Sunday, June 19, 2016




What would you do?
What choice would you make?
How far would you go to erase the past?

SMITTY FOWLER, (the Tri State Serial Killer) terrorized the rural areas of NY, PA and NJ for years. During Fowler’s reign, six teenage girls were killed, each one indoctrinated into his macabre collection of dead wives. Sami Saxton made international news for single-handedly killing Smitty Fowler. Jeanette, his wife, wasn’t so lucky. Recently diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and left alone to raise her daughter, Amanda, her options seemed limited. This is her story…

     She had written the suicide note before, many times… but had always thrown it away. Sometimes she would take a match to the paper, and watch as it slowly burned in the kitchen sink, the edges folding in on themselves, the corners crumpling inward – the colors changing from lava red, to black, then gray – before collapsing into its papery defeat.
     Today would be different…
     Today would be a different story…

"We make up horrors to help us deal with the real ones." ~ Stephen King

                                               

Sunday, February 21, 2016

A WRITER'S IDENTITY


Sami Saxton is on a short hiatus.

She did NOT arrive on Christmas Day, 2015 as promised. Sami is not ‘gone for good,’ but merely on a leave of absence. But in the spirit of transparency and honesty, I feel obliged to explain why?

If anyone is even remotely interested…

As a self-published, indie author, I felt it was important for my ‘emerging author brand’ to regiment myself to a strict time schedule -- a deadline so to speak -- and pump out two works of fiction each and every year. I am fortunate. I have two wonderful and engaging characters to draw ideas from... Sami Saxton and Dan Hammer. Trust me, they provide me with enough alter ego material and story lines to last, well, indefinitely. I hope. Then along came an idea last year to explore a new concept, Aberrant, my Queer Diary Series, and my clock twisted. In digging up the spiritual bedrock for Ellery Flynn -- my fictional sixty-seven year old aging author -- I began uprooting core foundations of my own beliefs, and the work took on a complex and completely different meaning for me, metamorphosing into what some call 'a labor of love.' 

My deadline stalled.

Whose deadline was I on anyway?

I wasn’t signed to a major book publisher awaiting a lucrative financial advance once the pages were submitted.  I hadn’t secured a upper echelon Manhattan editor who was calling me daily, inquiring about the work, my progress, preparing my manuscript for advance galley copies to be sent out to the media in hopes of garnering praise and adulation and book awards from top magazines and notable reviewers. Barnes & Nobel and all the tiny little independent bookstores across the country weren’t salivating to plop my current work into their NEW ARRIVAL bin, displaying the glitzy cover of my hardback copy in a snazzy larger-than-life book dump at the entrance to their stores, in the hope of capturing last minute compulsive sales. I wasn't a notable brand, a household name, or one of the coveted holiday release authors. Nope. That wasn’t me.

The truth was... I was on my own deadline.

A self-induced time-frame dictated by me to cast more work into an already overburdened Amazon Universe and continue pushing-and-shoving my creative career up a steep mountain that might not need so much pushing.

I digress…

By doing the daily disciplined work on Aberrant and keeping up with my strict regimen, an act of transformation occurred. I suppose this is what all writers hope to accomplish at some point in their work, their career, to create an authentic voice that speaks to the reader with honesty, and courage and humanity.

In discovering Ellery William Flynn, I had inadvertently recovered a lost part of myself. In creating his past, I somehow tapped into my own. Once I completed Aberrant, (on time, I might add) how disappointing to publish my new fabulous work and find no public interest. My readers wanted my mysteries, my thrillers. They insisted I publish books on the ravages of cold-blooded serial killers, not an aging gay author awakening to life before his death. How depressing! 

I learnt this lesson with Perfect, my third book in the Sami Saxton series. I wanted Sami to have some respite after all the horrific things that had happened to her in her previous books. I mean, c’mon! So I weaved an element of romance into her story line. (Or rather, Sami insisted I do it.) How fortunate to have a best friend like Drew to whisk her away on a transatlantic cruise to Italy and to be charmed, and seduced and courted by an Italian hunk. And... I might add, how deviously fun for me, as the author, to be the voyeuristic fly on the wall and take naughty dictation while Sami caroused and danced and flirted around his charismatic advances. OMG! My readers were distressed. Again! Why interrupt a good thriller with romance? Nobody cared. The book languished in lousy sales. Even Kirkus who offered Perfect a solid and favorable nod failed to deliver devout Sami readership.

Therefore, in the middle of November, half way through the new Sami Saxton novel, I stopped. My computer sat dormant on my desk, the power turned off. I processed. I reflected. I sat back and thought about this new place I was currently occupying. I took a vacation to New Orleans over the Thanksgiving holiday. I ate and drank like southern royalty (and gained ten pounds) and witnessed a wonderful lesbian wedding. When I returned to Los Angeles, the same blank feeling persisted. Not entirely unwanted, I might add, just different. I wrote in my journal, numerous times, in an attempt to process, again, and try to understand my blankness of spirit. It wasn’t writer’s block I was plagued with; in fact, I had the next several chapters already plotted out in my head. I just didn’t think I wanted to write any more…

So I stopped.

And I took it all back… for me.

I chose to not be on a schedule any longer. I stopped the desperate hunger for sales and reviews, for precious nods and flirty winks from publishing companies or eager agents cooing over my work. I ceased the quandary over whether to advertise or not advertise, or to post an event on Goodreads or Facebook, or to be a part of, or enlist in a ‘specific other author event,’ giving away merchandise, and Kindles, and gift cards, in a bleak attempt to entice new readership to my webpage and sell one more copy of one more of my books. I stopped marketing and shelling out cash to an endless money trail of hope. The hope of believing in a dream -- my dream -- the dream, and obviously a Universal dream, shared by most people with a working computer, half an idea, a fourth grade framework on how to structure a sentence, and the romantic notion of becoming a BESTSELLING AUTHOR. That dream scattered in the zeitgeist across a vast Amazon Galaxy like fairy dust wanting nothing more than to sell books -- millions of books -- and become the next Gillian Flynn of Gone Girl fame.

I get it!

I remember my agent, the established and curmudgeonly one I acquired in NYC, the one who sold my first book to a publisher, had once said in an interview, “the most important advice I can give to any new writer is… get a full time job in a restaurant.” He wasn’t kidding. I remember reading that particular interview and being miffed. I had worked my entire life in executive positions in the hospitality industry, and, I was currently employed in an amazing job, a position I loved in fact, in a posh restaurant, but what I wanted was the option to option out! Turn my hobby into a career and my career into my hobby! 

Right?

I stopped reading the endless success stories of how independent authors (you know who you are) who had come before me and sold MILLIONS upon MILLIONS of e-copies with their specific (pay me the money) secrets on how “You Too Can Do the Same!” How you too can become the next Amanda Hocking or Colleen Hoover, or the Tracy Graves of the world, not to mention E. L. James, that crafty and cunning woman who turned her little nighttime sex blog into a lucrative association with major advances from a mega-six publishing house and a Hollywood production company. Lets face it, the gods of readership are slippery, if not fickle. Who knows what the next big ‘thing’ will be? It could be trolls, or vampires one year, YA fantasy the next, witches, or hell, even queers on roller skates!

I had to look into my soul, reevaluate my intentions, my motivation, and be completely honest with myself, not always an easy task. Before publishing my first book, I wrote for validation; the like me, love me, am I good enough?, pay me some attention, hear my voice, hear me roar… routine. After the release of A PERFECT HUSBAND, a dot of confidence took up residence where once only insecurity had resided. Where I once wrote only for the acceptance and approval of somebody, anybody, will you read my work, please?, now I was writing for myself. And I loved it! It fueled me! It invoked a passion inside me that was new and exciting and each day I woke with a hunger to get to my desk and create and to build and to ultimately conquer the publishing world. I enjoyed the trust, the inner assurance, the determination I experienced while listening to my characters dictate their unique voices and their solitary, sometime inhumane actions. It brought about a new and positive identity for me, an identity I had rarely felt before in my life, especially one so particular as this, and I reveled in the shimmering glow of my newest and obviously, soon-to-turn-lucrative passion.

