William Mays is the owner/editor of Mays Publishing. He co-wrote Escape from Sunny Shores with his wife and wrote George:The Lost Year. " His new novel "George: The Early Years" will be available soon. He edits the Corpus Christi Writers series. He is a nature photographer, and his book The View from Oso Creek is available. Another View from Oso Creek will be available this fall.
We used to have this yard man who drove a big truck like a furniture delivery truck and my wife and I ride adult trikes making us quite a sight in the neighborhood and they don't fit too neatly in the garage not having the slim footprint of a two wheel and I'm always struggling to position them between the weed eaters hanging on the wall so when I saw the yard man in line in front of us at the HEB I didn't recognize him but he was telling the checker that HEB was getting to be like the Wal-Mart and it sounded like a complaint and I finally recognized him and that night after a glass of wine my mind drifted and my wife and I were riding our trikes and then we took them back to the garage and I was trying to position the trike between the weed eaters but it wasn’t my trike it was the great big furniture delivery truck of the yard man and surprisingly I got it to fit which didn’t seem logical considering it was huge but I was happy that I could do it except that I needed to move my wife’s trike a few inches because of the weed eaters so I went over to do it and the big truck rolled out into the driveway and down the hill which is impossible since there is no hill this being South Texas which is flat as hell and the truck kept going and I ran to catch it which I almost did but I couldn’t jump into the cab because I wasn’t quick enough or agile enough and then it careened off over the edge of the creek bed and boy was I depressed thinking about how much the repairs were going to cost.
On a recent road trip, the GPS took us through 200 miles of small Texas towns. As a photographer, I'm attracted to blight and decay, and boy there was lots of it. I remember idyllic, inviting places with well-maintained houses. There were still plenty of those, but desolation dominated. Buildings, including churches, were boarded. Barns and houses were literally falling apart. Heaps of lumber and debris punctuated the landscape. There were toilets and rusting washing machines on porches. There were fences down and cars abandoned. Weeds completely covered a group of broken-down cars in a pasture. Houses were stranded at the end of flooded roads. Businesses were open but no one could park in the muddy, unpaved lots. Most shocking was a group of mansions that I remember from my childhood. Built when most Americans lived on the farm, they were testament to a glorious past, and had gone through a long devolution from residences to offices to rooming houses to abandoned, crumbling wrecks. Nature abhors a vacuum, so maybe falling land prices will attract people, and a new rural Texas with a different economic base will emerge.
(I wrote this years ago and then put it aside and moved on to another project. I can't remember what I had planned for the rest of the story.)
Der day fer der Shuetzenfest was gettin closer. All der good volk was gettin ready. They was cleanin their guns and loadin up their ammo and pacticin every night after they got in from der farming and ranching.
Herr Muller was in his barn with his favorite rifle. He was tired after a long day using a bedeezer on der goats cuz he couldn’t make no money on dem and was gettin tired of eatin cabrito so he figured he might as well not have no more baby goats. He had tried to get der city slickers that had moved in down der road to take some, but he had already fooled em twice on some other deals, and they was startin to wise up.
He looked out der big open window across der open field and gully to der property of his neighbor Herr Schmidt. He saw him walk out of his house with his rifle and head for der open field behind his house.
Schmidt was der reigning Schuetzenkoenig, and Muller always watched everything he did, particularly when it was gettin close to time for der Shuetzenfest. If it weren’t for Schmidt, Muller would be Koenig. Why didn’t der old fart just have a heart attack and die? Or maybe a huntin accident? As God fearin and church goin man as Muller was, he couldn’t help hopin somethin bad would happen to Schmidt.
As soon as Schmidt disappeared into der wooded area at der edge of der field, Muller took his gun and went outside. He walked across
So we used to have this yard man who drove a big truck like a furniture delivery truck and my wife and I ride adult trikes making us quite a sight in the neighborhood and they don't fit too neatly in the garage not having the slim footprint of a two wheel and I'm always struggling to position them between the weed eaters hanging on the wall so when I saw the yard man in line in front of us at the HEB I didn't recognize him but he was telling the checker that HEB was getting to be like the Wal-Mart and it sounded like a complaint and I finally recognized him and that night after a glass of wine my mind drifted and my wife and I were riding our trikes and then we took them back to the garage and I was trying to position the trike between the weed eaters but it wasn’t my trike it was the great big furniture delivery truck of the yard man and surprisingly I got it to fit which didn’t seem logical considering it was huge but I was happy that I could do it except that I needed to move my wife’s trike a few inches because of the weed eaters so I went over to do it and the big truck rolled out into the driveway and down the hill which is impossible since there is no hill this being South Texas which is flat as hell and the truck kept going and I ran to catch it which I almost did but I couldn’t jump into the cab because I wasn’t quick enough or agile enough and then it careened off over the edge of the creek bed and boy was I depressed thinking about how much the repairs were going to cost.
copyright William Mays
What rhymes with selfie
I do not know
Google will tell me though
Whether tis healthy or wealthy or mayhaps stealthy.
So prithee do tell me
Tales of Lost Lenore
Who will be never more
Whilst I ponder Shelley and Boticelli and Machiavelli.
For me truth is not in a belfry
My hearts in the highlands
Where my soul understands
That I must faithful to my own selfie be lest the world overwhelm me.
But perhaps this is what hell may well be
And the way the world ends
With colliding conflicting individual trends
And a chaos of Jelly Chelsea Delhi Belly Deli Sell Me Adelphi.
copyright William Mays
There was too much plenty, ham and turkey and numerous trimmings, and the refrigerator runneth over. Then some made a pilgrimage to Premont, and bought bad gas at the convenience store. There was much gnashing of teeth on the side of the road and roadside assistance was not available on Thanksgiving evening and the insurance company would not cover bad gas. But the people converged, people willing to work, people who understood cars. They raised the car onto a trailer and drove it back to Corpus Christi and unloaded it. With great effort they pushed it a block to put it in position for the tow truck in the morning. And when it was done, the people were hungry and so late at night the turkey and ham and trimmings were eaten and lo there was enough to feed them all.
