Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Exit Wonderland, Chapter Nine: A Hike to Valhalla

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A Hike to Valhalla

Skye is barely under way when he discovers Hotel Denver, a big red block of a building, and checks in. The king-size bed is magically comfortable, and he falls into a deep, dream-filled snooze – so deep that he wakes the next morning feeling a little woozy. He suspects that he’s also suffering Lindsy-withdrawal, all those sex-triggered chemicals seeping out.

Out of lifetime habit, he dismisses the hotel restaurant as too expensive, and then recalls the digits in his checking account. He sits at a window that looks out on the street, and gathers from the serious expressions of the natives that it must be a weekday. He orders a breakfast steak with eggs and home fries, feeling decadent. Sipping at his coffee, he envisions Lindsy’s return to Salt Lake and guesses at Thad’s reaction. Thorny self-righteousness? Calm forgiveness? Morose ambiguity?

The sun is out and frisky, making it feel like the last day of summer. Glenwood Springs looks so appealing he’s tempted to stay, but his inner gyroscope is pushing him east. It could be the magnetic pull of curiosity, the 15th century explorer standing on the shore of Portugal wondering, What’s out there? Or the promise of all that shiny metal under his hood.

He’s had enough of barren landscapes, and enjoys the sight of trees, rivers, wooded lakes. He clears the Vail Pass and takes an abrupt northward elbow at Copper Mountain, passes Dillon Reservoir and enters the Eisenhower Tunnel. The tunnel is fantastically long, one mile, two. When he finally re-emerges, the light is blinding. He fumbles for his sunglasses, and has just put them on when he sees the word BOULDER on the back of a guitar case. Skye is not usually a proponent of hitchhiking – has seen too many horror movies with untoward consequences – but the musical element eases his anxieties. Through the dustcloud appears a tall, surprisingly well-dressed man in a yellow windbreaker. He opens the door and slides in, framing the guitar case between his knees.

“Wow, man, thanks, I… holy shit!”

Skye laughs. “I was about to say the same thing. Why don’t you slide your guitar behind the seat there.”

Peter twists around to settle the case over a sport bag, then buckles himself in.

“Wow, this is so weird. But… I’m sorry. I can’t remember your name.”

“Skye. Don’t worry. It’s unusual.”

“Yeah, but you bought ten CDs.”


Skye watches his left-side mirror, waiting for an opening, and enters the roadway, kicking out gravel. “Don’t tell me you’re hitching the whole tour.”

Peter lets out a theatrical groan and rubs his forehead. “My Beetle! I stopped at a McDonald’s in Vail and I couldn’t get it to start. Tried to jump it – nothing. So I left it there and stuck out my thumb.”

Skye takes a moment to enjoy the mountain on their right, a gravelled spine with traces of snow. Gray’s Peak.

“I admire your determination, but aren’t you being a little drastic?”

Peter lets out a horse-laugh, a sound that will never match his face. “I’m not completely nuts. An old school-buddy got me a sweet gig at the University of Colorado. A five-hundred-dollar check on the other end. Which I’ll probably spend on my damn car so I can get back to California. Okay if I smoke?”

“Sure.” Skye slides out the ashtray. Peter takes a drag and eases back in his seat, shedding a couple layers of stress.

“Were you actually going to Boulder? I don’t want to mess up your plans.”

Skye takes a moment to recall his cover story. “Nah. I recently inherited some money, and I’m taking a joyride. Going wherever the wind and hitchhiking guitarists take me.”

Peter smiles and closes his eyes. “That sounds awesome!”

“It is.”

Peter crushes out his smoke, watches the mountains roll past and falls asleep. Skye drives on toward Denver, working out the jigsaw puzzle of Peter’s troubles.

Skye is wily enough to skirt the big city, taking 93 through Eldorado and up to Boulder. Peter wakes up in time to guide him to the university, the sun tippling the Flatirons, the triangular formations that loom over the town. They park near campus and hustle through the red-roofed buildings, checking at map kiosks until they reach their destination. Built in 1876, the Old Main Chapel projects a regal bearing, a red brick exterior lined with tall, narrow windows, capped with a hexagonal belfry.

They talk their way inside, where a willowy guitarist with straight brown hair accepts an applause and describes her next song. A tall white man with a tremendous orange afro embraces Peter and takes them into a small hallway.

“Skye, this is Sigh Cavalier. Sigh, Skye. Skye, Sigh.” He lets out a snort. “Sorry. I’m a little punchy.”

Sigh takes Skye’s handshake and flips it into the soul shake/clinch combo. He grins with lips that never seem to stop moving, like a shaky stop-motion animation.

“Thanks for savin’ our asses, dude. Really not cool to book your friend and then have him disappear in the Eisenhower Tunnel.”

“Got a place I can tune?” asks Peter.

“Yeah, let me take you backstage.” Sigh taps Skye’s shoulder. “Um, try the balcony. There’s always an extra seat somewhere. And here.” He hands him a business card. “If they give you any trouble.”

Skye climbs the stairs and finds a seat on the far left. The Old Main’s auditorium is a gem, maybe two hundred red theater seats before a small stage. The front of the stage features alternating bands of blonde and reddish-brown hardwood, and the sound – at least as produced by Katie Garibaldi – beats the hell out of the Kickstand Café.

He worries that the classy setting will give Peter a case of nerves, but his first instincts about him prove correct. After the sound-more-Chinese schtick, Peter recounts his day.

“So I pull into a McDonald’s in Vail, Colorado and I’m thinking, Wow, there’s a McDonald’s in Vail, Colorado? The guy at the counter wore a top hat and tails. The value menu includes foie gras, and they call the french fries pommes frites. They have cloth napkins folded into the shape of Mayor McCheese, and an attendant in the men’s room.

“So anyways, after eating a McSmoked Salmon McPannini, I go out to the parking lot and my Volkswagen is absolutely dead. So I hitchhike to Boulder like Woody freakin’ Guthrie and here I am. So if I seem a little flustered… it’s because I’m a little flustered. This first tune is a bitter love song. If there are any women in the audience, I apologize.”

Nothing ingratiates an audience like humorous confession, and the rest is easy, because Peter’s talent is obvious. Afterwards, they take a hike to Valhalla, a biergarten on Boulder’s main drag, and sit at a broad-timbered picnic table hoisting oversized steins.

“To our guardian angel,” says Sigh. “And to Peter. Dude! You sound even better than I remember. Which is good, because if you sucked I mighta lost my job!”

The eventual goal of a toast – to actually drink – has been lost, so Skye takes a quaff on his own and studies the scene. The garten features two dozen tables, brimming with yammering, laughing students. The yard is bisected by an actual creek, guarded over by three German-looking sprites that Skye takes as Rhinemaidens. He soaks in the post-adolescent energy and smiles, feeling like somebody’s cool uncle. When he returns his gaze to the table, he finds Peter looking suddenly somber.

