Fan Belt

My radio worked sporadically. I had an old cassette player running on batteries and two tapes. Jane Oliver and Donna Summer. Such music was conducive to melancholy if not a sense of doom. My radio started working as soon as I got south of Las Vegas, and I took that as a good sign.

Ahead about a mile, I saw a highway patrolman spin a wild U-turn across the grass median strip. “Someone’s in trouble,” I thought, singing along to the radio across the open, dry country, my window down. I checked the mirror a little later, and there he was, cherry spinning, motioning me to the side of the road.

He came to my window.

“Hello, sweetheart. Do you have any idea how fast you were going?”

“No sir. My speedometer is broken.” My luck was good. In Colorado, that is something they can give you a ticket for; in New Mexico, it’s almost an excuse for speeding.

“You were going 82 miles per hour, honey.”

All I could think was, “Incredible! In this car? I was going that fast? I am a born mechanic.” I didn’t say that. All I said was, “Really?” The speed limit, of course, was 55.

“Yes, really. Let me see your license and registration.” He took my papers back to his car and made a call on the radio, all the while watching me.

“Do you know your license has expired?”

I knew, but knowledge is not always helpful. “Is it? How can that be? It expires on my birthday.”

“That’s right. Your birthday this year which was ten months ago.”

“Oh no. I thought it was my birthday coming up.”

“No, honey. It was your last birthday. I’m going to give you a warning. I ought to bring you into the Mora County Courthouse, but I’m not going to. I think you honestly didn’t know your license was expired. But listen here. I want you to go home, get a new driver’s license and get that speedometer fixed. If you do that, I’ll give you a twenty dollar fine. If you don’t send me proof that you did those things within sixty days, we’ll have to send you a summons, you’ll have to come back here and it’ll cost you a lot more.”

“Yessir. Thank you.”

“Drive careful, now. There’s no place so important that you have to drive so fast.”

I chugged along toward Albuquerque, but my good feeling, along with the radio, was gone. By the time I got to Pecos Pueblo, I wasn’t sure I was still alive. I thought maybe I was dead and driving on the Interstate Highway of Infinity. I had to get off the road. I knew that, so I took the exit to the pueblo ruins. I wanted to walk for a bit to clear my head.

The ruined church buildings were vivid red in the late afternoon light. It was depressing to think of the builders, long gone, gone with their crazy hopes of saving the souls of the Pecos Indians. Nothing remained but partial walls, pits, shards, all carefully tagged and identified with the latest anthropological conjectures. I went to the ladies room and looked at myself in the mirror. Who was I and what was I doing? I thought seriously of turning around.

It was nearly six when I finally got to Albuquerque. I parked where Charlie’s map had told me to, took a deep breath and walked to the door. I found a note. “Adrienne, if you come. I have gone to the store to buy something for supper. Go in and make yourself comfortable. Charlie.”

The door opened to a strange, stone room, a flagstone patio that had been enclosed. On the wall over the bed was a full-size poster of a Hong Kong movie star in a bra and bikini. I walked through the house, looking for the bathroom. I found it and washed my face and looked closely in the mirror to see if I were really there. Then I returned to the stone room. I didn’t know how Charlie lived. I didn’t know he rented a room in this house or which room was his. I had no idea where the common spaces were. I sat on a sofa and tried to read my book, but I didn’t like it, the stone room or the Hong Kong actress. I went to the kitchen which seemed neutral and safe. I leaned against the counter and tried again to read.

Finally, the door opened and Charlie walked in.

He had the most graceful walk of any man I had ever seen. His legs were strong, with large, muscular, calves. As he walked past me, his eyes met mine and looked at me deeply and long. I knew those eyes. I had one of those experiences where you feel that you’ve known someone before. I was thrilled — and terrified.

“I thought you weren’t coming.”

“I had a flat tire.”

“Did you get it fixed?”

“Yeah. I bought a new one.”

“What? You bought a new tire?”



“I had a flat.”

“How much did you pay for it?”


“Jesus! For a VW tire? That’s crazy. Why didn’t you go to a junk yard or get the old one fixed?”

“I didn’t think of it and I wanted to come here.”

“Wow.” Then he said, “When did this happen?”

“This morning. In Denver, when I was about to leave. That’s why I’m so late. I didn’t get out of Denver until ten o’clock.”

“I wondered. I didn’t think you were going to make it.”

The words “chicken out” hovered unsaid, but so obvious they were almost visible. “No, I came,” I admitted, feeling like an idiot.

“What are you reading?”

“This,” I showed him the book, Monsieur by Lawrence Durrell. “I don’t like it much. I liked the Alexandrian Quartet, but this? Not really.”

“Are you hungry?”

In my imagination, we were going to Old Town that night, but I didn’t say anything about it. I never suggested it, invited him, nothing.