I had a dream, which started out pleasantly enough. I was in downtown Corpus Christi, but it was more crowded and hectic than CC, like a much bigger city. I enjoyed the activity and the crowds, and I saw some old friends in a diner named Delk's, but they didn't recognize me, and that made me sad. Everything was so picturesque, I was upset that I didn't have my camera, and I got a little lost in the unfamiliar streets. A helicopter flew low overhead, and I followed it to a strange neighborhood. They were tracking a lion, and they killed it, although it turned out to be a coyote. That upset me. I realized I had lost my leather jacket, and I went back and found it. By then it was almost dark, and I was lost in a strange neighborhood, unsure where I'd parked, with stray dogs nipping at my heels.
In the time of covid it was foretold that TP would replace gold and the dollar as the world reserve currency, but that prophecy never came to pass, so it seems odd that I am surrounded by toilet paper, but I think it’s just that the relentless assault of political news is driving me crazy, and I’m thinking how can I make it to Novermber 3rd, how can I make it, so I was happy to see articles on the divorce of Johnny Depp and Amber Heard pop up in my news feed, especially the delectable comment, under oath evidently, that Amber Heard was telling "Porkie Pies," and I didn't know if that was slang for lies or if it referred to Porky Pig or perhaps to some sort of casserole with which I was unfamiliar, but it didn't matter, it was manna from heaven at that point, but that story faded from the feed, and I am left, in the Zen-circularity of life, floating down the lazy river at Schliterbahn, with toilet paper of all sizes, some rolls as big as me, some rolls the size of a spool of thread, all floating along with me and miraculously not one roll getting wet, and I am wearing the black snorkel and mask I bought before the plague closed every lap-swimming place in the world, and I wonder how civilization can survive without movie theaters with $8 tubs of buttered popcorn, and that's when I understand that I did succumb to the plague and I'm not at at Schliterbahn, that these are my last seconds on earth, and the fentanyl is easing me down the River Lethe toward the maw of eternity, and my neurons are firing off memories which float around me along with the TP: dew-covered blades of grass, snow on Mount Rainier, a Hammerhead shark on Bob Hall Pier, my wife and children at the San Antonio Zoo, the first day I drove to my new job in 1981, the old Mustang with the brakes going out and me pumping and pumping them to no avail and hitting the other car broadside, the time I slipped on the white ceramic tile in the kitchen and hit the refrigerator with my head and left a dent, on the fridge not me, and the dent remained and my wife and kids and I periodically laughed about it, and the time my father brought me the present for my fifth birthday, and he parked across Carancahua Street, which was two-way back then, a residential street, not a thoroughfare, and I watched him walk with the package and hand it to me and walk back and it was the last time I would ever see him although I didn't know it at the time, but I knew the gift was a toy, and it was a circus set with rubbery-plastic figurines of lions and tigers and trapeze artists and I was so happy and I played with it every day until I set the figurines too close to the space heater and they got all melted and deformed and everyone looked for a replacement set but there were none to be found, and as I hear the roar of the falls getting ever louder, I know that whatever's on the other side I'll never again have to worry about toilet paper.
The GPS tells the truth about politics. As a lifelong Devotee of the Map, I have dog-eared atlases with countries that don't exist anymore. For a weekend jaunt, I might have spent weeks if not months poring over the hallowed pages. Topographic, political, physical, climate, economic, and thematic maps, yeah, I owned them all. So, sure, I was none too happy when the even-toned Google Lady appeared on the scene to tell me I'd made a wrong turn. Our daughter has a video of me arguing with GL, proof positive that while I cheer for globalization and modernization, I am none too thrilled when the macro forces brush up against my sacred cow, and I must accept the fact that I might be a Luddite.
GL and I have achieved rapprochement. When going from big city to big city, there are long sections of Interstate, so she doesn't have much to say, and that suits me fine. There might be towns and people below me as I move past at 80 mph, but they might be simulacrums. Things get complicated when you get off the beaten path, and you need help. Once you accept GL’s assistance, you are stuck with her. You have no idea where you are or how to get to where you’re going. A funny thing happens, though. She takes you through places you’ve never seen or heard of. You see America as it was a hundred years ago when people lived on the farm, and small towns were economic and cultural centers. It is hauntingly beautiful and evocative of a glorious past. There are houses with broad verandas, and you can imagine people sitting on them in the afternoon. You want to buy those places and sit on those porches, but decay creeps in everywhere. Even the well-maintained places struggle against it. If decline is not next door, it is down the block. Buildings, including churches, are boarded. Barns and houses are literally falling apart. Heaps of lumber and debris punctuate the landscape. There are old toilets and rusting washing machines on those beautiful broad porches. Fences are down, cars abandoned. Weeds completely cover broken-down cars in a pasture. Houses are stranded at the end of flooded roads. Businesses may be open, but no one can park in the muddy, unpaved lots. And how can a hundred antique stores on a five-mile stretch of farm-to-market road stay solvent?
Most shocking are places you might remember from twenty years ago. Grand old mansions hearken back to a period of importance, but they have gone through a long devolution from residences to offices to rooming houses to abandoned, crumbling wrecks. As you see the desolation, it's easy to see how people might be swayed by someone telling them that he's going to make it great again.
Nature abhors a vacuum, so maybe falling land prices will attract people, and a new rural Texas with a different economic base will emerge. Retirement villages may spring up that offer cheaper prices—and jobs to the locals. With Zoom and other technologies, people can work from those beautiful old houses. A two-hour drive to big-city-center once a week for a meeting may be all that is needed, and businesses in city-center may run cheaper with such a business model. If sushi restaurants and barbecue places can learn to coexist, things might get better.
The rain tapping on the tin roof made John’s hand tremble, and he struck the nail off-center. It bent instead of going into the paneling. He cursed, yanked it out, and snatched a Marlboro from the flip-top box in his pocket.
The tapping grew louder, no longer intermittent, the droplets bigger. Trembling more, he pulled the silver lighter from his jeans. A gift from Jenny, the only remaining memento, it was cool and calming and so small in his big, calloused palm. He flicked it open over and over, timing the clicks so that they were like a musical accompaniment to the rain.