“I guess this is my last hurrah, man. I’m glad it could be at your most excellent theater.”

“My honky ass!” Skye exclaims. “Where’s your next gig?”

“Coffeehouse in Denver,” says Peter. “Two days from now.”

“Okay then. Assuming the mayor of Boulder here can get you a ride to Denver, I say he and I head for Vail and rescue your car.”

Peter waves a hand. “No, no, I couldn’t.”

“You could, and you will. Listen, I’m doing this strictly for my own amusement, and I’m playing with house money. Please allow me to help you.”

Peter takes a sip and slowly grows a smile. “I am going to have to take you up on that.”

Sigh, who cannot hold it in anymore, doesn’t.

“Road trip! Hahahahahaha!”

Photo: Old Main Chapel, Colorado University

Friday, December 19, 2014

Exit Wonderland, Chapter Eight: Typical Asianality

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Typical Asianality

They spend the morning in a dance of kisses, each a little closer to the last. Very soon, Skye is standing on a curb in front of the casino, watching her car fade off down the road, a period at the end of a clean gray sentence. His lips feel chapped and dry.

Dry. Through all the heartbreaking drama, he promised himself that he would remember one practical item: his truck is an oil-burner, and he needs to give it a fresh quart. He walks a block to a convenience store and finds an overpriced 10W-30. When he returns to the casino lot, he flips the hood and just stares.

His engine is blindingly shiny. It takes a minute of memory scan before he figures out what he’s looking at: a genuine 1986 Toyota pickup motor that has never been used. He checks the oil, finds it full, and begins to laugh.

He can’t possibly go through Salt Lake, so he cuts south to Highway 50, where the markers read Loneliest Road in the U.S. It proves to be true, an infinity of scrublands, dry creekbeds and graveled mountains. On a long, empty straightaway he gets out and pees in the middle of the road. As he zips up, a drizzle of rain passes over, flushing his urine and kicking up the smell of sage from the roadside. He finds a motel in Delta, Utah, sits under a tree and lights up a cigar that Sarge’s minions stashed in his glove compartment.

He drives over the Wasatch Plateau in a lightning storm. The strikes are thrilling and a little terrifying. He tries to recall practical bits of science – will the plastic steering wheel insulate him from a strike to the chassis? He wouldn’t be surprised if Sarge’s mechanics installed a lightning rod. Four hours later, the rain is falling in blinding sheets, and he decides to give his nerves a rest.

He recalls the town of Glenwood Springs, Colorado from a train trip. Viewed from the station, the town looked bucolic and inviting, rows of old-fashioned storefronts on a tree-shaded main drag, the Colorado River running between the town and a rocky, fir-treed mountainside. He later realized it was a way-station to Aspen, which explained the prosperous atmosphere.

He’s now driving that very drag, and stops to park when he sees the word “coffee” next a dangling bicycle. The Kickstand Café. He orders a latte at the industrial copper counter, and hears what sounds like live music seeping through the back wall.

“Something going on back there?”

The barista gives him a dead-eyed look. “Oh. Uh. Songwriter night? In the back room. Costs like three bucks.”

“Oh. Cool.”

She flicks her eyebrow ring. “It doesn’t entirely suck.”

After this kind of testimonial, how can one resist? He shakes a little cocoa on his latte, pays his three Washingtons to a girl at the door (like the barista, practiced in the art of minimum enthusiasm), and enters a dark room full of brightly painted tables and terrifying artworks. He sits next to a painting of a blue Satan holding a pitchfork on which he has shish-kebabbed an American family: mom, dad, teenage daughter, golden retriever and a blond toddler about to be dipped in a deep frier. Is there something in the water of Glenwood Springs?

A slim fiftysomething with a Grateful Dead beard and a red mandolin adjusts the mic stand and smiles beatifically.

“We have a visitor from the cultural hinterlands of San Francisco, who is in the midst of a cross-country tour of funky coffeehouses. I listened to the stuff on his website, and I think you are going to be blown away. Would you please welcome Peter Chung!”

Peter is a slim, tall twentysomething with attractively angular features and a clean-cut look: button-down shirt, new jeans and a corporate haircut. The sole bohemian clue is a silver necklace with a Celtic knot pendant. Any thoughts of typical Asianality are dispelled when he speaks: a scratchy baritone that ought to belong to a cowhand or a carnival barker. In the way of all good performers, he addresses the obvious.

“I know what you’re thinking: shouldn’t this guy sound more Chinese?”

The gothed-up teen audience, all geared up to be aloof, can’t help but snicker.

“Story is, I was abducted in Beijing and raised by a pair of black gay auto mechanics.”

Bigger laugh. Peter waits a beat (he’s obviously done this routine before) then puts a hand to his forehead.

“I’m so confused!”

By now he’s done with his tuning. He stings a high note, slides it low and pulls it to a jackhammer strum. His singing is back-porch rough, invested with crackles and barks, a brown timbre that cools to a tender indigo. His playing is blues-based but eclectic, ranging into single-note arpeggios, wiry rock solos and the ukelele swing of the recent happy-pop. His lyrics center on love, with a wry wit and surprising flashes of sincerity. He finishes with a stop-and-start Chicago blues, “Don’t Let a Vampire Drive Your Car,” and finally releases a smile under the rain of applause.

Hippie-dude retakes the mic and announces the opportunity to purchase Peter’s CDs at $10 per. The next act, a trio of banjo, mandolin and standup bass, takes the stage and begins the business of plugging in. Skye heads for Peter’s table and hands him a Benjamin.

“Oh dude. I don’t think I’ve got change for…”

“Ten, please.”

“Well, yes, they’re ten apiece.”

“I would like ten CDs.”

Skye has flapped the unflappable. Peter develops another smile.


“Not that a man should have to justify anything when he’s handing you a hundred bucks, but yes. You’re an awesome singer, and I’m going to make sure all my friends know about it.”

“Well that’s a deal!” He sorts out ten copies and hands them over.


“What’s your name?”


They shake hands. “I’m… well I guess you know who I am. You have made my night, Skye. Hell, my week.”

“No problem. Keep up the good work.” He turns to leave.

“You’re not staying for the bluegrass?”

“Nope. Little tired from driving. Take care.”

“You too.”

Skye doesn’t really know why he’s leaving, but the idea takes shape as he walks to his truck. A ridiculous show of generosity should be followed by a quick exit, lest the recipient feel uncomfortably indebted. He slips Peter’s CD into his stereo and heads out in search of a motel.
Photo by MJV

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Exit Wonderland, Chapter Seven: Olivine

FREE, Dec. 17 at Amazon.com 

They spend their last day on a drive to the north, all the way to the end of the road at the Pololu Overlook. The view is astounding, a narrow valley surrounded by steep mountains, everything green, green, green. In the distance, they can see lush ocean cliffs, one of them striped with a hanging waterfall.

