Author: Christopher Marcus

Ground Control

Ground Control

“What is it that disturbs you, Michael?”

Michael called out a 3D projection of another ten screens, so now his cubicle was filled with fluorescent numbers, lines, and patterns, not unlike ancient aboriginal glyphs painted in the air. “Nothing disturbs me, Lyssa. Everything is all right. I am following my morning routine perfectly.”

“When you logged on,” Lyssa’s disembodied voice continued, “I detected a slight change in your heartbeat, though not something of a critical nature.”

“Otherwise you would have warned me.” Michael made a sweeping motion, like an orchestral conductor, and some of the screens faded out and were replaced by an image of Luca 2050 Resort. “Where should we start this morning? Any suggestions?”

“Mr. Barnes already sent over 20 more requests for improvements,” Lyssa replied, and Michael thought he detected a hint of annoyance in Lyssa’s voice. He had programmed her well. “Simulation of guided space-walk level 2, adjustment of the zero-grav pool, a new feature in the shower facilities for non-binary guests of the Neo-Pagan denomination—”

“Thanks, I’ll just start … here.” Michael glanced at some of the peripheral screens and with a slight gesture, he called them, so they grew in size and were easier to study in detail.

“Can I ask a question?” Lyssa’s voice was neutral.

“If you must.” Michael feigned a slight impatience while he called another screen into zoom, but inwardly he smiled. Lyssa was becoming better every day.

She was becoming more and more … Lyssa. Just like he had imagined her.

“Would you like to go to the high orbit resort yourself one day? In reality?”

Michael paused the procedure he had been working on. The glowing screen faded slightly in front of him. “Good question, Lyssa. I think I would, but you know that for me it’s probably not going to be an option.”

“You could train for it. I took the liberty of reviewing some recent techniques developed by doctor Alexander Schloensky to support sensory reintegration.”

“I’ve read Alex’s work,” Michael said, nodding for the screen to light up again. “And although his autism is more … debilitating than mine, I don’t believe his techniques are useful for me.”

“Have you tried them?”

“Lyssa, we have work to do. I think you are becoming too human. I don’t remember programming you for procrastination.”

“I am not procrastinating, Michael. I am interested in making your work—and your life—function more optimally. Like you programmed me to be.”

Michael sighed. “Look, I have lived all my life with sounds from people’s phones that suddenly turned into raging storms or flashes from vehicle lights that were close to giving me a seizure. I believe there is a way of dealing with that which the good doctor hasn’t really accepted. And that is … acceptance.”

“I do not understand. Don’t you want to go into space yourself, instead of designing a simulation for the training of tourists? Don’t you want to do many things for real, instead of doing them in a simulation?”

“I design the simulation,” Michael corrected.

“But you also use it—often, I might add.”

“I do,” Michael admitted while scrolling through a series of data that looked like a long ribbon of glowing green pearls. “But there are some things I might never be able to do in real life because I could never reduce the element of unpredictability—how my senses would react to any given event.”

“Even with more training?”


“Do you say that because you have tried before?”


“But if you could go into space wouldn’t you want to try again? Wouldn’t it be worth the effort?”

“It might. And I might do it one day. Or I might not. Life is not a series of linear improvements, where you can and should get more capable. Sometimes … ” Michael held his breath as part of his attention located and deleted a particularly irritating pearl that did not fit with the others on his dominant screen.

Lyssa waited for Michael to prioritize answering her. She had seen Michael like this before, so she knew she had to be patient.

Or at least she appeared to act with patience. Michael didn’t care which it was.

It made him feel happy, regardless.

To Cut a Long Story Short

To Cut a Long Story Short

We lost. My generation.

My parents and grandparents were either unable or unwilling to do enough to change the world. And my generation was too late.

And now it is here. Just saw a vid in Meta about the hurricane that smashed New York. Well, its sister smashed Bangladesh the month before. And before that, the Summer Olympics were drowned in rain. In Brisbane, for God’s sake.

The world is heating up and there is no way back.

What do I do about it when it’s too late to do anything to stop it? How do I stop hating my parents, or people like them?

Should I have kids?

All of these things are crazy. I should not have to think about them. I’m only 26.

But there it is. There is only the struggle now.

What will my struggle look like, now that the enemy has broken the gates?

I don’t know. I only know that I can’t give in to what I feel.

In a nutshell, I choose life. That’s all you ever can.


Photo by Joshua Rawson-Harris on Unsplash

Shining Through

Shining Through

Emma gazed at the stately old buildings across the river and wondered who had lived there before—100, 200, 300, or more years ago? She felt like she was slipping into a dream again when reality interrupted.

“You know, a lot of the Old Town was blown up by the Germans, during the war,” Stephen said. He surveyed the Charles Bridge and the Bedřich Smetana Museum as if he was checking off a list.

“We’re in Prague,” Emma said. “I don’t want to hear about war. I just want to see what’s here.”

As on cue, there was a murmur in the tree crowns over them as a soft breeze caressed the park, with its tourists and lovers.

Emma closed her eyes and thought of a number. 1852.

Her autistic brother loved numbers, but to him they were different. Michael said he sometimes felt the numbers had colors, even personalities. To Emma they were gateways.

“Well, what do you see?” Stephen asked, arms crossed.

“Maybe I see two lovers, eloping—running away together, never to come back.” She smiled, knowing what the response would be.

“You read too many romance novels,” Stephen said and shook his head. He checked his phone again. “The guide says we could catch the Beer Museum and the Bedřich Smetana before they close if we go right over the Legion Bridge now. Or maybe—” he looked north “—we should go back and cross over Charles Bridge on the way. Then we’ve done that one, too.”

“Sure, Steve.” Emma still had her eyes closed. Who were these young people? They had run away together but why?

Emma saw the woman clearly in her mind’s eye. As clearly, as if she was right there—between Stephen and her—breathing frantically, running to all that life in front of her she craved, never looking back.

If she could run fast enough could she outrun the chains of her past? Perhaps an angry father who had forbidden her to marry the man she loved? Poverty? Something about a war her man was about to be drafted for but he did not want to go, did not want to leave her …

Perhaps …

“Are you coming?” Stephen snapped the phone shut. “We don’t have that much time left.”

“No,” Emma said and bowed her head. “No, we haven’t.”



The Aubrac Plateau, France

“Except the small hut over there, I can’t see anything in this direction,” Emma said.

“That’s because there isn’t much,” Stephen said. “This is one big empty wilderness. I don’t get why you wanted to go out here – and this bloody early.”

Emma didn’t answer but started walking again, feeling the satisfactory grind of pebble-sized stones under her hiking boots. Before them stretched a sea of moorland, peppered with small wiry bushes and boulders and only stopped by distant mountains.

“Provence was better,” Stephen kept complaining. “I think we should figure out where to go next, once we get back to the hotel. I hear there are some nice facilities in Aurillac.”

“There’s also a quarantine,” Emma said and scouted the horizon. None of the paths she could make out felt right.

“Yeah,” Stephen lamented. “Not enough people getting their shots this time either. You’d think they’d have learned their lesson by now.”

“People don’t learn anything easy,” Emma said and turned to look back at him. She tried to remember how she liked him and was attracted to him, especially his sandy hair and tan and those sharp, clever eyes.

But this was one of the times when she had to try really hard. Stephen dialed up the volume of his laments.

“Jesus Christ, Em. We’ve been vacationing this part of the country like vagabonds for almost two weeks. We’re almost out of money and I still haven’t seen Paris, which was the deal, wasn’t it?”

“The water flask,” Emma said. “Give it to me.”

Stephen was baffled. “What are you talking about?”

Emma took it herself from his belt and then threw it to the ground, so the lid popped open and the water ran out.

“What the fuck are you doing?” He quickly kneeled down and took the flask, saving about half of the water. The day was still burning hot, though, like most August days in the highlands of the Massif Central.

Stephen tried to swat one of the many small flies that had come too close to his sweaty face but forgot he had the still-open flask in one hand and accidentally spilled more water.

“Fuck! Now see what you’ve made me do!”

“I didn’t do anything,” Emma said. “You’re the one who said yes to a morning hike, and you keep saying yes to things and then complaining about them. Well, now you have a choice. Go home to the hotel. You should be able to make it with the rest of the water.”

Stephen righted himself. “Emma, I am not going to have this kind of argument again with you. You’re not going to bait me.”

“It’s not an argument,” she said and tightened the clip to her blonde ponytail, getting ready to walk again. “It’s an attempt to get you to stop saying things you don’t mean.”

“Well, I won’t go home. I will go with you.”

“Then you don’t have enough to drink.”

“We can share. Or we can cut the walk shorter.”

“I don’t want to.”

“What’s … out there, anyway?” He waved his hand dismissively at the moorland. “This is like the asshole of Provence.”

“No, this is the Massif Central. It’s a place where people disappear – or try to.”

“You’re talking in riddles and I’m tired. Go on. See if I care.” He turned and began walking back.

Emma felt a sting of regret. She knew she had been a bitch. But she couldn’t help it. This was supposed to be the dream holiday – her first vacation on her own, overseas, and mostly without having to worry about her health or anything like that.

Maybe she was being a bitch because Stephen was being a dick. So she felt she had the right. And where did that leave her now?

She looked around at the lonely moorland spotting a small puddle of water she had not seen before. Otherwise, it was all the same as it had been in the half-hour they had been walking. And if she went on, alone, it would purely be out of spite.

You have to say what you really feel she thought to herself … if not, we might as well stop this right now. All of it.

Then she turned and walked.

Someone Else’s Dream

Someone Else’s Dream

The small Provencale cafe looked as if it had emerged from another time and Emma suddenly felt a painful longing to let herself slip completely away to that other Now.

However, Stephen’s incessant commenting on the locals pulled her back to the present. 

Every fucking time.

“I bet that guy over there has come here every morning for the last 30 years to get his morning pint. And his mate—”

And on it went.

She carefully downed the last of her stale white wine. “What happened to us, Steve?” 

Stephen turned toward her on the venerable cafe chair. “Did you say something, honey?”

Emma blinked and saw only the ancient bar desk behind her boyfriend, dark and squarish like a mausoleum of oak.

“I was just … wondering what year this house is from,” she said and looked down.

“Oh … ” Stephen shrugged. “I think it’s the 17th century or something.”

“—It is from 1815,” someone said to their side.

They both looked at the waitress who was removing an empty bottle and glass before a bushy white-bearded man at the neighboring table.

She smiled apologetically. “Lots of our guests ask that question. I’m so used to answering. I didn’t mean to—.” She looked at Stephen, her eyes for a split second seeming to linger at the point on his arm where ebony muscles were no longer constrained by his t-shirt.

Emma cleared her throat. “So I guess you have many English-speaking guests, then? Your accent is quite … nice.”

“We mostly have Italian this time of year.” The waitress nodded politely at the bearded man as he slowly and methodically unearthed three euros from his wallet to leave as a tip.

“And I’m from Brighton, by the way.” She pocketed the money as if they were a curious artifact and turned her full attention to Emma and Stephen.

“I see,” Emma said, glancing at Stephen. “So you work here in the summer?”

“All year round.”

Emma pondered this when Stephen interrupted her train of thought. “Can we get a coffee?”

He said that and then quickly looked away from the curves that strained the waitress’ uniform around her chest. 

Emma quickly looked away from Stephen. “Uhm, yeah, coffee. That would be … nice.”

The waitress went off to get it, and Stephen looked at Emma now, eyes suddenly alight. “Maybe we should go back to the B&B after coffee? Call it a day?”

“It’s only 5 o’clock.”

“Well, I could use some R&R.” He grinned.

Emma looked at her empty wine glass and didn’t long for more of that. Coffee would be perfect. Except … 

“I don’t want to go home,” she said. “Why not see the Château des Ducs de Bourbon? We missed that yesterday.”

Stephen seemed absent. “Yesterday we arrived late. And you were tired.” His dark fingers made circles on the white napkin, like some invisible Rorschach test. “Come on … ”

“There is a nice coffee bar nearby,” Emma added, crossing her arms. “Weena said it has only five-star reviews.”

“I just ordered coffee.” Stephen crossed his arms, too. He leaned back on the old chair, scouting the room. The bearded man had left but a couple of more tourists had come in and were chatting loudly.

“Well, we can have more,” Emma said. “And there is some of that great local cake, too. They don’t have it here.”

“I’m not sure I trust Weena,” Stephen said. “It hasn’t been configured correctly.”

Emma waved dismissively.  “‘She’—not ‘it’.”

But okay, her PA wasn’t the best virtual PA on the market, there were spiffier prototypes. However, her computer superhero-brother had insisted that it was the one she needed for the trip because it didn’t track the hell out of every step you made, like those from Apple or Google. And it was easier to set up, too, for “average neurotypicals” as her brother had put it without blinking. Then quickly adding, “or people who don’t like setting up apps much.”

God, she loved Michael. If only he could understand how much she cared. But perhaps he could? Even with his diagnosis and—

Well, whatever. What mattered was that Michael understood her personal mission to tell the big Goo-Apple to fuck off and to be independent. So did Stephen. One area where they were in perfect alignment. And there were more, wasn’t there?

Emma saw that the waitress was heading back towards them with a small tray and two steaming coffee cups. Her professional smile was raised as well. 

And Stephen’s face was one big smile in return.

“I’ll pay for everything now,” he said to the waitress, pulling out his phone and scanning the barcode on the side of the table with one swift movement. “And here’s a little tip.”

The waitress beamed at him and Emma felt a gray fog inside her, growing rapidly, spreading from a place just under her navel and filling her lungs from the bottom up. Finally it got to her sight and she saw only that grayness that made everyone appear like ghosts.

It had to be that eerie sensation of being pulled into the past, which had first hit her like an electric jolt when she entered the cafe. Something about this place made her feel out of … sync. 

Just like that B&B where they had slept that night. Maybe even this whole town.

She felt her fists knotting.

Stephen is not doing anything wrong. I should

“You don’t look well,” said the smiling waitress. “Can I get you some—”


“Okay.” She left quickly.

Stephen looked sullenly at his coffee. Outside a few cars whirred by, but otherwise a sleepiness seemed to have settled over the rustic streets of Montlucon even if there was still light in the sky. 

“We should go back to Besson,” Stephen then said. “You really don’t look well.”

“I’m fine. And I don’t want to go back to … those rooms.”

She regretted that the instant she said it. In fact, she didn’t know why she said it but somehow, something there in the cozy little chateau-now-B&B filled her with dread. The feeling had been there since yesterday and she had slept badly but she had suppressed it because it was illogical.

And Emma prided herself on her logic. She wasn’t emotional. She was—

She got up. “Let’s just get out of here. Take a walk.”

Stephen looked one last time at his full coffee cup like he was a child about to leave a favorite toy behind. “Okay.”

He got up, though, and then motioned to hand Emma her jacket from another chair. But she took it herself before he could touch it. 

When they emerged out on the narrow street a slight drizzle was falling. The afternoon sun was still strong, behind a smatter of clouds. Its rays made the milk-white facades of the houses appear warmer.

“It’s just a bit of cloud,” Stephen said and pulled at the collar of his own jacket. “It’ll pass soon.”

Then he turned to Emma, with genuine worry. “You know, you cried out—last night. In your sleep.”

Emma swallowed. “I did?”

“Yeah, but you fell asleep again, so I thought it was okay. I didn’t want to wake you and ask. Did you have a nightmare?”

“I … don’t remember. What did I cry?”

“—Excuse me. You speak English, right?” It was the white-bearded man again. He suddenly appeared around a corner, as if he had been standing there, outside the cafe, waiting.

“Yes?” Stephen took a step to stand in between Emma and the man. He was well into his seventies, it seemed, and wore a dusty green coat that looked too big, even for the spell of summer rain.

“I was just wondering,” the man started, then looked from side to side as if someone was following him, “ah, never mind. You probably haven’t seen her.”

“What?” Stephen looked in both directions on the street but saw no one. “Who are you looking for?”

“My wife, actually. It’s a long story. But I need her to help with the horses … ” He trailed off and looked over his shoulder, as if he had heard something from that direction now.

“Are you lost?” asked Emma, moving forward. “Can we help?”

“No, no—there is no problem.” The old man shook his head. “It’s just when I heard you talk, I remembered something and I had this brief idea that, you see … but it is all right. No harm done.”

Then he began to wander off.

“Do you think we should follow him?” Emma took Stephen by the arm. “What if he … has dementia or something?”

“It’s not our responsibility, is it?” Stephen covered her hand with his. “We should make sure you are okay first.”

“I’m fine.” Emma let him go. 

“You sure?”

“Yes.” She looked down. “Are you sure you still don’t want to go to the Château des Ducs?”

Stephen shrugged and put his hands in his pockets. “Why not?”

She smiled. “It’s right down that way, says Weena.”

“Weena is always right,” Stephen harrumphed. “But does she know what you cried last night in your sleep? Because that was really fucking weird.”

Emma looked like she had trouble breathing for a moment, then she straightened herself and took Stephen by the arm once more, almost leading him on. They walked in silence a few steps down the narrow street, past the silent white houses.

“I guess you want to tell me what I said?” she said after a while.

“Maybe it doesn’t matter,” Stephen said.

“It does now. Come on. Was it really that bad? Was it something … dirty?”

He grinned. “Maybe. You said ‘iron cage’.”

“‘Iron cage’?” She frowned. “That’s weird.”

“And then you said—well, cried actually—‘no!’ Several times.” They turned a corner and now they could neither see the cafe nor the old man anymore. It was like neither had ever existed.

“Maybe I dreamt I was trapped in a cage,” she suggested at length. “But I honestly don’t remember.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Stephen repeated.

“Why not?”

“Well, for one thing—you are not trapped anywhere now, are you?”

She squeezed his arm. “No, I am not.”


Photo: Wikipedia


Connected story: “Runaway” in Runaway by Alice Munro (2003)

The Maker of Rules

The Maker of Rules

My parents were so afraid I would fight against their decision, and to be frank, so was I. I didn’t want to cause any more trouble than I already do.

Normal people would probably see the rust-fading sunlight over there on Anchorage’s few tall buildings for all of two seconds and then turn their faces away from the bite of the wind and look back to where they came from. Maybe go indoors and try to forget where they are. But not me. I stay here on the rocky beach and feel right at home with the wind.

You see I found out early on that wind is one of the few things that don’t bother me. If you are on the autism spectrum you are usually very sensitive to all sorts of things. My mom used to get fits when I was little because I couldn’t stand that my socks didn’t go all the way up and over my trouser legs and covered every part of my skin.

I don’t know why, I just couldn’t stand it, and because mom and dad got so angry about it at times, especially when they were in a hurry, I also felt bad about crying and howling, which made me cry and howl even more. But I just couldn’t stand it.

That’s what you get as someone on the spectrum. You get a lot of things you can’t predict, and you get a brain that goes in all kinds of different directions. So when I was four years old I had taught myself the sounds of all letters and could read all the roadsigns but I hadn’t learned to talk yet, only scream. Like my mom once said, “figuring out what is wrong with you is like being a detective trying to find a clue on the beaches of D-Day”.

I didn’t understand that reference until we talked about my great-grandfather and the war he was in, but most importantly, I didn’t get it until I understood how much it stressed my parents that I couldn’t talk. I was busy stressing about it myself, I guess.

So now. One jump. Down from the rock, but not too close to the water. I have read that the temperature of the water is actually below freezing point in some places, only it can’t freeze because there is too much wind and too many waves.

The water you see here is Knick Arm and across it is Anchorage where dad now works as a private security man, after 20 years in the police force. Some days during our first winter here, there is so much snow on the road you can’t even get around the water which is like a long deep bay, or one of those lochs from mom’s home. You can’t get over to Anchorage, before they clear the roads, even though you can see it perfectly.

Then we call back and forth and dad assures he will get home, we just have to be patient and wait. What has changed?

Anyway, on one of those days, you get the feeling, ‘maybe I should just walk across the ice?’

Because by that point even the wind can’t stop the water from freezing. But of course, you wise up. It would be stupid to walk across the ice. You would probably not make it. Yet still, sometimes I think about it like that. Because that’s what it feels like for me. Every day I walk across the ice, never knowing when it will crack.

What new trick is my mind going to play on me? Is a tiny little noise going to feel like an explosion? Is a flash of sunlight a carving knife scratching my cheek, but warm on the back of my neck?

But I didn’t fight Alaska, not when dad said he couldn’t stand another year in the police. And he had this offer, albeit in the other end of the country. As far away from Yuma as you could possibly get in the same country. From fire to ice.

I didn’t fight it. I didn’t like change, sure, but I knew exactly now how the sun in Yuma worked. I knew when it felt like it should feel and when it was just me, who felt that the light was wrong on my skin, even when everybody else said it was a ‘fine and mild day’. Fuck them.

I also needed to try something new. I wasn’t sure if Alaska would be it. Sounded too extreme. Why would I freak out less over sensations on my skin here with all the cold, then down in the oven of Yuma?

Turns out, though, I’m actually better with cold than with heat.

Mom is always fussing, of course, and sure enough, I already have been close to getting it wrong and getting frostbite. However, I get along better with the cold. It feels better. It is less unpredictable. Not like socks.

Of course, the new school is important, too, but I have found out that some of the native classmates here are actually more accepting of a weirdo like me than many of my ‘friends’ back in the old school.

Apparently, according to Chugachigmiut tradition, I am one of their ‘two-spirit people’. Historically that is a name for people, you know, who could be both men or women. But it is also just a description. Like “Tyakutyik” which means “What Kind Of People Are These Two?” It’s a name for many types of people in the community who are a bit … different.

Which is nice.

Especially because Kira told me about it, and I like to get her to tell me more. About everything …

I smile when I think of her, and then count my own steps and the stones. There is a special stone just for her. And now I turn and walk, and turn and walk, back and forth on the same spot on the rocky beach, counting every step.

I know all the stones, and I know exactly how the wind feels here, no matter which direction it comes from. I can see our house and I can see Anchorage and the mountains over in Chugach State Park, sprinkled with white.

I have found out how Alaska works. For me, anyway. It only took me a couple of weeks. Whereas I never got used to the desert. I never found a way of playing with its rules. They changed too often.

The heat was too unpredictable. You could feel it in too many different ways, and sometimes they contradicted each other. Don’t ask me why cold is calmer. I couldn’t tell you.

Only that I am at fault. It’s because my brain is playing against me. There is nothing wrong with you, or the weather, or mom or dad. I take it all on me.

That also means I should be allowed to make my own rules, so I can stand being in the world.

I have walked exactly 47 paces now and it is time to turn. There is a place close by on the beach where the cold isn’t my friend yet, but I will get there. Maybe tomorrow. Right now I will stay in familiar territory. Then in six more minutes, it is time to go back in and do my homework.

But first I want to enjoy what I still can of my special nest here on the beach. I have made it my home and nobody is any wiser.

And that’s okay. Sometimes it’s okay that they don’t know what is going on with me.

More Mileage

More Mileage

What I have found out after I started on Taekwondo classes and got the black belt in marriage repair in record time, was that I am not a failed artist unless I make myself be one.

This is not my mother’s early New Age fluff. It is real. But you have to work for it to understand why the idea is worth it.

First of all, I have to acknowledge that I have a bit of time here and there and I have some space to work in, the attic if nothing else. Those are two of the Big Three when it comes to trying to draw or write, or any other creative shit.

Time and Space.

The third?


I don’t often use my bits of time creatively because I don’t have the energy. I use them on Facebook instead, or watching telly or masturbating.

There. I’ve said it.

There is nothing wrong with masturbation, except that I do it alone. Whether I masturbate in the shower or whether I masturbate to the excitement of seeing my own opinions liked on Facebook, Twitter, and whatnot.

Sometimes you just need to jill off. Fine.

But the energy is gone.

And I think it’s gone because I’m still angry. Of all the shit life has dealt me. And about all my own mistakes. And about my children acting like crazy, and my husband being a jerk.

Well, I guess I am a crazy jerk, too, sometimes and if I expect them to live with me, I have to love to live with them even if they are crazy, angry jerks at times.

Or in the case of the kids, small mobsters.

One thing that Laura taught me in TKD-classes was that the girl (or guy) who is the most focused, usually wins. It’s about training yourself not to be thrown off balance and to continue to look for weaknesses in your opponent’s defenses.

So, like, what if I stop to go to the bathroom and have sex with myself during a difficult sparring match? Will it help me when I come back?

Sure, for all of two seconds until Devon kicks my teeth in. That guy is brutal – I wouldn’t want to spar with him even with all the gear we are wearing, but sometimes … I have to.

It’s that, or don’t show up.

I have been neglecting to show up for my own creativity because I thought that I needed all of Time, Space and Energy to be creative.

It would be nice if I had them all. But I probably never will. So either I search for the next thing to like, or I try to retain at least some focus in daily life.

On drawing.

First priority is doing an aquarelle.

If I can’t do that it’s a pencil drawing.

If I can’t do that it’s a sketch.

If I can’t do that it’s a quick study of some anatomical detail or a bird’s leg.

As long as it’s part of the overall story I am still trying to draw. At long as it is part of the whole.

It has the following benefits:

I get some shit done, instead of getting nothing done.

I get more energy by drawing what I can instead of nothing.

I get to accept myself more, because I practice accepting my fucking weaknesses every day, instead of getting paralyzed by them. And eventually, I will grow stronger.

Last but not least, I get to feel better about living, even if I never finish the story.

And today again I failed in all of that because Michael had an autistic fit and Emma said she hated me for not allowing her to visit Miriam for a whole weekend in LA. And Jon … well, he just hasn’t come home yet because some asshole had run his truck into a bus full of kids out near Ligurta …

And laundry has exploded all over the house and I am a crazy bitch because I can’t help myself and I yell at everyone. Not good for Michael, or Emma. Not good for me.

But tomorrow is a new day, and I will try again. Because what’s the difference between this and when Devon kicks me in the face during sparring and says it was an accident and I know he is not really sorry.

He is just a careless man, like Tom Buchanan from The Great Gatsby smashing things and then retreating back into his day job as an accountant where he is not careless but this keeps him from beating up his annoying wife, his annoying boss, and everyone else who is annoying because he can get out his frustrations during TKD class. Then he lets other people clean up the mess he has made, including blood on the mat from my face.

I asked Laura the other day why she allows a brute like Devon to attend class at all. I said, “He is fucking irredeemable. He will never learn discipline. He thinks this is a game!”

And Laura looked at me and said, “I am allowing him here for the same reason I am allowing you and all your whining about how things are with your family. Now get your ass back on that mat and take his guy down, or I’m going to throw you out of this class first.”

I got back and went through all rounds. Next Sunday I will be back for more.

This Day’s An Invitation

This Day’s An Invitation

It was summer in Berlin and time for a family to disintegrate. Emma, 16, had refused to even pretend she was with the others because after the way Martin had treated her she wasn’t interested in patching things up, only breaking them down.

She deliberately went five paces ahead of everyone else whenever they dared sortie from the hotel to navigate the bustling metropolis that seemed to have gotten a second lease of life after the pandemic.

If only there had been a second lease for her parents, it might have gone differently, but despite Jon and Carrie walking hand in hand, Emma had no doubt that it was all for show and that the recent arguments about divorce were about to come true. They might as well just get it over with like Martin had when he dumped her – by text message – just before they were to fly out of JFK and head for her second trip to Europe.

Making out the rearguard were grandmother and her new man, Marcus Chen. Well, he wasn’t that new. This was the third time, apparently, they were a couple and Emma could never really figure out what it meant. Were they good friends who had sex? Were they lovers? Were they, well, a real couple? She wanted badly to figure it out because it would give some stability to her world. It would show her that things could be for real and forever and all the things you could read in the books, at least.

She turned left and the ugly slab of concrete that was the Bahnhof Zoo station greeted her, but she went right past it hardly bothering to look at the map on her phone. With a bit of luck, she thought, she might stumble into a jungle part of the actual zoo on the other side and become lost if she kept going without looking. Or lose the others. She almost stumbled into a truck instead, as it pulled out from the parking lot behind the station.

“Wait up, young lady,” her father called. Voice firm as always, even if joy had long since left it.

Emma reluctantly slowed, feeling more caged than the animals in the Zoo they were going to gawk at any moment now. Or so she imagined. 

She suddenly felt all energy leave her. Even her anger at feeling lost and alone for the nth time wasn’t enough to keep her moving. Her heartbeat like a heavy machine and the sound of the traffic around her was like a silent dream. Dust from the park ascended in the heated afternoon, and the whole day felt tired from the lead in the air. Like it was seeping into her pores. She hated Yuma but at least they had clean air in the desert, even if it was always hot as hell to breathe this time of year.

In Berlin, the air was just heavy, and there was no redemption. It was supposed to be a marvelous chance to see an old city in Europe …

“You feeling alright?” Marcus Chen asked as he came up. They had all stopped in the parking lot as if they dared not go any further. As if there had been a crack in the collective agreement to have a conciliatory family trip to the zoo, as the first of many sights. 

“I’m okay.” Emma brushed away Marcus’ hand as she felt it closing in on her shoulder. 

Marcus sighed and looked at Emma’s grandmother. “Well, it’s just over there. But if you feeling like going someplace to sit down first, have a cup of coffee … ?”

“We’re fine,” Carrie said through thin lips before her own mother could answer. “Let’s go.”

“Yeah.” Emma’s father nodded but it was clear the lead had gotten into his pores as well. 

Then Emma’s phone buzzed and, of course, it was from Martin. Messaging her all the way from his safe hideout in some desert suburb on the other side of the world.

Emma held the phone up and looked at it as if it was a cockroach. Then she muted it.

“Who was that?” Her father asked because he needed to ask about something that had nothing to do with the decision they had to make. To go on, into the zoo. To be tourists, normal, find something to smile at.

Her mother had looked like she wanted to ask, too, but instead, she had fallen back on her usual ask-me-no-questions demeanor, as if she was the one everything devolved around. Emma wanted to ask her many things. Like, what was going to happen with her and dad? Emma and Carrie had always been able to talk about anything, but right now that was almost non-existent, like a muted Facebook message.

Emma’s screen kept lighting up with one more message. Then another. Then she realized she was looking at it and hadn’t pushed the button that darkened the screen.

“Perhaps we should go ahead?” her grandmother suggested, smiling her wizened smile, her gray-green eyes not having lost any of their steadiness. “I’m sure Emma can find us. You have those tracking things in your fancy phones, haven’t you?”

“I’ll text you,” Emma said, not sure why she said it. She was definitely not going to forgive Martin. But she wanted to be alone.

“You can’t stay here in this … ” Her father looked around. A steady stream of cars passed them, trying to find space either to park or a way around other cars that wanted to find a way out.

“I’ll sit over there, on the bench,” Emma said and pointed.

“Let’s go,” her grandmother urged, letting her hand rest on Carrie’s shoulders that slumped a bit.

It was a done deal then, and the rest of the family were led away by grandmother, as usual, like driftwood for uncertain destinations. 

Emma said the standard things she needed to say to reassure her father especially and then she was finally free. She looked at the messages: 

<Can we talk?> The last one said.

Emma hesitated, then began typing:

<What is there to talk about?>

She smiled, but it was a sad smile. He had a guilty conscience because she had refused to talk to him after he broke up like that, and it was kind of sweet. Also kind of useless.

But if she refused to talk and at least try to mend some things, what then? School would be so awkward … 

She gazed after the others. They were out of sight, probably standing in line somewhere in the zoo.

There were other things that had to be mended, which she had no control over. But at least she had this.

Emma typed again.

The lead felt as if it was evaporating slightly in the summer air.

Waiting for the Update

Waiting for the Update

I need another cup of coffee because I can’t escape into random news surfing this morning. My iPhone has decided to run a half-hour long update so with “exciting new features to iPhone, including the ability to unlock iPhone with Apple Watch while wearing a face mask, more diverse Siri voices, new privacy controls, skin tone options to better represent couples in emoji, and much more”. So I have no buffer between myself and the five zillion demands that assault me from the moment I open my eyes until I close them, from kids to looking for a job to kissing my husband goodbye and pretending we still have some semblance of romantic marriage. But once I am able to sit down for two consecutive moments and gulp another espresso, my brain begins spinning scenarios anyway for how I can get everything out of life before it is too late: more money, more love, more art.


Thanks to Taylor Harding on Unsplash for the wonderful photo!


Last updated 26 January 2022

Not To Tell Another Lie

Not To Tell Another Lie

“We’re sorry, but your profile is not what we are looking for.” The voice at the other end of the phone line sounded almost meditative, like crushing the hopes of other people had become so routine that it conferred a strange trance-like state on its owner.

“On behalf of Dymo I wish you good luck with future applications,” the voice continued, rounding of with a tone of expectation. Expectation of consent.

“Okay,” Carrie said.

“Once again, we’re sorry. Goodbye,” the voice said.

Carrie hung up. Then she went back into the living room, walking slowly in her bare feet, trying not to touch the floor.

She had taken the call in the tiny hallway. Somehow it felt better to have taken it there like she was in a sheltered place. In reality, the house was protective in the same way a prison was, and she knew it.

She sat down on the sofa and noticed the dust had become so thick that it was also on the armrests, not just the window sills which were easier to ignore. Jon didn’t mention it anymore. In fact, he didn’t mention much about anything anymore. Just buried himself in work, and, of course, paid the bills as his reward for the effort.

Work …

Carrie looked at her cell phone, which was almost out of power. Then she hurled it away into a corner.

So of course they had not hired her. Her resume sucked. So why the feeling of surprise and disappointment?

Fortunately, she had other strategies. She thought of going upstairs to draw in the attic, but then she noticed the corner of a pad, sticking out under the sofa. One of the kids must have pushed it out, trying to find some toy or other. Probably Michael. Emma was too old but Michael still played with his model cars, for hours.

Carrie bent down and took out the drawing pad. There was no pen, but sure enough – there was the last drawing she had made – six months ago. Somehow nobody had cared to pick it up and give it to her. Or nobody had dared.

She had cared, but she had just been too busy. Her head exploding a million times a day with job applications, chores, arguments with Jon and her mum and Emma, and dealing with Michael’s autism.

She looked at the only picture on the pad. Did she really like it?

Then the phone rang, and Carrie had to scramble to find it before it was too late. But when she saw who it was, she figured that perhaps it had been a mistake to rush. And there was only 5 percent power left.

Jenna … 5 percent is not enough.

She answered it. “Hello?”

“Carrie – daaarling!”

“Yeah, it’s me.” Carrie slumped down on the sofa again.

Why talk to Jenna – now?

Maybe because it was so easy.

“I called because you left the messages.” Jenna was all bubbly. Carrie breathed deeply but felt like she was breathing quicksand. She had forgotten those messages. It had to have been at least two weeks ago.

“Yes … I didn’t hear from you, and there was nothing on Facebook, so I thought … ” 

“We’ve just been away for a while. Steve and I.”


“You know. That hotel in Phoenix. I got mom to take care of the kid.”


“Your mom still coming by to look after Emma and Michael?”

“No, she’s back in L.A. For like a year … I mean, the kids are big now. No problem.”

“Okay, well, it was a totally great weekend. We really caught up, if you know what I mean.”

“I think I know. That’s good. Very good.”

“How are you and Jon?”

“Oh, you know. We’re … ”

“Why don’t you come over?”

“Sorry, the power is getting a little low here. I’ll message you.”

Carrie hung up. For a moment she rested her head in the palms of her hands. Then she slowly let her fingers slide through her hair and was reminded that she really needed a bath. Like she needed a zillion other things. But there was never enough.

For a long time, she watched her cell phone as its remaining power died. It felt morbidly calming. And as if she had just won a little strength test of her own will, being able to concentrate for that time, and not think about Jenna or the people who had shredded yet another of her job applications.

Outside, the Yuma sun scorched the quiet suburbs. The neighborhood was like a warehouse for empty houses that were stowed away for the day when life had left them, lost by people who were looking for all the wrong things, and buying all the wrong things.

Carrie slowly stood up and went over to the window facing the road. There was a barbecue grill standing solemnly on the lawn of the house opposite theirs. But no chairs or signs that there had been or was about to be a get-together. She hardly knew the new people over there, anyway. So it wasn’t important, was it?

At least she had made her choice. She went to the kitchen, found the cranky laptop, and got it going, albeit under protest as usual.

She found all the scattered litter-like notes about how and when she would draw more. Because when she would be able to do that then she could also film it and put it online, as a course or something. Monetize via short videos on YouTube about the process or any of the crapload of other initiatives that seemed to work so well for everyone else ‘living from their passion’. Everyone who had managed to escape the need to apply for a job.

Carrie looked at the date of the most recent document. It said 2019. She closed it quickly.

Then she found the empty YouTube channel she had set up for this specific purpose and the blog, which still only had one entry. Obviously, there was nothing on them, because she had not had the time or the head to produce something, but they were there waiting. Waiting for success … So she wouldn’t have to apply for crappy jobs. If she could just make that transition.

The Twitter account and Facebook pages were also empty. Obviously. She knew that. Why did she have to look?

But she would start today. Today would be the day she would turn things around. She could write a blog post about that. Or do a video.

Then she felt like concrete. She still had a long list of jobs to apply for. And all the other shit. If she could just gain some measure of stability. How could you start a business if you had nothing to invest?

So maybe I am never going to live off my passion?

The thought was almost scary because it felt like … relief. She quickly choked it.

She had to live from her passion. She had to transit from the rat race of jobs to the passion of her own creative online business.

If only we had more aspirin. I should go buy some. But I have to get started …

The phone in the kitchen chimed. The landline. It had been ages since anyone had used that.

Carrie snapped the phone from its hanger. “Yes?”

“It’s me.”

She could hear the distance in his voice immediately. “Oh God, Jon … What’s happened?”

“No, no, it’s all right. I mean, yes, something has happened but it’s all right. I wanted to tell you before it hit the news.”

She turned and found the local channel on the small TV on the corner shelf, right under that board Michael had made for her in school, with perfectly sawed angles.

“It’s a fucking mess,” Jon continued, clearing his throat more than once, while he told her in a few terse sentences what had happened. “They had to fly Fred to Phoenix. I think he’s going to make it, but … ”

Carrie zapped through the channels. “There’s nothing but ads on here!”

“Try the web. Try—”

But Carrie had already switched off the TV and plumped down on the chair next to the laptop. She scrolled feverishly through the police Twitter feed until she found it.

“Oh God … ”

“Yeah, but it’s over now like I said. It’s over.” Jon sounded firm like he had to stop a bleeding somewhere.

Maybe he had. “Are you hurt?”

“No, no – just a bit roughed up, that’s all. After I got his gun away from him, he hit me right in the face. Think that damn tooth may have come loose again.”

She grinned, but her eyes were full of tears. “You know the dentist. No escape from her, ha-ha.”

“Yeah,” Jon said. “Yeah, life’s a bitch, ain’t it.”

