New Novel

Recently finished my fourth novel, tentatively titled “All is Not Well.”

It’s mostly set in Wilsonville, where two of my other novels were set, and is about a girl who is a once in a generation athlete, and as a result is ostracized by the boys because she is better than them, and the girls because she doesn’t care about girly-girl things. This is well before Title IX and as she grows up she becomes ever more frustrated because she can find no outlet for her talent. Her becoming a woman is interrupted by a horrific event that changes her life forever. I’d be giving too much away if I said anymore.

Now begins the thankless task of trying to get it published. I say I’ll give it a year but probably won’t last that long before I self-publish it.

Heaven’s Road : A Paean for the Muckdogs

The way he discovered the Muckdogs is a story in itself. It was on a Saturday after a fight with his wife (now ex). He’d been meaning to go out to Batavia for some time. There was an outlet store there that sold really nice flannel and wool shirts and wool coats, very warm, made a at a nearby factory. He hopped in the car and drove in that general direction, somewhere he didn’t think he’d ever been before. When he neared Batavia, he stopped at an information booth to get directions to the factory outlet. Just as he went inside something popped in his head. He didn’t know if he’d seen it on the back of some player’s baseball card or what, but he must have seen it somewhere or known it somehow.

          “Do they have a baseball team here?” he asked.

          “Sure do,” the older man said, not looking up from his paper.

          “Is the park anywhere near here?” he asked.

          “Just down the street,” was the reply. “Stay on Main here until you get to Bank Street. Turn left down Bank and keep going until you get to a bend in the road and right on your left is the field. Can’t miss it. I think they’re playing today or tonight.” 

          “Gee, thanks!” he said, and turned to take off.

          “Hey” the man said, “what about the factory outlet?”

          “Some other time,” he said, “but thanks. I gotta get to the ballpark.”

          He was there in five minutes but there was a lone car in the parking lot and his hopes fell. He saw a man get out of the car and yelled out to him, “Is there a game here today?”

          “Doubleheader,” he said. He was there!

          “What time?” he asked.

          “Starts at three,” the man answered.

          He looked at his watch. An hour and a half to kill. He drove out of the parking lot and headed to a hamburger joint he’d seen on the way for lunch.

          By the time he finished lunch, he’d cut the time in half. He drove back to the park where already a couple of cars had arrived and more were going in. He knew he was home free. Let’s play two. I knew I wouldn’t be home for dinner.

          Since then I’d been going there at least once a week for several years but I’d never noticed the sign until that night.

                                                          —

          HAVENS ROAD? HEAVEN’S RD.?

          It couldn’t be named Heaven’s Rd., he doubted there was a road with that name anywhere in the whole US of A.

          Had he been dreaming? He hoped not, looking over at his 7-year-old son Thomas, who was oblivious, his earbuds stuck into his ears, listening to Limp Bizkit, no doubt, if the blare he heard emanating from that general direction was any indication.

          Thump thump thuthump it went, just like his heart.

          Thomas, can you turn that down? That bass is killing me.

          Thomas rolled his eyes, but turned it down. He was a good kid.

          Now the father, on the other hand, would have received a smack in the chops for his troubles if his old man had detected the slightest eye roll at a command he’d given.

          OK, he hadn’t been dreaming, but then what had drawn his attention when he spotted the bright green road sign with the white retroreflective buttons on it that read HAVENS ROAD or HEAVEN’S RD. as he headed due east on Route 5 to see a ballgame in Batavia? Why had he jerked his neck so suddenly at it as they drove by, causing what was bound to be a crick in his neck at the very least if not whiplash altogether? Perhaps it was that jarring that had made him see Heaven’s Rd. Did he actually see an apostrophe S? He doubted that would have been put on a road sign, so it must have been “Havens” he’d seen. He was thoroughly confused now.

          One thing was certain: when he saw it, he’d experienced a powerful shock of recognition unlike anything he’d ever experienced before.

          ‘What could it possibly mean? Why had I never noticed it until today?’ he asked himself.

          It was even a little daunting, if you want to know the truth.

          Just as they hit the Batavia City Line, he remembered he needed to stop at Quik Bank for some cash before they went to the ballgame. As he pulled around to the machine he debated how much to withdraw. Since it could only be in $20 increments- $20? $40?

          He looked over at his son and smiled ruefully. If he was a good kid, he was an even better eater. Better make it $40. His mother would have a fit if she saw the junk food gorge he was about to engage in, but that was their little secret, and the boy had never once let slip the full extent of it.

          “Oh, just some peanuts or popcorn and a soda,” he’d say, “that’s all.”

          He supposed that the fact that he admonished him just before he got out of the car each time that that “was our little secret,” and that if his mother found out, the jig would be up, even to the extent that he might not be allowed to go to games with him any longer, made him more able to withstand the thorough interrogation he got when he went in the house afterward.

          He’d only been allowed to start going to games with him this year, although he’d been campaigning for it since he turned five. Besides, only getting him every other weekend made the father determined to make it something special, if only to break the strict regimen he was subjected to by his mother. He was all too familiar with that from their married days. He shuddered to think of it.

          “Something wrong, Daddy?” Thomas asked him.

          “Of course not,” he said, “not a thing. You ready to see some baseball?”

          He knew that would elicit an eyeroll, which was partly why he said it, and to see if he was paying attention. The smile that accompanied it made everything all right with the world.

          Not for long, seemingly, because just as he pulled back onto Main St. he saw the gumball of a police car flashing behind him.