Lindsy reads the dozen warning signs at the trailhead and begs off, recalling the ankle she blew out two years previous on just such a trail. Skye marches double-time, skiing the muddy spots, tightroping the rocky margins, and descends to a rivermouth bordered by shady pine groves. A low branch carries a board swing dangling by ropes, looking out on a gray-sand beach.

Marching back is an Olympian effort, and by the time he gains the top he is lusting after air conditioning. He finds Lindsy up the road, stretching at an odd angle to feed a hank of grass to an old horse.

“Why are you being so careful?”

“Last time, he went after my boobs.”

“My kinda horse.”

“I told him they are reserved for human fondling only.”

They stop in Kapa’au and find a row of stores that seem to have escaped the tacky-gift syndrome. Lindsy gets a bottle of plumeria body lotion. Skye buys himself a puka shell necklace and gets Lindsy a necklace of tiny white shells interlaced with grains of olivine, the same semi-precious gem that fills the green sand beach at Papalokea. They drive off into the sun, past tracts of housing that look like they were shipped in from suburban California.

Skye keeps thinking he should bring up the inevitable, but Hawaii is too beautiful. He will save the real world for the contiguous 48.

“He was coming to San Jose for a production of his musical, based on the song ‘Copacabana.’ I told him that my friends and I refer to ‘Copacabana’ as the Liquid Paper Song. If we get an obnoxious song stuck in our heads, we simply sing the first few lines of ‘Copacabana’ and it cancels out the previous song. And he said, ‘I’m sorry.’”

Lindsy murfs out a laugh.

“He was very sincere! And I said, ‘No! We use “Copacabana” because it’s a good song.’ And he said, ‘I’ve been accused of writing songs that are a little too infectious.’”

“You’re so lucky getting to talk to these people. What are you working on now?”

“A story on creative writing and brain function.”

“Really? I’m impressed.”

“I’m shocked they went for it. They usually do stories like Ten Tips for Writing Knockout Endings, which sounds exactly like Ten Sex Tricks that will Drive Your Man Crazy.”

“Any celebrities?”

“Diane Ackerman. A remarkable poet who writes best-selling books on science.”

“Haven’t heard of her.”

“That’s why I tell Barry Manilow stories and not Diane Ackerman stories.”

She stretches cat-like on her seat and puts a hand on his thigh. “It’s getting mountainous.”

“Almost Winnemuccan.”

“So what now? Will you take me to California?”

“Don’t you think you should go back to Salt Lake?”

She swats him on the arm. “You want to get rid of me? Fuck ‘em and leave ‘em?”

“Don’t you think you need to figure out what to do with your marriage?”

“Fuck my fucking marriage.”

“Fine. So end it. But you need to resolve it one way or another.”

“You’ve got a lot of fucking nerve.”

Thus, the playful argument turns ugly. And silent. She stares out the window, smoldering, for the last fifty miles. That’s okay. He expected as much. Ugly truth is not romantic.

Still, he’s surprised at her dedication. When they arrive at the garage, she pays the fee, tosses her things into her car and drives into Nevada.

Skye sits in his truck a long time, with no idea what to do next. He settles on the obvious first step – ignition, and turns left onto the main drag. When he sees Winners Casino he considers the possibility of a good old-fashioned brain-drain. The digital aviary crowds out his thoughts, and quite naturally he ends up at the Big Kahuna slot machine.

This time he’s losing. Not that it matters. By the time he finally hits a bonus, he’s down a hundred bucks. The machine goes into its automatic spins and he lets his eyes drift, to a presence he assumes is a cocktail waitress.

It’s Lindsy, eyes red from crying. Skye stands and wraps her up, inhaling her almond smell.

“One more night?” she asks.

“Of course.”
Photo by MJV

Monday, December 15, 2014

Exit Wonderland, Chapter Six: Infinity Edges

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Infinity Edges

They walk beneath the banyan tree and Skye traces a branch, amazed at how it weaves and rambles. You. You’re the one who started this. Lindsy is stitched to his side, sheltered in the frame of his collarbone. During the 36 hours after their shower room romp, they did not actually leave their room. They even indulged in room service, and ate mango ice cream off of each other. Then washed each other off in the shower, then messed each other up again, then took a bath. The tactile overload was hallucinogenic, and now, walking the main drag in the most random rainstorm ever, they are sharing a happy stupor. A raindrop smacks Skye on the forehead.

“Raindrop,” he reports.

“Mmm,” she responds.

“What is that, seven?”


He spots a row of flags – Mexico, Hawaii, Washington state, Canada – and conjectures that there may be some kind of restaurant up there. They come to a sign next to a staircase: Poncho and Lefty’s – Sorry, We’re Open. Skye stares at it for fifteen seconds before he gets the joke.

“Ha! Candidate?”


Some sort of wormhole takes them to a table at a railing. Like half the restaurants on the strip, this one has a seaward wall open to the elements. In a theater, they would call it the fourth wall. Lindsy orders huevos rancheros, Skye a stack of macadamia pancakes. Both plates are empty in three minutes.

Lindsy rubs the inside of Skye’s knee. “So that’s what it was. I thought I was just tired from all the fucking.”

Skye lets out a snort. “Mormon girl.”

“I think we kinda shot that notion to hell.”

Skye gazes at the face of George Washington, and flashes on Lindsy’s instructions (hour 23). Once in a while, I want you to fondle my boobs in a public place.

The waitress returns. She’s a spunky brunette talker-type, running her tables like she’s doing stand-up. Skye is in love with her.

“Somebody’s on a eatin’ holiday! Let me guess: you didn’t get a speck of food at the reception.”


She grins, revealing a snaggletooth. Skye loves her even more.

“Honeymooners are always so cute, sittin’ on the same side of the table.”

Lindsy interjects, sounding a little breathy, like she’s holding back laughter. “Could we have the mango ice cream? And two spoons?”

“You got it.” She spins away.

“I love her.”

Lindsy smiles. “She is awfully friendly.”

He runs his index finger all the way down her left arm. “Have enough energy for a drive?”

“I do now.”


“Anything in mind?”

“Volcanoes, beaches, waterfalls. It’s a big island.”

“It is.”

Brunette waitress arrives with a metallic bowl holding one big scoop of sorbet. Skye rests his middle finger on the frosted base, letting the cold transmit to his skin.

“Thanks so much. Here’s the bill. Let me know if you need anything else.”

“Mahalo,” says Skye. As the waitress turns away, he slips his hand into the back of Lindsy’s shirt, reaches around her waist to cup her breast, and applies his middle finger to her nipple.

Lindsy shudders, then melts. “Mmm.”