Bingo!

I am a writer.

It is one of my many identities. To quit writing allowed me the opportunity to catch up with myself, to take a breath and understand the value of myself without the writing, without the identity of wanting to be that particular brand of writer that I desired so doggedly, tattooed with blood on my heart and my monthly bank statements.  It allowed me the necessary time off to feel the restless and urgent need to get back to writing. Again. To bring back the passion of what writing invoked in me in the first place, in my heart, the power of the words, the journey I committed to each time I set sail on a new blank screen and started typing away on that sea of white. But more importantly, it taught me about success, my own quiet success. It allowed me to do the work for the sheer love of writing, for the continuous and ongoing love of the characters -- my characters -- the ones created by me, the ones I choose to write about. It stopped being for the vapid flight of fame, or the glory, or the reviews, or the constant emotional disappointment of not being relevant out there in a Universe overloaded in golden desires. 

Perhaps my writing ultimately brought out the many identities and facets of me. It brought me back to me, the good me, the autonomous me, with insight and maturity and enough hands-on-experience to allow this identity to remain a constant.    

Sami Saxton is smiling. So is Dan Hammer. Even Ellery Flynn. They all have some surprises up their sleeves in 2016…

For the time being, I am listening… and taking dictation

Saturday, October 17, 2015

THE EXCERPT FROM A PERFECT WIFE

"We make up horrors to help us cope with the real ones." Stephen King 


jfowler@gmail.com
Thu 7/12/2014 5:23 PM
To: Benjie14@aol.com
Where r u? Benjie! I’ve been calling…texting, leaving messages on your cell phone!!! Wtf!

jfowler@gmail.com
Thu 7/12/2014 5:23 PM
To: Benjie14@aol.com
I’m freaking out, Benjie! I’m a f*cking lunatic! I can’t do this anymore! I can’t take this shit! Call me! NOW!

jfowler@gmail.com
Thu 7/12/2014 5:24 PM
To: Benjie14@aol.com
I’m nauseous. My body’s swollen. I can’t breathe. I feel like a f*cking blimp! I’ve taken all my meds…

jfowler@gmail.com
Thu 7/12/2014 5:24 PM
To: Benjie14@aol.com
Amanda needs me. She needs more than I can give right now. She cries all the time! All the f*cking time! She’s crying right now! Dammit, Benjie, I need you…Benjie? C’mon, call me! Please.
Please…
Come take the baby before I do something stupid…I’m not in my right mind…



7/12/2014 5:25 PM

“Shhhh…shhhh…I’m here now…don’t cry. Shhhh. I’m here, little one. I’m here.”

Jeanette leaned over the crib and began undressing her baby. Amanda had been restless, fidgety, but stopped fussing the moment she caught sight of her mother. First off came her white nightshirt, swimming with tiny pink flowers. Her mamma--God Bless, had bought the outfit as a first year birthday gift at that cute little baby store up in Matamoras. Jeanette folded the top neatly, feeling the softness of the fabric in between her fingers--crushed cotton, and placed it to the side. Next came the leggings, the ones with the padded feet and stretchy material the color of Day-Glo yellow. Way too bright! The top and bottom were a matching set, and already Amanda was growing out of it. At fourteen months, she was into everything, shuffling around on her hands and knees, taking first steps, standing up and falling backwards, crawling on the floor and collecting dust better than a Swifter. She checked her diaper—dry. Jeanette removed it as well and threw it into the wastebasket. She stroked Amanda’s hair off her forehead, and pushed soft brown locks away from her eyes.

Jeanette covered her shoulder with a blanket from the crib, picked Amanda up and held her bare body close to her chest. She began rocking her back and forth, slowly, gently.

“Shhh…shhhh. It’s all right, baby, I’m here now, I’m here with you…”

Amanda’s hands moved inside Jeanette’s robe, probing, searching for Jeanette’s breast.

“What’cha looking for?” Jeanette had continued breastfeeding Amanda long after the baby books had suggested her to stop. She enjoyed their bond, the togetherness it created between the two of them. Her doctor had warned her not to continue after she started back on her MS medications, but her breasts were so heavy, so full, that sometimes she needed Amanda to suckle them just to release the pressure.

“Not now, baby. Not now.” She pushed her hand away. “Let me tell you the story about your daddy, okay…one last time. Would you like that?” Amanda’s hands began moving up and down, excitedly. Oh, and those eyes, colored with a shade of blue so bright and big and clear, it literally took Jeanette’s breath away. They seemed to sparkle from deep within with a sort of Divine inner light.

“The seed of the devil created you, baby girl…did you know that? That’s right. The devil lives inside you, honey. Right there inside your chubby little belly…”

She leaned Amanda forward, bowing her head down to the floor, and kissing her fat stomach. Jeanette made a blowing sound, wind flapped from between her lips. A smile lit up on Amanda’s face, exposing a few teeth with wide-open spaces: a Gerber smile. Chubby fingers danced in front of her mouth.

“Your daddy…he was a beautiful monster. Beautiful. Mommy didn’t know that at the time, when she first married him, he was so, so handsome, and so, so quiet. Your daddy was one of the most handsome creatures your mommy had ever seen. Like an angel...” Jeanette talked about Smitty as if she were reading a children’s story, complete with ooohhs and ahhhhhs, soft purrs with trills.

She looked at the clock. Time was ticking…tick tock, tick tock…

“That must be why you’re so pretty. You have his face, honey, his features, his eyes--icy and blue and full of the devil. Let’s take a stroll to the bathroom. I have something I want to show you. A secret, our secret…”

The apartment was substandard; a dingy, ramshackle, one-bedroom shit-sty situated on the outskirts of Milford right off Highway 209. A leaky roof dripped rainwater into a dented-up bucket on the back porch. The backyard was a muddy mess; the dirt dug up from a German shepherd Donna and Troy kept tied up to a chain all-day. The dog barked incessantly. White dirty foam gathered at the sides of his mouth from pulling his choker so damn hard.

Her girlfriend was kind enough to let Jeanette crash at their house for the time being. The entire ordeal was putting a strain on Donna’s marriage though. She was a good friend--her best friend actually from high school, and of course, she had wanted to help Jeanette out. What else was she supposed to do? She couldn’t just put her out on the street, now could she? Not with a baby and all.

Donna’s husband was a long haired, low-life who worked as an assistant manager at a Mexican joint over on Hartford Street. He had delusional dreams of being a rock star! Right! And Donna had started working part time again too, just a few days a week as a nurse’s assistant in an old folk’s home over in Port Jervis. Changing beds and cleaning bedpans. Oh, the stories Donna used to share about that smelly place…drinking beers and smoking cigarettes, the two of them sitting close together on Donna's beat up futon sofa after she got off work and waiting for Troy to stumble home.

The clock ticking…tick, tock, tick, tock… 

Donna was pregnant now, too. That’s why she went back to work. She wanted to save up a little extra cash for when the baby was born, that is, if her train wreck of a husband didn’t steal it all for beer, or loose it on the blackjack tables at the nearby Poconos casino.

Their bathroom was a narrow, cramped, dark space that smelled of mold and damp rot. A brown colored stain ran a circular marathon inside the bathtub. The grout surrounding the yellow tile was black and old. A small window situated above the toilet was dressed in blue, chintzy, country-style curtains. Jeanette had tried, several times, to clean out that damn tub, but the ring stayed victorious. Not even Comet with extra strength scouring beads could help eliminate that funky buildup.

Jeanette’s life had been a f*cking shit show since running away from Smitty and moving back home with her mamma and Benjie. Benjie was her drunk, deadbeat, couch potato of a brother who watched TV all day and drank super-sized Coors Light on the sofa. He would fall asleep and snore so loud he’d wake himself up. And all of it on their mamma's dime!