          “What’s going on, Daddy, are we in trouble?”

          “Not that I know of,” he responded.

          The Batavia policeman asked him to roll down his window.

          “You know why I’m stopping you?” he said.

          He hated it when they said that. If he knew what he’d been pulled over for it would have meant he was aware and he’d done it on purpose.

          Not giving him a chance to respond the officer informed him that his left taillight was out.

          “You know how I noticed that?” he asked.

          “No sir, I do not.”

          “Because you went through a red light, just coming into town.”

          He found that hard to believe, he’d never do that, especially not with his son in the car. His mind had been on the Havens Road thing, he recalled.

          The officer must have noticed the baseball glove lying on the seat between them.

          “You going to the game tonight?” he asked.

          “Yes sir,” he said, “as soon as we’re through here.”

          “I’m going to let you off with a warning,” the officer said.

          Immensely relieved, he thanked the officer and said it wouldn’t happen again.

          “See that it doesn’t,” the officer said. “Enjoy the game.”

          ‘Whew, that was a close one,’ he thought to himself, but said to Thomas, “If he hadn’t seen that glove and you hadn’t been in the car, I would have been toast.” He tousled his son’s hair and said, “let’s just keep this between you and I, OK?”

          “Sure thing, Dad,” he said, “now let’s go see some baseball.”

          “Now you’re talking,” he said, grinning wider than he had in quite a while.

                                                          —–o—-

          Dyer Stadium was his field of dreams, his favorite place in all the world to watch a ballgame. It was on the outskirts of the city, in the midst of prime farmland. The stadium had been refurbished a few years ago, a badly needed upgrade, with the major change being the wooden seats had been replaced with aluminum bench seats, and there were more of them. The press box had been enlarged, with the rest of the changes being cosmetic, i.e. a lot of scraping and painting. The player’s clubhouse was the same sandstone brick building just past the visitor’s bullpen in right field.

          As you were driving in you could see a few people lined up buying tickets, which made you want to get there even quicker. Not that you had to worry, the stadium was only ever half full, you were just eager to get your ticket and into your seat. You drove into a gravel driveway and found a spot as far back as you could, so your windshield didn’t get smashed by a foul ball, an incident so prevalent one of the club’s main sponsors was an auto glass repair shop. The excitement built as they made their way to the ticket booth, gloves in hand. With a general admission ticket, you could sit anywhere you wanted, except in the seats closest to the field, which were box seat tickets. They (no matter who he was with) always sat on the third base side, four rows up, except when it was raining (which was seldom), and they’d sit under the covered grandstand, directly behind home plate, as close as they could so they could watch players who weren’t playing that night track the speed of the pitch with a radar gun, making a notation on a sheet of paper designed especially for that purpose after each one[TE1] .  

          Tickets in hand we went through the gate, where we were handed that night’s giveaway- a team picture calendar, a refrigerator magnet with the Muckdog logo and schedule on it, pennant, pen and pencil set, or food and drink giveaways. We always went to the first game of the year, when they gave away the magnet schedule.

          Knowing Thomas would want to peruse the menu (each year there were new items) so he could decide what he wanted during the game, I went over and got a draft beer (only one- again, don’t tell mommy- and sometimes none) and a large bag of peanuts and rejoined him.

          Thomas, enrapt at such a cornucopia of junk food on display, hardly noticed I’d returned. Still not being able to make up his mind, I noted it down as TBD.

          I usually brought a scorebook, so the next thing would be to write down the lineups as listed on a chalkboard hanging near eye level on the grandstand. Then it was on to the field.

           The field! I’d been to many a major and high minor league field and for his money this was hands down the best, from the manicured bright green grass to the smooth as a baby’s bottom tawny infield.

          Everyone was hustling around to get ready for the game, and they had a nice tradition where the local kids would walk out with an assigned player to the player’s position, and would stay on the field until a hokey and off-key of the star-spangled banner was performed, and the game was ready to begin.

          The games were oftentimes sloppily played, with many dropped strikes, wild pitches, errant throws, and muffed grounders, but hey, it was short-season single-A, the second lowest rung on the ladder leading to the big leagues, which only one out of ten would make. But they more than made up for it in enthusiasm and a desire to learn.

          As the middle of the 3rd inning came, Thomas said he was ready to eat.

          “I think I’ll have the garbage plate,” he said.

          “The what? Sounds pretty gross. What’s on it?” the father said.

          “I’ve never had it before,” Thomas replied, shrugging his shoulders. “I want to try it because I’ve had everything else.”

          He didn’t doubt that. Thomas was quite the foodie.

          The service was good, the only concern was you had to watch for foul balls hit over the grandstand or you might get conked in the head. If you were aware, and not preoccupied it was kind of cool to look up at the field lights and have a ball come out of the glare, gathering speed as it fell. It reminded him of the time when catcher Dutch Dotterer caught a baseball dropped from a helicopter. It truly did gather speed so you had to be on your toes. Usually, however, it went over the concession stand, too, so you were unlikely to get beaned, but it always pays to be on your toes, as his old man was fond of saying whenever he screwed something up, which was apparently quite a few times, as he never forgot it.

          The garbage plate consisted of macaroni salad, home fries, chili meat sauce, and hot dogs, all mixed together like a Pollock painting. It didn’t look at all appetizing to me, and he didn’t think Thomas liked it all that much, as he didn’t eat with his usual gusto. Then to hear later that there were variations of it all over the country. He knew why they named it that but couldn’t they have come up with a better name?  

