A self-proclaimed desert rat, Chuck Etheridge was raised in El Paso, Texas. After a stint in the US Navy keeping the coast of Southern California safe from the threat of enemy invasion, he attended the University of Texas at El Paso and Texas Christian University. In addition to his time in the service, he has worked as an actor, a convenience store clerk, a Rent-a-Poet, and a catalog copy writer before finding respectable employment as an English teacher, first at McMurry University and, later, at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. His poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction have been published in a variety of reviews and anthologized in a number of books, and he has written two plays that have been produced. He is the author of two novels, Border Canto and The Desert After Rain. “Driving Lessons” is an excerpt of his third novel, My Father’s Songs.
Thirty-three thousand tons of steel,
She slogged through the gray seas,
Like an arthritic aunt,
Determined to cross the street without help,
Graceless but reliable.
When Uncle Sam invited her to the dance,
The dance called World War II,
She was not his favorite niece,
He told her to dress,
So she could take care of sea planes.
She stumped gracelessly across the Pacific,
Where out-of-ammo pilots aimed planes
At her thick hull.
She wasn’t pretty,
But she was tough,
Shrugging off attacks,
Giving better than she took.
She sank sixteen enemy ships,
Put thirty more out of action,
Shooting enemy aircraft out of the sky
While performing more than 400 rescue missions...
The Gods of the North warn
Hell is a hot place.
Do bad, and you will burn,
Smelling brimstone in a fiery pit
South Texas sun blazes like an angry god,
Sweat runs rivers down my back,
My pale skin burns, red, so I must hide from the Sun,
Shield myself from the wrath of Thor
With sun hats, and sunblock,
While he burns my plants,
Evaporates lakes and rivers,
And slays even the toad
Crossing the parking lot,
Who dies, then swells up,
A grotesque balloon blistering on asphalt
This is summer.
Gods of the South snicker at the North,
Bask in the heat of Thor’s wrath,
Do bad and you will freeze,
In a dark cold place,
Old Sol, the Sun, has grown weak
Forgetting Chicago in January.
I must work outside,
Stand in waist high snow,
Try to use a metal wrench
When it’s twenty below zero.
The wind shoots down from the North,
Knifing my heart through the long underwear,
And heavy jacket. My hands, numb, can’t work
With gloves on,
But can’t work when they are frozen.
This is winter,
Quetzalcoatl’s anger is everywhere,
My southern bones fear Aztecs
More than Vikings,
Can always take clothes off,
But can’t put on enough to keep warm.
If I have to choose hell, I’d rather be Aztec than Viking,
Would rather burn than freeze.
Copyright Charlesa Etheridge
Dr. Jim McCutchon practiced medicine in Corpus Christi for many years before retiring to pursue other interests, one of which is writing. He is currently working on a novel about life on a 19th century plantation in Louisiana. As an exercise while studying the writing craft at a workshop in Santa Barbara California, he was challenged by the moderator to write a short story containing a very specific ending, and to do it in ten minutes. That story is EMERGENCY, which was included in Corpus Christi Writers 2018. For 2019 he decided to do something a little different.
A funny thing happened to me last night. Not funny in the sense of humorous but in the sense of unusual, very unusual. I had just turned off my bedside reading light, turned on my right side as I often do and closed my eyes when the light went back on. That’s strange, I thought. Lights shouldn’t turn back on by themselves. A little irritated, I turned over and found that the light was not back on. There was light all right, lots of it, but it wasn’t from my bedside lamp. It wasn’t from a lamp at all. It was just there. Then, a man came through the door. He was tall, and he wore a long black robe and a Roman collar. A priest? Not like any priest I’ve ever seen. He stood silently while I looked him over. He was tall and thin. His hair was gray, and he had a very distinctive face with a high forehead, pointed nose, pointed chin and eyes that seemed to see right through me. I probably should have been afraid, but I wasn’t. His dark, piercing eyes had a look of kindness in them. Another strange thing was that I could see through him. When I could speak, I asked, “Am I dreaming?”
read the rest in Corpus Christi Writers 2019.
He was sitting at his desk after lunch, talking with three associates. An important business meeting. He had left strict instructions—no calls, no interruptions of any kind—but there it was, the blinking red light on his phone demanding attention. He tried to ignore it, but it flashed with such insistency he finally had to respond.
It was his secretary. The principal from Jenna’s school had just called, and he needed to get there right away.
Not again! Please God, not again . . . the blinking light, the tone of voice; it was too familiar. He turned pale. Dreading what he might hear, he didn’t ask for details. A year ago his wife Darlene had been on her way to that same school to pick Jenna up for a ninth grade soccer game. A truck blasted through a red light and T-boned her. Within moments firemen were working furiously with the Jaws-of-Life to get her broken body out of the car, but it was no use. She was lifeless as a china doll. The flashing red light and his secretary’s tone were the same then as now…
He replaced the receiver, muttered a quick excuse to his three colleagues, and quickly walked out of his office. As he hurried by his secretary’s desk, she gave him the same fearful and sympathetic look she had that time a year ago.
READ THE FULL STORY IN CORPUS CHRISTI 2018: AN ANTHOLOGY
Joseph Wilson taught Senior English Advanced Placement, Film Studies, and Creative Writing at Richard King High School for 42 years. He created and edited the poetry magazine "Open All Night" for 40 years. His students included several contributors to Corpus Writers 2018 and Corpus Christi Writers 2019. He writes poetry. He also posts frequently on Facebook, and has a large following.
I have been following with interest the debate about whether men will show up, pay their dollars, and watch the newest adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's classic American novel "Little Women." Director Greta Gerwig reinvents both story and structure. Employing a non-linear format, the director moves the narrative around reminding the viewer of dreams or flashbacks or impressions. When you remember the events in your own life, often one story triggers another story or to put it another way, one memory spins you off to another memory related by the cast of characters in your life or plot-points in your life that are similar. So is a chronological approach better or more accurate to a retelling or understanding of your own life? I don't know. In the art of cinema, I think it is simply a choice of the artist, Gerwig in this case. Her narrative approach can be confusing, but I think that makes the work wonderfully impressionistic. I have not read the novel, so I had to follow where the story led.
Greta Gerwig and her artistic collaborators have created a beautiful beautiful movie. The cinematography by Yorick Le Saux is gorgeous. The music by Alexandre Desplat is stunning. And the editing by Nick Houy seems pitch perfect.
The acting ensemble is extraordinary by any standard: Meryl Streep as Aunt March, James Norton of "Grandchester" fame as John Brooke, Chris Cooper as Mr. Laurence, Tracy Letts as Mr. Dashwood, Bob Odenkirk as Father March, and the marvelous Laura Dern as Marmee.
And the phenomenal young women are Saoirse Ronan as Jo, Emma Watson as Meg, Eliza Scanlen as dear Beth and Florence Pugh as Amy. Beautiful, believable, touching as loving sisters. The young men are Timothee Chalamet as Laurie and Louis Garrel as Friedrich.
I think this 19th century novel is a fine way to test out the theme of independence versus attachment. Particularly for women this is an important idea to play with. What does a modern woman want out of her one and only life?
In our current crippling times this March family opts for the Christian values of love, sacrifice, charity, and community service. The March women oppose slavery. They help the poor. They love one another.
I left the theatre tingling and joyful.
***** stars for quality
***** stars for like ability
I must say the movie camera always loves Saoirse Ronan and Timothee Chalamet. They fill the screen.
But new to me Florence Pugh is just wow as Amy
one hundred years ago
Paul Herbert Cline
fought in WW One
he survived terrors in France
P. H. died from lung cancer
when I was a freshman in college
he was a good man
a hard man and a hard-working man
a screaming kind of man
in his basement shop he taught me how
to hammer bent nails into scrap boards
and cut planks with a table saw that buzzed
like hornets in my hair
I want to read the NewYorkTimesSundayEdition all the way through
I want to hear live jazz
in an outdoor city space with the trace of a breeze
and a strong cup
I want to walk three miles on the bayfront toward the Harbor Bridge
I want to go to the restaurant Egg in Brooklyn and have braised vegetables garnished with fresh herbs over oatmeal
with a fried egg sunny-side-up
I want to see two movies at the local cinema
which begin at the
I want to gaze into my dog’s brown eyes for three minutes
to raise the level of oxytocin in our brains
I want to cut some white roses in the pasture
I want three glasses of Prosecco with raspberries blueberries and
arils of pomegranate filling the bottom of the bowl of the
I want to speak to my mother on the telephone and
have her really be able to hear me
I want to hit some tennis balls with a colleague and raise a sweat
I want to engage in a serious conversation
face to face with my friend
who can’t seem to do that
I want to find just a little mindfulness right now
I want to finish
Kenneth Bennight is a husband, father, lawyer, former Marine, and native Texan, and the grandfather of the cutest little boy on the face of the Earth. Kenneth grew up in Corpus Christi and graduated from Ray High School. He now resides in San Antonio, Texas, and is the author of the hard-boiled Nacho Perez stories, Nacho Perez, Private Eye and The Truth Shall Make You Dead. Those stories and others are available on Amazon.
