Sunday, September 21, 2014


Journal entry …
March 17, 2014
Branded on the inside of my upper, inner thigh is an emotional tattoo that reads … “hopeless romantic.” I know! Another tiny one located on my chest, closer to my heart, reads … “practical pessimist.” They fight and bicker! A lot! I prefer the middle one, the spread-out one situated on my safe zone, my stomach, (that not so firm anymore, squishy-space) … it reads … “Retired! From love!” It acts like my Switzerland … neutral, detached and heavily guarded. Hey, I maintain some boundaries. My Life! My rules! My tattoos, dammit! Real or not real! And, I am not alone. A whole world out there is hurting. Disappointed. Discouraged. Dejected. In everybody’s life, broken or otherwise, there is a longing to love. Again. I feel it! I know it! I just don’t know how to go about it … how to reconnect the dots, extract the hurt, heal the scars, rearrange the tattooed lines and open up my closed borders … enough …
Tomorrow, I leave on a two-week vacation with Drew. I’m not sure why? I’m not even sure I’m ready. Nevertheless, the car arrives sharp, at 8 AM for JFK. I need some rules, some hard fast directives to live by while I’m away. A contract, so to speak, a commitment, something written down in black and white to remind me to keep myself in check … okay here goes …
     1)    Don’t drink too much!
     2)    Don’t eat too much!
     3)    Stay out of trouble!
     4)    Be a good friend and companion to Drew! (After all, she bought me the trip)
     5)    DON’T DRINK TOO MUCH!
I think that just about does it.
Whispering from that small sacred space near my heart comes a farewell bon voyage … it sneaks up on me …
I love you, Sami Saxton!
Hmm …
I love you, too …


The Celebrity Reflection, a colossal, multi-tiered, uber-fancy cruise liner sits docked at the massive International Port in Miami. Its image shimmers in the murky water like a great white metallic shark. A floating Emerald City! Drew and I lounge, uncomfortably, in one of their amphitheater-sized waiting areas, anticipating the automated female voice to announce our alphabetical letter to allow us to embark upon this recently christened floating monster. How Drew convinced me this was a good idea goes to show how persuasive she can be. And give immeasurable kudos to her astute manipulative nature. Hey, maybe she’s right. The last three months since the arrest of Jerry, my ex-husband, and his then current flame, Brenda Stokes, not to mention the death of Evie, or Claire, or whoever that young woman pretended to be, did send me screaming, once again, into a shell-shocked mess. I mean, c’mon! Give a girl a break! 
          Drew bought me the trip as a gift, a peace offering, which was completely inappropriate since she did save my life, for God’s sake. The memory alone of that horrific evening sends anxiety rippling through my system like a crackling thunderbolt! But that’s behind us, sitting here now, lounging in balmy Florida sunshine, (far away from a sub-zero, artic wave sweeping from Canada and dumping several inches of pristine snow on our beloved Gotham) and enjoying the slow sway of the towering palm trees and cooling ourselves off with makeshift paper fans. I wish they’d turn up the air conditioning. Stowed away in one of my bags is a full bottle of prescription Xanax and a large, litre-sized bottle of Grey Goose, well-packed and hidden under layers of folded clothes.
          Some things never change!
“You want something to drink?” Drew asks.
          “I have my water. Thanks.” I tap the top of one of my carry-ons. “Once we board this baby and get ourselves settled in, you and I will partake in an adult beverage.” I smile. Deviously. Drew cackles that infamous laugh I love so much and looks away. Her eyes dart about the crowded lounge like a lizard seeking a wayward fly.
          Meanwhile, I’m unsure how I’ll handle the boat, the small spaces, the cramped quarters, the rocky waters. Claustrophobia, my newish best friend is annoyingly present, hiding in the wings, anxiously awaiting a guest appearance. At any moment. Drew guaranteed me, more than once, that cruising was like being afloat inside a gigantic, luxury casino. You hardly ever feel the waves! I mean, really! Who’s she kidding? We are talking the Atlantic Ocean! Not some lakeside county fair boat ride. I came prepared though, to safeguard myself against the notion of being sideswiped. I popped another Valium, (a peach-colored one) as we passed through the organized network of gangplanks and dizzy, tangled corridors to arrive into this lovely pre-boarding, unairconditioned loading zone.
          We are the next group, supposedly, to cross over the metal gangway. Drew and I expectantly arrange our bags and roll-ons in final preparation. Finally, the android voice drones out our letter. We jump up, heave our fourteen-day wardrobe around yet another carpeted corridor, and hurry up and wait.
          “Gum?” Drew pulls out a pack of spearmint Trident and offers me a piece.
          “No, thanks.” I say, my eyes wondering, my feet tired, my body lethargic from waiting. Patience is a virtue and not -- I’m sorry to admit -- one of mine.
          Like waiting in an airport queue, we shimmy a few feet at a time, in zigzag patterns, around turns and bends and inclined ramps. I glance across the railing to the other side, strain my eyes for a split second and think I’m imagining things. I nudge Drew on the arm and have her look in the same direction.
          “What?” She asks, an air of best-friend annoyance riding bareback.
          “It can’t be.” My body drains of blood. A chill enters the bottom of my feet, travels north and highjacks my entire body. I might actually faint.
          Drew observes my obvious discomfort. Oh, the look she gives me. Like I should just climb right into a coffin instead of boarding this luxury cruise liner with her. “What? What’s wrong with you? What?”
Who let the parakeet out of her cage?
“Is that, over there ...?” I’m completely unnerved and unhinged. The good Doctor or somebody who looks exactly like the identical twin of Thomas Mann is posing across the way, perusing literature of some sort, completely unaware that we are standing less than ten feet away.
          “Who?” Drew quips.  She takes off her glasses and zooms in, a circling eagle ready to swoop down and destroy. “Where?”
          Leaning over the railing and standing statuesque is a handsome man dressed in beige khaki slacks and a short-sleeved, pink Ralph Loren Polo shirt. His chestnut brown hair is flopped with stylish panache to one side. Thick-framed black eye glasses outline his brooding eyes. He studies excursion leaflets as if there might be a comprehensive test later.
          “Is that Thomas Mann?” I ask again, sheepishly.
          “Oh, God, Sami, you are losing it.”
          “It is, isn’t it?” Now, I turn and gawk.
          “Sami! That is NOT Thomas Mann.” Drew consoles me. An aging twosome of lifelong cruisers stand behind us, too close for comfort, and are obviously in a hurry to get to the free, bigger-than-life-buffet. They continue nudging us to move forward, as if the next few miniscule steps might make their journey go faster. I turn and give a slight “excuse me” but they insist, pushing on, an air of overt enthusiasm etched on their wrinkled faces.
          “That is not Thomas! You’re seeing things.”
          “What?” I take another quick glance across the populated network of metal grid work. She’s right. He looks in my direction and casually removes his glasses. Embarrassed to be caught staring so intently, I turn away, lean up against the railing and heave a huge sigh. Thomas Mann is the last person I would ever want to see again. Ever.   
          I think back. Even in my Valium-induced haze, I distinctly remember the good doctor mentioning a cruise in one of my terminal therapy sessions. I’m feeling territorial with Drew at the moment and want to push full throttle through this massive crowd and get us safely into our stateroom. The line moves at the speed of a pregnant turtle as I shove Drew, lovingly, up the aisle.
          “Stop it,” Drew wails.
          A steel bridge connects us to the interior of the ship. Several Officers dressed in stuffy white uniforms bearing impressive gold aglets on their shoulders greet us and await our arrival. They swipe passenger’s plastic entry cards, take passport size photographs and process paperwork to a torrent of people gushing to enter this floating matrix. We cross over a single lane, metal gangplank to the main check in. I take a quick peek over the railing and instantly become dizzy. I didn’t realize how high we were. We follow their directions, hand over our ID’s, passports, paperwork, check in our luggage, and continue through the litany of well-organized directives, necessary to embark on this alien craft perched on the high sea like a bobbing bottle.  I am pleasantly surprised at the organizational skills of the crew. They swipe, photograph and check in the mass of people in a matter of minutes and before I know it, we are standing in the enormous belly of the boat, stranded in front of six large elevators, three on either side of us. In the middle of the floor, emblazoned in the polished off white tile, is a huge insignia of the ship’s name and its celebratory first launch date.