Jeanette tried getting her life back together, considering everything she’d been through. And her mamma had helped out, as best she could, by babysitting and taking care of the little one. But once word started circulating around their small town about her ex-husband being Smitty Fowler--the infamous tri-county serial killer, and responsible for the deaths of six teenage girls in the area, well, it seemed as if overnight Jeanette became a piranha and her mamma a fugitive for harboring her. Her own family, her own skin and blood disowned her. Can you believe it?

“What kind of girl marries a serial killer?” 

“Were you retarded or something?” 

“What was your problem?” 

Graffiti, spray-painted across the front porch of her mamma's pristine white house: THE WIFE OF SERIAL KILLER SMITTY FOWLER LIVES HERE! The words spelled out in large explosive letters in paint the color of blood, just dripping with hate.
It was all too much for her mamma. She just couldn’t bear the stress. Her friends at work began to dwindle, just disappeared into thin air, and the community that once supported her, actually looked after her during one of the darkest periods of her life, (when her husband of thirty-four years died of a lingering bout of lung cancer) became intolerant, insensitive and nonexistent.

It was a difficult day when her own mamma had to ask Jeanette to leave the house.

How? 

Where? 

On what? 

Serial killer’s pension? 

Jeanette wasn’t working, not yet anyway, and her MS was flaring up like a wildfire from all the stress. The last thing Jeanette thought she would have to worry about was finding a job. Maybe she should have thought about that sooner.

Jeanette took the easy way out. Why not? Quick money for her sordid story: I MARRIED A SERIAL KILLER! When the tabloid TV crews came sniffing around the area, offering Jeanette cold hard cash for her twisted tale, she went for it. The money was good--damn good in fact, but fleeting. The whole ordeal blew over quickly, like a summer thunderstorm. The video footage they filmed was hot one day--front-page fodder, movie-of-the-week material, and the next...cold as ice, the circus act was over, the carnival split town. As if the bloody thing never happened to begin with!

Bye, bye…

The folks in Jeanette's hometown didn’t much appreciate the press nosing around. They didn’t like the story of Smitty Fowler being brought up all over again, regurgitated like supper leftovers. Their sad faces paraded on TMZ and other local channels right alongside the nightly news. The homeroom picture of their sweet, darling Cassidy revisited on national TV; first, a side view, and then a front shot, those ringlets of strawberry-blonde curls falling over her soft, innocent shoulders. Their daughter abducted, held hostage and tortured by Fowler before brutally killing her and turning their sweet departed Cassidy into one of his teenage brides, adding her to his morbid collection of young wives at Highpoint Natural Park.

The girl’s family reacted at first by sending hate mail. Then they started calling, constantly, coming so bold as to actually visit, defiantly stomping right up the front steps to her mamma's house, pounding on the front door and demanding Jeanette’s silence. Hadn’t the town been through enough? How could Jeanette make money--the devil’s money, that is, on something so grotesque, so hurtful, and so callous?

Jeanette’s cell phone vibrated on the kitchen table. She looked down and noticed the caller ID, Roy. She waited for it to silence.

Roy!
I thought I deleted him!


Her mamma had even taken off work to help, using her vacation time to babysit while Jeanette went out searching for a job. The only thing she knew how to do was tend bar, which meant long hours standing on her feet, lifting and stocking heavy cases of beer and liquor, as well as flirting with all those red neck assholes for shitty quarter tips. What was she supposed to do?

So, she accepted a position at a dive bar situated on the outskirts of town, a watering hole for the downtrodden, and met up with a guy by the name of Roy. At first, he seemed like a decent guy. He was recently divorced and hurting for some female company--a friend with benefits—a bootie call. It felt good, you know, the way he smiled, the way he warmed her heart by looking at her admiringly from across the bar. The seductive way he’d toss out a compliment right along with a flashy dollar tip. Even the sex was all right. Not tender or gentle or graceful like Smitty was, but at least he was a body--a man’s body--something warm and hairy who breathed heavy, who whispered nice things in her ears, and smelled of cheap cologne and musky armpits.

Her mamma was not a happy camper, not in the least. Here she was giving up her evenings and hard-earned VK time to look after Amanda, and there goes Jeanette--her own daughter, out-and-about, gallivanting around town and hooking up with another no good son of a bitch. Add one more insult to her mamma's growing list of disappointments.

It didn’t really matter. Roy and she had called it off after only a few weeks of being together. Well, Jeanette had called it off, or at least she had tried to. She neglected returning his phone calls, and acted disinterested whenever he’d plop his skinny ass down on one of the ratty bar stools. That greasy string of a ponytail he kept tied in the back of his head was really starting to annoy her.

Roy turned out to be a drunk, mean-spirited and spiteful, and Jeanette wasn’t up for being his personal punching bag after he ingested a few shots of Johnny Walker. Some nights, she would go to bed in such agony, she would have to bury her body in ice packs, trying to freeze out the bruises, her disease, the sheer intensity of the pain. It felt--honest to god--as if her entire body was on fire, just set aflame, the blood circulating beneath her sensitive skin screaming out for mercy.

There seemed no way out.

And Lord, she tried.

She had even registered for beautician school in Port Jervis, the next town over. Her mamma had cosigned on the bank loan to help make the tuition. Jeanette had always wanted to work in a good profession. Cutting hair and applying smelly permanents to the local “blue hairs” seemed like a decent, if not acceptable trade. The course stretched out for six-months and she had already started taking the classes, but even that came to an abrupt halt. It was difficult organizing proper transportation. She didn’t own a car, and her mamma worked the day shift. Carpooling with the other students back and forth became a logistics issue, a royal pain in the ass. Plus, the added expense of paying for morning day care was beginning to add up. And she flat-out refused to let Benjie babysit her baby girl, so she stopped going. Another disappointment added to her own list of personal failures.

Jeanette rarely drank--a glass of white wine at dinner, a beer with Donna or at a barbecue. Nor was she the type to misuse drugs. But standing behind that bar for all those hours started taking a toll on her body. She began increasing the use of her prescription painkillers to help get her through the evenings. Add to that combination the medication she took for her MS, plus the tiny blue pill she swallowed first thing in the morning, every morning, to stop any attempt of a looming anxiety attack—well, by evening’s end, after a few shots of anejo tequila, the daily dosage of medications she ingested would flip anybody into an mind-altering state. Speeding home after her closing shift, driving her mamma's car, windows open, music blaring, flying high down the back roads, a local cop pulled her over and issued her a DUI. One long, sobering night spent in a smelly jail cell, along with a hefty fine, which of course, she couldn’t afford to pay (thank you, mamma! Again!) as well as the extra expense of needing to hire an attorney to fight her case in court.

Give a girl a f*cking break…

Jeanette leaned over the bathtub. She grazed a finger along the top of the water--warm, but not too hot. She had added bath beads mixed with Epsom salts, splurging on a large bag of it on her last trip to Shop Rite. The lingering scent of lavender with a just a hint of mint camouflaged the musky smell of bathroom mildew.

Earlier, in the kitchen, she had crushed up a half tablet of Paxil, mixing it with a spoon of applesauce, and fed it to Amanda, who lapped it right up, opening and closing her mouth waiting for more. Within minutes, the drug was taking hold and making her sleepy. She kept yawning, wiping at her eyes, and dropping her head onto Jeanette’s shoulder like dead weight.

Yes, this was the best solution…

The only solution…

As if…a voice had come to her from God answering all her prayers. All of them. It was no joke that Amanda did have the seed of the devil planted inside her. She would grow up to be like her father, a monster, a liar, a killer. It was better this way. The voices were talking to Jeanette more frequently now, advising her, telling her exactly what she must do…

Careful, careful, Jeanette…

A plan needed to be executed, and soon.

She had thought about just offing herself. She knew Donna’s husband had a pistol hiding somewhere around the house. She had seen Donna venture into the hall closet off the living room, talking about it in case of an emergency. All she’d have to do is stick the short barrel into her mouth and pull the trigger…but then who would take care of Amanda? Who would know the family history? Who would be able to handle her demon child without Jeanette around to oversee, supervise and watch over her?