Wheel Colony XJB776, Interstellar Space
The blue chick’s bright mane was no yellower than a jonquil and her clothes no skimpier than a clumsy pickpocket’s purse. She stood at the bar, her stripes pulsing to the beat of the music. I let out a deep breath. Middle aged, I’d all but lost my stripes, except when mad—or scared. She’d never give me a second look.
Stale ale and THC-product smoke wafted to me. Flashing signs lit the room. The bar sat on an outside bulkhead, and a four-meter diameter porthole showed the galaxy spinning around us. Pedants insist we’re doing the spinning. Whatever. I never tired of gawking. Every deck along the 100-kilometer circumference of the wheel was lined with portholes, but schmucks like me don’t live next to outside bulkheads.
Where the hell was the damn center stripe? Thad Will peered ahead. The wipers and the full-blast defroster kept only a patch of the windshield clear from freezing rain. His headlights barely penetrated the blur. He kept his speed around 40 miles per hour, his knuckles aching from his tight grip on the wheel. When was the last time South Texas had weather like this? His eyelids felt heavy.
He blinked and rubbed his eyes. No sleep in almost two days. Getting a room in Cotulla would have been good. If he could afford it. But Eagle Ford work had slowed and threatened to disappear. He couldn’t spend money on motels with Justin needing braces and the dining room set about to be repossessed.
His eyes closed, his body relaxed, he almost slid into sleep, and the car started to drift. Adrenalin hit. His eyes popped back open, and he jerked the car straight. Damn it all. He repeatedly slapped his cheek.
He hadn’t seen another car since leaving Cotulla, shortly before he’d passed a sign warning that the next gas station was 94 miles down the road. FM 624 cuts east-west across the South Texas brush. He’d heard it called the world’s longest hunting lease. Traffic was seldom heavy, and only an idiot would travel it on a night like this.
Headlights reflected in his rear-view mirror. Who else was out in this mess? A few seconds later, he realized the lights were approaching fast. Jeez. Whoever this schmuck was, he was blasting along, ice be damned.
Moments later a new Ford Mustang swung wide around him and careened back, nearly clipping his front end. It swerved and slid down the road for as far as he could see. A nutso with a death wish. Will held his speed down.
Ten minutes later, he saw headlights ahead and to the side of the road. Maybe there’s a curve. He studied the lights as he drew nearer. Something wasn’t right.
Just a hundred yards short of the lights, he caught sight of a bridge. Ice. Shit. He thumped his brakes just before he crossed onto it and slid almost to the guard rail before regaining control.
Beyond the bridge, the Mustang lay spun around and upside down against the fence. He pulled over, turned on his flashers, and took a flashlight from his glove box. His feet crunched on the icy grass, which brushed against his ankles above his low-quarter shoes. Moisture wicked up his socks, leaving his feet wet and nearly numb.
The spider-web cracks in the window glass kept him from seeing inside. He wrestled open the driver’s door, which cut an arced swath in the icy grass. A fruity, pungent alcohol smell slapped him in the face.
A sprawled body, feet to the front and head to the rear. The latter lay at an odd angle. No pulse. This fool had been driving like a madman without a seatbelt. A broken bottle of Jose Cuervo lay next to the driver.
He shone the light around to look for a passenger. No one. He was about to return to his car and call in the accident when he glimpsed something mostly obscured by the driver’s body. He kneeled in the grass, and shone the light inside. Please God, don’t let it be a child.
It was a duffel bag, the zipper slightly open – with a bundle of money sticking out. He pulled, but the driver’s body held it down. When the bag finally came free, the driver’s torso partly followed the bag out the door. Ice trickled down the back of Will’s neck. His wet hair lay plastered against his head. He shook himself, caught his breath, and unzipped the bag all the way.
The bag was full of bundled hundred-dollar bills. His jaw dropped. Were they real? He glanced at the slumped body. Who was this guy? A drug dealer. Had to be.
He pulled out his cellphone to call the police but then stopped. Rain and melting ice soaked his clothes. He climbed to his feet and looked up and down the highway. Nobody had passed and still no cars in sight. He stuffed the body back in the car and closed the door as best he could, but the latch wouldn’t catch. He locked the bag in his trunk and headed down the highway, setting the car’s heater on high.
The right thing was to turn the money in. But if he did, they’d know he’d been at the accident and didn’t report it immediately, and they’d know he’d tampered with a crime scene. Shit. He shook his head. I should go back. He took his foot off the accelerator. Then he thought of his debts. He needed that money. He sped back up.
He kept wrestling with the dilemma. He pulled over, shut off the engine, and turned on his flashers. The money wasn’t his. He couldn’t keep it. He leaned his head against the steering wheel and squeezed his eyes shut.
It had to be drug money. He took a deep breath. The druggies play for high stakes. Might even be cartel. What if they found him? Then I’m dead. It wasn’t worth it. He should go back.
He reached for the ignition. But they weren’t going to find him. Nobody saw anything. For all the druggies knew, the driver could have stashed the money somewhere else before he crashed.
He had to clear his mind. He slumped and focused on breathing regularly.
Tap, tap, tap.
He awoke, shivering. Flashing lights showed in the rearview mirror, and a patrolman stood at his window. He turned the key so he could lower his window. The rain and ice had let up.
“Is everything all right, sir?” The patrolman was tall and haggard, and his right hand rested on the butt of his pistol. He gave no sign the cold bothered him. The name tag on his chest read Corcoran.
“Yes, officer. Everything’s fine. I just got a little sleepy, so I pulled over to doze. The cold’s got me awake now.” Will shifted in his seat and ran his fingers through his hair.
Corcoran moved his flashlight beam around the interior of Will’s car. “Show me your license and insurance.”
Will pulled his license out of his wallet, handed it over, and fumbled in his glove box until he came up with the insurance card. Thank God he’d kept up the payments.
Corcoran took the papers and went back to his patrol car. When he came back, he returned the papers. “Where’re you headed?”
Corcoran looked him and his car over again. “You’re soaked. Did you have some trouble back there?”
Will’s mind raced.
“Uh, no, not really.” He gulped. “The car, uh, well, it felt funny, and I thought maybe, uh, maybe I had a flat.” The last words came more quickly than the previous ones, and he continued almost glibly. “I got out to check it, but the tire was fine.” He offered Corcoran his most innocent smile.
“Pretty wet for just that.”
Will shrugged. “I guess it took me a bit.”
“I see.” Corcoran raised his eyebrows and glared at Will as if he didn’t see at all.
Will struggled not to wither. “May I leave now?”
Corcoran nodded. “Be careful, sir. It’s a messy night. My radio said there’s a bad wreck back nearer Cotulla.”
Will bit his lower lip. “I hope the driver’s OK.”
Corcoran looked into his eyes. “I didn’t say there was just one car or just one person in it.”
“I guess I just assumed.” Inspiration hit. “Were more people involved?”
“The officer on the scene said someone had been there. You know anything about that?”
Wills shook his head repeatedly. “No, sir. I don’t, no. Not about that.” Despite the cold, perspiration formed on Will’s upper lip.
Corcoran stared but waved him on.
Will made a point of signaling to return to the traffic lane and headed east.
That settled that. He couldn’t go back. They’d found the wreck, and they had a record of his whereabouts. He kept driving.
He slammed the steering wheel and grinned. Hell, he’d spend the money. Pay off bills, buy a new car, a new TV. Megan wanted to remodel the kitchen. He could just deposit the cash and start writing checks.
But what if the IRS audited him? No way could he explain the deposit. He shook his head. A lot of shit to think about. He’d ask Harry. Hypothetical, like. Harry worked for H&R Block during tax season. He’d know.
Another thought came to mind. He’d seen enough movies to know the druggies put GPS trackers in with their money. Less than two hours after his encounter with the patrolman, he pulled into the lot of the Stripes truck stop in Orange Grove, the only place open in the wee hours of a Sunday morning. He parked under a flood light at the back of the empty lot, retrieved the duffel from the trunk, and got back in the car to open it. The bundles all seemed to be the same size, and the bills were all Franklins, one-hundred dollars. He counted one bundle out. One hundred Franklins. Ten grand in a bundle. He found seventy-five bundles. Seven hundred fifty grand. A life-changing sum.
In the bottom sure enough his fingers found the tracker. He pulled it out and held it to the light. Were they already on his trail? Was he already a dead man? He looked around. Nothing, nobody. He had to get rid of it fast. He took several deep breaths. Don’t be paranoid.
A big rig pulled into the lot. The driver left the engine idling and went inside the store. Inspiration hit Will. He could stick the gizmo on the truck. But it didn’t look waterproof. He looked at the sky. If he didn’t keep it dry, he might as well throw it in a dumpster.
He returned the bag with the money to his trunk, keeping the GPS, and followed the driver inside. Rancid oil from the popcorn machine permeated the room. Microwaveable sandwiches and burritos lay at one end of the store and the counter lay at the other. In between were rows of candy, cookies, chips, toiletries, and cans of oil and radiator coolant.