          The elevator dings with expectant arrival as a mass of seaworthy castaways take shelter in one of the large, air-conditioned (ahhhh …) cars. The scare of a Thomas Mann sighting squelched any personal phobias of riding the elevator. The Valium helps. We stand, huddled together as the door swooshes shut, ass-to-ass, packed -- a tin of sardines -- and are rocketed to the eighth floor in a matter of seconds. Floor to ceiling windows overlook the enormous inside workings of this sparkly, lit-up vessel. Drew pokes me in the side, her face aglow with childish marvel and wonderment.
          “Isn’t it enchanting?” She sighs breathlessly. Then, once again, she’s all business. “As soon as we get to our room we’ll unpack, go to the spa first … we need to make appointments ...”
          Drew’s organizing, taking control, self-assigned as my personalized event director. “Spa? How about a freaking bar?” I say, laughing aloud, keeping things light, and attempting to be a good friend, a good companion, and better company. Inwardly though, I’m wobbly. My equilibrium is terribly off kilter and getting more apprehensive by the second, crammed into this window-enclosed box without much standing room, pressed tight against a brass rail harpooning my ass. The Valium is working on overtime, trimming off the excess fat of my indulgent nerves, but a few randy synapses are escaping the rowdy pack.
          We catapult ourselves out into the hallway and make curious circles while searching for our stateroom number and matching hallway to get us there. A tall, gangly African American man stands at parade rest at the entrance to the corridor. He’s outfitted in a white, starched Nehru-style jacket and has a surprised expression on his face as we amble tentatively toward him. He must be one of the stewards assigned to this floor, our personal butler, and/or caretaker. Several people walk right past him, but Drew, knowing this game, shoves a fifty dollar bill into his palm along with our room number. The whites of his eyes open wide. He grabs our carry-on luggage and ushers us down a swirling carpeted corridor. His accent is Jamaican. Large white teeth light up his brown face like a jack-o-lantern. His body is wraith thin. (Skinnier than Drew’s) Trailing behind the both of them, I notice his hair, mowed close to his oval head and decorated with intricate shaved details artistically displayed around the edges.
          Our stateroom is wonderful. The Vista Suite. I take a hopeful, excited breath as we turn the corner and enter. Two queen-sized beds, made up in expensive beige sheets and warm fall-colored fabrics line the far wall. A sitting room off to the side has a love seat sofa and a small dining room table with two comfortable chairs. Glass sliding doors open to a private veranda and an okay sized patio. A bigger than average bathroom is equipped with a whirlpool tub and shower, deliciously deluxe and sanitarily spotless. I sit on the edge of one of the beds and push myself up and down on the firm mattress. I have a childlike need to dangle my legs over the side. Nice. I am pleasantly surprised with the accommodations. Drew’s in a hurry, a busy bee needing nectar, calculating our itinerary for every second we’re on board this vessel.
          “You go on ahead.” I say, meaning it. “I brought a few projects I’m working on, plus magazines. I can easily keep myself entertained.”
          “Don’t be ridiculous. You’re coming with me. We need to make reservations at a few restaurants, ask for our own separate table in the main dining room, get spa reservations … they have lectures you know, and this cruise is hosting an art show direct from Florence as one of the highlights. I’ve done my homework!” Her voice is quivering, humming, as tireless and frantic as the wings on a hummingbird. I wonder if she ever rests. It must be intense having to live inside that head of hers, all the time.
          “Okay, okay.” I’m a pushover. I start unpacking, putting my things away. The Grey Goose, I stowed earlier in the deep recesses of my under garments, I now lay sideways in the freezer. In the refrigerator section underneath, is a generous mix of mini-bar goodies tempting my just say “no” diet.
          “No worries there, ma’am. I can do that for you.” The porter stands watching as Drew and I struggle with our luggage.
          “What’s your name?” I ask.
          “Delroy.” His voice has that Jamaican swag to it, sweet, lyrical, and melodic. His fingers are long and bony with knobby joints. He retrieves our suitcases delivered outside the room and rests them on wooden racks.
          “Okay, Delroy. I hand the task to you.” I stand back, grab a granny smith apple from the fruit bowl that was awaiting us, sit on the comfortable sofa and wait for Drew, who is taking forever in the bathroom. I miss Blue. I wish the cruise line permitted large dogs. They only allowed small pets, yappy, high-octane pooches that yap, yap, yap! Incessantly!
          When Drew does decide to exit, she’s changed clothes, applied a light dusting of makeup and smells intoxicating. A cloud of the newest, most expensive perfume from Paris wafts out in a wave before her.  “Jesus, Drew. Really?”
          She laughs that nervous giggle. God I love this woman … sometimes.
          “Let’s go! On y va!
          Back in the hallway, I’m a lightweight, a novice cruiser, following Drew’s militant determination to seize and conquer. We march with fortitude toward the elevators, investigating each corner, each crevice, sopping up every detail like thirsty sponges, digesting the overwhelming and vast amount of information available. I turn back toward the room and wave to Delroy, who is busy unloading the last of our two weeks’ worth of baggage. Why I trust him, I don’t know. But hey, I’m going along with the flow. He waves back and gives another tip-worthy smile. Meanwhile, Drew is scrolling through the ship’s daily itinerary, turning pages faster than a prodigy from the Evelyn Wood’s speed reading classes … planning, and planning, and planning. I’m exhausted just watching her! Spin classes, workouts, Yoga sessions, Palates, and two different pools. One, a large salt-water soaking tub that careens back and forth with the boats natural sway near the Aqua Spa (less kids, I’m down!) and the enormous, football field-sized one situated on the ship’s outdoor deck on the fourteenth floor complete with four Jacuzzi’s, (covered under the protective shield of rolling glass should the weather turn wretched). We highjack a crowded elevator to the second level where the colossal main dining room is located. A grand ballroom stairway has a queue of people standing in line waiting for the Maître’d, a smarmy, short-ish dude dressed in a pale, sand-colored suit with pant legs hemmed too short, (awaiting a flood) to aid in their evening seating. Haggling, if you ask me, with a wad of green thrown in on the side for covert bribing.  The boat is teaming with other food venues, offering a wide assortment of world class dining, so, Drew and I ditch the line and scramble to each of the other outlets located on the fourth and fifth level, and make our daily, hand-written reservations just in case we get the urge for something different. 
          The boat is on its way to Florence, Italy with the final destination of Rome. We have several, (seven, to be exact) free “intensive” sea days while crossing the Atlantic; easy, restful, calming, monotonous days, lazing around, anywhere, with a book, lying by the pool, soaking up rays or making use of an assortment of on-board entertainment; gambling, shopping or even taking in a late night show. Top-level comedians, singers, and dancers all perform live on stage in an amphitheater bigger and better than anything I’ve visited recently in the City. Drew’s right. It is Vegas!
          Highlighted, as the “Main Event” on this transatlantic voyage is the spectacular art show, “Money and Beauty and the Bonfire of the Vanities,” direct from its Florence premiere at the Palazzo Strozzi, proudly displaying Italy’s 15th Century artistic history. We step around a roped-off, still under construction entryway, and peek inside the cavernous space. The mere sight is worth the proverbial “Ahhhh!
Designers have covered the entire gallery floor in snow-white carpet. Construction workers have draped sheets of heavy plastic over the space for protection, awaiting the ceremonial unveiling. The curators have listed over 100 pieces from the exhibit to stir up enthusiasm. Artists celebrated are Botticelli, Michelangelo and Bento Angelico, to name a few, their names printed in formal black lettering and shown in handsome frames on sturdy easels outside the entrance. An auction will take place after the gala opening and period pieces will go on sale to the highest bidder. A series of enrichment lectures go hand-in-hand with the exhibition, spotlighting the history of the Medici family, their fanciful banking history and their devoted patronage to the arts. Sculptures, documents, books and artefacts -- the entire vast collection -- explores in depth the patrons, economics and artists during a period now looked back on as the “Golden Age.” One of the Medici heirs, (if there actually is one) is supposedly teaching several of the classes.
          Surprised by my adaptability, my so-called sea legs, I’ve yet to feel seasick, anxious, or overly nervous. And, to my credit and chagrin, without the aid of too many ingested pharmaceuticals. Drew and I find ourselves back in the room for a quick catnap before an aggressive loud speaker awakens us and prompts us to move to the outdoor deck for a class in the Emergency Exit Plan indoctrination. The lecture, given by a good-looking bloke with broad shoulders and a tight, white, tee shirt comes complete with step by step instructions on the usage of our very own, orange-colored life vests, dragged with us from under our beds, pulled over our heads, and tightened securely around our waists. Once we understand the fine art of inflation, the young man issues us a number and the location of the lifeboat we’re to plunge into should the ship hit an iceberg or any other emergency situation. I’m praying for a safe, sound, and relaxing trip.