No, this was the only answer. This was their only choice…

Her robe fell to the floor by her feet. A few votive candles lined the sink, creating a chorus of flickering lights. Amanda’s cherub face lay heavy on Jeanette’s bosom; her breathing deep and restful. Earlier, Jeanette had swallowed the rest of the pills in the bottle, allowing her the good grace to forget to remember….anything. The world was becoming a blurry fog of no feeling.

Weightlessness…

Why couldn’t it all go back to the way it was? Why did that nosy bitch have to come around and ruin everything? Upset her love nest, her lovely state of denial, her lazy life of loneliness, where the only thing tormenting her at the time, was whether or not the women Smitty was having sex with were pretty. Prettier than her…enough for him to dump her, leave her for another healthier, vital, and younger girl…

God knows, the last thing she ever thought Smitty was…was a killer, a monster, a menace to society.

She stepped into the tub. A thin slick of water overflowed over the side and onto the bathroom floor. She didn’t care. She wouldn’t be around to clean it up. She and Amanda would be in flight somewhere, circling around overhead by the time Donna got home from work and discovered them. Amanda and she would be somewhere between here and there, a chosen purgatory, wherever that place might be.

Benjie… 

She lowered her body into the warmth. She felt the water covering her thighs, her stomach, her breasts…Amanda’s back, the yellowish-purple bruises on her forearms—reminders of Roy—that asshole!
Amanda flinched from the sudden shock of wet heat, but didn’t make a fuss, not even a whimper. Her hair was wet now and lay flat and matted against her tiny back as they sank lower. Jeanette forgot to put the music on.

Damn!

She had wanted music…Jackson Brown, the Pretender!

Oh, well, next time, next lifetime…maybe.

She lifted her feet up out of the water and positioned them against the tiles above the faucet. It would be swift and calculated, one big breath taken in through her nose upon going under. She expected a suspended moment of intense burning, a searing sharp pain, as if a knife was piercing through the gauzy fabric of her lungs, and then peace…

Peace…

She hoped Amanda and her would join in death at exactly the same moment, their hearts stopping…together.

“Goodbye little girl, I have done all I can do. I have tried my very best to take care of you and love you…” She looked around the room one last time, the darkness settling in, the tiny flames flickering and hazy on the sink, the water soft and inviting, the scent of lavender hovering around and above them like sweet angels breath. She kissed the top of Amanda’s damp head, held her close to her bosom, locked her arms tight around the baby’s back, and sank below the water level…



Nobody knows exactly what happens once a body starts the process of shutting down. However, there is a suspicion that when one dies, all the senses do not all go out at once, but rather one at a time. Slowly. Gradually, one loses their sense of touch, their taste, smell, their vision, and lastly…sound…


Through a long liquid tunnel comes thumping and banging, hard and strong and forceful!

Jeanette preferred to ignore it; to pretend it wasn’t there…

Go away…

Go away…

A broken window. Glass shattered; a muted explosion.

The house filled with a lone scream, a muffled cry; shrieks of anguish moving toward her, in her direction, hysterical, running down the hallway, the clip, clop, of heavy booted footsteps…


Her lungs were already full.

As planned, she had taken one full intake of water through her nose when she first submerged. Amanda fought, for a second, her body tensing up, spastic, clamoring for one last breath, the will to live so strong. Jeanette held on though, tight, her arms locked securely around her baby, keeping her down. Then Amanda went still--very still, so still Jeanette finally relaxed and released her, allowing her to float…away, a piece of wood, weightless, drifting in between her thighs toward the drain. Strands of hair stuck to Jeanette’s calves, a matted, sticky spider web.

Commotion!

Again, louder and frantic, more urgent, and then the rush of thick arms pushing through the barrier of water, grabbing at her body and pulling her up, up, up, and away from someplace distant; a white place, a soothing place, a place of blue warmth, of Universal acceptance and circular love… Somebody stole her, kidnapped her peace of mind, and dragged her dying, limp body from out of her liquid coffin, flipped her out of the tub, pulled her over the side, and flopped her onto the floor. A dead fish, bloated, and naked and slippery lying beside the grungy bathtub.

Then a force so heavy crushed down upon her, pushing her chest in, forcing her to roll over onto her side. Water purged from her mouth and her nose like toxic bile…

“What the f*ck are you doing? Are you f*cking out of your mind?” A voice cried out!

Fingers intertwined into a fist heaved down upon her chest again, hard and fast and crazy! Water escaped from every possible orifice, an open spigot. Somebody was prying Jeanette’s mouth open and forcing her to gag from the sheer size of his fingers. To choke her, make her vomit, and heave up everything she had ever eaten from out of her stomach…

And then…

A watery gasp as clean air entered and circled around and into her chest cavity.

Her body lifted up, up toward the sink, up toward a bearded man who reeked of alcohol—the sour odor of whiskey and stale cigarette smoke--and the blurry ceiling light centered above her, no longer soothing and white and calm, but jarring and dirty and confusing. Dead houseflies had littered the base of its tinted covering.

Jeanette took in her first full breath of oxygen.

Jeanette was alive…



“What will we do?” Benjie paced back and forth in the living room, glancing at the clock hanging on the wall. His fingers pulled at his straggly beard, twisting it and twirling it, his voice was hoarse, desperate.

Jeanette sat on the floor hunched up against the wall, her body cocooned in a scratchy blanket. Her bare feet and legs were up close to her chest. She was struggling to breathe in, to breathe out…

Amanda was across from her, on the floor, wrapped up as well, her little girl, dead and dumped and discarded like garbage in a large, black plastic Glad bag.

Jeanette’s throat hurt, the inside of her nose burned. Her chest and ribs were sore, bruised from the force of Benjie’s fist pressing down upon her. He stopped mid pace, “What time does Donna get home from work?” He was crying now. His nose was wet with tears; bubbles popped with mucous from out of his nostrils as he spoke. “Talk to me! What time does Donna get home from work?”

Jeanette stared at the clock, that silly, stupid clock Donna bought at T.J. Maxx, cheap and tacky and tasteless. White trash! That’s all they were. White-f*cking-trash! She tried speaking through her swollen throat. She could barely swallow, let alone talk, her lungs were screaming with each attempted breath. Better for her to stay still, try not to breath, try to remain quiet and wait. It was all coming back to her now…

Even with the Paxil, she couldn’t deny what was in front of her, what she remembered--her baby, pulled from the bathtub, dripping with water onto the floor and rolled up in a towel…

“You asshole!” She sobbed. “Why did you save me? I wanted to die with her, my baby. I didn’t want to live, not without her.” A howl bellowed from somewhere so deep within her, a savage yell, a wild animal keening over her dead. “WHY THE F*CK DID YOU SAVE ME?” Tears fell down her cheek. “I hate you! I hate you, Benjie!”

He moved over to her and crouched down, low enough to shove his face up to her. So close, she could feel his beard, the stubble tickling her, his putrid breath. “You can bellyache all you want, but right now little Sister, we have to come up with a plan. Otherwise, your sweet ass will be in jail tonight!” He grabbed hold of her arms and shook her. She flinched. “Listen to me and you listen real good…we don’t have all f*cking night! We need to do something with the baby, and we need to do it now! NOW! Do you hear me?” He held on tighter, his fists surrounded her upper arms. “Not later, not tomorrow, but tonight! Otherwise, kiss your sweet ass goodbye!”

Jeanette stared across the room at the lumpy plastic bag.

Tick-tock, tick-tock…the wall clock chimed 7 PM.

“You need to get out of town, you can’t be here!” Benjie started pacing again, raking his hair, pulling at his beard.

“Who’s that asshole you been hanging out with. You need to call him. You need to tell him to take you somewhere. I’ll get rid of the baby. I’ll bury her somewhere, someplace far away. I’ll tell the family you took Amanda with you. You need to do this, tonight! Otherwise, you’re in deep shit!”

He walked over to the bag. He went to pick it up, but couldn’t. His body crumbled as he began to cry, sobbing.

