Having to do rewrites with a toothache is absolutely no fun at all.
If it smells bad, don’t eat it.
The warm summer sun was not quite ready to set as the young boy, for the fifth time, ran as fast as he could down the grassy hill behind his house. Each time he reached the bottom; his hands on his knees gasping for a clean breath, he would turn and head straight back up for another go. This time however, he paused to rest, sitting on a patch of taller grass halfway up the hill. The hill was filled with dandelions. He leaned back on his elbows and allowed his gaze to drift skyward. The darkening sky appeared as if it were painted; hues of orange and purple like brush strokes across a dark blue canvas.
After a short while and thinking about nothing more than chocolate cake, he stood and turned towards the top of the hill to head home. All at once he froze. His muscles stone inside his young skin. On the crest of the hill, silhouetted in opaque blackness was a figure. To the frightened boy, the figure looked like a woman. It stood motionless like a statue; casting a long woeful shadow down the entire side of the hill.
Terrified beyond belief, the boy forced his boney legs to move backwards. If this thing started towards him he wanted to have a healthy start. He lifted his right leg first; slowly but with a linebacker’s determination. Certain that he was making no sudden moves; he placed the foot behind him, keeping his eyes on the shadowy figure looming above him; as he did so it moved, not towards him or away but with its hand. It was calling to him from the top of the hill. It wanted to show him something he thought. The boy stood fast, glued to the ground but ready to burst at a moment’s notice.
Lightning blazed from a cloudless sky and for the slightest moment the figure was illuminated under the flash. The boy cocked his head to the side; straining his neck to catch a glimpse of the apparition holding him at bay. He rubbed his eyes with the heal of his hand. His focus was blurred from the sudden burst of electricity. What he saw once his vision returned set his feet to movement quicker than his mind had a chance to program it to do so. He ran. He ran harder and faster than his thirteen year old legs ever have before. He ran so hard his side cramped up and his hands began to shake. The trees from the surrounding woods flew past him in a blur. Despite the heat, a cold sweat ran down the length of his back. He wanted to look back; to see if the thing was following him, or possibly that he had imagined it all. He chose instead to continue his sprint out and away from the park.
Exiting the park, he turned left down Forest Hill Drive; running even faster now and trying to push the image from his mind like swatting mosquitoes. He made another left on to Parkview Ave. Two more blocks and he would be home. Tears pooled in his eyes and he whispered a silent promise to the thing that he would tell no one: fearful that he would suffer some terrifying reprisal.
The street lamps were just coming on as he got closer to home, trying even harder now to not look back. He past Ted’s house; the lights inside immediately shut off and for a split second he swore he could see his best friends face staring back at him through the front living room window. He was smiling, but not the happy smile of a young boy seeing his friend, but a fiendish one. And his eyes were yellow and feral like a wolf on the hunt. He ran. He could feel his heart pounding in his chest. The closer he got the more terrified he became.
He could see his front yard now, the light from the television painting a yellowish haze on the freshly mowed grass. He was two houses away. He could see his little sister’s wagon resting safely against the front fender of the Buick his father had purchased only a few weeks ago. He had hoped to one day drive the fancy new machine, but before he could even smell the freshly tooled leather interior a thick, scaly hand gripped him hard by the back of the neck. He struggled instinctively to break free. The grip was too strong for his young muscles. He turned his head around to see if what he saw back at the hill was real, and it was: wings. As he floated above his neighborhood, he tried, unsuccessfully to rationalize what was happening to him. The only glaring conclusion he could come to was just as frightening as the winged creature that was holding him. He was about to die. He looked up at his captor now carrying him high above the world and came face to face with the most beautiful vision his young eyes had seen his entire life; a face more beautiful and more captivating than his own mother’s. He stared at her for the longest time, unable to turn away from eyes as blue as the ocean. He wanted to speak. He began to in fact, but words were now foreign. His thoughts were a muddy puddle of incoherence.
She looked back at him with sorrowful, mournful eyes. Without warning her face turned cold and hard, like rain on an early winter night. She was saying something to him; mouthing words he couldn’t hear or understand. Paul. The grip on the back of his neck loosened and the boy knew that his ultimate fear was soon coming to pass. Paul. This time he heard it: His name. He looked down at the dark abyss below his dangling sneakers and saw nothing. Again, he heard his name, louder this time. Paul! He was falling now; not quickly like a skydiver but slowly as if he were suspended by balloons from a carnival vender. The closer he got to earth the louder the shouting became: Paul, PAUL, PAUL!