“Let’s cook dinner.” He opened the sack which contained cheese and two cans of tuna. He handed me the cans and told me to open them, but I, who had never thought of getting my tired repaired rather than replacing it, didn’t know how to use his can opener. I suppose he thought I was some kind of pansy who had used only electric can openers, but that wasn’t the case. My can opener was even more primitive than his. “I don’t know how to use this,” I said.

“You don’t?”

“No. I never used one like this.”

“Here.” He showed me opening one can. “Now you do it.”

I did it and drained the oil from the tuna into the sink.

“What are you doing with all that good oil?” he screamed. “You’re wasting it!”

“You cook,” I said, and he did, winding up with a tuna casserole we ate with carrot sticks. Then, it was over. Everything had been prepared, cooked and eaten from one stainless steel pot. I loved it. No Cuisinart for this man; no fancy pasta machine. Just one pot, two knives, two spoons.

“That’s great,” I said.


“That pot.”

“It’s all they use in Nepal, for everything. Cooking, eating, shopping. That’s what I learned there. You don’t need a lot of stuff. You shouldn’t have more stuff than you need because, one way or another, you just have to carry it around with you. The best thing is a thing you can use in a lot of different ways. So, this pot. I brought back two.” He washed it. “Come on. I have to do something. You can help.” We went into what had been planned as a dining room but was now a study. He sat down at the typewriter.

Next to the typewriter was a model of a molecule. I picked it up and said, “Benzene.”

“How did you know?”

“My husband — ex-husband — was a chemistry major.”

“You’re a writer,” he said, suddenly. “I’m trying to write my application for medical school. Maybe you can figure out a good way to say this.”

“OK.” It was the first time I’d heard that I was a writer. The idea was exciting.

“I need to explain why I want to be a doctor.”

“So why do you want to be a doctor? Maybe if you tell me, you can just write down what you say.”

“I don’t know. Inspiration? Inspiration, I guess.”

Inspiration. Wow. I was knocked hard. No one I knew used inspiration as a reason for anything. Reasons were money, success, prestige. Charlie had beautiful legs, a stainless steel pot and ordered his life according to inspiration. I was very, very frightened.

“What inspired you? Write that.”

“India. When I was in India, I saw so many sick, sick people. You can’t imagine. You want to see some pictures?” he got up from the table and went to his room, and I followed like a puppy. I felt like a puppy. I’d been taken in, fed, disciplined and now I wanted to stay.

“Here.” He handed me a big book filled with pictures. I was behind him, still looking all around me. On the wall was a photo of the Taj Majal. There was the dome, some minarets, a slight haze, a reflection; water in the foreground in which beautiful curves moved, curves like the necks of swans or a woman’s arm, everything your mind visualizes with the words, “Taj Mahal.” But, the curves were the necks of camels, not swans; the water was a lake, not the rectangular reflecting pool; the dome was not centered perfectly between the minarets, but stood to one side. The photograph did everything I believe art should do, force you to turn around and look beyond your expectations.

“I love this picture,” I said with solemn reverence.

“It’s mine,” said Charlie.

“You took it?”

“It took me a long time to get everything just right.”

So, now I had to imagine Charlie sitting on an unknown dusty hill in Agra waiting for things to get “just right” so he could take this picture, develop it, hang it on his wall in Albuquerque so that I, a person he didn’t even know, would see it. There was no longer any chance for coherent conversation between us. I sat down and put the book in my lap.

Faces came out of the pages, dirty children smiling in bright red clothes. Mud houses. I remembered a woman I’d known in college, a woman from Afghanistan, whose husband was studying architecture. “What do you build houses with in Afghanistan, Akbar?”

“Mud,” he had replied.

“You mean adobe or bricks?”

“No. Mud.”

Here were mud houses and walls painted with huge, vivid eyes, stupas (for which I had no word at that time) with golden bells, prayer flags on strings waving in the wind, frozen in the pictures. “Is this Nepal?”

“No. That’s Ladakh. That’s where the Dalai Lama lives now since the Chinese threw him out of Tibet.”

“Were you there?”

“No. But that’s what Nepal looks like. You find scenes like that in Nepal. We did. You approach the mountain by hiking through all of these small villages. The children came out of the houses to get money. Nepal is beautiful, but terrible, too. Have you been to Mexico?”


“You know the bridge between Juarez and San Antonio?”

“Not really. I haven’t been there since I was five years old.”

“Well, anyway, Nepal is like that in places. Very poor. They are destroying their forests to get land to grow food. Here’s a Japanese book about the climb up Everest,” said Charlie. I opened it and looked at snow peaks. Since I had known Mark, I had unconsciously avoided the mountains; my one hike with Anne that July had been my first trip up into the mountains in three years.

“Listen,” said Charlie. “Are you hungry?”

“Uh, uh, no, but if you are…” I mumbled, not wanting to look up.

“Let’s go get something to eat.”

He had a motorcycle. We went out back, and he said we could take the bike. It was a big cycle, I don’t remember what kind. I had, fortunately, ridden a motorcycle before so it wasn’t another affair of the can opener. I got on, he started it, we were on our way.