“When are you coming home?”

“We need to make the report. The Chief will let everyone off for the day then. Will you call Emma and Michael? I’m afraid Emma may already have seen it. She is an addict. She shouldn’t even subscribe to news channels at her age.”

“She would have called if she had seen it,” Carrie said, feeling again some odd measure of control in stressing a pure belief as if it mattered more than getting off her ass and calling her children. “She should have that phone transplanted to the palm of her hand,” Carrie continued. “She should—”

“Yeah. She should.” Jon broke her off. “So how was your day, hon?” He was never good at being funny, and especially not now.

She wiped tears off her cheeks. But she also smiled and hoped he could feel it, even if he couldn’t see it.

She felt relief again, and it was overwhelming. A different kind of relief but no less valuable. Absolutely no less …

“I … made a decision,” Carrie tasted the words.

“A decision?”

“Yeah, I didn’t get the Dymo.”

“Fuck.” Jon sounded like the news hit him harder than the guy he had arrested this morning. “I’m sorry.”

“No, don’t be,” Carrie said. “It was shit, anyway.”

“Most jobs are. Except policework, of course,” Jon deadpanned.

They both laughed at that. Fragile laughter, but laughter nonetheless. More relief.

“Brent found you that video cam,” Jon then said. “For your YouTube Channel. But I forgot to tell you. There’s been so much …”

“It’s okay,” Carrie said. “Forget about that.”

“Forget about it?”

“Look …” She breathed deeply. The air was dry but at least the quicksand was out of her system. “I’m – I’m going to look for another shitty job and then draw when I can. For myself.”

“For yourself? I thought you already did that.”

“Well, apparently I didn’t. It’s a long story, but I … am not going to kill myself anymore trying to find that business idea. I miss just drawing. What time did you say you were home?”

“It’s probably going to be a couple of hours.”


“There’s one of your pads under the sofa, by the way.”

“I know. It’s out now.”


Last updated 30 May 2021

The Seven Words Left On Paper

The Seven Words Left On Paper

“Isn’t that the bag dad uses for his guns?” 

“No, it’s an ordinary bag,” Carrie said, “like yours.”

Emma had her own new pink bag with the large Japanese letters slung over her shoulder, so it was obvious that she was going over to Mika, probably to try again to make a positive impression on the new smart girl in class.  

Emma nodded at the bed again. “It looks like dad’s bag.”

Carrie adjusted her ear ring, even though she had already done it. But at least she had somewhere to put her hands. “I’m going shopping. Is there anything special you want for dinner, sweetie?”

“Dinner?” Emma still tripped in the doorway to her parents’ bedroom, staring at the big black bag her mother had on the bed.

“Yes, is there anything you want?”

“Er, for dinner?” Emma repeated as if her mother had asked her about the site of an alien landing.

“Yes, I was thinking about fries and chicken … ” 

“We had that yesterday.”

“Oh, right.” Carrie left the earring alone and pretend she was all clear. “Well, your brother likes it so no harm in having it again.”

Emma smiled briefly. “I think I will eat over at Mika’s … if you don’t mind?”

“The rest of us will certainly miss your excellent company, but we will try to manage.” Carrie was about to say something more, but it was already too late.

“Okay. Bye now!” And away she was. Carrie could hear the stair groaning in protest as Emma flew down to the front door, like a soldier to battle.

Carrie hooked up in the straps of the black bag and felt its weight. It didn’t feel like going off to battle, although perhaps it should. The bag was there, but it did not feel it belonged to her. 

Her summer dress with the knee-length skirt—that belonged to her, even if she’d rather have a newer one. Her sandals that were a little too tight, and which she had to replace soon. A whiff of nail polish, deodorant, lipstick, all familiar. All belonged to her. She had just dressed for shopping, after all.  But she did not feel like it.

She felt like an intruder in her own life. And it wasn’t the first time. She wondered if it would make a difference what was in the bag or that she was going to give it to Jenna, before going anywhere near Costco. In fact, she felt no appetite at all … 

After a moment of hesitation, Carrie heaved the bag up once more, felt the strap bite into her naked shoulder but ignored it. She listened instead. There were the expected sounds. Michael was playing his games. This time it was strategy-something. And he was well into his own autistic world, as usual. He probably wouldn’t notice if she knocked on his door, anyway.

She went out, to do what she had to do.


Emma watched her mom walk over to the car, heels click-clacking on the sun-cracked cement that made for a driveway to their small house. 

She was in her usual hide-out behind Mr. Taylor’s fence, which he luckily never got around to replacing. The old planks had long since come apart as rain and sun had done their job, each season, and it was easy to find an opening wide enough to look through, but not wide enough to be seen. Or at least she reckoned so.

Mr. Taylor himself was at the nursing home, looking after his wife, as usual. Or at least she reckoned so.

There were a lot of routines in Emma’s world that she depended on to get by and crazy as it sounded one of the routines was that she knew her mother’s dark moods well enough to be able to predict fairly well, when Carrie would be angry or just distant. Emma also knew when to look out for worse things. Her father had had a long conversation about that one night when Carrie had been at her friend, Jenna’s, with some other of her friends.

That conversation had frightened Emma, and she had felt crushingly alone, and her father as usual had kind of left it there and didn’t seem like he wanted to talk about it again, although she desperately needed to.

Her mother started the car and it pulled out onto the street and then quickly disappeared between the boxes that went for houses in their suburb. She didn’t make the usual turn at the end, so Emma knew she wasn’t going into town. She was heading out of it. The only person in eastern Yuma that Emma knew her mom knew was Jenna Banks. Otherwise there was nothing for her there.

The sun was in the sky, as it was so often here in Arizona, but it felt cold.

Emma pulled her phone from her Japanese bag and called Mika.

“Look, I can’t come over now.”

“What?” Mika sounded both disappointed and a bit like it was what she had expected. “Not again!”

Emma bit her lip. “I’m really sorry. It’s mom. She’s gone over to a friend, I think, but something is wrong.”

“Last time you thought your mom would kill herself, she went to a barbecue party.” Emma could hear Mika chewing gum, and … someone else in the background. Were there other girls from her class? Mika had said that tonight was ‘their night’.

“It’s not her this time. I think she might kill … I don’t know.” Emma stalled. She couldn’t say it. And it was crazy, wasn’t it? The only clue she had was dad’s black bag. But it had looked … heavy.

“You think she’ll go on a shooting spree?” Mika’s voice became serious, all of a sudden. “Is that what you are saying?”

“I don’t know what I am saying … ” Emma felt something in her stomach, like acid. It was eating away at her insides. “I don’t know, I’m just worried. She has had a lot of arguments with Jenna recently.”

“Maybe you should call your dad. Isn’t he a police man?” Mika chewed the gum again. “I want to help. Tell me if I can do anything.”

“I’ll call my dad. It’s probably all right. She hasn’t been doing pills or booze or anything … ” Emma hung up, but the acid was still there and it was spreading.

It was that feeling that she had had more and more often. It was both acrid and ice cold at the same time, and it nailed her to the spot.

She couldn’t move. She felt her heart beat faster and she had trouble breathing. Doctor Maryam had called it anxiety attacks and had given her some pills, too, but the only pills Emma could think of was the ones she knew her mother sometimes had in her drawer. The ones against depression. Had she taken them recently? Were they enough? 

Despite what she had told Mika, she really didn’t know if her mother had been skipping her pills or if she had been drinking again or anything else. It was easier to keep an eye on mom due to COVID 19, of all things, because they had been home so much, but on the other hand, it wasn’t as if Emma could survey the attic or the bedroom 24/7. Emma suspected mom already knew that she was sometimes watching her.

She finally tore herself loose of the cold and started walking down the street, her pink bag bopping at her hip. She was only 15 but it felt like she had already spent whatever life had been allotted to her. She wanted to go over to Mika’s and have fun and watch those series they had talked about, because Mika and her brother had both Netflix and HBO.

But instead she got on her bike and began half-heartedly cycling east, towards the Foothills where she knew Jenna lived. She wrestled with the question.

Should I call dad?

There could be a million reasons her mother had borrowed that bag. It was one of the biggest they had. Maybe her mother would go to Costco on her way back? Maybe her mother thought it was none of Emma’s business that she was going to Jenna’s first? Maybe she wasn’t going to Jenna’s but somewhere else?

Emma knew it was stupid to continue biking. She had to do something. Stop and call. Decide this was normal and ignore it. Go back to talk to Michael. But as long as she was biking at least she felt she had direction, as crazy as it was.

If only she felt that her own life in general was heading in some kind of direction. A direction that gave you hope. Not one that made you feel like you were driving towards a deep dark tunnel that nobody knew the length of.

Perhaps one that never ended.

Then the thought struck her. 

If mom really wanted to do something crazy, she would have left a note, right? That’s what they always do.

It was pretty absurd, but the thought gave Emma what she needed. Hope and another direction. She went back to the house to search for a sign, some indication. Then she would call her father.

I might be ten thousand times too late … but I have to do this right.

The doctor said she should always think twice. Think about what really could have happened. The possibilities. Not just the worst-case scenario. If only the latter wasn’t so hard.

For a moment, she considered calling mom. It would be the obvious thing to do. Except that her mom would probably lie, as she had done so often before. No, not lie. Lie was a bad word. More like her mom was always hiding, not telling her how she really felt.

Emma went to the bedroom. There was nothing.

Then she went to the locker in the basement where her father kept his guns. It was locked. But her mother knew where the key was. She knocked on the locker. It sounded as if there was something inside. She tried moving it a little bit. It felt heavy, as usual. There was definitely something inside. Yet, her father had many guns … 

She couldn’t stand it any longer. She went upstairs to get a better signal for her cell phone and began punching her dad’s number. She wondered if she should take the extra pills, Dr. Maryam had prescribed for ‘difficult situations’, but she wanted to call first.

Then she saw the note in the hallway.

It had to have fallen out of mom’s purse. No, it looked crumpled, like she had thrown it away. She sometimes did that with the strangest of things in the strangest of places. Once her mom had left an entire Happy Meal on the pavement, because she had decided she wasn’t hungry, and then went home to cook late. It had been one of the bad days, so nobody had said anything about how hungry they were and things had dissolved into workable normalcy the next day.

Emma picked up the note. It said:


Hello And Welcome

Hello And Welcome

I love fantasies.

Except when I try to make them real.

Could be fantasies about anything, but you know what it’s mostly about. Maybe it is different for you. But … I dunno.

Well, anyway, the problem with fantasies is that they get messy and troublesome once you try to make them real.

The problem is also that fantasies don’t have any soul if you go into them and never try to make them real. They get distilled, watered down. There is only the bare bones and framework.

That is so attractive. Of course. 

I wish I was better at making fantasies real and enjoying what I have. All at the same time.

And I am rambling, as I clean up the attic. Or my part of the attic anyway.

It’s dusty and forlorn up here, pieces of a life – more lives. I wonder what you could see if you went down the street here and looked into all the attics. I think you’d see pieces of many lives, never lived.

Or just clutter, thrown away.

Why did I go up here? I should try to fix my fantasies. I spent a whole morning with them because I was bloody alone. And why hasn’t Jon called yet to say when he is coming home with the kids?

I walk around and almost stumble over something. A bicycle. For kids.

I take it up and dust it off. Emma’s? I’m not sure I remember anymore.

Just as I don’t remember where my pencils are, where my paper is. It is somewhere down below and you see I wanted to use it – today.

I had made promises to myself.

I stumble over something else. I kick at it. I don’t even stop to watch.

I want to find those bloody drawings. Now.

But I can’t.

I look everywhere but I can’t.

The sun gets up higher and higher outside, but for once it only casts more light and not heat. The windows are dusty, too. But they are not blocking everything.

There is a reason – (I stumble again, or nearly so – dammit)

Dammit …

I sit down. On some crate of Jon’s, workout equipment he never used at home. 

There is a reason it’s cold here, and it is not the dust. Not the small window. Not because it is winter.

Winter is never cold near the Mexican border. Winter is a concept here, something we’ve heard of, but never really known. It is the land with only one season: heat.

Everything is always dry. But that is not the problem.

I think about the heat all the time when it gets to me. I’m not used to it. I come from a land of cold and mist and even though it is no longer my home, it is what I bring with me.

Like stories. Of my life. Like all the things that always repeat themselves. Like wars – inside and out.

I am always at war. I meet people who have been to war, but that … does not matter.

I know I am rambling now but bear with me. It is important. It is why I can’t find my drawings.

It is why I wasted the morning, trying to take something beautiful and hold it but could not go all the way. I should have tried to make it real. Like my drawings.

What I am trying to say is that I have not made a drawing for … years. I don’t remember when it was the last time.

And I am tired of finding excuses. But I keep doing it.

And I am tired of not being able to create something beautiful. I have even forgotten what it was I wanted to create.

I work as a cleaning lady. I once went to college. Then I did drugs but got out of it. Then I worked myself back into some kind of life. Then I met Jon.

It worked. I got a life.

But everything is on hold.

(I wipe it away.)

Then I get up.

Tears are no good. I have to find out how I get to draw again. How I get the time, space, and energy.

How I use my energy to do that, something precious – like my kids. But I have given them a lot now, they are old enough. I have to figure out what to give myself before it is too late.


Carrie stood for a moment in the attic and looked around, trying to make sense of it all. Where had she put her old drawings?

Then she remembered that there was paper in the cupboard next to the entrance.

But no pencils.

I could go shopping and buy some. It is Sunday but the mall is open. 

She wondered. Maybe this was another way of getting away. What if she went over there and got distracted?

What if she spent her energy?

What if Jon was back when she came home?

Carrie looked at her hand. In the dust-filled light, it looked ghostly. She touched her hair, let her fingers slide through it. It was dry, like the land around her. Like she felt.

So what was the point? She should be pleased, shouldn’t she?

She started descending the ladder, leaving the smell of old cardboard behind. She couldn’t stand it for a moment longer.

She gently lowered herself to the floor, since the ladder to the attic didn’t go all the way down. It was enough that she had almost fallen 3 times already – up there. She didn’t need a damn broken ankle when she was almost back.

But back to what?

Then she heard the car, then the door, then …

“Mommy – we’re home! Mommy, where are you?”

Carrie went to them. That was what she went back to.

But she noticed her heart was still alight when she hugged them – all of them.

That was good enough. Very good.

And yet. It pained her that she had failed again – to find the drawings, to find pen and paper. To get something done.

Something like drawing again.

“Hey, honey – ” Jon panted, putting down the bags. His hug was still strong, still good. He was still strong, although not without wear and tear.

She caressed his beard, for lack of some other gesture. But it was okay. No, it was more than okay. It was Jon.

“Anything the matter?”

He knew her too well. The kids were already running wild. They had not noticed anything.

“I guess … ” she looked down ” … I didn’t get so much rest, after all.”

He smiled. “I didn’t get any rest either – that playground in the mall is insane.”

“Well, the kids love it.” She put her arms around him.

“Emma is too old, actually,” Jon continued now, his voice trailing ” – she’d rather go shopping. Are you sure you are all right?”

She hesitated, but only for a second now: “Yes.”

She let go now and looked directly at him:

“Is JoAnn’s Craft Store still open over in the mall?”

“Yeah, I think so? Why?”

“I’m going there. Have to pick up a few things. Can you hold the fort for me – just for an hour?”

Jon was about to protest, but only for a second or so: “Yeah, sure.”

“Good.” Carrie took the car keys from his hand and clenched them in hers for a moment. Then she gently tapped his chest with her closed hand, and the keys.

When she went out the door and into the driveway, Jon called after her:

“What do I tell Em and Mike?”

She stopped and looked back at the house and him. Regular dry suburbia, but right now it looked a little better:

“Tell them I went to buy some new crayons.”

“For them or for you?”

“For all of us.”

To the Lighthouse

To the Lighthouse

“I’m not sure I follow you … ” Jon said.

He tilted his whiskey slowly from side to side and wondered how to break to his father-in-law that he really hated this conversation.

“Well, I reckon ye would nae,” the older man said and gazed out the window.

There was a slight reflection in Calum McDonnell’s water glass of the deep green from the hills outside, including a darker spot that hinted at clouds over the nearby Loch.

“What time did they say they would be back?” Jon looked at his phone. There was no signal but the phone’s clock told him what he needed to know.

“In an hour or so,” Calum said. “Good thing, too. There’ll nae be any going to the lighthouse tomorrow.”

“Why not?”

“—The weather,” Calum just said.

Jon looked at his whiskey skeptically. When Calum had asked him to try the Talisker, he thought first he should refuse. He was even surprised Carrie’s father still had something like this in the house. But it was a ‘special occasion’, or so Calum had said.

“First real talk between us old soldiers,” he had said. “Worth celebrating.”

“You have been to visit us in the States,” Jon reminded him.

“Aye, but always too bloody much going on … ” Calum poured the whiskey for Jon. “Here.”

He looked satisfied when Jon took the glass. “Good choice. Now ye can sample the local pride.”

But Jon had not sampled it. Merely held it in his hands. The amber liquid smelled like seaweed and smoke. Then they had sat down and begun their little chat, and the glass had remained in his hands.

“I regret ever going to Iraq,” Jon said eventually. “But I was young and I needed the money.”

Jon hesitated. Then he took a sip from the glass. There was a burning in his throat. But not like desert sand, though …

Calum nodded. “I don’t regret going. Only that my knee got shot up.”

“That’s bad. But it could have been your head.”

“I know, I know … but I should have seen the bastard.”

“Did you see him afterward?”

“Aye. My pals in the squad cleared out their nest for good. Last Argies in Goose Green, that’s for sure.”

Jon took another sip. “You regret not being able to go up there and shoot them?”

“Nae like that,” Calum replied thoughtfully. “But I do regret nae being able to do something, at all.”

“You got shot before you could engage the enemy. What could you have done?”

“I should have …” Calum paused. The dark spot in his water had grown. “I should have been … better.”

Jon looked at his phone again. “So … if you were able to still be in the service, would you have chosen to remain?”

Calum leaned back in the chair which responded with a mournful creaking sound. Jon wasn’t surprised. The living room in the house seemed like a time capsule.

Nothing much had changed since his wife was a child. Not much had ever been replaced.

“I would … probably.” Calum shook his head. “Carrie and her mother joke that they both married soldiers because they were the best-looking gifts they could find before all the shops closed. Then they discovered what was under the wrapping, so to speak.”

“Oh, did Carrie say that?”

Calum smirked. “Think ye’d better have a word with her once she gets home with Sheila and the kids, eh?” He got up and turned on the radio. “It’s news time soon. Hope ye don’t mind.”

“Not at all.” Jon thought of time, too.

Calum retreated to his chair again, with heavy movements. He lowered himself into it with obvious strain. “Ye know, my 11-year-old granddaughter confided in me last night while we did the dishes that she will never marry a soldier—unless he is a good man, like her father.” He eyed Jon, looking for a reaction.

None came.

” … Emma already knows what’s good,” Calum continued, his fingers tapping the window frame beside the chair. “And that men who want to go off and fight usually turn out no good.”

“That’s not how she sees you,” Jon said. “Neither does Carrie for that matter. In fact—”

But Calum held up his hand. “It’s kind of ye, Jonathan, but the only fact here is that ye came home and swore ye’d never go again, and that was the right choice. I came home and swore that if I had the chance I would. Even after it cost me my marriage.”

In the background, the venerable radio buzzed with something about Russian bombings in Syria.

“I believe you wanted to make it work,” Jon offered. “And lots of people make it work. Some of my old buddies from Iraq are still in the army and they have families, too.”

Calum let a brief smile cross his lips. “So ye are suggesting it was nae because I enjoyed doing my job that there was a problem, but because I couldnae figure out how to have a family, too?”

Jon shook his head, then got up. “What I’m suggesting is that it is over. The war for you ended 35 years ago.”

Jon looked at the other man in the way he looked at shadowy figures approaching in desert twilight. You never really knew what they carried behind their backs. So you had to look at them as if you did not care in the slightest.

It was something he had practiced a lot.

“I’ll go out and meet our ladies and the kids,” he said. “I’m sure they are on their way back now.”

Calum nodded wistfully. “I’m sorry, Jonathan. I’m an arse. I will try to be someone different. I don’t want ye to believe in all the stories my daughter has told ye about me.”

“She told me some bad ones, yeah. She also told me a lot of good ones.”

Calum downed the water, then put away the glass slowly. “What did she tell ye?”

“That you searched for a whole day, on foot, once she had run away. You went up to those mountains—what was the name again—”

“The Cuillins.”

“Yes, those. You went up there and you came home with her.”

“Any father would have done the same. Especially after those whiners at the station said they had to stop for the night.”

“Maybe,” Jon said. “But I don’t know many fathers who are also trained in outdoor survival.”

Calum harrumphed. “Ye are trying too damn hard to make it work, Jonathan … Why don’t ye go on ahead and meet the others? I’ll join ye in a wee bit.”

“On the way to the lighthouse?” Jon asked.

“Damn right,” Calum replied.

Sparkles In The Rain

Sparkles In The Rain

“What do we do when we feel time is passing too fast?” she asked.

“Do ye feel that already?” her father asked, looking mildly surprised.

“Never mind,” Carrie said. But they had stopped.

“It’s not what I mind,” her father said. “It’s what ye mind. And maybe we haven’t been that much together in the last 20 years but I know my daughter. What’s wrong?”

Carrie breathed deeply. They were both standing on the side of a hill overlooking the Bay of Portree. It was crisscrossed with small paths that were barely visible but her father knew them all and she had followed him this far, and he had allowed her to set her own pace.

“Megan died,” Carrie then said. “She was my age – a year younger actually. 37 … ”

Her father nodded gravely: “That’s sad.”

“Yeah … ” Carrie shook her head as if she had been hit by sudden nausea. “Yeah, it is. She worked at that organization I told you about. Didn’t know her that well, but … “

“But enough,” her father concluded.

They both looked out in the distance. There was mist, as always. In the harbor below small boats darting to and fro and there was a slight hum from the small town around it, giving a faint but reassuring indication of life. And it was a life that – in later years when she got in touch with her father again and more and more often thought of Portree and Skye – had often appeared to her as … uncomplicated. Much more so than the life, she knew in the big cities in the States, where she had lived since she was a teenager.

Read More Read More



“Let’s nae talk about Tim now.” Carrie’s father put the land rover to a firm halt in the small yard with gray and white pebble-stones.

“Sorry, I have a liiitle bit of jetlag, okay?” Carrie muttered under her breath. She hadn’t meant to mention Tim, but as they drove up the final road to her childhood home, her daughter Emma had asked if she was to sleep in Carrie’s old room and if her little brother was to sleep in Tim’s old room, and then Carrie had answered without thinking.

“So this is the house? Wow – do you have sheep, grandpa?” On the backseat Emma was bubbling with excitement.

Carrie cast a quick glance at her father before she answered. “Yes, Emma, that’s where I grew up, with the sheep. And with your uncle.”

“Ye’re breaking our agreement on purpose, Caroline.” Her father sighed in exactly that tone Carrie hated. She knew it would be coming. Perhaps that’s why she had felt like striking first.

“What agreement?” Emma was there immediately, almost crawling out between the front and passenger seat.

“Nothing,” Carrie said with enough venom in her voice that Emma drew back. “Use the door if you want to get out. That’s what it’s there for.”

There was a slight drizzle, and Carrie remained seated as Emma struggled to open the heavy backdoor. Her grandfather went out from the driver’s seat and around the car to help her, too. Carrie could also hear Jon, her husband, get out of the other land rover behind them, presumably to help Sheila with the luggage (and with Michael).

So Carrie was the last person inside any of the vehicles. Like a piece of forgotten luggage.

She looked out through the rain and the front window and took in the contours of the house. She noted that she didn’t feel anything. Not yet. She noted that was good. She went out to the others.

“No, that one!” She could hear Michael cry out, pushing a suitcase back in the trunk of land rover number two. Sheila looked confused. “Take that one instead,” Michael said and pointed to a big grey suitcase – his father’s. Carrie bit her lip but said nothing since Sheila looked as if she was determined to figure out how to do it right. Jon had stopped and looked unsure how much he should interfere.

The flight from the States had been surprisingly unproblematic for Michael, and then he had freaked out because the suitcases got off the plane in the wrong order. ‘Autism without borders’ Jon had joked, referring to that Doctors Without Borders secretary job she mused about on the way over. Carrie had sent him a withering glance and then they were both busy helping Michael cope with another painful interruption in his world’s order, while Emma withdrew to a bench to see if she could get a signal on her phone.

But at least they were finally here, after another half day of travel from Glasgow and up into the highlands. Carrie and Jon, their children, and the children’s grandfather along with his new wife.

It should have been the moment of relief but Carrie felt tense as a wire.

Emma was already striding towards the small white house, her pink backpack bumping up and down for every step.

“Emma!” Carrie called, “let granddad go first so he can open the door.”

“The garden path is still big enough for two,” Carrie’s father said. “I’ll get the young lass in first and then Jon and I can take the luggage.”

“Just be careful about the order-” Carrie started and carefully glanced in the direction of Sheila and her son.

“We’re fine, mom!” Michael waved and looked as if he had had an epiphany. Their suitcases were now ordered according to a certain sequence of colors that absolutely had to be correct. So all problems were over. Michael’s glasses were slightly foggy due to the drizzle and when he grinned, braces and all, he reminded her of a kid from one of those science fiction cartoons that he reveled in every weekend. Carrie wondered if they could watch them on YouTube and what they would do if they couldn’t. There had been so many things …

And from that point on, the logistics of unloading their baggage and getting everybody in before Scotland’s famous five hundred varieties of rain had soaked them all unfolded with remarkable speed and efficiency. Emma’s enthusiasm even seemed to have a strangely contagious effect on her brother, who was usually quiet and reserved when confronted with new places and situations. It was not long before the kids were roaming around the house, admiring everything with ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ as if they had been dropped into a toy store.

“If the wee ones weren’t 9 and 11, I’d give them a good drink to calm things down,” Carrie’s father remarked, followed by one of his trademark wry smiles, as he came in with the last suitcase. “And if I still had good drinks in the house.”

Then he stopped, as he saw Carrie standing frozen in the small hallway, looking at the faded drapery with the Lone Shieling verse on it:

From the lone shieling of the misty island
Mountains divide us, and the waste of seas
Yet still the blood is strong,
the heart is Highland,
And we in dreams behold the Hebrides

“Dad, why is Tim’s jacket still here?” she asked.

Her father stopped; suitcase only half over the doorstep. Small droplets of water formed underneath it then disappeared into the mat.

For a long time, her father was silent. Then he said, “I don’t know, Caroline. I guess I thought it was wrong to remove it. It’s right under the drapery.”

Carrie crossed her arms. “I can see that. So much for the agreement, eh?”

“I’m really sorry,” he offered, sounding genuinely out of it. “I guess I have a bit o’ permanent jetlag about that one. It’s been hanging there for so long, I … ”

Carrie didn’t hit back this time. Apparently, there were some things you could try to agree to tell a certain story about, and then you would discover soon enough that there were other authors working around you.

Inside the living room, she could hear Jon trying to calm the kids, while Sheila was rummaging with something on the stove in the kitchen right beside it. But she could only see the jacket. And the drapery.

“Shall I put it away?” her father asked, bracing himself.

Carrie opened her mouth like she was trying to find a breath. “No. No, it’s okay.” She put on her best smile.

“And if Emma asks?” Carrie’s father continued. “She’s an inquisitive lass, I can already see that. What should I tell her?”

“It will probably be Michael,” Carrie said. “He’ll tell you it isn’t your size. Emma may wonder about the Metallica logo on the back, though.”

“Aye, well, I still think I should put it away,” her father said. “I wouldn’t know what to tell them, anyway.”

Carrie breathed deeply. “Tell them the truth. I should have done that already, but I thought it was best to focus on this … reunion.”

“I reckon we both did, Caroline.”

Carrie worked to get her coat off, suddenly feeling how tired she was from the journey. “You know, Michael will tell you that Reunion is a French island in the Indian Ocean. He knows pretty much all the islands in the world. Right now it’s the ones starting with ‘R’ that he is most interested in, though.”

Her father helped her with the coat. “My grandson seems to be good at remembering the right things, then. That’s nae bad start.”

And so they went in, to be together.

The Inside That I Carve

The Inside That I Carve

Carrie was trying to decide whether or not to get divorced while taking the bus for the work she hated.

They had had sex last night, for the first time in months – sure. That was nice. But it wasn’t as if it mattered.

Jon was too tired after, and she didn’t really feel they connected. More like they just tried to copy something they had done without thinking 10 years ago.

Now they were overthinking it.

So sex, or lack of sex, was a problem but it wasn’t the problem anyway. It was just a sign.

One of many.

“East 24th” the bus driver droned and Carrie got up without thinking, as she had done so many times before.

A lot of things you did in life without thinking, and then … when you got thinking too much: It hurt.

She stepped out into the afternoon blaze. The sun almost blinded her. The heat choked. People bustled to and fro.

She’d bustle to the nursing home and clean. That was her job. For the 5th year.

“You’ll find something new,” Jon had said, but only for so many years until even he had stopped trying to believe it.

She had said to herself for a while it was a necessary sacrifice – to keep up with her voluntary work.

She had said to herself that she was better off – a lot – than those poor women coming up and getting legal counsel (what she could give) as a volunteer at OMAC and then being sent back by the authorities.

She was here in the promised land, Carrie Sawyer, yes, she was. She just had to fight a little harder and things would work out for the college drop-out.

Carrie went over to the building and checked in.

Clarice was at the reception desk.

“Afternoon, hun,” Clarice said without looking up, “don’t do the second floor today.”

“Why not?”

“Some concert. Local band. The residents will be coming in to hear it in an hour or so.”


The usual chit-chat followed, but it wasn’t much. Clarice didn’t overly care about Carrie and the feeling was mutual.

Like many of her colleagues, she was a shadow, someone you saw and then moved past.

Like most of the old folks here. Except perhaps one or two.

Mrs. Darrington had really been nice the last time, Carrie had been in her room for the trash bag. So sweet. And also a little pathetic. What would Carrie do with a picture of Mrs. Darrington from a Florida vacation in 1958?

Mrs. D was slowly going senile. Carrie knew that sometimes she couldn’t see if Carrie was Carrie the cleaning lady or Mrs. D’s daughter who had died in a traffic accident in 1992.

Carrie went for her uniform and stuff and started at the bottom floor. She figured she’d go through there and then wait until the rest of the rooms cleared for the concert. Would make it easier … in so many ways.

So about that divorce … what the hell would it help? Jon has been good to me. It is not his fault we don’t talk much anymore or don’t turn each other on. I wouldn’t be turned on by myself … hell no.

She swung the mob in angry strokes over the first dirty floor and wondered if Maria Gonzales would be there the next time Carrie had time to go to OMAC to counsel and translate. Pretend that it mattered that she flunked out of university 17 years ago.

Not many of the books from back then had any relevance here. In fact, her Spanish skills were more relevant.

Carrie thought a lot more about Spanish whilst doing the other floors.

It would be easiest, after all, to go home and pretend everything was normal and let the kids be the most important matter.


At some point, Carrie got to room 14B and discovered the new name tag. She discovered it but paid it no attention until she actually went in and saw the new furniture and images. Including the wedding shots, of course.

She stopped and picked up the old photo. A dark-haired man with a mustache, a bit Latino. A wisp of a woman, blonde, short hair. The room belonged to the man.

So what exactly is it that doesn’t work? she asked herself. It’s not the sex and all that. We can fix that. I hope … 

Was it then the fact, that Jon was burying himself more and more in work? He had a desk job now and seldom went on patrol or in the field. But there was a lot more to do, even if less dangerous. All those young offenders that he wanted to save.

Like he had wanted to save her, back in the day…

She smiled briefly and put away the photo.

No, it wasn’t Jon’s priorities.

But they had drifted apart. Something was missing. They seldom talked. And it didn’t feel like it was getting better.

And, if she got that divorce – she hated to admit it but there it was … then she’d only have to have the kids part of the time.

Carrie took the mop and furiously attacked the bathroom floor.

She wasn’t allowed to think this.

But on the other hand, it was there – true.

And yet – how could she?

She stopped again.

I love you, Emma, she thought imagining her daughter sitting on her lap, when she was smaller and wanted to.

I love you, Michael, she thought and imagined the same with her son.

She really did love them.  But she needed some time away. Not feeling so boxed in …

Then she heard somebody coming up the stairs and hurried to the next room.


When she was finished, she sat down in the small shed out near the parking lot and pulled out the pack.

At least it is not snow … 

Or booze … 

Yeah, she had made some progress in life. And she knew she ought to be grateful.

How many would’ve predicted that a college drop-out runaway crack addict would ever get back into life?

Get married?

Have children?

Move to suburbia?

Get a job – even if it was a lousy one?

And, of course, do her little bit to help society along – with the volunteering and all?

When she was rattling in her own puke more than once in those desolate hotel rooms after someone had long gone and she barely remembered him, well, … what could she think of then, except the regret if she died now without being able to get better?

Clarice came out. Pulled out her pack:

“Long day, eh?” she said as if she had already read Carrie’s mind. Once again …

“Long day,” Carrie admitted. “Again. I can’t wait for my first holiday in five years. Pity it’s not longer.”

“Going to visit the old man, eh?”

“I would rather go to Acapulco but yeah. I mean, God knows when I ever get the money to go somewhere again?”

“You know, maybe it’s okay,” said Clarice. “That we got this far. Maybe we don’t need it anymore. Maybe this is a victory.”

Clarice had told Carrie, in the only unguarded moment, during the Christmas get-together in ’14. Oh, had she told …

(Denied it afterward, of course, but still … )

“What do you mean ‘victory’?” Carrie asked and looked at her cigarette, slowly burning out.

“Well, you know what the hell I mean,” Clarice answered in a non-answer, blowing smoke towards the merciless sun.

The smoke seemed to dissipate and drift away in the heatwaves of the air, like their lives.

“Look, I would have died if I had stayed with Seth,” Clarice then said. “But I got over him and away from him. Maybe Sam is a fat idiot but he is not Seth. And many women never leave. They just … succumb.”

“I feel like I have succumbed,” Carrie mumbled and finally inhaled.

“Bullshit,” Clarice snarled and Carrie almost jumped with surprise.

Clarice got up and threw away the cig: “I’m tired of your whining, Carrie. You are still pretty – not like … “

She wiped her skirt for something. Maybe dust. Then she turned around, but one last thing still got said:

“You have 20 years more time than me to make mistakes. Why the hell you wastin’ them here?”

Carrie didn’t answer. She just inhaled more.


Back towards home on the bus. Yuma passing by. Texting with Emma about her school project.

I look so much fw 2 seein it, honey. On my way home.

And other letters she didn’t remember. Carrie looked out at the city. Everything seemed grey and yet sunny at the same time.

It was a paradox. It was her life.

She had won. She had triumphed over the hardest odds. Who came back from the needle, from being a train wreck in the head, from … that nowhere where she had been?

Who came back?

So now she was a suburban housewife with drone marriage and tired of kids? Big deal!

Yet …

Carrie drew out her notepad. It was already filled, like the walls of a pyramid with the hieroglyphs of her strained handwriting.

On the last page she just wrote one sentence:

‘Why can’t I win this one, too?’


Last updated 10 May 2021

Pirañas Under Our Feet

Pirañas Under Our Feet

In La Paz, Bolivia, the majority of people live for less than a dollar a day, so the last thing Carrie expected was for an expensive American-made four-wheeler to wait for her outside the main—and only—airport terminal.

As the mostly homegoing wife of a state trooper back in Arizona, and with two kids—one of them with a diagnosis—Carrie wasn’t exactly a stranger to surprises that demanded caution, grit, or both. But this made her hesitate. 

She had expected Julia to be here. Julia had texted Carrie that she would be here.

But there was no one who remotely looked like her. Just a mostly empty parking lot and then the monster of a car.

A bubbly young backpacker couple pushed their way past her out into the cold thin air and sharp mountain sun, to be met by a swarm of ‘helpful’ cabbies saluting in broken English, and pointing to handwritten signs on cardboard in dusty car windows, saying “Taxi”.

So not an entirely empty lot, but the hubbub of cabs in various states of disrepair seemed drawn to the airport building like bees to their hive.

Which made the lone black four-wheeler all the more conspicuous.

Not knowing what to do, Carrie distracted herself by looking at the young couple who were in profound negotiations with a gray-haired cabbie, using a mix of English, Spanish, and sign language. 

A bittersweet smile crossed Carrie’s lips. That was me 14 years ago … 

Back then, Julia had been embarrassed she could only offer Carrie coca tea in that tiny hut that had been her home in the tropical forests of the Cochabamba valley. 

Carrie briefly wondered where Julia lived now that she had moved to the capital in the highlands. Almost simultaneously, she suppressed a sting of regret that she herself wasn’t in the airport of Cochabamba right now. 

Julia’s hut had been a home for almost a year for her—a young backpacker running away from the darkness in her life—and Carrie had infinitely better memories of that hut than many of the hotels she had stayed in before and after.

Hotel rooms didn’t make you whole after your best friend in college had committed suicide. 

They were just another kind of prison for the grief you tried to escape from but which always followed you, like a shadow. 

But the creaky bed in Julia’s hut, and the view through the single window to the pensive waters of the Espiritu Santo River, had been a place where the shadow could finally begin to dissolve. 

It had been the beginning of coming back to life for Carrie and moving on, even if that moving on had been to a different kind of prison—married with children and bouncing around between shit jobs or just the daily shitload of laundry. 

However, as long as you didn’t shoot anymore crack into your veins or drank like a sailor or any of the other things, that was a prison she could live with. It was a step up. 

A big step for Carrie Sawyer, now Reese. 

But shi-it, 14 years is a long time ….

She eyed the black car again. 

Its plates looked quite official—as in government-official. But why would Julia be waiting in that car? 

No, it was more likely she was late. Typical. Bolivians, including Julia, were never on time. 

There was a reason they had a whole concept for the phenomenon down here—hora boliviana. Time just moved differently in this part of the world and you had to accept that.

“Señora—taxi?” A hopeful cabbie popped up in front of her, his daredevil grin reminding Carrie of her son. Including the missing teeth.

She waved him away and took a few careful steps down the stairs, swaying to one side because of her suitcase, and feeling the first pangs of headache from being almost 12,000 feet above sea level. And breathing 35 percent less oxygen.

She had to make a decision about that car. She had to power through the throng of cab drivers and get out onto the lonely parking lot and wave. 

Or maybe go back into the terminal? Try the phone—if she could get a signal. No. No – too early. Could she have missed Julia inside? Not likely. The airport was the size of her daughter’s school.

But still, that huge car couldn’t possibly be there for her, could it?