Darrin, the skinny blond kid, and his friend stopped to look at him. They were installing shelves in the built-in bookcase on the opposite side of the study. Their phone played awful music. How far down had John sunk that he had to agree to let these two punks help him in this job?
Far, he told himself, laughing as he lit the Marlboro. The flame was bright and high. The lighter fluid smelled good. The trembling subsided, and he took the smoke deep into his lungs to calm himself.
For the first time, Darrin noticed how dark the sky had become. “It’s a good thing we’re working indoors,” he said with a smirk to his friend, and then looked over to John. “Don’t you think so, cowboy?”
Darrin always called him “cowboy,” and it really pissed John off. It was bad enough that he was no longer able to get work as a master carpenter and that he had a bottom-of-the-barrel job putting in paneling and sheet rock in the country homes of rich people he would never meet, but now the damned contractor had stuck him with two worthless city kids who made fun of him all day and played rap music.
Worst of all, Darrin—clean cut, blond, privileged, working this job only to appease his wealthy father who wanted his son to get a taste for hard labor—looked like Jenny’s lover. He wanted to bash his head in with the hammer. Hadn’t the contractor told him that John was a nut, and that it wasn’t a good idea to harass him?
John ignored the taunt. He needed the work. He didn’t need trouble.
But the rain grew louder, and rain bothered him.
It had rained the day he and Jenny made love for the first time. He was seventeen and had just gotten a job as a carpenter on a big apartment complex. The sky was a clear blue, but thunderclouds were forming in the distance, and he and Jenny drove up to their favorite spot overlooking the valley. The clouds covered the sky. The lightning was like a fireworks display. The rain smelled clean.
“There’s never been anyone else for me but you,” he’d said. “Ever since we were little, you’ve been the only one.”
“There’s never been anyone else for me either.”
It grew dark, but each flash of lightning illuminated her face.
Darrin was still waiting for him to acknowledge the taunt, so John fixed them with the vacant, lifeless stare that seemed to look through both of them. It was his defense against the world, his pretense that he did not notice or did not care about what people thought about him, his way of evading the world that constantly enraged him.
He finished his Marlboro and stubbed it out so hard in the empty paint can he used for an ashtray that the cigarette paper split open and the curly shreds of tobacco popped out. Some of it stuck to the side of the can. Some of it fell to the bottom. Even the tougher paper around the filter split to reveal the stained fiber inside.
The only thing that made him happy was carpentry. As bad as life was, he had that. It was what gotten him through prison. He picked up his straight edge and carefully measured the distance from the corner of the room to the paneling he had to nail into place. There was a slight difference between the measurement at the top and at the bottom, but he knew the problem was not with his work. The problem was in the framing.
So many things could go wrong in framing, and he recited them to himself in liturgical fashion. Not following a continuous 16-inch or 24-inch layout. Not using a framing square for layout. Not using straight plates. Placing studs on the wrong side of the layout mark. Studs not nailed flush with plates. Not nailing flush on all surfaces. Not nailing exactly flush where pieces come together. Not squaring the wall. Not having enough people to lift and hold the wall in position while bracing. Not nailing braces securely. Not overlapping at corners.
Suddenly, there was a flash of lightning directly above them. The brilliant white light poured through all the windows. A fraction of a second later, before the unearthly light had even dissipated, a deafening thunderclap shook the sturdy stone house.
The ceiling lights flickered and went out. The dark sky enveloped them, and hail pounded the tin roof like an artillery barrage. Several hailstones hit the windows and left BB size holes with long spider web cracks spreading out from the center.
John went to a window. Pea-size hail covered the ground like there had been a snowfall. A little rivulet had formed in a low spot near the house, and the water was rushing down to the Pedernales River a hundred yards away.
The rain came down the day Jenny left. It had started at the construction site, and when the foreman told him to knock off and leave early, he had grabbed his tools and jumped in the truck. He set his hammer on the seat. There was a car in front of his house that he’d never seen. A man waited in the front seat, the windshield wipers flapping. Jenny was running out of the house with a suitcase. She was getting drenched, and the man got out of the car and helped her. They both looked at him, and he knew instantly what was happening.
“Jenny, wait,” he yelled, jumping out of the car.
She didn’t stop. She jumped in the front seat. The boyfriend threw the suitcase in the back and ran for his door.
John ran up to him. He held the hammer, although he didn’t remember picking it up. “I don’t want no trouble,” the man said.
John swung and hit him in the shoulder. The man opened the door and jumped inside. John smashed the door with the hammer, left a great big beautiful dent. He was about to smash the glass when the car sped away. The rain kept coming down, and he sat on the ground and waited for the police.
Someone was yelling at him, and he realized it was Darrin. The words were a jumble, like someone talking in a foreign language, but slowly he understood.
“Cowboy, what’s wrong with you! Don’t you hear me! What do you think? It’s already starting to flood. There are a lot of low spots on the road out of here. Think we might get flash flooding? Should we run for it or stay put?”
John’s anger crackled like the lightning. His eyes flashed open, the blood pulsed in his temples, he gulped air into his lungs, and his chest heaved up and down.
“Let me tell you something, you little punk. Quit calling me cowboy or I’ll beat your face in! I’ll break you in half!”
What really pissed him off more than anything, though, was that damned phone wouldn’t quit playing music. He had the hammer in his hand, and he walked over to it. With one full swing he smashed it to pieces. They flew in all directions. Resistors and transistors, and who knew what the hell all the pieces were called. Oh, how that felt good. He laughed so hard he had to hold his sides to keep from hurting.
Those two boys were gone, out in the rain, out to their car and down the road.
John walked down the long hallway that led to the front of the house. It was dark until a bolt of lightning bathed him in an eerie white light. The shadows of his arms and legs and the hammer were long and grotesque.
The hall opened into a huge living room as large as John’s whole apartment. He walked up to the large picture window and looked out at the winding cement driveway that sloped down to the narrow river road. The water lapped over the driveway at a low point. There would be flooding on the road.