“Why are you helping me? I don’t care anymore. My life is shit. I don’t have anybody anymore. I don’t give a damn if I live or die.”

“Get your ass up and make a phone call. We ain’t got much time.” He gathered strength, picked the bag up as if it contained toxic material and marched outside. The screen door banged and rattled as he exited. The front door to his truck opened and slammed shut. The fall of daylight surrounded them. Crickets sawed in angry protest. Heavy footsteps moved across the wooden front porch and around back to the shed. Jeannette waited, following the sounds, visualizing where Benjie was, what he was doing. That dog, that stupid f*cking dog barking, continuously, never stopping.

Within minutes, tools hit the back bed of his truck, jarring, raking the bottom, and then the squeak of the screen door opening.

“What the f*ck are you waiting for? We don’t have all night!”

Jeanette tried standing. Her legs were weak, like jelly, like after a strenuous workout, wobbly. Her eyesight was foggy.

“You need to be long gone when Donna gets home! You ain’t got much time, neither! Write her a note! Let her know I came over and broke the window. Tell her I needed to talk to you because…because I was upset you was leaving town. Let her know you took Amanda with you…”

Jeanette leaned over onto her knees and pushed with her palms to get to a upright position. She felt dizzy.

She stumbled into her bedroom and dressed quickly, a white shirt, some jeans, a navy P-coat. She slipped her boots on without socks and filled her backpack with a few pair of clean underwear, a fresh pair of jeans, some makeup. Her body was beginning to wake up, but she was stiff. Aching. The crib was reflected in the mirror. Amanda's crib. She turned away, gathered her hair in a ponytail and moved into the living room. She tried not to think. Only act. In the hallway closet, she reached up to the top shelf and searched along the edges with her fingers. There, in the back, was the pistol Donna had told her about, warned her about actually. She had never touched a firearm before, the feel of cool metal, the smallness of its size, the compactness of death fitting so neatly inside her hand. For a moment the idea of killing herself entered her thoughts, to shoot herself right there in the closet, but she heard Benjie’s voice…

“C’mon, DAMMIT!”

She stashed the gun in her backpack and rushed into the living room, took a piece of paper from a desk drawer and scribbled out a note to Donna. She doubted she would ever see her again, but she was only following orders now.

Dear Donna,
Sorry for the mess…
Benjie came by, drunk, of course…I wouldn’t let him in, so he broke the window. I have to get out of here, Donna. I need to leave. I’m going batshit crazy. I’ve taken Amanda with me. Please don’t call the police. I’m fine. I just need some time to think about all this…my situation. About what I need to do next. Benjie told me he’s sorry about the window, he’ll pay for it come payday. He’ll be by tomorrow to talk to you. I don’t want to be a burden to you any longer.
Thanks for everything…
I love you,
Jeanette.


Get the book A PERFECT WIFE Christmas 2015!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

ABERRANT ~ THE EXCERPT

ab·er·rant
ˈabərənt,əˈberənt/
adjective
1.    departing from an accepted standard.
synonyms:
deviant, deviating, divergentabnormalatypicalanomalousirregular; More
o    BIOLOGY
diverging from the normal type.
"aberrant chromosomes"
synonyms:


“If a man does not keep pace with his companions,
 perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.
Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”
~Thoreau


“I embrace and love my feminine self.”
~ Unknown aberrant male



I have discovered my difference -- my male-self -- my masculinity …
I have discovered my penis.
I am five or six years old and running naked through several rooms of our apartment, screaming, causing an uproar, all eyes turning to watch as I scamper by them: my mother, my sisters, and one of her woman friends. I am holding onto my new discovery -- my stiff appendage – my cock.
My dick is small but erect, proud and defiant.
My bare feet flap, flap, flap against the wooden floor...
In the bathroom, I climb up onto the toilet seat, huffing and puffing, my eyes tearing, my feet slipping against the cold porcelain. I stand tall upon my throne; my feet spread wide, my chest puffed out, my thoughts filled with childhood arrogance. My cock is projecting straight out in front of me like a tiny pink dart, hard and at attention. I scream out...loudly…to the crowd of women now assembled at the door. My voice holds no restrictions…
“I am a boy! I am a boy! See me!”   



December 27, 2014

“Who’s there?” A woman’s voice barks through the metal box, smoky and raspy, as nasally as a Long Island crawl.
“Sixth Precinct. Detective Straub and Detective Martin.” He checks the apartment number written on the crumpled piece of paper with a gloved hand, then glances back at the organized columns of messy handwritten names. “Are you Miss Brando?”
Mrs. Mrs. Brando. My husband’s gone. Deceased. Hold on for a second; I’ll let you in.”
The detectives look at one another and shrug their shoulders. Detective Martin has a navy-blue, thickly knitted scarf wound several times around her face. It covers her entire mouth. Her eyes light up. She breathes through her nose, a steady stream of cold air funneling out through her nostrils. A loud buzz groans as Detective Straub shoves open the door, and they enter into a small, heated vestibule. The annoying sound continues. They push through the next layer of protection and step into a carpeted foyer. In front of them, a narrow hallway leads to a back apartment. A wooden stairway lumbers heavenward.
“Up here. On the fourth floor. There ain’t an elevator.”
They peek up through layers of winding balustrade. A woman leans out over the railing, a cigarette clinched in her fingers as they begin their ascent. They round the corner of the third floor and hear locks unlatch. At the end of the hallway, a door opens. Bright light saturates the entranceway. An old woman appears, ethereal. She stops at the threshold and stands still, watching, as the two turn the bend. Dressed in a loose-fitting white gown, she holds onto the doorframe for support. Her hair is long, combed neatly, the color of snow. It cascades over her bony collarbone, her thin frame and skinny arms. She is barefoot. Her face is weathered like dried fruit, but sweet, innocent almost. The officers stop.
“Morning,” the male detective says.
She remains, silent, observing them, a ghostly presence, as they pass by her.
“Bessie?” Mrs. Brando yells down from upstairs. “Go back inside. I’ll take care of it.”
The detectives turn as the woman closes the door.  Locks secure.
“That’s Bessie. She’ll be 103 next month. Go figure.” Mrs. Brando waits at the top of the stairs. She has a cropped, short haircut. Tiny spikes of dirty blonde hair shoot up from her forehead like angry arrows. She takes the last full drag off her cigarette, then grinds the butt into a glass ashtray sitting on the floor, overflowing in a graveyard of ashes. “Hope you don’t mind me smoking?”
“We were given your name at the precinct.” The detective loosens some of his winter wear; gloves, hat, his scarf. The hallway is hot. Sweat trickles down the nape of his neck. “You’re the one who found him?”
“Christmas Day. I always bring him cookies. I make ‘em every year. On Christmas Eve. It’s a tradition. My husband, Marlon, used to love ‘em. So, before I go to mass in the morning, I check in on him, you know, make sure he’s doing okay…”
“And...?”
“That’s when I found him.” She moves toward a door. “I have the key, just like he had a copy of mine. We’re older. You never know. I used to have a cat. He would feed him when I went to visit my son. My son lives with his wife now in Connecticut.” She makes a “hoity-toity” signal with her finger. She rattles the key in the lock. The door squeaks as it opens. “The cops came that day, after I called it in. They didn’t say much. I tend to mind my own business.”
The three of them enter the apartment.  
“Did you notice anything suspicious, strange guests, any noises?”
“He was a quiet man. We’ve been neighbors for over thirty years. He was a part of the family, you know. If anything was out of the ordinary, I would have known it. Trust me.” She fumbles for another unfiltered cigarette from a crumpled pack and lights up. “You don’t mind, do you?” She takes a deep inhale as if it were life support.
The officers shake their heads. “What did he do?”
Smoke billows from her mouth and nose as she speaks. A few front teeth are missing. “Well, at one time he was a very famous writer.” She whispers, “Gay. He was gay. Although, in all the years we knew each other, I only saw him with one guy.” She points to a wall lined with shelves, each one packed with stacks of books. “He wrote that novel…what’s it called? My memory ain’t so good these days. Ah… The Wanting Hour, that’s it, that’s the one…way back in the 70s. It was a big deal, a big bestseller. New York Times…the whole enchilada! He lived on money from that and his social security, like the rest of us. Rent control, you know?”
The officers mosey over to the bookshelf. “Did you hear anything strange that night?”
“No, not really. I was baking. I went to bed late, around midnight.” Another bottomless drag off her cigarette. She leans against the wall and picks at a random piece of tobacco stranded on the bottom of her lip. “A delivery… I remember he had a delivery, later on in the night. I heard the buzzer. But that wasn’t unusual. Chinese, probably. Other than that…nothing, some music, normal stuff…a shower. He went to Marie’s Crisis earlier in the evening. I know that for a fact. I said good-bye to him when he left. I was smokin’ out in the hallway. He always hung out at that place. It’s close by, right down the street. All the staff knows him. We’ve been there a few times with Bessie downstairs…” She points her finger toward the floor. “She likes to sing, so, we take her there for her birthday.”
     