The truck driver headed to the restroom. Will laid a Coke and a chocolate candy bar on the counter and, after they were scanned, slid his credit card through the reader. Coke and chocolate would both give him much needed caffeine.
“You need a bag for that?” the clerk asked.
Back at his car, he put the gizmo in the Stripes’ plastic bag and used duct tape from his trunk to secure the bag to the locking bar on the back of the idling big-rig’s trailer. Then he waited. The driver returned to his rig, pulled out of the Stripes, and headed north toward Mathis. Hallelujah.
Will headed east to Corpus. When he got home in the wee hours of the morning, he stuffed the bag in the back of a closet and crawled into bed next to Megan. He lay awake for an hour, maybe two.
The next morning, over coffee, he brooded. He considered depositing some of the cash at an ATM and remembered to call Harry.
Harry chuckled. “You win the lottery, pal? You know they’re going to report that anyway.”
Will ground his teeth. “No, nothing like that. You know, a friend and I at work had a bet about how to do this.”
“A bet with a friend is an old one, buddy, You must have knocked over a drug dealer.”
“Up yours.” Will hung up the phone.
Will Googled large cash deposits and found a bewildering array of rules requiring currency transaction reports and cash-transaction records, some for transactions as low as $3,000. Screw that. He’d keep the cash.
He wasn’t due back in Cotulla until Wednesday. On Monday, he paid off the dining room set and prepaid the orthodontist for Justin’s braces. That evening, after Justin was in bed, he called Megan over to the table and laid out the receipts and the bag with the money.
Her weary eyes turned quizzical as she flipped through the receipts. “What’s this?”
“I paid for Justin’s braces and paid off the balance on the furniture.”
She poked in the bag and gasped.
“Where did you get this?” She paused and looked into his eyes. “Thad, what have you done?” Her voice was soft and higher pitched than normal.
He told her about the wrecked car and the duffel bag. He left out the highway patrolman and the GPS tracker.
Megan ran a hand through her hair. “You’ve got to give it back. It’s not ours.”
“Well . . . .” He explained about Officer Corcoran.
She shook her head. “You’ve made a mess.”
He took her hand. “Only if you look at it that way. Look at it as a gift.”
Tuesday morning, Will read the neighborhood crime blotter and looked up at Megan.
“Did you read about these burglaries? Somebody might steal the money.”
Megan tilted her head and looked at him sideways. “Irony’s not your long suit, is it?”
He waved her off. He needed to spread the risk of losing the money, keep some of it somewhere else. He stuffed $400,000 into his attic crawl space. He took the unspent remainder in the original duffel bag to the rented storage space where they stored stuff they should have gotten rid of.
* * *
Monday afternoon after Will’s early Sunday morning trek through Orange Grove, Laurencio Contreras sat in the Stripes parking lot. The sun was out, and the temperature had risen to the mid-60s. Texas weather.
El Jefe had been pissed when the GPS took the wrong path. Laurencio caught up with the driver at a Victoria truck stop, and when he was done with him, Laurencio believed the guy knew nothing. But Laurencio had to find the cash fast if he wanted to stay on el Jefe’s good side. He didn’t want to see el Jefe’s bad side.
He’d traced the GPS’s movements. It had stopped three times before Victoria. The bag must have been taken at the first stop, where the mule had wrecked. The pinche borracho.
Laurencio didn’t understand the second stop on an isolated stretch of road, but the Stripes had to be where the GPS got on the truck. He surveyed the lot and spotted surveillance cameras.
Inside the store, his nose wrinkled at the rancid-oil smell. He browsed the merchandise and picked up a Big Red and an Almond Joy. Just below another surveillance camera, a picture of the manager hung on the wall, conveniently labeled with a name, Buddy Jaramillo. But someone other than Buddy stood behind the register.
When Laurencio stepped up to the counter, he set down his purchases and pointed at the picture. “I think I went to school with that vato. Is he here today?”
“Naw, he’s off.”
“Live nearby?” Laurencio added a Snickers bar to his purchase.
“Yeah, last house on the left on West Josephine.”
At the last house on West Josephine, a boy practiced dribbling and tried to make baskets in a hoop without a net. A scraggly mesquite grew at the corner of the driveway. Laurencio turned his car to face back the way he’d come and called out.
“Oye. are you Buddy’s boy?”
The boy got control of his ball and held it as his side. “Yes, sir.” He brushed aside his dark hair from his forehead.
“Is your daddy home?”
“He went to the grocery store, but he’ll be back soon.”
“I’ll wait for him.” Laurencio stepped out of the car but left his engine running. He held the candy bar out. “Would you like this?”
“Sure.” The boy approached, and Laurencio grabbed him, one hand over the boy’s mouth. The boy struggled and tried to scream, but Laurencio stuffed him in the back seat.
“When I let go of your mouth, you make noise, I twist your head until your neck snaps. You got me?” The boy nodded, tears gushing down his cheeks. Slowly, Laurencio released the boy’s mouth. The boy sobbed but made no other noise. Laurencio gagged him and used two zip ties, one to bind his hands and another his feet.
He drove back down FM 624 until he found several rows of large, round hay bales lying near the road. He cut the fence, dumped the boy between rows, and left him among piles of dried cow manure.
When Laurencio got back to the house, a large man stood in the front yard shouting, “Jesse. Jesse. Get back home, boy.” The man matched the picture of Buddy Jaramillo.
Laurencio turned his car back around again, got out, and lifted his shirt tail to reveal a gun. “You want to see your boy again? Do what I say. Comprende?”
Buddy’s eyes raced back and forth between the gun and Laurencio’s face. “What have you done to my boy? Where is he?”
Laurencio touched his gun. “Get in the driver’s seat. We’re going to the Stripes. Show me video from two nights ago. Then, you see your boy.”
Almost as many tears ran down Buddy’s face as had his son’s. “You didn’t have to take my boy for this.”
“Just do it.”
At the Stripes, Buddy waited until the clerk finished with a customer and then beckoned.
“We’re going to be in the office. Leave us undisturbed.”
The clerk nodded.
In the small office in the back of the Stripes, Buddy and Laurencio pulled up the video. Running through it was excruciating, even at twice the normal speed. The later the hour, the longer between customers. After a long period of inactivity, a car pulled in and parked under a light. Laurencio recognized the duffel the driver took from the trunk. When the driver went into the store, Laurencio had Buddy load the interior video. When he saw the credit card transaction, Laurencio’s grin turned cold, and he had Buddy pull up the buyer’s name and credit card number.
Armed with a name, Laurencio called el Jefe. Then he turned to Buddy and pointed.
“That way up 624, in some hay bales.” He grabbed Buddy’s forearm, boring his eyes into Buddy’s. “You say anything about this to anyone, I know where you live. Anything. Claro?”
“Sí, claro.” Buddy gulped air. “I got you.”
When Laurencio returned to his car and reached for the ignition, el Jefe called with an address to match the name. Laurencio headed for Corpus. He found Will’s house and spent the night in his car down the block where he had a good view. Cars littered the curb, so Laurencio’s didn’t stand out. He chuckled when Will left Tuesday morning with the duffel. Pinche gringo. Mueres pronto.
* * *
The Sunday afternoon after his early-morning encounter with Thad Will, Earl Corcoran propped up his feet on the coffee table and took a puff on his cigar. Marisol never would have let him put his feet on the table—or smoke a cigar in the house. But when he’d gotten home, all he found was a spite letter calling him a low-life. She’d packed up the kids and headed for her parents. At the beginning of his week off. Bitch.
He shook his head. Dwelling on Marisol’s letter wasn’t a good idea. His mind turned to the squirrel last night on 624. Will had been at the wreck. His nervousness, his being soaked, and his comments about the wreck. All that clinched it. Will had to be the one.
He chugged the rest of his beer. A week without family. Hell. He might as well stake the bastard out.
Tuesday morning, Corcoran watched Will leave the house with a duffel bag. A blue-shirted Hispanic male in a car down the street followed Will. Corcoran followed them both.
Will traveled down South Padre Island Drive until he pulled into a sun-and-salt-bleached storage facility. It consisted of five wings of storage rooms all running perpendicular to a once-white office in the front. Will entered a code and went through an automatic gate. Blue Shirt’s car squeezed through and paused by a nearby storage unit. Corcoran grimaced, taking Blue Shirt’s pause as an effort to lull Will.
Corcoran ran through the office, holding out his badge to a sleepy clerk, who had incense burning. From the back door, Corcoran looked down one of the rows. Someone with a pickup was loading a mattress and box springs. Will’s car came into view as it passed to the right along a cross drive. Corcoran turned to the right just as he caught a glimpse of Blue Shirt’s car.
When Corcoran got to the next opening, he saw Will traveling away from him down the row. Will stopped, unlocked a unit, and took the duffel from his car. Blue Shirt whipped around a corner and skidded toward Will. He hopped out of his car and popped off a round in Will’s direction.
“Give me the bag, pendejo, and maybe I’ll let you live.” Will tossed the duffel into view.
Corcoran aimed his Glock at Blue Shirt and called out, “DPS. Drop your weapon.”