The house needed to pay. He went from one room to the other. He knocked out all the windows. The glass shattered. Shards fell on the floor, crunched under his boots. The rain blew in. Leaves and small branched blew in with it. He moved to the kitchen and smashed the refrigerator and stove, smashed the paneling.
Last, was the front door. For that, he needed his screwdriver. As the rain and hail pelted him, he unscrewed the hinges. Slow and methodical. When he finished, he kicked the door out in the driveway.
The water rose. It carried the door away. It crept into the house. It was all around him. He sat on the floor and waited. Finally, it reached him.
Sam, feeling more desperately bored than normal, scanned the long curving rows of the stadium. He hoped to see something new, something different. No luck. Above and below, to his left and right, the rows, all crowded with people, stretched as far as he could see, seemingly to infinity, blurring together at the extremities.
In front of him there was nothing. The other side of the stadium – if there was another side – was too far away to be seen. The sky – if it was sky – was clear, not blue or hazy or cloudy, nor was there a breeze or a smell.
“Maybe we should start again?” he asked Chen.
Chen sat next to him. They had recounted their lives to each other many times in great detail. That was the only way to beat back the ruthless monotony, but they had told the stories so many times that they were no longer interesting. There were things Sam hadn’t divulged, things he didn’t want to admit. His life hadn’t been perfect. Whose life had? Why should he talk about the bad stuff?
After what might have been hours, Chen answered. “There is something I’ve never mentioned.” He spoke only Mandarin, but it sounded like English to Sam. Likewise, Sam spoke only English, but it sounded like Mandarin to Chen. “An American movie. Dirty Harry. My wife and I went to see it a theater.”
Sam had seen that movie too. It was one of those things he didn’t want to mention.
“I was starting my own business when I saw it,” Chen said, his voice trembling.
Sam too had seen it when he was starting his business. He and Chen had been born at almost exactly the same time, married at the same time, and both their wives had died of cancer at about the same time. Sam had always assumed there was some reason the two of them had wound up next to each other, and perhaps the reason was about to be revealed.
An angel interrupted them. It appeared to their left. Merely a white blip at first, it drifted steadily in their direction. They flew by every so often, but Sam had no idea how often. There was no night or day, no sun or moon, no change whatsoever, nothing by which to gauge time.
Everyone in their row and the adjoining rows, turned to watch. What else was there to do in the stadium?
This one looked like a boy, clean-shaven, soft, but with a defined jaw, wide mouth, and pronounced cheekbones. Did that mean something? It slowed as it neared them. Was it his time for some final, horrible judgement? Or Chen’s? How would he ever pass the time without Chen?
It stopped in front of the woman on Sam’s right. She and Sam had never spoken. She talked only to the man to her right. They spoke a language like nothing Sam had ever heard with lots of clicking and popping sounds, like insects. She was black with short-cropped hair, rather young-looking, and he was old and tall with pale skin. The angel pointed its finger at her. She screamed and tried to escape, but that was impossible. No one could leave.
Her clicking became frantic. She grabbed for the pale man, and he reached for her. Their fingers came close, but never quite touched. She chattered to him, and he responded, and then she was gone. No cloud of smoke, no poof, no sound. Simply gone. And there was a man in her place. He was old and wrinkled, and he and the pale man talked in that annoying clicking language. It was as if they had known each other forever. The memory of the woman slipped from Sam’s brain. He tried to retain it, pressing his eyes tight shut, visualizing her face. The image slipped away, though. He opened his eyes, not remembering why he had shut them. The old, wrinkled man and the tall, pale man were talking, as they always had.
More time passed. Hours? Days?
“I guess we have to talk about the movie,” Sam said. “I loved it because I thought of myself like Harry, a tough guy who got things done. I can remember that night as clear as anything in my life. I’d had a fight with my wife. She wasn’t even my wife yet. It looked like we were going to break up. I didn’t want to marry her. But her father had offered to help me in my business, and I felt I would never be a success without him. So, I called her, and we went to the movie, and got married a few months later.”
Chen shuddered “That’s exactly the way it worked for me. I didn’t want to marry my wife, but her father would help me with my business. I called her up, and we went to the movie, and got married a few months later.”
“We saw it on Christmas Day,” Sam said. “We went to the last showing. At ten at night.”
“We saw it the day after Christmas. At eleven in the morning.” He got a funny look on his face. “With the time zone differences between us, that means --.”
“-- we saw it at exactly the same time!” they said in unison.
An angel moved steadily toward them. The face was clearly defined. A young woman. Yes, it was her. What he had feared. He had been trying to remember her name ever since he died, but he couldn’t.
She pointed at him, and he found himself floating alone in a blue ether. A blinding light hurt his eyes, yet the pain was almost welcome since it was the first thing he had felt since he died.
“Sam,” a Voice called out to him. It came from no particular place. It might have even been coming from inside his head. Was this the time of Judgement? The Voice didn’t sound God-like though. It was a bit nasally, and had a rather pronounced Texas drawl. And there was a lot of background noise. People talking, phones ringing. Like a boiler room.
Sam put his hand up to shield his eyes. “Where am I? Is this hell? Purgatory?”
“Do you think you could explain algebra to a cockroach?”
“No, I couldn’t do that.”
The bedroom of his house materialized. It looked the way it had early in their marriage. His wife came into the room, her white bathrobe around her. She was young, and he was struck by her beauty, so unlike the bitter drunk she became.
“I will not go to the party,” she screamed.
He too looked young, virile, and handsome. “You will go.”
“No, I will not! I will not pretend anymore. Never again.”
“Be quiet. The children will hear. The neighbors will hear.”
Her voice grew louder. “I don’t care who hears!”
He grabbed her by the collar and slapped her. “Shut up.”
She started crying.
He slapped her on the other cheek. “If you don’t go, I will divorce you. I don’t need you or your father anymore. Don’t disobey me. You will regret it.”
The fight drained out of her as she sank onto the bed. He still held onto her collar. The sash came undone and the robe slipped loose.
What pleasure to dominate and destroy a human being. It’s what he had lived for. Like the time he demolished his boyhood friend. His office materialized around him.