          We journey like moles through the hectic, busy, guest-friendly tunnels to the upper deck right at dusk, just as the ship untethers its slip and sneaks its’ way to sea. Ribbons of salmon slash across a burgeoning purple sky. Stars are budding and twinkling in the twilight. It’s a humid, wet evening. Moisture laps at the sides of our faces. Sweat glistens on our necks and the slight, arid breeze feels tender and good on our bare shoulders. High-rise apartment buildings and condominium complexes surrounding the harbor light up the waterway corridor like an airport runway. The ship floats on a cloud in a steady slow progression toward the oceans mouth, a bon voyage kiss before being devoured by an awaiting Atlantic. Family and friends gather in layers, waving from the sidelines, huddled together on the huge hanger of cracked concrete. White handkerchiefs move back and forth in the salt-licked air.
          The Sunset Bar is open for business. Situated at the front of the ship near a long orderly line of perfectly straightened deck chairs, (on real, live grass!) we perch our asses on white, toadstool-style seats and enjoy the spectacular view. The bartender, a jovial black man wearing a wild, floral Hawaiian shirt, shakes up brand-name vodka in plastic cups with lots of ice and tiny olives (my least favorite). We raise our makeshift glasses and toast our upcoming days together, our transatlantic excursion. Italy! Ciao Bella! And, of course, our amazing, unwavering friendship, the absolute best in the whole galaxy.    

We dine that evening in the lovely Murano Restaurant, one of several of the revered five-star, independent epicurean eateries promoted on board the ship. We sit at a table situated beside a ruler-row of circular port windows peering out over the choppy waters of a turbulent, upset Atlantic. I’m amazed at how still, how calm, the ship’s movement is. Outside, a rainstorm is bludgeoning the wooden decks. Sheets of water slam and swirl against the boats massive hull. Giant, jagged white tops break and roll on a tourmaline sea as our floating hotel progresses smoothly forward.
I’m enjoying my usual, a lovely frozen vodka martini (in the perfect “up” glass with large, fat olives) waiting to consume a three course hedonistic feast prepared by the Chef de Cuisine, who journeyed to our intimate table to introduce himself and personally welcome us. A portly young man, he's thick-bellied, with carrot-colored orange hair and a straggly, matching beard. Tattoos scream out from his naked forearms. (Never trust a skinny Chef) He wears a white, puffy Chef’s hat that towers to the arched ceiling and juggles two tiny plates in his plump hands, and introduces Drew and I to his specific amuse bush for the evening. Toasted sourdough garlic points topped with creamy burrata mozzarella, a slice of salted speck and minced tarragon sprinkled ala minute.
The sommelier arrives with a select bottle of wine Drew picked out earlier. (On our exhausting post-arrival, three hour ship crusade) Drew has tremendously good taste, in most things, but particularly with vino. The lovely sommelier presents a handsome-shaped bottle of Pinot Noir from Napa Valley. Even the delicate purple anemones dressing the table tilt their buttercup sepals in acceptance. The young woman opens the bottle with arty finesse, takes a sip of the wine from a garish spoon dangling from around her neck, and pours the ruby mixture into large Burgundy glasses. I twirl mine several times over the starched linen before raising my glass and offering a toast. The steward, a gorgeous Latino woman with a high, elegant forehead and a regal neckline, smiles and excuses herself.
“Thank you, Drew. Seriously. For being in my Life.” I clink my glass to hers. Crystal sings. She gets teary-eyed as we take reverent tastes. I shake my head in delightful appreciation. “Beautiful … the wine … and you.”
“How are you doing?” She places her glass on the table. “Really. It’s just you and me now, kiddo.” She keeps her fingers wrapped around the base of her goblet, a miniature life raft in this endless sea of emotion.
It’s my turn to get sensitive. “You’re seriously going to take me there, aren’t you?” I grab at my napkin. I dab the corners of my eyes.
“Yep.” She attempts a feeble smile. She reaches her hand out and touches mine.
          I sit for a gravid second. I ponder the surreal couple of months I’ve lived through … and survived. The question ...
The restaurant stretches and yawns toward closing. The clank of empty bottles hitting a trashcan somewhere behind me. Tables seated around us are finishing with their desserts. A lone table beside us sits empty, a setting for one guest prepared and mysteriously vacant throughout the evening. Michael, the delightful Maître’d, (I make a point of knowing the service crew by their first names, unlike Drew) had placed a RESERVED sign on it hours ago, when we first arrived. A cappuccino machine hissing and coughing steam reverts my attention back to Drew and her question.
The answer …
I don’t have one. “Sad.” I say, breaking the awkward monotony of silence. “I’m just really sad. The whole Jerry thing really took me for a loop. I mean, his women friends … you know what? I’m a big girl, I get it! I learned early on how to duck those grenades. Years ago! But the rest of it …” I shake my head at the sordid details. My eyes well up, my throat swells, and my words trail off. They stumble, and stagger, and fall off a steep, treacherous cliff I’ve yet to travel, I’m not prepared for, and I still haven’t wrapped my head around. Not entirely. I continue wanting to hide out, take shelter, and use the proverbial “put my head in the sand” motif. Or, remedy the entire ordeal with denial, my favorite form of avoidance I've mastered over the last few years. For my self-protection. My safety. My survival.
Our server rescues my troubled musings by delivering our first course. A baby red beet salad served underneath organic green kale, wild arugula, heirloom tomatoes, and red onions, splashed with a light lemon vinaigrette dressing. Piled art, designed in exquisite layers, balanced in intricate leafy tiers on top of a round bone-colored plate. Drew ordered the same thing. We sit in absolute wonder until I grab my fork, dig in and rearrange the chef’s fanciful finesse. “Oh, my God! This is divine!”
Drew and I can rummage and root through a forklift of information, and time limits never seem to apply. Even after we’ve finished going through the muddle of old, used, and outdated material, a brand new collection emerges and entices our conversation forward. We can make each other laugh, or cry and stay “besties” throughout, even when we both want to strangle each other and rip each other’s eyes out. We move through the recent landmines of our lives, her and Bob, their recent acquisition in Belize; a grand-sized hotel located on the Southern tip of the Island. Then, the focus returns back to me, to my on-again, off-again flirtation with a married man. Yes, Hutch. Who else? We relate, retell, and maybe even rant. The many glasses of wine we’ve ingested helps, it calms and soothes our sharp edges. Soon, we’re sodden, drunk and exhausted, our eyes straining to stay open. We’re ready for our first night’s sleep on board this massive moving hotel.
The storm has ratcheted into a dramatic squall. Drew and I slump in our chairs, sleepy and serene, without the least sense of danger. A searchlight towers over the ship, funneling an intrusive high beam through the windows, interrupting our syrupy, nostalgic mood. I point out the darting white shaft to Drew. It’s disturbing and unsettling to not know what has warranted an actual helicopter, hovering above us, combating the turbulent sky and using a high-powered spotlight. I motion for our waiter who hurries to the table, concern etched on his cocoa complexioned face.
“Yes, Madame. Can I get you something?” He removes dessert plates sitting in front of us.
I point out the window to the cone of light ferreting through a torrent of hammering grey rain. “What is going on out there?”
He moves closer to the window, leans over my shoulders and looks. “Oh, yes, there was an emergency evacuation of an elderly woman in the main dining room this evening. She had a heart attack or something. They are transporting her to the nearest hospital.” His accent is pure Indian. I love the way he speaks, the graceful rise and fall of his sentences. Soothing.
His answer assuages my morbid curiosity. “Ah, thank you. Whew! Glad to know nothing's wrong with the boat.”
Drew laughs. “Sami.”
“What?” I roll my tired, seafaring eyes. “Can you direct me to the restroom?” I ask the young man.
“I will show you.” He stands at brisk attention, while a chubby busboy outfitted in a bright red vest runs circles around him, collecting plates from out of his hands.
Standing up, I gather my faulty bearings and follow him to the back of the restaurant. “I’ll be right back.”
          “I’m not going anywhere.” Drew takes another swig from her glass and watches the drama unfold outside her window.