          The game itself, though important, wasn’t paramount, as he had no rooting interest. It was nice for the home crowd to be sent home happy, but it was difficult to become too emotionally invested in a contest that could be lost by a wild pitch, a dropped third strike, a muffed or passed ball, a bases loaded walk, a baserunning mistake, or a dropped third strike, which he would wager was north of a quarter of the time. The ambience of the game (each one had its own) was important also, but of the most interest to him by far was the game within the game: each hitter’s stance and what he’d done in previous at bats in the game, his swing; the pitcher’s windup and delivery what kind of pitches he favored in what count, his control, even his pickoff move; the catcher’s arm, his stance, if he framed strikes (mostly not at this level), his nimbleness from the crouch, how he blocked pitches; the infielder’s range, arm strength, and positioning; the double play combination, the first baseman’s stretch and arm (you’d be surprised how many have a weak arm and an extra base can be taken on a throw); the outfielder’s range arm strength, and positioning.

          All this while still paying close attention to the scoreboard, the crowd, the base coaches, the managers, the bullpen, even the vendors.

          Win or lose, whenever the game ended it was bittersweet, the field dark, half the lights on, people shuffling out of the ballpark to their cars. He never wanted the game to end, that was one reason he loved the game so much, it was a possibility. He wished he didn’t have to leave, he wished he lived in Batavia in the little house with the porch across from the stadium. It was decrepit, definitely a fixer upper, but it was perfect. To be able to just walk across the street to the ballpark. What could be better? He wouldn’t even have to be that sad as he left the park after the final game of each season, he could just look out his front window and there it would be. In fact, one New Year’s Eve, he had missed it so much that, while drinking in a bar, he suddenly left and drove there in a snowstorm, went out on the mound, threw a few snowballs, managing to see the new year in from that vantage point.

          He knew spring would come eventually, but if he lived there, he could get a head start on the season by housing a ball player. How great would that be, being able to talk baseball with a real professional ballplayer?

          There were so many things about Batavia that made him think it was meant for him: the way he’d discovered it, the way he felt when he drove there (each week the corn getting higher), the way he felt when he was there, the way he felt when he had to leave, and, last but not least Havens Rd.

          Driving home in the dark with his brights on because the surrounding countryside was so dark, and because he was afraid of hitting a deer, his son already asleep, he saw HAVENS ROAD looming ahead when his lights hit it. Well at least he knew now. There was no doubt it, it was clear as day.

                                                          —

          He had been an adoptee, had never known his birth parents, having been given up at a year old. Of course, he had wanted to know about them, he had so many questions. There was one image he had in his head of a farm house with a red barn, almost connected to the house with a swathe of grass between it and the road. A tree stood between the house and the barn, a tree with a rope swing dangling from one of its sturdy branches. Where had the image come from? Was it a dream? He had a feeling it had something to do with his past.

          Years went by until he found out the farm he had seen in his mind was where his father had grown up, and that he may have been there as a child. That made sense. Shortly after he found this out, he drove out to see it, and it was exactly the same as the image he’d had in his mind all those years. He went to the local historical society to see if he could find any pictures of it and began talking to some of the people there, one of whom, a woman, had known his father. He had been quite a pitcher in high school, and had died at the age of 39 while walking down a local street one morning. The name of the street he died on was Havens Road.

                                                          THE END


ADDENDUM: The New York-Penn League is one of the low level minor leagues being abolished by the Baseball Commissioner; Dwyer Stadium (I call it “Dyer” in here for fictional purposes) is my favorite place in all the world to watch a baseball game. Although it is 35 miles away from my hometown of Buffalo, NY I have been going there for what would have been 29 years on at least a weekly basis for this short season league. This is fiction based on real events. I grieve and will ever grieve until the unlikely chance they are brought back in one form or another.

A Quick Death / a story by Tom Evans

“Good morning, Mr. Captain,” said Mr. Barnes, drolly.

“Good morning, Jack,” Mr. Captain replied. “What brings you here so early?”

“I’m not sure,” said Mr. Barnes. “No one’s in the office yet, and I’m expecting a big shipment, so I just thought I’d pass the time here, if you don’t mind.”

“’Course not, want some coffee?”

“Don’t mind if I do. Have you seen Gordy around lately?”

“Can’t say as I have, not that I mind. He’s nothing but bad luck. Oh I know he helps you out, and can’t help the way he is, really, but he can be a real pain. I expect the worst when he’s around. Not to mention the smell.”

“Don’t I know it, but he means well, and has been a big help, what with my boys being in school now and not being able to come with me to the office. I don’t know how I’d get along without him. I sure hope he comes around today, I’m going to need help unloading that big shipment of Valentine’s Day candy.”

Mr. Barnes looked out at the leaden sky on that cold crisp day and, as he often did, couldn’t help but wonder if it would be his last, although every day was a bonus as he’d been expected to die five years ago, having been diagnosed with a cancerous tumor on his adrenal gland. Because of it the sweat poured off him, even on such a raw day as this. 

He felt awful most days, had just managed to get out of bed that day for the first time in what seemed like weeks, and only because he had to for that damn shipment. He’d cut way down on the traveling, especially during the rough winter months.

“How about a little taste, Jim?” He knew he shouldn’t but maybe it’d give him some strength.