“Do you like motorcycles?”

“Yeah, I do. I used to have a dirt bike.”

“What kind?”

“A small Honda. My ex-father-in-law bought it for me. When I divorced his son, he took it back.”

“That’s mean,” said Charlie. Charlie was trying to help me to relax. I was so scared and so tense that even the least perceptive person would notice and Charlie was NOT the least perceptive person. A fast trip on a big cycle would give us lots of chances to touch, and touching would have helped, but I kept my hands in the back pockets of my jeans. We rode around Albuquerque, by Old Town and downtown, stopping in a small, unfinished, mall. His old girlfriend was an architect; maybe this was one of her projects? I think he still loved her then; I think it was she who broke it off, but I don’t know. Anyway, we drove past her house, then down a busy street filled with low-riders and neon lights.

He stopped at a hot-dog stand and got a hot-dog, which he ate, telling me about filmmaking school in San Francisco and a three minute film he’d made about The Doggie Diner, hot-dogs and dachshunds. Then we went back. We sat in the living room in the dark and talked. Charlie tried to “draw me out.” “Do you climb?” he asked.

“I did in high school,” I answered. “Free climbing.”

“Didn’t you like it? Why did you stop?”

“I loved it. Most of my friends were climbers. I never got into the technical bit, though. I never did a big climb. I have problems telling my right from left and I was afraid of the knots I would tie. I just climbed around on the rocks in The Garden of the Gods, some rocks in Eldorado Canyon, places like that. Some of my friends did a lot. One of them lost his toes on some mountain, I don’t know where, California? It didn’t seem worth it to me.”

“I thought you loved mountains.”

“I love mountains, but it seems like a long time since I’ve been in them.”


I didn’t want to tell him what I thought the reason was. There was something luminous about Charlie and I didn’t want to throw shadows on the moment by revealing anything about my life with Mark, or the suddenly stupid, vapid, supposedly sophisticated evenings I spent with my “successful” attorney friends. Charlie was touching something I’d been about to leave behind.

“I guess I haven’t had time. I just finished my thesis, you know. And I work full time. What about you? How do you feel when you’re up there?”

“You know, I was reading, here, look at this,” he handed me a magazine, but it was too dark in the room to read. “Well, anyway, these guys are hang-gliding. Imagine that, imagine putting these wings on, walking to the edge of a cliff, then — bam! — stepping off, trusting the wind and the wings to carry you. What that must take!”

I had been reading a lot of Hemingway. The question of courage in his books seemed to point not so much at the kind of courage it takes to step off a cliff, but the kind of courage it takes to live what Thoreau termed “a life of quiet desperation.” For all of his wars and bullfights, Hemingway spoke of heroism in the modern, urban world; maintaining your soul and integrity — and life! — when life offers no real adventures for sustaining courage. Charlie had another courage in mind; something that had to do with death. I didn’t have anything to say because, at that moment, I recognized my own position. I was on the edge of a cliff and I didn’t know if I had wings.

“You’re probably tired,” he said, standing. When he came back, he had his sleeping bag and pad. He rolled them out on the living room carpet. “You can have my bed.”

I followed him into his room. He was carrying a small tin can in his hand. Placing it on the table next to his bed, he said, “This is for you.” It was a peanut butter can from India, “Prutina Peanut Butter.” On the side was a face of a blonde girl in pigtails who looked like she came off a wrapper for Swiss chocolate. It was a present for me. I imagined it being in his bag on his climb.

“Let’s go to the balloon festival tomorrow morning,” he said. “I went today. There was a mass ascension. You can’t believe how beautiful it is when eight hundred balloons take off together. We have to get there before sunrise.”

“That sounds great,” I said.

“Pleasant dreams.”

“I have a lot to dream about. All the pictures.”

“Yes. A lot of new visions.”

Charlie’s words struck me. I have always understood things as images, visions, contours. The images in my mind that night were not entirely new.

“Goodnight,” I said.

“If you get cold, pull that sleeping bag up over you.”

“OK. Goodnight.” I lay on the bed a long time, trying to relax.

Suddenly, I remembered what made the images from the books familiar. When I was a child, I never missed Lowell Thomas Presents. It was on Wednesday nights at 7:30, at the same time as my little brother’s Little League games. I loved baseball, and I practiced with his team, but I wouldn’t miss Lowell Thomas for anything. Strangely enough, although we never had a color television set, my memories of those travelogues are in color. In color Lowell Thomas chased down the Dalai Lama; he visited the dye pots of Timbuktu; he climbed the High Atlas Mountains. I drifted to sleep, Charlie’s pictures and Lowell Thomas’ trips melting together in my brain. Still, it didn’t account for the frightening sense of recognition I felt when Charlie’s eyes met mine in the kitchen.

