Tiger, we are going for a summer night’s swim.” The dog obediently followed without the slightest sign of hesitation. She was further confirming my unpopular with myself theory that she was probably crazy. Who but a mad woman would go swimming in the dirty polluted river in the middle of the night?... my God, she wasn’t mad at all...

    “Hey, Carol, stop. For heaven’s sake woman, stop!” I rushed after her, grabbed her hand and pulled her forcefully towards me. Tiger dropped the shoe and a dark line of bristling hair rushed backwards from the tip of his nose to the end of his stump. “YOU SHUT UP!” I shouted pointing a threatening finger towards him. The miracle happened, even her glazed eyes saw it. The dog lay down, head on paws, the dark line dissipating in the opposite direction but those watchful eyes never for a moment leaving me alone with his mistress. I sunk my hands in that tick deep blond hair down to its roots, grabbed huge chunks of it and pulled her head towards me biting her mouth with the hunger of a deprived lion. The flicker was returning slowly to those dead eyes, the limp body regaining its muscled tension. She pushed her hands underneath my shirt, clutching at my back’s skin with demented scratching fury, biting back into me and squashing my body with a bear trap’s mindless anger.

    “Make love to me, please make love to me...”

    “Wait, wait...” I mumbled “somebody may still pass by...”

    “I don’t care, I don’t give a damn, do it now or I’ll feed you to Tiger...” well, some blessed insanity was returning to the atmosphere, I thought through a dazed mind. I peeked in his direction... didn’t look like he was taking any interest in the proceedings, though I could swear he lifted just one eyelid and when I looked his way he shut it off immediately. She snickered, seeing my worried glance, then with one fast movement ripped open my Armani shirt (who the hell cared anyway...) dropped me to the ground, and with much more care (women, aah...?) pulled her dress over her head and let it drop on my face. The rest was a dream. I couldn’t see a thing, all I was allowed was to savor the distinctive feminine smell absorbed in the dress’ fabric while her hands, her mouth, her body, did all the rest.

    I never knew lovemaking could be as soft and as wild as this. For a few moments a slight pang of jealousy of that other guy shot through me, then I ran my finger along that soft bare skin all open to my inspection and the short whiff of envy was gone. I was leaning against a tree trunk, she allowed me to pull my pants back yet she refused to wear anything herself. Her head lay in my lap, one of my hands picking up mindlessly dry leaves that clung to her hair, while the other was busy flicking away all sorts of night buzzers that kept assailing my ears and neck. None of them seemed to bother her, I thought, just to think of something and to keep myself away from the reality of life which slowly seemed to start lighting the sky in the general easterly direction. She smelled the waking breeze with flaring satisfied nostrils. The dog stood up, peed against a shrub, and returned to cuddle against her bare thigh.

    “He likes the bushes too” I said.

    “No, the bushes he owns, you he likes.” She stood up in one feline movement, shamelessly put on her underwear in front of my eyes, maybe even making a subconscious seduction show out of it, then pulled the dress over, asked me to zip its back, and sat in front of me, looking me fixedly in the eyes.

    “Will you come to visit me in prison?” Was she serious, mocking, worried? Sounded to me like devil may care.

    “I will come to see you going to the chair”.

    She giggled.

    “Not a show for vegetarians, you know?”

    “Who said I was a vegetarian, I did eat your flesh this night, didn’t I?” She smiled, hardly hiding the slight twitching attacking her lower lip.

    “I am not a bitch. I am not a murderess. Do you want to hear the rest before we go?” I put on my ripped shirt, leaned back against the tree, she sat next to me her shoulder pushing into mine. She went on, both of us our eyes closed, my mind a mess of regrets, worries, fears.

    “One week ago I told him I was leaving. I had all my stuff packed and I waited for him to get home. He came in late, drunk as usual. I made his dinner, waited for him to finish it. Then I told him. You gave me five years of heaven, I paid my due with five years of hell. Now I am leaving. Then he hit me. It was the first time ever, I didn’t even see it coming.”

    “The bastard...” I muttered. She smiled.

    “You don’t understand. He loves me. More than his own life. He realized that it was suddenly out of his control. Forever. So he had to have a go at something. I just happened to be there. Tiger took a piece off his leg. He fell and the dog almost tore his throat open. Then we both left.” I felt pain there in those soft spoken words, pain, disappointment, yet also determination, a certain pride even at having taken the right decision and having tried to execute it. “Then, yesterday, Tiger found you.” I opened my eyes and looked at her. She didn’t open hers but I knew she was damn serious. I was not sure I didn’t start seeing it her way. “I went out to find the Armani shop. I found it. I bought there everything - my shoes, my underwear, my dress, even my perfume. I wanted you to like me. It was almost the right date, you know, 3rd of July. Just didn’t imagine one day off would make this damn huge difference.” She let her tears roll, freely this time, no hiding, no pretense. “I went to the apartment to pick up my stuff. Didn’t expect to find him there. He started shouting obscenities and tried to take my dress off. Tiger jumped him but this time he was sober. He kicked him in the belly then took out his big army knife and went for the dog. I pulled out his service pistol and shot him.” She was quiet. The waking city buzz was penetrating our hideout, the night bugs were giving up their attack on me. I was shivering, was it the cool morning air?

    I helped her up. It was time to step out of the dream.

    It took us some time to catch a cab that early in the morning, and then get one to accept the dog in. Finally we got one driven by a guy that talked a kind of gibberish supposed to be English, gave him the address to Carol’s place, and waited for him to tour the city three times before getting there. We didn’t mind. Deciding to face reality was one issue, actually facing it was another. We needed, time, desperately. Time we didn’t have. The cab dropped us in front of the building, the guy cursed for getting only three times the fare for three passengers and left with screaming tires. The street was quiet, people sleeping it off late, no sign of police, ambulance, newspapers. Why should there be? What was the difference between a TV shot and a real shot? We took the elevator to the fifth floor, and approached the apartment door. Tiger was clearly showing signs of anger, distress, stopping every few feet and growling as Carol prodded him on. She rummaged around the plant pot beside the door ...the spare key... she whispered, and turned the key in the lock. The door clicked open.

    A guy in his underwear was sitting at the desk in the small living room, cleaning a gun. Carol almost went limp beside me and I had to catch her. Tiger went into his ready to battle position, his growls dim and wild. I was watching without knowing what I was watching, feeling like a eunuch at a peep show. The guy looked through the barrel, blew away an imaginary dust speck, clicked a clip in place and thumped the gun on the table. His face was red, his eyes watery, his unshaven face stained with food leftovers.

    “Hi, Carol. Is this the guy you bought the Armani for?” Well, someone in this household was educated I thought completely out of context. He eyed me with curiosity, no sign of enmity visible on his face. I felt Tiger relaxing slightly, close to my feet. By now I accepted to fully rely on the little guy’s instincts. “I am Joe. I am the bastard that made life hell for this woman. The one that hit her several days ago. The one she shot dead yesterday. Unfortunately for me I was wearing a bullet proof vest. Those shitheads at the office had me on money transport detail and I had to wear it. Regulations.” He laughed at what was supposed to be a joke, spit on the floor, then looked at her. The light and controlled tone clearly coming painfully out, at an extreme price exacted out of his last shreds of decency. “I wish I didn’t”. He picked up the gun and pushed a piece of paper in my hand. “If those two like you” he eyed Carol and then the dog “then heaven is yours.” He left to another room slamming the door after him. His voice trailed behind. “Your bags are in the kitchen. Make sure you never come back. Next time I see you I shoot you both dead.”

    I looked at the piece of paper. A few words scribbled on them, I wonder how he guessed we would be coming by. This here is a wonderful woman. I love her madly. I let her go. Take good care of her, there is none other like her in the world.


    We were back in the park. The newspapers stand was closed, the place was teeming with screaming kids and running dogs. I didn’t see any of them. I was on my own isolated island, a surrealistic Picasso live picture in which I was one of the main characters. The others being a beauty with a blackened eye and a poodle sized tiger with a limp. I exploded into a relieving hysterical laughter that lasted several minutes. They waited politely for me to finish.

    “Guess it is time for me to go.” She picked up her bags and the dog leash.

    “Where do you intend to go?”

    “My folks. South Dakota.”

    Having that knack for asking the most irrelevant questions at the worst moment, I felt like asking her if she knew by any chance Luca from around there. Or if any of her folks would happen to know him.

    “Carol. Will you marry me?” Wrong question coming out. Wonder why.

    She didn’t scream, or jump, or show some other decent reaction. Just stood there looking at me, both she and the dog head askew (I swear both of them), both she and the dog contemplating the question (I swear the dog was contemplating too), both she and the dog wagging their tails indecisively (I swear she was wagging her imaginary tail too)...


    She really meant the question. She wanted to know the answer. And I didn’t really have one that would satisfy her. I did swiftly my mental balance sheet. We knew each other not yet twenty four hours - bad, I was a sworn bachelor - bad, I had no real idea about her character, family, friends, tastes - bad, bad, bad. Yet I knew that I had fallen so deep in love with this creature that any other decision would be just an artificial delay. I’ve never tried heaven before. Why delay it?

    “Why delay heaven?”

    She hesitated. It was clear in her posture, in her eyes. Then she bent and picked up her bags.

    “I had my heaven once. Sorry, it is almost the good answer.” She still meant it seriously. I had to do better than that.

    “Because Tiger chose me?”

    That one seemed to be as close as I would ever get to her truth. She looked down as the brown nemesis was hopefully sniffing at my cuffs, then laughed loud and called one short...