The officers trudge through a slog of dirty, slushy snow to arrive at the basement bar before official opening hours. They knock several times on the outside window. Panes rattle. They stand beneath a dirty red-and-white metal awning. It moans like a sick cow in the frigid wind. A blonde woman wearing an oversized gray sweater comes into view. She has big brown eyes, a petite frame, and opens the door out of breath, just a crack, not wanting a blast of winter to invade the heated interior.
“May we come in?” the detective asks. His teeth chatter as he speaks. The temperature is plummeting along with the light of day. It fades a slow death between the concrete parking structures located across the street on 7th Avenue.
The male detective in front of her reminds her of an advertisement. The big, blue Michelin Man, the cartoon character with puffy layers of clothing heaped upon him. “What can I help you with?” She opens the door a bit wider. She peeks around the heft of clothing to view another detective, a female, standing behind him, eyes staring inquisitively. She has brown hair pulled back in a tight ponytail. Her cheeks are olive colored. No makeup.
“Sure, sure. Come on in. It’s freezing out there.”
They enter the tiny vestibule. The young girl locks the door behind them and scurries down a rickety stairway, around a corner, and disappears.
They look at each other, perplexed, until the girl appears again at the bridge of the stairs, waving them down.
“Please, please, come on down. It’s warmer down here.” Once again, she vanishes.
They follow the steep stairway around a bend and into a dark dungeon, both surprised by the small scope of the space. A field of twinkling, colorful lights hovers right below the ceiling. A male bartender stocks beer behind a long wooden bar pitched against the far wall. Bottles clang with his effort.  
“So, what can I help you with?” The girl massages her hands, vigorously, sparking warmth, assuaging nerves.
The detective glances at his notes. “I’m Detective Straub, and this is Detective Martin. We’re from the Sixth Precinct and we have a few questions… You were open on Christmas Eve, weren’t you?”
“Yes, yes, of course. It’s one of our busiest nights. You want to sit down?” She points at a few barstools pushed up under a high-top table. A red tablecloth falls sloppily over the side. “A soda, maybe, something to drink?” She makes a dash for the bar, catching the tablecloth as she flees. She fills two glasses with water from a fountain gun and tosses the cloth into a mounting hamper. “For some reason, Christmas Eve brings out the “singer” in people. We were slammed that night.  I’m Marie, the manager, by the way.” She walks back toward the officers and places her offering on the table.
“Did you happen to see this man?” The detective pulls a picture from his coat pocket and shows the girl a black-and-white photo mounted inside a tarnished silver frame.
The girl recognizes him immediately. “Yes, of course. That’s Will. He’s a regular of ours. He comes in all the time. Why? What happened to him?”
“He’s dead.”
“What?” She turns to the bar. “Zach...”
“He was found dead in his apartment on Christmas morning.”
She covers her mouth, processing the information. “Zach, Zach…” She moves to the bar and interrupts the bartender’s routine. “Zach, Will’s dead.”
“Will who?” He looks up.
“You know…Will? The old guy who sits on the end there.” She points to an empty barstool pushed against the brick wall.
“Him? You’re shitting me?” He stands up and puts his hands on his hips.
The detectives walk to the bar. “No, he’s dead alright.” They pass over the photo.
“What the hell happened? I just saw him the other night.”
“That’s why we’re here. We wanted to ask if either of you saw anything out of the ordinary, anything different? Did he leave with somebody?”
“Will’s one of our regulars. He comes in a lot.” Zach pushes a wave of unruly brown hair from his eyes. He wears a ragged t-shirt with a small hole in front. A black vest and white shirt occupy a hanger behind him. “He always has the same drink…a Maker’s Mark Manhattan…as long as I’ve been working here. Wow. That sucks, man.” He places the frame on the bar.
“Horrible.” The girl chimes in.
“So…nothing strange? Nothing out of the ordinary?” Officer Straub leans into the bar. He digests the place, the dirty, smeared mirror with the chiseled words, RIGHT OF MAN. The bottles of booze lined up in front of the back mural. LIBERTÉ ÉGALITE FRATERNITÉ!
“He seemed fine. I mean, he’d been getting a little forgetful lately, but, no, nothing I can remember. He comes in, has a few drinks, and leaves. I do remember him trying to start up a conversation with a few people, but they were only interested in singing. That’s about it.”
Detective Straub hands him a business card. “I know this sounds really CSI, but if you do remember anything, give us a call.”
“Sure, sure.” He does another hand rake through his hair.
The detective takes the photo and begins moving toward the stairway.
“Wait a minute. There was something…”
The officers turn.
“I remember him wanting to buy a drink for somebody, and when I asked who it was for, he said some kid who’d gone downstairs to the bathroom. He ordered a Jack and Coke, a double, but the drink just sat there. The kid never came back.”
 