Blue Shirt wheeled and fired at the new target. Corcoran flinched when he felt the whoosh of the slug flying by his ear. Corcoran aimed center of mass and let off two rounds, but Blue Shirt was moving. The shots missed.
Will scuttled around the next corner and peeked back at the fight. Blue Shirt took aim and fired at Corcoran. At the same instant, Corcoran fired back.
Corcoran grabbed his side. Damn. Pain spread across his upper body. Blue Shirt’s round had probably broken a rib, but Blue Shirt had dropped from view. At least I got the bastard.
He approached where he’d last seen Blue Shirt. Not there. The opened storage unit. Corcoran stepped toward it, but a round slammed into his back. Corcoran staggered and fell to his knees. Blue Shirt had hidden behind Will’s car.
Blue Shirt staggered to where he had a clear line of fire at Corcoran and fired three rounds, all of which connected. Corcoran got off two rounds and stayed conscious long enough to see Blue Shirt collapse in a pool of blood.
* * *
Will winced at the sirens. He looked longingly at the duffel, but fear paralyzed him. The first officer arrived in moments and others soon followed. Two dead men and a bag full of money greeted them. Will needed a story. Fast.
“I was just checking my storage unit, you know, to see if it was OK. I hadn’t been here in a while. Then these two guys started shooting at each other. I nearly got hit, but I hid around the corner. I don’t know what it was about.”
Will wasn’t sure the cops believed him, but they let him go after a few hours. The evening news gave him hope.
Off-duty DPS Officer Earl Corcoran was killed today in a gunfight with known drug trafficker Laurencio Contreras, who also died in the encounter. Police recovered a large sum of money at the scene, money that will be forfeited as presumed proceeds of the drug trade. A police spokesman said this was a major blow against a cartel run by a man known as El Jefe.
The story didn’t say how much money was in the bag. The bad guys would think the cops had it all. Will thought of the $400,000 in his attic. Only Megan and he knew.
* * *
Buddy Jaramillo’s jerked up straight in his chair. The slain drug trafficker shown on TV was the guy who kidnapped Jesse and watched the security tapes. Then the reporter mentioned a Thad Wills. That was the name on the credit card receipt. Buddy reached for the phone and called the sheriff.
copyright Kenneth Bennight
read more great writing like this in Corpus Christi Writers 2018: An Anthology
Kristi Sprinkle has not traveled abroad, but she has traveled through the universe in dreams. She has been creating new phrases since she was a snotty teenager, living in Corpus Christi. Attending college in Austin (because everyone else was), she set down roots that could not be pried from Austin’s soil – and was part of the grassy-roots open mike poetry there. After raising chickens in a suburban neighborhood, she decided she could raise goats, pigs, guineas, peafowl, dogs and a cat or two, along with green leafy stuff and potatoes on a large piece of grassy land close to Austin. Recently she has been doodling a lot on scraps of paper she intends to collect in retirement and make them make sense. She has worked for the Texas School for the Blind in Austin for a great number of years as a technologist, co-writer of a book by a great man in the field of visual impairment. She created two different museums for the school.
Yesterday... was just a bad day. whacked myself a good one (very large bump and bruise on my forehead - the old rake joke - step on the tines and WHACK! There was a twig intertwined with the tines, so I stepped on that. Same effect ("I'm not a COMPLETE backbirth")). Almost as bad as the time I dropped a post setter on my head. The garbage disposal started leaking... then I found some gopher holes where I just planted roses ("carefree beauty" that has a patent and certification from the department of agriculture... whatever happened to just plain plants?). The chickens that are free-roaming destroyed my potted tomato plants. Then this fraud - fighting it at a time when Mike and I should have been sleeping (we wake up fucking early, even in my retirement). Dead tired. Today? Went to bank and got new debit cards and had to write a novel to Visa on the events that took place last night and this morning with the fraud. Now starts the long process of changing all those autopays over from the old card number. Making chicken stock (HEB has 10lbs of chicken halves for 5 bucks). Delivered eggs to the Mennonites down the road, went grocery shopping where, unbeknownst to me, my debit card had just been canceled (see previous post). Just made salsa with old pico, using a boat motor on it. And new pico with fresh ingredients. It IS a better day. So far.
copyright Kristi Sprinkle
woke up today in clarity's
sense of sheer happiness
weary of nothing
quiet eyes 360 degrees around this path
seeing what's been done and undone
wizard behind the curtain
hands crossed, perplexed
at the powerlessness
because i see everything i am
and all the people i know
settled and unsettling
pushing this world, pulling it
- life/death and threats of both
and it all comes together
perhaps i'm crazy
but all the good and bad
suddenly doesn't matter
because here we are
more than those words on a wall
and yes, the glass is half full
finally held in hands
that were strong
visible briefly Is
A lone metal chair Inside a grove of California trees
Just under a turnpike
(Noticed from a higher road on our way elsewhere)
It sits facing railroad tracks that, from
The chair’s eyes, run north and south and disappear in both directions
And I wonder whether a young soul
Or an old soul sits there
copyright Kristi Sprinkle
Lee Hultin found success in writing technical manuals from plumbing to technology that led her to a career in application development. After retiring early and looking for new adventures, she left Chicago’s cold winters and settled on the Island. These days, she spends her time enjoying island life on the Gulf with her rescued husky mix and writing about life.
Read more great fiction like this in Corpus Christi Writers 2018: An Anthology.
I woke in the dark room. All the doors were closed, the drapes and blinds drawn tight. Jack didn’t like the sun waking him. He lay still sleeping by my side. I couldn’t sleep anymore and I had to see the sun, the light, the Gulf. I decided I wasn’t going to waste any more time waiting on Jack.
Outside, Marty was tinkering on the boat. It was red with white cushions, and his pride and joy. He had just traded up, his older boat for the used red one. It was bigger and more powerful than the old one, and seated eight, a definite boost over the four-seater older one. He had only logged a month on it and was still getting used to how it performed. He was having problems with the GPS working properly and a few minor issues with the motor.
Inside, I helped Jessica put the beer in the tote along with chips and nuts. “Let’s get going,” Marty said as he entered the sliding glass doors. Jack emerged finally, freshly showered and grabbed a cold beer. Jessica laughed and said, “A bit early isn’t it Jack.” Jack just smiled and said, “It’s five o’clock somewhere,” letting out a not so quiet belch while walking down to the pier. I grabbed my sunglasses, hat and hairclip, taking the tote on the way out the door. Jessica locked the lanai doors and walked the 15 steps to the boat. Marty was already in the boat yelling at Jessica, “Did you bring my sunglasses?” “Right here” she said, handing them to him. With everyone on board, Marty turned the motor on and backed out of the pier, put the boat in gear and drove slowly down the canal.
I never tired of the slow crawl moving past beautiful houses, looking at the landscape and imagining living in one. Some still had their hurricane shutters up, meaning it was a second home. I wondered what these people did for a living to have more than one house. They had perfectly manicured lawns with foliage discreetly hiding patios and swimming pools, jet skis and large boats in private piers, and they were so much bigger than my own house. Jessica remarked on a red, garden pagoda in one yard on the corner lot to the Intracoastal. “That’s new,” she said. “The couple who bought that house also owns a new Asian restaurant on Water Street.” Jessica always knew when something changed or who was home or who had bought or sold these beautiful homes.
Marty opened it up, and the little red boat was flying, the engine purring loudly. Three dolphins, attracted by the engine sound and the bubbles the large wake created, were following us. Soon they were jumping alongside, greeting us on this mostly cloudless day. I pulled my hair back and secured it at the nape of my neck with a large clip.
Marty turned right, slowing as he came to little patches of sand islands. They really weren’t islands, only what was left of sand bars moved by the sea and tide. It was the long way around the Island to the Gulf. Marty had said earlier we would stay close to shore since the forecast predicted a few storms. I didn’t mind, I loved being in the boat and taking a little journey around the Island.
Soon we were into the Gulf with the Island on our right. You couldn’t stay too close to the Island because of shallow waters and unexpected sand bars, so Marty moved a bit further out, still keeping the Island in sight. I moved upfront sitting beside him and opened the windshield windows. I loved putting my feet up and feeling the boat bouncing off the waves. The wind picked up and the waves were now becoming swells rising higher and higher on both sides of the red boat. I was laughing at each jump the boat made over the waves, coming down hard on the sea. Thrilled by the roller-coaster ride, my laughter got louder as the adrenaline pulsed in my veins. I looked back at Jack and smiled. He acknowledged me by raising a can of beer. He only liked sitting up front when the waters were smooth as glass.