The day turns into a circumnavigation, beginning with a stop at Hana Hou, “the southernmost bakery in the United States.” Skye is eating a guava sweet roll on the patio when he spots a grass-green gecko with red markings and baby blue eyelids.

From there they head to Punalu’u black sand beach. Lindsy takes a picture of her white feet against the coal-black sand and shows it to Skye, who gets ideas. They walk the length of the beach, which is lined with coconut trees like a Hawaiian postcard with bad color, and find a private cove on the far side of a boat launch. Lindsy strips down inside the wrap of a beach towel, then lies on the sand in an elegant pose. Skye whips away the towel, snaps a few photos, then covers her back up, scans the area for interlopers, and removes the towel again. Only as they’re leaving do they notice the dozen highly amused surfers working the waves a hundred feet up the shore.

The volcano park is sadly dull, just a huge hole and a plume of steam, so they proceed up the eastern side of the island to Hilo and Akaka Falls, a ribbon of snow-white water bisecting an emerald cliff. By the time they finish the long crossing through Waimea and over the dry brown foothills of Mauna Kea, they have only enough energy to rinse away the day’s sweat and fall exhausted into bed.

Somewhere in the tunnel of night, Skye awakens from a sex dream to find that he is inside of Lindsy, in the spoon position. Skye takes a mental flight to the top of the room and marvels at this thing that human bodies can do to each other, almost of their own accord. He explodes inside of her. Their breathing tracks together and slows. He sweeps a lock of hair from her forehead and looks into a single blue eye.

“Guten morgen!”

“If you’re sleeping with Morgan, we need to have a talk.”

He kisses her shoulder blade. “You are fucking sexy.”

“Shall I compare thee to a summer slut? She walks in beauty like such a totally hot babe.”

“So it’s poetry you want?”

“Nah. Fucking Sexy is a title I will proudly wear. I wish my husband agreed with you.”

“He doesn’t?”

“That’s why you were pissing me off earlier. Once Thad got baby fever, he would only fuck me when I was ovulating. As if sex for recreational purposes were a preposterous notion.”

“So I was hitting you smack dab in your insecurities.”

“Don’t worry. You’ve done a lot of making up.”

Skye lies back and puts his forearm to his temple, trying to add something up. Sleeping with Morgan. The church lady intervention. Baby fever.

“Thad’s gay.”

Lindsy laughs. “That’s an ancient ruse. ‘Any man who won’t do you must be gay.’ I appreciate the effort, though.”

Skye takes away his forearm, revealing an earnest expression.

“You’re serious.”

“Think about it.”

They slide the spoons back together. Skye traces a hand along her shoulder. A minute later, she speaks the phrase out loud. “Thad’s gay.”

In the morning, Skye begs off to the hotel coffeehouse to scratch out a first draft of the Ringwald story. He is hardly in the right mood for work, but once the game of collage kicks in – snappy quote, biographical tidbit, theatrical factoid – he gets it all down on paper, which is, he knows, the primary skill keeping wannabe writers from stealing his paychecks. Once it’s on paper you have vanquished the void, conquered the chaos. All the rest is rewrite and polish, which lacks the something-from-nothing terror of the blank white page.

Now, he can relax. He slides his notebook into his writing case, drinks the last of his latte, and is about to march off in search of his woman when he finds her.

The coffeehouse offers a perfect peeper’s view of the swimming pool’s southeast corner, and this is precisely where lies Lindsy Charrish. She tilts back upon a chaise lounge, queen of the infinity edges, the igneous fountain, the Kilauea hot tub steam. Her breasts are twin moons in pockets of green, her blonde tendrils stolen from mermaids, teasing the frames of enormous ‘70s sunglasses, pink lips shiny with gloss. A parasolled drink waits on a glass table (an orange colada, the house specialty). Waits, like Skye, to be consumed.

There’s your poetry. Skye sits there for a long minute, stunned by his good fortune. Saddened at the prickings of ethos that will force him to give her up.

Photo by MJV

Friday, December 12, 2014

Exit Wonderland, Chapter Five: Aquamarine

Buy the Kindle Book at Amazon.com 


Lindsy sleeps fitfully, wound up on flaming loincloths, mai tais and banyan trees with their sexually suggestive branches. In her dream, she’s being tag-teamed by Skye and the solo dancer as a roasted pig gallops around them singing “Little Brown Shack.” When the men pull out, their dicks have turned into tiki torches.

At two o’clock she’s wide awake, watching Shark Week on The Learning Channel, and this is where she has landed: she’s a woman on the run, a Jezebel, a harlot. Running into Skye was a roll of blank dice in a blacked-out casino, but she has the unsettling feeling that she has stumbled her way into something special. He has a quiet humor, a gentle intelligence, and the way his smile raises that dimple at the right side of his mouth is driving her insane. When he finally lifted his hand to her breast under the banyan, she just about shot out of her shoes. She wants so much more, but the nature of their meeting has typecast her as a wanton woman. She doesn’t want him to see her this way, and that’s why she’s been taking these weird turndowns so meekly.

Oh, who are we kidding? she almost says out loud. I am doomed to be the slut in this situation, so I may as well shove it into overdrive. Make the sex good enough and he’ll be unable to resist. She resolves, at first light, to deliver the world’s best wake-up call. Her blow jobs, after all, were one of the ways in which she landed the lovely Thad. Having made a decision, she relaxes just enough to finally drift off.

First light comes with a narrator, muted and echoey, sounding like Skye. He’s in the bathroom, talking to someone on the phone. Bastard!

She gets up too fast and the bloodrush knocks her for a loop. She stops to let it pass and catches a few phrases of eavesdrop.

“So what did you do with the children? Oh! Yeah, I love that part. They’re adorable, but not too much.”

Now her blood is boiling. She gives the bathroom door a solid pounding.

Skye sings out. “Kinda busy right now.”

“Who is that? Is that your wife? Is that why you won’t fuck me? ‘Cause you feel guilty? Oh, you fucking dick. Does she know you’re off in Hawaii with some Mormon bimbo? I’m fucking your husband, lady!”

She’s about to pound the door again when it opens. It’s Skye, in shorts and a T-shirt, holding a cell phone.

“It’s for you.”

Lindsy is too stunned to refuse. She puts it to her ear. “He… Hello?”

“Hi. Who’s this?”

“Um. Lindsy? Lindsy Charrish?”

Hi Lindsy. This is Molly Ringwald.”

“I’m sorry?”

“Molly Ringwald? Star of stage and screen?”

“Sixteen Candles Molly Ringwald?”

“Bingo! Anyways, I’m doing an interview with your… with Skye, and the thing is, I’m on a really tight schedule. So, could you yell at him in about fifteen minutes?”

“Um. Okay.”


“I’m so… sorry.”

“Hey, he’s a guy. He probably deserves it.”