The server escorts me through the well-appointed dining room -- soft, cozy-lit dens of stained, wooden banquets with round curved corners -- through a tiny passageway to a main thoroughfare. He points me toward the end of the hallway and directs me to turn left. I’m tipsy, I admit it. The chaotic traveling from New York; the volatile weather, the taxis and luggage, JFK, the hurry up and wait, the hustle and bustle of boarding, the wine, the vodka … I lean up against the wall for assisted support, arresting the slight sensation of vertigo, a flash of blurred dizziness. For the first time since boarding, I’m aware of the rocking, the gentle swell of the boat rising and falling beneath me. I’m surprised at how empty the corridor is of fellow passengers. Drew and I are notoriously late diners. We're New Yorkers! Our reservation wasn’t until 8:30 PM. With before dinner cocktails, a three-course tasting menu, complete with wine parings selected special for each scrumptious dish, not to mention the espressos, after dinner aperitifs … it must be well past 11:30 PM.
The highlighted signs for the restrooms materialize as I round the corner. It seems like an inordinate amount of trekking to use a toilet. The door opens as I arrive and a woman exits. She flings a light peach colored shawl over her shoulders and walks past me, leaving a healthy trail of sweet floral perfume in her wake. I offer a friendly smile, but my kindness go unappreciated. I enter the washroom, lock the door and relieve myself in one of the private stalls. I’m suddenly nauseous and wondering if my current bout of wooziness is from the rich food I consumed, or the slight current ebbing and flowing from under the vessel. I wash my hands at the sink and look into the mirror. The months of stress have taken its toll. I pull at the roots of my hair. Maybe I’ll try the salon’s colorist. My regular, a Polish woman I’ve been using for years, was unavailable before the trip. I smooth out my complexion, pinch at my cheeks, and wet my lips with water from the faucet. I dry my hands on a small fluffy hand towel, rolled up in a cute white log and stacked on the marble vanity. The room smells of deodorizer, spa-like, cucumbers, citrus … fresh. This could all get very addictive. I pitch the towel toward the wicker wastebasket, unlock the door and exit.
I’ve been waiting for you, Sami!

~ * ~

Drew checked her watch. Again. Where the hell was she? She motioned the server over to the table. The restaurant was empty of diners. They had been the last guests seated.
“Yes, ma’am?”
“Which way did my friend go? It's been twenty minutes now.” Drew was nervous, tapping the thin glass cover of her antique Cartier wristwatch. The perfect red wine they had both adored, cooed over earlier … was now creating not-so-perfect acid reflux. Not pretty. This was Sami’s first excursion at sea. It was easy getting lost in a maze of tunnels inside the bowels one of these huge cruise liners. “Oh, shit!” Drew stood up to leave.
          “Ma’am, would you mind signing?” He had their paperwork ready.
          Drew leaned over to scribble her initial on the check. The circus of lights outside their port windows had quieted. She walked through the restaurant and stood in the entryway, considering her options. Perhaps Sami returned to their stateroom. She walked through the curvy, carpeted corridor, past an airy, open lounge. A hefty woman wearing a tight-fitted, sequined gown sang Don’t It Make Your Brown Eye Blue to a handful of late night drinkers. Couples moved like drunken zombies, holding each other up on the lit up rectangular dance floor. “Ding, ding, ding” echoed from the noisy casino, along with a few rowdy laughs and “whooo hooo’s” as Drew passed by the entryway. Outside, the rain continued beating the deck. She stopped for a quick second and peered out a peephole.
That voice. For a moment, she thought she was hearing things. Then again … that voice.
“Drew, over here.”
Thomas Mann sat alone at an empty bar situated in a secluded corner. Several white barstools, George Jetson-style, sat forlorn around him. Tables languished in the quartered-off lounge, complete with red velvet ropes and without the companionship of lit candles. She didn’t recognize him. Not at first. He wore a tuxedo, black and enticing. A bowtie was dressed expertly at his neckline. He had slicked his hair back with gel and his eyes were as captivating and enthralling as ever, hiding behind black eyeglasses. Drew hesitated for a semi second, collected herself, and then walked over to where he sat. The bartender, a short female with dirty blonde hair piled high on her head gave a sigh and a weak smile. Hospitality was no longer her friend.
“Can I buy you a night cap?” He picked up his martini glass. A wastrel cherry sat at the bottom of the vortex. He gestured a toast.
“Last call,” the bartender said, louder, annoyed that Thomas was offering up drinks at her bar at this late juncture of the evening.
Drew looked about sheepishly. The last thing she wanted was Sami to walk headlong into this scenario -- this mess of a mess -- and think that Thomas and she had planned it. On purpose. An intended getaway, a sexual excursion, a lust-filled liaison conjured up by Drew and Thomas on the down low. Oh Jesus! Her twat tingled and pulsed as memories multiplied, flickered and danced. Her face flushed. He had to notice her rapid breathing. Wings fluttering, a horny moth to his notorious flame. The notion of Thomas Mann being on board this boat was so dangerous -- beyond dangerous -- on so many dangerous levels. So deliciously deceptive, devious all most. The mere thought of him, here, the two of them together, out to sea, well, the erotic images piling up on her and her pussy was like a painful, cat-in-heat yearning. Meow!
“What are you doing here? Jesus Christ! It was you. Sami thought she saw you. She turned a new shade of pale this afternoon.”
“Sorry to hear that. Free country. Expensive cruise. I’ve always wanted to see Italy.” He raised his empty martini glass for another toast. “You sure you don't want that drink?”
“No, no, no! We just finished dinner.” Drew glanced around, scanning for Sami. A cold shower. She traced a finger on the thin coating of ice lining the bar, an S.O.S. inscription.  “You haven’t seen her have you? Sami I mean?”
“Should I have?” Thomas asked. He raised his manicured eyebrow and took the last slurp of his Manhattan, licking the rim with his tongue and biting down on the liquor infused cherry for added affect.
Damn, he looked good …
“Well, have a good night, Thomas. Maybe we’ll see each other around campus. It’s a big boat, maybe not …” Drew gave an insidious smile and moved past him. Her leg brushed against his thigh. Tentatively. He grabbed her arm, too familiar, too firmly -- way too friendly -- and yanked her back against him. Opening up his legs, he positioned himself around her nothing body.
… too good.
His breath felt hot against her neck, her skin, probing inside her ear. A sweet whiff of bourbon. Spicy vermouth and that damn tangy scent of a popped Maraschino cherry, it all lingered. “I wanted to apologize for ... well, the last time we hooked up …”
Drew tried moving away, but he had her trapped, a spider ensnared between his muscular legs. And, she had to admit, she was enjoying the closeness of his cunning web. His confidence, a personality trait she admired in him, in most men, that is, tonight bristled with pompousness and arrogance. “Apology unnecessary. It was fun … while it lasted, but it’s over. Now, please let go! You’re hurting me!” He held on for a second longer, long enough to make Drew uncomfortable, long enough to seek other passengers, security; in the off chance she might need help, some assistance. In the off chance ... she didn't.
“Oh … excuse me. Did I interrupt something?” A young woman tee tottered toward them in stiletto-spiked heels over the airy carpet. Her voice warbled, as if she just swallowed a singing canary. She wore a tight fitting black dress accentuating a full rack of pumped-up tits and a tight, toned, curvaceous body. Long auburn Rita Hayworth hair fell with fatigue in exhausted ringlets over her bare, exposed shoulders and oh, so perfectly tanned back.
The force of Thomas’s grip releasing Drew propelled her backwards a few steps.
“Brandy, Drew." Brevity in introductions. "Ah, Drew’s an … old acquaintance of mine.”
The woman parked her ass strategically into Thomas’s port. He responded attentively by enfolding her with the right amount of buoyed protection; docked, locked and slipped comfortably in between his thighs. 
The fucking bastard accented old for effect!
“Pleasure.” Drew walked away, leaving a path of glittery resentment in her trail.
Brandy, she’s a fine girl, what a good wife she would be …
The song resonated, accentuating Drew’s life, her age, her lack of sexual attention. Action. Her aging port had become, and far too fleetingly, a sagging, lackluster, rickety old fucking dock. That bon vivant sexual freedom she once exhibited with vigorous, body-contorting enthusiasm in her life was (and without proper warning) turning that corner into the oblivion of invisibility. Drew tried keeping up. Tiresome laps, treading water, panting and puffing around the pool’s inner edge, an anxious little puppy waiting for a friendly smile, a gesture, a token of masculine attention from a man, any man, any male who might offer her a moment’s reprieve, a pat on the back, a rub on her belly. Let's face it! Get laid. Ouch! The thought burned, battery acid on her soul. She refused to look back at them…
… but my love, my life and my lady is the sea …
The boat took a sudden jolt. It tipped Drew off her unbalanced axis. She righted herself and leaned against the back of a lounge chair situated with designer panache near the elevators. Blood pooled on her forearm, a bright purple bruise gathering attention beneath her pale, older skin where the asshole had grabbed her.