“Sure thing,” Jim said, and fetched the CC of the shelf and poured a slug into Mr. Barnes’s coffee. He looked around and felt glad to be alive, safely ensconced in the familiar warm bar, a home away from home, really. Not that he ever drank that much, he just enjoyed the camaraderie, not to mention the food. Jim Captain was the best short order cook in Buffalo and he didn’t care who knew it. Mr. Barnes had been all over the east coast, and if you could find a better beef on weck or hot ham sandwich elsewhere, he’d sure like to know about it.

Things hadn’t been going so well on the home front lately, in fact things had kind of gotten out of hand. He’d neglected things and now they’d come to a head. How he regretted all those years on the road but what other choice did he have? He’d built up that business from scratch and given his blood sweat and tears to it and by God he’d made a go of it and now what was going to come of it? He’d taught his boys as much as he could about it but they weren’t ready and certainly had no head for business. All those years on the road and seemingly nothing to show for it but a nice house and a new Oldsmobile every other year. He had a lot of sweat equity in that business. He’d better contact his lawyer and make his terms known in his will. It made him tired just to think of all there was left to do. And then there was that candy shipment…

“‘Nother?” Jim Captain stood in front of him with the coffee in one hand and the bottle of CC in the other.

“Sure, why not?” Mr. Barnes replied, fishing a couple of Garcia y Vegas out of his suit jacket pocket, handing one to Jim, sticking the other in his mouth, then striking a match and lighting them.

“Here’s to better days,” he said, brandishing his cigar and taking a slug out of his coffee cup. “Boy, that’s good,” he sighed.

Strange day, he thought to himself. He’d gotten off on the wrong foot, that was for sure, and now the whole day was probably ruined. No one knew the trouble he’d seen. Strong silent type. Air Force, WWII. He’d been a flight instructor out at Lowery AFB, too old to see any real action. That was the argument that had precipitated his son Wesley’s leaving, or at least one of them, as it seemed there’d been a lot of them lately. He just couldn’t understand young people’s thinking these days. Hell no I won’t go they were saying, a mantra that was being taken up by an entire generation, and he just didn’t understand it- didn’t they know just how fragile and precious freedom was, to be guarded closely round the clock and fought for on every front? There’d been no question about it in WWII, why should there be now? And his own boys repeating this, right at the dinner table. Not to mention the drugs and hippies. What was the world coming to? He’d be god-damned if he’d have that in his own house, especially from two pimple-faced kids who didn’t know which end was up.

The door swung open and some of the regulars began straggling in. He’d get no argument from them that was for sure. They knew exactly what he was talking about, which was becoming a rarity these days.

But he had to admit that ultimately it had been a misunderstanding that had precipitated Wesley’s leaving, and he hadn’t had the strength to press the issue. He sure wished he’d come home, though, he couldn’t believe it had come to this. Good riddance to bad rubbish, Mrs. Barnes had said, typically, which made him feel even worse. Rory (his twin) tried to talk him into coming home, but he wouldn’t. That hurt Mr. Barnes no end, he wouldn’t even come home knowing how sick he’d been.

What could I have done to hurt him that badly? He had a pretty good idea but didn’t want to think about it. There was George Privitera, a friend from way back. Oh boy, it was going to be a long day of revelry, especially if he was here for the duration. These were his old stomping grounds, but he was still surprised to see him.

“What brings you here?” He asked.

“I had a feeling you’d be here,” George said. “Jim, I’ll have a J&B rocks. I heard you’d been sick, but when I called the house, Sally said you were at the office. The branch office I thought to myself,” he said, guffawing at his own joke.

Mr. Barnes felt a slight tinge of resentment at Mr. Privatera’s familiarities. After all, they hadn’t been real close since he broke Wesley’s snare drum that Christmas Day several years ago. Totally soused, scotch dribbling down his chin, he’d sure ruined everybody’s Christmas. Wesley’d never go near a drum set again and he’d been so excited just that morning when he’d seen them under the tree. The Privatera’s were old friends but that had been too much. Still, they went a long way back, to the days when he was single, and it was good to see him.

Mr. Barnes looked out the window and it seemed dusk was beginning to lower. No way he’d been there so long the day was gone. Where was Gordy? He looked at his watch, which had stopped. The skin on the back of his neck tingled. What gives, he thought.

Just then the door opened as a rush of air surged through the narrow bar, and a woman suddenly appeared who made Mr. Barnes start, as she was the spitting image of his Sally when she was young and they were very much in love, right down to the scarf, angora sweater, and shoulder-length bobbed hair.

He felt the need to talk to her immediately but hesitated, instead looked down the bar and called out to Jim Captain in his perplexity: “Jim, get down here!”

“What’ll it be Jack?” Mr. Captain asked once more, looking for all the world as if it was just a normal day in mid-February.

Mr. Barnes said, “Make it a Manhattan this time. Mix up a pitcher, will you?”

“Coming right up,” Jim Captain said.

Mr. Barnes stared straight ahead and said nothing. He’d wait to see what happened next. Naturally the young lady in question came over and sat down right next to him.

“Haven’t I seen you some place before?” Mr. Barnes inquired, and burned red the instant the words came out of his mouth.

“I highly doubt it,” the woman replied wryly.

Jim Captain sauntered down to their end again and inquired, “What’s your pleasure young lady?”

“Beefeater martini, up, with a twist, very dry- just wave the bottle over it.”

“Certainly, coming right up,” Jim replied with arched eyebrows, while Mr. Barnes tried to get his attention to indicate the drink was on him.