Christmas Eve, 2014

“You thought I brought you up here for sex?”
A cold draft of wind swirls through the building’s hallway. The boy shuts the door. 
Slam!  
Locks turn. Dead bolts secure.
Snow melts from his tennis shoes, leaving an insignificant puddle of water on the hardwood floor. He kicks at each heel without unlacing them. Tube socks, white, damp, and stained leave a noticeable wet trail as he ventures further into the living room. A restless wind howls outside. The apartment is warm and cozy. A still life snapshot of age and time, years upon years of artful collection and preserved memories. The boy casts off his light windbreaker, far too skimpy for the raging winter outside, and flings it over an overstuffed armchair.
“Well, didn’t you?” The boy has a toned physique. Fit. Perhaps he played sports in high school at one time, an athlete maybe.
“This apartment has been my sanctuary for over thirty years now. And, during that time, only once did I bring a young lad up here just for sex.” The old man suppresses a smile. Recollections flicker. “And he ended up staying with me for three years... It was hardly just for sex. Now, wouldn't you say?”
“When was that?” The boy takes a seat on the sofa. The plump folds of fabric enfold him. He rubs his hands over his arms to garner heat. The skimpy, short-sleeved shirt he wears is sadly out of season as well.
“Oh, another lifetime now, it seems.” The old man goes to the fireplace and flicks on a switch. The petrified logs neatly arranged on the hearth grow orange. They crackle with heat. “The landlord, the new landlord that is, converted all these old fireplaces into gas heaters a few years back. Yuck!” He reaches for an elongated Bic lighter and inflames two long-stemmed candles secured in antique silver candelabras. “It gives the idea of a fireplace, and, in this foul weather, it does offer up some heat.” He takes a deep, purposeful breath. “It’s that smell I miss though–you know, the aroma of real firewood burning. Ah! Yes! That’s all but forgotten.”
“You got anything to drink?” The boy looks around the apartment. Nerves trigger, a coiled cricket about to jump.
The living room has an entire wall lined with wooden shelves. Books of all sizes, shapes, and color fill the space. Old, classic, well-worn volumes stand upright, like soldiers at attention, one beside another, layer upon layer, some used purposely as bookends. A nice-sized bedroom is off to the side, the door slightly ajar. A Tiffany lamp casts a honey glow. A queen-sized bed rests against a far wall. Fluffy pillows line a stately dark headboard and a multi-colored quilt serves as a comforter. The boy strains his neck for a better sightline. A wooden circular table with clawed feet and four matching chairs sits near the only window in the main room. White shutters, now closed shut, fill in its entire floor-to-ceiling frame. 
“Let me see.” The man shuffles out of view. He disappears into a tiny kitchenette, keeping his bulky winter coat on. The refrigerator door opens with a pop. Gray shadows sway on the sidewall from the reflected light. His old feet are slow and methodical, well-rehearsed on the tiled floors. Glasses clink from the cabinet. The squeak of exertion from twisting the cork as the bottle opens. Then, he’s back, standing before the boy and offering a glass.
“Hope you like vino. It’s all I have, I’m afraid.”
“Fine.” The boy sits quietly. He reaches for the glass, then tastes. The wine is cold, clear and fruity, but not overly sweet. The man releases a huge sigh. He sits in an overstuffed armchair, the color a faded burgundy. A reading lamp strains its curvy metal neck around the back of the chair. Tightly crocheted off-white doilies line the armrests in an attempt to arrest the frayed fabric edges. The old man leans back and takes his first sip.
“So, why don’t you tell me about yourself?” The man’s eyes are soft and translucent, the light flickering from the candles dance inside them.
The boy is anxious. He takes another quick gulp of wine. “Ah…what do you want to know?”
“There’s really no need for you to be so nervous. You aren't a prisoner here. You are free to go at your leisure, whenever you wish, if I make you so restless.”
“No, no, I’m fine. It’s just…well, usually, you know, it’s about the sex. I don’t usually stick around.”
“Ha! Well, I assure you, I don’t want sex from you, although, I must admit, you are an attractive vessel. God, that sounds so crass! Doesn't it?” A devious chuckle escapes. Dimples blossom on ruddy cheeks the color of pink roses. “So, with that being said, you can relax now and breathe.”
“Okay…” an awkward pause, “…then what do you want?”
The old man rests for a second.  He ponders the question, massaging his forehead. “What do I want?” He tips the glass to his mouth and takes another swallow. The fireplace crackles with fake intensity, like a cellophane candy wrapper opening and unfolding.
The boy finishes the wine in one gulp. He wipes his mouth with a backhanded swipe.
“There’s more in the refrigerator, if you like. Help yourself.” The old man slips out of his overcoat. He leans forward, pulls his arm through the first sleeve and then the next before patting the heavy, layered coat against the back of the chair.
“Why do you trust me? You’re old. I could hurt you. I could be dangerous.”
“True. You could very well be all of those things. But you aren't. And you won’t. Besides, you did save my life downstairs.”
The boy moves to the kitchen. He places the knife on the countertop. It brandishes a heavy black handle. The tiny teeth on the blade are sharp and rusty. Given the opportunity, this weapon could have inflicted serious damage on somebody or something. It makes a thump as it hits the counter. The old man jumps in his seat from the noise.
“Sorry.” The refrigerator is empty except for a few bottles of white wine, a Brita filtered-water container, and leftover Chinese takeout. He grabs the bottle and fills his glass to the rim. “You want more?”
“No, no, I’m fine.” The old man’s voice echoes with reverb from the next room.
The boy grabs the glass and walks back into the living room. A full wall of bookshelves, a built-in desk tucked perfectly underneath--messy with papers, letters, notebooks, journals, a slew of piled up photographs; black and white, sepia-colored snapshots, a life lived. Loose change; paper mostly, small notes–single dollars and five-dollar bills--strewn about. A red-lacquered, tiny chest filled with jewelry, the lid open, crammed with an assortment of watches, cuff links, and expensive tie clips. Disheveled tchotchkes, thrown from swollen pockets, a silver-and-gold hodgepodge without much notion of organization or order. A typewriter, classic, non-electric, with a piece of paper left in the cartridge. A few words lost on a sea of bone. Crumpled pieces of bond paper scattered about the floor, crunched up, thrown away, a wastebasket drowning in white.
And books, and more books, layer upon layer of every kind of book imaginable. Lining the shelves and filling the space are paperbacks, hardbacks, first editions, swollen leather covers, fanning out for miles, spread out across the entire wall. “Have you read all these?” On the floor is an antique phonograph. The boy moves carefully around its large horn speaker    
“Most of them.” He turns slightly to watch from his chair. It squeaks against the flooring. “Why don’t we listen to some music? Do you know how to work one of those contraptions?”
The boy analyzes the antique record player and laughs. “I don’t think so.”
“Okay, let me do it then. Something festive, but not too Christmassy. I deplore Christmas music.” He moves from his chair and pulls out an album from a bloated collection, a vinyl, a 33-RPM. He slips the disc out of its sleeve and places it on top of the felt-covered turntable. Layered on the spindle, several records wait in queue, one on top of the other, continuous music, uninterrupted melody. He flips a switch, places the needle on the record’s edge, and waits for a moment while the scratchy wave produces an aria of music. “Ahh…that’s better.” Classical piano begins. It serenades the room, soft and slow, building to a crescendo with a delicate mixture of strings and reedy wood instruments. The old man moves back to his chair. He uses his hands in the air, flamboyantly, like a conductor, phrasing the music with his fingers, lightly humming the melody.
“Do you write?” The boy places his glass upon the desk by the typewriter and pulls out one of the books.
“Oh, yes, when I was younger.”
He opens the cover and flips through several pages, fanning the contents with his fingers. “I love this author. We had to read him in school.”
“And who might that be?”
“Ellery Flynn. He was required reading in the tenth grade. Our English teacher believed in diversity.”
“Well, yes, that author certainly was diverse, that’s for sure.” He chuckles. “If I’m not mistaken, he wrote several novels. Which one are you looking at?”
The Wanting Hour.”
“Ah…The Wanting Hour. Wonderful, haunting book, a coming–of-age story of sorts, centered around a young homosexual male. That was the last novel Flynn wrote, I think.”
The boy scans several more pages. A black and white photograph takes up the entire back flap. The author sits in a chair, his hair longish and dark, shoulder length, and his eyes twinkle with a certain familiarity. The boy studies the face. “Wonder why?”
“I suppose, like most things in life, the muse abandoned him.”
“This book changed my life… Wait a minute.” The boy looks over at the man, then back to the picture. “Holy shit! This isn't you, is it?”
The old man stays as he is. He stares at the empty sofa across from him, at the framed artwork of Keith Haring centered above it, several cartoon people the color of blue and yellow and green shaking madly.
The boy moves behind the old man. “You’re Ellery Flynn, aren't you?”
“Yes.”
“Holy fucking shit! I can’t fucking believe it! Ellery Flynn!” He stomps his foot on the floor.
“Shhhh. You’ll wake Bessie.”
“I don’t give a flying fuck. Who the fuck is Bessie? Wow! Man, this is freaking me out.” He leans down by the side of the chair. He touches the old man’s arm. “Are you really him, really?”
“What does it matter? Does it change anything?”
“You changed my life!” 
The old man repositions himself in his chair. He leans back into the faded fabric. “Really? I did all that? Why, for heaven’s sake?”
“This is the first book that made any sense to me. You know, about being different.”
“Different?” The old man picks up his glass from the coffee table. He massages his bushy eyebrow with an index finger. Hair sprouts, wiry mutants, shooting out in different directions, like wild antennae in search of a signal.
“Well, it’s kind of embarrassing to talk about.”
“I don’t know what’s worse…being born different or living life trying to comprehend somebody else’s asinine definition of normal. Personally, I think being normal is far more embarrassing.”
The boy walks to the desk and slips the book back into its tight slot. He claps his hands several times to remove the dust, grabs his glass and positions himself behind the old man’s chair. “I've done some pretty bad things in my life…things I’m not proud of.”
“None of us are perfect.”
The boy leans down. He pushes his chest into the man’s back. Using his upper-body weight, he leans into his shoulders, reaches his free arm around the man’s throat and whispers into his ear. “No, seriously…” Heat emanates from the boy’s face. So close, so, so close, the prickle of facial hair grazes his cheeks.
“What? Did you kill somebody?”
The boy tightens his stranglehold. “I never killed anybody, but…”
“I’m listening…”
The boy is suddenly up, energized, moving around the coffee table and flopping onto the sofa. “Let’s just say I've done some things.” He stares across the coffee table at the man. He leans forward. He has his arms tucked into his lap, studying the old man’s face. “You are him! Shit!” He shakes his head. “You made my fucking Christmas, man! Ellery Fucking Flynn. Damn!” A huge smile breaks out across his face. He bites at his lower lip, glances around the apartment. “Wow! This is cool. Really fucking cool, man.” He takes a deep breath. He listens to the classical music for a second. “I like this shit. What is it?”
“Chopin.”