To the west, we all saw it. Dark skies were rapidly moving east and in our direction. Marty sped up and Jack started to get nervous and said so. Jessica and I switched seats so she could help navigate and I sat beside Jack. Jessica was trying to get the GPS on her cell phone to work. “Let’s get back Marty. I don’t like the looks of that storm coming in,” she said calmly. Before she even finished her sentence fog appeared seemingly out of nowhere. I looked at Jack, a silly grin on his face, taking a sip from another can of beer. In seconds the fog covered the red boat and we could only see a couple of feet in front of us. Jack exploded, “Were all going to die.” I chuckled, “I fully trust Marty, and I think we are in capable hands. After all, Marty knows these waters and has been driving in the Gulf for over 15 years.” Jack’s face, reddened by the coastal sun from our few days of vacation, was now pale. He gripped the bar around the side of the red motorboat with one hand, his knuckles as white as his face, while keeping his other hand firmly around the beer can. “Marty, I don’t want to crash or die,” Jack voiced in a hoarse whisper.
I could see the side of Marty’s face: it was as pale as Jack’s. He said softly, “I’m not sure where we are. I don’t know if we are close to the Island anymore.” The swells and wind were lifting the boat in the air. We hit the water with a hard slap that shook the boat and lifted us from our seats. The fog was so thick I couldn’t see beyond the edge of the boat. Only then did I begin to wonder if maybe, just maybe we might be in trouble.
copyright Lee Hultin
Louis Epstein is a former international variety performer, comedian, dj, emcee, writer and game show host. He has been the national arm and VP of Marketing for Best Entertainers for 30+ years. He was also the VP of Communications for NACE (award winning chapter), MPI, ISES and now the Society of Talent and Entertainment Professionals.
Still at emergency clinic. Tonight, I had a long walk with Dottie and Tux. Then I had a long walk with Loki. 2 miles each so 4 miles when done. I had put Eddie G in the backyard and Loki in the living room. Loki hasn’t liked Eddie since Eddie attacked him about a year ago. I was picking Eddie G up to put hi in his room and Loki barreled through the door and pulled Eddie out of my hands. Dottie went to get in the middle. I put Dottie in the kitchen and tried to get Eddie who bit my fingers. I pulled Loki’s tail but that did nothing so then I stuck my fingers in Loki’s nostrils. He let go of Eddie and I laid on top of Loki. We, both panting. Me, exhausted. After a couple minutes I grabbed Loki and threw him outside. I couldn’t find my glasses anywhere so I looked for Eddie. He was cowering in his room. I felt his side and he bit me so I knew he was hurt. I called Vic and she came over and found my glasses on the floor where Loki grabbed Eddie from me. She wrapped Eddie in a blanket and took him to the civic. I let Dottie out of the kitchen, cleaned my wounds and went to the clinic. That’s when I noticed my pants had smeared dog poop and blood on my jeans. Fortunately old jeans that are going in the trash when I go home.
I left the Comedy clubs in 84 and except for a few bouts dance clubs in 86. I was the first guy out of the Comedy Workshop to do Corporate Comedy and since 82 have been nonstop doing music and comedy gigs for Corporate and private events.
Why am I saying all this?
I have heard both comics and DJ’s who can’t or don’t do corporate, private or cruises and they all sound alike. They all say to some extent, “ I know what I do best and no one is going to tell me how to do my act.”
It’s true. You do know what you do better, but your client may know things about the audience that you could use. And of course, sometimes they don’t but that’s my favorite part. Having to write 12 new jokes about the VIP’s and finding out a half hour before the show or having to riff for 10-15 about pipe fittings. That kind of adrenaline rush from the fear of blowing a big money gig is the kind of thing that has kept me from needing to go bungee jumping.
The difference between school and life? In school, you're taught a lesson and then given a test. In life, you're given a test that teaches you a lesson.
This is what life after a cancer diagnosis looks like for me - I’ve survived and lived to see my precious grandkids. I’m not sure what’s been more difficult , the initial diagnosis or learning to bob and weave with everything, which is now the new norm. It’s expensive. It’s exhausting. It’s something you wouldn’t understand unless you’ve been there yourself. It’s something you hope others don’t have to go through. So tomorrow, promise me you will make that appointment you have been putting off. Until there’s a cure, early detection is key. This isn’t just for the ladies. Last time I checked, men get cancer too. Don’t put it off any longer. The life you save may be your own! #Worldcancerday2019
It was like any other day, the day my father died. Oblivious to the crying and runny noses on the other end of the phone line, it seemed surreal, like the way talking sounds through the fog across a ship channel, muffled. With shaky voices, they talked of arrangements.
Voices repeated that he was really gone, as I tried to comprehend how I was supposed to act. And this huge sense of nothingness overcame me, like trying to stay adrift through a dark sea of bitterness and disappointment, blindly searching for an answer that is not there as I attempted to feel what they were feeling.
After the funeral, after the law books and business had been divided and before returning to the Island, my share of possessions resulted in a cardboard box filled with ships that my father had collected throughout his years, always on his credenza shelves in his law office collecting dust. Some metal, others bamboo, and even an oil painting in cobalt blues of a Spanish galleon tossed upon stormy seas.
The box went into the storage room of my old mobile home, in the place I stored things that I didn’t care to see. A junk room, cluttered with bird feathers and seashells, a rusty ironing board and old photographs of a life long ago known that had somehow changed so drastically to have tossed me here on this Island known as home for so long.
Home, such a strange word. How to define home? I was not born here but knew I belonged here. Here with the harsh Winters and a chill that reaches down the corridors of your heart, yet the ocean gave me comfort, like a warm blanket and a buffer between the world and me.
Until that day in August and a storm that drove in unsuspected, so only a few pair of clothing changes were taken as I loaded up for higher ground.
A week passed, holding my breath, stuck in a city with concrete and buildings that obliterated any chance of viewing a sunset. With an aching heart I returned, knowing that what was left might not be much after seeing video after video of first responders on social media, some of them close to my street but never my street exactly. Prepared for the worst, my feet trampled heavily through still wet and muddy ground, and a stench that was almost as unbearable as the mosquitos dive-bombed any flesh left uncovered.
My old mobile, what was left of it, lay on its side, white walls fallen like broken wings in the mud, weighted down by sewage and stinky mud. Everything was covered in a putrid brown color, the stench of rotting fish and seaweed halfway up the sides with wires exposed. Ironically, the kitchen shelves and dishes in the cupboards stood untouched, coffee mugs ready for a new morning and a new day. Searching through remnants for anything that might be salvaged, a few dead birds lay in awkward positions pointed the way on the saturated ground to where a book lay open. It was the only book found, Sue Monk Kidd’s The Invention of Wings, pages still damp, barely legible and opened to expose a line reading “Let not your heart be troubled. Neither let it be afraid”. And I started to cry. One of those long moaning cries that comes with the pain of letting go, and giving in.
Read the rest of this story in Corpus Christi Writers 2018.
copyright Neesy Tompkins
Olivia Noble is a writer, painter, and Humanities major at Yale University, and an erstwhile resident of Corpus Christi. She attended King High School and took English classes from Joseph Wilson.
Play the moth game, inspired by the short stories of V. Woolf. The game goes like this: walk around from room to room until you have enough dead moths to fill each hand, which comes to about a cup and a quarter in a standard glass Pyrex. Another word for a double-handful is a yepsen. This group of moths you’ve picked up is now your first friend.
Draw with a pinched-out match tip on the white bottom of your sink. Turn the disposal into an unblinking all-seeing eye. This friend is good for staring contests and quick moralizing glances. It will look at you until its lids become runny. (The disposal should not be a new friend. It is loud and old and eats too much.)
Anything can be a friend if you try hard enough. Two faucets running in different rooms are now in conversation. Sometimes it’s unwise to interrupt, but even on bad days you can always listen.
You can find them while you’re drinking your maple milk at the window. On the streets all of your new car friends have snub-noses, like cats. The Volvo can be a little distant but at least it’s direct.
Take off your shoes and arrange them in a clutter that you would never have left – oh, look, a friend must have kicked off their shoes in a hurry. It works, I promise.
Cut the bottoms off a few yellow pears and set them on their new stable bases. Look carefully for the bumps and brown marks that could be freckles, or even real dimples. Say, “I have missed seeing all your lovely faces!”
The moth collective is jealous now. Be on guard with your new friends. Their disapproval is a heavy thing.
One day you may wake up and find that the shirts on the clothesline are already such well-intentioned friends that you didn’t even have to clip them up yourself. Their pale cuffs tumble and wave from the lawn. Pour the rest of your milk, which is now too warm, over the side of the porch and into the hostas. They might be taking things a little fast, but who are you to object?
copyright Olivia Noble
Paul Gonzales is an award winning journalist for The News of San Patricio weekly newspaper as well as a filmmaker. His novella, I Wear My Sunglasses at Night, is available on Amazon. His novella, Once Upon a Time in Rehab, are being reviewed for publication. He is working on the second novel of his Koufax series while seeking agent representation. He spends what little free time he has with his wife and three children who live with him in Corpus Christi.
I heard the beeps first. Machines placed around me somewhere in the dark buzzed, whirled and wheezed. Then I felt the needles sticking out from my skin pumping fluids through my veins, all of them swollen. My skin was sore. My chest was separated under bandages and stitches and blood and exposed marrow and healing arteries and I wondered what color my blood was down in there. I imagined the highways of vessels crisscrossing under my chest plate turning the blue blood red as it was exposed underneath the still fresh wound splitting my chest in two even pieces, soaking up the stale hospital air. With eyes closed and hands still, I tried to feel around the room. Tried to sense someone or something. My ears listened. My nose sniffed. Eyelids twitched. Only machines and tubes that dripped and flowed and stabbed and the one that breathed for me. I had nothing else to do but sleep. But I didn’t do that.