It got cold in the night. October in New Mexico — maybe warm days, but the nights are cold. I was awake early because of the cold, but not awake enough to cover myself better. At 5:30 Charlie knocked on the door. “Come on if we’re going to eat breakfast and make it in time.”

“I’m awake.” I got up. I was even more tired than the day before, but I was determined to be less catatonic and stupid.

“Hi. Do you like yoghurt?”


“I got this thing for Christmas.” He pointed toward a yoghurt machine. “Here, try it. It’s good. How about sprouted wheat? Can you eat that?”

I was thinking, “Health food?” but I said, “Why not?”

“My mother can’t. She can’t seem to digest it. I made bread yesterday. Do you like honey?”

“Sure.” He poured honey over my yoghurt and on my bread. The bread was tough and chewy, dense like a brick. “That’s my dad’s honey,” said Charlie. “He keeps bees.”

My resolution to be articulate vanished. Homemade, sprouted wheat bread, homegrown honey and yoghurt. I thought of my usual — Carnation Instant Breakfast and espresso. Charlie appeared with dental floss. He flossed comfortably, happily, talking. I had quit flossing when my first husband told me it wasn’t appealing. Every small, everyday thing this man did pushed me further into my pit of silence. We got on the motorcycle and went to the fairgrounds were the balloons were firing up. I managed the ride to the fairgrounds without touching him.

Truly it might be the most beautiful sight in the world, 800 balloons in dazzling colors, expanding in the early morning sunshine, then taking off steadily higher with the sun until all the balloons and the sun are well above the Earth. The balloons drifted silently toward the mountains. Near eleven, Charlie said, “Let’s go. I have work to do today.”

We went back to his place. Once there, I actually opened my mouth and invited him for dinner that night.

“I didn’t know you could stay so long,” he said. “I have plans to go to a volleyball tournament tonight. We only have a few tickets, or I’d ask you to come along. But you can stay if you want. I’ll be back around eleven.”

I should have felt rejected or brushed off, but I felt relieved. I was off the hook. It wasn’t just images of children’s dirty faces, snow peaks and the Taj Majal. Other things had happened and were clamoring to be thought about. I knew at that moment that I wanted to go home. I wanted to go home and write stories. I realized it was all I had ever wanted to do. Succeed, fail, whatever the outcome, there was nothing else. Inspiration, no other motive, deserved my life.

“No, I’ll head out. It’s sort of ridiculous to hang around if you have to study and have plans. I would have to leave early in the morning, anyway, if I leave tomorrow, so what’s the point? I’ll go get my stuff together. I went to his room and put my few things into my backpack. Charlie stood at the doorway watching me. The most important thing, to me was to remember the peanut butter can and take a long look at the Taj Mahal.

“Do you have a spare fan belt?” he asked.

“No. Why?”

“You should have one.”

“Oh no,” I said, “I don’t want to be outside of Walsenburg in the dark changing a fan belt.”

“I don’t want you to, either. That’s why you should get one before you leave.”

Now that I was leaving, my personality was returning. I thought to myself, “What is it? Some kind of charm?”

Charlie said, “It’s like a talisman. If you have one, you won’t need it. Your fan belt won’t break.”

“So, do I wear it around my neck?”

“Yes, exactly,” and he smiled. “Here, go to Target. It’s on your way out of town.”

We walked out back together. I decided to check my oil. I opened the hood of my VW and pulled out the dipstick. “Did I tell you I got a speeding ticket?”

“No. Where?”

“South of Las Vegas. I was going 82. Can you believe it? I was so excited. It was fantastic!”


“Oh yeah, you see, three months ago I tuned up my engine and cleaned and rebuilt the carburetor myself. Isn’t it beautiful?” I put my hand on the carburetor.

“That’s amazing! I just did the same to my car!” His Karmann Ghia was sitting next to my Bug. He opened the hood. I was curious to see what the differences were between the Karmann Ghia and a Bug since os many of my friends seemed to think the Ghia was a piece of junk. It was not as simply and elegantly laid out as my engine, but it was OK. Charlie reached in a gently placed his hand on the carburetor of his car. We stood together, our hands on our respective carburetors, as if they were small, cherished pets. It was the first time I had felt relaxed with Charlie. Obviously we shared the same affectionate feelings toward our carburetors. It was something. “It’s incredible, you know? It’s something I couldn’t have done before I took chemistry. It’s been good, taking all of these courses.”

“You mean in summer school?”

“Yeah. I was a literature major — you know that. I had to get as many of my pre-med requirements this summer as I could because I’m almost too old to be accepted anywhere. I don’t have them all, yet. Now I’m taking Inorganic. It’s tough.”

“I know what Inorganic is. The one that killed my ex was Physical Chemistry.”

“I liked that one. So, you’re going?”


“And you’re going to get a fan belt?”

“Right. Well, thanks for the pictures and the balloons.”

He looked at me intently and strangely. “Could you at least give me a hug good-bye?”