Sexy, fucking bastard!
How could this happen? How could he have possibly known they were planning a cruise, this cruise, with Sami? Shit!
The elevator whooshed her to the eighth floor and within seconds, Drew was standing outside their stateroom, knocking on the door before entering. God forbid, Sami found her wayward self to the discotheque located on the tippy-top landing, hooked up with an eligible, or maybe not so eligible man (Sami wasn’t always so discerning) and craved private time on her own. Alone. They were on vacation!
“Sami? Sami, are you in here?” She opened the door a slit. She peaked into the well-lighted room, but it was empty. Except for the display of bathroom towels folded to resemble monkeys dangling from the ceiling, the room was just as they had left it. Both chimps hung from one arm and wore Drew and Sami’s personal sunglasses. They seemed to laugh and jeer, and cackle at Drew and her wicked ways as she slammed the door shut. At first, the sight caught Drew off guard, but as she huffed and puffed back toward the elevator she had to admit, the origami towel display was creatively amusing. Delroy!
“Where the hell did she go?”
Thank God Thomas had vacated his ivory perch when Drew returned. The new age bar had closed and was dark, candles extinguished. Check the restaurant? Drew marched around the outer perimeter, a drill sergeant on a mission. The wonderful wine buzz she attained earlier felt dowsed by an array of clandestine meetings and missing-in-action besties. Even the lounge was quiet. A uniformed attendant ran a wide push broom back and forth across the wooden dance floor.
She entered back into the restaurant and followed the curvy wooden ledge to the bar. The same man who’d assisted her earlier, what was his name? held an IPad and made notations, tapping the screen softly every so often. “Sorry to interrupt you … excuse me. My friend and I had dinner here earlier this evening. Remember me? Did she happen to come back looking for me?”
The man gave Drew a bewildered expression, thought for a second and shook his head “no.” He pulled another bottle from off the glass shelf and held it up to the light.
She retraced Sami’s steps to the small passageway leading to a larger, well-migrated main corridor and the restrooms. “Sami, are you in here?” Three individual stalls lined the back wall, a small washbasin on the side. Drew noticed a used hand towel thrown on the floor in the corner. She leaned over and peeked underneath each stall. “SAMI!”

the new Sami Saxton novel is on presale at Amazon for a Christmas Day delivery!
What a PERFECT gift!  You don't want to miss what happens next!

Sunday, June 15, 2014


In review.
I began writing this blog post ranting about the prosecution of reviewers, you know, those people who feel ambitious enough after reading your novel to actually sit down and draft a plus (+) or minus (-) of your work and grade it accordingly with the STAR system. 5 stars being the ultimate in reader orgasm, 1 star being a miss fire, a pre ejaculatory mess. I am not a veteran of the publishing world. As a career, I am a writer in diapers. But, I have been doing this, writing that is, my entire life. Collecting words, creating emotional relationships using fictional, made-up-in-my-head characters, and, connecting those chosen words in a series of sentences or fragments (in my case) to project a story forward through dramatic conflict.  WRITING!   In the two years since the publication of my first novel A PERFECT HUSBAND (by a publisher) I have been witness to a string of varied and random observations from readers who felt obligated to write ‘a review.’
The entire process takes me back (a few years ago) to a period of my life living in NYC.  At the time, the opinion of everybody else regarding my writing seemed to matter more to me than my own. An insecure place to balance. The potholes of traditional publishing we all know. The procuring of a literary agent, (they like me!), the lengthy process of sending ‘the work’ out (they don’t!), the stalling, the waiting, the months on end hoping for something, anything, a crumb, some feedback, a nod of waning approval. The tedious reenactment of the familial rejection syndrome handed out ad nauseum, repeatedly. Again. When will it ever stop? Then, a decision by the actual one, who in the beginning ‘adored’ you, now, no longer does. “It’s business, buckle up brave boy.” And, in a very, dramatic, draconian voice denounces you and your work – your baby -- the novel you spent months slaving over, giving birth to several years prior, in a horrific, painful, soul-wrenching endless labor. Yeah, easy. Right?  “Furthermore, the work has nothing of merit, or of any great importance. It won’t sell,” and says to you, as an add on, an addendum, a fucking P.S., “Go back to the drawing board and do something entirely different.” Argh!  Publishing 101, in a nutshell. Five years of my life just flew by.
Hello new world. Hello KINDLE. We now live in a time of instant publishing gratification. If YOU don’t like my work, then maybe the reading public -- the hallowed mass of IPAD readers out there in the Universe who actually buy the books -- will. (Or, #download it for #free on a #KDP #promotion) Thus, the real story begins. The reviews trickle in. In the beginning, we receive the sparkly-shinny, iridescent ones from those who love us; family and friends and maybe a few adoring early fans. Some members of the clan are shocked to learn we can actually write sentences to even form paragraphs, let alone create an actual story line! With real, well…somewhat real characters, and move them quickly through a 400-page novel, triggering a series of dramatic automatic reactions to either engage or totally enrage them. WOW! We are a five-star sensation on Amazon. Our publishing career looks brilliant! Masterful! Up there in the Amazon logarithms and soaring into the stratosphere of those literary Super Stars shining brightly before us. We are now playing in the big leagues. Right? And then, some not so nice reviews begin infiltrating the perfect pod of our five star earthly existence and deliver their one star, “this is crap” comments. I get it. Really. Writing is an art form. It’s creative. And publishing art in whatever form will always enlist critique, from everybody. So, the first qualification of any new artist venturing into the world of self-publishing must be a suit of armor. If you want to play in the public arena of creativity, right alongside the big bad boys, you had better protect yourself. Emotionally. And, I can certainly live with the ‘it’s not my cup of tea, ‘or ‘it’s not what I was expecting’ point of view. What I do write may not be for everybody. Just saying. But then, there are the other reviews -- you know – the ones that make me chuckle through my tears. We are writers, yes, but we are also human, and not immune to the hurtful comments and remarks some of these reviewers feel it is their god-given duty to sling our way. We humans, I think, are still a relatively intelligent species, hopefully a sensitive breed, and a community of kind-hearted people. Aren't we? I mean, some of these reviewers are just plain rude. And angry. They take individual offense to the writing, as if I wrote the book to offend them…personally. Obviously, the writing hit a nerve, a core, some pulse of self-recognition hidden dormant somewhere in their fragile infrastructure. What did I write to stir up such irregular biorhythms of such extreme revolt? Such hatred? To such a degree they feel propelled to bolt to their computer, sit down and list each of the many offenses, one-by-one that affronted them. Really? Or, would they prefer I just rewrite the book. For them. Filter the characterization and use less offensive language, less sexual content, more Bambi, less Dionysus. Hmmmm…
As a writer and I say that with complete conviction, the craft of writing cannot be marred by restlessness, insecurity, or heartless feedback. The want or need to feed and/or fuel some youthful desire to be liked, or loved or approved of by everybody is ludicrous and foolish. I for one, would rather riot than revere, revolt than restrain, and unleash my characters raw, unmasked and into the world in full ceremonial regalia. For in upheaval comes the unfiltered creation of real life, real feeling and ultimately real human emotion. Give me a taste of blood…not some vapid, descriptive drivel. Voice is everything. Confidence in one’s voice the key…it will always unlock all the choices.  I wrote it before, I say it again, and I stand by it.

Now, just fucking GO for it!      

Tuesday, April 15, 2014


Citadel Mall
Charleston, South Carolina
June 14, 2007


            I love choosing.
           Having a choice is one of the benefits I derive for this little hobby of mine. That and cleaning the environment of filth. No, really, I have an unnatural sense of cleanliness. To the point of being obsessive, some people might think. I’ll give you an example. I carry razor blades on me to scrape off all those annoying pieces of sticky paper plastered on everything; display boards, bathroom stalls, actually, anywhere messy pigs migrate and have the incessant need to vandalize. Back before the neurotic use of cell phones, I would even clean off public telephones. In case of an emergency and I needed to use one, (God forbid) the phone had to be spotless. Bacteria free and purely pristine. Some people look at me strangely. They stare. They think I have a problem. I don’t. I just prefer it that way. Clean and tidy.