“It was my idea, Sam!” his friend yelled. “You stole it from me. You’re going to make a fortune. I deserve a share. There’s enough for both of us.”
It wouldn’t have hurt Sam to toss a few crumbs to his friend. But what fun would that be? “You get a paycheck. Take it or leave it.”
His friend turned red in the face. “From the beginning everything was my idea.”
The greatest pleasure came from stringing the con out as long as possible, so Sam decided to play one more trick on him. “Sure, I’ll take care of you. Don’t worry.”
The fool believed his lie. As soon as he left, Sam called the police and said his friend had threatened to kill him. What pleasure when they came and arrested him and everyone stared. He had destroyed two human beings. Well three, counting the young woman whose name he still couldn’t remember.
The office disappeared and Sam floated in the ether. He felt the warmth of the sun. The light dimmed to the reddish shade of a sunset. The pleasing aroma of the sea filled the ether. A cool sea breeze caressed his face. Then a foul smell, like rotting fish, floated in on the breeze, the stench growing worse and worse, waves of nausea overtaking his body. He’d never experienced anything so miserable. The boredom of the stadium would have been better.
The nausea stopped.
“Have you had time to contemplate your actions?” the Voice asked.
Did his entry into heaven depend on the right answers? He’d always been good at bullshit. “Yes, I have, and I decided I was a sinner.”
“So, you are repenting?”
“Yes, I am.”
He was in the back seat of the car with the young woman, but he still couldn’t remember her name. He lied to her, of course. Told her he’d help her if she got pregnant. Told her she could trust him. And she believed him. What ecstasy to con someone so completely.
Eight and a half months later, on Christmas Day, he and his wife-to-be were at the movie theater, standing in line to buy popcorn. The young woman appeared at the end of the line. She was pregnant, very pregnant. When she saw him, she wobbled on her feet and fainted. Sam paid for the food and raced away, yet he couldn’t help looking back for one last pleasurable gaze at her on the floor.
The vision faded.
“Sometimes things are set in motion,” the Voice said. There was loud music in the background. And laughter. Were they having a party? Someone was singing “All My Exes Live in Texas” in a really bad voice. Was it Karaoke night in Heaven?
“You can’t blame me for being strong. For being aggressive. For doing what I had to do to survive.”
The pleasing aroma of the sea filled the ether. The light dimmed to a reddish shade. Waves gently crashed into shore. Gulls cawed. His skin tingled as unseen fingers moved across his back and chest. A woman was massaging him. He couldn’t see her, but her breath was hot on his cheek. Then, he felt the stubble of a beard. It was a man! The fingers became knives, cutting him over and over, going deeper and deeper. He screamed, expected to see blood all over his body, but there was nothing, not even marks on his skin. The knives became burning hot pokers. Flames engulfed him, choking smoke clogged his lungs. Surely, he was in hell.
When the pain finally subsided, there was nothing. Endless time, and no way to count it. He started telling the story of his life to himself, as if he were talking to Chen. He included all the omitted scenes. Then he started telling himself Chen’s stories. He had heard them so many times it was if they were his stories. A funny thing happened. He began including scenes Chen had omitted, scenes Sam had no way of knowing anything about. They were nearly identical to Sam’s omitted scenes. What was going on?
“One more thing to show you,” the Voice said.
“What is this? A Christmas Carol?”
“Is that a made-for-TV movie?”
A teenage girl appeared in front of him.
“That is your daughter, Sam.”
She walked down a dark alley in a rundown neighborhood. Two-story brownstones lined both sides. A garbage can had fallen over and rats were eating the contents. She stepped around them and followed an emaciated man with scraggly, long hair up a long, narrow staircase to a room where people were shooting up drugs. When she shot up, her eyes rolled up in their sockets, and she collapsed.
“What’s wrong?” Sam asked, panicked.
“Your daughter died at the age of eighteen from a drug overdose.”
He started crying. “That’s horrible.”
“You don’t know how horrible. She was a brilliant young girl. The algorithms indicate that with even a little child support from you, she would not have fallen prey to drugs. She would have become the President of the United States. She would have brokered true peace in the Middle East, and presided over a period of unprecedented world prosperity. She would have been considered the best President in American history.”
“What can I do to make things right? I’ll do anything. Give me a chance.”
“It doesn’t work that way. The algorithms are inflexible. It’s all mathematics.”
“So what’s going to happen to me?”
“Hard to say. There are a lot of irrational numbers, expansions that neither terminate nor become periodic.”
Sam didn’t understand at all, but suddenly he found himself back in the stadium again next to Chen, and he didn’t care anymore. He couldn’t wait to once again tell the story of his life, except this time it would be a different story. He thought of all the things he wished he’d done or said, all the missed possibilities. He would invent the ideal life, including the story about his daughter who became President. He could change it around each time he told it, adding scenes, deleting scenes. That would make it endlessly interesting. He was happy for the first time since he died.
“Hello Chen, how are you?”
Chen responded with lots of clicking and popping sounds, more like the sounds an insect would make than a human. Sam screamed so loud that even the people five and six rows up turned to look. He kept screaming, his voice never getting hoarse. Finally, though, he grew bored with the screaming and sat silent.
Hot. Sidewalk cracked. SkyLink overhead clanks past. Point zero zero zero three Realcoin™ for Truesnack™ at the sidewalk cart, a really good deal, and I really need it, but my bank balance is negative, a result of that unfortunate biomechanical investment in my retirement account.
Nothing left to do but go back to Bucky. Keep walking. It’s been a year since I’ve been there, and the buildings rise fifty stories, all exactly the same, but the route is saved in my GPS. Broken plastic crunches under my Ughs. My Glass shows high mercury, temperature rising to one o five. Got to get out of this corrosive air.
Elevator crowded, real lowlifes, Kinks, Growbies, Christians, and a few Hybrids like me. Bucky lives in the penthouse on the forty-ninth, great view of the other buildings, great if you think monochrome buildings look great.
Bucky looks the same as he always did. One blue eye. One brown eye. Teeth filed to a point. The only difference is the big hoop left ear, the latest style, Bucky always had style.