Lindsy gives a halfway laugh and hands the phone back to Skye. He kisses her, whispers “Thanks” and returns to his interview. “Sorry ‘bout that. Yeah. So did you find inspiration for the child characters in your own kids? Uh-huh…”

Twenty minutes later, he thanks Molly for the interview, hangs up, and rounds out the final few quotes in his notebook. When he enters the bedroom, he suspects that Lindsy has run outside to dive into the ocean, but then he sees a crack in the sliding glass door.

She’s on the balcony, wrapped in a bathrobe, looking out over the waterfront: a few early risers strolling to breakfast, a dozen fishermen prepping their boats. He takes her thick mop of blonde and runs it through his fingers, like a stylist mapping out a ‘do.

“I am really sorry about that. She’s in Seattle on a book tour, and the only time I could catch her was nine in the morning – which seemed like a reasonable time until I flew to Hawaii.”

When she spins, Skye braces for another attack, but instead she pushes her face into his chest and starts to sob. She lifts one hand and squelches out words.

“…such a fucking mess I… Molly… so embar… no idea…”

He puts a hand on the back of her neck and gives it a rub. “Shh… now. I suspect you will never see Molly Ringwald in the flesh. Besides, I think she found it very amusing.”

Lindsy slaps him on the shoulder, which is precisely the reaction he was going for.

“Maybe she’ll use it on the Leno show.”

This time, a fist. He’d better stop before he gets a knee.

“Listen. I’ll shower up, then you shower up, and we will have breakfast in the lovely restaurant downstairs. I suspect we have some things to talk about. Okay?”

Her response is a two-note “okay” expressed entirely in m’s.

“She was on a tour of ‘Sweet Charity.’ Not much on dancing, but she grew up singing in her dad’s jazz band in Sacramento. The thing that intrigued me was her interest in literature. She had divorced one novelist, was engaged to another, and had begun to write book reviews for the Hartford Courant. I wrote one book myself – a collection of interviews with performers. And I swear I only mentioned it as a preface to a question, but before I knew it Molly Ringwald was interviewing me. But the interview had a time limit, and I had to get some material for my article, so I had to say a very painful thing: ‘Molly, can we go back to talking about you?’”

Lindsy sets down her coffee and releases a laugh that sounds like a carnation of birdsong.

“So when her book of short stories came out, I was not at all surprised that it was good. She has a sincere passion. I’m the first to decry the transformation of the publishing industry into a celebrity whorehouse – the very word ‘author’ is a joke – but Molly seems to be an exception. So I called her agent, and arranged for her to entirely piss you off this morning.”

He has overshot. Lindsy’s face turns pink and she bears down on her breakfast, a mini-buffet of sausage, eggs, toast, bacon and fruit. The restaurant is cavernous, its oceanward wall open to a spotless lawn. Skye finds a fascination with the little yellow birds that shoot in and out of the patio tables, scrambling for crumbs.

“Californians are not used to colorful birds. The most we…”

“Oh for God’s sake, would you tell me something!?” It’s a whisper, but it seems louder. Skye looks around, but no one’s seated near them. He takes a sip of guava nectar.

“Lindsy, this may surprise you, but I think you’re luscious.” He tries to outpace the expected eyeroll. “Believe me, you’re not the only one who’s been confused by my recent behavior. But I think I may have figured it out. Recently, I came into a lot of money – family thing, dying uncle, trust fund, very complicated. Doing what I do for a living, I have always been strapped for cash. Surrounded by the rich nerds of Silicon Valley, I have always felt second-rate, and I have a history of attracting women with major baggage. As if I was settling for leftovers, because I knew I couldn’t compete.”

Lindsy’s looking testy, squinting her eyes.

“Now you have to admit, a drunk woman in a casino, fleeing the entire Church of Latter-Day Saints, is a baggage handler’s nightmare. But the package was so luscious, I had to take her to Hawaii. However, somewhere over the Pacific, my subconscious began to send in the toxins: there you are again, settling for damaged goods. ‘You’ve got money now. You don’t have to settle. You have the power to say no.’”

The squint softens, and she collapses into crying. She starts to get up, but he grabs her hand.

“For a man who’s been castrated by poverty his entire adult life, do you know how intoxicating it is to say no to a luscious woman?”

She shakes her hand free, give him a hard look and stalks away, around the corner, out of the restaurant. Skye considers the corollary: You’ve got money now. You have the power to tell the truth.

Oh well. It’s an island. I’ll find her eventually.

Skye empties his bread plate onto the lawn and watches the yellow birds go nuts. He signs the bill to his room and leaves past the swimming pool, senior tourists gathered around the tiki bar. He’s surprised to see football on the television.

He finds her in the lobby, next to the outrigger, staring at a painting of a Hawaiian princess. Some relation of King Kamehameha, she stands straight-backed, sharp cheekbones, obsidian eyes, a robe of bright feathers.

“She looks so strong,” says Lindsy. She turns to look him over, estimating if he’s worth the trouble.

“Let’s go to the beach.”

The lava flows stretch for miles. Lindsy watches the roadsides, where the locals use white rocks to spell out messages on the black canvas: RIP Shorty, T.S. + M.L., Izzy Lives!

“Well,” she says to the air. “Lot nicer than spray paint.”

The landscape greens up and Skye spots the sign for Hapuna Beach. He suspects it may be the weekend, because the parking lot is pretty packed. They cross a lawn of spongy grass and take a paved trail down to the white sand. Skye heads for a spot near the shore’s only landmark, a clump of lava rocks poking just above the water. He’s surprised to find Lindsy’s hand in his. After their traumatic morning, she seems remarkably mellow, as if all the emotional erosion has worn off her rough edges.

They unroll their towels and make their revelations. Skye takes off his T-shirt, annoyed at a stomach that responds to crunchies by sticking out further. Lindsy removes her shorts and shirt to unveil a green one-piece that spirals across her midriff, leaving narrow triangles of white flesh. Now that he has cleared his mind of psycho-crap motives, Skye only hopes his tongue isn’t hanging out. It’s apparent that he has transmitted his appreciation, nonetheless, because Lindsy’s wearing a flattered smile. She hands him a spray bottle.

“My national colors are white and sunburn, so I want you to cover me in this stuff.”

She lies on her back and covers her eyes as he sprays her head to toe, then she flips onto her stomach. He pretends to have some trouble with the bottle as he admires her ass, which is both generous and marvelously rounded. Even in a culture of stick-figure models, there are certain geometries that a man cannot resist.

The coolness of the spray makes her hum. “Mmm. Any for you?”

He lies on his stomach, partly to hide his excitement. She gives his back a full dose.

“Nothing on your front?”

“Not just yet. I’ve got a pretty good base from my summer hikes.”