            No one assigned me this position. I took it. Like most things in my life. Not to mention the fact that I really enjoy getting what I want, when I want it. Better yet, that incredible high I achieve in getting away with it. Kind of like playing God. That’s an added bonus.
            A dividend.
            The mall is one of my favorite places to hang out. To “choose” from, that is. It’s big and spacious with plenty of people milling about, roaming in and out of brand-name stores, spending all their hard-earned cash. I stay inconspicuous with all the foot traffic. Not that you would notice anything different about me from the next person. You wouldn’t. Trust me. Well, you might think I’m attractive. Give me a second glance, a look, maybe even…choose me.
            I have my eye on a girl. I’ve been watching her real close. Her boyfriend’s been calling her “Angie.” Of course, I immediately think of Mick Jagger.
            “Angie, Angie, when will those clouds all disappear…?”
            But, I’m running out of time, checking my watch a little too frequently, waiting to make my move. I can’t afford to be careless. Nobody can ever afford to be careless. Everything according to plan. Just like the last time. They still haven’t found the body. I doubt they ever will. That’s how good I am. That stupid slut never knew what hit her.
            Beautiful, Angie…      
            Her boyfriend is walking in my direction. He bops toward me, a loaded spring in each step. She follows close behind him like a dizzy puppy, texting on her cell phone. Dainty, pretty fingers fly over the miniature keyboard in a heated frenzy. They’re eating a disgusting pretzel, dipping it into some gooey orange sauce and feeding it to one another. Taking pictures, laughing. Posting on Facebook, or Twitter or some other social media outlet. How cute. I play cool and continue sipping on my coffee. I don’t pay them the slightest bit of attention. They sit down next to me on the wooden bench. Her arm brushes up against me. Accidentally. I almost drop my Styrofoam cup. Her sweater is tight, cottony; her nipples stand erect, playing hide-and-seek through the fabric. Her jeans are faded, that “washed-a-thousand-times” blue. Sewn on her ass is a patch. It reads: “DON’T GO THERE.” I can’t help but be offended, because that is precisely what I did. I went there.  And everybody else, too. Another year and she’ll be ruined. A whore for sure.
            “Sor-ry,” she coos with that sweet, saccharine southern drawl.
            I look the other way. I bite at my upper lip.
            I feel a tap on my shoulder. “Excuse me, do you have the time?” Her boyfriend asks. They compete for the thickest accent. She wins. Hands down. He looks like he just walked off the set of a Steven Spielberg movie. You know the type. All American, wispy brown hair, athletic. Already has facial hair. He wears braces to correct an overbite. Sewn with confidence on the front of his athletic jersey is a capital "F.". Does it stand for varsity football? Or “fucker?” I bet he has a nice, big cock. Everything overdeveloped. Shows off in the shower after gym class giving less fortunate boys a complex. Yeah, you definitely know the type.
            I extend my arm in their direction, advertising my expensive Rolex wristwatch. I graze my hand up against Angie…
            Beautiful Angie…
            I don’t speak. I just act polite and smile.
            He thanks me as they jump up and leave their trash behind. That really pisses me off. Filthy pigs! I snatch up the paper napkin coated with mustard or cheese and walk to the trashcan. I don’t take my eyes off her. Not for one second. I pitch the pig’s trash in the receptacle, take a hand sanitizer cloth from my pocket and follow them. Slowly. Her walk attracts the attention of several people, predominately older men. Their heads turn as she passes by. She is a looker. And to tell you the truth, I don’t blame them.
            That’s why I chose her.
            I must act quickly now.
            “Wait for me,” I hear him say as he enters the men’s restroom.
            “No way! I’m coming with you.”
            Smart girl. But not smart enough.
            She follows him into the bathroom. An elderly man slowly exits using a cane. He shakes his head in disapproval before disappearing into a sea of shoppers. I stand still. I wait for the right moment. I pick up the latest bestseller at a Barnes & Noble Bookstore. Interesting. I choose James Patterson. A romance novel. He’s changing genres. I chuckle as I place the book back into its bin. I’m not an avid reader of the genre.
            Her boyfriend exits the restroom and positions himself as guard at the door. Such gallantry. After a few seconds, she exits. She wipes her hands on her ass and pushes back light, curly hair across her shoulders. It falls in perfect ringlets to her waist. They kiss and grab at each other’s hands. Lovebirds. She must be what? All of thirteen. He looks older, at least seventeen. And, I can tell Angie isn’t the first girl he’s ruined. He has that cocky stride of a winner. A peacock practicing his skills, perfecting his lines, sharpening his tool for the next young thing that falls prey to his desires.
            It’s up to me now. I must save her before he spoils her. Ruins her untouched excellence. I must be quick about it. I hurry across the polished tile floor toward the main exit. I wave good-bye to the pimply-faced barista at Starbucks who made me my coffee. My café latte. See? Nobody knows. Nobody suspects. I pass by the miniature police station located at the mall entrance. I smile at the nice black woman sitting behind the desk browsing through a magazine. She nods her head in my direction.
            The glass doors open automatically. A gentle, cool breeze invigorates me. I take advantage of the last hint of cold weather and take a deep rejuvenating breath. The warmth from the sun surrenders to dusk. Magenta ribbons streak across a pale blue sky.
            I keep a keen eye on the two of them as they stumble over each other’s hungry advances. They head down a row of parked cars. He unlocks her side first. Always a gentleman. He has a jeep!
            He would have a jeep.
            I quicken my pace two rows over, grabbing at the bottom of my coat pocket for keys, checking over my shoulder for fear I might lose them. I unlock the door to my rent-a-car and slide in. I lower the window to dispel the heat. Engines turn over. I watch through the tinted glass of my windshield. I remove my sunglasses to get a better view. No obstructions.
            My plan is in place. On the passenger seat beside me, positioned in plain view is my freedom. My tools, encased in orderly fashion at the bottom of a small, nondescript wooden box. My exquisite instruments. I run my hand over the top of the box. Folded neatly beneath the box is the dress she will wear. The cotton smock, white like the virgin she still is. It will soon turn red from the blood she will spill. For her sins. My soul will then be cleansed. Then and only then.
            My small sacrifice.
          I put the car in reverse and back out of my tight parking space. Guiding the automatic gearshift into drive, I turn the steering wheel in their direction.
            The sacred ritual will take place at sunset.
            You want to know why? I planned it that way.

June 14, 2007
6:22 PM

            Every Thursday evening like clockwork, George Madden chauffeured Edna into Charleston for her weekly prayer meeting. They left early, while it was still light out cause George suffered from terrible night blindness. He’d been to the doctor. But, what could the freakin’ doctor do for night blindness? Edna complained. She hated driving. She hated just about anything having to do with an automobile. Then again, Edna complained pretty much about everything. Twenty-two years of marriage. Martial bliss, George called it. Oh well, he’d adjusted, or so he kept telling himself. Anyway, about his night blindness. George took the usual precautions. He turned down the rearview mirror to stop the oncoming glare, drove on well-lit roads, and tried using streets with those sparkle-bumps on the divider. What else? Oh yeah, he wore glasses. He damn well better. His vision wasn’t so good any more.
           It was a stupid saying, but Edna said it anyway. “George, ya’ got Coke bottles for glasses.” They kind of snickered, not because it was funny, or anything, but because she’d been telling him that for some time now. Kind of nostalgic. Even with all the precautions in place that night, nothing was gonna prepare George’s old eyes for the sight they were about to behold.
            Edna and George lived about twenty miles outside Charleston in a little community known as Goose Creek. It was a quiet place. Lots of sprawling, two-level rental complexes equipped with tennis courts, swimming pools and nicely manicured lawns. The developers wanted the tenants to feel like they were getting something for their money. They enjoyed it all right. Anyway, they were driving into the City, passing by the usual scenery – strip malls, movie theaters and restaurants. George remembered Edna saying something about wanting to try a new fast food joint that just recently popped up. A movie star had opened up a whole slew of them. Edna sure enjoyed her movie stars. She read all about them in those supermarket gossip magazines. The Globe. The Enquirer. George remembered saying something like, “Yeah, yeah,” because Edna also loved eating. Out. She used to be one hell of a cook back when the kids were home, but now those pots and pans just hung above the stove and collected dust. Money flew right out the window on a count of them eating out every night.
           George dropped Edna off at the church located on Meeting Street, not far from the University. He pecked at her cheek and watched her skedaddle across the concrete pavement to the entrance of The Circular Congregation Church. Her big ass created tidal waves underneath her flowery, floor-length skirt. It looked more like a tent to George.