He leads me down the hall to his lab. A bunch of Christians, big crosses hanging around their necks, are putting Truesnack™ in little vials. Bucky looks at me.
“Why did you leave?”
“I wanted to try to make it on my own.”
“You are a Hybrid.”
“I wanted more.”
“You didn’t leave a forwarding address.”
He makes me sit in the Chair and holds the Manual up to me.
“Do you swear your allegiance to the hive?”
He unscrews the cap to my port and pours a vial of Truesnack™ into it. Right away I feel better. He holds a mirror up to me. My Softskin™ still looks too much like plastic, too white, too shiny, but I hope it will get better, will look more human. He puts the probe on my fingertip, and for a second all the vitals look good, but the microcharge doesn’t hold on my re-valve.
He shakes his head. “I’m going to have to reboot you. It’s been too long since you had a good dose of Truesnack™.”
I should have expected it, but you’re never really prepared for reboot. He puts the helmet over my head, and the lights are pleasant, soothing, ultimately narcotic, and I drift toward sleep. There is no guarantee that my memories will survive, in fact many may not, except in some mangled form like a series of dreams, disconnected, unable to be assembled in any meaningful way. It is crushingly sad, but that’s what it means to be a Hybrid. All I know is that I will be able to think. At least I think I will be able to think.
Originally published in Realms of Possibility
In this middle novel of the Saga of George trilogy, George drives a car load of marijuana from Austin to Chicago. When he arrives in Chicago, he is supposed to marry a girl he's never met in order to avert a mob war. He runs afoul of police and a deranged cowboy, discusses the meaning of life with a junkie, and meets three beautiful women and a Cherokee Indian. He encounters plagues of termites, snakes, and rats. No matter what he keeps on going. All the while, his enemy plots to kill him at a hippie commune
𝑇ℎ𝑒 𝐺𝑒𝑜𝑟𝑔𝑒 𝑇𝑟𝑖𝑙𝑜𝑔𝑦 chronicles the life of George, a Greek-American born into a shady family. He loves Kelly, a girl, he met in the park, but his family has other plans for him.
𝐺𝑒𝑜𝑟𝑔𝑒: 𝑇ℎ𝑒 𝐸𝑎𝑟𝑙𝑦 𝑌𝑒𝑎𝑟𝑠 is setin the late 1960s. George realizes he doesn't have to be bound by tradition. Here's an excerpt
George looked out the living-room window. Finally, Lazarus returned. Where had he been? His hotel room? Unlikely.
The men went out on the porch to drink retsina wine and sing the old songs, and they insisted that George join them. It was his first time to sit in the circle of men. The balmy night air enveloped them. The full moon cast a bright light. What a sight for the neighbors, who peeked out their Venetian blinds.
Uncle Nick strummed his bouzouki. While he loved all things Greek, he loved nothing more than his bouzouki with its long neck, rounded body, and steel strings. He rarely brought it out. Only for special occasions.
Pano pulled a school photo out of his pocket and handed it to George.
“This is Maria,” he said, like he was handing him an icon. “I have chosen her to be your wife.”
She was definitely pretty, but not as pretty as Kelly, and she definitely looked young, like a child. George didn’t dare complain.
George passed it to Nick. “She’s beautiful,” Nick said, slathering on the praises like he was spreading butter real thick on a piece of toast. “You’re lucky to get a girl like this for a wife. This is the girl for you. Pano has chosen the perfect wife.”
It made its way around the circle, each man nodding approval, and then they launched into the old song about Harry, the reluctant bridegroom, although they changed the name to George. “Come on, dear Georgie," Nick sang. "We want you to get married so we can eat and drink and dance.”
“He doesn’t want her,” Lazarus sang in perfect Greek. How fucking annoying was it that the convert spoke Greek so well
“He will take her!” Nick sang.
Pano sang George’s lines. “Let’s talk about something else, guys. Hey, you can’t force me to get married!”
Nick responded. “Stop talking and whining, good ol’ Georgie who doesn’t want to get married. Think it over, Georgie, and talk logically. And I’ll make you take the wedding ring.”
As the wine swirled around George’s head, he closed his eyes and imagined himself in a taverna where sweat glistened on the dark skin of belly dancers. The words and songs swirled around him, a bewildering mix of Greek and English, verbs and nouns.
When they finished singing, they talked business in hushed voices...
William Mays is a writer/photographer/editor. He writes mafia novels. His most recent novel is GEORGE: THE LOST YEAR. He also co-wrote ESCAPE FROM SUNNY SHORES with his wife Carl Mays. His photography is available in THE VIEW FROM OSO CREEK. Two new books of photos will be available in 2020, as will as a new mafia book, GEORGE: THE EARLY YEARS.
“Dirty Old Man”
William M. Mays
All my life I was young, but then suddenly I became old. It happened when I flirted with a pretty young woman in the salty-snacks aisle at the grocery store
“These restaurant-style tortilla chips are really tasty,” I said.
“Please, go away, grandpa,” she said.
Mortally wounded, I hobbled home and looked at myself in our bathroom mirror. What a shock. I had gray hair. My skin was wrinkled. I was old!
“There’s something different about you,” my wife said over breakfast the next morning. “I can’t quite put my finger on it, but you’re different. What is it? Are you combing your hair differently? A different aftershave?”
My boss and co-workers asked questions too. Had I gained weight? Lost weight? Was I feeling ill? Ashamed to admit I was old, I steadfastly denied anything had changed. I told everyone I was no different than I had always been.
I went to my favorite bar after work and tanked up as I did every night. I had been neglecting my wife and children as long as I could remember, so getting old was no reason to change. I watched the young girls go by, but none of them looked back at me now that I was old.
My melancholia grew with each drink. I once had hopes and fantasies, but now all hope was gone. I had missed all my opportunities. Even if a young girl took pity on me and was willing to give old grandpa a tumble, I probably was no longer up to the task physically.
To make matters worse every woman suddenly looked good. When I was young, I had been picky. Now, everywhere I turned there was titillation, stimulation, arousal, rapture. The whole world was an erogenous zone!