I lay there staring out a window that faced another wing of the hospital. Dirty peach. That was the color I came up with. That was the color of the brick caked onto the ancient hospital. Nurse. Jell-O. New sheets. Dirty peach. For days that was it. I could hear the nurses whisper about my lack of visitors and how a bad heart at such a young age was such a shame. And I lay there thinking and looking out the window and listening to my new heart hammer on the inner walls of my chest.
When I got home I could see my neighbors peach tree from out of my bedroom window. Overgrown and filled with rotting peaches. He once asked me if I liked the fruit and I had told him no. So I watched the tree from my bed, my body still too weak to move about much, so alone in my house watching autumn transform the landscape, it was the same view. Rotting peach. That was the color I came up with.
There was a cake on the break room table already cut and missing pieces when I walked in. The boss and the other two employees leaned against the counter laughing and shouting, showering themselves with chocolate. They noticed me and offered some of my welcome back surprise cake. “Surprise!" I thought. “There’s still some left!”
My desk was almost bare except for my computer monitor and my pencil holder, which was the opposite of how I left it. Full. I was able to return to work as long as I took over Feather’s secretary position. She had gone into labor three days ago and still hadn’t blessed us with Rocko Firth Shapiro Warren. For some reason that’s what I figured its name would be, but I hadn’t paid attention enough to even know what the sex of the baby was. I just needed to get out of the house. My chest was still tight and sore so I couldn’t do any hard physical activities. Not that my former activities at the office could be anywhere near the realm of being called an activity much less be referred to as physical. So I sat and answered phones, took messages and from time to time I found myself staring out of the window facing the street. One minute I would be helping clients fill out forms, then the next I was watching the passersby scuttle across a cold, wet street through a foggy, ice covered window.
I blamed my lack of attention on the drugs I had long since stopped taking. And at night I felt like an old tin chamber in the shape of a man with warm coals glowing deep inside. It was a calming, lonely feeling. Then I began seeing places I hadn’t ever seen before play against the insides of my eyelids as I counted breaths in an effort to sleep. And they played on, even when I did manage to sleep. Street signs. Stores. People. All too real, familiar, yet alien. And when sleep eluded me and my eyes were open, images danced on the darkened ceiling and walls of my bedroom.
The doctor’s office was cold. The hard white sheet of what must be butcher paper was pulled across the examination table and wrinkled underneath me, making a loud rustling sound that filled the empty room. A nurse walked in.
“Everything seems fine,” she said through pale, dry lips. “Your body’s taking to the transplant quite well. Just don’t do any strenuous activities and don’t exert yourself too much.”
I nodded and began to button up my shirt. “Umm, excuse me nurse,” I said in a voice much lower than I had planned. She looked up from her clipboard. “Sometimes it feels like…well, my heart beats harder than I think it should.”
She lowered the clipboard to her hip. “After what kind of activities?”
I straightened up concerned. “When I’m just, like, driving or sitting at my desk at work. Even when I’m sleeping. It doesn’t hurt or anything, it’s just hard. Harder than usual. And sometimes loud. Is that normal?”
The nurse smiled, causing the corners of her eyes to make crow’s feet. “Oh yes, that’s normal. You’re just not used to your new heart yet. Some hearts have more muscle than others. Like people. Some more, some less. You must have gotten a strong one. But don’t worry sugar, you’ll get used to it. Oh, and don’t forget to sign out at the front. Thank you and have a good day.”
I got up to my feet and counted the thumps. Normal. It’s normal she said. But it felt hot and hollow down inside. Past the other parts that squeezed and pushed and filtered and breathed. The warm coals down inside the chamber pulsed like they were reaching and grasping out. I walked out with my fingers crawling across my chest trying to figure it. My thoughts rummaged through my innards like a lost explorer in a jungle. There was a voice. Louder and louder the closer I came to the exit.
I was called back in. I forgot to sign out.
The following day I found myself looking over city maps as they flashed on my computer screen from behind my secretary desk, studying the street names and memorizing the turns and landmarks. Some sounding strangely familiar, others completely new. Satellite images from space slid out of the printer and I poured over them as if I knew what it was I was looking for. I glanced up from the screen to the clock then back to the screen then back again as my fingers clacked away on the keys.
My boss stepped in and said he had a doctor’s appointment and that I would be left in charge for the rest of the day. I watched from my secretary desk’s window and waited for him to pull away in his fancy car before sending the phone calls to the answering service and grabbing my bag.
I began finding myself in places I hadn’t been before, but every step taken was increasingly familiar. I controlled only my eyes and mouth. My steps took themselves. Sometimes into alleys and back out again. Over sidewalks and across intersections. Sometimes surefooted, sometimes lost or confused. And after a day’s walk around foreign neighborhoods, following work usually, we’d mark our place and start from there the next day, my feet and I. Today our mark would be a street lamp.
I’d yank and curse like a mad man in the night until reluctantly my feet would give up control and we’d walk back to the car. Under highway lights and moonlit skies we’d drive back home. It had been a few days, almost a week now, but it was habitual. The relinquished control of bodily movements to uncover some meaning behind the walking and running and turning and pacing and stopping. Lungs pumping under my still newly imported muscle. That was it. The strings that pulled these marionette’s legs onward. It was the fist-sized core buried inside this cavity of bone and blood that drove my body through the streets. Wanting. Searching. Lost out there like myself.
My foot pressed down on the accelerator firmly. The street lamp marker flew by. My hands turned the steering wheel to the left and to the right. I managed to slow down the car a bit to at least maintain some sense of control over the situation before we killed ourselves, my heart and I. The maps and streets and blue colored roads and pixilated treetops passed before my eyes as my hands flipped blinkers on and turned corners and my feet pumped the gas and brake simultaneously, skipping and lunging in front of houses and apartment buildings and laundromats and record shops.
I just stared out the windshield, shrugging my shoulders, as crowded sidewalks stared back in confusion. Then my car veered into a parking space and screeched to a halt next to a meter with a brown bag placed over it. My chest felt as if was about to burst. Shotgun blast thumps pounded the insides of my chest plate. I tried to get out but my hands had fully turned against me and refused to release the wheel. My feet remained planted to the floorboard of the car. I watched out of the window as people continued to pass. I studied and browsed and stared as my chest exploded beneath the long vertical scar that ran down my torso. Something was here. This was my destination, but where was the X that marked the spot? What is it that brought me here? Seconds ticked past as my eyes bounced back and forth through the crowds. Was it a boy? A girl? A pet? A house? A car? A store? What?! My eyes refused to blink and began to burn red. Fingers gripped the wheel and sweat trickled down my brow. My pupils dilated.
Across the street, a girl holding a shopping bag with a large, crooked red X printed over some sickly models wearing barely anything, slid into view. My chest froze. My new heart was silent. My hands reached for the door handle. My eyes, engulfed in flames, studied her every move. Her walk. Her flowing hair. Her hands. Clothes. Nothing was familiar about her but her.
My feet stumbled over themselves and over the asphalt. My chest bounded me forward in unyielding steady pounds after the girl marked with an X. Cars honked and drivers yelled as I stumbled towards her like a drunk chasing booze, a bullet chasing its target. I had never seen her before but I could feel a connection bursting from within. So hot and boiling and bubbling and shifting. Waves were washing over inside me causing my skin to burn hot. She was on her steps now fishing for her keys with the bag sliding down her forearm. My eyes were focused beams. I bumped and shoved my way through the people littering the sidewalk, excusing myself without looking away from her. Their curses grew silent. Violent gestures blurred and faded. My hand reached out. My heart made its ways through the bones and tissue and pressed firmly against my skin. My feet stopped. I stood behind her as she opened her building’s door. My shoulders pumped forward viciously.
My hand reached out further and fingernails scraped old paint. The door had closed behind her.
My upper body stopped. My mouth open, yet silent. My eyes welled-up from the steam bellowing inside, searching for release. My breath came back rigid, thick and quick. My hand twisted the doorknob frantically. It didn’t turn.
But, from the other side of the door, a heavy thumping sound could be heard. Muffled but still audible. And my chest cavity lashed out a cry of hope. Blood rushed through my body at breakneck speeds causing color to leave my skin for a moment. I became a washed-out ghost pressed against a stranger’s door. A stranger who shared the same heartbeat I could now hear clearly as the pounding grew louder. Closer. Closer. Closer. And my eyes watched a blurred figure grow larger through the decorated glass.
Cautiously she drew herself closer. The explosions grew louder. And slowly the sounds fell into time with one another as the door creaked open. First a face. Eyes. Nose. Lips. Her deep red hair framing gorgeous features. Her torso pumped her forth, out of the doorframe onto mine like amazing magnets and our chambers connected beneath our sweaters. Smashing chests and meeting scars. A beautiful collision. Fire was everywhere.