“God,” I thought. “Maybe not.” I walked to him and put my arms around him. Since I’d been asked for it, I didn’t die or faint. “Well, bye. If you’re ever in Devoid, let me know.”

“I will. Be careful. Get your fan belt, OK?”

“OK.” He followed me to the car. There in my back seat were my hiking boots. “Hey,” I said. “There are my boots.”

“Are those the ones you wrote me about?”

“Yep. That’s them. Probably have blood stains on the heels.”

“Why do you still have them?”

“I don’t know.”

“Why would anyone keep boots that hurt their feet? Give them to me. I’ll sell them for you and send you the money.”

I handed over the boots, awed by Charlie’s simple sanity. Why would anyone keep boots that hurt their feet?

“Well, goodbye,” I said, “thanks for unloading the boots. That should help my mileage not to tote them back to Denver.”

“They are heavy, but they’re good Italian boots.”

“They are, but they don’t fit me.”

I headed out of town, stopping for a fan belt. I felt light, luminous. In the sky I could still see balloons drifting off. I drove the short way, through Taos, but I got lost and found myself driving dirt roads in circles in aspen filled canyons at the base of Taos Mountain.

I love Taos. Miracles can happen there — or could, years ago. One day, as a tourist at Taos Pueblo, I stood on a bridge over a stream and looked at the mountain. My eyes wandered down to the buildings, the piles of homes that make up the pueblo. I saw that the rooms were heaped in such a way that they mimicked the shape of the mountain. It seemed that was true from every point in which I stood, the pueblo and the mountain were the same shape.

I found the highway and drove through the San Luis Valley at sunset. I climbed the pass and dropped into Walsenburg at dusk. I stopped for gas and got a burger at the A&W. The way home was dark, and I felt slightly paranoid about the fan belt, but at least I was no longer suffering from neurotic flat tires. The drive was long, the car unheated, but I was warm with excitement. I knew what I was doing and why for the first time in years, maybe ever. I was a writer, and I was going home to write. All the difficulties of my life and relationships were minor, now. They were food for stories. I couldn’t wait. The Law School Admission Test, which I was taking the following Saturday, seemed like a big joke. Let others be lawyers; I had decided to take the step off the cliff. That was the only way I could know if I had wings.

Just after midnight, I unlocked my door. I turned on my desk lamp, opened my bag and unpacked. In the bottom I found the peanut butter can. On the bottom was written “CM Glass Jar.” I took off the lid. Inside I found plastic bubble wrap. I carefully pulled it out and unwrapped a stone jar small enough to sit in the palm of my hand and exactly the right shape.

Hot Knob

Tom was astounded and scared. The smell of burnt mush wafted down the hall on the waves of Jordan’s screams. He stood up.

“Honey,” he said to his wife, “You have to get up. Miranda’s missing.”

“It’s just one of her games. You’ll find her somewhere.”

“I don’t want to argue. The mush is burning, Jordan is crying and Miranda is gone.”

“Welcome to MY world,” said Joan. But she sat up, slipped her feet into her fluffy bunny slippers and put on her robe. Tying it around her, she went to the kitchen, picked Jordan up so he would stop screaming, and turned off the fire under the mush. “Whoever said children change your life was right. I don’t know about the ‘for the better’ part.” Jordan grabbed a wad of her hair and pulled it. She went to Miranda’s bedroom and found Tom sitting on Miranda’s bed. He’d moved Miranda’s pink fluffy rug and the bed to one side and was staring at the trap door..

“Did you KNOW about this?”

“The question you should be asking, Tom, is whether it’s a real door or not.”

“Oh come on. Miranda couldn’t have drawn this. She’s five.”

Tom leaned down and touched the lava doorknob. “Good Lord!” he screamed, pulling back his hand. “This is crazy. That doorknob is as hot as fire.”

“Probably something wrong with the furnace. I think you should call somebody.”

“Get me a hot pad from the kitchen.”

“You’re not serious.”

“I had a funny feeling last night when Miranda came to our room, a premonition, that there really was…”

“A TROLL? Tom, call the cops. If our daughter is really missing — and hasn’t just found the perfect hiding place — but seriously?” Joan lifted her voice and called, “Miranda! Miranda! Come out from wherever you are. This isn’t funny any more. Miranda!!!!

Part One: Bad Dream

Sticky Notes

“Good luck with that!” Tiffany softly giggled to herself.

“I’m serious. I insist you clean up your room.”

“Mom. I’m 38. You don’t have that kind of leverage any more.”

“You’re living in MY house under MY roof. You’ll do as I say.”

“Yeah, but mom, I took over the payments six years ago. It’s really MY house and yeah. I have to go to work.”

“Tiffany! I’m your mother! Come back here! Listen to me when I’m talking to you!”

Tiffany was relieved to hear the front door open and close followed by footsteps in the hall. “Thank goodness,” she thought.

“Hi Mrs. Baumgarten.”

“Who are you?”