She lies on her back, eyes closed. “You ruddy boys are much better at taking the sun. I envy you.”

Skye doesn’t last long before the sun bakes him out. He kisses Lindsy on the back of her neck and heads for the ocean. Finding a gap between the lava-rock snorkelers and the boogie-boarders, he works his way in, dreading that moment when the water hits his chest and takes away his breath. Compared to the icy waters of Santa Cruz, however, it’s a cakewalk, and soon he’s bobbing with the waves, taking brief swims underwater.

The color of the water is unreal. He recalls a gemstone by the name of aquamarine, the palest blue, and imagines that it has taken liquid form. A wave comes in at eye level, breaking into a thousand facets.

The next color is green, disappearing into the breakers, coming toward him like a manta ray. She tickles her way up his leg before breaking the surface with a breathless laugh. When she opens her eyes they are precisely aquamarine.


“Well we don’t have an ocean in Salt Lake City, but we do have a Salt…Lake.”

It’s meant as a joke but it dies off when she sees the look in his eyes, a look she’s been craving for days. He cradles the back of her neck and kisses her. A wave lifts her feet from the sand.

Even with the superspray, Lindsy is looking a little pink, so they roll up their towels and cross the wide beach. At the top of the stairs, they find a low-lying building that appears to be a shower room, but a sign on the door delivers the bad news: Closed for Repairs. Lindsy gives the door a frustrated slap, and is surprised to find that it’s open.

“What the hell! Well, I just want to get rid of this bathing suit, anyway. Can you stand watch for me?” She pats him on the chest and slips inside.

An afternoon of visual saturation has left its seeds, and finally the proximity of a disrobing woman is too much. He sneaks inside and finds her standing at the mirror, running a brush through her hair, an Athena in white marble.

She knows he’s there. She leans forward, pretending a stray eyelash, standing on tip-toes to give him a full presentation. She’s not surprised at the hand between her legs, but when he slips his finger inside she loses her breath.

“If you are starting,” she pants, “you had better be finishing.”

He fills her up. Her head crackles with light.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Exit Wonderland, Chapter Four: Renegade Rooster

FREE, Dec. 8 at Amazon.com 

Renegade Rooster

By the time Skye returns from the hotel’s business center, Lindsy is out of the shower, her hair wrapped in a towel. She gives him a broad smile, which he takes as absolution from last night’s withholdings.

“Hi,” she says.

“Hi.” He bends over to give her a kiss, then leans back against the wall. “One of the first things you told me was how you always wanted to go to Hawaii.”

“Sure. That corny slot machine.”

“So would you?”

She unwinds the towel and takes a brush to her hair. “Sure. Someday.”

He slides a fold of papers onto the nightstand. “Boise to Kona Kailua, six a.m. tomorrow.”

She narrows her eyes, working the ethical calculations, then slaps the bed. “Yes.” Then slaps it some more. “Yes. Yes. Yes-yes-yes-yes!”

Skye smiles. “I like the sound of that.”

The barren terrain of Nevada has long ago lost its charm, but as they near Boise they begin to encounter trees, grasslands, hills covered with vegetation.

“No offense to your lovely suspension-free truck, but I’m not getting why we left my car in Winnemucca.”

Skye assembles his story. “Recently, a mechanic friend gave it a once-over, and he threw in a lot of extras. I keep discovering things.”

“Oh. Okay. Mind if I plug in my iPod?”

“Ha! Good luck.”

Lindsy unwraps a white cord and slips the tip into a jack next to the radio. A song by Coldplay fills the cab with lush stereo sound, from speakers that did not previously exist.

Skye unrolls a hand. “There you go. Right there.”

“Damn! Nice mechanic.” She lies back and takes his hand.

They check into a hotel next to the airport. This time, the excuse is easy. With Hawaii in their near future, he wants to wait one more night. Lindsy works that pout, but the word Hawaii slips its way in like an aspirin, and soon she’s lying next to him, giving him a neckrub.

The question that Skye can’t seem to answer is, Why is he making excuses? But then, he’s Nature Boy. He goes whichever way the road takes him.

The approach to Kona Airport is a forbidding field of black-brown lava, and soon they’re standing in one of several courtyards that make up the terminal. After temperate Tahoe and dry Nevada, the humidity of a Hawaiian August is striking, and he fights off the rental clerk’s offer of a sporty convertible for the insulated comforts of an SUV. They drive across the lava fields (apparently a flow from ’87 that took out the old airport) and dip downhill into a cozy-looking beachfront town.

“Here’s Kailua, honey.”

“Ooh!” says Lindsy. “He calls me honey.”

“Do you mean, in the forty-eight hours I have known you, I had not yet called you honey?”

“Yes, and it was killing me! Hey, let’s check that out.”

They park next to a flea market, two dozen tented vendors glommed together into a single organism. Skye stops at the entrance to smell a large papaya.

“Now that takes me back.”

“Back to where?”

“My dad was stationed on Oahu when I was seven. And we had papaya trees right out front. I used to climb onto the garage roof to get the fruits. So I’m expecting a few smells to transport me to second grade.”

“I love how smells do that. Did you get to the Big Island?”

“Yep. Took a flight out here. All I remember is the volcano park, lava flows, steam rising from the ground.”

Skye gets the papaya and leads Lindsy into the market, where the primary challenge seems to be sorting the genuine local stuff from the tourist crap shipped from China. A general lack of quality drives them back to the parking lot, where they find a renegade rooster, a bit of rope still tied to his foot. Skye stops and looks around.

Lindsy puts a hand on his ribs. “What?”

He fetches a glossy white blossom from the top of a lava-rock wall and holds it to his nose. The smell is thick and tropical, a grain short of too sweet. He hands it to her. “Plumeria. They use it for the leis.”

The fragrance drives her eyes skyward. She holds it to his nose as she kisses him. It’s a good combination.

They check into the Kona Beach Hotel, an old-school, big-building resort with a fifty-foot outrigger in the lobby. Skye hands Lindsy his debit card and sends her to the gift shops. He’s just done showering when she makes her entrance in a lemon sundress, printed with white silhouettes of plumeria blossoms. And a fake-plumeria hairclip. It smacks of trying too hard, but when she turns to walk to her suitcase the fabric twitches against her ample ass, and Skye thinks it best to shut up and enjoy himself.

They stroll the beachfront hand-in-hand, the street lined with torches, and stop beneath an oversize banyan tree, its branches stretching over the road in a sinewy jumble. Their destination is the Royal Kona, a hotel built to resemble a cruise ship, and the wide spread of lawn next to its waterfront. The object is a luau, and although Skye is perfectly prepared for a big fat Hawaiian cliché, the program turns out to be entertaining and insightful. Burly Hawaiian men dig up an earth-roasted pig, serve its mouthmelt flesh with a native buffet and top it off with dark rum mai-tais.