He returned shortly afterward with her drink and set in front of her, saying, “Compliments of the gentleman sitting next to you.”

“We haven’t met,” the woman replied, but, turning to Mr. Barnes raised her glass and said, “Just the same, thank you”.

Mr. Barnes, at a loss for words, stammered something unintelligible, at which point Mr. Captain rescued him by saying, “This suave gentleman is Mr. John Barnes. And you are?”

“I’d prefer not to say for now, if you don’t mind,” she replied. “Woman’s prerogative.”

“You’re the boss,” Jim Captain rejoined, with a slight nod, and went to the other end of the bar.

Suddenly there was a welter of activity at the entrance, and, along with several regulars who came in Mr. Barnes saw other familiar faces rush by: his brother Teddy (who’d been dead  these ten years), his other brother Bobby (who’d been in California for a decade), his beloved mother Regina and father Arthur, Harry Brost (an old business partner), Pastor Catthau (an old nemesis, now the Grim Reaper?), and George Johnson, now extremely well off as an original stockholder in the Xerox Corporation.

Mr. Barnes was beginning to panic, and, sweating profusely, felt his equilibrium let go. It was not a good position he was in. Where was he- heaven?  He highly doubted that, though it was sure beginning to seem at the very least like Old Home Week in there. Plenty of heavy drinkers, too. Nobody was going anywhere for a while, that was certain. He looked outside, saw the ominous leaden snow clouds moving into position above and thought once more, where’s Gordy?

Maybe he’d better go outside and watch for him. He’d never think to come in here. He slid off the barstool and saw he was very unsteady. Without looking back he sidled out of the bar, stood for a minute looking both ways then crossed Genesee Street. The wind was coming up and the snow clouds were amassing directly above him. It was going to start snowing in no time. That delivery should have been here by now, he thought. Maybe they got snow already in Rochester, that’s where it seemed to be coming from. No sign of him, so he went back across the street and stood outside the entrance of Jim Captain’s for a while, not certain he was ready to face what awaited him inside.

 When he was ready he entered, and as he did the warmth and hubbub hit and took him aback, disorienting him a little. Everything suddenly looked extremely bleary and his stomach sank queasily toward his knees, sweat soaking his shirt. Maybe Jim would let him lie down in the back room. Suddenly he felt himself going down…

When he woke up, he was in the back room, sort of, up by the ceiling hovering over the proceedings, with a bird’s eye view, legs spread-eagled and arms akimbo like a parachutist against the sky. There was what appeared to be an intense and rowdy game of high stakes poker going on, with acrid tobacco smoke wafting up toward him, perhaps the accumulating cloud even enveloping him, as no one seemed to be aware of his presence. The aforementioned George, Harry, his brother Teddy were there- and Wesley! When had he arrived? Mr. Barnes was overjoyed to see him. My boy has come home, he thought. Now I can be at peace.

Instead, for some reason, he found himself becoming agitated, and, wanting to leave before the card game was completed, wished to descend, or at least escape the room unnoticed. But how?

He thought of the woman sitting at the bar and had the sudden urge to speak to her. He must. It was a matter of life and death. He looked over at the door and saw the transom was partly open and, moving as slowly as he could so as not to cause any stirring, slipped through it undetected.

So far so good. But what to do next? He was hovering right over the aforementioned woman, who was nursing her martini, fiddling with the swizzle stick, her head lowered like an eremite before an icon. He liked this new power he had, and certainly the vantage point, though he was afraid it might end at any minute and he would go crashing down atop some innocent bystander. The barstool next to her was still vacant so he alit on it before she knew what had happened.

“Can I get you another one?” he asked.

“Where’d you come from?” she asked, whipping her head around. “Better yet, where’d you go? I’m feeling rather fuzzy I have to admit. I hope you won’t take advantage of me, she said, coyly. My name is Jean, by the way.”

“I wouldn’t think of it,” Mr. Barnes replied, signaling Jim to get her another drink.” I’m glad to meet you Jean. I’m John Barnes, by the way. ”

“Well, aren’t you the proper gentleman, Jean said, with a toss of her hair. “But we’ve already been introduced. People sure come and go around here pretty quickly, I must say.”

“Really,” said Mr. Barnes, “I hadn’t noticed.”

“That’s because you haven’t been here,” replied Jean. “Stick around a while, you’ll see. You’d think there was a turnstile in that front door.  Where did you go, anyway? I thought we had something going.”

Mr. Barnes, distracted, murmured vaguely,” Oh just across the street, to my office.” He felt a sudden urgency again, as if something was going to happen and he needed to get things settled, there was so much to do, but Gordy still wasn’t here and either was that candy shipment, and he had to talk to Wesley and Teddy before he (they) left, it was vitally important, though what it was he needed to speak to them about escaped him. He went to get off the barstool but Jean put her hand on his arm and said, “Stay awhile with me, I need the company.”

 Mr. Barnes, ever the gentleman, readily obliged her, though the slightest bit uncomfortable at her forwardness. Then he remembered the reason he’d come out here was to talk to her, and his agitation abated.

“Where you from Jean?” he began.

“Cleveland, she replied. “You ever been there?”

Hmmm, same place Sal was from, he thought. “Have I,” he replied. “I lived there all through the thirties, off Eddy Road. Met my- had family there. Still do, as a matter fact.”

“Myself, I couldn’t wait to get out of that dump,” Jean replied, huffily. “And then to find out this place isn’t much different. Same dirty, cold, snowy lousy old city.”