Julia had been active in one of Bolivia’s numerous unions after her coca farmer husband had been killed by police during a demonstration. She posted a lot about the union on Facebook. This year she also shared campaign posts on Facebook every day from MAS – the reigning Movimiento Al Socialismo party—and had quipped about helping a ‘senate member’— just before the recent election in Bolivia. However, she had mostly talked about handing out pamphlets when she and Carrie had found a rare occasion to chat online about it. It seemed preposterous that Julia would ever be in any kind of position to—

And then, a black door opened and a very familiar woman hopped out onto the tarmac.

“Carolina!” Julia almost flew over to the stunned Carrie and caught her in a firm embrace.

“Julia—¿cómo estás?” was all Carrie could say, although she could see Julia, despite a few pounds extra and prominent lines under her eyes, was quite better off than all those years ago. 

Quite a bit …

In fact, her old friend was wearing a jumpsuit that had probably cost more than Carrie’s ticket from Los Angeles. 

“How I am doing, querida? I am doing just great!” Julia’s English was exuberant and with a thick accent. “Especially now you come here!” 

Carrie forced herself to smile. She also forced her memories to readjust. “So … you didn’t lie when you said you had learned English.” 

Julia grinned and made a dismissive wave of her hand. “Only little.”

“Lying or learning English?” Carrie deadpanned. 

She felt so out of it. It was so great seeing Julia again. It really was.

“As government servant, you have to maintain good inter-na-tio-nal relations.” Julia snuck an arm around Carrie’s shoulders and squeezed affectionately, while at the same time steering them both back towards the black car.

“—Hey, you’ll soon speak better English than I speak Spanish.” Carrie blurted.

“Not a chance, amiga ...” Julia replied in Spanish. “Santana!” 

Julia was apparently calling for the driver, who was on his way out. Carrie noticed that his skin was considerably darker than Julia’s. Aymara, she thought and nodded politely to him.

Julia herself was of mixed blood but Santana was clearly from the highlands where many indigenous peoples had their home, in small gray villages on the windswept Altiplano or here in the suburbs of La Paz.

He was a young man, little more than a teenager. When he had exited the car he stood erect, by the front door, his thin shape clear against the azure sky over El Alto Internacionál, but his gaze was neither here nor there. 

“What were you doing?” Julia scolded. “I told you to get out and be ready.”

“I was checking—” Santana started.

“Help our guest with her luggage. Now.”

Carrie frowned but then stopped herself. She handed the driver her suitcase and got into the big car, feeling a bit faint. She wondered if she already had altitude sickness.   

Julia got in beside her. She beamed at Carrie. “Ready to see Bolivia again?”

Carrie smiled tentatively. “Yes.”

Julia knocked on the back of Santana’s seat. “Go.”

Santa put the big car into gear, and Carrie was temporarily pushed back into her seat as they turned and accelerated quickly and somewhat haphazardly out of the airport parking lot.

Her hand instinctively fumbled for her seat belt but she found only the buckle.

Julia noticed. “No te preocupes. It’s a short trip.”

Carrie sighed. “No seatbelts, even in a new car.” Then she put a new smile on, for Julia. “It’s Bolivia, all right.”

Julia grinned. “.”

The car sped out onto the sole highway connecting El Alto airport with La Paz and promptly got stuck in a long line of fuming, honking vehicles of all kinds. That was also Bolivia. Just as Carrie remembered it. 

Yet, she could also see the majesty of the snowcapped Andes mountains and she was finally with Julia again after so many years. 

Carrie felt like her heart was beating once more, after a long-dead time as a housewife in the suburb of an American border town.

Now she was free.

Carrie tried to relax on the seat but found the hard black leather not entirely comfortable. She was already sore from the flight. But it didn’t matter, did it? 

She was here. Julia was here. That was enough.

Carrie noticed Julia was staring at her. “So … am I that different?” she quipped.

Julia shook her head. “You are exactly as I remember you.”

“Only 35 instead of 21.”

Julia made a dismissive gesture. “Ah, what does it matter?”

“It matters,” Carrie said. “And I should have come before. But, you know, the money. Kids …”

“I know!” Julia exclaimed. “But money is okay now—here.” She offered a quick grin, almost looking relieved she had said it.

“I can see that,” Carrie said. “What on Earth has happened to you? Last time we chatted, you told me you handed out flyers in the street for MAS before the election.”

“I did, I did. But then Romero and I, well, we decided we wanted to do more—” Julia was interrupted by a cacophony of cars honking at the same time outside. 

“Can we roll up the window?” Carrie asked. “It’s hard enough to breathe at this altitude.”

“You will get used to it.” Julia knocked on Santana’s chair again. “¡Cierre la ventana!”

He pushed a button that let the half-open window near the passenger seat close entirely.

“So …” Carrie said, daring a breath, “how’s Luis?”

Julia waved her hand at the car window as if there were still some fumes from the cars in the cabin. “Oh, he is at school. He is doing well.”

“Is it a high school?” Carrie asked. 

When she had last seen Luis he had been little more than a toddler. It was a leap, like so many others, that she had to make in her mind and she found it difficult. 

“Si,” Julia said. “And how are your children? How is little Michael?”

The herd of cars around them seemed far away suddenly, their endless wailing muffled.

Carrie cleared her throat. “He’s fine. They are fine. I’ll tell you all about it later, okay?”


Carrie looked out the window again. “Maybe we should have walked?”

“It will clear soon,” Julia said. 

She was right. Against all odds, the traffic began moving again and after a brief excursion through the desolate neighborhoods of El Alto, the car swung out onto Calle 8 de Mayo and a breathtaking sight filled Carrie’s view. 

Ringed by white-peaked mountains, Bolivia’s capital spread over the entire valley as far as she could see. 

Carrie breathed deeply again, and for once felt she had enough air.

Maybe she didn’t need to go to that hut. Maybe this entire country where she had found life again was enough. 

Maybe she was already home.


An hour or so later, many things had indeed become clearer.

Carrie now knew that Julia worked as a personal secretary for senator Romero Gonzales who was 52 and owned a six-room apartment in the posh Sopocachi neighborhood. Julia talked about Romero in every other sentence. Oh, and they had also gotten married, it appeared, and she was really sorry for not having mentioned it but there had been some considerations about the election, his divorce, etcetera. And Julia had been terribly busy.

But not with handing out flyers anymore. Someone else was on that particular assignment.

In fact, everything seemed to go really well for Julia who once had hardly known where her next meal would come from. 

In contrast, Carrie had mostly unpleasant stories to entertain Julia with; extrapolations on issues she had briefly touched on during their infrequent chats online. The marriage to Jon was straining, Michael’s autism diagnosis had been a real shock, Emma was getting into fights at school, and there were no good jobs in sight for Carrie—a college drop-out and former addict. Obviously.

Yeah, a lot had happened in those 14 years since Carrie the tourist had found a lost little toddler named Luis on the big market in Cochabamba and reunited him with his mother, even if she had felt so depressed that day she had decided she would not try to talk to anyone again for the rest of the trip, just be alone.

Things hadn’t worked out that way, and an unlikely friendship had been the result.

And Julia was so full of energy and so excited about everything now. Carrie was excited to see her, too, but there was nothing exciting about how things were at home. 

Why had she not thought more about this? Why had she not thought about how fragmented her stories had been on Facebook these last handful of years? Just as she in reality knew very little about Julia from Julia’s infrequent postings or chats, the other thing was true, too. 

But Julia didn’t seem to mind. She was sorry about Michael, of course, but everything else would ‘work out’, she insisted. Just as it had for her. Carrie’s marriage, jobs, everything.

It was a bombardment. Of Julia’s questions, her child-like optimism about possible solutions to Carrie’s problems, and, of course, the sounds and sights that assaulted the senses on the way through the city; piss-stinking sewers, thousands of tin stalls the size of a stamp with solemn solicitors of everything from candy to llama fetuses, shouting drivers in the micro-busses that plowed into the ubiquitous traffic congestion with death defiance, and above all the mayhem—always the real skyline that was the Andes, silent, majestic, eternal. 

But eventually, it was over. They had arrived at Julia’s new home.

And it was definitely different from a hut made of timber and tin. 

Julia now lived in one of the few skyscrapers that towered over La Paz’s southern districts, its parking lot surrounded by a castle-sized wall adorned with broken glass.

Carrie was shown one of the apartment’s spacious rooms by the maid, who was also Aymara, and who seemed to be the only one at home. 

She excused herself that she was tired and had to rest before dinner, and Julia was very understanding.  

When Carrie finally closed the door to her room, everything, including the capital’s incessant buzzing, had receded to a vague hum. She plumped down on the fluffy bed and searched her handbag for deodorant and some pills for altitude sickness. 

Instead, she found a picture she had had the photographer in Yuma copy from her old negatives. He had thought of it as an ‘interesting archaeological exercise’ now that everything was digital.

Carrie had thought of showing the picture to Julia at dinner, later that evening, when Julia’s husband had returned from work.

It was a picture Carrie had taken of Julia in 2000, with her old camera, one day at the river, after a very long evening. Neither had gotten much sleep, but the world and everything in it had been settled. 

Carrie thought Julia had looked particularly serene that morning, despite the wear and tear from hard living which was already visible in her young face, but most of all in the way she looked at the world. Except in moments like that morning.

Julia had been sitting on a small bridge close to the boat, her naked feet dangling over the water. Carrie had felt secure enough in her Spanish to try a lame joke.

‘¿No le tienes miedo a las pirañas?’

‘There are no pirañas in this river, stupid,’ Julia had replied and her dark eyes had sparkled like the sun glinting in the shadowy water. 

“Are you sure?” Carrie came over and gave Julia a friendly push.

“Absolutely,” Julia said. “And if there were, it wouldn’t be a problem.”

“Oh, yeah? How so?” Carrie grinned. It was a lovely morning. 

Julia shrugged. “Because didn’t you know, they say pirañas only eat fat, rich people?”

“I’m rich,” said Carrie. “Technically. I mean, I’m from a richer country.”

“You’re not rich,” Julia said. “You said so, yourself. You spent your last money coming here. So we’re equals.”

Carrie put an arm around Julia’s shoulder. “Yes, we are.”

And the water of the Espiritu Santo river flowed under their feet in silence. 


Photo by Shyam on Unsplash 

The Morning Sun

The Morning Sun

It’s one of those mornings that should’ve been like a zillion others, yet it isn’t.

But I remember what came before the morning. Not like a zillion.

And now: Sun rays through the window as I do a quick dishes. Enough to make me squint. But also to smile. And I usually hate the sun here.

I usually hate doing lunch boxes, too: A peanut butter sandwich for Michael and fruit only for Emma. Water. Some juice. That’s all. All that which I could usually hate.

But I don’t. I feel light. Like it all has taken on some hidden meaning that I was only too blind to see before.

“I get off early, I could pick up the kids,” Jon says while scrolling through today’s news on his phone with one hand and absentmindedly harpooning the bacon with another.

Jon never picks up the kids on Fridays. But never is far away this morning.

“That would be lovely,” I reply and the light continues. I put the last dish on the tray. Now everything will look neat when we all get home, and until that washing machine repairman can get his ass over here. But he doesn’t have to hurry, it seems. I got it.

And lord knows, I have got enough of this on my job. In 40 minutes and counting. But at least the car works today. And I have that, too.

The small blessings. Of the morning sun.

And not like a zillion.

Why can’t we have more in our lives of the things that make us a light inside?


Photo by Taylor Deas-Melesh on Unsplash

Ancient Melodies

Ancient Melodies

Michael screams as I try to take the Mars bar from him.

” – You can’t take that with you in class. It’s not allowed.”

All the arguments – I run through them like a machine. A tired machine. And then I think about choking mum. And not inviting her for Christmas. Or both.

“Michael – come here. Right now!”

But off he runs, his 5-year old-feet tapping along the sweltering pavement. In the wrong direction.

“Emma – stay here. I’ll be right back.”

Yeah, sure.

So I leave my oldest daughter, staring dumbfounded after her mother, chasing after her little brother. Oh, well, she’ll only have to stay there, at the bus stop and take care of herself and be the butt of jokes from the other children, who have some good reason for taking the bus, instead of our reason which is that Jon couldn’t fix the car “in a jiff” like he said he would last night after I threw something at him. I don’t remember what it was, I think it was heavy enough, though, to make an impression.

“You hear me – stay there, Emma. – Michael!”

I imagine I can hear the snickering of the other kids. I imagine I can feel the eyes of the older lady, who’s there waiting, too, and who has already judged me in a hundred different ways. I imagine that Emma’ll deal with all this, no problem, and stay safe till I get Michael. Emma’s eight. She can handle it, big girl.

“Michael – goddammit. Come here, or I swear, you’ll never have chocolate again.”

I finally catch him in the sleeve, two seconds before some truck lunches from the hidden nothingness behind that corner: the places we usually don’t think about until it’s too late.

The driver honks, Michael screams, I scream. It’s a cacophony. It would be funny if only I didn’t feel like crying.

I wonder if it was wrong to invite mum down from Bakersfield, or if it was wrong of me to throw that glass jar (yes, now I remember what it was) at Jon? Or if it was wrong of me to let Michael see it. I only threw it on the floor, after all. Not at him. But inside it felt like I threw it at him – my husband. Could my son, somehow see that? Is he just as smart as all the other kids, who begin to hate their parents at an early age, having seen through them – seen that there’s nothing there but fear, terror, helplessness?

Thoughts race, while I race back to catch the bus. Emma dutifully waits. The traffic of East 48th drones by, ignorant; people with real jobs, real directions. Perhaps somebody smiles mockingly. Perhaps no one notices. We catch the bus, in the last second. Michael is crying loudly, impossible to ignore.

Emma grabs my hand. But I feel guilty. I should grab her hand, feel in control.

But control left me years ago when I thought Jon saved me from myself. When I thought children were the blessing of all blessings. When I thought that I had a right to a new life, and finally somebody noticed.


The sun blazes, Yuma burns. I burn. We go by bus. I deposit my children at their school. I wait for another bus to take me away from the school again – to work. I wait while I burn.

And then I notice her: the dark-haired 40-something lady who was also waiting for the bus when I ran after Michael. She took the bus with us, sitting just a few seats behind … Why is she here – at the school stop? Why is she the only one here?

“Finally free?” she asks when I come back out from the schoolyard.

Direct, isn’t she? What the hell …

I push my sunglasses all the way up, so I can catch her eye. I’m not going to hide from anyone. And there are five minutes until the next bus and on to work.

“Are you waiting to change busses?” I ask.

“Yes, but I’m in no hurry,” she answers. Still friendly. Oh, so friendly …

“I am,” I say. “I am going to work.”

“So am I. Tonight. Right now I’m just going downtown to shop a bit.”

“Uh-huh … “

“Not feeling up to conversation, eh?” she smiles. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said anything.”

Now I feel strange … and like sitting down on the bus bench. I grab for my water flask in the bag.  Where the hell is it … ?

“Listen,” I say while I grab, “I just delivered two monsters – well, only one actually, but it feels like two – to school. So yeah, maybe I don’t feel up to conversation …”

She nods, stares out over the street, squints at the sun.

“I just wanted to say that I … oh, never mind.” She eyes me carefully. ” – It’s idiotic anyway.” She shrugs. “What can I say?”

I look back toward the school grounds. I can hear lots of children. No one screaming. Not yet. A bell rings. My shoulders ease. Michael kind of smiled when the teach took over. But  …

“So you’re not going to work until tomorrow, then?” I ask, still fumbling for the flask. I give up. Look up:

“What do you do anyway?” It comes off as kind of rude. Surprise …

But she just smiles again. It’s like she could disarm a whole army with that smile. Somehow it gets to me. She really means well. She’s just awkward … ?

“I am a doctor.” She stretches out her hand. “Charlotte Danner. – Danner Tansley, actually. My dad was a big Virginia Woolf fan. It’s not a certified name, but I kept it in his memory. God, listen to me – I’m really babbling today, aren’t I?”

But she still holds out her hand.

I take her hand, carefully, as if I had grabbed tumbleweed flying in from the Gila bassin, once full of barbed wire. I search for some leftovers, some trap. I find nothing. But her grasp is as ephemeral as those flying wisps, yet with a sinewy, firm strength. How can something be both gentle and iron cast?

“I’m just Carrie Sawyer,” I say, “cleaning lady for the elderly.”

“That where you are going?”

“Uh- huh.”

“Sounds like you don’t like it.”

“Sounds about right.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. What kind of doctor are you? You work at the hospital?”

She shakes her head. “Not here in Yuma. I work abroad – for Doctors Without Borders. Know them?”

“Yeah, I guess.”

She hesitates, on guard. Something flickers in her brown-grey eyes.

The bus comes. I’m relieved.

We board, sit down. The school disappears behind me and I disappear from it, like a wild animal crawling into hiding.

I feel edgy all the way to my seat and wonder if I’m going to break down and cry. Something’s completely off. I’m falling too pieces. And why …

“We all have days like this, don’t we?”

The Danner-woman has chosen the seat next to mine, but on the other side of the aisle. All other passengers are non-distinct grey shapes. Like we’re riding a bus with shadows.

“I … guess we have,” I finally manage to reply, wiping the sweat of my brow.

But I’m going to work. The one thing I don’t need right now. How do I look my chief in the eye? How do I keep up the cheery face, when old man Kensington cracks his racist jokes?

“It’s hard having kids,” she says.

I can’t make out if that’s an observation or a question. If it’s a question it would be stupid, bordering on rude, given the mess she just witnessed at the bus stop. But an observation would be … banal.

I finally get a hold of myself and look more closely at her.

The lines under her eyes and the grey shadows above them indicate a handful more years than forty. But her eyes themselves are alive and sparkling as if they are the source of all life itself. Who is she?

“Where are you going?” I ask, trying to be polite, controlled. Trying not to think of Mr. Kensington.

“To _________ Motel,” she replies. “Been visiting my aunt. Really.”

“Here in Yuma?”

“Really. There are other aunts in Yuma, right?”

A mischievous smile, as if she knows she got me. Or maybe just a doctor knowing that her patient is improving.

I lean a bit more back into the hard bus seat and try to think of good things. Like Mr. Kensington visiting his grandchildren today. I think they live in Nebraska.

“So – ” I say, gazing at some point between the ceiling of the creaking bus and the dusty Yuma-scape passing by outside the window ” – it’s a family visit and then back to doctoring?”

“That’s right.”

“I don’t want to sound rude, Mrs. Danner – “

” – Miss.”


We chit-chat a bit. About the traffic. Weather. Stuff. But then I can’t keep it back any longer:

“Look –  I might as well be honest – ” I take a deep breath and then let it out while I look/don’t look at her ” –  and honesty is that I’ve only had one good conversation with a stranger on a bus for the last five years and I don’t think today is the one when I’m having another.”

I end that sentence with the look. At her. The ‘get it’-look. That look I hate when it comes to me. But it’s a powerful way to look. At others.

“I think you may be right,” she says, but matter-of-factly, as if the renewed hostility in my tone (why couldn’t keep it down? – I felt I could) doesn’t matter. Like she has seen it all before:

“I’m sorry for bothering you. I guess I just felt a bit, I don’t know … “

She trails off. Looks out her window.

The bus lumbers on, like a groggy rhino. Traffic thickens. Rush hour at its deadliest.

We sit in silence for the next many minutes. I’m approaching Kensington Station and my stomach churns. Maybe I can get to clean the basement today? So much for the money that went into law school. About the same amount that went out through that needle, I pushed into my arm for so many years.

I glance at her – the Danner-lady. She looks … sad somehow.

“I’m sorry,” I then say and feel like I have to clear a stone out of my throat: “I’m just sorry. About all of it.”

I dunno if I say it to myself or her or both.

Another woman, 60-ish, on the seat in front of me turns and eyes me like I was a convict she is not certain she recognizes. Then she turns back to her knitting.

“It’s all right,” Charlotte says. “I understand. Children can be the worst test – but still – ” she looks at me directly now, something warm and embracing in her eyes ” – they are the miracles of our lives, right?”

“You have some?”

She shakes her head. Something in me sours.

“Any small children in the closest family?”

” … No.”

“Delivered some?”


Something in me sours again. Like old food, I thought I had thrown out, but I only put it someplace to be forgotten for a while. Then I find it again and it smells worse:

“Okay, but even so I guess you don’t know what the hell you are talking about, do you, doctor Danner?”

I see the next stop and get up from my seat in one fluid, perfectly aggressive movement – like a snake slithering toward its next prey. Then I look down at Not-Mrs.-Danner:

“I’m getting off here, ” I say and hate every word and myself: “Sorry for being a bitch. I guess I can’t help it, but not all of us have perfect lives.”

Something glistens in her eye. I don’t know if its a dying sparkle of the blazing sun outside the dusty bus window, or something that glistens for other reasons. Perhaps reasons to do with delivering children that do not breathe and feeling lonely enough to talk to strange women who are a little better than weeds …

“I wanted to have children so badly …”

It comes out almost like a whisper.

She is looking me straight in the eye for the briefest of moments, then her head slumps a bit. She looks away, continues:

“We tried for eight years. Nothing could be done. I had depression. My husband got tired of it and left.”

Then she hesitates – looks at me again – sees how dumbfounded I am, that I have nothing to say. Then it is as if she makes a decision.

She stands up quickly, walks down the aisle, and exits from the center door of the bus, just before the rhino lumbers on again.

I want to follow. I want to talk. To apologize. To explain that maybe I am also depressed. Maybe the pills I’m taking to keep it a bay aren’t working. Maybe there are all sorts of reasons I just broke her heart when she tried to be kind to me. Which is the story of my life and I wish I could change it, but it never – never – changes.

Including the fact that I’m a coward and sit in the bus until the next stop – but then run back towards the nursing home and don’t even look for her, because I’m afraid they’ll kick me out if I’m late again.

I only stop once. When somebody yells at me:

“Hey, lady – you forgot your purse!”

It’s a young guy, with pimples instead of a face, and he looks embarrassed by just looking at me. He stands at the bus stop where he got off same time as me. He waves at me, and the waving gets timider and timider as I turn back and walk towards him and try to grasp what he just said, and try not to look too much at him, in order not to make him more embarrassed and my heart feels like a knotted fist.

Then I get it:

“It’s … it’s not my purse … ” I say.

“Must be that other lady’s, then – the one you talked to,” the young guy says and pushes the purse into my hand without explanation. Then he is gone.

Somehow Charlotte Danner Tansley won’t go away so easily.


We’re home and it’s late and peace has caught me after all. In a few brittle moments, but nevertheless. I cherish them even so. For their fragility. For the time I can just sit here in front of the computer and let YouTube videos run and try to think that it was okay that Jon had to put Emma and Michael to sleep for the nth time this week. He was as dead-tired as I was, but what do we do? Have a lottery?

Why can’t my husband just say he doesn’t care? Even when he has had to follow another con to another transfer up in Flagstaff and listen to this creep’s insults throughout another blazing day on the highway.

Life as a cop kills you, but not in the ways you think.

I tap another video and it runs. It’s my junk and I know it.

Then I look at the purse again.

It’s small, brownish. Leather. Some kind of African pattern (I guess) on the front.

I have already opened it more times than I care to. I want to again.

Damn her.

If she only had left an address. But no. She wouldn’t just make it easy. Perhaps it’s some kind of refined revenge. But she would have to know me better than that, right? To know what ticked me off.

To know what I would not stop doing, once I saw that I had no choice because that is who I am. When all is said and done.

But a stranger can’t know another stranger so well. That’s impossible.

No address. Damn her.

Just that pic. Some lipstick. Old receipts. A gasoline card. Small mirror. That’s it.

That and that pic.

Lying there at the bottom, like a nugget of gold in a mess that could as well have been my life.

I take it up again and look closely. It looks back at me:

Charlotte is there, in some village. Africa. She’s in a medic’s uniform – or what goes for it in the bush. She is holding a boy, perhaps eight years old or so. He only has one arm, the other is bandaged but it is clear that half of it is missing. She holds him in her arms. He clings to her, with all the strength he has in that arm he has left. She smiles at the world on the other side of the camera: That sad, strained smile, I saw on the bus. Yet also a smile of hope and infinite patience, like she could carry that boy forever.

And maybe – just an infinitesimally small maybe – it is also a pic that’s one of the most personal things she had – for some reason. Why else carry it with her like this, so close, instead of leaving it in a drawer or on some hard drive?

It’s a real photo – developed on that glossy paper they used to use all the time. Not a photo copy. Not a print-out. Real. Like in the old times, say, 10 or 15 years ago. Like the last picture I had from my life on Skye from the summer of ’94 – the one where Siné Munroe and I stand with our backs to the autumn-red sea down at Armadale and hold out the camera and hope it will catch us like we hope this will not be the good-bye that would last the 16 years it actually did.

So it was Charlotte’s pic that did it to me. It made me do it.

Made me excuse myself with that same old excuse to my husband and feel bad about it, but it was only a little sting and it was quickly over. Once I had closed the door … once I had distracted myself for the usual 20-30 minutes with videos of nothing and email and status updates.

Then I knew I had to find her.

Say I was sorry.

And … find out if it was just an accident that I sit here with her and the child she never had.

It can only be an accident. There is no other reasonable way to think about it.

And yet …

On the back of the photo, some words in handwriting (hers?):

… It’s gonna take a lot to drag me away from you …
No. It has to be an accident. I’m just being hysterical about it, because I feel like a pit inside – for unknowableth time in my life.

I want to find her. I have to.


But despite several hours of frantic search on the web, I never find Charlotte Danner Tansley. No Facebook page. No NGO. No clinic – nothing.

It is as if she never existed. Or doesn’t want to …

So all I have is what she left me, for her own reasons which I will never understand. If they were reasons at all.


I only discover that I have fallen asleep by the laptop, when Michael wakes me up, because he can’t sleep and has braved the stairs in the dark to come down and look for his mother.


Photo by Mara 1



Carrie tore through the kitchen. “Where is the goddamn coffee?!”

She was absolutely positively NOT going to deal with any more of all the shit she had to deal with every day without coffee.

Jon, already in uniform, eyed his wife in the same way he observed a speed demon heading for a crash on the highway. 

“I’m … not sure I remembered to buy,” he said carefully.

“There’s always something!” Carrie raged, throwing away the empty coffee container with a clang. “I never have the tiniest fucking break!”

She picked up the coffee container and threw it again. 

Jon caught it. “Look I know

She lifted her finger. “Don’t!”

He frowned. “Calm down, okay? I have to go to work.”

She looked at him fiercely. “Wanna trade places?”


Image credit: Photo by Congerdesign on Pixabay

When Everything Was True

When Everything Was True

“Yes, of course, if it’s fine tomorrow,” said Carrie. “But you’ll have to be up with the lark,” she added.

“‘Lark’”, Michael repeated.

“It’s no use explaining it to him,” Jon mumbled from across the table, shuffling his bacon back and forth on the plate without eating any of it. “He doesn’t understand anyway.”

“If I don’t talk with Michael,” Carrie said in a low voice, “when will he learn to talk?”

“Never?” Jon suggested and looked as if he was about to add something. But he quickly changed the subject.

“Actually,” he said, “I think the weather will be the best today. Lark or no lark …”

The morning light seemed far away outside the window of the small kitchen, where the smells of newly applied ajax, coffee, and bacon still mingled. The only sound they could hear was Michael driving his Hot Wheels toy car back and forth over the table, his blond brows knit tightly in concentration. “Lark-lark-lark-lark.”

Jon reached over the table as if to direct Michael’s hand with the toy car, but he didn’t touch him. “The car says ‘vrroom’, Michael.”

“Lark-lark-lark …”

Carrie threw the towel in the sink. “Goddammit—is Emma still asleep?” She went out in the hallway and called. “Emma! Are you awake?!”

“No!” came a plaintive cry from upstairs.

“Get down here, now!” Carrie went back into the kitchen and pulled out cornflakes and a plate from the cupboards.

“So what’ll it be?” she said, without looking back at Jon or Michael over at the table.

“You mean …” Jon started, his coffee cup almost touching his lips.

“The holiday house.” Carrie turned, arms crossed. “Hammond said we could borrow it, didn’t he?”


“Well, can we?”


“Are we going then?”

Jon looked at his coffee then at Michael who was happily driving the toy car back and forth in the exact same invisible lane on the table as he had been a minute ago. 


“We’re going,” Jon said. “I think we should drive late in the afternoon when there is less heat, though.”

“Michael will be tired,” Carrie said.

“I don’t think going before noon is a good idea,” Jon replied, “you know how stressed he can get if he is in the car for too long.”


“Where are we going?” Emma stood in the doorway, her long blonde hair looking like a ball of yarn.

“To Hammond’s holiday house,” Carrie said and went over to try to pet her hair into submission. 

“The one in Kachina?” Emma asked, trying to get her mother’s hands out of her hair. 

“The very one.” Carrie held up her hands in a gesture of surrender.

“Come get something to eat,” Jon said, bacon in his mouth again. “We’re going in the afternoon.”

“I thought you didn’t wanna go?” Emma plumped down on her chair at the table and began pouring generous amounts of milk on the cornflakes.

Carrie and Jon shared a brief look at each other. Then Carrie sat down beside Emma, leaning heavily over the table on her elbows. “It’s not that we didn’t want to go last time, sweetheart. We just had … to make sure it would be a good trip, for all of us.” She eyed Michael.

Emma nodded and took a mouthful of cornflakes. She stole a look at her brother who was still fully absorbed in driving the ‘lark’ toy car back and forth over the exact same area of his side of the table.

“We could go there for my birthday next weekend instead if you’d rather want that,” Emma said, balancing a spoonful of milky flakes over her plate. “We could stay home this weekend, too.”

Carrie stroked Emma’s hair, but this time without any secret tonsorial agenda. “I want you to celebrate your seventh birthday here, with your friends, just as we planned. It would be rather lonely in Kachina with only the four of us, wouldn’t it?”

Emma eyed her mother skeptically. “What about Michael’s birthday?”

“What about it?” Jon leaned back heavily on the kitchen chair, looking out the window.

“He is going to be five this year—and five is an important number for him,” Emma said. “So we should have the birthday here as well, right?”

“We are not celebrating anyone’s birthday in Kachina, darling,” Carrie said. “It’s just a kind of holiday. To get away.”


It was cloudy when they got on their way, but in the South-Western desert that only meant that it felt like you were in an oven that had been used some hours ago.

Carrie looked over her shoulder from the passenger seat. “Is it too hot? Should I turn up the air conditioner?”

Emma was helping Michael whenever his iPad lost the signal which was coming from Carrie’s phone, now that they were out of the house. But after a lot of tears and panicky breaths, it was decided that Michael should try playing a game instead of watching YouTube cartoons that might freeze at any moment. That proved to be a better way forward and soon the little boy was fully absorbed in playing with his LEGO game on the tablet, only a slight increase in his frown or a little more punch in his fingers against the screen, indicating how he was doing.

“Everything’s fine, mom,” Emma said. 

“You fine, too, Michael?” Carrie asked.

Michael played on without answering.

“Michael?” Carrie said, in a slightly higher voice.

Still no response.

Carrie turned and looked out the front window instead. “Where are we?”

“Camp Verde in a few,” Jon said and tipped his dark sunglasses up with one hand. “Everything okay back there, kids?”

“We’re fine, Dad,” Emma said. “The internet is bad, though.”

“That’s why I love the LEGO app,” Carrie mumbled. “The one with the number blocks. You love those numbers, don’t you, pliskie? They are your friends—”

“Now I don’t have any connection at all, mom,” Emma said, “but I’ll be fine.”

“You sure?”

“Yes.” Emma put down her own iPad and crossed her arms. 

For a long time thereafter, she didn’t say anything and only stopped looking out the window when she needed to help her brother.


It was early in the evening when they finally arrived and the oven had definitively closed. A mild breeze rustled the pine trees that were more numerous than the inhabitants of the small village south of Flagstaff.

Carrie got out of the car to run over to the triangular garden stone where Hammond had left the key but she kept looking back into the car to see how Michael was doing. 

Still, when she returned, somewhat out of breath, Carrie smiled for the first time since they had left Yuma. “Ah, now I can almost remember why we go all the way up here.”

Jon had already gone around to help the boy out of his seat. “Let me guess,” he said. “Because Hammond used his pension fund to buy that pool? Because you love Sedona?”

Carrie grinned now. “Right on all counts.” Her shoulders slumped. Maybe it would finally work this time.

Then Michael screamed.

“What?!” Carrie ran to the other side of the car.

“He just stepped on a pine cone,” Jon said, looking sheepish. He was standing beside the car, the door to Michael’s seat still open, and Michael was by his side. The boy was rigid and in full panic mode at the same time. 

“I’ll help you, Michael!” Emma who until now had been fiddling with her iPad wiggled out of her seat and climbed over Michael’s to get out of the other door. She quickly picked up the cone. “Look!”

But Michael didn’t look. He kept on screaming and now he was crying, too.

“Didn’t you put his shoes on before you took him out of the seat?” Carrie looked around as if there was someone nearby whom she could hit.

“Ease down.” Jon bent down to try to calm Michael but he was looking at Carrie. “You heard him for the last half hour. He could not sit still in that chair for one moment longer.”

“But we put his shoes under the seat so we could get them quickly,” Carrie said, going almost as rigid as Michael.

“I know.” Jon kept one hand on Michael’s shoulder and the other on the car door, knuckles white. “But he was just about to explode. The ground here is mostly sand. I didn’t see the goddamn cone.”

Carrie opened and closed her fists but then went past Jon to the trunk.

Meanwhile, Emma was holding the pine cone up in front of Michael, who was still crying. “Look, it’s just a cone!”

“‘Cone’,” Michael finally repeated and gazed intently at the zigzagging patterns adorning it. Then he wiped his eyes.

“His feet are so damn sensitive,” Carrie mumbled. “He should have kept his shoes on.”

“Not just his feet,” Jon said. “Look, can we get on with it?”

Carrie said nothing. She opened the trunk hard enough for it to vibrate up and down.

“Want to touch?” Emma asked and gave the cone to Michael.

Michael held it briefly then threw it away, in a pushing motion, as if the cone was a person standing in his way. But he grinned at his sister.

“‘Cone’!” Michael repeated.

“That’s right,” Emma nodded vigorously. “It’s—”

But Michael, who Jon had now managed to get into his shoes, stepped past his sister and ran in the opposite direction. There was a big bright number ‘5’ on Hammond’s holiday cottage and he was heading directly towards it. 

When he reached the big number five, the little boy stopped in his tracks and held up his arms as if he wanted to touch and caress the sign, which was made of wood and painted yellow.

Carrie looked at her husband, and Jon nodded and went over to Michael so he could lift him up to touch the number. Again and again.

“Yeah,” Jon said, “you remember this, don’t you? I agree, it’s probably the most beautiful number five in all of Arizona.”

And so on.

Soon Michael grinned and even chatted away in gibberish like he was telling the number that he had been scared before but now he felt better. 

Emma looked at the cone for long moments. Then she carefully picked it up and put it in her own rucksack.

“I don’t think he is interested, honey,” Carrie said.

“He might be later,” Emma said.


Night had fallen and Jon and Carrie sat on the terrace of the cottage, too tired to really talk. So for a long time they didn’t really try. They just sat there and watched gray clouds flicker past a gibbous moon.

Eventually, Jon looked at his wife. “So what are you thinking about?” 

The moonlight seemed to make Carrie’s face glow with a gossamer softness that partially hid the wrinkles of strain under her eyes. Jon only saw those wrinkles disappear when Carrie was asleep, sometimes not even then. 

“Well, I’m thinking I’d like another beer,” she deadpanned. “Maybe I will soon have had enough, so I can’t taste it?” 

“Are Arizona Lights really that bad?” 

“As always,” Carrie said. “Will you be a darling and get me another one?”

“Of course.” Jon got up. “Time to celebrate.”

He went back into the cottage quietly so as to not wake the children and spoil the efforts of another long ‘combat evening’. 

That was how Iraq vet, Jonathan Reese, had come to think about bedtime for his son. 

For it was mostly about Michael. Emma had been difficult when she was little and it was just her, but with Michael, it was a nightmare. Everything had to be in the proper order, when to eat, when to brush teeth, how the toothpaste was administered, and so on.

If you missed a beat he might get very upset unless you started over. That ritual and then what obviously was some kind of period when the kid was beginning to assert himself, like any normal kid, and say no just because he could.

Oh, and everything got 10 times more difficult in a strange place, although he had been to the cottage before. Well, last summer, but still …

But now Michael had finally fallen asleep, and Emma had to be sleeping, too.

Jon took out the beer from the fridge. Its coolness felt good. Somehow better than drinking the damn stuff. Then he stopped and listened.

There were two bedrooms in the cottage, and the one with Emma and Michael was quiet now. Velvety darkness had descended on the single hallway that led from the kitchen and down to the bathroom and bedrooms. Jon strained to hear … something.

But there was nothing. The only thing he could hear was his own breathing.


It was not the first time Emma could not sleep but she did not say anything.

She lay very still in the bed, aware of every one of her brother’s movements in sleep, while at the same time trying to concentrate on the pale moon outside the window.

The moon had fascinated her ever since she was very small. And since she was almost seven years old now, it felt like it was very long ago she had first thought about how the moon looked. 

Its surface is like crumpled, dry paper, Emma had thought many times.

She turned carefully to look at her little brother.

Michael was lying on his side, breathing heavily. His unruly mop of dark blonde hair was visible outside of the comforter, and at the other end of his right foot. It was covered by a green and red sock.

Michael never went barefoot. He always wanted to have socks on. That had given him some problems with athlete’s foot and all sorts of other things, Emma had not understood, but which mom had talked about in an exasperated tone ever so often.

Mom talked a lot about something that was even more difficult to understand which was called problems with sen-so-ry-in-te-gra-tion. Emma was proud she could remember the word. But more importantly, she could remember what it meant.

Her brother felt things differently.

For Michael even the smallest exposure of skin made him stressed like he was too cold or too hot.

Michael whimpered in his sleep and moved his foot back and forth outside of the comforter. Emma could see a small sliver of skin where the top of Michael’s socks didn’t go all the way around his night pants.

She slowly rolled over toward him and put the sock back over the night pants and then pulled the comforter all the way down over Michael’s foot. Michael mumbled something in his sleep then lay still again.

Emma lay very still and watched Michael sleep. 

Mom had said she would come in right away if Michael woke up and had a fit and that Emma should just sleep and worry about nothing at all.

Nothing at all.


The next morning Hammond came by unexpectedly with his new wife in tow.

His guests were all in the pool, and Jon got up to give his old partner a strong handshake, dripping with chlorine water.

The burly bearded Hammond smiled his usual sly smile. “Everything satisfactory? Madee and I were heading to Sedona anyway and I thought I’d drop by.”

The young Thai woman waved down to Carrie who was still in the pool with both kids. Michael loved the water. It was about the only sensation against his skin that he cherished without hesitation.