    “Tiger, come.”

    “Wait.” I scrambled in my mind for hints, words, time was running seriously out and I was going to be sorry for the rest of my life.

    “Today is the 4th of July, isn’t it?”

    The bags dropped from her hands like loaded with the Rocky Mountains. She screamed a Yes! that turned around every head in a hundred yards radius, jumped at my neck, clamped her legs around my waist and locked her mouth to mine with the indecent power of an X rated movie. I hoped none of the hundreds of mommies around would be asked for explanations by her kids that evening. Not that this was what was passing through my head at that very moment.

    Tiger just kept jumping and barking, jumping and barking. Then pissed off that nobody paid any attention to him he decided it was time to make his own statement about the situation. He lifted his leg and peed on my pants. Who gave a shit? They were only Armani.


Emel, Oklahoma...

    “Are there any sharks?”

    I almost fell into the pond. The beer came squirting out through my nose with a swishing sound and I fought for my life all of the next five minutes unable to decide if I was dying choking with laughter or just, well, choking. I looked at my miserable quarter of an acre of swampy steamy water, hardly enough of it for a pair of frogs to add an heir to the dynasty, then looked obliquely up at the guy asking the question while still coughing and sneezing my way out of limbo. For the better part of the last hour I have been deeply immersed in miserable contemplation of the different constructive ways in which I could have missed (ha) pulling my ex husband by his hair back into the boat that day long ago, the present sudden intrusion pitilessly shattering the sweet gurgling sounds of the last ascending air bubbles filling my imagination. Hadn’t heard the guy approaching, and the surprise dropped me from a crouching position into a butt sitting one. He was blocking the sun, yet I still had to squint when trying to look up at him from the disadvantage of my unladylike position. All I could see was a dark grey shape and some blinding corona where his head was supposed to be.

    “Yes, and the Niagara Falls have run dry.”

    “Oh...” Seemed to me like he was hesitating. “I didn’t know that. When?”

    He was serious. I was just about to pour into my body another mouthful of beer, and this one ended same as the previous, out through my nose. And I almost fell into the pond again. I stood up, giving up completely my previous wishful thinking investigation, and moving my attention to this particular exemplar of other things asking be investigated. When I finally finished exuding all the sounds related to cleaning my nose, catching my breath, spitting, and inefficient cursing (tough with a blocked larynx) I raised my eyes at him, a sudden suspicion clouding my euphoria bound mood.

    “Hey, I wonder, is not my no good sister Janet that put you up to this? You know, playing the buffoon and scaring the shit out of me. She should know it is neither my birthday nor is it April Fool’s day, I didn’t ask for any surprise young male strippers, and I don’t see a damn place around here to hide a candid camera.” I squinted, trying to get a better look at the funny fellow. “God, are you from he moon or something?”

    Again that short hesitation followed by some throat cleansing.

    “No... I am from Emel, Oklahoma”.

    Luckily I was careful enough this time not to have my mouth anywhere close to the can of beer. But this time I did fall in. Headlong, and even in the putrid stinking water I could not stop my body from shaking with laughter. The guy looked at me, clearly hesitating if he should jump in after me. Probably fearing the sharks and yet “...that’s what people around here seem to do when they laugh...” and just the thought of it sent me reeling into the water again. When I finally calmed down, I clambered on all fours back to the muddy bank, stopped for one additional moment to shake off the spasms of another laughter attack, and tried to stand up. I was aware of my long greasy hair and disgusting green moss plastered all over my face, not to mention my nipples embarrassingly sticking out through my wet shirt. I didn’t give a shit, this phenomenon begged for additional research and my weekend had been just too boring till now. He tried to help me in a clumsy kind of way, his palm accidentally brushing against my breast. We froze. I didn’t panic, I guess HE did.

    “OK, you can take your hand away from my breast.”


    I don’t think he was brazen, rather scared to death of the consequences.

    “Well, because I like it too, and if you don’t then I am going to kick your jewels from here till Sylvester.”

    “I don’t have jewels, but I have twenty dollars and seventy four cents” he said hurriedly, taking his hand off my breast and starting a frantic search in his pockets.

    This was just too much. If I hadn’t done it earlier on, I would have fallen into the pond right then and there. But haven gotten already my daily infusion of green water I maintained my precarious balance by just gesticulating wildly all azimuths through the next twenty seconds or so of convulsive laughter. My God, never met such a creature in my life. I got even closer to him, judging his appearance with a detached portion of my brains - not too tall, thirtyish, well proportioned, a face not really every girl’s dream to take home to mom, but not her nightmare either.

    “Let me see...” I said, taking his hand, and feeling the strained muscle going suddenly limp “... you do look human to me, you know. I see you have fingerprint lines, open your mouth.... yes, looks like you like sweets, you are unshaven...” ...something devilish was taking control of my behavior, I wasn’t a squeamish virgin or something and nobody was looking, so what the hell... I got as close to him as his trapped rabbit regard allowed me to, actually so close that my still awakened femininity almost touched his shirt. Then I gave him one minute, looking intently at his under the waist portion of the body... definitely human, yes, definitely. I let go of his hand and took a step back. I felt a certain undefined adventurous mood enveloping my senses, much aware that a reasonable chunk of it belonged to three cans of beer induced fantasies. So what, I felt just great.

    “Listen young man, you are definitely here on private property, my property, you are definitely not a color-it bibles for children seller, and you don’t seem to be a nuts case, though it is something I would like to investigate further.” A joke passed through my head. “Hey, are you not a humanoid robot by any chance, you know, escaped from some secret military lab, hit by lightning and suddenly you discover you have human attributes. Like in this movie, with Steve Guttenberg... what’s its name...?”

    “Short Circuit.”

    “That’s it. Well, you certainly look more human than the bug eyed sweet horror in that movie. Reminds me...” I kept on babbling, wondering in the background if really most of that joviality originated in the damned Belgian beer? I ran a half second long summary of my life, just for kicks. Divorced one year ago, my husband made sure to spend all of our money on this property, letting me “win” it together with a hefty mortgage yoke, while he found a rich floozy that went for his Latino looks and they both flew over to Acapulco “...the ultimate of tests. If you are human you can laugh at a joke. Right?”


    I didn’t mean it as a question, but now that he answered I felt even better about it.

    “OK, I will tell you a joke, and if you laugh I accept you as my next of kin. If not then I cut you in two and check which side of your electronic brain wires into which side of your body.”

    He started laughing, but I mean laughing...

    “Hey wait, I didn’t tell you my joke yet...”

    He disregarded my gesticulations, and after several seconds jumped into the pond. Did I say he didn’t seem to be a nuts case? I was certainly wrong. The guy really thought he should jump in “...because that’s what people around here seem to do when they laugh...” as I was saying earlier on. Forgetting the “seem” part of it. And definitely deciding to disregard any sharks warning provided earlier on. Freedom of choice... my God, what does the world breed today? When he got out he was shivering. I was glad there were no sparks and small pieces of burning flesh spluttering all over the place like in the movies... He stuttered.

    “B-b-ut yes, you did tell a joke. Imagine I wouldn’t laugh, then you would have cut me to find out I am all flesh and b-b-bone and b-b-blood. This is a b-b-big joke.”

    I did not quite follow his reasoning, but somehow I warmed up a bit to the odd creature. And the poor guy was now shivering for real. Why was he stuttering only on b’s?...

    “What’s your name? And don’t tell me Johnny Five or I’ll take my six shooter and put five bullets through your heart.”

    He puzzled a bit over the statement, clearly amused by the “intricacy” of it. Gave him time to join me in having whiffs of steam rising from his clothing in the blazing sun glare.

    “And what will you do with the sixth?”

    “Don’t know, never thought of it.” I actually didn’t. “Maybe put it through my brains, I think they need a bit of fresh air. Five sounds to me like a nice round number.”

    “Six is a round number in the normal world.”

    “And do I look normal to you? Any normal woman would by now have run home, bolted all doors and windows and screamed her head off.”

    He hesitated. Then he took my hand and started examining my fingers “... you do look human to me, you know. I see you have fingerprint lines, open your mouth.... wow, no sweets... you should try some, are you sure these are not plastic capped steel..., hmmm...you are in need of some shaving...” the guy was clearly trying his version of a joke and he was getting there... “human, yes, definitely human...” he approached me almost same distance as I did him, guarding intently MY lower half of the body.

    “Nothing will grow out there, you know?” I said, girlish mischief creeping into my voice.


    Oh, my goodness...

    “Johnny what?”

    “Johnny Six”. That was just too much. The guy was either as phony as this expensive stamp I bought three weeks ago (grrrrrrrrrrrr...) or as genuine and innocent as a newborn’s smooth bottom. And he found my laughing button and I hated him for that. I had to lean on him while trying unsuccessfully to recover from the hiccup induced by my latest laughter contortions.

    “Yes, and I am Mona Lisa”. He was going to say something and I made an imperative gesture with my hand that would have stopped a herd of charging elephants. “Okay, I know, Lisa hangs in the Louver in Paris guarded by a one yard thick glass panel and twenty armed guards.”

    “I wanted to say you are much prettier than the Mona Lisa...” ...now he was talking business my way... if I could only control this sudden onrush of blush that was conquering my face at such an aggressive pace... “but...” ...I hated this but... “...your smile is as beautiful as hers...” ...well, there’s nothing wrong with but’s, is there?