Paul sat straight up in bed and looked around the room as if he had no idea where he was or how he got there. He checked the back of his neck then the rest of his body. ‘still there,’ he thought to himself.
“Paul, are you getting up or not?” His wife yelled from the kitchen.
“I loath the quiet hush of winter, the deafening din of snowflake on leaf. The only other sound to be heard being a lonesome squirrels climb. ’twas here that I buried you; beneath the willow where the wind holds your insipid memory. Buried. Unknown and forgotten to all. Yet my visitations are scheduled and often. I hold no love, only random pieces of my own fate. Bless you, and forever reside in hell.”
”Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring,
Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,
Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,
Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?
That you are here—that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.”
Walt Whitman – Leaves of Grass 1892
I would love to share with all of you the enjoyment and happiness that comes with having quit smoking only 4 short days ago. Nothing would excite me more. However, I can’t currently do that. I can’t because there is no joy or happiness. There is only fear and heartbreak. As I sit here – wherever here might be – I can feel my body changing. The nicotine is being expelled. the physical dependency is being alleviated. Yet, I feel anxious and alone. The comfort that I had every time I lit up was nothing short of bliss. And now, that bliss has been replaced with Cheez-its and pretzel sticks.
The decision to abstain was not made on a whim. The thought had been bouncing relentlessly in my head for months. A good friend suffered a massive heart attack. Then my Mother died due to a heart related complication. You could say that the decision was made for me. However, just because loved ones had suffered; I had no intention of being a quitter. I fought hard the urge to quit. Yes, I am sensitive to peer pressure but I was not going to let a few misfortunes control my destiny. But in the end the weight of all became too much of a burden. So, I thought: what the hell!
Little did I know that I was unprepared for a seemingly uphill battle. The headaches, the sleepless nights, the fatigue and irritability are all constant reminders that I just might be fighting for my life. And though I may not be emotionally prepared for the fight, it is not my intention to leave this world just yet; not without kicking up a bit of dust before I go.
Lets try and put this into perspective shall we? The NFL player who makes millions of dollars playing a game, is allowed to kneel during the singing of our national anthem because he is in protest of certain injustices within our country. Is this correct? So then, I would like to apply this way of thinking to the rest of us that don’t make millions of dollars playing a game.
The next time my wife does something that I don’t agree with I will take a knee. The next time I’m at a restaurant and the food or the service is sub-standard, I will take a knee. At work, If I disagree with a project that is given to me, I will refuse to do it, and take a knee.
Lets take this to the next level. We all hate being stuck in traffic right? The next time I have to sit in traffic, whether it’s from an accident or construction, I will get out of my car, and take a knee. Who’s with me?
And then Satan said “Make them write a synopsis.”
In 1961, shortly after his election as president, John F. Kennedy announced that he was determined to win the “space race” with the Soviets. Since 1957, when the Soviet Union sent a small satellite–Sputnik–into orbit around the earth, Russian and American scientists had been competing to see who could make the next breakthrough in space travel. Outer space became another frontier in the Cold War. Kennedy upped the ante in 1961 when he announced that the United States would put a man on the moon before the end of the decade. Much had changed by 1963, however. Relations with the Soviet Union had improved measurably. The Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962 had been settled peacefully. A “hot line” had been established between Washington and Moscow to help avert conflict and misunderstandings. A treaty banning the open air testing of nuclear weapons had been signed in 1963. On the other hand, U.S. fascination with the space program was waning. Opponents of the program cited the high cost of the proposed trip to the moon, estimated at more than $20 billion. In the midst of all of this, Kennedy, in a speech at the United Nations, proposed that the Soviet Union and United States cooperate in mounting a mission to the moon. “Why,” he asked the audience, “therefore, should man’s first flight to the moon be a matter of national competition?” Kennedy noted, “the clouds have lifted a little” in terms of U.S.-Soviet relations, and declared “The Soviet Union and the United States, together with their allies, can achieve further agreements–agreements which spring from our mutual interest in avoiding mutual destruction.”
Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko applauded Kennedy’s speech and called it a “good sign,” but refused to comment on the proposal for a joint trip to the moon. In Washington, there was a good bit of surprise–and some skepticism–about Kennedy’s proposal. The “space race” had been one of the focal points of the Kennedy administration when it came to office, and the idea that America would cooperate with the Soviets in sending a man to the moon seemed unbelievable. Other commentators saw economics, not politics, behind the proposal. With the soaring price tag for the lunar mission, perhaps a joint effort with the Soviets was the only way to save the costly program. What might have come of Kennedy’s idea is unknown–just two months later, he was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. His successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, abandoned the idea of cooperating with the Soviets but pushed ahead with the lunar program. In 1969, the United States landed a man on the moon, thus winning a significant victory the “space race.”