Carrie wiped a wet lock of her own short hair away from her eyes and squinted in the morning sun. “Hello Madee. Emma, say hello.”

“Hello Madee,” Emma said politely while hugging a beach ball in the water. “Hello, Mr. Barkley.”

“Hiya, kiddo.” Hammond waved. Madee smiled.

“Aaand I don’t think I have met you before.” Madee bent down, hands on her knees, and smiled brightly at Michael, who was sitting on the staircase that went into the water at the far end of the basin. “You are Michael, aren’t you?”

“Madee, he—uh—” Carrie started, but Jon interrupted her.

“It’s fine. Madee knows.” He turned to Hammond. “You told her, right?”

“Told me what?” Madee looked over at her husband, who frowned.

“Uh, that,” he began and looked at Jon. “I—”

Then a bird chirped far up in the pine trees that stood all around the garden like tall green sentinels.

“Lark!” Michael exclaimed, and looked up.

“It’s just some bird,” Jon said. “I don’t think there are any larks out here.”

“As a matter of fact,” Madee corrected him, while also looking at the bird which had perched itself neatly on a branch almost directly above Michael’s head, “—that is a Horned Lark.  Eremophila alpestris.”

Jon’s eyes widened at Madee. “Hammond never told me you were, uhm, knowledgable about larks.”

Madee’s smile became more restrained. “I’m sure you must have mentioned to Jon I majored in biology at NAU?”

Hammond looked helplessly at Madee, but Carrie saved the situation. “You told us, but Jon is very bad at remembering those things.”

“Probably just a coincidence, anyway,” Jon added. “It’s the only other word for a bird he knows.”

“No talking yet?” Hammond looked at Jon.

Jon shook his head. “Not really.”

Michael looked up at the black, brown, and white bird, in mute fascination. Emma came over and sat beside him on the stairs.

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it, Michael?”

“Lark,” Michael said.


Photo by Donna G on Unsplash

Every Time

Every Time

One of the hardest parts is seeing other children on the playground and their ‘normal’ families. Children the same age who can talk, play and all that. Parents talking about what this or that child did and I’m there thinking about how many of those things Michael cannot do. I’m trying not to but I’m thinking of them.

I’m also trying to help Michael play with the other kids if he feels like it, but I’m not sure I’m helping because there are so many things I have to tell him not to do, like walking too close to them and looking at them like they were strange creatures from Mars. Or just going around making strange noises.

I can’t really tell him not to do it because he doesn’t understand much of what I am saying, but I’m afraid he understands enough. He understands that there is something he can’t do or isn’t allowed to do, at least in his own way, although he wants to.

So I want to help him to have some kind of relation with other children and prevent him from making them angry at him or afraid of him. And by doing that I may also make him hesitant of trying to play with them, because he doesn’t understand why I am restraining him.

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

I guess the upshot is that I can’t help him without also taking something away from him. But it would be worse, if I didn’t try to guide him. It’s cold comfort but there it is. It’s what I have to take. Every time.



Every day my four-year-old son counts the all numbers on all the 78 houses and on all the 21 cable boxes on our route as I take him from kindergarten to our house, and he begins to cry if I don’t count along with him.

It’s been a little over a year since Michael got his autism diagnosis, but I mobilize a determined hope every day that it is not that bad. 

After all, Jenna’s son scarcely looks at her when she tries to communicate with him. Michael is fairly eager to catch our eye, but only if he wants something. Like me saying the numbers of cable box 345128 just like I have done every weekday for five months now since this particular habit started. He has loved numbers for a long time, but the boxes came in later.

“At least he finds new things to count,” Jon says. “He doesn’t count the same stuff over and over again.”

“It feels that way some days,” I say.

And then we get into an argument because we are both stressed out of our minds and arguing seems to be something that has now become a trap we can’t get out of. Something as basic and instinctual in order to cope in some fucked-up way when Michael has been crying or howling all day for reasons we don’t understand because he hasn’t learned to talk for real and we don’t know what ails him, or in what way those multiple problems autistic kids have with sensory overload affects Michael.

And then Jon goes to work, and Emma goes to her room, and I’m not sure if it’s because she doesn’t know how to deal with her brother or with her parents.

And yes, I am thinking about all this as I count house number “fifty-threee”.

Michael loves drawing out the pronunciation of this particular house number – it’s as if normal kids were offered ice cream. The same joy – every time. Michael doesn’t like ice cream. In fact, he doesn’t eat much but bread, and we are worried sick but that’s how it is with autistic kids and there is a very long wait to get some help from anyone who can, especially in Yuma, and especially if you are not the richest family in the world.

So you see, I’m thinking about all this, and it’s not as if Jon and I just had that conversation, but we might as well have had it. We seem to have it every other day. We definitely have the argument.

If only we could use our energy, the little we have, to help Michael. To help our son. But it feels like we are stuck in quicksand and it doesn’t help that I’m unemployed again or that Jon shot a guy in the chest two weeks ago when said guy tried to rob the grocery store with a shotgun.

I try to tell him that the man will live. I tell him that even if he didn’t live I’d much rather have that reality than the one in which Jon’s head had been turned into pulp by the same dumdums that went clean through the big Halloween pumpkin by the door two seconds after Jon came in to buy a soda while in uniform, and the robber panicked and fired at him without warning.

It later turned out the guy—Carlos was his name—had pumped as much cocaine into his veins as I did myself over an entire year back in the early 2000s. But what does it matter?

It doesn’t make you any less dangerous just because your brain is to fried to even register what you are shooting at.

And my head is like a fucking beehive. Why can’t life be easy for more than five minutes?

Why can’t I get … peace?

“Fifty seeven!”

“Fifty-seven, sweetheart.”

“Fifty-seven!” Michael looks at me with mounting sadness and a stint of anger, unable to grasp that I just told him I love him in one extra word, but the extra word does not go with the numbers. You have to say them exactly as he does, or his world falls apart.

I wonder when Jon will come home. I wonder if we will argue. I want to shout at Michael now.

Fuck fifty-seven. Fuck that number.

But I don’t. Not today.

I walk on with my son’s hand in mine, and Yuma’s winter sun is mild and I wonder when he will learn to understand what ‘sweetheart’ means.

That’s what I use to chase the bees away for a little while, even if it hurts to think about, too, when I pass so many other parents on their way home, with kids babbling away and being aware of the world in a way I don’t know if Michael will ever be.

But this is a hurt that is better. So I choose it.


Losing Your Place On Earth

Losing Your Place On Earth

“Please, don’t say that about our son,” she had said.

“Well, I said it,” he replied and left for work.

Driving alone for 8 hours through the desert gave Jon plenty of time to regret what he had said, though. Not the feeling that he sometimes did not want an autistic son who had a habit of getting up in the night. Especially the nights when Jon was desperately in need of sleep from the last watch as a state trooper looking out for the lonely highways and byways of Arizona.

That particular feeling was genuine. But he regretted that he had said it out loud.

No. No, that wasn’t right. He also did regret the feeling itself. Little Michael needed all the love he could get if he was ever to have something remotely akin to a normal life. And Jon did love him.

Except for the times when he wished that his son wasn’t there.

Michael was still too young to understand, of course, and maybe he never would. The psychiatrists put his chances of ever learning to talk at about 50-50. Jon knew he had committed a cardinal sin, though, by saying what he felt that morning out loud, in front of his wife and oldest daughter who was just as dead-tired as he was, from being up all night.

So that was the question, Jon thought, as he made ready for his routine turn at Gila Bend back towards Yuma. At the last minute, though, he decided to go directly south on the 85. He didn’t feel like driving home just yet, although his watch was almost over.

Jon turned on the radio and listened to the pundits who hadn’t much to talk about. Obama’s win had been pretty clear.

They droned on, while Jon’s thoughts about what had happened that morning were the only noise in his head.

I regret every damn word, dammit. But …

But he didn’t feel like calling Carrie and saying he was sorry. Not yet. Even though he knew those kinds of remarks hurt her more than she let on. The problem was an insane work schedule, two kids – one of them handicapped, or so he thought of it. The only way you could sometimes carve out a niche for yourself was by being angry.

Still, it was not right. Jon decided he had to tell Carrie … something when he got home. He didn’t know what, but at least a decision had been made.

That was when he heard a loud ‘crack.’


Jon hit the brakes.

The patrol car came to a stop in the middle of nowhere. There was no one but him. And no other vehicles.

But that sure as hell sounded like a gunshot …

Jon got out of the car and carefully surveyed all directions.


Nothing in his world now but a few cacti and the usual horde of dusty creosote bushes, and then in the distance, haze-shimmering mountains.

He was about four miles from the road fork towards Tucson, but otherwise, there were no other roads nearby. None meant for normal vehicles, anyway.

Then he heard another ‘crack.’

Instinctively, Jon ducked low at the side of the patrol car. In the next second, he had his gun ready. But there was still no one to see.

The shot, if it was that, had come to his right, he figured. It had come from somewhere from out in the sea of small, spindly desert bushes. That much he was sure of. It didn’t sound as though somebody was shooting at him in particular, but that he could definitely not be sure of.

Jon reached in through the half-open front door and pulled at the radio’s mike. “This is 477 – reporting possible firearm discharges on highway 85 at Cameron’s Tank, approximately four miles out of Ajo.”

He filled in the rest. He couldn’t see anyone. But he would stay in the area to investigate, and they would send 436 which was the nearest unit, for backup. Maybe it wasn’t needed. Maybe it was just some kids, borrowing their dad’s car, going out in the desert to have fun shooting at cans.

Jon put down the receiver and narrowed his eyes against the desert haze.

Then another ‘crack’ came. This time he was sure it was gunfire. He had heard that sound too many times.

Jon crouched quickly and crept to the tail end of the car. He had pulled it over and stepped out to the driver’s side, so he had asphalt to his back and maybe another car passing by at some point. But on the passenger side, there was just the desert.

He felt fairly sure he wasn’t the target, but he could become soon enough by accident.

It was like he had been in this situation before and the crazy thing wasn’t that he was in somebody’s line of fire. He had been that often enough.

The crazy thing was that it never seemed to stop.

The Cold Has A Voice

The Cold Has A Voice

My relationship with my step-brother is a bit complicated by the fact that he has been dead for almost 10 years, and I never got to say goodbye. Never got to say much, in fact, before it was too late because I drifted away from him busy with my own problems.

And that’s where a lot of the shame comes from. Tim always had my back when we were kids and my ‘mates’ from the class were after me.

Actually, Tim never backed down from any fight. If somebody wanted a scrap they got it. As a result, he got a lot of bruises. Also, he couldn’t back down from a provocation, and provocations were rife on that island.

After all, if you lived with a family with an immigrant unemployed step-mother (my mother) from ‘big stupid US of A’, and you had a father who slowly but surely drank himself into permanent unemployment, then you were a returning target for the McMurdo boys, Sam Cullen’s gang.

But Tim didn’t mind, it seemed. He just kicked back. He always looked unphased. Except when some of the gangs had done something to me. That made his face darken and even I got scared and asked him not to do anything about it. But the next day, of course, there was a call from the principal and some kids got to see the dentist an extra time.

He had one weakness. You see, all the older boys on western Skye at the time listened to punk or heavy metal, at the time he came to live with us because his mother had to have another “holiday” at the Royal Edinburgh.

Anyway, there was a certain sport in listening to the most outrageous stuff and in hating all the pop stuff, especially the local stuff like the Runrig boys. But in his most private moments, Timothy took a holiday himself by ratting out on all those solemn promises to be tough as nails, for all time. In Fort William’s small record store he had found a couple of pieces of vinyl, which he had bought for the money dad had given him instead of Christmas presents:

Two A-ha albums. 

I don’t know why he picked up ‘girl’s music’ in the first place. Perhaps he had planned them for a gift to indulge himself with Maire, or perhaps the opposite, when she was playing mean bitch … like making a package of them, throwing them off at her house, and writing all sorts of obscenities on it. The younger teen boys often did similar things to tease the girls, but in reality, they just wanted to connect, and the girls knew that. 

But Tim kept at least one of the pieces of vinyl. I honestly don’t know what happened to the other. It might have ended up smeared with dog food on Maire’s doorstep, or it might have gotten lost. 

The one he kept, though, was Stay On These Roads

Our rooms were just next to each other, and so, one evening when dad had gone to the pub again and my mum was over at the Munroe’s (back-talking dad most likely), and he was supposed to be looking out for me. That’s when I heard it. 

He hadn’t come out of his room all evening, and I was just sort of going into my own little coma, lying on my bed, staring at the ceiling, wondering how to avoid going to school tomorrow. That’s when I heard it:

He played the record that all the girls liked because they were crazy about this Norwegian guy with the soft voice and the big deer-like eyes. He played a particular song, over and over. 

In the end, I had to open the door and see if he was still alive. Some odd thought struck me that perhaps he wasn’t, and the record player had jammed in the same groove. Of course, that wasn’t possible, but I was only 10 or so at the time so what did I know. It would be a long time before I would get anything better than my old cassette player, especially all the money going to dad’s drinking binge. 

I didn’t open the door very much, but he saw me. I was afraid then that he was going to hit me or yell at me, but he just called me in. 

“Ye like the tune, Caroline?” he asked, lying on the bed as I had … just staring into the ceiling. We had been like mirror images all evening, it seemed, but invisible to each other all the same. 

“I like it … ” I confessed. 

“I like it, too … ” he said, still just lying there, looking into some dream and not at me or anything else in the room. “I like it … a lot.” 

He never told me why he liked it, and after that day I never heard him playing it again. I think he had gotten rid of it. And when I tried to ask him about it one time, he got angry. 

Tim moved back to his mum in Edinburgh (later Aberdeen) in the early ’90s. She had gotten better and found herself a new man. Things were in some sort of fragile control. 

But Tim still had to pick a scrap whenever he could find one. He moved to Manchester with some girlfriend in the late ’90s and got involved in more brawls than I care to count. And then he joined the army. From that point on I seldom saw him. It was bad enough that I had moved to the States and gotten lost in my own way. I tried to get in touch again at some points, half-hearted I guess. 

In 2003 Tim was killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan, just when his unit was coming home from patrol, and two days before they were to be sent home for good. I had barely spoken to him since the turn of the century.

One day while I was on the road in the early 00′s my mum finally managed to track me down and tell me that he had been killed …

So there I was, sitting with a needle halfway into my arm, and feeling like going all the way more than anything, but … couldn’t. It was my last fix, and I didn’t finish it.

I was ashamed for having lost contact with Tim, but also for sitting there like the derelict piece of trash I had become … while he was actually trying to do something (even if going over to that war may not have been the best thing to do—but I keep out of such discussions on principle).

And then he got killed.

Me, I was just trying to kill myself.

At least he was trying to find his way … I wasn’t. After the news of what had happened, I couldn’t do anything less than at least try.

Was it crazy of me to tell you all that? Maybe. But I’ve had to admit a lot of things since then, and it’s the only way to salvage something, isn’t it?

If you’re an addict, the first way to get clean is to admit it. 

And that’s what Tim still has to tell me even today, just as Lin has certain things to tell me. Keep salvaging.

And I feel now more than ever that Tim was my brother—my real brother. I don’t care about that ‘step’-thing. To me, he proved more than once that that was just a label.

I was ashamed for years I didn’t feel anything at his funeral, but how could I? I had drunk half a bottle of whiskey to douse the shock. They almost had to dig an extra hole for me.

So in some way, Tim kept coming back for me after he died, like that day in Miami when I got that phone call in between god-knows-how-many fixes.

I know this may sound just like post-fact rationalization, but in my heart I know I always loved my brother even though it would be years in between our talks, when I moved to the U.S., ditched college, and took to the road. And I am grateful for all the scraps he took on my behalf, back when we lived in the same house.

I’m grateful that he will always ‘stay on these roads’ for me. As long as he does that, the cold outside—and inside me— won’t really be that frightening.

For it will always have a voice … A voice I know.

In memory of Timothy McDonnell (1974-2003)


Last edited 26 April 2021

When The Moment Arrives

When The Moment Arrives

I didn’t think she’d come. And frankly, I didn’t know if I wanted her to come.

But now – when the flight from Houston is actually marked as “landed” on the screen up there … now it is for real. In about 30 minutes, max, she is going to walk through those doors and back into my life. And I’m still not sure if that’s the right thing – for both of us … Can a 15-year black hole in a friendship be mended just like that?

In the years that have passed, I’ve thought like crazy about the ‘why’. Yeah, she got married, with kids and all like the rest of us … but that wasn’t the entire explanation. And whatever it was, to me it was ultimately betrayal. After the accident, everybody said I was not to blame, but in their hearts, they felt I should be blamed. ‘Two careless kids playing on the cliffs … ‘ – that’s what they thought. One chases after another. And suddenly the world ends as we know it.

Few people stop to wonder why there is a chase, to begin with, perhaps because they don’t want to acknowledge that kids can be so cruel to each other. ‘It’s a period of innocence, don’t spoil the picture …’ But Siné said she trusted me – that she would always be my friend – even after I locked myself inside myself, after coming home from the hospital. All the more reason it hurt like a knife twisted in your gut when she stopped writing – only a few months after we had fled from Scotland, back to a Cleveland family that didn’t really want mum to return.

And now … do I want her, to step through those doors?

It’s moot, isn’t it? I can’t just butt out now. No, I have to go through with it, but after weeks of thinking, I still don’t know how I will go through with it. The first part is forgiveness, isn’t it? And how do we go about that? ‘Uh, I’m glad that you found me on Facebook and that we got all talking again and all, but I really still have a problem with the way you just cut me off back in ‘95. But hey – let’s go have a cappuccino and talk it over.’

After she ‘friended’ me on Facebook and we began talking again, we haven’t even touched on this, not in any mails, messages, nothing – just pretended, I guess, that it wasn’t so important. We were teenagers. Lifetime ago, right? But it was all the time like a dead man buried in a garden, we all knew he was there and that we had to dig him up and now we’ve decided to meet in the garden and we have to do it. Don’t we? Maybe I should have told her how I felt about the past before I said ‘Oh, so you and your husband are staying in Houston with some of his business pals? Well, Texas is not so far away from Arizona … you could drop by, just for a few days … ‘

Why do you always end up agreeing to such things, out of politeness or whatever, way before you get to talk about all the essential stuff? I mean, I really can’t – I just can’t imagine giving her an honest hug, even if … well, I just can’t imagine that. Because we have to clear that dead man out first, get him properly cremated before we can move on. But what exactly does she have to do before I can forgive her?

15 years … I’m never going to get past those years …


Oh, my … there she is, behind those two black mamas …

“Siné – over here!”

There she is … small green bag, flung over her shoulder; her short, blonde hair slightly faded but still looks soft; a little plumper around the belly and hips; a few more thin lines under the eyes, but her face still … shining like a bright spring day. All of that and a blitz of memories about secret curled-up paper messages under our school desk; salt-water sprints in our faces as we raced our little dinghy out to the island on the far side of the bay; Girl Guide campfire tales until the wee hours … and when we got older: Taking beautiful, aching pride in being ‘lonely together’ on school prom nights while Steve Tyler sang about why it was all so ‘Amaaazing’.

I still have to forgive her, though.

She walks towards me, slowly, perhaps sensing my hesitation.

“It’s good … ta see ye again,” she tries.

I still have to forgive her. She owes me an explanation. We have to get it sorted out.

“It’s good to see you again, too … Siné.” It doesn’t sound better when I try to say it …

She then tries a smile in return … but I can see that it’s about to die before it even comes alive on her lips. All my fault, I know, because I’m standing here, frozen as a corpse, hands glued to my side. This is already going so bad. I should never …

“Ye’ve not … changed much,” she then says, voice thin as a gossamer thread, probably sensing that her own worst fears are already coming to pass. “- Well, except ye’ve got that funny Southern accent now … ” A new smile to go with that statement …

For a moment neither of us make a move.

Then she drops her bag, opens her arms. They tremble a bit.

… And I fall into them.


I think I shivered like I had been ill or something … or maybe it was her. Or maybe I cried. Or we both did …  Or maybe … we just stood there clutching each other tightly, jabbering incoherently, completely ignoring the heavy-weightlifter from Tampa commenting loudly behind us why the two “whiny chicks didn’t just clear the aisle …. ?”

Maybe because we didn’t need to dig up the dead man anymore.


Last updated: 9 Feb 2016

In Spite Of Dreams

In Spite Of Dreams

“I can’t believe it! How can she just… ask me that – after all these years?!”

Jon’s expression is a study in puzzlement. “Why can’t she ask you what?”

I shrug angrily.  “You know…!”

Some things don’t bear repeating, especially not to my husband.

“I ‘know’….?”

Jon raises both eyebrows in that charmingly innocently inquisitive way that completely diverts attention from the fact that my hubby supports himself – and me – by arresting people who crawl over fences and try not to get shot.

Maybe it’s a good ability for police work as well as marriages.

“Just forget it, hon.”

“Right… “

He hoists himself up from the old armchair – with such a mock effort that he almost knocks over the stale red wine on the small table. He hasn’t really touched it.

I thought we were going to have a romantic evening. Of sorts.

Jon walks over to peek out the window, hands clasped behind his back as if he was about to return to his real work of making some really groundbreaking astronomical observations.

There’s enough to observe, actually; the stars come out by the thousands here in the burning Arizona night. Too bad none of them ever seem to be lucky.

“It’s just… ” I start and then choke on my words.

He turns instantly. “Just what?”

“It’s been 15 years, Jon… !“



“Wasn’t she your best friend back in school? I remember when you told me about, back on Skye, that you and her – “

“I told you a few things about that. Enough.”

He nods carefully, licks his lips a little.

“Okaay… maybe you should tell me why you brought this up? I thought we we’re going to get a little… ”

He nods towards the wine and then seems to remember that he hasn’t really touched it because he was actually longing for beer, driving all the way home along with that flood of dust that they call a road out here.

I just shake my head and down my third glass. I don’t have a problem with the choice of drinks for the night and I’m not going to go get a beer from the fridge and put it on the table now just. It’s Friday night for crying out loud. If he wants to get something from me he has to play it my way – just a bit.

Not even sure I’m in the mood any longer, though. Somehow it just came out while we were talking about something completely different. That thing with Siné…

… And the air in here feels like it’s venting from a toaster.

“You know, a lot can happen in 15 years, Carrie…and that’s just normal.”

Ah! Sermon time. There are things I both love and hate about Jon. This is one of them.

He drops down in the far end of the sofa where I sit as if to keep some sort of tactical distance. “By the way, I met Tim Wilkes the other day,” he suddenly informs. ” – Did I tell you that?”

“No? Tim who – oh, that Tim!”

“Yeah, can you believe it? I almost stumbled into him right outside the station. 2 seconds later and he’d have passed by – for a meeting. He didn’t look a day older, I tell you.”

“So… what had he done in all those days that hadn’t passed for him, but only for the rest of us?”

“Haha – wouldn’t you like to know, beautiful?”

He comes over, just for a sec, kisses me on my forehead. Then he’s back in his corner. Jon has a fantastic instinct about my insecurity; those damn leaks here and there that I still haven’t plugged, seem to spring open at any goddamn little opportunity.

But I was not thinking about how I dislike being thirty and not really having done anything with my life except getting married with children. No, I wouldn’t be so… weak.

I’m supposed to be the counselor, for Christ’s sake!

Jon actually picks up his wine, finally, but his appreciation of the first gulp looks decidedly artificial.

“He’s still the same old wonderful guy I remember from high school – Tim. And he shouldn’t be – do you know what he does now?”

“No, Jon, what does Tim Wilkes do now?”

“He’s a tax lawyer – in Memphis of all places. A regular Mitch McDeere!”

“Does he work for the mob, too?”

“If he does, he didn’t say so. Guess he saw my badge, huh?”

“Guess he did… “

“Well, he was here on business, and, uh, we just had time for a cup of coffee and… “

I take a deep breath; try to remember that he is trying really hard.

“So… was it still the same – you know, feeling of friendship – between you after all these years? Or did he feel like a stranger?”

“Both… I guess. I’d like to have spent more time with him to find out. Those 45 minutes really sifted away fast. But we did dig up a lot of good memories while gulping down Starbucks… a lot of good memories. I think I might want to see him again.”

“But you told me you just drifted apart after high school, right?”

“Yeah… “

“So it’s not the same, Jon.”

“But I think you said that that’s what happened between you and Shee-na, too?”

“It’s Shee-nuh.”

“Whatever. Your native language is almost as good for knotting up the tongue as Navajo!”

“It’s not my bloody ‘native language’! I was forced to learn Gaelic at school because there’s this idea that it’s vital for Scotland’s national identity to keep alive a language that only about 1% of the population still speaks. And – my dad – and especially mum – insisted. She could never get a hang of it herself, though.”

I put down my glass on the table with such force, that for a moment I’m afraid I’ll shatter it.

He nods but doesn’t pursue it further.

Jon wouldn’t have survived as long as he has on border patrol if he didn’t possess an acute danger sense.

“It’s okay… It’s… okay… ” I manage to crank out, like a choked whisper. “But maybe Siné Munroe and I didn’t just… drift apart.”

He looks at me, waiting, glass still in his hand.

The house is silent now. Completely silent.

The kids have long stopped rumbling about upstairs, hopefully, because they are fast asleep. The desert outside seems to have absorbed every other sound than the insisting ticks from the old Civil War-era clock in the corner; about the only valuable Jonathan’s great-great-great-grandfather left his family.

“Do you want to talk about it?”

I shrug. Suddenly I feel dead-tired and it’s not the wine. It’s like liquid lead suddenly decided to sift through every synapse of my brain.

Somehow it feels familiar… the few times I thought about Siné since we moved to the US. Since I stopped writing after the fifth letter she never answered…

“I’m not sure… “

“About that you don’t want to talk about it or… “

“ – Should I go get you a beer?” I make to stand up. He gently pulls me down.

“Carrie, you’re evading the question.”

“Figures – I should never have married a policeman.”

Jon bites his lip then does some kind of imitation of a nod. As if we’ve reached a conclusion.

“Okay,” he says. “Okay, I guess… I’ll just go check on the kids, then.”

He gets up and reaches the door to the stairway before I stop him.

“Jon – “

He’s got one hand on the stairway rail, but he hasn’t taken the first step.

“Come over here,” I say weakly and touch the empty space in the sofa beside me as if to give some kind of sign that isn’t really a sign of anything but my indecision.

And then, when he comes over, I feel this… sharpness inside. Like something cutting through.

Jon puts a hand around my shoulders.

“Maybe you should pour some more of that awful wine.”

“Is it really that awful?”

“Yeah… you were never very good at picking wines.”

“It’s your fault. You hate wine no matter what brand.” I lean against him, slowly, like I’m finally giving in after trying to fight gravity for too long.

“I should never have married a man who hates red wine.”

“I have other qualities.”


“Carrie – Tim Wilkes and I were best mates. I’d have given my life for him. I know how that feels. It’s not that different with guys…”

“Siné and I were best friends. At least that’s what I thought.”

“What changed?”

“I changed… I guess. It was after the accident.”


“I told you I was in a bad way. My bones had healed but everything in me was still shattered and my folks didn’t know what to do. You don’t send your daughter to a shrink according to McDonnell doctrine.”

“But you empty an extra bottle because that helps her much better?”

“You’re unfair.”

He just snorts a reply.

I lean my head against his shoulder – finally; but at the same time, I cross my arms, pull my legs up under me.

“I would have died for Siné, too… and I think she would have died for me. The problem was… when I actually died – almost died – she wasn’t there. And when I came back to the land of the living, it was a different world. It was no longer my world. But Siné was still in the old world. We tried to … continue as if nothing had happened but… “

The sharpness… it’s almost cutting through now; my chest, my throat. All the shards boring their way to the surface. I shiver.

Jon’s grip around my shoulder tightens a bit.

“Why don’t we talk about it?” he says gently.

And so we do.


Afterward …

It’s way beyond midnight. Jon went to bed without me. I couldn’t really sleep. I think I told him everything. Finally.

From that time when we were six and Siné told Mrs. Morgan that it was she who had smashed that hideous garden leprechaun by knocking it down on the path stones by her front door – and not me – who was the real culprit…

… and until that last camp together, at fifteen. Over in the Black Cuillin, those mountains that are the real reason Skye has another, less romantic name:

The island of shadows.

That camp when she finally realized what a freak I’d become because I tried to tell her about how I really felt after the accident and because I never should have.

There are some things you don’t tell people, not even your best friends, especially not if they are only hanging by you with a fingernail or two.

And then mum and I moved back to Cleveland and I wrote and wrote and never heard from her.

So how could she do this… now? What’s her agenda?

Suppose she really means it? Would I want to… forgive her? Do I have the right to insist on that after all these years?

Doesn’t time heal everything?

But what’s worse… what if I’m just number 236 in the line that she asks this? What if I just become one of the crowd now, someone way, way out in the periphery? Wouldn’t I then humiliate myself totally by accepting?

I feel ashamed of myself for making such a big deal of it, but I can’t help it and I don’t know what the right thing to do is.

For a long time that night I just look at the screen on our little laptop:

Facebook friend request – Siné Munroe Robertson to Carrie Reese

Accept – Ignore

Like The Wind Through My Tree

Like The Wind Through My Tree

“That’s the problem with being in love,” Hammond said, “most guys don’t want to admit it.”

“What makes you an expert on that?” I quickly shoot back and chow down some more fries. And cola. And then more fries.

Anything to concentrate on … just concentrate on eating.

Hammond leans over the diner table, conspiratorially:

“I have figured it out,” he half whispers. Not low enough so it’s completely certain she doesn’t hear. Even with all the noise from the rest of the noon-time diner.


“What have you figured out, amigo?” I say, but keep my eyes where they are supposed to be:

The food …

My bulky partner grins. It is easy for him.

Eric Hammond: Ready to tell me some bullshit, to rub me the wrong way as usual. In his sweaty trooper shirt, beard stubs, and unkempt hair. Like some Burt Reynolds movie’s version of a cop – too fat, too slow, too sweaty.

He is anything but.

That biker he stopped from cleaving my skull yesterday, baseball bat-style, is still in Flagstaff Med Center wondering if he’ll ever be able to propagate his genes again – so we can have more alcoholic bikers with a grudge against the rest of the world.

Not the first time he’d done that. And I’d do the same for him. Every time.

So I let him BS me.

Every time.

“You know,” Hammond says, “I was always crazy about some chick when I was a teen, and then 10 times more after that. I never said a word.”

I look up from my cola, which is empty soon. But I am not going to call her to come get me a new one.

Maybe …

“Just because you were awkward when you were young … ” I start.

“Don’t give me that,” he interrupts. “I wasn’t finished. It’s not just me.”

“Keep it down … ” I say, breathing heavily and wondering if I can chow down more fries before we have to leave. I want to do something not to leave, but not eat.

“We have to do the round between Kachina and Sedona,” I continue, trying to make this all business.

Which is all BS, too, of course.

Hammond takes one of my fries, the last one. Eats it like it was a delicacy.

“Jon, my man – we’ll get there soon enough. The question is why you don’t want to talk to her.”

“I do. We have talked. I drove her home from the gym.”

“Yeah, and then you want to come here every day to have lunch. So you can talk about fries and ketchup with her. Great way to keep a conversation going. I’ll say it again: You don’t have the balls to ask her out!”

“I don’t want to – look, you don’t know shit about her. You don’t even know if I want to ask her out.”

“You have only been talking about her for the last two weeks. I know what the hell you want.”

He winks at me: ” … amigo.”

“Stuff it.”

“Oooh … ” Hammond’s eyes widen at me, mock-like. Then he turns in his seat before I can stop him.

“Honey – we’d like some more to drink,” he calls out.

And she comes over.

Carrie is a natural blonde but doesn’t look the part if you know what I mean. Oh, I realize how that sounds but you should see her eyes, man – you should see them. Like they are looking at all the world and like there is a world behind them. But that’s where the problem comes. I’ve seen such beautiful eyes before.

I’ve seen the pain and strength which are there at the same time in such eyes. Because she knows that everything she dreams about, everything she really is inside – all of her world – it may never be part of the world outside.

The fence is just too high.

“What’ll it be, gentlemen … Another round of Larry’s the best?”

She means the fries.

Hammond is polite enough not to stare at her breasts as she leans a bit forward and you can see that she also has got all the right curves beneath that dull waitress uniform.

It’s not because he is married, you know – the a-hole is busy looking for my reaction.

“Eh … “

Yeah, I get off to a great start.

She smiles and I am lost again.

“Maybe you want to,” she suggests, “but don’t really have the time?”

“Something like it!” Hammond quips and grins broadly at her.

She nods, she understands.

“I can get you some to-go. It’s gonna be a long afternoon, right?”

“Yeah, right,” I say and mean to get up. “Just get us the same as we had … Carrie.”

I hesitate on all counts. On saying her name. On getting up. On finding out where to look.

This is … not right. I’ve been in serious relationships for fuck’s sake. I chase bikers and drug dealers for a living. I know how this works.

And yet … I don’t.

I don’t go anywhere, just lean back and don’t even bother to hide how tired I feel.

Now it’s her turn to hesitate.

“Will I see you at the gym, tomorrow?”

That was not for Hammond.

I go for the cola but it is long empty, so I put the cardboard cup down and …

“Yeah,” I say – fully aware that I am not myself right now – “yeah!”

And I look up and smile. And she smiles.

And I have never really seen anything that makes me happier. Even in a run-down diner waitress’ uniform.

“Ha-ha!” I hear Hammond go, mouth full of his last fries. As if he had saved those for this moment.

“You got something stuck in your throat, hon – ?” she asks with accustomed ease.

She has been working here for months, I know. She must get all the shit from all kinds of …

Hammond wipes his mouth with the back of his sleeve. Leaving grease spots on his own uniform, to join the rest.

“I’m fine, thanks.” He nods vigorously. “I’m fine.”

“Look,” I start, manning up before this gets out of hand. “I’ll be there. As usual.”

I say it to her, and I am still not myself. Who is talking? How did this guy who can say these things to this woman – how did he suddenly get here?

I dunno.

But I’m glad he did.

She smiles again and takes our trays.


The problem with ‘the guy’ who just offered me help in the diner is that he is … not a regular.

He comes and goes.

Kind of like that self-confidence you are depending on when you are out to arrest people. Especially dangerous people, with guns and not a whole lot of resistance against using them.

Then you prep with your colleagues and you remind yourselves that you have a ton of experience doing this. You just need to remember it. Everything will go well.

But then you are out in the field, and something goes awry and you forget. And you begin to get those shakes or that cold feeling in the stomach. And you do your best to hide it, and just get it over with.

Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it happens even if everything goes according to plan.

I guess things went according to plan this time, in the diner. At least I did not screw up.

But I feel like I screw up every time I talk to her, even if it is just small talk.

So I come there, usually with Hammond, for lunch. And I get like I don’t want to be there, and I feel like something in me is taking over and looking for all sorts of distractions, even though what I want most is … to be there.

And then, sometimes, ‘the guy’ shows up and I manage to have a normal conversation with Carrie. Even if it’s just about what we’ll have, and if I’ll show up for gym the same days as she plans to.

So maybe ‘the guy’ is not someone else. Not some secret courageous Cary Grant living inside me.

Maybe he is just normal me.

And the true impostor is that feeling that takes me over and makes me feel like … she’s out of my league.


“Are you that skittish in the gym, too?” Hammond asks as we drive out I-17 towards Kachina Village. “I mean when she’s around … “

“Maybe you should start coming to the gym,” I say, “then you can see for yourself.”

“I bet you are doing fine,” he says, unperturbed. “I bet you work out there and everything is fine. With talking to her and all … “

“I bet you are right. It’s just … small talk, though.”

“That’s a start. Why not more?”

“You begin to sound like Dylan from the gym, Ham. It doesn’t really help.”

Hammond’s voice shifts, a tone that doesn’t help. And I know I did that.

Fucking stupid.

“Listen,” he says. “Don’t compare me to that chatty man-baby. He just messes with everyone, he tries to draw them into talk about all kinds of crazy stuff in his mind.”

He then looks at me, dead-earnest:

“What’s on my mind is you, partner. You haven’t been yourself for weeks now and it’s beginning to … “

I know. He doesn’t have to finish. I am a liability now. Ever so small, but still.

And partnerships and, heck, friendships don’t need that.

Especially now.

We drive on in silence and the trees seem to grow more shadows. At the Dollar Store we pull in and Hammond gets a new package of smokes – for later, of course.

I don’t comment anymore – of course.

I just wait in the patrol car, watching people a little bit but really, I am watching the shadows between the trees in and around Kachina Village.

My bro explained it to me last fall when I took him here for some R&R after his illness, and why not – he is much more into shit like that than I am:

Kachinas are spirits or personifications of things in the real world. These spirits are believed to visit the Hopi villages during the first half of the year. Kachinas are understood as having humanlike relationships; they may have uncles, sisters, and grandmothers, and may marry and have children.

I remember Dave looking at me in a strange way, when he walked between the trees one morning, just a little away from our cottage. I got out and asked him what he was doing, it looked as if he was feeling his way through the forest – with closed eyes.

What was he looking for?

Maybe what everybody who has almost died of hepatitis – or anything else – is looking for?

Dave looked at me and said something I don’t remember about the kachinas. And then he said something I do remember:

” … kachina has to do with the idea that there is life in everything in the world – rocks, trees, people. Everything has an essence or a life force, and we have to connect with that life force.”

“Or what?” I asked, in good spirits, because I had just made coffee, and it was a great morning and Dave looked a bit comical out there among the pines in his bathrobe.

Obsessing about our imagined Cherokee ancestry, like he always had.

But then he looked at me in that strange way and said:

” … Or we die.”

Hammond came back with cigarettes and colas and off we went again, looking for things on the road that violated some regulation or other. Like people, cars.

My mind felt hazy. I let Hammond do the looking, and take care of the radio. I just drove on.

That’s the way I’ve done life so far, alright. I just … drive on.

Whenever there is something by the road that makes me jittery … or makes me feel like a million bucks … or just really, really fantastic … whenever there is that …

I drive on.


Let me tell you about Carrie Sawyer. Let me tell you what I fear about her.

First of all, I fear that she is too wonderful. That she is … someone so special that there is no way in hell I could ever deserve her.

I dunno why there is that feeling. It’s just there.

It was never that way with Kim, and we did have some good times. Or with Maggie. Or Shay.

I don’t think I’ve had any other relations with a woman that was worth mentioning. Not in my 30 years in this fucked up world …

And Shay – oh, man – we were hardly out of high school. That was just … a fling.

It’s not that Carrie is your almost stereotypical good-looking blonde. It’s not that. She’s got it where it counts, sure. She’s got those ice-blue eyes and that nice long hair and some curves that are really, well, beautiful.