“Gee, that’s too bad you feel that way. I kinda like both places.”

“You would,” Jean replied. “Give me California any day.”

“Have you been there?” I asked. “I have a brother out there, coincidentally, in San Diego. Always wanted to go out there.”

“No, I’ve never,” Jean said, sheepishly. “The weather wouldn’t be hard to take, though, I’ll tell you that.”

“You remind me of someone,” Mr. Barnes said, obliquely, although he knew exactly who he meant, but didn’t want to get into that right now. And the fact that she was from Cleveland cinched it for him, although he didn’t recall having this conversation before. Once again a sense of urgency was tugging at his sleeve and he barely heard her say, “Yeah, you said that already, but I bet you say that to everyone.”

He wanted to go back in the back room and see how that card game was progressing, see the fellows and Wesley (it seemed perfectly natural for him to be there, he’d brought both boys there every Opening Day for the Bisons) but didn’t want to abandon Jean again. How to manage that? And he needed to find Gordy too, before the day was through. No rest for the weary, he thought ruefully.

Suddenly he became distracted and then things began to whirl before him and he felt a stirring in his brain as everything began to coalesce and then jumble/jangle like a kaleidoscopic or cinemascope mélange and then he was sucked into a vertiginous vortex and found himself hovering once more just below the ceiling, monarch of all he surveyed, and then not, as he felt himself to be losing it, and then he was everywhere, mingling and mixing, tossing a beautiful word salad with such clarity he knew it couldn’t be his voice but he merely the instrument and then out of the blue there was Gordy, he’d finally arrived and simultaneously he saw the semi pull up in front of his office- the candy shipment was there- everyone was there, in fact, no one was missing, he saw his life in Panavision, rotogravure, replete with color and sound, yet it was much more beautiful, vivid, and harmonious than he ever imagined/remembered, and he added them all up and nobody was missing…

                                              —–o—–

 Wesley arrived home too late that frigid evening, the frozen branches of the tree above him etched against the moonlit sky, but just in time to see them carry Mr. Barnes down the front porch steps strapped to a gurney, his lifeless body wrapped in a white sheet, and Mrs. Barnes standing at the front door screaming at him into the still crystal-filled air, “Murderer! Murderer! Murderer!”

                                                THE END

“The Kissing Girl” / a story by Tom Evans

I first encountered her in the lunchroom at grade school, going from table to table and swooping down on a boy of her choosing, first wiping her mouth with her arm then planting a wet one on his unsuspecting cheek. I watched her like a hawk so it never happened to me, though whether it would have anyway, I’ll never know. What repulsed me most, besides the act of kissing or the invasion of one’s corporeal bubble, was that she often did this with her mouth full.

          I lost track of her soon after that, having transferred to a different school, which I attended for the next six years. Besides, she didn’t live anywhere near me, so I never had occasion to run into her.

          I caught up with her very soon, however, when I began attending public school after my 8th-grade graduation. Her reputation had preceded her, and she, too, seemed to have graduated far beyond her kissing days in elementary school to something more serious. You know how rumors spread, and I heard about her the very first week in homeroom, and, even though her name was never mentioned (it was there’s this girl…), I immediately got a vague feeling of deja vu, and sure enough, it was she.

         The way I first heard it was: she sucked them like candy, which was how she smelled. They came quickly and she sent them away. They lined up in an orderly queue, one after another, skipping out of classes to meet her in the long weeds behind the baseball diamond by the electric company. She seemed older than them somehow, though they were mostly in the same grade. None ever acknowledged her presence in the school halls (she was seldom there) afterwards, but when she was you couldn’t miss her: long thick bright red hair cascading down beyond her shoulders, freckled cleavage already showing in her low-cut blouses, her tight jean skirt riding up her dappled thighs. Though they had no inkling, she’d ruined them for their subsequent girl friends and wives, and they’d grow to long for her when they began to experience their mid-life crises.

          She lived a Huck Finn kind of existence in a poorer section of town, seemingly free to come and go as she pleased, the only child of a blowzy mother and absent father who was said to slap her around when he was home. I envied her freedom, as my childhood was very restricted not realizing at the time how things really were for her.

         All the poorer kids seemed to have that freedom, for no reason I could readily understand at the time. Only later did I realize they mostly came from broken homes, where the harried mother had enough just to keep body and soul together with menial, low-paying jobs, or often, even where the family was still intact, there were a passel of kids and little education, the father working a low-paying job and often drinking up his meager earnings, which the worn-out mother tried to augment any way she could, often times getting the back of his hand for her efforts.

          No one else gave her much thought otherwise. I never partook in the actual thing, and certainly never watched, but fantasized about her a lot, which was just as bad, I suppose. But I also truly cared about her, wondering how she would end up, while these peach-fuzzed “innocents” who were on the fast track, went on to careers in law, medicine, finance, or perpetuating the family business. I never even talked to her, not once, though I wanted to, as well as wanting what all the others were getting, though I never acted upon it. I wanted it to be of her own free will, to be treated specially by her, though she never even knew I existed.

                                               —–o—–

          It just so happened, that, like her, I didn’t go to college right away after high school, and we ended up working at the same restaurant together, a place called the White Inn, she a waitress, I a parking valet.  I saw this as a dream come true, if only I could take advantage of it.