“Jenny? Your nurse? Remember? I come every day, Mrs. Baumgarten. Have you had your breakfast yet?”

Tiffany’s mother shook her head and looked around Tiffany’s room in confusion. It wasn’t messy. It was as neat as a pin. She shrugged and followed Jenny to the kitchen.

“Jenny, can we have a word?” Tiffany passing the kitchen on her way out.


“She just had an episode.”

“I thought she might have. She gets that lost look in her eyes afterwards, sort of ‘What was that?'”

“If you need me I’m only a text away.”

“We’re going to sit down after breakfast and write sticky notes to ourself to help us with the day.”

“I love that. I come home and see everything mom did while I was gone.”

“It keeps her on track. Don’t worry, Tiffany. Have a good day.”

“You too, Jenny, and thank you.”

“No worries. Remember, you pay me!” Jenny smiled and gave Tiffany a quick hug.

“Yeah, I know, but…”

“I know.”

“Bye mom!”

“Bye honey! Have a good day!”

Satori of Pit Bull

“I think so, too. Roger. You were right. I’m not interested in anything, not here, anyway. I don’t know why. I mean we have a great place to live, good jobs, you’re a good looking guy, we’re pretty much free to do what we want…”

“Uh, I didn’t mean that talk.”

“WHAT talk, then?”

“Jasmine, I saw the green flash.”

“Comic books again, Roger?” Jasmine suddenly knew why she was so bored with this man.

“It was amazing. Miraculous, I didn’t even think it really existed.”

“Of course it doesn’t exist. He’s a comic book character. You are such a CHILD. If I wanted kids, I’d have some.” Jasmine stood up from the bed, looked into the contents of her suitcase, decided there were stores everywhere and she had money. Why was she packing ANYTHING? OH well. She closed it carefully, making sure it was latched. She didn’t want her dramatic exit to turn into a comedic movie scene where the lid popped open and lingerie spilled everywhere. “Roger, I’m leaving. I don’t know if I’m leaving for good or not, but, yeah, this isn’t making me happy.”

“Wait, Jasmine, what I learned is that NOTHING makes us happy. We’re either happy or we’re not. You know what? A bum, a homeless fucking bum, on the beach who’s got NOTHING, offered to share his beer with me. He said I looked ‘forlorn’.”

“So? Were you?”

“Well, yeah. Trev and Candace were, I dunno, and then you didn’t want to go with me, that was, I dunno. I took a walk and kept meeting weirdos. I ended up sitting on the sand with a pit bull and a teenager waiting for the green flash.”

“A pit bull and a teenager?”

“Yeah. Sweet dog.”

“OK, well, you know, it’s been real, Roger, but…” She walked down the hallway to the foyer pausing to take a look around at their “home.”

“If you leave, we’ll have to sell this place.” Roger thought for a moment. What would be so bad about that?

“We can talk about the details later, babe.”

“Where are you going?”

“I don’t know right now. I’ll be in touch.” The door closed behind her and Roger found himself in their barn of a house. Its decorative touches, the vaulted ceiling, the giant fireplace they never used, the wallpaper frieze of undulating patterns that had once so enchanted Jasmine all seemed like silly adornment on a world that didn’t need adornment, a world that had a green flash.

Part 1: Allergic to Life

Part 2: Something about Cake

Part 3: Connectivity Issues

Part 4: Crowd Control

Part 5: THAT Sentence

THAT Sentence

Jasmine got up from the bed. In a way, Roger was right. She never did want to do anything. She wondered when life had become so B-O-R-I-N-G. She tried calling him again. There was the ring. What was he doing? Hanging out in the front yard? What a weirdo!

She looked at herself in the mirror. “I still have it going on,” she thought. “What am I doing? Maybe mother was right.” She sat down at her dressing table and brushed out her long, black hair.

“Mixed race marriage? Big problem. Live with first.”

“Oh mother,” she’d said. “You’re ideas are old-fashioned.”

“You come different worlds. How you communicate?”

“I came from San Francisco. He came from San Jose. How are those ‘different worlds’?”

“I come from China. You raised Chinese way.”

“Oh Mother.” Why did she talk like that? She had a PhD from Stanford, for the love of God. She was a brilliant woman. Why had she never learned proper English?

Jasmine was tired of being “different.” The truth was, she was neither Chinese nor American. She was some Amy Tan creation. “Joy-Luck Club my ass,” she thought when that book had been assigned in some college English class. “I’ll tell you about the Joy-Luck Club.”

She got the suitcase down from the top shelf of the closet and flopped it on the bed. She began pulling outfits from the closet and putting them into the suitcase. She couldn’t take everything, but enough to get away somewhere and think things over.

Could her mother be right? Was it some cultural thing that lurked behind everything, or did she really just find Roger boring as hell?

She tried calling again. This time he picked up.

“What the fuck have been doing in the front yard for the past two hours?” were the first words out of her mouth.

“I lost my phone,” he said, coming in the front door. “We need to talk.”