But all that is just … nothing. It’s not what really counts.

I mean, it does matter that she is … you know … that she has those looks. But she is hardly a model. Her face is a bit like some soldier I once saw in a movie.

I know that sounds odd, but I think it is beautiful, too. I talked about models before and they are all smooth as silk and look like somebody drew them with a feather pen.

Carrie has got the looks all right, but there is a roughness about her that comes off as more sincere.

Heck, I don’t even know what the hell that means …

I guess … I guess it means that if you put some of those models that I used to fantasize about when Dave and I were kids – if you put someone like that in a snowstorm and ask her to find her way home, she would either not come home or she would come home and look like a doll that somebody had hit with a sledgehammer. She would be just like that.

Like somebody who looks like someone who had been hit by a sledgehammer. And who would never go out again. Anywhere.

Carrie would come home and she would look like she had been in a snowstorm, but she would be tough. She would be there. She would be beautiful.

She would be able to go through another snowstorm.

And I guess that’s also what …

There’s something about that strength I see that makes me think it’s not all roses for her, or it’s never been. It’s the kind of strength that’s either genuine and really beautiful when you have it and you are as beautiful as she is – as a woman.

Or it’s a cover. A cover for something that’s as messed up as I am sometimes. And as I know Dave is.

And which is probably because our mum died and left us with that asshole for an old man.

And then all sorts of other shit. And it’s a wonder I ever got accepted as a cop, you know … but that’s another story.

I’m proud I got this far, but I feel like I have been in 3 of those snowstorms to get there. And I feel like … I can’t really go through another.

I need some years where I don’t get into all kinds of shit with people I love. Or people I am supposed to love.

Don’t get me started on my old man …

Don’t get me started on all the crazy arguments Kim and I had at the end. She wanted someone who was going to be … refined.

Or just all right, I guess. No baggage. I don’t know what kind of movie she saw, but it was different than mine.

We didn’t think so at the beginning, but that’s the way it turned out.


“You want a cola?”

“No thanks, buddy.”

“It’s late.”

“I’m turning back to Flagstaff at the next roundabout.”

“Good. I’m starving.”

“You’ve been fucking eating for the last hour.”

“I asked if you wanted something.”

“You did… “


I come home to my condo and I don’t turn on the light at first. I just go into my living room, which is the only room and I sit down on the couch and look into the darkness.

And I think about her, of course.

I’ve never felt … so close to anyone. And yet we have barely talked.

Mostly about weights and push-ups.

And ketchup and fries, of course.

What if she is the real thing?

What if she is not?

What if she is from somewhere as shitty as Dave and I?

That would mean I am not really in love, right? I am just looking for someone to share my own messed-up-ness with. Some kind of crazy sympathy …


What’s crazy is that I don’t even know that. About her.

I don’t really know her.

And yet … I know I have known her all my life.

Carrie Sawyer.

With that quirky accent that she can’t really hide. Where is that from anyway? Wales?

Fuck it.

I reach for the remote. A safe option. There is a program about …



On Fox. Of all places.

So maybe she is from Scotland.

And maybe I should steer clear.

I should.

I am thinking that maybe she is too beautiful for me because she is beautiful and tough.

And maybe she is tough because she is as big a mess like me.

And I’m not tough. Only when I do my job …

It’s not a good combination.

Kind of like two people, with the same messes, feeling they have something in common. And they do. But what they have is not love.

It’s more someone to share the loneliness and the messes with.

Not a good combo.

I’m going to bed.

Fuck it.

I was pretty close there for a moment – believing I ‘knew’ her.

Yeah, I probably do. But for all the wrong reasons.

And I’m not coming to the diner anymore. Or the gym.

I’ll be doing us both a favor.



Not In Your Hands

Not In Your Hands

November 1864: After they torched her home, Anna went on the run. At times, she had to disguise herself as a soldier to survive. At other times, she had to be with soldiers. It was a war that could not be won regardless, even if the end was near …

The Frozen Horizon

The Frozen Horizon

I went out of my rented room the next morning wondering where to go next. I didn’t want to leave the farm, but I knew that I didn’t really belong here. I stopped at a fence looking at the white plains stretching away toward the hazy mountains on the other side. The whiteness was new-fallen snow with no features. It was as if there was nothing on that plain, living or dead. If I went out there, would I become part of the whiteness, too? Is that what my future looked like?

A Letter For My Daughter

A Letter For My Daughter

i am not sure what i want to tell you about myself
i am not sure if it is worth trying to tell you something
after all, most of us tend to think about ourselves first right
so if you think about yourself first
why would you want to spend time thinking about me
about something I have to say
if this sounds needlessly gloomy
overly self conscious melodramatic what have you
then you are absolutely right
i dare you to just look away right now
because I know that you are thinking
little spoilt girl
or maybe you cant stand all the whining
or something
and I would not berate you
so where was i
god its so hard when your brains been run over by a truck
and squeezed by a drycleaner
so do you know why my words looks like shit
and why my words sound like shit
its because they ARE an absolute reflection of my thoughts
and my thoughts are a whirling vortex of mad dancing leaves
and i am in the middle choking
god wish i could breathe
what the hell is happening to me
what i am i trying to tell you
when i look at these words they are like
stings in my skin
like i am trying to tell you
and that something is hidden beneath my skin
and i have just cut open to see
look for it
and i have taken it out
all the tar
or whatever
it is
and now i have sewed everything back together again
but still its bleeding through
and my hands are shaking
the words are in and out of focus
its called a focus
i would not be so confident if i were you that i am mad
after all theres only one way to determine this right
you would have to look inside my head
and then youd most like likely end up choking in all the tar as well
and then itd be normal for you
to choke
for you too
so what i am trying to tell you
who i am right
who i am
that is the first most simple thing you can tell a person
you can say myname is such and and such
and then youve mad made a connection and it is all very simple
so utterly very fucking simple
well for me it is NOT FUCKING SIMPLE
it never was
oh god dont want to be like this
a regular beat girl or something silly like that
now if only I could focus
focus is good
they teach you that in society
focus is what it is all about
wheres my card
oh here
focus back
but now i dont have
i think it was here before
wheres my dollar bill

will you still be waiting for me
if i dont kill the future right


Emma Sawyer Reese was born at St. Luke’s Medical Center, Phoenix, AZ on 6 May 2006.

Carrie’s Theme

Carrie’s Theme

Detective LaPorte quashed his cigarette in the lonely ashtray on the cafe table. Then he looked at the blonde woman who was sitting across from him.

Well, ‘sitting’ wasn’t quite the right word. More like ‘hunching’.

If this had been a grimy alley in New York the woman’s bearing would have been indistinguishable from one of the bag ladies after she had combed the trash containers and found nothing.

It didn’t fit with her blood-red lipstick, the icy green mojito in front of her, or the lazy breeze in the palm trees above their corner.

And LaPorte didn’t miss New York.

“So, miss … ” He looked at her skeptically. “You say you work for Jeremy Banner. What exactly is it that you do here?”

“What does it look like I do?” She gazed out at the beach which was the next stop for every one of the noisy clientele around them after they had downed enough drinks.

LaPorte looked around, too, but at the man with the slick hair over at the counter who was in close communication with another woman of the same age, one hand on her butt and another waving impatiently at the bartender for more to drink. He looked at other men and women who looked the same. Different kinds of hunger in their eyes, different reds, different bikini thong cuts. It didn’t matter much.

“Look … ” LaPorte leaned slightly over the table. “I’m too old and too busy for games … ”

He let it hang in the air.

“Jeremy is … okay,” the woman said. “He has had some problems, sure—” She looked down and LaPorte could see that she hadn’t quite been able to cover the bruised left eye with mascara and sunglasses “—but it’s not his fault. It’s these … Montioso goons. They come here and scare the shit out of people. They are a real, real bad deal. Jeremy just wants them to go away.”

“Then he should come to us,” LaPorte said, looking straight at the blonde. There was a steadiness in his voice that was easy to hear, even above all the noise. “Why hasn’t he?”

“I don’t know. Why are you asking me?” The woman took off her sunglasses.

LaPorte didn’t flinch. He sensed a strength in this girl that was not yet quenched, but he also knew exactly what she was doing.

And although he had made an effort of will to forget Ella, and what had happened to her, he knew he would do it again.

“I want you to do what’s sensible,” he said to the woman, and his voice felt hoarse. He reached for his own drink but found it was already empty.

He saw Ella’s bloody face again. Heard the zipper of the black bag that the paramedics had put her in.

“You’re one of the girls I still have hope for—” he looked around again “—you’re not from here. You’re not part of … all this.”

“I am now. How do you know I’m not going to tell Jeremy about you?”

“Look, Carrie …” LaPorte took out another smoke from the packet “… You’re just some good girl from up North who got in with a lot of bad company. You don’t need to be here. You will do what is right. You will let us know if Jeremy is selling us out to the Montioso’s. They come in here all the time.”

“And if I don’t?”

For a moment LaPorte hesitated. But felt tired. He wanted to … help. He didn’t want to see another Ella. But maybe what had happened to Ella had happened because he wanted to help? Because he had gotten too old for these kinds of things?

Then he thought of what Bridget was going to cook when he came home. Or what furniture she had smashed this time.

He rubbed his brow. “The key of coke we found last night in your car … it has your prints all over it.”

Carrie looked down. “He said he’d beat me if I didn’t do it.”

LaPorte held the cigarette without lighting it. A sudden gust of wind from the sea blew a few ashes out of the tray and onto his white jacket. He dusted them off quickly. “I believe you and I just want to help.”

There was acid in Carrie’s voice now. “But if I don’t spy on Jeremy for you again, you’ll throw me in prison?”

LaPorte threw the cigarette away. “What’ll it be?”

Carrie looked at him, and he thought he saw something glint in her eyes. It wasn’t the sun, but it felt just as searing.

“You know, I wanted to be a lawyer once,” she said coldly.

“You can get back to the life you want again,” LaPorte said. “There are mitigating circumstances. And if you help us, you won’t go anywhere but home.”

She looked out over the ocean. “Or somewhere else …”

LaPorte nodded, but all he saw was Ella. The blood. The body bag.

He coughed. “You know, you can go back to your education. Maybe even be a lawyer. There are programs … “

“No,” Carrie said. “That life is gone forever. But I will still help you because it’s what I once wanted to be. Not because of that stupid key.”

He nodded again and felt a heaviness that only came in the late hours, not in the middle of the day like this.

Carrie put back on her dark glasses. “Guess a cop like you wouldn’t understand a crazy attitude like that … “

LaPorte stood up. His voice was still hoarse. “I guess I wouldn’t.”

That Imaginary Desert

That Imaginary Desert

MissCarraway: Hey bro, I thought you military men weren’t allowed to use ICQ? What if the brass suspected you of divulging state secrets or something?

BlackRock245: Haha im on leave this week, remember? What time is it over there anyway? Shouldn’t you be in bed?

MissCarraway: Only about 7PM. Don’t worry about me.

BlackRock245: Caroline its been like six weeks since we heard a peep from u. Dad is freaking a bit out. Where are you? Brazil?

MissCarraway: Close. Buenos Aires.

BlackRock245: OK well just here on good old Skye. But going back to Inverness tomorrow.

MissCarraway: They going to send you off to war soon?

BlackRock245: Only the seasonal drills this year. Dont think there’s goin to be another dunkirk in 2001.

MissCarraway: Careful what you wish for. Granpa’s stories aren’t exactly fun.

BlackRock245: Sis, when are you going back to the states?

MissCarraway: Soon. A little more time.

BlackRock245: Deborah must be worried, too.

MissCarraway: Mom is okay. She emails a bit. She’s not on chat.

BlackRock245: She is. She chats with us sometimes.

MissCarraway: Dad talks to mom?!

BlackRock245: Course not. But Sheila does sometimes. Her and mom always got along. Crazy huh? But don tell dad they do it. Hell go bananas. 

MissCarraway: I won’t. I don’t talk to dad, remember?

BlackRock245: He wants to talk to you u know. He wants to know if u are all right. He asks me all the time if i talk to u and what do i say? ‘yeah like every 6 months’ lol 

MissCarraway: Tell him I’m OK. I’m coming home soon. I’ll email mom about it tomorrow. Just need to figure out which plane so I don’t end up in Timbuktu haha.

BlackRock245: Funny sis as always. What have u been up to? Wish I could travel as much as u. See the world!

MissCarraway: I only went away because I had to. You know that. But yeah, I saw all the touristy sites. Machu Picchu and such. You’ll hate it.

BlackRock245: I hate crowds alright. Glad u remember that 🙂 Still would be nice to go sometime

MissCarraway: Hey, don’t they send you on exotic overseas on missions?

BlackRock245: I don’t think theres goin to be anything ever, tbh. Well be chewin highland grass this year again. Was thinking about quitting actually, getting a wee job or somethin

MissCarraway: Now dad *will* go bananas!

BlackRock245: Not his call. Im here because I want to, but if nothing much happens I may change my mind. All that bollocks about the Falklands was a long time ago anyway. He doesnt talk about it anymore, btw, and i dont let him

MissCarraway: About the Falklands … I was thinking about going out there.

BlackRock245: What? Isnt it like a 1000 miles furhter south?

MissCarraway: Just kidding. I don’t even think you can fly there from Arg. Probably still pissed about the war.

BlackRock245: And u always yap about how I should stop letting dad

MissCarraway: I don’t!

BlackRock245: Ur the one wanting to go to the bloody falklands.

MissCarraway: It was just a thought. I am here, so why not? And

BlackRock245: What?

MissCarraway: Maybe it’ll make a difference to him, you know? Maybe he’ll stop being an ass if I came home and told him that I was actually there. That I wanted to see where it happened.

BlackRock245: Dads not goin to stop being dad. Or an ass.

MissCarraway: Haha. Good one.

BlackRock245: Look, are u goin to come home to bonnie ol Scotland? We miss u.

MissCarraway: I am pretty broke after this, but I think I will. Yes. That’s a promise.

BlackRock245: FInally. 🙂 🙂 Look, I got to go now. Sheila & dad just came back. Unless u want to say hello?

MissCarraway: Tell dad I will call him soon.

BlackRock245: I will. And Caroline

MissCarraway: Yes?

BlackRock245: Its been 7 years and dad’s been an ass. But we want u to come home safe ok? No matter if its US or 

MissCarraway: You’d better log off now. And tell him I’m fine.

BlackRock245: I will. Take care.

MissCarraway: You too. I’m coming back to Scotland before they send you to Dunkirk, okay?

BlackRock245: Dont worry. I think there arent goin to be any more world wars.

MissCarraway: No, war is over.

The Morning After

The Morning After

Carrie went to the Santa Cruz airport again to wait for Eduardo, but he never came in on the agreed flight. And there were no messages for her either, only her memory of his promises, at a time when she was in no shape not to believe in such things. Outside the big windows of the terminal the afternoon sun was blazing in the South Bolivian sky like a fire from an ancient dream, but inside Carrie felt the shadows lengthen. 

Something must have happened.

But he would come in on the next flight. If he did not, he would call her voice mail on the phone he had bought for her to explain, or at the very least text her back. Or maybe reply to her email if all else failed. His phone number was ‘not reachable’ but that could be because he was thousands of miles away, or maybe even en route on another plane. But he had her phone number, too.

After going back and forth over the few possible scenarios in her mind for what felt like a hundred times, Carrie simply decided to wait. It meant she had to spend the night in the terminal’s waiting room on two plastic seats, listening to the other passengers’ chatter, complaints, and their babies crying, all for hours on end. But there was another flight arriving at 6 AM and she didn’t want to miss it if she went back to Santa Cruz. Traffic was usually a bitch so, as with everything in Bolivia, it was a gamble to be anywhere you had to be at an exact time. And the hotels she could afford by now were pretty far away from the airport, anyway. 

Over the terminal, another plane roared aloft, as if escaping from the sun’s flames that appeared evermore as if they would burn the sky as the afternoon gave way to evening. Carrie did not look up.


Eduardo wasn’t on the 6 AM flight, either.

So at around 7 AM, Carrie went over to the desk with stale sandwiches in the waiting room and asked the young man with sleepy eyes for one. 

She returned to her plastic seat to chow down the cheese and bread, accompanied by gulps of lukewarm cola, but felt her body unraveling in spite of these belated attempts to feed it. She felt the soreness, the protests of her muscles. She was not going to survive another night on those seats.

It began to sink in. About Eduardo and her. The revelation she had seen in his eyes after all that sorry winter with Manuel would yet turn this journey around for her, make it more than another. The thought was like a knife of hunger constantly slashing her gut. She ate, but she didn’t feel full.

She noticed a Bolivian businessman with sweat on his brow and a crumpled tie, one of the few persons left in the waiting area at this time. She had not seen him the evening before. He must have come in during the night. He was slumping on the plastic seat, ostensibly oblivious to her presence. His breathing was labored.

The man opened his briefcase for a moment, as if to check something was still in it, then closed it and leaned back, so the plastic strained. He pushed his sunglasses up on his furrowed brow and closed his eyes hard, reminiscent of a monk preparing for a particularly challenging meditation.

Carrie moved further away, to a corner of the waiting room, where she figured she was out of earshot. She turned her back to the room, and to the man. For the last money on her calling card, she then tried her mobile phone again. 

This time there was a signal. But that’s all there was. “You have reached the voicemail of Eduardo Benes. Please leave a message. Hasta luego.

Hola Ed,” Carrie said in Spanish, “I thought you said you’d be back from Miami with this afternoon’s flight. I am worried. There are no messages, no email. What has happened?” She added, “I still have faith in you.” Then she hung up. 

She had one calling card left now. But damn if she was going to use it for Miami anymore. Where was it anyway?

She quickly dropped the search, though, and pulled out her coke bottle from her bag instead. It was half empty. 

The air was dry like her throat. Drinking the flaccid cola didn’t help much.

Carrie glanced over her shoulder at the arrival/departure screen to see when the next flight would be now. But it had suddenly gone dark. There seemed only to be a flickering in the corner of it as if the silvery tendrils of static tried to break through and display something.

“¡Carajo …!” she muttered, not thinking.

Then she heard a voice behind her. It was the businessman. “The screen did that all the time during the night. They have not fixed it yet. If you want to see one working you have to go down the hallway.” He spoke in Spanish, so he had heard her. 

Had he also been watching her?

“I’m not going anywhere,” Carrie said, not turning around.  

“I can see that,” she heard him say.

“Don’t you have some kind of … business to attend to?” she asked, still without looking back at him.

She heard dry laughter “Oh, I have business all right. I own three cattle farms down at Camiri.”

“There are no planes directly to that town,” Carrie said.

There was a pause, then she heard, “Maybe I’m waiting for someone, too.”

Even though she was still facing the wall at the end of the waiting room and not the businessman three rows of seats behind her, Carrie felt he was looking at her. Looking at her dirty jeans, her dust-covered bag, her cheap tank top, and her ruffled hair. 

“Who are you waiting for?” she then said, turning around slowly. 

The man just shrugged, which made Carrie bristle.

She wanted to take a gulp of cola from the bottle but it was empty now. She threw it on the floor. 

 The man said nothing, but he kept looking at her like she was some kind of interesting animal.

“Look,” she said, “can you buy me a new bottle of something to drink? I don’t have any small change for the machine, and the stall is not open yet.” 

When the man just kept staring at her, she shook her head. “Guess you are not used to a gringa asking for money,” she said under her breath.

She didn’t know why she had said it. Because it was because she was irritated with the Bolivian attitude to foreigners, no matter how poor or rich they were themselves. Anyone from the U.S. – heck, the entire English-speaking world – who visited their country had to be a walking goldmine.

The man harrumphed something.

“Fuck it.” Carrie grabbed her bag and left. 

She hadn’t made a conscious decision to head for the exit, but she found herself doing so anyway. Outside the morning sun seemed dim compared to the afternoon before. Just like her feelings.

Eduardo could go fuck himself. How could she have believed he was different? How could she have been so naive?

And then she saw him. 

She hesitated a few seconds because at first, she wasn’t sure. But there was no doubt. Tall, lean, and impeccably dressed in a gray-striped suit – there was Eduardo Benes, talking confidentially to another man she hadn’t seen before, only a few steps from the exit and the baying taxis outside.

Carrie felt her heart hammer, and suddenly it was like her breath was stuck in her throat. She had wanted to go to Eduardo immediately when she was certain it was him but now her legs felt like lead.

A dark pit opened up in her mind, like a tumor she had tried to forget. A tourist couple, maybe from Brazil passed her, with two neatly trimmed kids in tow, laughing and chatting even though it was still quite early. Then one of the kids began babbling something about a toy he saw in one of the small shop windows, but which wasn’t a toy at all, but a mascot for one of the few airlines operating out of the airport. 

The kid tore loose from his mother’s grip and ran across the hallway to the window, almost running into Carrie. The 30-something mother, whose fine face looked slightly Asian, berated the child in a soft voice and said something Carrie couldn’t understand, but she saw the look of impatience and annoyance on the father’s face. Then he apologized to her in English. 

When she didn’t move or acknowledge the apology, he frowned and they all got moving quickly toward wherever they were going. She had to restrain herself not to let some stinging remark follow them. They prattled on in Portuguese, of course, but she was quite sure they understood Spanish.

Yes, it’s so hard to be a family nowadays, isn’t it?

Or something like that. But it was too late now. God, she felt pathetic.

She looked down the hallway again and saw that Eduardo had his back turned, walking towards the exit with the other man.

There has to be an explanation.

She checked her phone for the nth time. Its battery was barely charged but there was enough life left in it to tell her there were no messages.

But what if there isn’t?

She looked at the sky beyond Eduardo and the other man and all the other people. Outside, above the airport there was a promising light now, crisscrossed by planes taking off or landing. Going somewhere.

“—Excuse me. But you appear to have dropped this in the waiting room.”

Carrie turned around to see the sweaty businessman standing behind her. He held out a green prepaid calling card. She remembered that she had fumbled for it in the waiting room and then given up on it.

“Thank you,” Carrie said and took the card.

He shrugged. 

“I … ” She wanted to say something more, to acknowledge this unexpected show of friendliness but instead she couldn’t help gazing after Eduardo again.

The man looked in the same direction, enough time to see Eduardo’s back disappear into the crowd. Then a change came over his tired, worn features, like something in him had reset itself

“I was waiting for my wife,” the man said slowly. “Ex-wife, I mean. She should have been on a plane from Cochabamba. With my son and daughter.”

He paused and seemed to watch for her reaction.

But Carrie felt numb. She felt like saying something but there was that leaden feeling again. 

Even so, there was a gossamer memory of who she wanted to be. Before … all of it.

“I’m sorry,” she said as honestly as she could. “Do you know why they didn’t come?”

He shrugged again and looked over in the direction of the lines of people waiting to check-in. “I don’t, not exactly. But she texted me and said they would be delayed. I am considering whether or not to call her back.”

“Have you decided?”

He grinned. “Not yet. I need a drink first.”

“I need to go home and sleep, I think.”

“Good choice,” the man said. “I am sorry if this is your first time in Bolivia.” He didn’t expound on this remark and Carrie didn’t elaborate. But she suspected that he had probably pieced things together from that phone call well enough.

“I’m sorry, too,” Carrie said. “But it is my fault. I … was in a relationship which was bad for me. Then I chose another relationship which was also bad, to make up for the first.”

“The new relationship wasn’t better?” the man asked, looking at her skeptically as if the answer wasn’t obvious.

She shook her head. “The only thing that was better about it was that it only lasted seven days.”

“And where are you going now? Back to the United States?”

“I didn’t say I was from the U.S.”

“You speak Spanish very well,” he said and for the first time smiled a little, “but your accent betrays you. Like my ex-wife’s accent.”

Carrie’s eyes widened.

The man pulled out the handkerchief again. It was wrinkled like his tie. He wiped his brow several times. “Does it surprise you that I could have been married to an American woman?”

She shook her head. “Not much surprises me anymore. Thank you for bringing back my card.”

“You still need change?”


“Good,” he said, “because what I have I need to pay a fat tip.”

With that remark, he nodded and made his way past her toward the exit. Eduardo was nowhere to be seen anymore.

Carrie knew she should feel angry as hell. She had come here as a tourist to get away from her shitty family and grief all rolled up into one. She thought she had found a new life with Manuel, and then with Eduardo – for a brief time. She had found neither. And Julia might never talk to her again for the way Carrie had broken up with her brother, even if it was all his fault … or was it?

The questions buzzed in her mind. She swatted them down one by one but it became more exhausting each time she did. She hadn’t slept well and the only right thing to do was to go back and see if she could still get a room at the hotel. Her father had wired her a bit of money. Enough, perhaps.

Carrie began walking slowly, weighing the scenarios in her head. What would she say to Eduardo if she found him in the usual inferno of taxis outside the airport?

It had meant so much to her that Eduardo had been there after the messy breakup with Manuel and therefore her present numbness felt like a stranger who had barged in and taken over her mind and feelings. How could she feel so little after having felt so much?! It was not right. She had to feel more.

At the very least she had to confront Eduardo and get the satisfaction of dismantling whatever pathetic excuse he had for leaving her like this, much like she had wanted to confront Manuel, when she realized things could never work between them.

But that feeling of righteous decisiveness was just as quickly replaced by fear. What if there was a good explanation? It would mean that if she left now, without seeking out Eduardo, she would miss it. And then Eduardo might believe she had left him because her caring had just been a sham – and not the other way around.

Carrie reached the doors to the parking lot. An airport employee nodded perfunctorily to her, even though it was clear from his eyes that he regarded her disheveled look with some disdain.

Always good to be able to feel better than a rich gringa, isn’t it?

Unless – reflected with a sting of regret – unless you happened to be someone who picked up her green phone cards for strangers you did not know and should not care about … Carrie glanced one last time back at the busy interior of the terminal.

Then she turned around and in a brief moment of flare-like intensity walked right into the humid tropical forest around Villa Tunari, right where the road out of town was flanked by two huge rusty oil drums, a crude adornment to the otherwise spit and polish YPFB gas station.

It was not even two weeks ago.

Manuel had stopped the pick-up but she had already thrown out her bag and jumped off before the vehicle came to a complete halt on the gravelly lot beside the gas station. There wasn’t any official space at all to park on, just a patchwork of gravel, grass, and a few tropical plants that had not been run over by trucks yet. And then of course the abandoned oil drums, each the size of a small bus. 

Carrie went over to the first with her bag and leaned against it, closing her eyes, feeling the heat from its rusty surface against her back. She gulped some water from her flask and waited for the inevitable. Then she heard Manuel’s footsteps.

He stopped short of touching distance. 

“I didn’t want it to come to this,” he said.

“You chose to be with Angelica, not me.”

He scoffed. “And what about you and my sister?”

“It is not the same. What is it with your dirty mind? And you are so fucking jealous, anyway.” 

Manuel’s smooth, tanned face revealed nothing. She didn’t have to look to know that. She was sure of it. 

It was the kind of calm, in any situation, that she had needed so badly when she first came to Bolivia, more or less by accident. She had been amazed to find it here, 4200 miles from home. Like a special gift waiting just for her that would solve everything. It was the reason she had traveled down here, although she had not known it was so when she ran away the first time.

That was an act of desperation, but when she had first met Julia and then her brother, it all seemed to come together. She had been meant to be embraced by that calm, shown another world, and start a new life. Fate or whatever went for it had led her here, even if she didn’t believe in fate.

It was all she wanted – like those eyes of his and the look that said, ‘no matter what storms may come, I’ll be stable. I’ll be your rock.’

Now she kept her own eyes closed.

Then she heard Manuel turning around and walking away without a word. She opened her eyes and felt torn. She had wanted the fight to … continue. To get the last … strike.

And just like that, it was over. She saw his truck drive away and now she was alone in this asshole of a town, and all her sweat and tears were for nothing.

That’s when she swore that if she was ever with another man again, it would be someone completely different from Manuel and she wouldn’t give a fuck what happened.

And after weeks of drifting around in Santa Cruz, it seemed Eduardo was just that man.

She had cared.

Hadn’t she?

A cabbie’s hoarse voice brought her back to the airport and the whirls of people around her, pushing to get past her, to get somewhere. They knew where to go.

“Where you want to go, eh?” The cabbie, an elderly man with steel-colored hair, looked at her expectantly. “I know nice hotel in city.”

“How nice?” she replied in crisp Spanish.

He laughed and continued in Spanish, too. “Not nice enough for me. But it will do for a proper señorita like you.”

“I’m not proper. I don’t know what the hell I am doing here. I can’t get anything right.”

“Then this hotel is just for you. My brother owns it. It’s got everything. Even a swimming pool. If you don’t know where to go this is a good place to start.”

Carrie stared at the little man, but there was a genuineness in his pushiness that was refreshing. She could need a refreshing dive into cold water now. Perhaps when she came up to the surface again, the world would look different.

She didn’t really believe it, though. But if she insisted on holding on to that belief, where did that leave her?

“How much is the fare?” she asked.


Photo by Florian Wehde on Unsplash

Until You See the Signs

Until You See the Signs

“You were the attractive queen of hearts while I was only the jack of clubs.”

The driver glances knowingly at me, then adds, “that’s what the cards told me this morning.”

“Oh, really?” I laugh nervously and try not to look at where his hand is moving. He should really keep both hands on the steering wheel. But he rattles on.

“I always have my coffee in the same café, a nice gringo place by the way. And I always tell my fortune with the cards before each day’s drive. And isn’t it remarkable that a lovely señorita such as you need a lift just today when there’s a queen of hearts in the reading?”

“No comprendo.” I throw him the stupid didn’t-bother-to-learn-that-much-Spanish tourist smile and then I look out the window for the nth time but the car is still going at least 80 so I’d get squashed if I jump out now.

Let me rewind a bit and tell you how I got into this mess. I’m not certain you can make any more sense of it than I can, because my life sure as hell seems to be like a series of tornadoes these days, all crashing into each other and throwing things around.

But the fact is, I have lived for almost a year now in Bolivia, and I have never felt threatened here. Ever.

I guess any sane person should have. Mom would have freaked out if she knew just how far out in the jungle I was living until recently. Me: 21-year old, blonde, a ‘stupid American’, and definitely ripe for the picking – at least in the eyes of some men. 

But nothing ever happened.

Then I finally decide to go back to civilization and things turn crazy real fast.

It starts when the bus’ gear shift breaks. The driver manages to wheel it into a village in the first gear and then runs off to find an auto mechanic without saying when he will be back. 

As I drift around the village with the other passengers, mostly locals out to smoke and take a piss, I notice a lone taxi in a corner of the market square.  I reckon I’m still at least an hour away from Santa Cruz de la Sierra, the only place here big enough to host an international airport, and I don’t know when the bus is going to ever move again. So I walk over and ask the taxi driver, how much for the rest of the way? 

One hundred bolivianos. 

Okay. It’s a lot of money here but back in the US, it’s more like two drinks, even though I still have to be careful with the little money I have left. 

There are no phone numbers or addresses printed on the taxi, only a homemade sign in the window. Tourists are warned in all the guidebooks not to take taxis like that, only the official ones. But, you know I feel I have lived in Bolivia forever now, so I’m not a tourist anymore, right? 

I look at the driver, trying to take stock of him. He is a sweaty 30-something guy with a thin mustache and piercing eyes but seems like the harmless silent type, or so I convince myself. And I really don’t want to be stuck here.

I agree to 100 bolivianos and off we go.

For 20 minutes he stares blankly out the front window, while his body is going through the motions to get his vehicle from the spartan upland and into the city where I plan to sleep for a hundred years. Then he begins to talk about cards.

And when I don’t seem to identify overly much with his vaunted queen of hearts, he ignores me and keeps talking about all the times he didn’t make that draw – and never met a girl on the road. 

My mind is racing way faster than the car. I look out the open passenger window again and pretend to admire the withered baby palm trees, dry fields, and unfinished buildings on both sides of the road.

I try to say to myself that this guy is not going to follow up on his implied threat of pulling over and doing various things to me if I don’t pretend to be his queen of hearts. But who’s to say he won’t pull over if I do agree to play along, and he is not just out to give compliments and let that be that? What if it’s the little finger that will tempt the shark enough to fancy grabbing the rest, and then some? I heard about two female tourists getting raped and killed at Lake Titicaca not so long ago. A rarity in Bolivia, but not an impossibility. 

This is insane. Am I about to be the next headline on some traveler warning site?

I glance at him again and see pearls of sweat dance over his brow while he tries to find a grimace that is somewhere between friendly and intimidating. My heart beats like a jackhammer but I try to remain calm and use the only asset I have right now.

Anger. And believe me, I have plenty of that.

I turn slowly towards him and explain in perfect Bolivian Spanish that he is going to pull over now because I am a crazy American chica who is here to jump from a chair with more than his loving arms around my neck, once I get to the hotel where my Bolivian boyfriend was supposed to meet me, but instead hung himself on this day exactly a year ago. I have tried life since but I have given up and now I am going to follow him. 

Because I loooved him so much.

Yes, that’s right. Everything is planned. I have even reserved the exact same room.

So I am not afraid of you, Mr. Sweaty, and I have nothing to lose so you had better drive me all the way to the hotel and to the agreed price, or I’m going to fast forward my planned exit from this world by pulling at a lot more than what is in your pants and make this car go over in the other lane and get squashed against the next oncoming truck.

Sweaty looks like somebody threw him a gut punch, bewildered and somewhat in pain. He didn’t get what he wanted; he hadn’t even articulated it for himself and that was the hole in his defense. And so I made my move and now he is off-balance, his tired self-pitying mind trying to process the new information. 

And so when a big fat truck actually pulls out to get in front of us (as Bolivian drivers are wont to do) but from a side road, and Sweaty hits the brakes – that’s when I kick open the passenger door. He forgot to lock it, of course, because, as I counted on, he hadn’t really planned this out. Or perhaps the lock didn’t work as most things in Bolivian cars. 

Whatever the case, I run to the roadside and then up the gravel lane that the truck came from where there is an excavator exhibition of all things, and I never see him again. 

I even got my few remaining things, all in my small faded rucksack, which never needed to go in the trunk anyway – thank God.

All in all, I get away with the whole stunt with only a few bruises on my left leg, which I get because I stumble after I get out on the asphalt safely because there is a damn rock on the road. 

Go figure. But I make it.

And now I have to make it on foot in burning noon heat towards Santa Cruz, still 20 miles away.


I hitch a new ride with a pharmacist, who drives an old American Ford pickup. Small, gray man, about 55. His wife, I take it, is in the pickup as well, so I climb in without too much apprehension even if my heart still hasn’t quite slowed to its normal routine. 

She is a big woman, with clear native features. As I squeeze in, I’m really glad there weren’t any ice cream parlors in the jungle.

And you know, my feet hurt and it’s too bloody long to walk to the city center where the decent hotels are. So Señor and, yes, Señora Flores are going to be my saviors and hopefully no more surprises. If there was a plane today, they could have dropped me off at the airport, but in a way, I’m glad there isn’t so I get an excuse to burn some of my last reserves on a room with a proper bed.

I find out that the two are on their way to an evening shift, right after the siesta they both look like he’d rather be doing still. But there is a sharp twinkle in the tired eyes of the woman, when she asks me, why I am out here, all alone and walking to Santa Cruz.

So I explain it, as nonchalantly as I can, and she feigns a quick smile, as she hears the story about how the taxi driver looked like an idiot while I heroically bolted towards the fenced area with the latest fashion in excavators.

“Where are you going, then?” She says it just loud enough, so it makes me think she also wants to make conversation in order for her husband not to fall asleep behind the wheel.

“I’m going to … Hotel Amazonas.”

I had almost forgotten the name. It looked good on one of the few pages of my Lonely Planet that was still readable after almost a year in jungle humidity. I had thrown it away, but Luis – Julia’s kid – found it for me. Behind a shed. Apparently, I had been reading it last when I came to town, and then not really. I don’t even know if the hotel still exists. I didn’t call beforehand.

“I know that place,” she says and lights up as if something grand has just been revealed to her. “It is two blocks from our pharmacy.”

Thank God for small favors.

We get there without any more incidents, only lots of small talk which I can deal with.

So the Hotel Amazonas turns out to both exist and be okay, too. A middle-end hotel where everybody looks a bit tired and the vending machine in the lobby is empty, but otherwise, it is clean and friendly. 

I hit the shower next and after that hop straight into bed. Then I treat myself to a good load of CNN droning on the fuzzy TV that is precariously mounted on the wall in front of the bed. But, of course, I can’t concentrate on president Bush’s first budget.

I try to imagine what a guy I could like would actually
be like. Someone I might meet – tomorrow? Someone like Manuel maybe, with all his good parts and none of the bad.

How about a good-looking guy, who was born into a mob family or something – and he wants out because of me? Ha, ha …

I smile about that scenario for the rest of the evening, and in the beginning, it feels exciting. But as night descends on Santa Cruz, excitement gets replaced by a feeling of desolation. My construct of a perfect man fades out and only fog is left in my mind.

What is wrong with me? Can’t I even think of a good-looking guy anymore, after what happened?

Anyway, since I sure as hell can’t sleep I know I have to go out or lose my mind in here.

The problem is that the first place that strikes me as the place to go, is a bar I saw at the plaza and I promised myself I wouldn’t get drunk so easily anymore.

Yeah, just like I promised myself I would recover from losing my best friend back in Ohio, oh, and also find love again and, yeah, in general only think about love. Pure love. How else to attract it? Yes, I would seek out and find good things only. Rebuild. Those were some of my most cherished promises.

I get up and get my clothes on and head for the bar. It’s too late and I’m too tired to start over before tomorrow, anyway.


The bar is okay but boring. Irish theme. But it’s mostly tourists and the local rich kids who haven’t really seen what is going on in the jungle or highlands outside their city. Anyway, I had to go although I really shouldn’t have.

There’s some kind of, I dunno, expectation of richness that comes with being a white American. People here seem to expect you to bathe in money every morning and you get to think of yourself like that after a while, even if you constantly scrounge for cash and send pathetic emails back home for the support you can never really get and pay with promises you can’t really keep.

Julia once confided in me that Bolivians are used to thinking about Americans as either DEA agents or uncaring tourists with a gold bar up their asses. They only shit out pieces if they are allowed to take a nice photo of your kids and pet the llama.

And so I got enlightened about living in rural Bolivia for some months. At first, I felt superior. Then I felt inferior. And finally, we were all just normal. Just human beings getting by and trying to do the best we could.

But I had, of course, met Julia, not to mention her brother. That changed the game. From eternal-backpacker-moves-in-with-locals to … I don’t know, but it didn’t work out. Living with them became the kind of normality I had run away from in Ohio with family responsibilities and close ties that hurt when they broke up and people died. I had run away from closeness because it brought me too much pain and lo and behold – I ended up just the same in the Bolivian outback of all places.