And our lips met. She clawed my waist with wanting fingers. My hands gently cradled her face. The threads of our sweaters intertwined and knitted themselves into one. Their belts unbuckled and leather whipped about. Their shoelaces twirled below them like snake lovers crazy with lust. And her lips called and mine answered. Our beats finely tuned instruments in this two-piece orchestra bathed in flames and burnt foliage. Strangers here underneath the falling leaves of autumn.
I could feel her lips curl at their ends as they pressed against mine. Her chest kicking hard and violent against my own. Exchanging beats and thumps and pounds and pushes and pulls and explosions and pumps and pulses.
Our hearts meet once again.
READ MORE GREAT WRITING LIKE THIS IN CORPUS CHRISTI WRITERS 2018: AN ANTHOLOGY
Rebecah Hall was born in Pecos, Texas. She has 2 daughters and 3 grandchildren. She pursued a Communications degree at Black Hills University in Spearfish, S.D. After that she lived in the U.K. for 10 years and pursued a Masters and PhD in Creative Writing--poetry. She currently reside in Rockport, Texas (a Hurricane Harvey survivor) with her tuxedo cat, Jazz.
She's been writing poetry since the age of 9, and went through the typical teenage angst period. Her poetry began to mature at the age of 17. Presently, she addresses controversial topics more than the everyday. Her hobbies include photograpy and music.
So today, I noticed the toe of my left shoe had a blow out and my big toe was viewing the world with great astonishment. Having to buy shoes is a monumental feat especially because of my shoe size-- 6 1/2. My feet just couldn't have been a normal size 6 or even 7. Nope, we had to go for the in between stuff.
There I was in Wally World heading for the shoe department which normally consists of flip flops or faux leather shoes and some tennis shoes thrown in. ( I love sneakers.) I see a woman trying on shoes and she asks me what size I wear and I say 6 1/2. "Lord have mercy girl! (Girl???) I wear a size 10 and lookin' for boots." She was trying them on and flinging them off in all directions. I ducked and ran down the aisle to get away from the projectiles.
My heart sank when I looked at the offerings--size 6 and a jump to size 8. Nothing in between. I was frantically looking everywhere for a pair of sneakers and finally, my foot touched something on the floor peeking out from under a shelf. I pulled out a pair of black sneakers with little pink (or maybe orange) slashes on them.
Hallelujah! Praise God and Thank you, Jesus! They were a 6 1/2. The woman down the other side of aisle heard me and looked at me like I had lost my mind. I'm telling you straight that finding a pair of shoes in my size is near impossible. So, yeah, it was definitely a Thank you, Jesus moment.
I clutched those shoes tightly to my chest and caught myself almost kissing them before putting them in the basket. I headed up front singing praises on high all the way to check-out. Of course people were giving me a clear path, moving over to the sides looking at me very warily. Thank you, Jesus! Can I get a hallelujiah? Yeah, those folks were moving rapidly away.
I dodged a woman wearing pink pajamas with a green boa around her neck (which on closer examination was tree garland) slow dancing with herself to "White Christmas," which was playing in the background of all the noise and nonsense. Two toddlers were having a tantrum because their momma wouldn't buy them toys from the overstocked toy aisle. Christmas in a Wal-Mart store is not for the faint of heart.
I got to the register and lo and behold, that woman with her size ten boots got in line behind me. She wasn't nearly as thrilled as me. She wanted some boots that had gold frilly sashes and they weren't in her size. She was going to order a pair. I guess size 10 feet are a lot more common than my 6 1/2's but hey! I never fit in anyone's box anyway. So I'm still saying, "Thank you, Jesus!" and she's still looking at me like I've lost my mind, but I only lost half of it because you know . . . I can't do normal. Got checked out and wished the cashier a "Happy Whatever!" and escaped with my purchase before any other unusual person who might wear my size shoe could see them. They are sitting proudly now in a grey Wal-Mart bag just waiting patiently for tomorrow. Praise Jesus, Hallelujiah, I don't have to shop for shoes for another 2 years! Yee-Haw!
I worked in the cotton fields
of New Mexico
beside grandma and Rosa.
I dragged that heavy canvas bag
from one row to the next
pulling cotton from sharp bolls
that cut like knives
Rosa shared her
tortillas, rice, and beans
that were rolled tightly
and sealed in foil.
I shared my pbj.
And when we'd worked
from sunup to sundown,
Rosa slept in our cellar.
She said it was cooler down
there with the spiders
and other squiggly creatures
on an old army cot
that sagged slightly
and grandma would say,
and Rosa would laugh
like wind chimes in a breeze.
Rosa bought me gloves
to keep my hands from
bleeding on the cotton
and ruining it.
I bought her a crucifix
One day, I stumbled from the
bus and walked in to
see my grandma
her face wracked in pain
tears streaming from her eyes
and sobs choking her words
that hovered in her throat.
They took Rosa
and said she could never return.
The absence of her
laughter and joy of life
haunts my vaulted heart
as I remember shared food,
small gloves and wind-chime laughter
I was watching Brene Brown's show on Netflix today, A Call to Courage, (fabulous by the way). She said that being brave makes you vulnerable. I've been thinking about that simple statement for the last four hours. Then the penny dropped. Yeah, it does make you vulnerable—especially when you are speaking of the Arts.
Once a month, I attend an Open Mic here in Rockport. I read my work and applaud others on theirs. I think what really strikes me is that so many people don't realize that when you create and expose that creation to the world, just how vulnerable you really are. Every single time I read, I open myself up to criticism and negative remarks. So does every other artist. The moment art is displayed in any form, the artist then loses control over it. We are revealing not only our innermost thoughts but our hearts as well. It's easy for people to say, “I didn't understand what you were saying,” and then walk away. It's easy for the audience to bombard the artist with negative remarks. So, the artist must develop a thought process that says, “It's okay. It doesn't matter.” Yet, it does matter at some level. My dream is to change this world one poem at a time. I tackle the controversial because the voice within says, “Somebody has to.” It's an interesting progression. Giving birth to a poem, shaping it, fine-tuning it and then releasing it upon the unsuspecting world. I wouldn't trade it for the world. I want to provoke thought and discussion. I want people to remember just one line that may have resonated within them and helped them through a dark time or even through a life-changing event. It's not so much ego as a sincere love and hope that I might write something that helps that one person.
So, to all of my creative friends, don't feel alone. We are all in this one together. Maybe, just maybe, our time has come to storm the Bastille. Blessings. xxxx
I’ve been putting pieces together in the puzzle I refer to as my life. I had so much repressed anger for the first 40 years. Looking back at the time when I was diagnosed early on with Sjogren’s, I wonder how much that anger contributed to that disease—autoimmune—the body attacking itself. How much anger had I been forced to swallow as a part of the creation of it all?
The past few days, aside from working on my manuscript, I’ve been going back in time reading my journals. Every significant health event occurred after mismanagement of emotions. Is there a link? I think there must be. Here are some examples I am pulling out that refers more to the past few years.
After Hurricane Harvey hit: I am so angry about the loss of the tiny town I love so much. Side note: Every joint in my body just aches. I wonder if I will ever find what is wrong with me?
I am so frustrated today! I just can’t deal with news and talking heads speaking over each other and spewing hatred. Today the pain is at a 9. Ibuprophen isn’t touching it. I just want to cover up and pretend this day is not happening.
Today was a really great day! I stayed away from Facebook and read “The Immortal Diamond,” by Richard Rahr. I feel fantastic—better than I have in weeks!
Another good day! No pain, no angry voices speaking in the background, no politics . . . just Jazz and me listening to music and floating away on a peaceful cloud.
When I looked at that, I knew there had to be some truth to the statement that suppressed emotions are detrimental to our health. Bobbie made that statement yesterday when we were coming back from the doctor’s visit. Another E.N.T. who is honestly looking for the underlying issue causing vertigo. It might be Meniere’s.
Anyway, the whole thing boils down to not expressing feelings in a way that is constructive rather than destructive. Learning that I don’t have to take anyone’s opinion personally. It’s theirs, not mine. So rather than allowing knee-jerk responses and angry retorts, I have given myself permission to mentally say, “This isn’t mine to own or to argue. I will not accept negativity and allow it to damage me even more.” I’m not saying this is for everyone. Right now, it’s the only way I can cope.
And as an aside, I do believe the media is fueling the divisiveness in this country. I am not playing those games. I have enough to deal with and I am sure you do as well. Blessings xxxx
She is more than you can imagine in your wildest escapades or your careless littering of plastic.
She is more than the luscious gardens that feed you and give you dripping flowers which scent the air with non-duplicating smells.
She is more than the sidewalks and highways, the trails and paths cut deeply into her skin, the blasted tunnels through the mountains.
She is more than the pipelines desecrating her rivers and lands with their contents, or the spewing refineries vomiting their ugly fumes.
She is more than the towering buildings cutting the air with razor edges lining the landscape with artificial lights.