Their island band seems better than most, ranging from slack-key jazz to high-voiced folk songs in Hawaiian. The after-dinner show is a dance troupe, taking a narrated voyage through Hawaii’s founding cultures: the frenetic hipshake of Tahiti, a Maori spear dance accompanied by grotesque face-making, and the flawless grace of hula. Skye enjoys a visual meal of the wide-hipped waihine, their stomachs framed by dance-toned parentheses. Lindsy takes in the muscular warriors, crotches barely covered as they take assertive postures, thump their chests, and work a leg-wobble that doesn’t quite bridge the cultural gap.

The lead male is a buffed, dark-haired demon whose strenuous solos paint a glimmer over Lindsy’s baby blues. The showstopper, however, is a Tahitian fire-dancer who licks his torches, the flames playing across his face, then passes them under his legs (very close to his privates), before proceeding to a mind-bending display of spins and throws.

Between the mai-tais, the dancers and the tropical warmth, Skye feels suitably worked up, and takes all opportunities to glance at Lindsy’s moon-white breasts, barely contained by her thin-strapped dress. They stop beneath the banyan tree to indulge in an old-fashioned makeout session.

Which makes it that much more surprising when he lands on their bed and, pleading the long day, hands her the remote. He’s not sleepy, but the flesh is clearly unwilling, and he is determined to follow all roadsigns. He eventually drifts off, feeling the heat of frustration from the other side of the bed.

Photo by MJV

Friday, December 5, 2014

Exit Wonderland, Chapter Three: Jingly Thunder

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Jingly Thunder

He flushes the ATM receipt down the toilet and spends the night staring at television shows. At six he gives up, takes a shower, packs his bags and walks to the registration desk. His room has already been paid for.

The driver’s-side door of his truck has been locked into place since June. He opens the passenger door, kneels backward on the bench seat, closes the door then spins into place behind the wheel. The interior is just as clean as the body; they must have detailed it.

Mono Lake is a drab-looking place, but the desolation lends itself to morning light. Skye wanders a spiderweb of dirt roads before stumbling onto a visitors center and finding that he is on the wrong side of the lake. A few miles south, he turns onto a long gravel road and follows it to the tufa formations, ghostly figures built from fresh water bubbling into salt water and depositing layers of minerals. The formations are not awe-inspiring in the way of a Crater Lake or Grand Canyon, but an excellent example of nature’s sense of humor. The trail ends at the shore, where the largest formations rise from the lake like phantom ships. He takes out his vidcam and catches a group of kayakers drifting past on the flat, still water.

He’s about to repeat the kneel-spin when the hood of his truck catches his eye. Twenty-six summers had baked the burnt orange paint to a murky brown and created pockmarks like acne scars. Gone. They repainted it! And did a damn good job of matching the color.

He fills up at Tioga Junction, a little unsettled by the chaos of tourists prepping for the drive into Yosemite. This is not what he wants. Finding an oversized map next to the restrooms, he decides to return to the north side of the lake and head east into the wild nothingness of Nevada.

The landscape past Mono is thrilling: spreads of raw red and brown, as if someone has torn the skin right off the planet. He climbs a barren ridge, driving into the sun. It’s eleven o’clock, already 95 degrees, and he’s got no air conditioning. Whose brilliant idea was this? The downslope reveals water. When he reaches it – Walker Lake – he pulls over, takes off his shirt and tries to vibe a breeze off the mountains hugging the westward shore. He coaches himself: Don’t worry. It’s worth it. You’re seeing a thing you’ve never seen before.

The day that the driver’s-side handle came off in Skye’s hand, he also managed to get his seatbelt stuck in the door. It still reaches far enough for function, but once in a while he tries to open the door in order to free it up, and curses himself for his forgetfulness. This time, the door opens. He sits there, stunned, then gets out to inspect his shiny new handle. The kneel-spin is history.

A half-hour later, Skye rounds the tip of the lake and enters the Walker River Indian Reservation. He is no longer heading into the sun, but it continues to beat on the roof, and his brain is turning into a Denver omelet. He is forced to consider the Conundrum of the Fan. Turn on the fan and you get immediate relief. Followed, a minute later, by the realization that the wind on your face is the same hot air that’s baking you alive.

But it’s not like he has anything better to do. He hits the switch, feels momentarily better, and waits for the air to heat up. But it doesn’t. Which can only mean one thing: Skye’s ’86 Toyota pickup, purchased from his father two years before, a vehicle that has never previously had air conditioning, now has air conditioning. He rolls up the windows and drives north, composing hymns of praise to Sarge McCollum.

His northward route, Highway 95, is a straight shot through nondescript scrublands, though something called the Carson Sink has left a residue of white across the pan. Soon enough, he reaches 80 and heads east, next to a long shelf of hay-colored mountains. He feels the current under his wheels, the pull of an interstate that ends at the Atlantic Ocean.

He enters Winnemucca, and remembers how much he likes Winnemucca. How much he likes to say “Winnemucca.” He passes beneath an overpass, hits the main strip of fast food and gas stations, spots a cemetery on a southward rise. The casinos show up at the east side of town, adjacent to a high hill bearing a W assembled with painted rocks.

The casino that he likes best is Winners, barely changed from its ‘70s origins. A glitzy yellow marquee arcs over the parking entrance, announcing $6.99 sirloin and a Led Zeppelin tribute band. The interior seems unchanged, as well, a broad field of slots and tables. The audio, however, is vastly different. On his first visit in the late eighties, the soundtrack was metallic, the jingly thunder of quarters smacking steel pans. Now it’s all digital, the whirring and beeping of a thousand different songs, an electronic aviary.

He scopes the aisles like a punt returner, looking for a lane, a story. It’s not enough to risk money and maybe win money. He needs a narrative something whimsical, unexpected. His favorite is Lobstermania, where the bonus round brings a boatman with a New England accent, providing a running commentary as he pulls point-valued lobsters from their traps (“wicked lahge one theah!”).

He settles on Big Kahuna, which features various surfer-movie types: goofy blond surfer, studly Hawaiian lifeguard, daffy redhead beach bunny, the fat guy who runs the snack bar. When you line up three big waves, you get to choose from three Tiki gods and get a certain number of bonus spins, which play out in a high-speed autopilot. The surf-music soundtrack helps (Jan and Dean, The Ventures), and also the fact that he’s winning. (Now that he doesn’t need it, he’s winning.)

Skye glances around for a waitress and is caught by an unusual sight. A red poker chip wheels around the corner, dips into a spiral and settles at his feet. A woman in a red floral dress trots the aisle, chewing on a finger as she mutters “Oh, oh, oh, oh.”


She stops.

“Red chip?”

She nods.