God, Julia was crying when I said I had to leave. And I lied when I said I would go home to the States, the natural thing to do now that my little ‘Second Life’-project in South America has met its end. 

And at the bar there is no one interesting to talk to about all of this, and, more importantly, no one to buy me the drinks I don’t feel I can afford.

So on the wrong side of midnight, I finally retire to my hotel room’s small balcony with a bottle of the local sweet booze, Singani, from the store across the street and a surprisingly cold coke from the machine in the reception. They make good company.

I checked the only computer they have in the reception and there was no email for me. No messages in the reception. I’ll check again tomorrow.

 I let my mind run through all the impressions from the last 10 months. Like a kaleidoscope of love and hate and quiet evenings outside the tin-roof house listening to the jungle murmur. Julia and I never got tired of that. And she was – is – very sharp. She’ll get out of that one day, to some better place. I’m sure of it.

And she has heart. She was the one who found a doctor we could trust and pay for when we thought I was pregnant. Manuel had just found his friends and an extra bottle.

I bet he was scared. But does that excuse him? I think that’s when it started to go wrong.

I drink more and my mind churns around the possibilities. Below me, the streets of Santa Cruz are as alive as ever. The warm tropical night mixed with clinking bottles, hooting scooters, and boys and girls laughing.

As I crane my neck to see, I also move my butt and the rest of me and I accidentally push the bottle so it topples. I manage to catch it but not before a good deal of Singani goes through the empty spaces in the metal railing.

“Hey! Que pasa!

Down below are two guys, looking up and laughing and waving at me. Goodlooking, shining smiles, pastel-colored t-shirts, nicely tanned and trained. Some more rich kids. They’d never dress like this where Julia lived. Maybe I missed that, too. 

“Hey, guys – sorry for dripping on you.”

I raise the bottle up again and the dripping stops. 

“Why don’t you come down here?” 

Direct, aren’t they? Okay. I give them my best and least drunk smile. “I can’t. I have been drinking too much.”

What? Did I just say that? Oh, what the hell. Let’s see how they react.

“You speak good Spanish,” Guy no. 1 widens his toothpaste smile.

“I have lived in Bolivia since last summer.”

“Here in this hotel?” Guy no. 2 snickers again. I notice a splotch on his pink shirt, near the collar. Probably beer.

“No.” I roll my eyes and try not to have the world roll back at me. They are only one floor down, but I’m glad the railing is there.

“Where then?” Guy no. 1 insists.

“In the Chapare.”

That stops the snickering.

“Chapare is where the drug barons live,” Guy 2 confides, his demeanor suddenly all too serious for his age and level of intoxication.

“No, they don’t,” I explain. “Some people grow coca and sell it. Some coca ends up as drugs. That’s not the same.”

“Bullshit.” Guy 1 shakes his head. He grins, but there is a grimace behind the grin that is not friendly anymore.

“You were just the lover of a drug baron, I bet,” Guy 2 dares and smiles, too, but not in a friendly way either. 

More like the way you smile at a cat before you kick it.

I feel the anger rising again. I have not had enough Singani to quench that.

“Fuck off.” I almost feel like throwing the half-empty bottle after them, but I manage to at least control that. 

So I just sit there and scowl.

“I think we’ve got ourselves a drunk drug-whore,” Guy 2 explains to his mate as if he had just discovered something important that they might have to report somewhere.

“Go fuck yourselves.” I get up, almost without reeling. One hand is firmly on the railing.

They just snicker some more and then begin to walk away. 

“All gringas are whores,” I hear one of them add to this most brilliant analysis of who I am and where I come from.

I should never have told them I had lived in the Chapare. 

There are a million farmers there and maybe a thousand or so sell coca plants for cocaine that somebody else does, but I had forgotten the prejudice and racism here in Bolivia. It’s not as if it wasn’t in Chapare, either. Just reversed.

Back there you talked about everyone who lived in the East province cities as assholes who bled the poor working people dry. And also in cahoots with the “gringo oppressors”, as Manuel’s friends in the Movimiento Al Socialismo would say when they thought I didn’t listen.

I lean so far over the railing that I almost forget my plan about not falling out. “Go to hell! Go to hell!!

All I get for being a drunk bitch are some more stares from the street below and some more snickering from the two guys who round a corner and then they are out of my life but not of my mind.

I slam the balcony door and retreat to the dark room. My half-finished bottle stays outside.


Eventually, the morning comes. It always does.

No email for me, so I go to the rundown hotel pool and try to float, but in the end, I just sit in the shallow half for too long staring at my own reflection in the water.

But it’s okay. I have all the time in the world.

I get up and get dressed and head back down to the reception.

Still no email. No messages, either. 

But I can wait some more. 

I have all the time in the world.

She has to feel the same.

The Halo Of Our Souls

The Halo Of Our Souls

The boy is crying. I can hear him even before I see him.

I am trying to make my way through the grand market of the valley city of Cochabamba. Through hundreds of Bolivians, mostly women, selling everything from new hats to cabbages. They sit on big piles on sheets of plastic on the asphalt and wait and wait. Then the next day they do it all over again.

Now I see the boy. He must be about five. Faded red training jacket and shorts. No shoes. Cute curly hair and big streaks of grime and tears across his face.

The Bolivian women sit by their vegetables, silent as sphinxes, gazing into the milling crowd and at nothing in particular. I am sweating in the noon heat like it’s a marathon and cursing it all away. I want them to look at the boy – take some kind of responsibility.

I was on the lookout for some cheap vegetables and bread for my lunch, now that I have burnt my travel money. I need to make every penny last.

Yeah, I have a lot on my mind.

So what do I do?

I walk on, of course. Past the boy.

For a brief moment, though, as I pass him, he looks at me. And, of course, I look at him.

I quickly look another way and continue to walk. He continues crying.

This is somebody else’s kid, somebody else’s problem. This is not even my country.

I stop. Turn.

The boy is still there, still crying. People still moving about him, like indifferent waves of flesh and sweat.

Okay, then.

I’ll have to hope I don’t have to look in the dictionary too much. Or for too long.

I go back to him and squat down beside him. He looks at me again, and I can see he is struggling because he is afraid of me – the stranger. But he is also afraid that nobody is going to pick him up. And God knows what else.

One of the few things I’m good at is languages, and my high school Spanish is still very much present. Not because I’ve used it much until now, but because a vaguely autistic drive had me reading Spanish books all night the last year Lin was alive. I should have been studying, but it was better to read gloomy love poems in Spanish. It was a better escape than commercial law.

So that at least I’ve got going for me. Not so much else.

“Hola,” I say and continue in Spanish with the thick accent that I know all the nasty love poems did not erase. “What is your name?”

“Luis,” the boy mutters and flinches again. I don’t try to reach out to him. This has to work or not work.

I look around feverishly. The human waves roll on past us, oblivious. God, I hate them all …

But I have got to pull myself together. I look at him again. What if I was 5 years old?

“How old are you?”

He says he is five and I congratulate myself for yet another easy victory. I also make my best effort at smiling, which is difficult when you are sweaty and hungry and have a beehive for a mind. But at least he gives me something to focus on.

“Where are your parents?” I ask.

“My papa is dead,” Luis says.

What the …

“Now? Where?” I ask and feel the world tumbling.

“Last year,” he says and I calm again. A twitchy weird calm. Because what the hell can you feel after such an answer?

“And your mother?”

“I can’t find her… “

Okay. So now the mission is clear. I get up and finally reach out for his hand. The litmus test.

He takes it.

“Come now. We will go find your mother.”


So we’ve been running around the market for half an hour and I am getting fucking desperate. I’ve tried to follow Luis’s directions. When and where did you last see your mama? I’ve tried asking around but all I get out of it is a growing chunk of ice in my stomach.

I have fucked up. I have made things worse. What if his mother is running around on the other end of the market? Now she can’t find him because he is not where I found him, and where she expected him to be?

No, he said he had walked around. There is no place she expected him to be, except the stall where he wandered off and which he says he can’t remember. His mum was buying bread but I see 10 stalls with bread and none of them have seen a boy like him or his mother.

I stop for a moment and feel the cold knot in my stomach and I dare not look the kid in the eyes, though I know he is looking at me.

“Hey – queres agua?” I ask and hand him my plastic bottle with water. It is half-filled and he drinks greedily but what the hell. I can still afford another bottle. And if I don’t find his mother that will be the least of my problems.

Cochabamba valley market – I hate you. I hate your sea of dirty vegetables and plastic and cracked asphalt, which I can feel through my worn shoe soles. I hate your chattering women. And men. And everyone.

And then suddenly one of those women explode from the crowd and virtually assaults me. “Luis – hijo mio – there you are! What have you done to him?!”

She is slim and wiry and angry as an alley cat. Her black hair swirls around her like a stormy night and there is lightning in those dark eyes.

She tears Luis out of my grip then lashes out of me, as if to hit me. I am not sure. I instinctively take a step backward before I can find out.

“Calm the fuck down! I was just trying to help – !” I cry, in English.

To my surprise she answers in English. “I not need your help. You leave my boy alone.”

“He was lost,” I continue, still in English but she seems like she comprehends, even if her own English is broken and all over the place. “I not believe you. You gringa – you take him for tourist photos.”

My jaw almost hits the asphalt. An elderly woman grins at us, half-hiding behind a mountain of mangos.

“Bien,” I say – going Spanish again because that could at least give me the upper hand now that I am in the ring with this crazy woman – “no quería tomar fotos estúpidas. Tu hijo estaba perdido. Tratamos de encontrarte.”

Yeah, I let her know in no uncertain terms it was not about photos but about finding her. Because maybe, you know, she could’ve looked better after her son, right?

She looks as if she is about to give me another punch, words, or fists.  Luis looks away like he is trying to hide in her skirts.

Then it sinks in.

“You speak e-Spanish?” she blurts, still in her own, heavily accented English.

Yeah, I might have gotten the past tense wrong but I do speak Spanish, you crazy b…

And with that punch of my own, I don’t need to defend myself anymore. Instead, I point to Mango Lady, who is having the time of her life at our expense. “Ask her – preguntarle!

We were here 10 minutes ago, so Mango Lady knows me. Yeah. She and I are like peas and pie.

But it doesn’t matter. I get what I want. When Crazy Mum asks the question, I understand that the mango lady confirms what I say.

Good, or I would have smacked her.

Good that I can still get the gist of it even though they talk much too fast now and weave in and out of Quechua, the native language.

So much for my bloody Spanish. So much for all the long nights with Neruda’s poems while listening intently for Lin’s door. Was she getting up and taking those pills again – one time, or one hundred times too many? Yes, I read those poems all night.

The first time I get to show off and I use what I can to piss somebody off.

They still talk – Crazy Woman and Mango Lady. Luis looks at me. He has my bottle of water in his hand.

“Keep it,” I say in Spanish. Then I turn and walk away before his mother’s interrogation of Mango Lady is finished.

Fucking story of my life … I should talk with people here all the time, share all the time.

I should be much more than a bloody tourist. I actually bothered to learn Spanish, even if I did it for all the wrong reasons. And the first time in weeks I talk to a Bolivian, and not another bloody tourist, it’s Crazy Woman.

I don’t the hell know. I don’t much care. My stomach is no longer ice. But now it is screaming at me to find something to eat, and make it something that won’t send me in exile at the hostel toilet.

So I do what I have done each and every day for the past many weeks. I buy some groceries and bread, and another bottled water. Then I find somewhere to sit and watch people while I chow down.

And I do it like I have done in the months since I crossed the Rio Grande with no goal but to getaway.

I do it the only way I can.



Once again, I am not allowed to be alone.

You know, like I have forced myself to be since I went away on this trip to South America and ditched law school, probably forever.

Since I closed the door for the last time to our apartment back in Columbus.

A void has become the center of me since Lin died. I thought it would help to travel away 6000 miles, but it hasn’t.

And here she comes again, out of the crowd, right towards me. Just when I thought I had found somewhere good, so I could get the fuck away from annoying pests like her.

My spot is a street corner at the far edge of the big market. I eat my dry bread and gulp it down with lukewarm bottled water. I feel kind of good.

And then I see her.

Crazy Woman. With little Luis in tow. Heading towards me.

I should get up but I am so surprised all I manage is to sit like a dunce, with my mouth full of bread.

She reaches me and stops, right in front of me, on the pavement.

With the same assertiveness that almost made her assault me half an hour ago, she says, “I talked to women at the market. I am very sorry.”

I swallow my bread and nod. I don’t know what I look like, but this was the last person in the world I thought would come and see it.

“He told me, too, of course.” She manages a faint smile while looking down at her son quickly. For the first time, I see embarrassment behind her stern façade.

Then her visage changes even more and she shifts to almost despondent.  “I am so, so sorry. Can you forgive me?”

And I am taken aback. If she was the night before then how did the sun come out so fast?

But I can see that she means it. If only she didn’t … mean it so much.

“It’s okay,” I say nonchalantly and try to focus on anything in the crowd behind her. Anything but her.

She bites her lip and begins rambling. “I am really sorry. You see, I – I … “

“It is okay,” I blurt and hold my hands up.  “No harm done. I was just trying to help.”

She nods, more vigorously. “A white hombre – a man – he took Luis, last week. He took photos. Gave him candy.”

I frown. “That’s sick.”

“’Sick’?” she repeats.

Depravado,” I explain.

She shakes her head. “No, no – I don’t think he was like that. His wife was there. But Luis was playing – “ she continues in Spanish and it all comes out more freely.

I don’t run away again. I know how to function among other human beings. I can still do that.

So the story winds down. She was busy outside some office or other, discussing something with some people. Many people were waiting in line. Luis was there and this elderly couple began taking photos of him and giving him, well, candy. And maybe it looked to her like they were going away with him? I don’t know.

She speeds up, and I know she is embarrassed too and wants to get away, too, but she cannot. The story grows like a weed as she tells it and it locks her to the spot. It locks us.

I have to pull it up.

“Look – “I say, continuing in Spanish, “I don’t understand exactly what that hombre did, but I only gave Luis water.” I try a strained smile. “And like I said, I don’t take photos.” I pull out my camera and open the flap. “Look – no film.”

She hesitates a moment, and now she smiles at me and I know she caught it. But she also blushes. I can see it, even though her skin is quite dark – darker than usual for the women of the Bolivian lowlands.

“I must make no sense to you,” she says and ruffles Luis’ hair. The boy is beginning to look around, getting restless.

My turn to shake my head. “No, no – I get it. You thought they were going to take him away. I could have looked like that.”

“Only – “ she replies and something in her dark eyes becomes even darker “ – if you are always on the watch. Then you see ghosts everywhere.”

‘Ghosts’ … There is something in that word. Fantasmas in Spanish. But there is nothing fantastic about it.

I feel cold, even though the afternoon heat is still warm. It is also choking and mixed with fumes from the big roads on either side of the market.

“You see ghosts?” I say, not knowing if it was a question or not I wanted to ask.

Now it is her turn to shake her head, and the red in her cheeks is quite evident now.

“Not those kinds of ghosts … “ Then it looks like she makes a superhuman effort like she has to pull an arrow out of a leg. Her words are slow and strained. “My husband – Luis’ father – was killed a year ago. It was a demonstration. Against the government. A policeman shot him. It has … not been easy since.”

She turns to me again. “I should go now.” She looks like somebody is tearing at her, and it is not Luis.

And what the hell can I say? What would you say?

So I just nod.

“Thank you once again,” she holds out her hand. “I am Julia. Julia Jimenez Aroyo.”

“Carrie,” I say and don’t add anything.

“Ca-ree,” she repeats slowly. Her grip is firm even if she looks like she is falling apart and gathering herself up at least five times in a minute now.

“Julia Jimenez Aroyo,” I repeat.

She smiles one last time, then reaches out for Luis who has been playing with some stones. She begins to walk back towards the market. But then she stops again as a rope jerked her back. Back to one last question. “Where are you going, Ca-ree?”

I look at the bustling market. Then back at the main road and the long line of coughing cars and mini-buses. Then at her. “I am going … back to my hostel.”

“I wasn’t asking that,” she says and her dark eyes now lock firmly with mine. “I was asking where you are going in Bolivia – in South America?”


She grins. “Is that a strange question?”

“Why – no, I mean – “

She grins even more. “So where are you going?”

I feel her sizing me up.

And I let her.

There is a … something in those eyes of hers. The same as before. But before it was angry and ghost-seeing. Now it has revealed a power that was always there, a core that wants to know – all the world around her.

It is a power to lash out to hurt people when they are ghosts. But also to catch them and reel them close.

I know for I have seen that so many times with Lin.

We are what we are. And most of us do want to get to know each other, I guess. We just need to get the ghosts out of the way first.

“I don’t know exactly where I am going,” I admit, and without being able to explain why I know it is safe to admit it to her. This strange, crazy-not-crazy woman. Julia …

She could make all kinds of comments on that. But instead, she says, “Then why don’t you see some more of Cochabamba? I can show you.”

“Really?” I cross my arms in mock seriousness. “What is there to see here?”

“Not much,” she says. “But perhaps you will see more interesting things than me because it is all new to you.”

I hesitate for the briefest of moments.

“Okay,” I say. “Where do we begin?”

“Right here,” she says.


New Year’s Day

New Year’s Day

“I was wondering … do you believe in God?”

“Excuse me?”

“Do you believe in God?”

“Jacob – we’re about to eat.”

“Well, if that’s a problem … “

I ignore his last comment; my gaze concentrated on the menu. Jacob seems confused for a second, then looks straight through me, into some kind of world in the empty restaurant behind me that only he can see.

He’s an okay guy, though. Kind of. I guess.

It happened as it always does. We got to sit next to each other on the bus from Puno in Peru to Copacabana here in Bolivia. By the time we were ready to stand in line like cows at the cramped border station to get out tourist visas, we just sort of drifted together once more.

Preemptive insanity protection, you know; if I hadn’t had someone to talk to during that hour, I’d have gone positively loco, as they say here. Because Bolivians apparently seem to think that efficiency rhymes with multiplicity. So if you need three stamps in your passport, for example, it is obvious that you also need three persons for the job – one to give each stamp – and one long line to get each stamp.

“What’ll you have?” I ask him again.

“Hmm … “

Jacob scans the menu as if it was a secret map. At least he finally picked it up.

The small, round restaurant owner hovers over in some imaginary corner of his small, round restaurant and waits patiently for us damn gringos to make the decision that will secure him a few hard-earned bits of another day’s pay.

It’s a touristy place, I’m sure – but not now. Except for us. Because we’re very late – because the bus from Puno was very late and because of the Kafka-esque stamp circus at the border.

I make a supreme effort to concentrate on the choice of fish and the funny English spelling errors in the menu.

“They don’t have Diet Coke here?” Jacob suddenly exclaims to no one but himself.

“I don’t think they know what that means.”

“Diet or Coke?” he asks, raising his eyebrows and looking directly at me like he was a comedian waiting for the audience to react to his punchline.

“Funneee … ” I snort and push away my menu. “Hey, you aren’t diabetic or something?”

“No,” he replies. “Just never liked all that sugar. So what about it?” He closes his menu.

“What about what?” I feel tired already.

“If you believe in God – ” he stops and quickly follows up ” – I didn’t offend you? By asking, I mean?”

“Of course, you didn’t.”

Oh, brother.

“I just read somewhere – ” Jacob continues ” – that despite what everyone thinks about the United States – with your Christian Right, Bible belt and all – Americans are in actuality quite secular-minded.”


He puts the menu away like he’s already forgotten about it. The owner frowns.

“Meaning that you say that you believe in God – but most of you don’t.”

“I’d like to show that little research to my uncle from Louisiana.”

“Is he very religious?”

“He practically lives in church. I think he’s a Baptist or something, though, but I don’t know much about the different strands of … Have you decided?”

“About what?”

“Food, Jacob – ” I say and realize that I am no longer trying to hide my irritation. “I almost haven’t had anything since we left Puno. Do you want to be responsible for me dying of starvation? If you don’t make up your mind soon, our amigo over there is going to have a fit and kick us out.”

“I hardly think so. We seem to be the only ones in his restaurant.”

“Just choose.”

“Okay, I’ll have the trucha. Am I saying it right? – And a normal Coke.”

I lean back and try not to sigh from relief. The owner’s smile widens again and he comes over, greasy, curled notepad in hand. I try again not to think too much about Siobhan back in Puno, that I could have been sitting here with her instead of just leaving in the morning without a word. Is she disappointed that I left without saying goodbye?

No. She seemed so carefree, so upbeat… She probably already forgot me. I really think that she has.

Yes, I really think she has.

And now I’m sitting here with Jacob instead. Whoo-hoo.

He’s definitely not remotely like that cutie Siobhan and I gawked at in that Puno bar last night. More like your stereotypical student-type; a bit thin, big glasses, don’t-care-too-much-about-my-hair-hairdo, and generally too introspective and silent to be much attracted to a dance floor.

It probably looks like a minefield to him.

We eat our trucha – trout – and fries and drink normal Coke, all in relative silence, except for the usual small talk about travel plans from here and guestimates about bus and boat fares.

The topic of God does not come up again, but I think Jacob is thinking of it. Or that he is still thinking about whether or not he insulted me or something. Trust me, a girl develops instincts to detect a guy’s thoughts about such things, especially when it relates to her.

And now he begins to talk about religion again, sort of sneaking up on the topic. 

“I wrote an essay in high school about why we keep thinking God must be good, even if there is so much proof to the contrary … ” And he smiles his shy but kind of endearing smile and adds: “I thought for once I would get good grades by sounding really smart and copying large parts of text from an old philosophy book I had found, and which I believed not even my teacher had read.”

I just nod but don’t say anything. I really don’t feel like talking about … it.

At that begins to feel awkward now – this God-sized elephant in the restaurant. And, you know, I do regret sitting here pretending I like being with him and not wanting to talk about what seems to be really on his mind. He was good to talk to while we drove along the winding roads along the Lake and marveled at the new-fallen snow on the hills above the Lake, while the sun was blazing from an azure mountain sky. I told him all about high school and college in Ohio and he got all the usual lies about why I felt so damn free traveling here, taking a break from my studies, carving my own path, and yadayadayada.

And all the while I tried to forget how I chose to leave Siobhan in Puno without even saying goodbye. She would have been a good traveling mate.

Better than shy Jacob I have to admit, but on the other hand he is here and she is not. And he means well. And I …

I hurt like hell but I don’t want to be a bitch-in-disguise. I have already tried that too often and it never works.

“Look,” I start and slowly turn my last fry around on the plate. “I think it’s … an interesting topic … God and all. But I just went to a funeral some weeks ago. I don’t feel like talking about it much.” I give him my best smile. “I hope you understand.”

“I do,” he says without hesitation. “I don’t agree, though.”

My brows go into knit-mode instantly. “About what?”

He shakes his head and finishes the last of his fries as well. “Forget it. I understand. I would just have said that maybe it’s the best of time to talk about … God.” He looks up, almost apologetically. “When … you know.”

“Right,” I say and I actually feel something warm in my chest now and it’s not excess heat from those lazy fries.

He really wants to talk. About this and a million other things, I guess. Which I don’t care much about, yeah. But he doesn’t want to be a jerk.

I guess we have that much in common, then.

“Come on,” I say and get up, pushing out the squeaky chair from the table and nodding towards the door, our escape into the cacophony of the main street. “Let’s go find a place to stay.”

“I saw a nice-looking hostel just around the block,” Jacob says. “Aransaya, I think it was.”

“Yeah, that looked nice.”

It also looked cheap enough, but I don’t say anything about that. I have burnt my money much too fast coming down here, but that is also a topic I don’t feel like discussing.

So we pay and leave the restaurant and it feels like we are good. All the elephants walk out of the restaurant and follow us, though.


Last edited: 7 Sep 2021

Across Icy Pools

Across Icy Pools

Siobhan could not stop thinking about Carrie. Why had she left?

Siobhan was not one to think too much about people’s motivations, she rather preferred to evaluate others by their actions.

But here now was a discrepancy. She could not, even with her best efforts, understand why Carrie had left her room at the hotel, so early in the morning, without even leaving a message of some kind.

They had not formally agreed to do anything together today, that was true, too.

Except perhaps that simple unspoken agreement of two people who have shared a warm-hearted evening together, drinking and joking, in a frosty town on the shore of a mountain lake in tourist land – a certain chillingly blue mountain lake that made out the natural border between Peru and Bolivia: Titicaca.

As Siobhan continued carefully to take a few more steps out onto the long, spindly wharf – little more than some tied-together rubber tires with planks stapled on them – she could not stop thinking, though.

About Carrie.

The plan had been simple – even obvious: She was backpacking and aiming to see as much as possible of Peru until she had to go back to “tedious life” (as she never failed to consider it). So what did you see at the world’s highest navigable lake?

What did you really want to see? According to all guides, the azure blue waters of the lake, the mile-long reed lands along the coast, colorful and mysterious indigenous locals who certainly did not live from tourism all year round, but always made an exception for the visitors?

Did she want to see all that? Not on her own.

She had woken up today, and it had been clear in your mind that she was going to be together with someone she actually cared quite a bit for, odd as it was.

But Carrie had left her. Without a word. Snuck out of the hotel in the early hours.

And it was not even a fun thought any longer, to go see fat Andean women in their overstuffed dresses selling small reed boat figurines and having their children sing ‘row-row-row your boat’ in dreadful Spanish as a goodbye to you, ‘esteemed visitor’.

Carrie had just checked out. No messages.

And Siobhan’s urge to island-jump on Los Uros, the artificial reed tourist magnets, had all but checked out, too.

She had, in fact, been very close to just jumping on the bus back to Cuzco, but decided against it. It was a bit too silly now that she had come this far.

But the day was already old, and the last boats to Los Uros had sailed. She was stuck here in Puno.

So she drifted a bit herself on dry land, in fact, she walked very far into the outskirts of the city, ignoring the burning mountain-sky sun and the sickly looking street dogs.

Then suddenly something new had stopped her:

Down by the waterside, there was something that looked like a very different ship … near a wharf that jutted out from a sunburnt lawn that went all the way down to the water.

A long, narrow pontoon bridge led to the ship. It looked as if one could go out there.

And so she did because she had nowhere else to go.

And while she walked carefully across the unsteady wharf, swaying in the shallow waters for each of her steps, and as the steamer grew in front of her – all that had happened to her – to them – just the night before … came back to her once more.

And she again felt sorry, for herself first – because she was alone, and then for Carrie because she could not even be here, to explore this new adventure… Whatever had driven her away this morning had had to be pretty serious.

Siobhan reached the entry ladder of the ship. A name that sounded local was inscribed in big black letters on the white upper side of the hull. A friendly name, of sorts, although she had no clue what it meant. It was probably Quechua, the resident Indian language.

The ship seemed to be open for visitors, but not a single soul was there to greet her. No ticket-person, of which there usually were many in Peru, no guide, no no-one.

Should she … try to go aboard?

In the end, the decision was easy: No.

Who cared about an old steam-ship, even if it was some kind of strangely inviting apparition?

Who cared to go aboard and get thrown off again, because it was outside opening hours, or not allowed at all, or some such – when you had to go alone?

Who cared to stay aboard and explore if it was allowed – when the one you had counted on or made yourself believe you could count on to go with you and explore such things when she had just … gone away?

Siobhan started walking back along the wobbly wharf.

No, it didn’t matter. Without Carrie, it didn’t matter. But Carrie was probably gone for good. Damn.

She had to find someone else to travel on with, just for a few days. The thought of traveling alone for more than a few days made her queasy.

Siobhan stopped in the middle of the makeshift wharf. She looked carefully back over her shoulder, towards the old steamer.

Why was she about to pull the same stunt as Carrie did to her?

True, Siobhan was not used to people leaving her. It was a new feeling. It was like … a clear pool you had discovered when out walking, to your delight – perhaps after a rainy evening.

You had stopped and mirrored yourself in it, found a certain sort of odd company in your own reflection – if only for a second or two; enjoyed it immensely, perhaps even kneeling down to gently strafe the rim of the pool with your finger and then …

… it turns to ice.

Yes. That’s how it felt.

But … she had only known Carrie for a day, and despite her deep feeling of connection, a day was not enough to behave like Carrie.

She looked back at the ship…

“Somebody left you, too, huh?” she murmured. “No explanation? Perhaps we should stop that kind of silliness here, then … before it becomes contagious … “

Siobhan turned and walked back – to the waiting ship.


 Last edited 22 December, 2021

Islands in the Mind

Islands in the Mind

Her name’s Siobhan—(21, Cape Breton, Canada)— and she’s been my travelling mate for about half an hour.

We both happened to need a chat while struggling to make the ancient computer at the Margarita hostel send an e-mail before it went into another coma.

And we both gave up one of us just going ‘fuck it—I’m going to grab something to eat. Hey—want to come?’

And next we both went out in to the dull streets of this near-border town, but didn’t feel hungry anyway and decided to stroll the harbor instead.

Isn’t that enough to be travel mates, even if it only last for a few precious hours one random evening in your life?

Siobhan is already filling me in on her personal manifesto about why everyone should travel round the world for at least a year in their lives, and how—by the way—her dull ex-boyfriend, whom she dumped before leaving Canada, was more interested in becoming a lawyer ASAP and spending the next 40 years on the job market, instead of 39.

Oh, and Siobhan is going to be a travelling journalist, once she gets around to that education— once she gets home, that is. In a few months. ‘Maybe a little more.’

She should annoy me.

She really should.

But God, it’s good to be with someone like her after traveling alone for so long.


It is a cold afternoon here at the harbor in Puno, Peru—on the shores of Lake Titicaca, that painfully blue jewel that somebody dropped from the sky right in the middle of the Andes and which I’ve been traveling just around 5000 miles to reach, without exactly knowing why.

It is always a cold afternoon by Lake Titicaca.

And here we sit with our legs dangling over the pier, my overcoat tucked good and well and Siobhan’s poncho wrapped around her. We sit and behave like a couple of girls on a summer swim at some tropical pool and chat and laugh. And when we shiver we chat and laugh a bit more, and tuck our clothes a bit more, and then we can keep it at bay a little while longer.

It will not get warmer, though.

If I continue directly from here, I’ll arrive in Bolivia—over there on the other side of the Lake—about 5 hours drive in one of those chicken-cramped minivans that seem to go for buses around here. Still about 12000-13000 feet up.

“ –  So what do you think we should do now?” Siobhan asks.

“I think we should go get something to eat soon,” I say. “I could eat one of those llamas over there, if we stay here much longer.”

I nod to the left of us, and Siobhan looks in that direction, beyond the paint-flaked tourist boats.

A brave young Peruvian is standing rigid near one of the tourist boats with not one, but two llamas. He is in full local colorful dress, which he will probably throw off as soon as he gets the chance, but which right now is his best opportunity to get some tourist to take a photo and leave a coin or two.

“Well, I don’t want to see you eat a llama here at the harbor,” Siobhan deadpans. “So I vote we go.”

She is on her feet, stretching out her hand. I grab it.

Siobhan’s got sparkling eyes, that’s the first thing I noticed about her, when we met up at the hostel; the eyes that instantly inspires trust although it’s a complete stranger. Wondrous, isn’t it?

I wonder what she sees in mine.

“Maybe we should wait a bit.”

“Wait for what? It’s freezing out here.”

“We’re in the mountains, stupid.”

“As if I hadn’t noticed.”

She shakes her head, spits in the water—then proceeds, as if she concluded on an article about odd Scottish-American girls she met on her travels:

“Carrie, you really are a hard one to figure out—you know that?”

“What do you mean by that?”

“It’s just that you seem to change your mind every five minutes.”

“You have barely known me for over five times five minutes; how do you know that’s not normal for me?”

“Is it?”

She blinks teasingly, as if this all was some kind of big joke; as if we had been drinking too much already and were just talking nonsense because we had nothing better to do.

Then she gets up. She puts a hand on one of my shoulders for support.

Siobhan, I’ve already figured, is one of those girls who has a natural self-confidence; a gene that nullifies any fear or reservation that some well-meaning but ultimately destructive parent or authority figure might have planted in her. She just does things whenever she wants to.

Yeah, I sure got her figured out.

“Look, if you want to sit here and look at the flaking paint on those cargo boats, be my guest …” —She dusts of her already way-too dusty jeans—“I’m cold and I’m going to get myself some of that nice hot soup they advertised across the hostel—if that cardboard with the twisted letters hasn’t been blown away by the wind already.”

I don’t look up at her. The Lake is somehow holding me—even now, when we are here; in some joke town where tourists flee from as fast as possible because it doesn’t live up to their prejudiced dreams of exotic Titicaca.

“Okay, Siobhan—go. I’ll join you later. If you survive…”

“I’ve survived street food in Botswana, Bangalore and Beijing. I think you’re just afraid you can’t do the same, poor little American girl.”

She flashes me a smile that’s so carefree that I feel even more affirmed in my own conclusion—that we really don’t belong together. I want too badly to bathe in her sunlight, but I can’t give her anything back.

“Already missing your McDonalds, aren’t you?” she continues, seemingly oblivious to my badly hidden brooding exercise.

“I take that as a compliment,” I say, and pull my legs defiantly up under me.

The cold is coming in strong as that dark glow over the northern cordilleras over there grows and grows. Soon the shadow will be here and then it’ll be bye-bye to the last sunrays, which could give us an illusion that there is still heat left in Puno.

Puno, a city that’s like something half-thawed you pulled out of the freezer and then forgot about for hours; and when you come back you are  loathe to eat it.

“Carrie… “


“I’d really think it’d be cozy if you’d come along for some dinner. You don’t have to eat anything. I’ll buy you an Inca Kola or something.”

Something resembling a smile tries to live in my face…

“You know, Siobhan… you really do want to poison me, and we’ve only just met. What am I to make of that?”


She didn’t poison me. I did that just fine myself.

It’s some when beyond midnight, at a bar the name of which eludes me, like the name of this local sweet booze that tastes really good once you mix it with enough Seven Up.

We shouldn’t really be heading back to the hostel …

We really should.


“You know, Carrie, about that time in Melbourne… I… I… “

“Watch out, honey, if you giggle too long into that cocktail it’ll enter your bloodstream faster. And then you won’t be able to tell me anymore about that surfer-guy in Melbourne.”

“Yeah, the guy-“(Giggling-burst, rest incomprehensible.)

“Believe me, I’m an expert on this,” I continue, professorially. “The fumes are actually stronger than the alcohol itself.”

“There are no fumes. Idiot.”

“You made me an idiot. Without you I’d never have known this-whatsitsname- …”

“J-janis? An-A-anis-“




“Behave yourself – that guy over there is looking at us.”

“Why are you suddenly so worried about that? I thought that was my job.“

“You’re so lame.”

“Am not.”

“Yes, you are, – here’s something to make you more lame-“

She pours until it runs over. Good thing most of it is from that big bottle of Seven Up we had brought over to the table.

Most of it.

We should really go now. I get more intoxicated being with her than drinking that local firewater, and she doesn’t hold back.

The guy over there by the bar is actually a little cute. I wonder…

“Do you think the girl that went to the banjo a little while ago really is his girlfriend or that they just travel together?”

“What’s the difference?” Siobhan shrugs overly much.

“Dork. What do you think?”

“I think she’s his girlfriend. Sorry, Carrie. No hope for us.”

“Who said I wanted him? He’s English isn’t he? They are probably absolute boors in bed. Not like Italians or-”

“Carrie– !”

Siobhan’s control fizzles again. She takes a huge gulp from the Seven bottle.

I snap it from her.

“What? Afraid I got virus?” she blurts, a bit miffed.

“No, but why don’t you pour more of it up our glasses instead of pouring it into your greedy little mouth?”

“Yeah, why don’t I?”

“Yeah, why don’t you.”


The attacking air outside is razor thin and icy invisible at the same time. The Andes don’t care about our little escapades; we weren’t even meant to be here they seem to say – ‘get back to your little cozy civilization down the lowland, silly human ants’.

Yeah, why not.

Oh, great. Siobhan is throwing up.

I actually thought I’d go down first, but… here we are. And I’m the one who’s still sober enough to feel bad about all my crap-talk back in there.

“Carrie – help me here…”

“Sure, sure thing.”

“Because… I think I may trip, if… “

“It’s ‘kay. We should be heading back.”

“Think you can find the hostel?”

“I’ve got photographic memory.”

“What does that help when every house looks the same in this dreary town? Can’t wait until I get out of here.”

We start walking down the street, slowly. My arm under hers, although I feel a lot less stable than I try to impress upon her.

“So do you want to come?” she asks.


“To Los Uros, of course – that’s where I’m going tomorrow. They are really something.”

“Those reed islands in the bay?”

“Yeah – don’t say you’re not going to see them.”

“Actually I had planned to go straight to Bolivia.”


She almost tears herself loose from my grip, as if I’d told her something vile.

“What?” I blurt, confused, a little scared.

“You are not going? Why? It’s the coolest thing around here – floating islands of reed, for God’s sake!”

“Yeah, well, it’s nice but – “

“No buts, you are going. Tomorrow. With me.”

“I- I can’t.”

Her eyes narrow. She now stands without my help.

“Can’t what?”

“It’s hard to explain… “

“Try me. I’m drunk enough to understand anything.”

“I… “


Franklin’s Church …

Her skin’s whiter than ever before…

as white as the snow

which covered everything on the night we first met.



“Uh- yeah…”

“You faded on me for a moment.”

“Yeah… “

“So what’s the rush about Bolivia?”

“M-maybe I have to meet someone. In Bolivia.”

She looks at me incredulously.

“Meet …?!  You didn’t say anything about a boyfriend waiting on the other side. Is he Bolivian?”

“It’s not like that. I already told you – the last time I was with a guy was over a year ago and it wasn’t a success.”

“You didn’t tell me. That.”

“Just- let’s just go back.”

She seems surprisingly alert now and I suddenly want her to be dead drunk, to the point of unconsciousness – even if I have to carry her.

“Who are you going to meet?”

“It’s… complicated.”

“Whatever…” she says and shrugs, a little defiantly.” – But you should come see the Uros.”

“It’s a tourist attraction, Siobhan. I bet they do it all for the tourists.“

She pats me on the shoulder, lightly.

“Does it matter? They are floating islands, Carrie. – Floating! And did you know –  it’s possible to stay overnight! Wow, I’ve never slept on a floating island before.”

“Neither have I.”

“Well, maybe it’s time then?”

“But why, Siobhan – what’s so hopelessly speeh-cial about them aside from the fact that they are, well, floating?”

“You’re hopeless.”

“So sue me.”

“Really, Carrie – you seem to be allergic to fun. And we could bring some of that Anus Janus-whatever and have a ball. If I could get you just as riled up as back there in the bar, it might just be worth it. Then we could fix the whole damned world situation, while sitting gawking at the sunset, legs dangling in the water – from a floating island!”