Part 1: Allergic to Life

Part 2: Something about Cake

Part 3: Connectivity Issues

Part 4: Crowd Control

Crowd Control

“Dude, are you doing better? You looked so forlorn when you came by here a little while ago. Want some Fosters?” The oil-drum homeless guy reached out to Roger with a paper bag, top turned down around a large can of beer.

“Are you kidding?”

“No, dude. It’s decent beer. I was in Australia once. Shoulda’ stayed. Had a woman and everything. You hoping to see the Green flash?”


“Perfect conditions for it. Clear sky, bright sun, I dunno, we might get lucky. You wanna’ buy some shrooms?”

“No, I don’t want to buy some shrooms.”

“Just thought I’d ask.”

Roger shuddered, and decided to head further down the beach without taking his eyes off the horizon. He found a place to sit on the sand and looked toward the west. To his right a small group of dread-locked nouveau hippies was dancing in a circle around a drummer. Marijuana smoke wafted toward him.

“I wonder what happened to my god-damned phone?” he muttered, more loudly than he realized.

“Material things are ties. They anchor us to desire,” said a young man in a saffron robe passing by. His head was shaved, his feet were bare. He stood in front of Roger, blocking his view of the sun.

“Could you get out of the way? I want to see the green flash?”

“Oh, sorry dude,” said the young man. “Namaste!”

“No privacy anywhere any more,” said Roger.

“It’s a public beach, dude, what do you expect?” The kid with the skateboard and pit bull sat down beside him. “You trying to see the green flash?” The dog licked Roger’s ear.


About the Green Flash

Part 1: Allergic to Life

Part 2: Something about Cake

Part 3: Connectivity Issues

Connectivity Issues

“I’ll have grilled mahi tacos, two of them. Candace?”


“Roger? Roger? Earth to Roger. Come in, Roger.”

“I’m going home. Sorry guys.” Roger got up from the bar stool, left twenty bucks on the table and was out the door. His first thought was to go home, see what was up with Jasmine, but somehow he couldn’t make himself get in his car.

“I guess I need to think,” he said aloud. “Walk on the beach or something.””

“What, buddy?” a voice came out from behind an old oil drum put on the beach for trash.

“Maybe this isn’t such a good idea, either. So many homeless guys here now. Winter.”

He turned up Newport. Trev and Candace waved as he went by. “So embarrassing. First my girl doesn’t show up with me, now, I dunno. What’s the point of love anyway?” he said to himself. He looked around. All the same buildings, many with new paint, new names. “Everything changes all the god-damned time.”

He fumbled around in his pocket for his phone. He’d call her, see if she wanted to meet him down here, walk on the beach. He had his wallet, keys, yeah, they were where they were supposed to be, no phone. “Where’s my fucking phone?” he said aloud.

“Hey, go down on the beach with the rest of the crazies why don’t you?” said a teenager on a skateboard being pulled by a pit bull.

“Who’s crazy?” he yelled back. “I’d like to see your folks’ dental bill when that dog pulls you into a lamp post!”

He fumbled around in his pocket some more. “Must be in my car,” he muttered, and headed back down Newport to the parking lot at the end of the street by the beach, by the bar, by the bums. As he passed South Beach Bar and Grill, Trevor and Candace waved again. He flipped them the bird.

What was left of day seemed to funnel into one small red spot on the horizon. Roger stood a moment and watched, “What if,” he thought, “it’s real? What if there really is a green flash?”

Part 1: Allergic to Life

Part 2: Something about Cake


Allergic to Life

“I don’t want to go. I’m allergic.”

“Allergic to what?”

“You know.”

“You mean everything you don’t want to do? That’s what you’re allergic to, Jasmine.”

“Why are you so mean?”

“I’m not mean. I just wish you were interested in something.”

“OK, well, I’m allergic to stuff I’m not interested in.”

“What ARE you interested in?”

“I don’t know. All week I have to work and then on the weekend, I don’t know.”

“You don’t want to do anything. Are you allergic to your JOB?”

“Oh, Roger. Leave me alone.”

“Sounds like a plan.” Roger got up off the bed and left the bedroom. The next thing Jasmine heard was the front door slamming.

Jasmine picked up her phone and pushed the button leading to Roger’s phone. She heard it ring in the front yard, but Roger didn’t answer.

…and THEN

“Hey, Loretta? Chief Mendez here. We got ourselves a situation. Git Chuck Roberts at Public Works on the horn and tell him there’s a gas emergency on Second Avenue, 432 Second Avenue. Broken gas line. Thanks, doll. Over.”

The Chief put the radio handset back in the car. “Little Timmy, I want you to go to the neighbors on both sides of this house and tell them to get out now.”

“Hey, Chief, it can’t be that bad.”

“I hope it ain’t that bad. Just do it.”

Little Timmy took off, bewildered at the strange shape this day had taken.