    “Matilda. The name is Matilda, and my first ever murderous impulse was when I heard my parents calling me by this name the first time.”

    “But you were just born...”

    “Right, imagine what it did to my still immature personality. Since then everybody had to call me Sam, or else...”

    This time he smiled, and this time he really meant it. I found myself liking the smile.

    “I like Matilda. I like also the song.”


    “Waltzing Matilda.”

    “Hey, you are not an Aussie or something like that? You do have a funny accent, not to mention behavior, you know.”

    “No, I told you, I am an Oklie...” and he laughed, clearly amused at his demonstrated linguistic ingenuity. Did I already say I liked him? No, I said I liked his smile. Now I found myself liking him.

    “How old are you Johnny?”

    “Thirty one.”

    “And don’t you dare ask my age...”

    “...Or you’ll take your six shooter and put five bullets through my heart... I know. And five is an even number...” Yes, I remember I said I liked him, only I think liked him was using the wrong words. I was taken by him like by a storm. “And your age is thirty years and five days.”

    Bang. Hit by a running train straight into the head. My overly festive mood was about to crumble into the molecular components of suspicion. I “celebrated’ my birthday with my parrot and a bottle of wine exactly five days ago. I was still carrying hangover traces from the cheap wine and my parrot was still hanging upside down.

    “And how do you know it, Johnny ‘nosey’ Six?”

    “I saw it on the annular rings of you thumb.”

    The liar. The cheeky bastard... my sister Janet was parading again in my mind... I looked up at him. Something genuine was lurking there in these eyes, something... no, c’mon Sam, you’re not a paranoiac, not after the real frightening... lol... years with Paolo.

    “Are you serious?”

    “Oh, yes. And I could tell you also the exact composition of your blood, your diet components, your hormonal levels...”

    “Hey, wait... leave my hormonal levels alone please...” The guy was on the level. Whatever outworldly elements this body of his was composed of, there was something terribly intriguing about him. But right then I started feeling, well, hungry. I’ve always been a very practical person, every riddle had a solution and given time I found solutions to all of them. I was a Mensa member since the age of thirteen, which was probably one of the reasons most of my parties were danced with somebody’s little brother. The “big brothers” didn’t like wise girls. The little ones just loved them. Paolo, my husband for ten hellish years, just didn’t know my history. And neither did I his, otherwise I would have shipped him back to Cuba and made sure he was jailed as an imperialist spy for the rest of his life. So, back on track, I just knew there was a logical explanation to this little riddle and it could wait.

    “Tell me Johnny...” back to my jovial mood “are you here by car or something?”

    “No, I came by foot. I have no driving license and no car.”

    “But can you drive?”

    “Of course.”

    Of course. If he could tell my age to three decimal digits (I was tempted to try...) he definitely could drive a shift stick car.

    “A shift stick car?”

    “Yes. I saw it in a movie.”

    Suddenly he started laughing, and I looked at him and all those grimaces, this was definitely a day for definitely’s and for laughter too. I didn’t find any crack at the seat of my pants, so whenever he stopped his wheezing and weeping, I dared ask.

    “What is so funny around here?”

    He kept panting, and betweens gasps of laboring breath he succeeded to blubber...

    “I just remembered, you asked me if I was from the moon. Don’t you know there is no life on the moon?”

    An intellectual, that’s all I needed right now. Okay, I stopped asking questions, first things first, and food was foremost. I picked up the plastic bag from the grass, took out the keys and handed them over to him. “Let’s go to my place, one mile up this gravel road, have a shower, a change of clothes, and go for some shopping in town. Then we come back home and make one huge calories rich dinner and stuff ourselves till we can roll around the house.”

    “Okay.” So simple, just Okay. “You are lacking vitamin A”. Well, it was almost so simple.

    “I don’t want to know, I just want to eat, Johnny. Be a kind stranger and bring me home. I stink.”

    “Yes you do.” The guy was certainly not learned in worldly manners. Did I say already that I liked him? I really did? It seems I was starting to forget things and kind of starting to float...


    The drive to the house was uneventful to the point of being boring. I had to show him how to start the car, ...this they didn’t show in the movie..., but except for that and for his absolute concentration on the road, this one minute drive was like that of any Old Lady from Pasadena. His braking was a bit rough, skinning some tire on the gravel, and he allowed me to show him how to turn the motor off.

    “Listen, Johnny, you are now entering my house, where I am queen, and Cheeta my parrot, is king. You are only a guest and if you break the law...”

    “You shoot me five times through the heart...”

    “No, I kick your butt out and you will have to find some other house in the neighborhood to feed you. Talking of which, THEY will probably shoot you first and then feed you. I give you a chance to live it the other way around. Accepted?”

    He did not answer, fascinated by the cheap white limestone lions guarding my porch, another ex-hubby legacy. I interpreted it as a tacit “yes”, unlocked the door and went in. I left the airco running low speed when I left this morning, the coolness of the shadowed interior was another version of Eden. Cheeta shrieked one short “hello” and flew over to sit on my guest’s shoulder. I was startled. I never held it in a cage, and usually it was very guest wary since that one time when it had a damaging encounter with a seven years old. Johnny (was he really Six?...) took it in the most natural way, didn’t mind the sharp nails biting into his shoulder, picked a nut from his pocket and held it between his lips. I wanted to warn him that the parrot may take the nut off with half of his lip, but it was like they were an old couple rediscovering each other. Cheeta took the nut in its beak, crunched it, swallowed it, and flew to sit on Johnny’s head, while my guest sat in my TV armchair, pushed the remote control, and started watching intently whatever was there on the screen. It was a “how to do a perfect wedding cake” program. Welcome to insanity. I made a desperate sign with my hand and started upstairs to have a shower.

    “Oh, and remember, if you make like running away with the silver plated, made in China, plastic cutlery posing as silverware, Cheeta is going to tear you to thin ribbons and decorate its cage with your ears.” Cheeta just lifted one foot, said “hello” and stuck its head under its wing. Parrots... just when you need them the most... I pulled out some airy lingerie, a wide, short, low cut (nothing on purpose, I swear) pink dress and closed the shower door behind me. A stranger in my house and I felt at ease... strange, I thought, laughing at the imaginary words game.

    Twenty minutes later I emerged, a completely new person, refreshed, perfumed, gay... I peeked downstairs, the wedding cake was still showing, and my guest was still immersed in it. Cheeta raised one clawed foot as usual, said “hi...” hi?... what’s that, all its life all it ever said was hello and now it was degrading from bi-syllables to mono-syllables?... “...beautiful” he continued, and I think I blushed, shot myself five times in the head for even starting to get cross at my guest, and cried down to him.

    “Johnny, the shower is yours, I left in there dry things from my husband, hope they fit you...”


    “Ex. Don’t worry, I saved my five silver bullets for him if he shows up.” I kept waving my gun and the five bullets as if I shot more than just five empty coke cans in my back yard... well, I certainly hit all of them right smack in the middle, including a double hit on the one that flew up with the sixth bullet, and felt mighty proud of it.... The wedding cake demonstration was over and he got to his feet. Cheeta flew over to its cage and made a show of hanging upside down, Johnny looked up at me and smiled.

    “I like Chanel 5, it has a nice smell.” I knitted my eyebrows for a few seconds, trying to second guess how in hell did he know what I used and that I used what I used. It wasn’t likely he peeked through the keyhole, not with Cheeta around. But I liked flattery, if flattery it was. “I like also other smells, orange blossom, lilac blossom, white lily blossom, like every blossoming smell, it is like getting born...” He came up the stairs, didn’t even look down my deep cut dress top, though I did my best to bend just by chance to pull my sandals up, he just kneeled close to me, fit the sandals to my feet, first left, then right, then went into the bathroom and closed the door. I thought I was dying...

    The clothes I prepared for him were a bit big, my ex was a muscles worshipper, but he looked fresh, clean and...

    “Say, did you also use my Chanel?...” I smiled. He returned my smile.

    “I like it. You like it. I like you.” He had this knack for simple answers... “Sorry, Matilda... or shall I call you Sam?...”

    “YOU can call me Matilda.” Hey lady, time to stop blushing that often at your age.

    “Can I make a phone call?” That took me by surprise. I expected either a return compliment or any kind of request but... a phone call? He was supposed to be a lost lonely roustabout dreamer. A phone sounded so... technical, out of character.

    “Certainly, go ahead”. He went to the phone, dialed, and after a few seconds I could swear I heard something as close to inhuman as distance would allow me to interpret, some whistling, some broken... English?... syllables. Then he cut the connection, and turned a beautiful sunshine smile on me.

    “Thanks, shall we go?” If he was ET in person, I did not give a damn. I was simply... craving for food. We went downstairs, I went to pick up the car keys and we went out. Mr. genius slash mysterious here was carrying a big secret, but did not make any move to hide it. Wasn’t he? He certainly wasn’t disclosing any. I wondered, gave him my keys and let him back the car out of the driveway and then onto the main road. I guided him monosyllabically, till I couldn’t resist any longer.

    “Who was it you called?”

    “Friends, told them not to worry, I am okay.”

    “Friends? Let me guess, you play chess with them.” I didn’t mean it to sound nasty but that’s how it came up. I was immediately sorry for the tone of my voice, but he did not hear it that way. He certainly did not seem to mind.

    “No, no way, it wouldn’t be fair, nobody can beat me. We see movies together. And play soccer. There we are on more or less on equal ground.”



    “Who are you?”