         Things didn’t exactly go as planned, there being a pecking order among the restaurant employees based on frequency and type of interaction, with the waitresses and waiters being at the top, and the valet literally left out in the cold, never mind that he garnered the biggest tips, drove all the big shots’ cars, and witnessed some of the sordid things that went on in the back seats of them after a night of eating and drinking. In addition, they mostly hung around amongst themselves, and as a result, I was shunned by those on the inside.

         It was depressing when it became clear that the main reason Grace had become a waitress was to have access to males of all different ages, and readily took advantage of it, that this was what she wanted out of life and was quite successful at it.

          Still, I was able to be of service to her one late evening when she came outside looking rather disheveled, her hair, lipstick, and clothes a mess. I had just finished my shift and the restaurant was closing. Surprised to see her unaccompanied as she usually would be by one of the young waiters, I knew something must be wrong. I shut the light off in the valet booth and locked it, then set off to intercept her, trying at the same time not to startle her.

          “Grace,” I managed in a stage whisper toward her retreating silhouette.

          She stopped in mid-flight and turned around, not at all certain who it was.

          “Who’s there?” she said quickly in a breathless whisper.

          I wondered if she’d even know my name but didn’t want to say the valet so I took a chance and shot out, “Wesley Barnes.”

          She hesitated at first, then said, “Oh yes. What is it?”

          I’d finally caught up to her. I’d never been face to face with her before and was quite daunted. It was a fine summer evening. A gentle breeze blew through her hair, the stars were twinkling brightly, and I began to stammer a bit, “I-I…just thought something might be wrong, and wondered if I could help.”

          “Why how observant of you, Wesley, and kind,” she replied, “I’ve never had a knight in shining armor before. Are you my knight in shining armor?”

          Reeling from the effect of her saying my name while at the same time wondering if she was mocking me slightly, I steadied myself and began to stammer once more, “Well I wouldn’t go as far as…”

          My words trailed off as I drew ever closer, close enough to notice the miniscule black dot in each of her sea-green eyes, smell the alcohol on her breath, and realize she was quite tipsy.

          “How are you getting home?” I asked. “Why don’t you let me give you a ride?”

          “I bet you’d like that, wouldn’t you?” Grace replied, smiling slyly. “I’ll just bet you would. You probably know all about me, how I’m everybody’s next one.” Her mascara was beginning to run as tears welled up in her eyes.

          “No, no,” I said. “It’s nothing like that, please believe me. I just want to see you get home safely.”

          When she hesitantly acquiesced, I put my arm around her and steered her back toward my car as she slumped limply into me.

          Passed out, I thought. Just my luck. Now what?

          I bent down and scooped her up in my arms and began to carry her back to my Comet, not all that easy as she was a dead weight.

          “Mmmmmmmh?” she mumbled.

          Uh boy, I thought. I’d better get her home quickly. I knew where she lived, on S. Autumn, only five minutes away.

         I poured her into the car and drove to her house as quickly as I could, not knowing what to expect when I got there. She stirred every now and again, mumbling something unintelligible, now sprawled halfway across the front seat, her head almost in my lap. It was so dark out that the headlights of oncoming cars glared suspiciously into the car, as if I was doing something wrong, even though my intentions were good. I looked cautiously into my mirrors for any police cars.

          When I got to her house, a two-story double that had been converted into 4 small units. I parked the car in front and attempted to rouse her. Nothing doing, she was out cold. The house was dark, all the houses on the street were, only the streetlights were on. People sure go to bed early around here, I thought, as I had for the hundredth time over the years. Saturday night. Probably have to get up for church tomorrow.

         I had no idea which floor she lived on either, but knew if I got her keys, I’d figure it out. What if she had a boyfriend living there or her parents, and were sleeping and I woke them up? Not much I could do though, I had to go through with it and get this night over with. She probably wouldn’t remember a thing, and I wouldn’t get any good karma for being a gentleman. I fished through her purse and found her keys, then got out of the car and went to the other side to get her out. She started stirring a little, and then her eyes were wide open.

          “Where am I? What happened?” she asked querulously, still quite out of it.

          “You’re home,” I replied as reassuringly as I could. “Let’s get you inside. Can you walk?”

          “I think so,” she said, “with your help.”

          “Come on then, lean against me,” I said. She did so, and we managed to stumble up the walk, then the porch steps, and up to the front door, which was open and led into a little hallway. Her apartment was on the right, an upper, as it turned out. I asked if she could make it from there all right and she replied, “I think so, but I’d like you to come up if you want.”

          She unlocked the door and led me inside. The first thing I noticed was that it was immaculate. The second thing was that she began taking her clothes off, starting with her blouse, under which she was naked. The view was spectacular, what I’d always wanted to see, but not like this. I figured I’d better quit while I was ahead.

          When I told her I should go, Grace replied, “but I want to thank you for bringing me home.”  

          “You already have,” I said, “and I think I’d better be going. I’m just glad you’re home safely.”

         “But I insist,” she said, ‘and I usually get my way.”

          “Not tonight,” I replied. “I’m really sorry, Grace, but I think I should go. Get some sleep, and I’ll see you at work. G’night.”

          With that I went back to my place, thinking all sorts of things as I lay on my pillow and second-guessed myself to sleep.

          From that moment on I was her sole confidante, not exactly a role I relished, but one that suited me perfectly. Anything to be near her. It gave me some status in the pecking order, too, and I was actually allowed to come in out of the cold from time to time and partake in some of the banter at the bar. It turned out she was in between boyfriends the night I took her home, the breakup with her latest that precipitated her jag having taken place that same evening. Rumors were swirling that I had taken her home, but I wasn’t about to say anything. Let ’em think what they wanted, they’d get nothing out of me, not that there was even anything to tell.