“Ma’am,” he began to the elderly woman who answered the door. “The chief and I would like you to leave your house immediately. There’s an emergency in the house next door.” He motioned with his head.

“You bet your ass there’s an emergency with the house next door,” said the woman. “But why should I go?”

“Something to do with the gas line.”

“Where am I supposed to go?”

“I don’t know. Away.”

“How long?”

“I don’t know. I guess till we fix it or the whole damned thing explodes.”

“Little Timmy, you were always kind of stupid.”

Something in the woman’s voice awakened a dark memory in Little Timmy’s mind. Ah, his second grade teacher. “Mrs. Sanchez?”

“I’m surprised you remember.”

“How could I forget? In any case, you have to go.”

“Little Timmy!” yelled Chief Mendez. “This is no time for conversation! Tell that woman she has to get out!”

“Chief, it’s Mrs. Sanchez. She won’t go.”

“I can’t go. I got this walker and my husband’s chair bound and on oxygen. You’d just better fix it, Little Timmy.” She slammed the door.

“Tell her at least to turn off her gas.”

Little Timmy pounded on the door.

“Chief says turn off your gas,” he said to a red faced Mrs. Sanchez.

“I heard him.”

“But it doesn’t mean your house won’t blow up.”

“It reduces the risk.”

“If that empty house blows up, your house could blow up, too, or burn down.”

“I’ll take that risk. Now c’mon Little Timmy, take this wrench and go turn off my gas. The turn off is right there, right by the meter. I think you can do that. The guy who reads that meter is no brighter than you.”

“God I hate that woman,” said Little Timmy under his breath, turning the lever to off.

Chief Mendez had better luck with the people in the house on the other side. They stood across the street on a neighbor’s lawn. Pretty soon the service truck from the city utilities showed up.

“Hey Chuck,” said Chief Mendez. “It’s the gas line in that empty house. Little Timmy shot it.”


“Don’t ask.”

“Well, I turned off the gas on this end of town. Let’s go see what we got. How did you find the leak?”

“Smelled like skunk. We went down to the basement with two traps and then I heard the hissing and remembered. Natural gas has that skunk stuff in it, right?”


“Well, in a place where we have skunks, you might want to come up with something less common. We’d’ve found it sooner.”

“Well, you found it and that’s the main thing. Let’s get the gas off to this house so’s these other people can cook supper. I think Mrs. Sanchez lives in that house, right?” Chuck pointed at the house next door.

“Yeah, she does.”

“I don’t want Mrs. Sanchez calling me about her gas not being on. I don’t want Mrs. Sanchez calling me at all.”

“You had her too?” asked Little Timmy.

“Second grade.”

“Is it always like this Chief?” asked Little Timmy as they drove away.

“No. Not usually. Don’t usually have an assistant who almost shoots off his foot and then causes a gas leak. Don’t usually have some kind of damned boa constrictor in the bathroom. Usually it’s just the random car break in, crack house or domestic dispute. But those can go sideways, too.”

“I don’t think I’m cut out for this, Chief. I almost caused a disaster.”

“Little Timmy, you ARE a disaster.” The chief grinned at the boy, but saw Little Timmy was really about to cry. “C’mon, son. We all mess up. The important thing is not to let it get out of hand. You want a cup of coffee? I understand that coffee shop downtown isn’t giving people food poisoning any more.”


Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:Tender Reunion

Part 4: Run!!!


“Just skunks — wait, skunks? In the basement? Why didn’t we smell them before?”

“Maybe they just arrived.”

“That’s all this place needs on top of being ugly as sin, haunted and the long-term domicile of a dog-eating snake.” Chief Mendez sighed.

“What’ll we do?”

“We’re not just cops, Little Timmy. We’re animal control. I guess we’d better get a couple traps and head for the basement.”

“I hate this house.”

“With reason, Little Timmy. With reason.” The Chief patted his assistant on the back. “It’s all in a day’s work.”

The two men went out to the police car, opened the trunk, and retrieved a couple of foldable wild-animal traps.

“It’s not like they’re hard to catch. The thing is, you catch ’em and you have to carry them somewhere. Last time I transported a skunk my wife wouldn’t come near me.”

“That’s bad, Chief.”

“Had to sleep in the spare room. It was months before she finally let me back in our bedroom.”

“Skunk is hard to shake, that’s for sure.”

“You know how to bait these?”

“Sardines. We got sardines?”

“Sardines. That’s a good idea. All we have is peanut butter, but it’ll work.”

Chief Mendez and Little Timmy Ortiz unfolded the traps, set the bait and headed slowly and silently down the steps to the basement.

“How’d they get in?” asked Little Timmy looking around.

“Shhhh,” said Chief Mendez his ear cocked in the direction of the water heater.

“I’m just saying we need to put the traps near their entry point.”

“Timmy, listen, we need to get upstairs as fast as we can and outside this God-forsaken house.”


“You hit the gas line when you fired your gun.”


Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:Tender Reunion