If she says ‘floating’ one more time I’m going smack her. Good thing, we are almost at the hostel. (I think.)

But Siobhan isn’t finished:

“We could even ask that cutie from the bar if he wants to come?”

She blinks seductively.

“A year, Carrie. Really? You are soo ready for a little- “

“Shut up.  – Just shut up. Hostel’s over there, and I’m not going to carry you up the stairs, as well.”

“You might have to.”

“You are getting awfully sober, since we left that bar.”

“Funny, I was about to say the same thing about you.”

“Yeah… well, say all you want. I need to see some pillows.“

We work open the bulky doors, apparently waking the receptionist who only reluctantly begins scrounging for our keys. Big fat Bolivian lady who has specialized in the most disapproving looks for decadent gringas who just come down to her country to get drunk, spending more on liquor than she earns in a month.

Maybe she has a right to. Maybe I don’t care right now.

I end up following Siobhan to her room anyway, by the way. Just to make sure, I guess.

She fumbles with the keys, and finally the door gives.

“Can you find your bed?” I ask, tired, close to annoyed.

“If not, I’ll holler for h-*hick*-help.”


I begin closing her door. She stops it with a hand.

“Carrie… I didn’t mean what I said about you and that guy.”

“It’s okay. He wasn’t that hot anyway… But English guys definitely can be.”

“Guys in general,” I affirm and try to sound sober: “If it is the right guy.”

“Look – ” she says, “if you still want to go with me tomorrow, the boat is leaving at 11 AM.”

“I think I should just go on… “

She shrugs, looks down.

I look down, too.

“Okay, maybe I’m not meeting with anyone, yeah. But maybe I don’t feel like going to those floating islands.”

Siobhan steps a bit closer:

“I didn’t mean that about partying out brains out, either. It would be so rude. To those families who arrange the accommodation. Hell, they probably have their kids running around outside our rooms,  because, you know, the islands aren’t really that big and- “

“I know you didn’t mean it. I – Ouch.“

A guy brushes past me in the hallway. I think he was one of those guys from Austria. There were two guys from Austria – or Switzerland – checking in, same time as me this afternoon.

“Uh, where’s the toilet?” he asks, eyes all over me and Siobhan.

“Banjo’s down at the end.” I point.

“Uh, thank you.”

He scuffles on, casting a few looks back at us.

“Ignore him,” Siobhan says firmly. “We should go –just us. I really it’ll be… beautiful.”


“Yes! Don’t you think they are… beautiful, the islands – the Lake… the people?”

I shrug. “In a way… “

“I think those people up here are really beautiful. Because I’m not prejudiced like – you know, in the bus I heard this couple, also from Canada, talk about how the Indian girls looked like crows who- “

“You should go to bed, Siobhan.”

I make as if I’m about to go, too. Then her hand is on my arm.

“It’s okay to have fun, Carrie. Even if a lot of shit has happened. – Especially if a lot of shit has happened.”

I swallow.

“I’ll think about it, okay, but I really should be going to Bolivia.”

She nods.

“Just think about it, okay?”

“I will. G’night.”


She closes the door. I go back to my room. The guy from before still hasn’t come out from the toilet.

Wonder if he’s disappointed …


Before I wrap myself up in a million blankets to keep the cold out, I set my watch for 6 AM sharp.

Early enough to check out long before Siobhan wakes up.

The Division of Lima

The Division of Lima

So should I … jump?

I mean, there’s nowhere else to go here.

The pavement I walked on just ended.

There’s just the cliff and after it – a Pacific ocean that seems to have merged with the gray sky.

So I’m standing at an edge, then – another one.

The cliff is almost provocative in its sheer ugliness: Mud-brown dirt sloping hundreds of feet down straight into the traffic-congested highway, the only fragile fence that seems to hold the back the cliff’s secret desire to collapse, and take with it all the houses perked on here on its edge, and me, crashing right down into the dark depths below the angry Pacific surf.

Lima could have gone on, but it didn’t.

It would have been simple, though, for an 8-million inhabitant mega-city such as this to just go on. After all, that is what mega-cities do.

It is a cold, misty morning – like most mornings here in the vaguely greened seaside neighborhood of Miraflores, where I am hiding out.

The only way you can see the morning is in fact because the perpetual mist has shifted from black to white.

The mist of Lima is Lima.

You can’t extract it anymore from the city than you can extract the houses or the people. Here you are never really outside because you are always in a prison of mist.

I have just been walking slowly down one of the streets that run along the cliff, then I turned, and then … stopped. The street ended in oblivion. The asphalt literally has been chewed off by the cliff’s dirt-brown gums.

After it there was just more mist. And beyond that a dim dissolved horizon which I can only just glance through the plumes of smog and fog, being continually fanned out over the sea from the center of Lima as if the huge city is trying constantly to shake off some unpleasant infestation.


Barely two months have passed since the funeral; then I went away – leaving everything behind. And everyone.

It seems, though, like I have already spent forever on dusty roads that cradle the spine of the Americas: Escaping Ohio’s coffin to hitchhike haphazardly through the states down to do a veritable firewalk over Mexico’s burning border; later cooling temporarily in Belizean beach waters; just barely surviving Colombia; seducing in Ecuador, and now … facing a choice in Peru.

There has come a division in me, like the city’s division between ordered blocks of concrete and greedy, chaotic primeval waves: My journey has been divided. Between where I can go next and where I can never really go.

Geographically speaking it is just the division between the continent and the ocean.

But it is also the division between my reason to travel all this way and my reason to go on.

So why did I feel the division when I saw that Lima had stopped – right here? Maybe because I hadn’t expected it.

When I read about Miraflores in the coffee-stained guide I picked up at that hostel up in Quito, I figured it would be something akin to a Peruvian riviera.

And after all this time on the road, I longed for something akin to the real Riviera – at least as I imagine it. And I was ready to blow my last cash on it.

So I found this nice, little hotel – El Patio; a place that for once looked as nice as it sounded, but only because I had decided to pay for it. I paid and went quickly to my room, taking a shower and finding my last good clothes, the trousers and the blouse that the señora washed for me yesterday in that little pueblo, the name of which name I have forgotten already.

Then I went ‘out’ for a walk. Feeling like the stranger that I am, I did not really look people in the eyes. Why would they want to look back at me anyway? And more importantly: Why would I want them to? I mean, if they looked too long, would they not see that I came all this way, all these thousands of miles for something that any normal person would not have?

I try to think that that’s bogus, of course, but my heart disagrees with me. Therefore I don’t look people in the eye, on this subdued morning in Miraflores, Lima.


She had died, I had to live but I couldn’t.

Couldn’t die either, though, not any more than I already had … So I had to go instead. Somewhere.

And then, as the road wore on, I made the one big mistake a traveler should never make. I began to think too much about the journey.

It was not that other people questioned me about my purpose – for God’s sake, no. I rarely spoke to strangers in the North, just as I rarely speak to strangers down here.

And when I did, I rarely told them why I was journeying onward – onward – onward. We mostly just laughed and discussed the number of cockroaches in cheap hotels and the weight of gross Andean women doing the laundry and where to get so plastered for only a few dollars that it would be worth the whole trip.

Yeah, we were fine specimens, all right. Stupid arrogant tourists.

I had sworn, I’d never become one myself. But when you go away like this, to escape something that is impossible to really escape, well … then stupid talk with other people at bars and in buses is the first best pill. That and plenty of drinks.

So I have had plenty of drinks with a whole lot of boys and girls I have already forgotten on my way down here. I drank a lot and talked a lot but never went into detail.

Never a word about why I pulled the plug from law school, left my remaining friends like Nadine, left my mom, and then flushed the petty dollars I actually had stashed away for something like this right out the toilet.

No, I never talked about the reason I started this journey to a cliff-side at an ugly highway in Lima.


I guess in the end we all reach our own cliff-side in Lima.

We start by thinking we have arrived in an oasis – the part of the city that is actually not the dirtiest, grimiest, and most desolate Latin American inferno this side of Ciudad de Mexico. The part called Miraflores. An oasis.

Then we venture just a few minutes away from our last palm in that oasis, to see what’s beyond.

Then we discover that there never really was an oasis. It was just another illusion.

The oasis was surrounded by the same dirt and grime we had fled all along. So the oasis is a prison. A fake. There is no escape from the dirt and grime.

Sure, you can stay in the oasis, but it’s as unrealistic as me staying for the rest of my life in Lima. What would I do? How would I get money? Who would I be with? It would be as crazy as staying the rest of your in a hotel you liked or felt … safe in.

So this cliff-side at It wasn’t even a fork in the road, it was just the place where there are no more roads.

That’s my division.

So I had ended up here … out of options. Or so it seemed.

No options. Except maybe a jump.

I have never had such a thought before.

Never thought I would have it.

But that’s what the death of your best friend will do to you, I guess.

I suddenly hear a child laughing. I turn and look.

There is a little girl and her mother, strolling along. Moving to somewhere in the lives. They have lives.

What do I have?


Paint Me the Places You’ve Seen

Paint Me the Places You’ve Seen

The boys were playing outside the small hotel, one of them sporting a Godzilla-cartoon t-shirt which he constantly pointed to as if he was directing his friend to do the things in the pictures.

Afraid of thinking too much about the monsters in my own life, I had spent most of my time on the road to Tegucigalpa brushing up on Spanish verbs, putting that quasi-autistic mind of mine to better use. So I picked up enough fragments to understand that they played out a story of Godzilla thrashing a city of cardboard boxes and cans. They had even made an intricate network of ‘streets’ drawing lines in the gravel with a stick.

Lovely. Just what I needed to focus on when I had been tempted to buy something stronger to drink than cola this morning.

It even made a gruesome kind of sense because it was less than two years ago that Hurricane Mitch had leveled the city and all of the country more than any imaginary skyscraper-sized lizard could. I wonder what those boys had seen then? Did their house get wiped off the map? Was someone they knew killed? Did they go hungry for a long time?

Then the Godzilla-kid noticed that I was watching them from the hotel’s porch and came over.

“¿Puedo tenerlo?”

I nodded and gave him my empty Coke-bottle figuring he’d probably trade it for a deposit if they had such a thing here.

But the boy ran back to his friend and put the Coke bottle on top of a jerry can, which was supposed to be a high tower soon to be in the monster’s path. And seconds afterward, his friend kicked the whole construction so the can and the bottle made a racket and the receptionist came out and yelled at them. But they just laughed and retreated into the alley on the other side.

Passing me, the kid with the t-shirt grinned. “Muchas gracias, gringa.”

I waved at him and wondered if I shouldn’t try drawing up my own toy city.

Photo by bill wegener on Unsplash

Love Is A Shield

Love Is A Shield


There’s a world of light dawning outside my window.

White beach. Turquoise blue sky. Spindrift from gentle waves.

It’s all out there.

I’m in here, and the curtain is only half drawn back. I can feel the burning of hot tea water through the paper cup. I’ve been holding on to it for the last 10 minutes.

I have yet to put tea in the water.

I look down over myself and wonder if the whiteness of my legs and arms is ready to meet the source of all that light out there. Maybe if I take a bath in sun lotion before I go out … ?

Did you know that bikinis are actually named after a chain of islands where they tested nuclear bombs?

I guess it’s the only interesting thing about this two-piece. All black with a bit of white at the sides. Nothing special, but what I pulled from the drawer, along with some other random clothes, before I left our apartment for the last time back in Ohio.

Lin always said that it didn’t matter what clothes I wore, when I kept yapping about never having enough money to buy … stuff.

Even though she always had the money, eventually I came to accept what she said. Because she always dressed like …

Ha. There’s something to smile about. Even if it bloody hurts. Lin and all her stupid jackets and skirts – either total black or never ever in colors that matched.

Like her sense for dressing was inversely proportional to her sense for putting the right words on the page and writing something that would make Hemingway cry.

Or blow his head off.

That’s how Lin would put it. She always said so many nice things about how I looked or what I did that I came to believe her. But I wished she had reserved just one or two of those words for herself, instead of those shotgun metaphors.

In the end she didn’t use a shotgun.

The result was the same …

My hand is shaking as I put the hot water to my lips and remember that I have to actually put tea in it, but then I just pour it out in the sink of the kitchenette.

Not thirsty. Not hungry. More like numb.

Should I go out? I can hear voices …

I grab my bag and towel and then move absolutely nowhere.

But after a few seconds, my body catches up with my decision.


Now I sit here and watch the ocean and wonder what to go next. I’m going to be working on “next” for a few hours.

No rush …

The warm wind caresses my bare legs. The voices I heard came from my only company, the crew on one of those shark-fishers from San Pedro. They seemingly went out without any tourists on board. I thought they didn’t really go out without tourists, but maybe I was wrong.

The boat looks small and fragile as it sets sail and bobs towards the quiet Caribbean horizon.

Then come the first girls and guys – all tourists – and set up camp, and throw themselves in the water like it is their own private pool.

So should go back to my bungalow and close the door? Is that my “next”? There will be more shadow in there in any case. There is still a chance I can prevent my skin from turning lobster if I get my butt off this towel now …

“Great morning, isn’t it?”

I hear the voice behind me and I turn slowly and see Dale.

Curly blonde, nice tan, curves of his muscles just visible below the t-shirt.

He beams at me.

I smile back and pretend I don’t see his eyes following my cleavage. As I said, my non-famous bikini isn’t exactly state-of-the-art, but it shows what it has to show.

I am all poker face. “Am I looking great, or the morning?”

“Both.” He dishes out a new smile with a casualness that is obviously rehearsed and intended to disarm me as he plumps down in the sand beside me. He smells of fresh men’s shampoo and sea salt.

I pull out my own rehearsed casual question for initial defense. “You been up a long time?”

We didn’t get that close last night, while I poured down margaritas and poured out … something. Rambling. I don’t remember what I said, not much. Superficial things, I think

I hope …

“Been up since sunset.” He shrugs like early rising is as natural as breathing to him. “Water’s good at that hour. And you have the beach to yourself … You went home early last night.”

I study the sand that is calm again after the wind. “I was tired.”

“Cool.” Dale nods towards a party a bit down the beach, two guys and two girls, not much older than us. “It’s not everyone here who knows when they are tired.”

For a while, we just watch the surf. The fishing boat is all but gone.

I guess I’ll have to say something. “Look, what I said last night – I don’t know how much I said – but it’s okay now. It really is.”

He turns and smiles that bright smile that makes me remember why I actually stayed and rambled, even before the drinks began to do their work. “I ditched college, too.”

“You don’t remember I said that?” He adds it as if this is our little shared secret and now we have a bond forever.

” … No.”

He leans closer. “I do have one edge over you, though.”

“Oh, and what pray tell is that?”

“I’m a certified beach bum now.” He blinks. “Living here, serving drinks – taking life as it comes. So before you move on to Guatemala – it was Guatemala, right? – “

“It was.”

He grins approvingly. “Well, before that – unless you swear that you will give yourself some rest in, dare I say, good company, then you won’t have anything to show for it.”

“So I should be ashamed I didn’t exchange my college degree for a diploma in making cocktails?”

“As I said – I have something to show for it.”

“Remind me again what you quit?”

“I’m a never-to-be-engineer.” He grimaces. “Because dad wanted it – and paid for it.”

“I was in law school.”

“So you said. Last night.”

“Did I … say why I quit?”

“No. It wasn’t the right thing for you? More people should have the courage to make that decision … “

I shake my head, tasting the air between us, contemplating the shining spindrift.

He is really sweet. I should tell him.

But … if this is going where I think it is going, I don’t think him hearing all about how my best friend lost her battle with depression is going to work wonders.

But can I keep it, while we … you know?

I sure as hell need some … ‘you know’. After pills and hospitals and guests in black.

So what will it be? If I tell him, I’ll probably ruin it. If I don’t, I can’t stop thinking about it anyway and the result will be the same.

“Did I say something wrong?” I hear a voice asking, and realize it’s Dale.

“No – no,” I quickly look at him reassuringly. “I … was just drifting a bit.”

“Aren’t we all?”

“Ha-ha. I tend to get lost in my own thoughts sometimes. That’s all.”

I pat him on the arm. Friendly pat. But a bit longer …

Around me is the breeze of the Caribbean, the shining water,  laughter drifting on the air from everywhere else on the beach.

I want some of that laughter – just for a few moments.

I get up and begin to brush sand off my legs. He keeps sitting, looking up expectantly.

I meet his eyes. “I’m hungry.”

“We have some great breakfasts at the cafe at this hour – ” Dale nods in the direction of the main resort.

“Maybe I’m more for grabbing something to go and getting back out in the sun,” I counter.

“Sure,” Dale says while the wind plays with his locks. “We can just skip between the sun and shade. No need to stay in one place. How’s that?”

“That sounds like something I want to try,” I say.

Roads To Leave By

Roads To Leave By

“I still don’t understand, Carrie – why do you want to travel to that … place?”

Nadine looks at me like she has just discovered that I am really an impostor – not the study mate she has known since high school.

“It’s not the Dark Side of the Moon or something, Di.”

I keep walking, clutching my bag tightly. I want to walk just a little faster than her, and then I can’t – because some damn bus stops right before we reach the crossing and a million people pour out in front of us.

” – You asked what I thought about it,” she retaliates.

Bus away. Nadine walks more briskly, getting a little bit ahead of me.

She is irritated. Big surprise. Since I started this conversation it has become more and more an argument – me against her.

“I just thought you should know,” I try. “After all, you have to find a new study mate in good time before the exam. And …  “

“Right. Thanks,” she replies warily. “Look, I can understand that this must be incredibly, terrible and … ” she casts me a glance I can’t quite interpret – ” … but is it really the right thing to burn all bridges and hitch-hike 3000 miles because of her?”

“It’s not about her!”

I stop –  a second before I discover we’re standing smack in the middle of the crossing.

“It isn’t?” Nadine cocks her head, knowing that it is Very Much about her.

A car honks to get us out of the way. We just glare at each other. I give in first:

“Okay! – It’s a bit fucking hard just to ‘be myself’ now, wouldn’t you say?!”

Car honks again. Much louder. A guy, neck the size of an ox, rolls down the window:

” – Hey, coeds – go discuss yer pretty books some place else, willya?”

“Hey, jerk – go drive some place else, ‘willya’?!”

I want to slap him, too, but the last shred of sense in me wins out. This time.

Guy rolls his eyes, and a split second before we reach the other side he speeds up and roars past, almost strafing us.

Nadine touches my shoulder gently. I feel like tearing away her hand, but I also need it there now. More than anything.

“Carrie …  I didn’t want to say that you’re not allowed to grieve. I am devastated, too. Lin, well, we weren’t as close as you and her, but if it was me. I’d be – “

“Yeah… ” I say and begin to walk.

She follows.

So we both walk again, God knows whereto now. We were supposed to catch another bus but now we are just walking. As if we have somewhere to go to. Some solid goal that will make everything all right when we have reached it.

We walk in silence for a while and around us there is only the bustling traffic, people, the buzz of Columbus, Ohio – a city full of life, full of spring. We move along its streets like zombies.

“Carrie … ?” she finally says.

“Really, Di. I’m fine.” I cut her off. “What so wrong anyway about wanting to get away for a little while?”

“But to Bolivia? – and in the middle of semester?! And where are you going to get the money?”

“Lin actually left me some.”

“She knew she would – “

“No,” I say. “Not like that. It’s something she did long ago, when she first … got those depressions. I tried to get around it. I joked about it. I couldn’t take it seriously.”

Suddenly my eyes are full of tears and I turn towards Nadine. She hugs me, right there on the street. People stare, but … what of it. I shiver and I shake and all that has been coiled up in me just come pouring out. I tried not to make this conversation end this way. And here we are.

“Oh, god … it was a year ago, and she insisted,” I ramble. “What if she had it all planned then? Or what if she somehow knew?”

“No – no,” it’s Nadine’s turn to say. “I don’t believe it. You can’t know those things. She wouldn’t … “

“Well,” I sob. “I have to get away.”

She lets gently go of me: “And what about your exam? The scholarship?”

“Maybe I just don’t care anymore. If my … best friend can just … no goodbyes – why should I care about some idiotic exam that just sends me on to another idiotic exam that just sends me out to some 90-hour a week job, where I end up defending scum or combing mountains of regulations – looking for tax holes for the rich?”

“I thought you really wanted this, Carrie …  law school …”

“I do! And … I don’t. Not right now. Maybe later.”

We start walking again and I wipe my eyes, but they sting. There is too much traffic here. Too much exhaust. It gets into my throat, my eyes. That must be it. It makes everything worse. I think that is it. But I just keep walking down Silver Drive, when we should veer into Glen Echo Park. But I don’t feel like walking in there. Lin and I did. So often …

“I just need to clear my head first,” I say, by way of some conclusion. “Staying here, in this city, makes me feel trapped …”

“Have you talked to the counselor?” Nadine asks in a low voice, barely audible over the traffic. But I hear it just fine.

“I don’t need to talk to any university counselor,” I say. “What could he tell me that I don’t already know? – ‘I know you are feeling bad, Ms. Sawyer – It happens to all of us – I really don’t think you should jeopardize your studies to go hitch-hiking three months to South America – blablaBLAH.'”

We slow down, or maybe it’s just me.

I feel dead-tired suddenly. All of a sudden the world feels like it’s standing still where I am, and everything else is just moving past me – the droning cars, the loose leaves blown in from the park which is now behind us, even the sprinkles of sunlight through the clouds.

I’m not really sure when, but at some point we just stop walking, surrender to a bench. Like reality just caught up with feeling.

“Maybe you should go talk to him,” Di urges carefully. “He’s a nice guy. I talked to him once, when I broke up with my boyfriend. You remember Derek, right?”

“I remember Derek.”

I don’t remember what number he was, though. But that’s Nadine for you. She is okay, anyway. She really is.

“You were there for me,” she says and takes my hand, and it feels awkward but I don’t try to push her away. But I am somewhere else.

My body is here on this bench. I am watching the cars rush on 71 just outside Silver Drive. But my mind is rushing somewhere else. My mind is like spindrift tossed to and fro against a desolate shore, but it’s not white anymore. Somebody just poured a bunch of chemicals into the water and now it’s puke-yellow spindrift and it sticks to the shore of my mind in these big poisonous-yellow splotches, but there is nothing in them. I don’t want to go near them, to see what is really inside the splotches.

I hate you Lin. I hate you for leaving me.

There. That’s as poisonous as it gets.

“You were there … ” Nadine repeats as if she has become nervous of my tense silence ” … for me.”

“Yeah,” I say and drift off again.

Does she feel she owes me something? And now she wants to stick with me when I’m a total mess and can’t really do no good helping her memorize the whole Uniform Commercial Code.

“Do you want to go somewhere?” she asks, not with too much commitment, ” – the Northstar?”

“Too crowded, and no – I just want to sit here.”

“It’s a bit cold. And the cars … oh, god. We really should go into the park.”

“You can just go on home,” I say and let go of her hand.

She still clutches her books, stares hard at some indiscernible point between the lines on the ground. ” – I just want to help, Carrie. I … don’t think I could’ve made it through this semester without you. Frankly, I don’t know why you keep up with me? With your laser-brain, you could be two semesters ahead already.”

“Maybe I don’t want to be ahead. Maybe I just want to control-alt-delete everything now.”

“I thought you just wanted some time to get past … it.”

“It’s not about ‘getting past’ – I’m never going to get past that.”

“Don’t say that.”

“I just did.”

” – But why go on the road for such a long time?! And where? The Lake Titicaca in Bolivia?”

“It’s both in Bolivia and Peru. The border goes through the Lake.”

“Oh, okay.”

Another bus drives by, this one I know will stop near the empty condo which is waiting for me now. On the side, it sports an old advert for Leo’s new movie The Beach. Lin and I had agreed to go see it, but I felt there was too much to read before a term paper and butted out at the last moment.

‘We can always do it later,’ I told her.

A week later she was dead.

We sit for a while saying nothing. Nadine was never very good at this.

Me neither, I guess.

Nadine buckles first. “So, Bolivia, huh? You’re seriously considering this? Well, maybe you do need to get away … and there’s a lot of really ancient culture, and mountains … and Indian culture and … “

“Yeah … “

“Alan did the Inca Trail last year – did I ever tell you?”


So she still has contact with Alan? Wish it was me. On the other hand … maybe it’s best not.

“Well, Alan did and said it was really awesome. The Machoo Pitchoo was really an awesome place, he said.”

“That’s in Peru, Di.”

“But close to Bolivia, right?”

“I guess.”

“So … do you want to go there, too, or – “

“Maybe. For now, I just want to go to the Lake, though.”

“But why … the Lake?”

“There is no reason, really,” I say. “Except … “

“I need to get away. I’ve never been outside the States – well, except Scotland, of course.”

She nods. She knows we don’t have to talk more about that, too. So I move on to the only logical place, where she craves to be: The place where you find a reason for what you are doing.

“Lin had this picture on the wall in her room – of the Lake Titicaca. Never asked her why. She said she just liked it. It made her feel … peace. I could need some of that now.”

“Peace,” she says. It was not a question.


“And it has to be in Bolivia?”

I look at her, not sharply – but hard enough to let her know that I’m too tired for this again.

But I’m not sure what I should do. I asked her to talk. I wanted to tell her. And now she’s being just too helpful without really helping me at all.

I really want to be left alone, take that next bus to the airport, no matter how many people are aboard. ‘Just pack up my things and go’, as Morten Harket sings on that record I loved as a teen … which got lost in a box somewhere after my parents’ divorce when mum and I moved back to the States from Scotland. Lost … like so much else.

Oh, god – mum. What do I tell her? Maybe I should not tell her? Or only after I have gone, I suppose.

“It has to be there,” I just say.

Nadine shakes her head. “… If that’s how you want it. But if that’s really so, then there’s another thing I don’t understand … “

“What?” I say jump up from the bench as if I had discovered she had contracted a dangerous virus or something.

I might as well have slapped her.

Nadine’s eyes glisten. She looks up at me:

“Maybe I was so naive to think that you actually wanted me to hold you back or something. But you are hell-bent on going, Carrie.”

I feel us edging dangerously closer to some kind of line.

I want to be alone, yes, but not that kind of alone.

I’m not talking too well with other people these days. Nadine may not be what Lin was, but she’s still someone I can call ‘friend’.

I’m not talking to my mom. Dad’s gone – off to God knows where. I rarely show up at university any more. Lin’s … And now I’m doing my best to sever my final connection with the human race.

Suddenly I feel scared.

“Nadine – I’ve got to do this.”

I squat in front of her and take both her hands. Like some imitation of a proposal that would be funny, if it wasn’t all so fucked up and I didn’t hurt so much.

“Nadine – ” I say again, almost pleading like this is the truth – that I have to have her blessing. Not her advice. “I’ll go crazy if I stay here.”

“But why, Carrie?” she asks and her voice is higher and trembles like she is going to have a breakdown now. Like I asked her to condone that I threw myself in front of those cars …

She wipes something from her left eye, taking one of her hands away from mine. She still lets me hold the other.

“Jesus,” she mutters. “Sometimes I just don’t get you.”

“Yeah, I don’t get myself either.”

The joke falls flat but she allows me to pull her up from the bench and we keep going, letting everything pass us out on the road. We walk like sleepwalkers until we finally reach East Hudson Street and now would be a good time to turn. If we want to ever reach the university in time and normal life.

We stop and look at each other, Nadine and me. She is the comely looking, slightly freckled, rust-haired all American girl. I’m the icy blonde from Scotland who no longer has an odd accent but doesn’t fit in either. Maybe I am not the odd-girl-out anymore but I always felt like that, even after we started at Moritz.

Yeah, the college of Law is by far the most normal part of university. When you get to that part of campus you know life is governed by rules and predictability.

Don’t you?

“So – you wanna come?” Nadine asks.

I nod, but I don’t mean it.

It’s like the afternoon’s become colder like some strange cold light has seeped through the clouds and blanketed everything. We expect it to be good when the clouds finally break, but what if it’s not? What if we really don’t want to see what’s on the other side?

But right now there are just my attempts to explain what can’t be explained:

“I need to go, Nadine.”

“To the Lake Titicaca?” She puts up a brave smile.

“Yeah, I guess. Or just out – out of the States. On the road. Hell, I don’t know, but it feels so.”

She nods, even looks a bit sad.

“Okay, Carrie – do whatever you have to do. Pack up your things and go.”

I freeze when I hear that bit. It’s a coincidence, right? That she would say the line from the song I was thinking about half an hour ago? Like, just like seeing the bus with that movie ad – the movie Lin and I should have watched.

But that’s crazy. That’s definitely not Moritz Law College and order and predictability.

And there’s no Big Man in the sky sending signals to me about having to do anything, right?

The only one I can count on to make this decision is … me.

“You’re not mad with me?” I ask warily. “For leaving you with the books?”

“No – no, of course not!”

Di shakes her head vigorously and her long red-brownish hair swirls. “I’ll find someone else to study with. You’re my friend going away, to do something … I’m just a bit worried, that’s all.”

“I’ll come back, finish my studies.”


I try an arm around her shoulders. Nadine looks  at me as if we had agreed that the world is going to end:

“You know, I always wanted to …  go … somewhere, just travel or whatever. But what about my degree? And how would I be able to afford it?”

I try a grin, too: “I don’t know how to afford it either. Lin didn’t leave that much. She spent most of her inheritance, after all. But I’m thinking about a Greyhound to the border and then hitch-hike some of the way, maybe all of the way through Mexico, Guatemala, Ecuador … “

“You’re crazy,” she says, smiling weakly.

“Yes, but you want to be crazy too, Di – one day. Just almost admitted it.”

She hugs me again.

“I want to … ” Nadine says as she withdraws from the embrace. ” – But not that far away. But far enough – for me. Maybe we could go together. The next time …”

I nod and try not to notice her eyes glistening again. “That would be nice.”

“So … ” she says, readying herself for the conclusion, looking relieved, “I guess that’s it then. Carrie Sawyer – going to Latin America for eight weeks. Or eighty!”

More mandatory smiling.

“Big adventure, huh?” Nadine continues, and hugs her books now, the glistening in her eyes very close to running over.” – Big adventure, once-in-a-lifetime. Carrie-Thelma-and-Louise-Sawyer. Oh, God, I wish I had the courage, Carrie. Yes, you’re right. I really wish so.”

“You have next time …”

“So you’ll call before you leave?”

“I’ll call.”

“Yes, do that.” She kisses me on the cheek, one final hug, and then she walks briskly down the street, towards the still far-away campus, still cramming her books.

She’ll catch another bus. Me – I don’t know what the hell I will catch.

I just know that when something like this happens, you can’t just go back to normal. You have to do something, even if you don’t know what you are doing.

I’d like to think that is healthy, but ask me again when I come back. If I come back …

What would you do?


Last edit: 24 Sep 2019

Ashes Are Burning the Way

Ashes Are Burning the Way

I go home to our empty condo after the funeral, because I have something to deal with, and it isn’t grief.

Well, not only grief. My heart is a pit, but while we were there in the church an idea struck me: What if I went away? Far, far away …

I would ditch law school, right now – and never go to the summer examinations.

I would go … elsewhere. Mexico or somewhere like that and just walk the roads and see what happened.

For a control freak like me, this idea felt like a snapping alien monster in my mind at first, and I tried to push it away. But it kept coming back all afternoon at the reception after the funeral. I didn’t even notice the last guests I said goodbye to.

I take off my shoes and throw them into a corner in our hallway.

I close the door to our home and lock it.

My mother said she would stay at a hotel, even though I know she can’t afford it.

‘In case I changed my mind.’

And wanted to go home with her – to Cleveland. That’s what she meant.

Well, I won’t and I won’t.

We almost got into a row there, in front of all the other funeral guests.

I shouldn’t have yelled at her. She only wanted to help me. If only she could get it in her head that I am not taking comfort in the fact that Lin will be reincarnated in time.

Possibly. Maybe.

I don’t know what I believe.

I drop the keys in the bowl on the small drawer in the hallway and for a moment I freeze again, seeing my haggard face in the mirror above it.

Lin’s coats are still on the hanger. I put mine beside hers, but not so that I cover any of them.

I drift into the living room, drop down on the couch where we sat so often and watched videos and talked, and just goofed off. It feels cold now.

I get a little warmth by congratulating myself again on how much more in control of my emotions I am, than Lin’s mother.

I felt for her at the funeral, but it is hard to forget all the times we talked about how awful she was, and how much more of a friend I felt each time I affirmed it.

I curl up.


I don’t know for how long I lie there on the couch, crying. But when I come to myself and look out the window I can see that it’s dark.

And the couch still feels cold.

I get up, walk through the silent living room on bare feet and open the door to Lin’s room.

I have nothing left to do on my own, so I go into hers and just sit on her bed for a long time, taking it all in. How does a room feel when the one living there is no longer … living?

I’m suddenly overawed by the austerity of her room. In fact, the mega-bookshelf is the only real decoration. But it doubles as wallpaper – it fills the entire wall beside her bed – and paintings or posters.

In fact, there is only one other such decorative thing on her walls, right opposite the bookshelf.

I turn around in the bed and lie down so I can see both of them, the huge shelf and the picture.

It is an old photo, but the lake in it is still so blue that it hurts. She bought it on a flea market we went to just for fun, last summer. I thought it would absolutely not fit into her room and it would absolutely not fit her.

A lake in the Andes. Why would someone afraid of flying have a picture of that?

And now you will never get to see it … Lin.

I lie there on the bed, hands folded on my stomach and suddenly I feel the tears streaming down my cheeks again.

I feel it is hard to breathe so I try to sit up a little and then I notice that the bed actually feels warm.

Like you just slept in it.

Like it wasn’t a week ago when I found you here. And you were colder than …

It is odd and it gives me something to hold on to for a moment. Some peculiarity to turn over in my mind.

I look at the shelf and the back to the flea-market picture of Lake Titicaca in the Andes and I feel something that must be a ghost of a smile trying to come to my lips.

You always were a bundle, Lin. You loved old strange odd things, like that picture. Things that never fit in.

You never fit in, Lin.

You wanted wild and crazy things and times and places and people who never existed or who had ceased to exist.

I only dared to want that when you pushed me.

I loved you for it.

I close my eyes and when I open them again, all I can see is the blue in the picture to the right of Lin’s bed. And the white of the snow-capped, jagged Andes above them. Blue and white.

Azure dreams and snowy drops of heaven sprinkled on the rough edges of our life.

I can feel something that is … life. A spark, but it’s there. It is what I desperately grab for, like I could hold a random spark from an extinguished match, safely here in my heart while the hurricane dies.

I have to. I have to.

I have to go South.

I have a life here. I have friends. I have a scholarship that will be lost. I have the promise of getting a job that is so much more important and better paid than what my mother could ever get.

I have it all. Except what is at that lake and in those mountains.


Photo by Kirill Balobanov on Unsplash

Fighting For the Gospel

Fighting For the Gospel

Lin blinked when she saw who was there with her. On a chair. Beside her bed. The lovely long blond hair in slight disarray, as always.

“You came … to visit me.” Lin felt another smile coming. It was a good feeling, even if she could hardly feel the rest of her body. Or … remember. “How long have you been here?”

“I’ve been sitting here trying to talk to you for hours,” Carrie said, “and it was like you were awake at times and heard me but then you fell asleep again.”

Lin shook her head. “I … don’t remember.”

Carrie looked as if she was about to cry. “Well, they say there’s a lot of things you can’t remember after another treatment.”


“The electro-shocks, yeah.” Carrie looked away briefly. The room was completely white, like all hospitals, and should’ve been ugly.

But now that Carrie was here it seemed like the most beautiful room in the world.

“Patrick must be furious since you spend so much time here,” Lin said.

Carrie shook her head. “He’ll survive.”

“I’m glad you came.” Lin tried to smile again. “Mom and uncle were here yesterday, that much I do remember. God, it was awkward …”

Carrie leaned over and brushed the dark curls gently away from Lin’s sweaty brow. “We have all told them it was time you tried coming home again. Dialed down a little bit on the meds. But they still say no … I don’t know what to do.”

“Just be here with me,” Lin said and put her hand in Carrie’s. “I don’t want you to do anything else.”

This Is Where We Walked

This Is Where We Walked

The ink-black mass at the bottom of the mug is completely solid.



“Has there been anyone in this place since it closed?”

I try to catch Lin’s eye, but she is just sitting there – on the big kitchen desk, pondering unknowns.

“I have.”


“I … have come here sometimes. When I needed to go somewhere quiet. Mostly to get away from my parents.”

Now I don’t try to catch her eye anymore.

“You think it’s creepy,” she says. Not a question.

“Well, no, but you have to admit – coming back to moonlight at your old ‘kindergarten’, turned into ghost house, is, well –”

“Yeah. It is.” Lin lets her fingers strafe gently across the kitchen desk. They go gray immediately, from the thick layer of dust. “Guess I just wanted you to see it, Carrie.”

“Okay. The, ah, cupboard doors are nice … they almost look handmade – with patterns and all.”

“They are handmade. I believe they are copies of the original cabinet doors from the 1800s. Everything in the mansion has been restored.”

“Some ‘kindergarten’…”

“It wasn’t actually the kitchen, I wanted you to see.”

I swallow. It wasn’t the coffee but it sure feels like it. “Okay then, ready to boldly go where no woman has gone before, Mr. Spock.”

I turn for the large double door, which apparently leads out of the kitchen. But Lin holds her hand up. “Nothing to see in there but armchairs covered by white sheets and cobwebs.”

” – But since we have broken into the ‘haunted house’, why not go all the way? ” I have my hand on the handle.

I don’t want to look like a complete coward but I sure wish we’d go back to Columbus soon. We were supposed to check on Deborah and now we’re looking for Norman Bates out in Chagrin Falls.

“Miss Super Lawyer,” Lin says, wry smile and all. “You see crimes everywhere. “

“Shut up. I’m barely through the first third of the long and weary road to my bar X.”

“Sorry …” Lin says quietly. “Maybe I couldn’t decide for myself what I wanted. But now I have.”

Lin slides down from the desk and walks over to a small door in the opposite corner of the kitchen, between two large cupboards. I hadn’t even noticed that it was a door. But now I do. And it looks like there is a staircase inside the darkness.

“Uh … is there no light down there?”

“Just as much as here, when you pull away the curtains. No electricity, of course. “

“Are we going into the basement?”

“With its basement windows, yes. I didn’t think Captains were afraid of anything?”

I roll my eyes at her. Then I march past her and begin walking the cliché of a creaking staircase. I have to wipe my face with my sleeve almost the whole way down, while a thousand cobwebs try to steal a kiss from me.

Lin follows right after.

We end up in a basement room with curtainless windows looking out into the empty garden. The pale autumn light is mostly lost in the thick greasy dust, covering the windows, but there is still light enough to clearly reveal a bed, a table with chairs, and two shelves with no significant amount of books.