I went to a bookstore and bought The Handbook for Dirty Old Men. I studied it every night. I bought nudie magazines at the corner convenience store. I went to adult video stores. I went to chat rooms on the Internet. I bought a life-size doll from a catalog. I soon realized I needed more time to actualize all the many permutations of being a dirty old man. I went to my boss.
“I’m old,” I said.
“So that’s what’s different about you,” he said as he slapped his knee. “Yes, yes, I can see it now.”
“I want to retire.”
“Well, of course, it’s time. You’re old.”
They had a party for me that afternoon, packed all my things in a cardboard box, and let me leave five minutes early. My wife was surprised to see me home.
“Not going to the bar tonight?” she asked.
I pointed to the box under my arm. “I retired. I’m old.”
“Yes, you are old!” she exclaimed. “I should have noticed! I knew something was different.”
“What made you suspicious?”
“The life-size doll.”
I nodded, dropped off the box and went to a secondhand store to buy a dirty old man uniform. I found the perfect one: old black shoes, black socks with holes in them, tacky green polyester golf shorts, and a stained white V-neck cotton t-shirt that sagged even more than my flesh.
After a good night’s sleep, I went to the grocery store. Like a race-car driver, I zoomed forward with my cart every time a woman caught my fancy. At first, I followed just the older ones, but as the morning went on, I grew more courageous.
A young woman came in. She was the same one I had seen at the corn chips display! It was summer, and she wore a sleeveless blue t-shirt and short little khaki shorts. She was perfect. Perfect little face and skin, perfect body, and perfect legs that were not too skinny and not too fat. I studied the tight smooth flesh on the back of her thighs.
She noticed me staring and turned to get away, but I moved fast to follow her. She found a manager and pointed at me. Another manager joined them. The two managers headed toward me, but I turned my cart and sped toward the exit. They had assumed that because I was old, I was slow. My quickness surprised them. The forces of moral prudishness were relentless in their persecution, so I abandoned my cart and fled the store.
I went to the library and stalked young women, spying on them through spaces between books or kneeling down to the lowest shelf so I could try to look up their skirts. Alas, like darting fish, they were too quick. Exhausted from my voyeuristic activities, I slumped in a comfortable chair in the lobby. To my surprise I could see under all the tables. Several pairs of female legs barely covered by dresses were in view. As the legs moved and shifted and crossed and uncrossed, I felt like a shark looking up at tantalizing and tasty swimmers. I positioned a book so that it looked like I was reading while I peered over it at the smorgasbord of love.
My mind soared with fantasies. I was no longer a dirty old man imprisoned in my dirty old body. I was a young stud. I had muscles. I had a professional job. I dated super models. I drove a Ferrari. Ahh, it was wonderful.
Sadly, one of the women noticed my scrutiny. She slammed her book shut and went over to a librarian. The two of them glared at me. Sensing the forces of moral repression closing in, I raced from the building.
Undaunted, I headed for a bar I had read about in The Handbook. It was renowned for the voluptuous young college girls. In the back there was a section reserved for dirty old men. Like me, they had been young once and awoke suddenly to find themselves old.
They accepted me instantly. We sat at small tables with our backs to the wall and watched the young girls jump around to the music. Our eyes and heads moved as one and we licked our lips as we watched their jiggling bodies.
Once a week we met to discuss techniques, wardrobe, reference materials and other important topics. My days were rich and full.
I was soon elected president of our local dirty old man chapter and organized a trip to the beach. We rented a bus and piled on with our high-powered binoculars. I gave a speech as we left the parking lot.
“Now, remember, we must uphold the high moral standards of dirty old men. We can look. We can ogle. We can drool. But we can’t touch, and we can’t take pictures. Remember. Do not touch the young girls. Don’t ruin this for everyone else.”
We soon arrived at the beach, set up a tent next to the bus and sat in lawn chairs. There was a never-ending parade of flesh. Some of our more adventurous members trekked into the dunes to look for girls sunning themselves with their tops off. It was a wonderful day of food, fun, females and fellowship.
Alas, I drank too much and got too much sun. My head spun, and whenever I closed my eyes, I saw a parade of bikini-clad bodies.
When I got home, I was surprised to see a group of beautiful young women in my living room. I thought I was hallucinating, but then my wife came in with a jug of lemonade and some glasses on a silver tray.
“I wasn’t expecting you home, dear,” she said. “I thought you would be at the bar tonight like you are every night. I’m hosting a meeting of our daughter’s friends from our church’s youth group.”
One of the young girls was the one from the grocery store! I grew dizzy from the drinks and the sun, and from the unexpected and tasty buffet of bodies in my living room. I’m not sure what happened next, but the policeman told me I grabbed her and then exposed myself. Months drifted by in my cell, but finally I got my day in court.
“The room was spinning,” I told the judge. “I didn’t mean to reach out and grab her. In fact, I don’t remember reaching out and grabbing her. I do remember something soft. It could have been her. I don’t know. I can’t remember. Whatever I did, I didn’t mean to do it.”
The young girl sat in the courtroom with her parents. She wore a long dress with a collar that covered her neck and long sleeves that covered her arms. She never looked at me, but her parents stared daggers of hate at me. Occasionally, her father dragged his thumbnail across his throat to let me know he wanted to slit me from ear to ear. I looked for my buddies from the bar. None of them were there. I had been abandoned. Finally, I spotted my wife in the back. She wore sunglasses and a scarf wrapped around her head so no one would recognize her. I waved at her, but she looked away like she didn’t know me.
The judge scowled and banned me from the bar, the grocery, the library, and the beach. I was forbidden to drink. My life-size doll was to be confiscated and recycled. I was sentenced to more confinement to the psychiatric facility. When I returned to my cell, a divorce decree awaited me. It informed me that my wife had drained all our bank accounts and switched churches, and that she would have me arrested if I tried to contact her.