He bends down and holds up the escaped prisoner. She scampers over, places her hand on the chip and leaves it there. For Skye, the visual information is coming fast. Pale blue eyes. Plump lips in a natural pout. Plentiful dairy-white cleavage. She’s the hottest deaf-mute he’s ever met.

“Thank you I don’t know what’s wrong with me I’m a Mormon and I shouldn’t be gambling in the first place but at least you would think I could hold on to a stinking chip. That’s a cute machine you’ve got there.”

He waits to make sure she’s finished. “Yeah. It’s fun. Generous, too.”

“I’ve always wanted to go to Hawaii.” She twirls the chip in her fingers. “I was playing blackjack.” She pushes the chip into her bra. “I’m Lindsy.”

“I’m Skye.”

“Skye? That is so cool what a great name were your parents hippies?”

“My dad was a pilot and my mom liked Guys ‘n’ Dolls.”

Lindsy seems to switch off for a second, then she bursts into laughter. “Skye Masterson! He’s the one who makes a bet that he can screw that religious lady that sounds kinda like a good idea.”

She takes his hand and gives him a look that is dreamy but also glazed-over.

“Mormon girl?”


“Been drinking?”

She shakes her hair, a thick pile of sandy blonde, touch of strawberry. “Those James Bond things.”


“Shaky, not stirred. Haha! The waitress kept offering, I kept… They’re free, you know.”

Skye hits the cash-out button and takes his voucher. “Buy you some dinner?”

She smiles, a flash of white that disappears into anxiety. “I could pay for mine. My husband hasn’t turned off my card yet.”

Skye holds up the voucher. “This one’s on the Big Kahuna.”


He folds his fingers into hers and walks her to the casino restaurant. Skye spots them in a mirrored wall, looking oddly like a married couple.

Lindsy is an impressive eater: sirloin, baked potato (all the trimmings), a side salad and a slice of lemon meringue pie. Toward the end of her meal, she seems to have returned to something near sobriety.

“I grew up in Salt Lake City as a Methodist, a perfectly lovely upbringing. I fell for a Mormon boy. After a year, he proposed. I said yes. We were married at the temple. My family was not allowed to attend. What followed was a polite, slow-moving mudflow of patriarchal fucking bullshit. Geez, I’m sorry. My language gets worse and worse.”

“It’s all right,” says Skye. “You’re angry. Swearing gets the anger out.”

She gives a pert smile. “Thank you. Still, I’ll try to save it for special occasions. It’s not that Thad was a bad husband. And his parents were nice enough. But the whole church had this creepy air of obedience about it, everybody trying oh-so-hard not to put a crack in the façade. And what a façade! I snuck out to a library computer and dug into it. The entire creation of the church was clearly a scam that exceeded all expectations. They gave up polygamy only so Utah could win statehood. It took them till the 1970s to allow a black priest. And they shipped forty million bucks of our tithe money to California to fight gay marriage. I hadn’t really thought of it before, but if you’re against gay marriage, then don’t have one!”

She takes a last bite of pie and tries to re-track her story.

“Being a Methodist was like having a weekly checkup with God. ‘How’m I doing? Am I being Christ-like? Cool.’ With Mormons, it’s all-encompassing, and the women are always on you, talking about babies. When are you having babies? How many babies do you want? Do you want girl babies or boy babies? You and Thad would have such beautiful babies babies babies babies BABIES!”

Lindsy manages to startle herself, then smiles when she realizes they’re the only customers left in the restaurant.

“And it wasn’t working. I was not getting pregnant. Thad began to develop this edge, like a parent talking to a child who’s come home with a bad report card. He asked if we should visit a fertility clinic. We’re still young, I said. Give God a little more time to bless us.”

The waitress comes by, and Lindsy orders a coffee. Skye tries not to say anything. When it arrives, she gives him an embarrassed smile. “I’m sorry. It’s been so long. What would you recommend in the way of condiments?”

“Do you like bitter foods?”

“Not really.”

“Try two packs of sugar, and I’ll handle the cream.”

He gives it a stir and slides it over, feeling like a pusher.

“Mmm. Yes. A little bitter. I used to drink it all the time at the Methodist church. Hell, coffee was our religion. So. A couple days ago, I happened to express a little sympathy for the gays. Thad was tight-lipped, in that lovely passive-aggressive fashion of his. That happened also to be the day he took my car to the garage, which was down the block from his office. Sometime during this transaction, he looked into a compartment behind the driver’s seat and discovered my birth control pills.”

Lindsy widens her eyes, because she knows what a devastating plot twist she has just dropped. Skye dutifully slaps the table and says, “Holy shit.”

“I could have handled the big Italian fight. Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. What I got was the entire female population of my church, assembled at my home to conduct an intervention. I walked right past them, packed my suitcase and hit the road. Because, because…” She sings the word, a prelude to her summation. “I may have been stupid enough to marry into that wacko religion, but I was smart enough not to have children in that wacko religion, and I certainly wasn’t going to apologize for it. God, I really like this coffee.”

Skye sips from his beer, a good hoppy microbrew. “How’d you end up so far away?”

Lindsy freshens her lip gloss and smiles. “I always heard that Mormons who want to bend the rules – Jack Mormons, we call them – drive the salt flats to Ely, Nevada, just across the state line. But then, when I got there, I realized I was still surrounded by Mormons! So I kept going. How did you end up here?”

“Family vacation.”

“Ha! So where’s the family?”

“I took a vacation from the family vacation. I’ll tell you the story as soon as I figure it out myself.”

“Okay.” She places her elbows on the table and cups her doll-like face with her hands. “So how does this work? Do we go to some room and have wild animal sex?”

Skye gives the question some thought. “Can I take you to a movie first?”

Lindsy bats her eyes. “What’re ya, chicken?”

He grabs her hand and kisses it. “Allow me the luxury of being a gentlemen.”

Lindsy winces. “Damn! That is so not fair, you being all charming and shit.”

He takes her to a theater he spotted on the way in and they see a British film about a teenage girl corrupted by an older man. Perhaps not a good choice, but he indulges, nonetheless, in the romantic choreography – holding hands, increasingly forward kisses – that he missed in the rush of Andorra. Also popcorn, which he loves with a passion.

He gets them a room at Winners – a room with two beds. Lindsy sits on hers, wired on coffee and Coke, and pouts.

“Why don’t you want to fuck me? I’m on the pill.”

“Why do you want to fuck me?”

“Because you’re a sexy hot man.”

“Wrong! Try again.”

“Because I’m a nymphomaniac.”


“Birds do it. Bees do it.”


“Because I hate my fucking husband!”


“You know, most men would…”

“I am not most men. Also, I’m exhausted.”

“Well I’m not. Damn devil caffeine.”

“Here. Watch something.”

He tosses the remote and turns over. Minutes later, he’s riding big waves with the daffy redhead beach bunny.

Photo by MJV