    It was immediately obvious that the question bothered him. He wanted to talk, yet, funnily and like a little kid, he kind of pouted and preferred to concentrate on driving the car. I could not blame him for trying to be devious. Just hesitating. I insisted.

    “I mean, where do you come from, no luggage, no serious money in your pocket but not a bum either, how did you come to this place? What do you do for a living, Johnny?”

    “I live”.

    That was a most stupid answer for someone unbeatable at chess, I thought to myself.

    “I know you live, I live too, but where do you work, where did you go to school, are you a genius, or a secret agent or something, and you ran away from your secret and boring governmental duties and decided to see the world?”

    “I live. I decided I want to live because when I will be around sixty five I will die. So I want to taste real life as long as I can. And I am not a genius. And I like you.”

    Of all the irrelevancies I met throughout my stormy life, and a stormy one it was, this was the stupidest and most irrelevant answer I ever heard. I categorized it in the trash directory, not yet deleted and with an option to pull back again if somehow I missed the point. Of course we will die, all of us, at sixty five, or seventy, or ninety five. So what was so special about you? My goodness, Johnny Six... what kind of a name was that?

    I decided to let it go for the time being. I felt he was trying hard not to tell me, and I knew that before long I would know what was it he was hiding there under this wrinkled concentrated forehead of his. Till then, what the hell, let’s enjoy the ride and... well, right Johnny, let’s live... I let out a screaming yahooooooooo... kicked the sandals off my feet, lifted my (nice, you bet) legs on the car’s dashboard and let the wind billow my dress, fluttering like the national flag of my body. I saw him sneaking side glances from time to time in the direction of my legs. Definitely human. Giving in, Mr. Six? Bet if I bend now, this low cut of mine will take us into the ravine. And bet I lose my bet. His control of the car was perfect. Bet (another one?) he could drive and look at me at the same time and have perfect control of both. It was his choice to behave as human so as not to frighten me... I snickered... maybe you are from the moon, Johnny Six? I decided that, when back home, I’ll look up this Emel, Oklahoma place. After dinner, of course.

    Eating is something I love. Shopping for food is something I hate. We got into the big mega store about five miles from my place, gave Mr. Six one trolley with clear instructions to buy whatever he wants up to fifty bucks, and we departed in opposite directions. I started checking the meat, the vegetables, the dates, the prices, smelling, shaking, pulling, drawing angry looks from the personnel that had just so nicely arranged the old stuff in the front and the fresh one in the back... long live freedom of choice. In about half an hour I was finished, and started looking for my partner. He surely did not run away with the money I did not give him, so where the hell was he hiding if not among the food, then the cleaning stuff, electricity... where are you Mr. Six?... passed a worried look around the female underwear... who knows... thank God he wasn’t there trying out anything either... I found him fifteen hungry minutes (and angrier by each passing minute) later, in the toys section, a bunch of eight... nine, kids all ages and shapes sitting on the floor around him in half a circle, frozen in fascination as he was working one Rubik’s Cube after another. I did not make a sound, just counted and timed. I let him do ten more before I called him, and the longest it ever took him for getting a cube nicely uniformly colored on all sides was 67 moves in 25 seconds. I refused to believe what the shortest was and made a mental note to check my internet tonight. Quite a number of things to check tonight.

    He got up, made a solemn statement he shopped only for 49.99 and no way he could get to a round fifty sum, and after accepting my evil eye as a sign of praise, cheerfully dragged both trolleys to the cashier. The fat, red wigged lady was not at her first attempt to try to rob me, this time of a full forty five cents, she just didn’t count on my personal calculating machine watching carefully as she typed the prices in and pointing at the machine’s inaccuracy which we could prove only after calling the store manager and using his pocket calculator. Well, so it was not the fat lady that tried to rob me, it was her shop. I youpeeeeed outside the shop, gave Johnny a wet smooch on the cheek and was ready for the night’s celebration. What the hell, it’s only once in a life time that you are thirty years and six days old. Not to mention being saved from daytime robbery in the nick of time on the very same festive date.

    I knew that Johnny’s secret would reveal itself to me that very night. As usual I was betting with myself on that. As usual, I was about to lose my bet.

    We got home and I started messing the kitchen immediately, after feeding poor Cheeta who was screaming its head off for the nuts I always brought for it from the shop. That’s the way I like it, dirty, all tools of trade out of the drawers and cupboards just in case I get an uncontrollable urge to use an exotic one of them, heavenly smells penetrating every pore of my body, flour flying in the air and painting my face, my apron smeared with splashing red’s and green’s and yellow’s, vegetables cut, crushed, roasted... my kitchen, my kingdom, and nobody ever dared get there when I was in, that is nobody until... Johnny. He followed me in, unloaded ‘his’ stuff on the table and started working at it with not even one look in my direction. Okay, as long as he keeps to his corner... I didn’t even ask him what he was preparing, it was so clear to me - a wedding cake, for goodness sake. I wasn’t a Mensa member for my beautiful eyes, I thought proudly, took out the cheese, the nuts, the spaghetti, made a face at Cheeta which chased it screaming back to its cage... It took us exactly 53 minutes and 22 seconds to get it all done, competing only on the oven but finally I gave up and changed slightly my plans... then another 15 minutes 13 seconds to set up the table, candles, cutlery... when you’re hungry you count the seconds, and that’s what I was doing... then asked Johnny to sit down, lighted the candles, and rushed upstairs. Why, do you ask, does a dangerously hungry thirty-something (...smirk...) female, alone with a strange and unproven undangerous man in her house, rush upstairs thus delaying the satisfaction of her ravenous instincts another 13 minutes and 11 seconds? Actually, because of that exactly, she being a thirty-something and an intriguing strange man in her house. A fast shower, brushed my hair, lipstick, a change of lingerie, a long black velvet dress, pearls, a touch of Chanel... hey, lady, don’t you overdo it? No, I answered myself, about time this lady gets out of the jeans closet and starts meeting, well, men... even at the price of hungering another few minutes.

    Cheeta’s cage was covered. Johnny got up, pulled the chair for me, and pushed it back for me to sit, then sat down himself.

    “Don’t tell me, you saw it in a movie.”

    “Yes, I saw it in many movies, it is nice. And you look smashing.”

    “And from which movie is that?”

    “From me...” and after I gave him a drilling ironic look that got him blushing... “...and from many movies too.”

    “That’s much better, Johnny, don’t you ever lie to me under my roof.” and I winked, I had to make sure he understood I meant it as a joke.

    “Then I hope you are not going to ask me if I like your food.”

    The poor guy was serious.

    “Why do you think you will not like it?” I asked, knowing better than getting insulted before perpetration of the unforgivable crime.

    “I don’t think, I just don’t know. And I don’t want you to think badly of me. Because I like you.” The guy was too good to be true, and I tried a real pinch of my own hand, taking my yelp of pain as acceptable proof that reality was still governing my life.

    “Let’s eat, Johnny, and this decision will be taken later.” We ate, moving through my secret mozzarella entry with my secret oil mixture, then through my secret spaghetti main dish, with my secret sauce and my secret spices... all of it so secret that I didn’t even dare think of it conscientiously afraid someone might read my mind. I was sticking to small talk, my mouth too full for any serious conversation, and my belly too empty for same. I was telling him small anecdotes about my life, my swamp, my ex... funny, I could talk to him about my ex without any anger. All the time watching him, trying to guess his reaction from his mumbled answers, his grimaces. I was not in any way kidding myself - I was courting this guy I learned to know just earlier on this very day today, and I had some hot plans for later tonight. Time to stuff my widow garments with moth balls and forget them in the deep corners of the attic where hopefully some moths will get through the moth balls. I smiled to myself. The wine was part of the problem and of the plan and it started doing its job. I felt good, high, free spirited. He finished the last of his spaghetti, a bit uneasy that nothing was left on the plate.

    “Johnny, I decided, and you have no choice but to tell me the truth. Did you like it?”

    “Yes. It was the most delicious meal I ever ate in my life.” I felt like dancing. He was not lying, he really loved it.

    “And now you would probably like me to tell you my secret recipes.”

    “No, I know them. If I start with the mozzarella and the oil mix...”

    “Stop! Not one word more. The walls have ears and if you say one more single word I swear... no, I don’t shoot you this time, I... I...” I was slightly drunk, slightly, stuttering, slightly embarrassed.


    “What do you mean dance?”

    “No, it was a question. Dance? I mean, would you like to dance with me?”

    And I was thinking all the time it is I who was making passes at him, now the poor man was making a pass at me in the worst possible way. I laughed, not wickedly but joyfully.

    “I have a funny feeling you are not joking. Listen, there is no music, I am a terrible dancer, and I bet you don’t know to dance neither.”

    “True, but now I know you want to dance. And I can solve the other problems”.

    “And how do you know that?” I snickered. I was not so sure I wanted to dance, though I probably would have liked to test these arms trying to hold me upright in my half drunk state.

    He stood up. Took my left arm and put in on his right shoulder, took my right in his left, his right hand on my hip, and started singing softly...oh, my God... Waltzing Matilda. And his voice was rough but the toning was perfect, and the rhythm was changed to a perfect... waltz?... I never danced a waltz in my life, I was a disco generation, yet I followed his movements as if I was Ginger Rogers with clouds my dancing floor... If this was what he could learn from his movies, then, speaking about my wide bed upstairs...