          The fact was that she really liked men, young men, she confided to me, she genuinely did. Liked making them feel good, smelling and tasting them, being around them, as many types as possible, needing them, but monogamous to the core with each one. They didn’t last long but this didn’t seem to bother her. And I heard about every last one. I accepted that it wasn’t going to happen for me. I was just glad to be there for her.

                                                        —–o—–

          Even my inertia didn’t last forever, though, and the next fall I finally moved on to college at the other end of the country. While I was at school, I asked friends about her every now and then but heard nothing. I finally came back to the area after graduation, this time living nearer the city, and, after much inquiry, heard she was still around, but nothing more.

         Once a year I ventured into Wilsonville to try to relive those awful high school years at an annual festival called “Town Days”, the culmination of which was a Friday night bash under the beer tent in a local park.

         As most of the best and brightest had left decades ago, this gathering was mostly a collection of those who stayed home, whether from choice or nowhere better to go, though as in most things I was just an observer. I met the same group of friends there year after year to catch up on things, as it was the only time we saw each other. As you might imagine, it could become pretty maudlin by the end of the evening, when much of the crowd spilled across the street into the Raven’s Nest, the most popular watering hole/restaurant/hotel in town.

         It was there I saw Grace from afar one year. It was packed inside and I lost sight of her for a while. She seemed to flit in and out of my consciousness when I suddenly realized she must be working there. A bar maid now, I thought condescendingly, and began to make my way through the crowd toward her, never quite getting there. Beginning to lose all hope of saying hello, I turned around to leave, having had my fill of it all, when there she was right in front of me. I was gratified she remembered me with a big broad smile of instant recognition after all those years.

          “Why hello, Grace. How have you been?” I said, rather shouted, over the din, but we couldn’t really have a conversation with all the noise, so I left, promising to keep in touch.

                                                        —–o—–

          The next time I heard anything about her it was a decade later and bad news. A friend told me she was in the hospital with cancer, and that it was terminal. I don’t know why, but my immediate inclination was to rush there to be by her side. I just had a feeling she was alone, and needed someone. I called the hospital about visiting hours and went there after dinner one night. It was a beautiful August evening that reminded me of the summer we had worked together, and a hospital was the last place I wanted to be, but it wasn’t about me.

         I knew from previous experience I didn’t have the best bed-side manner. What could I say that would comfort? I was filled with trepidation but was still determined to see her when normally I would have turned tail and run.

          I asked at the Information Desk for Grace’s room number.

          “Friend or family?”

          “Friend,” I said.

          “Sign the sheet and take the elevator over there… Room 308.”

          Famous for getting lost in these hallway mazes, I found Grace’s room relatively easily. The door was ajar and I poked my head in. It was a single room and I soon spotted her shockingly emaciated form lying still on the bed, attached to several monitors, her beautiful hair now brittle and sparse. I couldn’t tell if she was awake and didn’t want to startle her, so after closing the door I walked as softly as I could across the polished linoleum floor until I was right next to the bed. I reached out and put my hand gently on her arm, so thin it almost encircled it.

          “Grace,” I said softly.

          Her head moved slightly and her pale eyes flickered briefly in recognition, which made me extremely grateful.

          “Wesley,” she said, her voice barely a whisper. “How nice. I’ve been alone here for so long,” she said, until her voice broke off into a sudden fit of coughing that wracked her body so I thought it would break.

          “Don’t talk, Grace,” I said. “It isn’t necessary. I came as soon as I heard.”

          “You always did, Wesley. You’ve been so good to me, and I never deserved it.”

          “Just be quiet and relax”, I said quietly, “I’m here, as I’ve always wanted to be.”

          “I don’t know what happened,” she whispered. “All those years just flew by, and now look at me.”

          I patted her hand, not knowing what to say, her monitors the only sound in the room.

          Just then there was a slight rush of air and the door opened. It was an obviously good-looking young man bearing a bouquet of fresh flowers.

          Grace suddenly sat up, clapped her hands together in delight, and said, in a surprisingly strong voice: “You came, you came. I just knew you would!”

          I stepped aside as the younger man approached the bed and leaned down to receive her embrace. Suddenly the room seemed very hot and I was overcome by the smell of the hothouse flowers, which always reminded me of a funeral.

         I left the room as quickly as I could, so quietly no one even noticed.

                                               THE END

Book launch!

My third book “So Long Ma, I’m Only Bleeding” is now available on Amazon https://www.amazon.com/dp/B086MGNX86 I went the self-publishing route this time and so far it’s only available in ebook format, but I will make it available as a paperback if I get enough requests.

A sequel to my first book “Where Do the Children Play,” https://authorcentral.amazon.com/gp/books “So Long, Ma” takes the Barnes twins through their adolescence, with all its concomitant experiences, and reveals further complications in their relationship with their adoptive mother, Mrs. Barnes, who it seems has it in for them.

Thanks for your indulgence. I’d appreciate your support.

Ebook “Where Do the Children Play” 99-cent sale Sept. 1-3 2019

click link to purchase: https://www.amazon.com/Where-Children-Play-Tom-Evans-ebook-dp-B07K32JXJ2/dp/B07K32JXJ2/ref=mt_kindle?_encoding=UTF8&me=&qid=1540442761