                                         

Huntington, West Virginia.
We traveled light, by train, on the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway, the train tracks built alongside the muddy green waters of the Guyandotte and Ohio River. We listened to the static sound of the Shirelles sing Baby it’s You from a beat-up, pocket-sized transistor radio.
It was the summer before my sixteenth birthday. Almost one year, exactly, before I would run away from home. We were visiting family, distant cousins I think, kinfolk who were used to my mother and her fleeting fits of drama with men. We arrived in the middle of a scorching summer. We used ice cubes to cool us down while sitting in our seats. The heat was stifling. We slid the frozen, slippery chips across the tops of our forehead and chest, dropping the last blast of icy coldness into our mouths at the very last second—just before it melted into nothingness. We kept the windows open and listened to the monotonous sound of wheels churning, clicking, and rattling beneath us. The breeze was hot and humid. We took turns standing, catching the drafts of hot air with our wet spots in an attempt to keep cool. 
The station was familiar. A wide concrete platform with wooden-slat beams painted forest green, the trim an off-white. We had escaped here before. Our family--my sisters, my mama and I--had run away, like fugitives, to this quiet place along the banks of the boggy river. Many times. Tearing the family away, uprooting us in the middle of the night, scooping us up from our warm beds, and from the clutches of those wastrel men, those hairy beasts, all heated and horny and threatening mama in one way or another.
West Virginia. 
Our safety net.
My cousin’s name was Edna. She was a widow and lonely for our rambunctious company. She dressed in yellow kitchen aprons, wore butterfly barrettes in her tightly curled hair and welcomed us into her lovely home and her accepting family. She generously offered us a smorgasbord of delicious food, (all cooked up by herself) a few nights of peaceful, rest-filled sleep, and plenty of blue-sky sunshine.
We water-rafted down the gray waters of the Ohio River, us kids melting into the tops of inflated black tire tubes or sneaking into the Camden Amusement Park to ride the wooden, rickety Big Dipper rollercoaster, sometimes several times in a row, until we disembarked dizzy and drunk with happiness. A mini vacation, sort of. We always looked forward to our visits, us kids outside, producing sweat, while Edna and mama sat inside at the kitchen table, drinking pots of coffee and spinning stories--invented ones or real, no one knew, no one cared. It didn't really matter.
We slept in our cousins’ rooms. I was paired with Gene, one year older than me, and my sisters were allowed to share one bedroom all to themselves, (since they were getting older, entering their last years of high school and dealing with growing pains and puberty.) The youngest of my female cousins slept on the living-room sofa in order to make room.
Gene was a country boy, fair and strong with blue eyes and a tanned body. He was an intimidating masculine presence, a tree trunk of twisted muscles, blessed with God-given symmetry. My continual scrutinization of him and my critical self-judgement of myself never added up to much resolution--skinny frame, knobby knees and my soft, girlish personality. I had yet to come to terms, or get a handle on a comfortable and/or succinct way to communicate with boys my own age. The language exchanged between them was so different from anything I’d ever known, learned about, or experienced with my feminine family at home.
Gene was a handsome boy, though, mature beyond his years and fine as the lacy silk sewn into Edna’s dresses. He reminded me of a colorful peacock, strutting around; proud, tall, and full of country spit and vinegar. The oldest of four kids, he assumed the role of husband, father, and emotional rock to the family after his daddy, Loyd, passed away from a heart attack.
Racing diesel-powered, homemade go-karts around a circular patch of dusty dirt track in the back of the house, or shooting bb’s at wild pigeons pecking at the street from his bedroom window, Gene, for some reason, always accepted my difference, my specialness, my aberrant nature.
The family never knew.
I never told a soul.
Those hot summer nights, Gene and I rushing barefoot from the bathroom, pushing each other’s bodies through the silent hallways of the house to slip nude in between freshly bleached sheets, a sense of urgency mounting in each of our steps. Lying there, naked, our shoulders burnt -- kissed by the sun of that day--and listening to each other’s rhythmic breathing. Our bodies, a bundle of restlessness, a mounting swell of curiosity and nerves and tingly energy.
Gene’s hand reaching first, out and over, and across the landscape of sheets, slightly grazing my hip with the tip of his finger, my body lifting up off the bed, levitating from the lightness, the heat of his touch. All that pent-up tension stirring and growing stronger around my stomach, a sensation so foreign, yet so satisfying and stimulating, my breathing irregular, my heart pulsing with an unfamiliar beat. The weight of a thousand restraints holding me back from something, supposedly, so wrong, yet impossible to deny or stop. Me wanting to reach out as well, race my hand across that expanse of space and fabric, to explore and discover Gene’s naked flesh. To trace my fingers through that slight patch of hair sprouting upon his chest, allow my tongue to follow the soft pleasure-trail of fur rambling down his body, like a wild vine, below his belly button to his pubic patch.
All the secret spaces of his body I had viewed, inconspicuously, in the daylight hours, shifting my gaze so as not to stare, so as not to get caught, so as not to face embarrassment or feel the burning shame of my secret crush. Him standing there, shirtless, his t-shirt wrapped tight around his thin waist, waving the white flag above his head for the race to begin.
A taste of cool water can overwhelm the senses in times of serious drought. To be acknowledged and accepted into a fold of masculine fraternity, no matter what the venue, can be a life-altering event. Those nights in West Virginia, cradled in Gene’s muscular caress -- the noisy crickets serenading us through the open window -- brought more insight into the way men can love--could love--than any other introduction I would ever experience. It meant much more to me than those awkward, backseat bus rides, coming home from neighboring football games, and the spastic introduction to a “stinky finger” with a girl I hardly knew, nor cared to. Or the Boy Scout “circle jerks,” where boys exposed themselves in ritualistic pubescent glory and shot their wads like a “pitch it” toss, to see who could shoot the furthest. Those incidences made more a mockery of my emerging sexuality rather than encourage it to blossom, naturally, as it had in the sweet expression of intimacy I’d shared with Gene in that West Virginia town.
Dare I say there was a tenderness present between the two of us, a camaraderie of loving spirits, of secrets shared only between the two of us and no one else? A quality I rarely experienced again, even later in life, with a carousel of horny men offering casual sex as an illusion, a mask of love, motivated more by lust than intimacy. As if together, in those stolen few moments, Gene and I were able to hold on to a feeling so special, so infant in its beginning stages, and so beautiful, we somehow knew our awakening could, would never last. That it, alone, in itself, would never sustain the ridicule and scrutiny of a loveless, cruel, judgmental and hateful society.
Those memories with Gene would forever teach me a new way of communicating with men, as shortsighted and superficial as that may sound. If I couldn't be a part of their tribe, be one of them, an equal partner in their masculine, selected fold, I could at least compete for their attention, approval, and acceptance with sex. I could find a lost part of my missing masculinity mirrored in those men, and communicate my lack of it with an act as simple and forgettable as sex.

Gene died early, like his daddy. Not quite forty. Heart attack. He left behind him a wake of sorrow--three beautiful girls and a loving, devoted, wife. 

ABERRANT
Available for pre-purchase on Amazon.
Launch date: Labor Day 2015