She is so much more than you know or recognize, She is your mother . . . mistreated and abused.
copyright Rebecah Hall 2016
Ron George is a retired newspaper journalist and research development officer at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. He taught journalism classes at Texas A&M University from 1999-2006 and has won statewide awards for comment and criticism. His newspaper career includes stints at the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, Houston Chronicle and Dallas Morning News. He was ordained presbyter in The Episcopal Church in 1976 but left pastoral ministry in 1982. He holds a doctorate in ministry (DMin) from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary and a master of divinity degree (MDiv) from Nashotah House Theological Seminary. He and his wife, Mary Sherwood, live in Corpus Christi. He writes for pleasure online at The Pelican Papers (pelicandiaries.wordpress.com). He and Mary enjoy long road trips, photography and spending time with five George children and seven grandchildren.
I hear the voice of Jesus on the Cross:
“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
I like to say I can’t help what I don’t know,
it’s not my fault,
don’t blame me,
if only I’d known.
Lets me off the hook.
Lets me off, Scot free.
I’ve never been so moved by an art exhibit as I was by "Gordon Parks: The New Tide, Early Work, 1940-1950" at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. -- frame after frame of images created from life, composed with deep care and concern, and not just for the black people but also for glam-fashion women, celebrities and, yes, film stars – Ingrid Bergman, most notably.
Parks didn’t take pictures; he made photographs – light writing images in silver halide media – and it was work to get it right. He must have made tens of thousands of images, but we see only the outcomes. It’s how artists work, by producing so much more than anyone ever will know in order to reveal whatever truth they’ve discovered and distilled from the mass.
That leaves most of us out, because it seems as though being an artist, doing art, is magnificently obsessive. When I say the reason I don’t or can’t write fiction is because I lack creative imagination, it’s also because I am not possessed by the urge to make creative words or photographs or anything else, for that matter. I’m a rank amateur who can take it or leave it. Given the opportunity, I’ll take it, but I’m not going to build my entire life around the making of art. Frankly, I wish that were so, but I know it’s not; and, you know, it’s not just the Deadly Sin of Sloth but personal disposition.
True artists are few and far between. There are many more aspirants and pretenders than there are those who work obsessively, who practice and are disciplined by their talent and who aspire to develop and grow into a kind of perfection called fulfillment – although, I’ve heard it said, that last bit seldom enters the true artist’s consciousness, because they themselves never sense that kind of completeness. There’s always more, and it seems beyond their reach, but they sally forth just the same, intrepid, even though they may not know where the path is leading – or when it will end.
Skoot is one of Corpus Christi's most prolific writers. He is a native Los Angelino, a musician, music critic and a Viet Nam veteran. He has also worked as a disc jockey, actor, speech therapist, stand-up comedian, behavioral counselor and streetcar conductor. His previous works include the Lars Lindstrom Zen-Jazz Mystery series, a black-humor novel about health care in America entitled “Apollo Issue,” and a political humor novel, “The Palestine Solution,” the King Irv fantasy series, and The Dave Holman Texas Detective mysteries. Skoot lives with his two cats, Miles and Dexter, in Rockport, Texas.
The Three Little 21st Century Pigs is from his book SKOOT'S FABLES
So I was watching television; the eleven o’clock news. I was about to switch it off, when they started a segment about a spate of recent burglaries in my area of Riverside County. “These particular thieves are pretty clever,” the pretty raven-haired talking head was saying. “They spend a few days watching houses for a pattern of lights going off and on.
“If it seems that the pattern is too routine, they take a closer look. So those elaborate timer systems on your lights won’t work on guys like these! Stay tuned for more.”
I’d already turned up the sound, and was anxious for more information, but the news report cut to a series of “adult themed” commercials. I’ve always thought these rude and nasty adverts had no place on the little box, but I was hanging on my seat, waiting for more about the recent home invasion robberies.
And suddenly, a dark-haired, bearded man with a loud obnoxious voice was telling me about “Beautiful Zelda SX-5000, the most life-like and anatomically correct inflatable partner money could buy. Available at adult bookstores, video rental and lingerie shops everywhere!”
Beautiful Zelda, I thought. She certainly did look real on my 21-inch screen. Was she realistic enough to fool a couple of criminal types gazing in my front window? She’d have to be pretty good, as my favorite recliner, the one facing the TVs flickering light, was less than three feet from my living room window’s glass.
I spent a restless night...
Once upon a harvest moon, there were three little pigs; A very conservative Fox News kinda pig, a moderate, middle-class type conformist pig, and a wigged-out, very vouty cool and free-thinking pig.
The first little pig was too lazy to build a house of his own. He bitched that the government wasn’t setting him up for an inexpensive place to crash and finally bought a clapped-out old single-wide mobile home in the woods, landscaped with worn rotting tires and discarded, rusting appliances.
The conformist second little pig bought a three-bedroom, two bath pad in a Levitt Town tract where all the houses looked so much alike he had to count the doors every night coming home to make sure he was walking into the right crib.
The very vouty third little pig built himself a mad pad on the beach out of baritone sax reeds and palm fronds with a hip little bar and multiple hammocks swingin’ free!
As the little pigs were settling into their Texas coastal life, a big bad wolf hitch hikin’ down with the snowbirds from Minnesota stopped off feelin’ hungry and unfulfilled. Unfamiliar with the territory, the big bad wolf cut east from the highway and started makin’ tracks through the dark circuitous oaken woods. After a long bit of a trapes, the wolf found himself in a ghetto-looking clearing filled with rusting junk, rotting tires and a big aluminum box covered with Kudzu vines, Texas flags and No Trespassing signs. The wolf approached cautiously, mounted the three rotting wood steps and applied his hairy knuckles to the rusting screen door.
“Who goes there?” thundered the frightened but macho pig. “Don’t you know you’re standin’ on private property? You’d better not be a Jehovah’s Witless or something, or I’ll blow you away!”
“It’s cool,” shouted the wolf. “I’m just here to check your meters.”
When the up-tight pig opened the door, the big bad wolf gave him a wide, saliva-dripping grin. “You look like a tasty pork morsel,” the canine creature told him. “I think I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your joint down… Then I’ll have me a sort of Cajon pork sandwich with extra jalapeños!”
The red-neck pig called for his kids to fetch him his shotgun, but the over-zealous pig kids came out too fast, tripping and letting loose with a blast that sent their daddy to that big pig sty in the sky.
Not wanting to be on the scene when the gendarmerie arrived, the big bad wolf legged it east toward the coast. After a long trot through the forest, the big bad wolf came on a tract of poorly constructed houses. Hoping to blend in with the low budget surroundings, the wolf strolled down the main drag, selecting a non-descript pad with a cheap Korean car in the drive and walking up to the door with a wolfish grin. He sounded the bell and hung back until a nervous little pig opened the door.
“I always try to be politically correct,” said the pig that answered the door. “But your presence here could be bringin’ down the property values. What do you want, and make it quick, before my neighbors see you here and think I’m a bleeding heart liberal or something!”
“I’ll come right to the point,” the wolf told him. “I’m starvin’, Marvin and I need a little roast pork. So I’m gonna huff and puff and blow your square little house down, and then I’ll make a three course meal of you and your piggy kin!”
The second little pig came on like a Kung-Fu master, layin’ all the moves he learned in self-defense class on the unsuspecting wolf. The wolf blew the pig’s house down, but not before the very square pig landed a shot in his wedding tackle and sent him off in great pain.
Limping east across the wet flood plain, the big bad wolf soon arrived at the beach, where he saw a smart little Tiki Hut near the water’s edge. Approaching cautiously, the big bad wolf circled the structure, sniffing the air for wolf traps. His olfactory senses were quickly filled with the scent of illegal weed and Patchouli oil. Hesitantly, the wolf raised his knuckles and laid a crisp paradiddle on the thin reed door.
A little pig in shades and a black beret answered his call. “Welcome my brother,” the porcine cat greeted him. “Glad you could fall on by!”
“Porque, Porky,” the wolf responded, “Ain’t you afraid of me?”
“Like, should I be?” the hip little pig questioned. “We’re all God’s children in this veil of tears.”
“But,” responded the wolf, “I intend to huff and puff and to blow your house down!”
“Crazy!” cried the cool pig. “Like I got an old tenor sax in here somewhere…”
“What about a reed?” queried the wolf without thinking.
“Are you kidding?” said the pig. “The whole house is made of reeds. Just pull one out and trim it down!”
“But I’m here to eat you up!” shouted the pig.
“Oh man,” said the pig with a serious face, “Don’t you know how bad pork is for you? It’s a genuine life shortener! Clog your arteries and give you those triggie-whatsis worms… Man, like this pork isn’t even organic!”
“I can dig that,” said the wolf, “But like I’m two days short of three squares!”
“No worries,” answered the pig, “we’ll send out for a pizza while we jam!”
“Too much!” said the big bad wolf. “Can we get extra anchovies?”
“If you can huff and puff like Prez,” the cool little pig told him, “You can have anything you want on it… Except pork…”
“Oh man,” the wolf told him. “Bacon was never really my thing anyway. Do you know Cool Blues in E-flat?”
copyright Skoot Larson