            Oh Edna, when did you get to be so…big?
           George was proud to mention, perhaps even brag a bit, that he’d maintained his same weight since being discharged from the military back in the late sixties.
            Seeing Edna’s large ass wiggle like a Jell-O mold got George’s blood a going.
           George, why don’t you treat yourself tonight and go out to that Pussy Place out on Old Towne Road?
          Entrance was dirt-cheap. Besides, why not? Won’t be long before George’s ass was seated in a booth at some chain restaurant watching Edna stuff her fat face anyway.
            Oh, hell yeah, that’s what I’ll do!
            Before George could count to three, that old Buick Regal seemed to have a mind all its own and was steering itself right over Memorial Bridge. Yep, tonight George was going in search of a little action.
           On the radio, George was listening to that song… “If I can’t have you, I don’t want nobody baby, if I can’t have you…” …just singing along as he drove, having himself one hell of a good time. It was getting darker though and Old Towne Road had a stretch of highway up ahead that was pretty isolated. Hell, somebody could get lost out here if they weren’t paying attention. There weren’t a lot of streetlights either. Darkness was landing on George faster than a Boeing 747. He started getting a little jumpy. He sat upright in his seat and adjusted his glasses. He flicked down the rearview mirror and prayed for a speck of white, a dot of relief. Some kind of light. Pink neon sure would be nice. What was the name of that place? “Pink Pussy?”  “Pussy Palace?” Hell, he knew it had pussy in it. Off the record, George didn’t want anybody getting the wrong idea. He didn’t do this a lot. Not every day, anyway. He sometimes even missed a week or two. Sometimes.
            A neon sign came blasting into view right in the nick of time. A blessing. “Silk Stockings.” If he hadn’t come upon it soon, he was about ready to do a U-turn and head right straight back to Edna. Mother. Guilt. He hated it. But, forget about all that now. He was here! Soon he’d be lost in a lush oasis of luscious smelling booty before he could count to ten.
            He parked the Buick in the rear, next to a reeking dipsey-dumpster. Smelled like shit, but he preferred it. He didn’t like flashing his dirty laundry around. Besides, it wasn’t nobody’s damn business anyway. He had yet to witness somebody he knew out here. Strange, huh? And, if he did, what would they have on him? Nothing! So fuck ‘em! That’s what George would say. Whooo hooo! George was in a mood tonight! Watch out “Pussy Palace,” or whatever the hell the name was.
         He paid his money at the door and strolled cocksure into the place like he owned it. In the background, the DJ Herb was talking shit, as usual.
       “For your credit card, you can have a private lap-dance with Candy Cane in the Champagne Lounge…”
            George liked Candy. She was nice and all, but for a hundred bucks he wanted something more than a lap-dance. Besides, he played it safe. He left all his credit cards at home. Just in case the urge fell upon him. He got into trouble once with that. Never again. Instead, he moseyed up to the bar.
            The bartender swiveled a bar napkin in front of him. “How’s it goin’ George?”
            A lot of really nice people worked here. Sonny was one of them. “Can’t complain, can’t complain.”
            “Damn, you’re good. For somebody who don’t come in here a whole hell of a lot, you sure do have a good memory.”
         Sonny twisted open a miniature bottle of some panther-piss vodka. He poured it into a tall glass. George didn’t pay for premium. Why waste money on advertising? Sonny passed George a vodka and tonic. No fruit.
            “It’s my business, George.” Sonny turned and headed to the other end of the bar. It was a big bar, too, the size of a football field. George turned his attention to the stage. He sure didn’t want to stare at Sonny’s big ass. He saw enough of that at home.
            Linda was performing at the moment. All the girls working the place were stacked. George whistled. He gave a holler. He wanted to let the girls know he was here. That he was coming. He’d bet one of his monthly social security checks that every last one of ‘em could go to New York City and dance on Broadway if they wanted to. If the right person were to come in and discover them. He took a slurp of his drink. The tonic tickled the straggly hairs in his nose. Sonny poured a good, strong one. That was important to George. It took the edge off.
            “Hi, Georgie.” Sandra passed by. She brushed his crotch. She was wearing a pink thong that slid all the way up her naked ass.
         "Whoa down there horsey.” He gave her a flick with his finger. Sometimes the girls got a bit too forward. George didn’t like that. He wanted to be the one in charge. In control. Let Georgie make the decisions for a change. At least for tonight. All right, Sandra? She paid him no mind. She went right on about her business, stopping every so often at a table to deposit a beer or sit on somebody’s lap.
            George called out for Sonny and asked for some change. Leaving a fifty-cent tip on the bar, George high-tailed it to the runway. “Thanks, Sonny.” Sonny threw the change into an empty champagne bucket. It jingled a lonely death as George moved to his favorite spot, right up close to the stage. All the girls knew George, knew he was a good tipper. “Preferred customer,” they called him. They all possessed a sixth sense about those who carried the cash, the money, the green.
           Linda was moving like water. Not one ripple of fat on her. So smooth the way she undulated in an out. Sweet motion. He took out a single bill and folded it neatly in half. Linda got a whiff. She played all-seductive in front of him, pursing her lips, touching her pussy, rubbing her nipples. George’s pecker went petrified. Glad to know it still existed. No shit! Linda bent over backwards for that blasted one-dollar bill. George passed her an extra buck for that move. She took the bill and stuck it in her lacy garter, way up high on the inside of her leg. That beautiful tan thigh. Then, she pivoted on spiked heels and took off after another sniff of green.
           George checked out the competition. Some jerk started smoking next to him. George hated smoke, the smell of it, the stench, the way it stunk up his clothes. He picked up his drink and ambled back to the bar. He could have one more cocktail. That was his limit. It was bad enough he had to brush his teeth, spray Chloraseptic into his mouth and eat a pack of Tic-tacs before picking up the beloved Edna. It was worth it. George hid it under the front seat of the car. In all the years Edna and him had been married, Edna had not once caught on. Not once. Can you believe it?
           By the time George reached the bar, Sonny had already poured another. They exchanged a few more pleasantries. George passed over his empty, and this time handed Sonny a dollar tip. Sonny smiled. Everybody here worked for the green. The booze was rushing fast to his head. He was feeling a little hot, so he loosened up his collar. He spotted Sandra making her way toward him. Now, he was ready.
            “Ready, Freddie?”
           Sandra knew his name was George. She slayed him the way she called him that, all cutesy and all. Like always, he followed her. She walked down a tiny, dim hallway to the back of the club. It got darker as they progressed. George took off his glasses. No night blindness here. He tagged along down some stairs all the while watching Sandra’s ass shimmy. She had long red hair that fell down over her shoulders. All the way to her butt. And, for some damn reason, she always wore pink. Pink everything. Always. Never had George ever seen Sandra dressed in any other color. Pink, pink, pink.
            Personally, George’s favorite color was blue.
            Sandra opened a door. Inside was another entrance. A sign read: DO NOT ENTER.
           They entered. The cramped room had a single bed made up with cheap white sheets and a wooden bedside table next to it. It reminded George of Okinawa. When he was in the Army. The only light came from a red glob floating around in a lava lamp. It oozed up-and-down as George sat on the cot. The mattress squeaked with his weight. He knew the sounds of this bed. He’d memorized the sounds of Sandra.
            She pulled a tiny embroidered square cushion out from under the mattress and positioned it between George’s legs. His woody was begging for a little Sandra attention about now. Unbuckling his belt, she pulled at his zipper exposing George’s boxer shorts.
            “I like your undies, Freddie,” she whimpered.
            That was George’s cue. He leaned back. He watched the fan move in slow motion on the ceiling. He felt the warmth of Sandra’s mouth. He swallowed hard and stretched his arms back as far as they could go.
            Oh, Dear Lord, forgive me my trespasses, as I forgive those…
            “Relax, Georgie. You know I love giving you head.”
           He fingered her soft hair. Thousands upon thousands of baby-fine threads flowed down her naked back. Sweet, sweet movement. She shifted her mouth and allowed her hands to move in tandem, up-and-down. George got a little embarrassed. He’d like to think his pecker was hung as good as the next guy, but honestly, it wasn’t. Sandra made him feel like it was though. She sure must have one hell of an incredible imagination. That’s all George could think. Sometimes, George fell in love with Sandra. Really. And often, more times than he cared to admit, he fantasized Sandra actually fell in love with him.
            “Good boy, Georgie.” She gurgled.
            She felt George stiffen. Sandra knew the rules. She’d somehow created them.