Before I died, I dreamt of a girl. For five straight nights she held me captive. The dream often changed but the girl was always the same. She never told me her name and I’m not certain why it matters to me now other than to know the name of the girl that I fell in love with.
Because it’s a dream, does that make our love any less real? I felt her touch upon my skin. Her hair: thick and black as night. Her ice blue eyes pierced my heart, and her soft red lips became pillows for my own. We were like most couples – in the mornings we would have breakfast on a marble terrace. Afternoons were filled with strolling along the river, or to the local bookseller for a cup of coffee; where I would read aloud to her from Dumas: wooing her romantic soul.
Back at home we made love to the sound of church bells; as if it was the end of mankind. It was at that moment that I would be forced to leave her and walk through my waking world. I was envious of those beside me; those whose love was not bound by sleeping hours. Still; was our love any different from theirs?
I spent my conscious hours working as an investment banker. It wasn’t fulfilling work but it paid the bills. I made the wise decision a year ago to sell the car and use public transportation. After merely a week I chose to walk instead. Four blocks of nothing but banks, investment firms, and coffee shops. There was also the obligatory greeting card shop; announcing to all that Valentine’s Day was right around the corner.
Of course I had had relationships in the past, some of them had even had potential, but I always blew it on Valentine’s Day. The card wasn’t thoughtful enough, or I got the wrong flowers, or it was dark chocolate when it should have been white. These obvious mistakes resulted in the inevitable: “you don’t love me.” And they were right; so I gave up on love. The very notion of love became an apparition to me; always just out of sight.
Walking – this activity is allegedly good for you. All it did was piss me off. On this particular day, the warm temperature did nothing to brighten my mood. As I entered my building, the doorman greeted me while holding the door open. I retrieved my mail and grumped my way to the elevator without a word. I tossed the mail on the sideboard and fell into my overstuffed leather chair. There was whiskey on the end table from the night before. I was relaxed, content, and totally unaware that within five days I’d be dead.
I flipped through the mail and noticed a bright red envelope with my name on it. No address, just my name. After finding nothing to slake my curiosity, I opened it. To my amazement: it was a card. On the front was an image of a cottage, on the banks of an empty beach. Again, there were no words, but it was obvious what this was. Some fool sent me a Valentine’s Day card. The inside was slightly more telling. On the left was a simple red heart on a pink background. The right: blank but for the words written in ink:
“Be Mine.” Underneath was the cryptic signature: “Lily.” I knew no Lily. I put the mail down, finished my drink and went straight to bed.
That was the night I met my dream girl; standing in a garden of pink and white flowers, and wearing a dress of the same. I picked one and nervously handed it to her. She smiled and placed it behind her ear. I fell in love with her right then and there. For five nights she appeared to me in my dreams. Every morning I struggled with being awake; having become addicted to her love.
The morning of my death found me in bed longer than usual. I wanted to stay but she said goodbye with a kiss and I woke with a start. There was a smile on my face that my face didn’t recall as I dressed and walked across the street to Mina’s: The only authentic Russian Jewish deli in town. I ordered lunch and sat at one of the booths.
From the window I could see up to my apartment and I saw someone standing on my terrace. I ran outside for a closer look. It was her. She was looking down at me, her hair covering part of her face. I could see the smile.
Somewhere behind me tires squealed, but I paid no attention. All I could see was her and her smile.
Ironically, the bus that ran me over was the bus that I chose not to ride any longer. When I arrived at the hospital, I heard words such as thready, and shock, and then internal bleeding, and something about permanent damage. There were doctors and nurses all around me; attempting to save my life. Despite all their efforts, they were unsuccessful. I watched as they removed their gloves and exited the room.
I swear that I heard Procol Harem’s Whiter Shade of Pale playing over the intercom as she appeared in the doorway; smiling like a child. She came to me and took my hand. My pain dissipated and I sat up to look in her eyes. There were so many things I wanted to ask her; things I needed to know. But at that moment there was only one thing I needed to know.
“What is your name?” She didn’t answer, but took my face in her hands and kissed me.
Then I remembered the card. “Lily?” She smiled and led me into our favorite café for Espresso and biscotti. We laughed and reveled in the prospect of our new lives together. Every day was Valentine’s Day.