    The phone rang. The sound jarring, stabbing mercilessly at this intimacy that started enveloping us, oh no, not now. I disregarded it, but then it stopped and started again. Unforgivable mistake, I should have disconnected it, where was your stupid head you hormones flushed woman, up your bottom and now you pay the price. Probably the stupid temp on duty at the law firm where I was working decided he had an emergency worthy of disturbing a junior member of the management team. I felt like screaming. The mood was bust. Johnny stopped moving and singing and watched me questioningly.

    “Hell!” I was really pissed off, angry. I picked up the receiver and snapped at it the most unfriendly “Sam here, what’s the matter?...” that I could muster. Then the anger changed into incomprehension. “It’s for you.”

    He did not look surprised at all, came over took the receiver and listened. I stayed as close and as impolitely as I felt I had the right to be. I could have bitten him, so furious I felt. If you are ET then I want to listen to it as well. And if you are not I want to scream at it. I did not hear the other side, but then Johnny said a short soft “Okay, I’m coming...” in plain English, laid the receiver down and looked at me, for the first time since we met, with a straight, penetrating stare.

    “Matilda, I must leave. You must forgive me, I must go.” He looked imploringly at me, but I suddenly felt as bitchy as only a scorned woman can feel.

    “Sam for you, you hear me you son of a bitch, it’s Sam for you. OK, go to your space ship. One thing, buster, next time you are around better bring a bulletproof vest with you, because you are going to get plugged with all six of them. Now beat it. And don’t forget to send the clothes back.” I was meaner than I intended to be, maybe because it mattered more than I intended it to matter? I felt hurt, drunk, disappointed, wanted sex and couldn’t have it. I hit him in the face. He looked surprised, but did not move, waiting for a second one. Frustration tears were streaming down my eyes blinding my view. I heard the door clicking. I ran to the window, and saw him walking down the gravel path. Far on the road the red lights of a waiting car could be seen. I rushed upstairs, picked a pair of field glasses and tried to see the car. The trees blocked my view, and all I could identify was that it was a big, dark colored car. It took him long to get there, and I moved my attention from the car to the walking figure. I was suddenly sorry I reacted so meanly, I knew part of it was the wine.

    I went back downstairs, ready to smash some plates on the floor. First I went to the phone and pressed the re-dial button. The meaningless number did have an Oklahoma area code. I listened to the receiver being picked up at the other end and an automated reply asking for a password tone. I smashed it back down, entered the kitchen and watched the wedding cake, snorted in disgust and went to it, knowing this was going to be my second punching victim for the night. I looked at the miniature marzipan figures stuck on the top, the bride and the groom. I looked closer. In tiny letters, the bride was marked with an M. The groom with a question mark. Why the hell did I suddenly feel like seriously weeping my eyes out?


    The weekend was over. I returned to my office and got immersed in work, trying hard to get over that one crazy day in my life. I was a lawyer, junior associate, with a large firm taking on mostly cases of poor people against rich people or organizations. I had this idealistic strain in me and this was the ideal way for me to channel it. Of course, we lost a lot of cases, even though we did our best to investigate the legitimacy of any litigation. But poor people does not necessarily mean honest and/or innocent, and on quite a number of occasions we found ourselves defending an undefendable case of a screwball that found the wrong idea of getting rich. And since neither are rich people or organizations crooked and/or stupid, the battles were anything but boring. With the “just” cases, I was proudly presenting a one hundred percent success in getting money out of the “rich unjust’, either by an out of court friendly (ha) arrangement, or by winning the case in court. Several cases won on behalf of VVAF members against the government gave me special satisfaction. I was a fervent anti-war activist, and cases of our own forces falling victim to our own government’s bureaucracy and obtuseness were always the reddest of any flags waved in front of my eyes. To say that the firm itself was there for the good Samaritan satisfaction coming with defending the miserable souls of this world would be a terrible dishonest statement. They were there for the money, of course, and this niche was as profitable as any. So everybody was happy.

    I had three hot cases and twenty one under investigation, enough to keep me long hours in the office, away from home and from that wedding cake which finally I did not demolish but rather deep froze it. Why? Why does the earth rotate? I expected something to happen after my mishap, the world to split up or something, but nothing did. As a compensation for the cataclysm that refused to happen, either in the world or in my life, I was stuffing myself with cheap junk food. And everything with French fries. Even the ice cream. My colleagues knew better than asking for reasons, and the few male contacts that previously were ongoingly trying to build a relationship with me, started finding excuses for not trying any more. I wished they would just stop finding excuses and stop bothering me. The days passed. Twelve of them, but who’s counting? I tried all available encyclopedias and net search engines, but the closest town name I found was Hemel in the UK. The search helped me though raise a bit my spirits. Do you know there is a town called Intercourse in Pennsylvania? Then there is Lay in Colorado, French Lick in Indiana, and Eros in Louisiana. I wasn’t stuck only on ‘hot’ names. There was also Peasedown in the UK (bet they mis-spelled it most of the time, lol) and one name thirty seven letters (!) long, most of it consonants, in the UK too. Actually, I felt I was losing it, no joke, focusing on accumulated nonsense, and it was high time for a well merited time off, or soon I would have had to be strait-jacketed and confined for some cooling down period.

    It was Friday evening. I prepared the car, loaded it with tent, camping stuff, ropes, food, I was getting ready to spend the weekend in the mountains and do my best at getting lost. It felt like the time of year for the friendly companionship of bears and mountain lions. They don’t dump you, at most your leftovers. I giggled, another stress sign so uncharacteristic of serious lawyer me. Cheeta was entrusted to Rachel, the office receptionist and my good friend. Cheeta was scaring the shit out of her three cats, an unending source of amusement for her kids. The car was loaded. I left it unlocked and returned to house for a light meal. I wanted to start early therefore I planned to go to bed early. I prepared a small salad, two fried eggs, and was busy cleaning the plate with a piece of bread when there was a knock on the door. Not the bell, mind you, like any civilized person would do. I froze in mid movement. I didn’t answer. I got up, took the plate, bread, fork, to the kitchen, then returned and called...


    The door opened. Yes, Johnny, he was on the threshold, wearing other clothes and a plastic bag in his left hand, with one single flower (plucked from my garden, I could recognize my prize roses anywhere...) hanging limp from his right hand. I looked at him, not reacting any more than I would have reacted seeing a grinning troll out there. These things simply don’t exist except in the hot imagination of people inclined to hot imagination. I was not one of these. I watched him shuffling his feet for at least one minute. Then went back to my bedroom, took my pistol, checked that it was fully loaded, and returned to the entrance, where I saw him opening his shirt and dropping it on the floor. He was wearing a bullet proof vest underneath. The rose was still in his hand. I laid the pistol on the table, went over to him, unclipped all five locks of the vest, pulled it off his shoulders and let it fall down next to his shirt. Then went back to the table, picked the pistol, went back to face him, took the rose from his hand and stuck it in the barrel, went to the car and threw it on the back seat via the open window. I came back in, kicked the door closed behind me, took him by the hand and practically pulled him upstairs, into the bedroom, where I kicked the bedroom’s door shut as well.

    I kissed him, hard, wild, biting his lips till I felt blood pouring into mine, my hands tearing at his back’s skin while his hands clumsily tried to enter underneath my shirt and undo my bra. I did it for him. He was wanting. I was desperate. I took full control, he was going to pay with the pain in his body the pleasures he owed me, the affront I had to face. I was the animal. He was the victim. And we both fulfilled our roles to perfection.

    It was nine in the morning. The night was the wildest I ever experienced. I woke him up four times and forced him four times to make love to me. The frenzy of the first time, made place to the amazed realization of the second time, to the warmth of the third time, and to the tenderness of the fourth time. It was his first encounter with a woman. I was stupefied, happy, curious, maybe in love? Big word, love, one night of perfect sex is not yet love. Can it grow into one? He woke up before me, and I found him staring at my naked body, intently, shamelessly. I felt shameless as well. Very unlike me, one of the continuous disputes between me and Paolo... you are a frigid old maiden... he used to complain when I wasn’t giving in to his demands. And here I was with a complete stranger and as free as Eve in Eden before biting the apple. Thank you, Eve, for finally biting into it...

    “You smile...” he said, “you have a nice smile when you don’t know you are smiling.”

    I crawled over the bed sheets and snuggled into him, my head on his hairless, almost effeminate, chest, his hand tracing undisturbed the hills and valleys of my body. I shivered with pleasure. I didn’t feel like asking. I didn’t care. My weekend in the mountains was gone to hell, the bears and the lions would have to do for a while without legal advice.


    “I know, I owe you an explanation...”

    “No, Johnny, you don’t owe me anything, I know already you are from the moon and your skin is actually pale green underneath this artificial plastic epidermis. You don’t owe me anything except my ex’s rags... so I can burn them.”

    He laughed, easily, as if it was a real joke. He loved laughing, even while lovemaking he at times burst into a childish embarrassed laughter while I was busy explaining some feminine professional secret. I was not offended by his laughter at any time, actually I felt even more satisfied for the natural way in which he accepted making love to me.

    “Matilda... are we back on Matilda terms?...”

    “Yes, silly, back on Matilda terms. Johnny, are you going to stay?” I asked and hated myself for asking, because I did not want to hear the answer which might come as a result.

    “Matilda, I have invited some... guests. They will arrive here in about one hour. Do you mind?”

    “What do you mean you invited some guests? Didn’t you believe I would really shoot you?”