When I was finally released, I went home to find that the house had been sold. I had nothing. No money. No job. Only a pittance of social security. Nothing would stop me from self-actualizing, however. I grew a long beard and let my hair grow long. I cruised the library and the grocery, and constantly looked for new adventures, like the lingerie sections of department stores. I bought liquor and poured it into flasks that I hid in trees and bushes. I bought an expensive cellphone and subscribed to a wonderful porn site. There was no money for food or lodging, but I didn’t care. I wandered the streets each day in a raincoat. I ogled the young housewives pushing baby strollers or coming out in their robes to get the mail or newspaper. Sometimes I caught a glimpse of skin in a window.
It didn’t bother me that people pointed at me as I roamed the streets, that they grabbed their children and pulled them into the house, that they cursed me from their cars and threw eggs at me. I would not let society stop me. I was an American with inalienable rights. I would self-actualize. I would be me. I was excited about the many opportunities of my new life.
Skywalk Frequent trembled when he retrieved the golden envelope from the cluster box. He ran home to his wife, Lavinia.
“We have been invited to the prestigious cocktail party,” he said. “After years of behaving in a fawning and servile manner toward everyone important, we finally will be accepted in high society.”
They danced around giddily for a few moments, then Skywalk became morose.
“We have to be careful. If we continue to act in a fawning and servile manner, we will forever be viewed as lower caste. However, if we brag too much, we will appear immodest. Important people always act modest.”
He fretted, bit his fingernails and spit the pieces on the floor. “What shall we do to ensure success?”
Lavinia dug her fingers into her scalp in despair. “Oh, I don’t know.”
Skywalk had a brilliant idea. “Let’s hire a Braggart.”
“Oh, you are so smart, Skywalk. But they are expensive.”
He downloaded the Braggart app on his phone. There were so many choices, but they settled on Milo Remo the Third, a short fat gnome with warts on his face.
“Oh, he's ugly,” Lavinia said.
“Hmm,” Skywalk said, “I believe in being modest at all times, but it never hurts to have an ugly Braggart so that you always look better than they do.”
They called him.
“Yes, I come from a long line of Braggarts,” Milo said in a whiny, annoying voice. “My father was a Braggart and my grandfather was a Braggart and my great grandfather was a Braggart. My wife is a Braggart who specializes in lady’s tea parties and other high society events. My children are apprentice Braggarts who work at children's birthday parties.”
Knowing they had found the right person for the job, Skywalk and Lavinia nodded in satisfaction to each other and took out a loan against their house and car in order to pay his fees.
They dressed in their resplendent best for the party. Skywalk wore a black silk shirt and silver sports coat. Lavinia wore a long red dress and black feather boa. They rented the most expensive red convertible Mercedes they could find and picked up Milo on the way to the party.
He was four feet tall and as big around as he was tall. His huge belly sloped down to a wide black belt with a silver buckle. He had warts on his hands as well as his face. He wore pointy black boots, blue and white striped pants, and a purple shirt.
What a magnificent sight they were pulling into the country club parking lot with Milo in the rumble seat and Lavinia’s boa whipping around in the wind and occasionally wrapping around Milo’s squat head.
At the party Milo stuck close to Skywalk and Lavinia, but never spoke to them. When a man in an expensive suit asked about one of Skywalk’s business deals, Skywalk displayed his characteristic modesty.
“Oh it wasn't that big a deal,” he said.
Milo pushed his way between the two men. “Not a big deal!” he screamed in his whiny voice. “It was the biggest deal in years. Skywalk was brilliant. Courageous. Bold. You've never seen anything like it!”
“Oh, now, now,” Skywalk said, “it really wasn't all that much.”
“Can you believe this man?” Milo yelled so loud that everyone in the party turned to look. “It was the biggest deal in town for years. Skywalk was brilliant. Courageous. Bold. Visionary. And he's good looking too. And his wife is beautiful. Look at them. They’re beautiful. And their kids are beautiful. Even Skywalk’s pets are good looking. His Irish Setters are good looking. The fish in his fishbowl are handsome. And he lives in a big fancy house and drives a red sports car! This is one heck of a man!”
Everyone crowded around Skywalk and Lavinia.
Milo ate the canapés and sipped the wine. “That Skywalk,” he yelled over and over. “He’s really something. Quite a man. Quite a man.”
As Skywalk and Lavinia lay in bed that night, Skywalk said, “I think people liked us. Do you think we will be accepted in high society?”
“Oh yes, they were impressed. I think we will be accepted.” She thought for a second. “You know there's one thing I really admire about you, Skywalk.”
“What's that Lavinia?”
“It happened later that night,” she says.
We have been going out for almost two months, but this is the first time she’s talked about the fire. Of course, I read about it, saw the news stories, heard the rumors. Marital problems. Insurance. Arson.
We are walking along the seawall.
“We argued, I left, later that night it happened.”
Her large brown eyes glisten with tears in the light of a streetlamp. She wipes them with her hand, smearing her mascara.
It’s a warm November night. The humid breeze flutters through her brown hair. Tethered sailboats bob up and down on the water.
I wait for her to elaborate, but she keeps walking, and I know she will say no more.
I grow angry. “I’ve been honest about my past. It’s time for you to open up. Our chance at a relationship is going up in ashes and smoke.”
“Bad choice of words,” I say. “I’m sorry.”
Tears roll down her face. “I hated my husband, and he hated me. We had been arguing for weeks. I thought he would kill me or I would kill him. I had to get away. I ran out of the house. Without the kids. Without the kids. I drove and stopped at a motel on the highway. The next morning at daybreak, I went back for the kids. The firemen were still there.”
She is shaking so hard she almost collapses. I put my arm around her.
“Maybe he got too drunk. I’ll never know why it happened. I miss my children. I feel so guilty. I think about it over and over. I won’t ever get over it.”
I try to console her. “Some things we don’t get over.”
“I know there are some ugly rumors, but they’re not true.”
“I never believed the rumors, but I needed to hear you deny them.”
She slowly stops crying and then unexpectedly pushes me away. “What’s wrong with you? You always act like a priest or a psychiatrist or a cop waiting for me to confess. I told you I would tell you about it, but you said to wait until I was ready. You said the rumors didn’t bother you. But they do, obviously. And you wonder why you’ve been through three divorces and more break-ups than you can count?”
She walks away. I sit on a bench for a long time and finally understand that I have a problem.