            Edna would never do this. Never. Never, never, never. Not in a million years. Edna didn’t do much of anything these days. She complained a lot about her weight. Daily. How she was gonna go on another diet. Hourly. How she needed to lose weight. She just never let up. How she wanted to get back into one of those old dresses hanging in the closet like dead memories. That wasn’t ever going to happen. Never.
            What about me? George asked.
            “I don’t worry about you, George.” That’s all she would say. What the heck was that supposed to mean?
         George came. A wave of built up frustration released as Sandra swallowed. George didn’t quite believe it himself, but for as long as he’d been coming here (no pun intended) Sandra always finished the exact same way. Every damn time. Somehow, George felt safe with Sandra.
            Afterwards, she would always say, “Yummy, Georgie. You’re better than a facial.”
            Whatever that meant.
           George would chuckle, pass her a twenty, usually with a five-dollar tip. Sandra would slowly stand up, push the cushion back under the bed with her toe and hurry to the door. Before leaving, she’d turn around and give that little girl smile, the one George loved so much.
            “See ya next week, Sugar.”
            Then, she’d quietly slip out the door.
        George listened to the silence for a second. The groan of the bed. The whirl of the fan moving overhead. It brought him back, crashing to the floor like broken glass. Reality. Suddenly, there was Edna. Only Edna. Edna waiting outside the church. Edna standing next to the palm trees on Meeting Street. Edna eating an ice cream cone because he wasn’t there on time. Blaming everything on George. Edna saying to George in that “Edna” way, “Have a good time, George.”
           George pulled up his pants, buckled his belt and left. Quietly.
           He stumbled, sex-drunk and light-headed through the narrow corridor, back up the stairs and into the smoke-filled, pink neon-lit room.
           Yeah, I guess I did, Edna. I had a real nice time.
           “See ya’ next week, George.” Sonny waved good-bye.
           A lot of really nice people worked here. George smiled back. “You too, Sonny. You’ve got one hell of a memory.”
           George had to be honest with himself. Each time he left “Silk Stockings,” he felt a sense of loss, some loneliness. Like a big black cloud pissed on him or something. He didn’t quite understand why he felt that way, he just did. He thought it might have something to do with his life. The way things were right now. The way things had turned out for him. And Edna. For a few minutes inside, George got a chance to escape. Pretend. Be somebody else. Somebody different. Then George wondered, what’s so bad about your life? He could certainly have it a hell of a lot worse.
         He opened the car door and retrieved his oral douche kit from under the seat. He went about the routine of cleaning and spraying and disinfecting his mouth. There. All better. He smiled at himself in the mirror. He put his glasses on, turned over the ignition and before he knew it, he was headed back to Meeting Street. Back to Charleston. Back to Edna.
           As George was driving on Old Towne Road, all those sour thoughts swimming around in his head like pregnant tadpoles, he wasn’t really paying much attention to the fact it was pitch black out. The road in front of him was looking more like a long piece of spent charcoal than a lit up landing strip. A speeding car approached from behind without warning, right up on his ass, nearly blinding him. “Son of a bitch!” George honked his horn several times until the asshole swerved fast around him. George’s heart was racing. His thoughts were jumpy. He readjusted his glasses on his nose. He squinted into the windshield to get a notion of where the road was turning when he saw it.
           On either side of him were large trees. Plantation oaks, Edna called them. He didn’t care what the hell they were called, the mere presence of them was making him nervous. Spanish moss dripped like cobwebs from their branches. It reminded George of witch’s fingers. Being out here, right now, was downright spooky. Gave him the creepers. All those darting shadows were starting to play tricks with his head. He pulled off to the side of the road. There wasn’t much of a shoulder. The car sat parked on some high grass and low-growing weeds. A choir of crickets and frogs serenaded him out the window. Swamps were out there. He must have taken a wrong turn. “Dammit!” He took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. He looked in the rearview mirror. Nothing. Just a flea market full of blackness. Was it his imagination or was he feeling more drunk than usual tonight? Maybe it was his medications. He would have a talk with his doctor. Maybe he should just turn his ass around and call Edna from that gas station a ways back. Edna kept tabs on their only cell phone. There was a gas station, wasn’t there? Yeah, right. What would he say to her? What would he tell her? Edna, honey, listen, I’m running a bit late…
            Then George caught sight of it again. The first time he tried to ignore it. But he couldn’t the second. A white thing kept darting in and out from behind the tree line. What in Sam hell? He tried to focus, cussing at his night blindness, straining to see more clearly. He wasn’t usually frightened, but this was making the hairs on the back of his neck sing “Dixie.” For a second George thought it might be one of those alien abductions. Edna and him had watched repeats of that show every once and a while. What was it called? Strange Planet. He glanced at the blue-black sky. Stars and constellations and even more stars and constellations. From grade school, he located the Big Dipper.
            He put his attention back to the woods. Pure black. He must have been seeing things. He wiped the sweat from off his forehead with a handkerchief. Thank you, Lord. Out there in the murky distance, the only thing he saw now were miles and miles of trees. And his overactive imagination. Then, it reappeared. Again. Like Tinker Bell from Disney. Instead of it flitting around, this sprite, or whatever the hell it was, would just fall down, only to get right back up, and fall right back down again.
            “Jesus, mother of God!” George screamed into the windshield, his face pressed into the glass. “It’s a person. Holy fuck. Somebody’s in trouble.”
        He scrambled to grab the emergency flashlight from under the seat. In the process, he upset his toothbrush and Thursday night paraphernalia kit. “Shit. Piss. Damn.”
            He opened the car door, knelt down on the gravel road and rummaged through the under guts of the seat. There. Finally. He grabbed the flashlight, checked to make sure it was working and took off. He leaped over the ditch filled with muddy water and briar weeds. He left the car door wide open. With the inside light on, he’d be able to find his way back.
            George had never been one of those sporting kind of guys, but tonight, he did some mighty fancy footwork. He ran like a motherfucker until his sides ached, his heart was pounding. A cool mist had settled over the field. His boots were wet and soggy and heavy. George felt invigorated. Like he did during tactical maneuvers. When he was young and fit and back in the Army. When he had a job. A purpose. A mission. Something other than driving Edna around to a different restaurant every damn night.
            The light from his flashlight cut through the low-hanging trees like a hacksaw. It poked and prodded at the black curtain of forest. He didn’t care. He wasn’t scared. He continued running, moving in the direction of that fallen white thing.
            It was down when he got there, like a deer or a wounded animal. It was hard to tell if it was a boy or a girl until he flashed the light on it. Tiny toes had polish on ‘em. Red nail polish. She wore a bathrobe. Not terrycloth like a towel, but white and cottony and long. It covered most of her body. The bottom half, down by her feet was purple-red in color. The moonlight overhead made it appear crimson. Like a rainbow. He turned and vomited. He excused himself, wiped off his mouth with his sleeve and bent over her. He touched her shoulder and waited for a response. Nothing. He turned her over. He wiped the mud from off her face. Lord, there was an emptiness there. A horrible, horrible emptiness. He shone his light into her eyes. Nothing. He remembered from the military to check to see if the pupils got bigger, or smaller. Dilated. But, they didn’t. Oh, God, give him strength. Her hair was hanging down over her face and shoulders, a tangled, sweaty mess. He could barely make out the face. He pushed her hair back. It was a girl all right, a young one too, no older than twelve, thirteen tops. What should he do? He felt for a pulse. He put his head down close to her chest and listened for breathing. She was, but just barely. Her pulse was weak, a fragile thread, sprinting at a hummingbird’s frantic pace. He needed to get this girl to a hospital. Lickity-split. He picked her up and slung her over his shoulder. She was light, not even a hundred pounds. He started running. He could feel the jolt of adrenaline kick his ass as he headed back toward the car. He could barely see the glow from the inside light. Thank God, he left it on.
            Edna would be waiting. Edna was waiting. What was he to do about Edna? He fought his way across the field through the tall grass. Briars stuck to his pants. His ankles. They stabbed at his skin. He could smell blood. And stale urine. He wanted to throw up again. But he kept running, trying not to think about it. How would he feel if this was his baby girl?
            When he arrived back to his car, he would drive like a banshee to the nearest hospital in Charleston. With or without his damn night blindness. He would deliver this little girl close to where Edna was. He would tell the doctors exactly what happened. Every last detail. Everything. How he found this poor girl in a field off Old Towne Road. He would explain it all. He would. He would tell them he was on his way back from…
            Oh, hell…
            Almost everything.