    “I wore a bullet proof vest, didn’t I?” I smiled. The big secret was on its way to getting unraveled, did I mind? I was good at solving riddles but I always hated solving them. Gone the puzzled wonder, gone the mystery, simple reality rules kicking in and proving that life was actually devoid of real magic. Real magic. What a contradiction of terms. I straddled his chest, let him play a few absent minded moments with my breasts, then kissed him roughly on his swollen lips, and descended from the bed.

    “Then I should better make myself presentable.” I went to the bathroom, turned on the shower, and let it wash away the bodily memories of last night. No shower would ever wash away the brain encrusted memories of same. He followed me, shaved with my lady shave razor, and I almost rolled laughing from my john position, watching the narrow traces it was leaving on his face. I made a fast and dirty breakfast, enjoying all of a sudden the kitchen window view of my swamp, my yellowing grass, and the peeling tail of one of the lions visible from this window. Life was beautiful. Everything was beautiful. Time was almost ten when Johnny said...

    “They are coming.”

    I didn’t hear anything for a while, till several moments later when I started hearing the soft humming of a motor and the crunch of gravel as it neared the house. Several car door thumps. Then the (civilized, lol...) ring at the door. We went to the door together and I opened it.

    “Hi mom, hi pa.” He said it and I felt like swooning. There were three persons at the door. A young pair, about Johnny’s age, whom he addressed as mom and pa. And accompanying them there was this monstrous, huge, ugly, scarred, bald aberration wearing colorful army general clothes, medals, and things, and as serious as a eulogy. Something was wrong somewhere. Either with the inadequate mom and pa or with the monster, and for a few moments it was not clear to me who of them was responsible for my outdated almost faint. It was not almost. I woke up on the sofa, didn’t remember getting there of my own accord, and sat up with a start. Johnny was watching me with worried eyes until I jumped back to my feet, and only then relaxed. I wanted to talk, found myself stuttering uncontrollably, then drank half the glass of water that was prepared for me on the table, and only then I found myself able to think and react coherently. My lawyer’s instincts were taking cool control, thank God. I looked at the pair, seated by now on the sofa, and at the... thing, standing at their side, a gleaming small metal badge on his breast pocket saying Military Labs, and an out of place medal of some kind stuck next to it. Wondered where he bought it. I didn’t know why I focused on him. His body rigid, his hands, which I bet could easily bend a railroad track into a double knot - and this one bet I was confident on winning, fiddling uneasily with his removed cap. I took a long look at him, instinctive repulsion gathering in my throat. I hated the army, hated uniforms, and hated generals, or colonels, or whatevers, surely ugly ones. Sending young boys to death was not in line with my likes in life. As I mentioned already, I was an ardent pacifist, and as Paolo was saying, he being an ardent pain-in-the-ass’ist, luckily you were not there during Nam, we would have pulled out five years earlier... For him it was an insult, for me the biggest of compliments.

    “These your parents? You must be joking. Were you adopted by your kindergarten seniors, or what? And who is the nightmare?” I was impolite, vicious, probably a reaction to feeling pissed off at fainting for the first time in my life in such “distinguished” company. And to make things worse, the nightmare smiled a malicious smile, he really did and only half his mouth moved, the other half was rigid, linked at the corner of the lips to this long ugly triple scar. Did I see metallic flashes for teeth? Meet you in the dark and I die, I thought to myself. Richard Kiel as Jaws is a gentle baby compared to you.

    Johnny was... well, he was undeniably excited.

    “Matilda, meet Nightmare. Nightmare, meet Matilda.”

    I refused to shake his proffered hand, I still needed mine for picking my nose and things.

    “What do you mean Nightmare?” I asked, taken aback for a moment.

    “You guessed right, this is his name.”

    “Listen Johnny, I like you immensely, and you know it. But army generals are not welcome to my place, surely not those watching over your shoulder that you don’t spill your beans over whatever new devil’s device you are developing there in those military labs of which you obviously are part of. And which will be probably the reason I will stop liking you very fast, unless you come up with some even faster acceptable explanations. And before that, I expect general Nightmare here, if this is his real name, to get the hell out of my house.” It suddenly clicked in my mind. Military Labs. ML. Emel. That’s what Johnny was referring too, and the big enigma looked suddenly so disappointingly small. Tears were invading my vision in frustration. I would have preferred him to be a green skinned Selenite and not a medals clad army scientist. I was shaking with fury and anger. He saw my coming tears and my anger, and the happy look on his face changed to one of dismay.

    “But Matilda, Nightmare is only a captain, and he is my best friend. I invited him to come here, he didn’t want to come at all. He doesn’t feel at ease when out of the base.”

    No wonder, I thought to myself, Dracula hates daylight... I missed Johnny’s last sentences and it seemed to me I missed something important.

    “Say again...”

    For the first time since I met him I was able to see a flicker of anger in his eyes.

    “He was wounded in the last days of Vietnam. He is a fucking war hero and my friend. I wanted to share it with you and now I don’t want anymore. I thought that you are different. Why did I?”

    And I thought he didn’t even know any ‘f’ words. I kicked myself viciously in the head in my mind, and put the whole six bullets of my pistol through my brain, which at that very moment I felt I deserved. Johnny was getting up, determinedly. Suddenly I felt tired, very tired.

    “I apologize, my God, I am so ashamed. I apologize”. He looked at me, uncertain if I was mocking them, or mean it seriously. “Talk...” I asked in what sounded like a voice a mile away, “...please talk.”

    “Martin, dear, please sit down.” It was the first time she talked. I completely forgot about them, seated at the far away corner of the sofa, so far from my immediate field of vision and so quiet. Her voice was soothing, soft, with a certain commanding quality to it. I looked at her. Nice brown hair, tanned skin, brown eyes, wearing a simple white T-shirt and black jeans. The man next to her wearing thick eyeglasses, a striped shirt, black trousers. Mr. and Mrs. nobody. Yet, it seemed that they held at this moment the keys to the secrets of the universe and they were going to share these with me. Johnny (Martin?) sat down, and the big guy was looking at me with undeniable fascination. Fascination at what, at a mouth bigger than the brains? I thought bitterly.

    She continued.

    “Matilda, may I call you Matilda or shall I call you Sam?” She smiled, a nice smile, it lit up her face. I found myself liking her, surely not the typical mother in law type, I thought irrelevantly. I didn’t answer immediately so she continued. “Dear Matilda, my name is Jane Roswell... no...” she smiled at my sudden head jerk “...promise you it is simple coincidence. My husband is Tim Roswell, Martin is our second son. We left his big brother, Jeremy, with my parents, back home in Boulder, Nevada. I am twenty eight years old and so is Tim, my husband.” I felt like it was getting spookier by the moment. But I was in full control of myself, wait, Mat, wait, everything has a logical explanation, doesn’t it? and I pinched myself hard. “We are no government agents, neither is Martin, Johnny as he likes calling himself, a government employee of any kind. We are simple people, leading a simple life, that is - led a simple life until Martin came into our lives. Will you feel more at ease if I call him Johnny, since this is the name you know him by?”

    She paused, waited for my nod, and looked at Johnny who smiled back. Then she interlaced her fingers with her husband’s before continuing.

    “Matilda, Johnny is dying.” I felt a sudden constriction of my chest, my face muscles, goose bumps covering my whole body. Almost unconscientiously I closed my fingers around Johnny’s hand. All the irrelevancies of the situation pushed aside in face of this dry factual declaration.

    “What do you mean dying? He is thirty one, he will live to the age of sixty five, he told me so himself and I don’t care how he knows it.”

    “Matilda, it may sound to you the spookiest of stories you ever heard, but it is not. Johnny did not lie to you. Except that he did not mention to you he is thirty one months old.” That was just too much, I felt like exploding in either hysterical laughter, or hysterical sobs, what the hell was going on here? I started pulling my hand away from Johnny’s hand, when I saw the mute pleading in the eyes of the big uniformed monster... why did I keep calling him a monster?... and I stopped my move. I tightened my grip even more. She was sensitive enough to let me re-gather my wits before continuing.

    Johnny was born at term, nothing special. Nobody paid any attention more than habitually demanded by a baby, till the doctors started exchanging glances between them one week later, and she herself felt something was wrong. The baby was growing at visible pace, more like in a horror movie than in real life.

    “Experts were called in, nobody had a clue what was going on. It was like he was living in another time dimension, that’s what one of them defined it, and he was living there a full life on a timescale of his own. That was before they started finding normal anomalies with his body. His senses were as sharp as an animal’s, his muscular reactions those of a tense spring, his brain capacity seemed to be on a superhuman level. There was no way we could cope with this by ourselves. We needed support. That’s when the army came in. They were the only environment having the means to allow our boy develop at his own pace without hindrance and without considering him a monster. He does not help in any kind of war programs. Our contract with them allows them to examine his body for two months after his death. Then we can bury him.”

    I had a million questions in my mind, all my lawyer’s instincts and training mixing up with my basic human and deeper female instincts, but I hardly could formulate any. One I had to ask, had to.

    “So when he says he expects to live to sixty five...”

    “He means months.” She finished the sentence for me. My lock on Johnny’s hand was a vise grip. She went softly on. “He educated himself, if you can call it education, by regarding videos, listening to cassettes, reading video books, computer information. He is very intelligent. Since he is able to do it at an accelerated pace he covered a lot of ground. For what use?” She was struggling, she got to a point where self control was slipping and she fought very hard to keep it. Not for her own sake. “His world was gyrating around media. Then one day he saw the movie Truman’s World. That’s when he decided he wanted to see the outside. He is very naïve. It failed nine times. You were the tenth, he almost gave up on trying to make contact. We are indebted to you for letting him feel part of the other world. And I insisted to come over and explain the situation to you. I ask for your forgiveness that maybe we misled you, I hope you can forgive us. Now I think it is better that we leave. We have taken already enough of your time and we must take him back to Oklahoma.” She stood up, her husband - never having said one word - stood up as well, still holding hands. I saw the pain there, terrible pain.

    “Why?” I asked.

    She shot me a sharp glance. Then looked at Johnny, her eyes begging for help.

    “Matilda...”, his voice calm, reassuring, any trace of anger gone, “...mom omitted one last detail. On the night I received the phone call, it was because the last cell exams showed an additional deterioration and they wanted my urgent assessment... My cells start degenerating at an increasing speed. I won’t reach sixty five.”


    They were gone. A gentle breeze caressed my bare shoulders and feet. I lay cuddled on the swing, my head in Johnny’s lap, his fingers playfully braiding and unbraiding my long locks. I did not want the details, they did not matter. But he expected me to ask him. And then he answered.

    “Is there a name to this thing you have, is it a sickness or something?”

    “No, just one of those games nature plays with statistics. Trial and error. Some are survivors, some are not. I am not. Actually nothing is wrong with me genetically, only the commands sent from my weird brain to my body are different. Nobody can explain the process, including myself.” It was after he told me he participated as one ‘extra computer’ in the human genome identification process. The process was in its final phase and he volunteered his computing power to the pool. “I probably retarded the whole process” he joked. I knew by now better than to believe this statement. The military are not so generous with free meals. He had his small lab, access to a powerful mainframe computer networked nationwide to others, and he was trying to build a mathematical model to explain his body’s behavior. The success was very limited, only to a reasonable prediction of his aging based on blood samples. I was not interested in the mathematics.

    “Are you afraid?”

    He laughed and pulled my hair, then kissed the hurting spot.

    “No. I live my life, the way it was given to me, in full. This doctor in physics was not so far from the mark, after all, I do live in some different time frame. In this time frame I am aging at what I consider a normal rate. Only you, low level human mammals, cannot comprehend it.”

    I did not want to comprehend it, or understand it, or any other synonym it.

    “How did you know to make love to me? It was your first time.”

    “How do you know?”

    “I know. A woman always knows, even with a monster such as you.”

    He kissed my cheek.

    “I saw it in many movies. I was disappointed when I did it with you.”

    “What?” I sat up and fixed him with a dark gaze, only partly jokingly. He pulled my head back into his lap, going on with the unfinished braiding business.

    “Yes, I was disappointed with the movies. They never showed making love could be so beautiful, pleasant, so gentle yet so fierce.” I mmmmmmm’d like a cat, straddled his lap, and let his hands send shivers on my bare back underneath my shirt. “I knew I was a full grown man, you proved it to me.” He bared my shoulder and kissed it.

    “Tell me about Nightmare.” I asked, almost inaudibly, almost afraid it may have triggered again a reaction of anger. It was just the opposite. His tone softened more, a deep emotion taking control of his senses, his hands slowed down, even his breathing slowed down.

    “His name is Kalman.” I opened my eyes for a startled moment.

    “What? What kind of a name is that?”

    “It is Jewish, and not even biblical. He was born in Brooklyn, into a family of orthodox Jews, knowing nothing of the world except whatever he got from his Talmudic lessons. A much closed society. Everything went the way it is expected to go in these surroundings until he was about fifteen years of age. His father had a small business, and decided to take his son one day on a purchasing trip. One stop was at a slaughterhouse. The way he told me - it was then that something went snap in his mind. When back home he shaved his face and head, dumped his traditional clothes, and left home without even a goodbye. He became an outcast with his own family and clan. He never saw them again. Then, via social welfare, joined a military cadets school, graduated with honors, and in several years ended as junior officer in an army’s supplies depot. A sworn vegetarian, couldn’t hurt a fly even if it would bite him to death.”

    “How did he end up in Nam?”

    “He volunteered. He was on the sending end of the damned plastic body bags and on the receiving end of the same, filled up. It was eating him alive. He volunteered as medic, temporarily gave up his rank, joined several weeks of training, and was flown over. And all in all participated in only two combat actions.”

    “And the medal, is it real? From two actions?”

    “Yes, real. That’s how he ended up with ML.” He stopped to whoosh away an insistent wasp, and didn’t continue immediately. I waited patiently.

    “Are you hungry?” I asked. “I still have the wedding cake...” He exploded in a contagious laughter, and I joined him freely.

    “I miss Cheeta. Where is it?”

    “With friends. Shall we drive and bring it back tonight?”

    “Yes, please.”

    “OK, let’s go inside and I’ll make something to eat first.”

    It was around eight when we took my second car and drove over to bring back the parrot. This time I was driving and Johnny sat next to me, eyes closed, in some world of his own. I turned on the radio to a country music station, letting a soft Billie Joe Spears penetrate my bones.

    “I like her.” He spoke with eyes still closed, I wondered if he really never slept as he claimed. “I like country music. Some of it is so charmingly simple. I like simple things.” He opened his eyes and looked at me. “And I like you intensely. Because you are so complicated.”

    I laughed.

    “You mean because I am a woman.”

    “That too. And because you apologized.” I was wondering when this subject would come up again, this was probably the time.

    “Johnny, I really am sorry about the way I reacted to your friend.”

    “I know you are. Otherwise I would not be here now.” The remark frightened me for a moment, with all these extra sensorial whatevers that he possessed, could he read my thoughts?... I snickered and threw a side glance to him. He laughed again, God, I loved it when he was laughing so easily. “No, if you ask yourself if I am reading your thoughts then the answer is no. But I know when you lie and I know when you tell me the truth. And I know when you are sincere.”

    “Johnny, why Johnny? And why Nightmare?”

    “And Rain Man, and Geronimo, and Juliet...”

    “There were more of you over there?”

    “A whole bunch of us. Section F. Some temporary, some permanent residents.”

    “Section F, like Ferrari?” I giggled. He smiled back.

    “Section F. Like A, B, C...F. Of course we know better. Section F like Freaks. And we like it, actually, makes us kind of special. Do you know that Rain Man can store a full telephone book in his memory? All he has to do is leaf through it one time. And he has stored by now seventy one. All of them major cities.”


    “Yes, Nightmare... anyway he hated Kalman... His first action duty, one week after arriving to hell and getting acclimatized to its fires, he and a patrol of seven were ordered to inspect a meaningless point on the map. They were dropped close to it by chopper, and all the while they were flying, the sergeant commanding the mission was bitching about this commanding shit-head fresh from West-Point that was sending them on a meaningless suicide mission in an area whose only interest is for mosquito researchers and renegade Charlie’s busy with smuggling opium. They were dropped close to a peasants’ village, rounded up some men, bound their hands, put them on their knees and started interrogating them about possible hidden arms. Most of it was done by shouting, intimidation, threats. At one point the sergeant pulled out his pistol, cocked it, put it against a man’s head and started counting.” He stopped, thoughtful. C’mon Johnny...

    “Soooooo?... Don’t you go asleep on me right now, c’mon, Johnny....”

    “Nightmare went over, took the pistol out of his hand as if it was a kid with a plastic toy, removed the clip and squashed it in his paw...” he smiled hearing his own words... “...and started going out of the village. He was thrown in jail, ready for a court martial.”

    “This certainly didn’t earn him a medal?”

    “No, and neither did he tell me any of the stories. I took it from his personal file.”

    “You got access to his personal file?”

    “I didn’t say I got it, I took it.” He smiled, touched my cheek with one fingertip, put it against his lips and went on. We were about fifteen miles from my friends’ house. “There was a shortage of medics and they needed one urgently for a planned cleanup operation. He got a special release from prison and was promised a “deal” if he agreed to volunteer for this mission. They should not have offered any deal, he was always ready to help. But the offer was welcome. This time they were part of a bigger operation and they were headed for real enemy territory. He was attached to a small, ten men unit supposed to guard one of the access routes to their target. It was when they were filing through a shriveled trees area that it happened. He was around the middle with a young lieutenant responsible for his unit, when the guy in front of him hit a trip wire and a jumping mine sprung up to their left. The way the lieutenant, that was right behind him, described it, it just could not have happened. But it did. The mine was about half a yard above ground when Nightmare’s palm hit it like a power piston sending it in between two tree trunks where it exploded. He got most of the blast and shrapnel in his face, chest, legs. The lieutenant got a shard in his thigh. They were the only two casualties. There could have been five dead at least. He was in coma for two weeks, when he woke up he found himself back in the states, some of the shrapnel forever in his body, some additional surgical metal covering holes in his jaws, chest, legs. And one piece of decorative metal on his chest. The bionic man. His vas deferens were ripped. He can never father babies.”

    He stopped. I felt there was more that he wanted to tell me but I had to let him come to it by himself. It was clear the recount was a heavy drain on his emotions. Not the content, but the way he related to the content. He was talking about a friend. And he was feeling his pain as if it was his.

    We rang the front door bell, Rachel opened the door to the mayhem inside. She was a sweet person, her kids grew as free as if they were growing in the wild, and the house was always full of light, music, voices. And above all voices one could clearly hear the “hi beautiful” of Cheeta as it flew over to the door, straight to... Johnny’s shoulder, causing me a quickly forgotten pang of jealousy, bent over and kissed his lips parrot way. The kids were delighted, the cats probably too and for different reasons, at last quiet returns to their heaven. We sat for a coffee and a piece of tasteless cake (she was as bad a cook as she was a sweet person), and started driving back home. Cheeta made its usual cat meowing sounds that always lasted for several days after such a visit, but never for a second did it leave Johnny’s shoulder. Almost like a dog. More, maybe?

    Johnny finished the story on the way back. ML hired Nightmare for running tests on his reaction nerves and muscles, and he stayed with them further on as the interface to the other “freaks”. He introduced himself as Nightmare to general acclaim, and from that moment on everyone chose his own nickname and it became the rule rather than the exception.

    “I arrived there one month old. He was my brother, my babysitter, my friend. He still is. I chose my name based on the Short Circuit movie, funny that you mentioned it when we met. You know, he is the only one in this world that can beat me at “draw” with electronic guns?” He said it with tears in his eyes. Johnny was proud of his friend. I kept clicking the trigger of the pistol aimed mentally to my head, thinking about the way I treated him that first time.

    “Johnny, do you think Nightmare could come stay with us?”

    I could see him through the corner of my eye turning his head and looking at me intently. My regard left the road for a few seconds, enough for me to discern in his eyes something deeper than pure affection, than thirst for friendship. Cheeta’s eyelids were closed. Johnny, you swept me like a hurricane...

    “Mat...” again this shiver, I only called myself this way in my thoughts... “... you are a good decent person. I believe he can. ML will be glad to get rid of his healthy appetite while at the same time keeping an eye on their property, on me.” He sounded delighted, and it was probably the only time in our relationship that he did not sense my cringe of distress at his mention of the word property.

    One week later Nightmare entered my life. Never imagined a nightmare could be something as wonderful. We laughed till tears when I told him two weeks later he was as wonderful as he was ugly.

    “You know” he said “you are one hell of a warm person yourself when you are making the effort, and one hell of a beautiful bimbo too.”

    No one, but I mean NO ONE calls me a bimbo and lives to tell the story.

    “Why, thank you Nightmare...” and I believe I even blushed. It was the same day, later, that I caught him at the kitchen table, thoughtful, scribbling down something on paper.

    “Hi, Nightmare, hungry?” He wasn’t hungry, but his big paw rested on the piece of paper as heavy as a ton of potatoes, and his face, oh God, the red color creeping up his cheeks would have made a tomato apply for a job in the black & white section of a magazine. Johnny followed me in the kitchen, passed his hands around my waist and whispered in my ears so that only deaf people in Alaska could not hear.

    “Nightmare is writing a poem...”

    “You must be joking...” I spurted and was immediately sorry. “Nightmare, is it a poem?” His huge head made an unconvincing up down movement, his eyes regarding Johnny accusingly yet immensely pleased. “Is it a love poem?” This time the movement was from side to side, accompanied by his ugly side loped snicker. “A nature poem?”

    “He is writing kids poems.”

    “What?” I shrieked in delight and rushed to the table, moved the paw aside as if it was made of feathers and snatched the paper from the desk. Nightmare put his forehead on his arms on the table and didn’t move. I read it aloud.

    “Bright pink dress and shoes so white.
    Hair in curls and a smile so bright.
    Must hurry up just can’t be late!
    Daddy’s taking baby on her first date.

    She’ll be a princess dancing under the light.
    Daddy daughter dance is at seven tonight.
    The music is playing their favorite song.
    Princess and Daddy dance all night long.

    He’s holding her tight, gliding across the floor.
    Arms around his neck, baby can’t dance no more.
    She’s all tuckered out and fast asleep.
    Daddy keeps dancing to the two step beat.

    He casually wipes a tear from his eye,
    The last song is over, yes, daddies do cry.
    Look at his princess, she’s growing up fast.
    His heart will remember, his daughter’s first dance...”

    Tears were choking me. I kissed the bald head and ran out of the kitchen.

    Suddenly time was rushing by painlessly, not one moment to breathe, to be sorry, to get bored. On an almost weekly basis another freak, sometimes two, visited us at Johnny’s insistence, and Nightmare played the perfect host, almost as if it was the house he was born in. Somewhere my basic distaste with the military system started fading into recognizing the fact that it provided a warm house for these outcasts. Sure, the military had its own agenda, but for these people it was a blessing. We even celebrated one internal marriage, a first, between the forty years old Rain Man and a newcomer, Liza Doolittle. She was a fifty years old natural blonde, speaking fluently twelve languages including Japanese, and who fainted for real (reminding me of someone... grrrrrrrrrrr...) the first time my door opened for her and she came face to face with Nightmare. One month later the “young” couple were married by an army chaplain, and I asked Johnny to teach Cheeta to call kiss the bride. At the end of the ceremony, at a sign from Johnny, Cheeta started of course shrieking fuck the bride, fuck the bride to an uproar of applause from part of the audience, indignation shouts from the other part, and an undeniable smirk on the young chaplain’s face. I felt like burying myself in the ground, as I was best maid and, wanting to be original, persuaded (Johnny did it actually) Cheeta to be perched on my shoulder for the occasion. I threw Johnny a killing stare. He pulled his shoulders innocently up, and I saw Nightmare trying uselessly to hide behind three other people. Not with his size. I knew that small I will have some big ears to pull when back home. Cheeta was of course enchanted at the attention and started meowing in Rachel’s three cats voices. The guard dogs surrounding the compound started barking frantically, and a few lap-size poodles in the chapel started peeing excitedly on the chairs’ legs. It was the best marriage I ever participated in. The mayhem was terrific. Rain Man punched Nightmare on the chin and sprained his wrist. Nightmare hugged him drunkenly and both men kissed on the lips - I was always disgusted at this “Russian” kiss, till this time. I saw tears streaming down Nightmare’s cheeks and almost started wailing myself... well, maybe there was something to overvalued male comradeship after all. Next it was Liza Doolittle’s turn to disappear inside those huge arms, and I counted to twenty one (got used to counting with these guys...) till finally she re-emerged, seemingly unharmed, and on her way to joining both the “Russian” club and the wailing nation. Rain Man grabbed the ecstatic bride’s hand and pulled her through the gesticulating crowd, probably on their way to take Cheeta’s advice literally.

    We rushed away before the crowd got a chance to turn into a mob, laughing our heads off the entire drive home, the full two weeks of it. We arrived by car and decided to do it slowly and visit the countryside on the way. Cheeta finally released Johnny’s shoulder for Nightmare’s, and my head could find again its favorite nook. I hadn’t noticed earlier that Cheeta betrayed Johnny to gain Nightmare’s attention and favors - Nightmare was definitely a better cook than Johnny. One day I told Cheeta my honest opinion.

    “If you were a chicken, it is long ago you would have been roasted, spiced and served. Come to think of it, I have never tasted parrot before...”

    “Hi beautiful...” it retorted. I melted.

    It was heaven.


    Johnny passed away twelve months after the wedding event. Two months earlier he asked my permission to return to the army compound, he did not want me to see him shrivel. I was courageous but not that courageous, and I accepted. Nightmare joined him. We stayed behind, sad I, distressed Cheeta, and the six months happily growing bud in my belly. We did all necessary tests, the foetus showed no sign of anomalies and I trusted Johnny’s analysis. It will be our girl, and she will never know her father.

    After the army’s two months of sampling, and cutting, and probing, the body was entrusted back into his parents’ hands. They agreed to have him buried in my town, your kid needs a memory they said, and I loved them for that. I married Nightmare six months later. He was too shy to ask my hand, so he used Cheeta as intermediary. I responded in kind. This time Cheeta did shriek kiss the bride and he did kiss me. The big baboon was as soft as chocolate in the sun. The only thing he loved more than me was my daughter. Cheeta held an honorary third place.

    My daughter is now seven years old. She will grow to be a healthy young woman. Now I know for certain. Two weeks ago we were asked to the school for an urgent end of year meeting with her teacher, Mrs. Smith, of all names. We went together with Johnny... yes, I called her Johnny. Mrs. Smith was, well, fuming? distressed? acrid?

    “I am afraid your daughter will need psychiatric attention during the summer vacation”, she said, throwing uneasy glances in Nightmare’s direction. “Please read what she wrote in the last class assignment she received last week.”

    I read it.

    “Dear Mrs. Smith. I have two fathers. One was a freak called Johnny Six. I think I dream of him daily. He was cut by the government and buried many years ago. My new father is a freak called Nightmare and he is the ugliest in the world. I love him BIG.” The word BIG was underlined three times. “My brother is a crazy parrot called Cheeta. My mom told me that once at a marriage he started shrieking...” I couldn’t go further, I exploded in a hysterical laughter that just couldn’t stop... Nightmare had to carry me out underneath his arm and I was still shrieking with laughter. Mrs. Smith certainly got a heart attack the moment we closed the door behind us. When I finally calmed down (two day later), I hugged Johnny to my chest and whispered in her ear “...you are the daughter of two wonderful men, one crazy parrot, and a woman that loves you insanely, you are living proof that wonders do happen in this world...”

    The class’s end of year party was almost over. Girls danced with girls and boys fought over the last drops of the over-sweetened punch. Johnny was sleepy and Nightmare picked her up in his arms, her head on his shoulder. In his arms she looked no bigger than a Barbie doll. And more fragile. As he was moving in his own slow motion mode under the blasting music they passed close by to where I was sitting. I could clearly hear him murmuring.

    “...He casually wipes a tear from his eye,
    the last song is over, yes, daddies do cry.
    Look at his princess, she’s growing up fast.
    His heart will remember, his daughter’s first dance...”






















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