On the wall. A faded poster of Johnny Cash in San Quentin.

A room with more order than items; where you know it is a sin to move anything.

“Janitor’s room,” says Lin. She sits gently down on the bed, which is only covered by a single, tight sheet.

“I find it hard to imagine a janitor in such a neat little place – even if it is in the basement,” I quickly add (and wonder what the hell I meant by that).

“We called him ‘the janitor’. He had a different title, but never mind. Someone has to keep such a big house going,” she added. “It was like his ship and he was the guy in charge of the engine.”

“Lin … why are we here?”

Lin pulls up her legs beneath her on the bed.

I am still standing, not quite sure if I should sit down beside her. She is my best friend. I should.

I keep standing.

“When I was a little girl,” says Lin quietly, “my parents felt I kept too much to myself – I isolated myself. Like a female Robinson Crusoe or something. I would stay for days, and almost not get out of my room during vacations.”

“That was a problem for them? Your dad who was always on business trips and your mum who was always at some conference? They had Mick to look after you.”

“It wasn’t the isolation that was a problem in itself. But I was also often depressed …. Sometimes angry, sad – without knowing why. Couldn’t explain it. “

I finally sit down, but there’s still an arm’s length between us. The bed creaks a little like we’re in a bad movie. I fold my hands in my lap and look at her, waiting.

She pauses, and something glistens in her eyes. “Yes, I was damn well not normal – but when I was little …” she tries, then her voice fades.

“I was really … I had some real problems, Carrie.” She looks directly at me. “But no one knew what it was about. I certainly didn’t. However, my mom was a big fan of Goddard’s ideas about pedagogy that could help children with ‘special challenges’. So she and my father agreed that I should attend here before they dared to send me to school.

“… How was it?”

“It was okay … but there were not many of the other girls I felt I could talk to or adults for that matter. Except for Uriah. “

“The janitor…”

“He scared me silly.” Lin smiles weakly. “Half of his face was scarred from burns. He kept much to himself. But he had to go look after the garden and paint and repair and such. So it was impossible not to notice him sooner or later, although he would certainly try to avoid us. “

“But why did he live here?”

“He had nowhere else to live.”

“Okay …”

Lin stares at a small photo frame on the bookshelf. The photo is in black and white and depicts a young, athletic-looking man in a full firefighter uniform. He leans almost nonchalantly up against a fire engine. I can see the flash from the camera sparkle in the polished hood. The young firefighter is ready to save the world.

“Uriah Shannon helped put out a lot of fires in the Cuyahoga in the sixties,” Lin continues softly. “There was always someone who had forgotten that the river was more oil than water and dropped a cigarette in it. It must have been quite a sight for tourists – a burning river. One of the fires took nearly a day to get under control. Something went wrong. Uriah must have slipped at one point, for he fell straight down into the inferno. They thought he was dead, but when they pulled him up he was still alive… barely. Perhaps it would have been better for him if he hadn’t been.”

I try to breathe normally, as I look at the photo.

After having been silent for a few seconds, Lin returns to those ghostly memories. “… Uriah was burned on nearly half of the face – and who knows how much more of the rest of the body.

He could, for good reasons, not be a firefighter anymore. He could apparently not be anything else anymore, maybe because nobody would hire him because of his face. He started drinking, was repeatedly arrested for fights, got into debt, and was eventually evicted from his apartment because he couldn’t pay rent. Catherine – our principal – was evidently sorry for him. He was her cousin. She offered him a kind of job and a place to be. He had to be a kind of caretaker in the Yeardley House.”

“So finally someone could use him?”

“I think the other teachers didn’t like the idea,” says Lin, and looks as if she is still far away, in another time. “Perhaps they were nervous about what us kids would say to have a man who looked like that, in the house. Or perhaps it was the booze and the trips to jail.”

I nod.

“Maybe some of it’s just my imagination.” Lin shakes her head, motions to get up. “I was only a girl. Maybe I mix things up … memories.” She looks down.

“It does not matter,” I say, and get up, too. I touch her shoulder. “So you were scared of him?”

“Yup. Until one day. I think it was a November day -” Lin smiles, all too briefly “- I had had enough of it all. I had decided to run away. I snuck around by the hedge where we came into the grounds because I knew there was a hole in the hedge, and in the fence, it grew alongside.”

“You ran away?”

“Didn’t make it. But it was not one of the teachers who caught me.”


“Yes, I thought he would beat the crap out of me. They said he hit children. They said the principal sent children to him because the other teachers were forbidden to hit children. But he took me by hand and took me into the yard behind the kitchen and closed the door to the rest of the garden. Then he sat down, looked me straight in the eye. I could see every scar on his face and I was petrified. Most of the others were away on some trip. Those who remained were in the other end of the house. For once, I hoped that some of them would come and find me, but I knew that that was unlikely. I was also afraid that if they came, he would tell them what I had tried to do.”

“But you had only looked at the hedge, right?”

“Okay, maybe not exactly … I actually found a place, a kind of hole – not far from where we came in, and so I tried … you know … to get through.”

” … Escape from Alcatraz.” I squeeze her shoulder slightly, but it’s like she doesn’t notice it. She doesn’t look at me while she tells me this. We’re here, in this little dark, damp room full of cobwebs and frozen memories.

“I was actually almost out on the other side …” she muses, with a grim smile, and then heads for the stairs. I slug along, trying not to give in to my urge to overtake her. I wouldn’t able to on the narrow stairway, but I would like to. I’m glad we leave now. Damn glad.

“I almost wet my panties, when I felt his arm grab me from the other side – ” she looks back at me, mid-stairs, as if this is of extreme importance ” – the hedge was thinner then.” I nod. We walk up. Into the kitchen. Out the kitchen. Into the empty yard.

Lin stops.

“And one minute later I sat here – in ‘his’ yard.”

She looks back at the mansion, then her gaze drops to the dusty basement window – the one in Uriah’s room. It is impossible to see through the dust and the dark, and somewhere behind the mansion, the sun is setting in dense, somber clouds. Distant traffic drones on, behind the neighboring houses, but much weaker since we went in.

Her eyes narrow. “I wonder why he didn’t take this stuff with him when he left?” 

“Maybe he could no longer bear to be reminded of the past?” I suggest.

Lin shakes her head, then looks for the hole we crawled through to get here. The place some zealous judge might lecture at length about, if we were to be caught ‘breaking and entering’ a property closed down for ages, by some powerful heirs of Catherine Duval, ex-principal, who don’t know what to do with the house who may even have forgotten it, who have faceless attorneys to nitpick such things.

But we’re alone here. No one will catch us.

It’s as if Lin remembers she broke off her story. “We sat on his patio and I was ready to die. But after what felt like three hours, he simply said, ‘Would ya like ta tell me why ya wanna go through the ‘edge, Adeline?’”

“I could have come with many lame excuses. I was only five years old. It is natural that children climb into strange places, isn’t it? But he knew I had tried to run away, and I knew he knew it. But he was staring at me until I got a strange feeling that I was no longer afraid of the scars – perhaps because I now had been looking at them for what felt like a long time. It was as if I knew them.”

Lin looks back towards the mansion-house one last time, and it looks like there’s something pulling at her like she wants to go back and lie down on that dusty bed and never get up again. But there’s also another power, a power that has almost pushed her away from the house – without even being able to finish embracing those memories as if she had to get away before that embrace chokes her.

“I told him … everything,” she finishes and looks at me, at last with some semblance of summer in her eyes. “I don’t remember exactly what ‘everything’ was. But it was everything that I had never told the other adults, even my mother, and father … How sad I was to be there, in the house. I do not know if it was because I was stubborn or frightened or desperate or a little of everything. He sat still and nodded once in a while saying nothing. But I could sense that he listened to everything as if it was the first time that someone told him anything like that … and that maybe it would be the last.”

Her voice becomes intense as if she’s afraid that I will not listen to her. I nod, try to make it look reassuring. I couldn’t go anywhere right now.

She picks up the thread one last time. “I became more and more upset because I felt I couldn’t explain it well enough – how I felt. And finally, I cried and cried. So he put his arm around me and waited until I couldn’t cry anymore, and I thought – ‘when will the other grown-ups come?’ But there wasn’t anybody coming around, and finally, he let me go, looked very closely at me said, ‘I ain’t gonna say anything ta Ma’m Duval. But next time ya’ll want ta run away, Adeline, ya run by me first, ‘kay?’”

Lin suddenly shivers, then stops. As if somebody hit her.

” – I’m babbling. Let’s go back to the car.”

She turns, quickly, and looks for the hole in the hedge.

I feel like I’ve dropped something precious on the floor, and I want to pick it up, but I have to follow. I don’t want to be alone here.

Even with friendly ghosts.


As Lin drives us out of Cleveland, towards the main highway, and the silent mansion of Catherine Duval and her Goddard-inspired pedagogy has long since disappeared in the rear-view mirror, I catch a last glimpse of the Cuyahoga. In the evening sun, it looks almost like it’s still on fire.

Lin has been silent since we left the house. But I have to ask:

” … Did you try to run away again?”

Lin shakes her head, and the brightness of the fire that is both in the sun and the river touches her eyes. “No. Now there was a reason for me to stay.”


Last edited: 17 October 2021

Diamond Dust

Diamond Dust

They walked together, through the morning snow. Hand in hand. They were talking about the present and the future, but in reality, the only thing that counted was the here and now. The awakening sun made the snow glitter like diamond dust. One day, when one of them wasn’t there anymore, the other would often think of those special mornings and imagine that if they had continued walking, never stopped, they would still be together.

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Clear Horizon

Clear Horizon

After buying the sodas at the gas station, they crossed the street to sit down on the sidewalk. They found the first best, place which was the still warm wall next to a flower shop with rows of violets crammed in the front window as if they had been hauled in quickly during the day.

They might very well have been. It had been quite a summer’s day – and now night – here in Columbus, and the two young women had had most of the cinema to themselves.

People had better things to do than watch 11 PM showings of scifi train wrecks, it seemed.

But not Carrie Sawyer and Lin Kouris.

“Actually, I find it quite appropriate – ” Lin said as she popped her cola open “ – that the monster did not die.”

“Oh?” Carrie said and gulped down her own lukewarm drink directly from the can – and then spat it out: “Fuck – you took one they had only just put in!”

“Sorry,” Lin said, “I can go back and get another one.” She started to get up.

“No – “ Carrie said and grabbed Lin’s cola. “Just gimme that!”


Carrie drank a bit and then handed the can back to Lin.

“That’s better. Why didn’t you check?”

“Sorry again, mate – he just put’em in the bag, you know and then I paid.”

“Well, at least we have one cold drink.” Carrie leaned back against the bricks and a tired but satisfied smile slowly spread over her lips. “Do you think Alan and Nadine made it home all right?”

Lin snorted: “They didn’t even make it home – let me tell you that. And the night is warm enough.”

“Warm enough for what?”

“Shut uuup … “ Lin boxed Carrie on the shoulder, but it was the friendliest pain Carrie had felt all day.

“You know … ” Carrie said and followed a lone, slow-moving van with her eyes “ … we should be jealous.”

The van passed them and its taillights were still visible long after its drowsy engine hum had been absorbed into the quiet summer night. Carrie kept staring in the general direction, a dreamy look in her eyes.

“They’re high school friends,” Lin said in a tone as if she was making a routine conclusion to a philosophical problem long out-debated. “Now they are college friends. And above all – friends. I wish the best for them … ”

“Friends … “ Carrie said and turned her head back to Lin. “Can I have more of that cola? My head hurts.”

“Is it the heat or that bottle of wine we did before we let Natasha entertain us?” Lin asked, a sly smile showing quickly then disappearing, and back was the standard Kouris-poker face.

But it was a beautiful poker-face, not particularly because of Lin’s gossamer features surrounding those intense deep dark-brown eyes, but more because when she was happiest it always looked as if there was some secret she did not tell you but really wanted to, and it would make you laugh when you knew.

That’s what Carrie loved about Lin –  that was where it all started: That was what you could see if you knew her. If you had lived with her for almost two years sharing two apartments and argued about dishes and change for laundry machines and Nietzsche and bad scifi movies. You knew it was there, just under the surface of the smile, something beautiful – more than was ever evident in what you could see. And you remembered it when there were blacker nights and visits to the psych ward, and you weren’t sure it was a safe call to have that many pills in a glass in the bathroom at the same time.

The good periods outweighed the bad and when you are 19 you can’t imagine it otherwise. You have tremendous powers of suppression because your whole life is in front of you and no one is going to take that away.

And summer nights with train wrecks on screens, they are the life-blood of your future. That kind of happiness is strong and real and obviously, it must win and in the end, come to stay forever.

“What did you mean?” Carrie asked when Lin had not spoken for some time, “about it being good that the monster won? I thought it was a shame. I wanted the movie to end.”

“No more sequels?”

“No,” Carrie said, “I couldn’t stand it, even if she is pure eye-candy.”

“Nothing to be jealous of again?” The sly smile again …

“She is a movie star, Lin,” – Carrie shrugged, trying to make it sincere “ – she is supposed to look better than the rest of us. Maybe all the making out between her and the others did something for Alan and Nadine, you know – they looked like they were in a hurry to get home. And she told me they hadn’t, you know … for two weeks at least.”


“Dunno – too many books, I suppose. Or Alan hasn’t been himself since his father died. It’s hard … “

“Movies with monsters having sex usually isn’t the recipe,” Lin said, “to get over that … “

There was just the slight edge of pain in her tone now and Carrie got up quickly, holding her hand out to Lin.

“Let’s go home. Fuck monsters. Fuck bad movies.”

“And you love both,” Lin said and grinned but took Carrie’s hand and dragged them both to their feet.

“I love this night,” Carrie said. “That’s enough.”

The Things We Find Behind The Door

The Things We Find Behind The Door

“I would like to talk about last night,” Lin says.

“Well, I’d rather not.” Carrie leans back heavily in the chair at the dining table, squeezing the ice bag closer to her head.

“I’d like to,” Lin says again.

Like is looking directly at Carrie from the bag chair near the corner of the living room, where she always sits and reads and contemplates the world. And when you pass her she can sit in silence for several hours a day and you begin to wonder: Is she contemplating you?

“Okay,” Carrie says and puts down the ice bag. “I guess I feel bad about it … “

Carrie doesn’t feel like she is very convincing in trying to sound rational and courageous and it’s is not just because her head feels like somebody split it with a hammer.

It’s a dreary Sunday morning in September in the 3-room condo in Columbus.

But those thick, oily drops just keep surfacing. Like last night.

“Do you think all this is a sham?” Lin asks.

Carrie opens her mouth says nothing.

Lin clarifies. “Our friendship.”

“Lin, why would I think – “

“It’s not what you think, Carrie. It’s what you try not to think. It gets through sometimes. Like last night … “

“I don’t remember.”

“’We can’t all be rich’. You said that.”

“Maybe I didn’t mean it, Lin. Not like that. Maybe I was drunk, okay?”

“Why don’t you say what you really feel about me, Carrie?”

“Okay, I got pissed because you said I could just buy another dress than the one I puked on earlier. I still don’t have that kind of money, and you know it.”

“I don’t have that much.”

“– You say you have given it all away, but I know you still have a lot stashed.”

“Not a lot – 30,000 dollars.”

“Well, it’s like 100 times more than I have, and only because I got that scholarship.”

Lin looks away. Like she is irritated. Like there is a pain that she has felt a thousand times before, but all she can do about it is to look away.

Carrie grabs the ice bag and smacks it back onto her head. She seeks refuge in their kitchen.

Open the fridge. Nothing new.

Carrie pulls out a cola and discovers has fizzled. She drinks even so and feels the cold in her throat and it feels like it is clearing something.

Back in the living room, there is only a silent Lin in her bag chair. Tiny and slim, black curls, that serious face. Carrie loves that face. She loves her sharp wit, her ability to see and think and talk about all the things Carrie herself can’t.

Carrie stops and leans against the doorway, the fizzled cola in one hand. “I have thought a lot about this in the past months since we moved in together. And I think you are right.”

Lin almost whispers. “In what?”

Carrie looks down.

Lin closes her book. “Okay,” she says. “Okay … you want to find another place?”

“I guess … ”

“Fine. Then do that.”

Carrie shakes her head, then storms off into her room. She closes the door tight and sits down on her bed to stare into the air. That’s the plan, now.

At some point, she begins to listen, though.

Lin should’ve gotten up from her chair, gone into her own room. She should’ve done that or gone out. Waiting somewhere perhaps, until she can come back and Carrie is no longer there.

How do they even do this? Carrie signed a contract because Lin’s mother insisted. Neither of them took it very seriously at the time. Friends for life, right?

Not then, not after. She had signed. They had signed. It was a ticket to freedom.

Carrie is thinking about where she could go now.

Back to her mother’s in Cleveland, presumably … But what about her studies? She’d have to find a room here, temporarily. Did she have the money for it? Maybe … At least for a little while but it would quickly be spent.

She slowly gets up from the bed. She opens the door.

And sure enough, Lin is still in the living room. In the chair, reading.

“Lin … ”

She looks up.

“Yes, Carrie?”

“I’m sorry … ”

She comes over to me, pulls me close.

“I … we are … friends,” Carrie says and almost chokes on it.

“We are,” Lin says.

“We are – we are … “ is all Carrie can say.

“That’s … a good start.” Lin smiles with some effort.

“But … ” Carrie says … “I have to prove that I … ”

“You don’t have to prove anything,” Lin says. “It really doesn’t matter that I … pay – ” she makes a loose gesture towards the rest of the condo “ – or the other things.”

“It does to me,” Carrie says.

“So what are you going to do?”

“Stay. What else can I do? I want to stay … with you. But it matters.”

Lin nods. “I also want you to stay. And it matters to me, too. If you don’t feel right about this, it matters.”

Carrie withdraws, wipes something from her eye. “So we good, partner?”

“We good,” Lin says. “Always good.”

The Tone Which Is Not Played

The Tone Which Is Not Played

“Want to buy this one?” Lin held out the velvety black dress.

Carrie frowned as if the smart, expensive dress contained a hidden trap. She received it carefully from Lin and held it out in front of herself, about a hand’s breadth away from her own body. 

“This is too tight for me,” she finally said. 

Carrie’s judgment was punctuated by the last lines of an upbeat song from the store’s loudspeakers:

… Later we’ll have some pumpkin pie

And we’ll do some ca-ro-ling

Carrie slung the dress halfway back on the rack.  “Let’s get out of here.” 

Lin looked confused. “But we only just came in here!”

“Let’s get out.” Carrie exited the changing room and quickly marched through the world of satin and polyester on the other side, her course set straight for the street door.

Lin caught up with Carrie before that. “What is it with you? You’ve been jittery all morning.”

Carrie was about to snap something when she heard, “Can I help you?”

A plump red-headed lady in her mid-forties appeared close to the store entrance.

“We’re all right.”  Lin quickly pushed Carrie in front of her, out into the soddy winterscape of central Cleveland.

It had started as a bright enough day, the last weekend before Christmas when Lin had asked Carrie if she wanted to join a Christmas shopping spree, just the two of them. But now …

“Let’s go to a cafe,” Carrie said.

Lin gazed back at the store. “Okay.”

Then she sighed and snuck her arm around Carrie’s. “Why did you want to leave?”

Carrie shrugged. Snow had begun falling again, but it quickly turned to slush on Euclid Avenue. The white gossamer flakes were briefly lit up by the shopping window lights and then extinguished as they hit the ground.

They walked for a while, arm in arm, Lin being aware of the lightness of her shopping bag which she held in her free hand, just as much as she was aware of the heaviness of Carrie’s step. 

“How about there?”

They had stopped by a cafe on the corner of the main street and a minor side alley that seemed to lead nowhere. The cafe was called “Moby” and looked like a slightly run-down pub that had been renovated to serve a younger and less world-weary clientele, but without completely getting its branding right. Thus, white grandma-curtains had been peeled back to reveal glossy menus in the window sill, advertising daring combinations of avocado sandwiches and pressed juice.

Lin shook her head. “In there?

Carrie retracted her arm from Lin’s. “Is it not fancy enough for you?”

“What the hell is eating you?”

Carrie looked away. “Sorry, let’s go in. Okay? I’ll buy.”

Lin sighed. “Sure, as long as it’s got booze in it.”

Carrie smiled wryly and went ahead.

Inside they found a table by the window, from where they could look out on the motley river of Christmas shoppers.

Carrie ordered orange juice and Lin insisted on a soda, despite the bubbly 20-something waitress’ insistence in turn that they had ‘all kinds of good things’. 

After that debacle had ended with a victory for the two young patrons, an awkward silence fell over the table. There were only two other customers in the cafe—a brown-haired man and a mouse of a woman—seated together in another corner, staring into the air as if something bad had happened. Maybe it had. They didn’t seem to be keen on talking either

“Look,” Carrie said, “I’m sorry.”

“You keep saying that,” Lin said, “and really, you don’t need to. I just want to know what’s going on.”

“What do you think?”

Lin looked out the window, while thoughtfully sipping her Dr. Pepper through a straw. “I don’t know. Didn’t you like the dress I picked?”

“I loved it,” Carrie sighed. “That’s what kills me.”

“Why? Don’t you think it can fit  your boobs?” 

Carrie almost coughed half her juice out on the table. “Lin!”

Lin retained her poker face, sipping happily away at her own drink. The tense silent couple in the other corner hadn’t moved. Carrie glanced at them, then her shoulders sank and she finally took a sip of the orange juice.

“I think my boobs would fit just fine,” she said, trying to make it sound casual, but her voice was hollow. “And the rest of me. But I don’t like it.”


Carrie shrugged again, but it was clear she was struggling with something. Then she took another sip of her orange juice, then grimaced as if it had tasted more bitter than she had expected. 

“You know,” she said, “do you ever have the feeling that you are not … yourself?” 

“All the time.” 

Carrie crossed her arms and looked out the window again. “You know what I mean …”

Lin put down her soda. “Actually, I don’t. I’m not a mindreader, you know. I thought it’d make you happy to go shopping a little. Is it because of the money?”

Carrie shook her head.

“Feeling ugly like I am again?” Lin deadpanned.

Carrie rolled her eyes. “Well, not this time.”

“What is it then?” 

“It’s about … ” Carrie fidgeted with a lock of her long blonde hair “ … oh, I don’t know. Maybe I’m just having a weird day.”

“Well, you and me both,” Lin said.

“Sorry,” Carrie added, then dropped back on the chair as if somebody had punched her. “Sometimes I just can’t … I feel like I want to go somewhere badly but I don’t know where that is!”

“I know that feeling,” Lin said. “So … isn’t it a little early thinking about college?”

“It’s not college,” Carrie said, “but don’t remind me. That’s just around the corner.”

“Well, yeah,” Lin admitted and stole a glance at the silent couple, “actually it’s only half a year and there is so much that has to be in order.”

“A scholarship, for example.”

Lin dismissed Carrie with a wave of her hand. “You’ll get yours. Don’t worry.”

“Do you know what university Alan is going to?”

“Duluth, I think.”

“Really? What’s in Duluth?”

“Architecture … I mean, you can study it.”

“Of course.”

“-Is everything satisfactory?” 

They both stared into the bright healthy smile of the waitress who had reappeared. Seemed like everyone was in the mood to give great service this Christmas.

“Satisfactory?” the walking smile prodded again.

They both nodded. “Yeah. Great.”

“Can I get you something more? Perhaps something to e-”


After the obnoxious waitress had retreated, Lin downed the last of her Dr. Pepper. “God, she knows how to make you want to leave.”

“Lin … I think I might be pregnant.”

For about five seconds Lin just sat still, her hand clenched around her glass. 

Then, “Are you sure?”

Carrie looked around like someone was following her. “My period’s like three days overdue.”

“That’s  … normal, isn’t it?”

Carrie leaned closer, her eyes darting. “I don’t know. I don’t think so!”

Lin bit her lip. “But have you checked?”

“Checked what?”

“How long it should-how long it can go … without, you know …”

“No, I haven’t checked, but I know that-”

“If you haven’t checked then how can you know?”

Carrie held up her hand from the table as if she was about to shush Lin, but instead, she gazed nervously at the stony couple in the opposite corner. They looked as unfazed as ever.

Carrie leaned even closer than before. “I just feel it.”

“But,” Lin started fidgeting her empty glass, “if you haven’t, you know … I mean, have you?”

Carrie’s nod was barely perceptible. 

Lin sat very still.

Then she exhaled audibly. “Wow. I mean, just wow.”

Carrie frowned. “What does that mean?”

“You always say you don’t feel anyone wants to … you know, you always say you don’t have anyone.” Lin tried a smile but it transformed into a rather awkward grimace. “And now you say you have hooked up with someone? Well, that’s news.”

“It’s not … something.” Carrie sighed and fell back on her chair again, looking extremely uncomfortable. The glass of orange juice was only half empty.

“So you are not going steady with someone.” 

“Noo … I would have told you.”

“Damn.” Lin bit her lip again. “Then … who?”


The snow fell through a hazy gray sky over Springbrook Drive in Brooklyn Heights, about ten miles away.

Alan Stockdale sat by the window in his attic room, with the back to his record shelf, watching the afternoon turning to dusk.

There was a knock on the door.

Alan was about to get up but then decided against it. “Yes.”

His dad’s voice sounded from the other side of the door. “Should I order something special for dinner, son?” 

“I don’t care.”

“That new Italian place in Murray Hill has some great pizzas.”

“Just get me cheese and tomato.”

“You sure?”


And then there was silence, except for a few soft footsteps down the stairs.

Alan got his feet down from the window sill and to the floor quietly, as if it was a minefield. He didn’t want dad to hear he had moved around in his room. In fact, Alan wished his dad could pretend today of all days that his son did not exist like he so often seemed to do when he went to work in the studio for days on end. But now when dad was home, and mom was out for a change, it was like he had to compensate for his regular absences.

In the beginning, Alan had thought it would be a great perk to start a new high school and have a dad who was co-owner of a recording studio. But as it turned out, it wasn’t something that attracted real friends. Or girlfriends.

Alan went to his bookshelf and took out his first print volume of The Lord of the Rings and carefully leafed through it. 

There was an entire world in those books, but not the world that could be a refuge for him now.

Should I call … ?

The silent snowflakes outside seemed frozen in the air. Each represented a possibility to Alan’s mind, an outcome.

Alan put the book back and slowly opened the door to the hallway outside his room. 

There was a phone in his parents’ bedroom. He didn’t like using it but since dad’s generosity in take-away had not extended to buying his son one of those fancy mobile phones, there was no other option, he could think of.

He would buy a Motorola himself soon. He liked those. He had saved enough money. In fact, he could recite the serial numbers of the four versions he liked best. Maybe he should go back to the room and boot up the modem and see if he could find that page on the World Wide Web again where they-

Alan steeled himself. And closed the door behind him. Below were the reassuring noises of TV from the living room. His dad would hear nothing.

He went in and sat down on their bed. Then he called the number.

Dial tone. 

No one took it. Not even her mom who always seemed to be home. Watching TV like his own dad did when he was at home. Did adults have nothing else to do?

Alan almost felt like slamming the receiver but he controlled himself. Then he walked slowly down the stairs and into the ground floor hallway and got his coat. He needed to walk a lot more.

Alan opened the door and went out into the gray-white winter. There seemed to be nowhere else to go.


Later that evening, the phone rang at Lin’s house. She almost flew out of her room to take it, before her mother could.


“It’s me.”

Lin struggled to find the right expression, even though nobody could see her. “I know it’s you, dummy. What’s up? Did you tell your mother?”

“No, of course not.”

“‘Of course not?’”

“Come on …” Lin could hear Carrie fidget with something at the other end. It sounded like keys. “Don’t be like that.”

“Don’t be like what?” Lin clenched the receiver. “My best friend tells me she might be pregnant. That she somehow forgot her pill, forgot everything. And with Alan. And I didn’t know jack about you guys … and I’m not supposed to be concerned or what?”

“Lin, it came tonight.”


“My period. It came.”

Lin was silent for a long time. 

Carrie’s voice became frail. “Lin?”

“Oh,” Lin quipped. “I mean, that’s great …Thank god.”

“Yeah, I’m really better now,” Carrie blurted right away. “Feels kind of like I’m on a high or something. Even if the stomach is acting up again like it always does.”

“Cramps, huh?” Lin gazed distractedly out the nearby window. It was evening and the garden had been reduced to ashy, indistinct shapes. 

“Yeah,” Carrie said. “I’m only good for tea now and the rest of the evening. Maybe you could come over? Keep me company in my misery?”

“I … think I have homework,” Lin said.

“Oh, okay.”

“But we can go shopping again tomorrow … if you like?”


They talked a little more before hanging up. Tomorrow they would start again.


Carrie was watching something on the TV and close to dozing off. Then the doorbell rang.

She stiffened. 

Mom had gone to Steve’s and wouldn’t be back until tomorrow. (Or was it Ben? Carrie had stopped keeping track.)

The bell rang again.

Carrie tried to concentrate on the TV.

But after several incessant rings, she got up and went out on the stairway. There was no window but after a little hesitation, she tip-toed down, figuring she could use the door spy once she reached street level.

When she saw who was outside in the increasingly slushy snow, Carrie opened quickly.


“Can I come in?”

Alan stood in the dim light from the sparse street lamps on Grant Avenue, many of them frozen over. He looked vaguely unreal.

“Why didn’t you call?” Carrie asked, looking at his boots.

Alan looked away briefly. “I was out walking and I just felt like … ” He trailed off.

“I – come in, okay?”

He shrugged and looked around, hands in his pockets. “You sure?”

“Of course.”

She stepped aside and he got in, carefully, like he was afraid there was someone else in there. He looked at her, questioningly but Carrie remained behind the open door, not moving to close it. 

“It’s cold,” she said.

“Yeah.” He rubbed his hands. “Better not let it in.” He glanced at the stairs. “So … ”

Carrie quickly closed the door and went past him. “Come on up.”


They went up into the small apartment on the first floor and Alan got his coat off. 

Carrie nodded at the well-worn couch in the living room. “Make yourself at home – don’t sit on any of my mom’s VHS tapes.”

He drew in a deep breath. “I won’t.”

“Want anything?” 

“I’m good.” He leaned back and picked up a TV guide from the small sofa table. 

Carrie came back from the kitchen with tea in a big glass. “Anything interesting on tonight?”

“W-I … don’t think so.” Alan turned to look her in the eyes, as she sat down beside him. “Look, I-”

She smiled at him while making a face. “Yeah, it was some weekend at that holiday house.”

He shook his head. “It should never have happened. I came to say- look, I’m sorry, okay?”

Carrie’s smile softened. “You don’t have to. It’s not as if it was that bad.”

Alan look confused for a moment, then his shoulders came down. “It wasn’t?”

She shook her head. Her smile stayed.

He nodded to himself, leaning forward and resting his elbows on his knees. Suddenly there were a lot of interesting TV programs in that guide to inspect. “Well, it’s just one of those things, we can laugh at in twenty years, eh?”

“Hopefully before.” Carrie breathed, then moved to lean her head against his shoulder. “Hopefully …”

“I wonder what Nadine-” he started, but she tensed and that broke him off.

“She won’t have to know, unless you tell her,” Carrie then said.

“No.” He shook his head resolutely. “Of course not.”

“I hope you won’t but if you do, I’ll understand,” Carrie said. “She’s my friend, but I shouldn’t decide this.”

“She’s … a good girl,” Alan said. “Very good.” He took the TV guide up and then put it straight down again.

“You are lucky to have her.”

“Yeah.” He put his arm around her waist. “Yeah, I am.”

“So nothing happened,” Carrie said. “Nothing at all.”

He grinned. “When you put it like that … ”

“I do,” Carrie said and her gaze rested on the lamp on the opposite wall.


Photo by Joakim Honkasalo on Unsplash

All I Wanna Say IS

All I Wanna Say IS

“They don’t really care about us … “

Carrie shook her head and tried – just for a second – to imagine she and Lin, two slightly off-beat high school girls, handing out signed copies at one of those comic conventions she had read about.

Right here, right now, sitting as they were at her desk in Carrie’s half of the two-room suburban Cleveland apartment, it felt like a really long way to the stadium-size San Diego or New York Comic Book Conventions.

“You just have to believe in it – ” Lin retorted, giving Carrie that determined, slightly unsettling look.

“Okaay!” Carrie snapped and picked up the pencil, starting for the third time on a character sketch. Yup, there was a really long way to San Diego Comic-Con.

They had been here all afternoon, Lin calling suddenly saying she had to come over because she had a new idea. This usually meant Lin had had a new row with her mom. Julia Kouris still wavered on whether to go back to England or not, apparently having a stroke of guilty conscience after Lin’s dad had died. At least every second week or so. The other weeks she had made up her mind to go to the UK.

And Lin actually wanted her mother to leave – or so she said. Then I can ‘do whatever the hell I want!’

One of the crazy things she had talked and talked about wanting to do since they first came together was a real comic book – or graphic novel, as Lin insisted on calling it. Like Carrie, Lin had some comics but mostly the ‘elite’ stuff – European albums and such.

Carrie for her part wasn’t that choosy, having grown up reading her step-brother’s X-Men comics, more out of necessity than choice. Often she had felt there was no other way to make time pass in that lonely house back when her mom and Calum lived together. And being chased around by your ‘classmates’ daily in school didn’t exactly invite you to longer excursions in the village or elsewhere.

But now she was far away from that life and it had seemed like an attractive beginning to another life – and, well, just … a cool idea! When she ‘accidentally’ had mentioned, and then showed, her new friend her “dabblings”. Two seconds later Lin suggested that they do a comic book together.

Carrie had of course pulled the brakes – for two seconds more. ‘A comic book? Are you out of your mind? … … … Oh, hell – why not?’

And Lin had had just the idea for a story: love, horror, weirdness – all rolled into one.


Carrie threw down her pen again. “Crapcrapcrap -! ” she moaned “ – even if I were good enough to be the new Colleen Doran in 10 years or so … who would publish this? Some oddball sci-fi story that it’s just you and me who digs.”

“We’ll worry about that when it’s finished,” Lin said in a low tone, but firmly.

“No, we’ll not – because it’s not gonna be working wonders for our rather strained reps at school if anyone – especially Eric Markham – or Denise’s clique – finds out about this! It’s definitely not ‘in fashion’ … ”

Lin knitted her brow. “Hey, since when did we care about fashion?”

“Look – ” Carrie pulled back the single desk chair and dropped down on the creaking bed-turned-into-couch “ – nobody is ever going to read this. Even if we printed it ourselves and paid them money to do it. It’s not gonna be pro.”

“It’ll be close enough, Carrie – you’re good.”

“No, I’m not.”

“It doesn’t matter if anyone reads it -” Lin drove on, firmness in her voice up a notch. “What matters is creating it!”

“That’s ridiculous,” Carrie shot back. “If no one reads what you’ve made, then it doesn’t matter at all.”

Lin looked down. “It matters to us … ”

For a moment there was only the sub-current of a beat from Carrie’s worn loudspeakers, then Lin looked up again and Carrie looked at her and they stared at each other like it was a western stand-off.

“Okay,” Carrie said, crossing her arms, “why?”

Lin inhaled deeply. “Because …. that’s the first reason you create something. That’s the first reason I write, for example. I know I’m not, like Virginia Woolf, yet, but I’ll get better. And even if I don’t … or worse: Even if I do get better but I still don’t get published – I would still be writing. I would do it – for my sake. Because it is my … passion.”

She looked away briefly as if she had just said something dirty. Carrie threw up her arms in what appeared to be exasperation, but she didn’t say anything to back it up.

“I like to draw, too – very much – but … ” Carrie then tried but stopped herself again. Lin just couldn’t get it through her thick skull. And she had been stupid to even go along with this …

“ … And you like this idea for a story,” Lin then said quietly. “You said so yourself.”

” … I love it.”

“Then we should do this!” Lin exclaimed. “We’re already weird, so we might as well be weirder!”

“But it makes no sense – “ Carrie protested, but with slumped shoulders – “I’m not going to be a comic book artist, ever. It will … take too much time.”

“What are you going to be then?”

“I dunno … I figured I’d go to law school or something.”

Lin smiled faintly. “Yeah, and I want to throw myself into English lit. Suicidal, isn’t it?”

“Because your mom’s an Eng-lit professor an’ all?”

Lin looked down again, and this time Carrie knew why.

“Yeah,” she then said and looked up at Carrie once more,” – but that doesn’t matter, for sure. Just because my mom can be … bitchy … doesn’t mean that everything she’s read is flawed. Virginia Woolf certainly isn’t!”

Carrie sighed and cast a quick glance out the room’s only window. It was supposed to be spring in Cleveland. Still, this Saturday was so thick with gray clouds and occasional bursts of cold, clammy rain that it might as well be autumn – either that or somebody had beamed her Deborah Sawyer’s apartment back to Scotland.

Carrie heard Lin tap the CD player, and then Michael Jackson sprang to life – out into some street in Rio again.

Lin got up from the borrowed living room chair and dropped down on the bed couch beside Carrie. “Sometimes,” she said, “you just have to do it. I know that sounds like a commercial but – ”

“It does,” Carrie said, still looking out at the clouds, “ – and I was just becoming afraid that you were about to say that we should do this, even if we knew it would be a failure … like, ‘Boldly they rode and well … Into the mouth of Hell’ or shit like that.”

Lin shook her head. “I never could understand Mrs. Lane’s Tennyson worship. Correction: Dead-white-males-war-story-worship. Do you think she was a man in her previous life?”

They snickered. But the inevitable decision was still there …

Carrie had slumped down onto the couch, so she was half lying down now. Lin, for her part, sat straight up … expectantly.

“Promise me,” Carrie then said, “we do this because we have to. Because it’s right. Not because we’re pissed that nobody’s going to read it.”

“I promise,” Lin said. And turned off the CD player.


Last edited on 23 Dec 2022

The White Pill

The White Pill

“Lin seems like a troubled kid,” Jarrod says and gulps down more coffee.

“Hmm-hmm.” Deborah nods and looks out the window. The world is all white – out there. Jarrod’s condo is grey and brown because he didn’t have time to finish the planned do-over after his divorce. But this summer …

Carrie and Lin must be up now. Maybe Lin has already been picked up. Should I have stayed? No, Carrie wouldn’t have wanted that …

“Should I speak to the counselor at Cuyahoga?” Jarrod asks, mouth full of scrambled eggs, “just to get an idea of how much help she gets there?”

Deborah raises a brow. “I thought you counselors weren’t allowed that? Confidentiality … ”

“This may be a special case – ” Jarrod proceeds to attack the bacon. He seems hungry as if he had been at it all night. Deborah knows he hasn’t.

“ – We’re allowed to notify relevant authorities,” Jarrod says with trained patience. “Everyone is. And as you said earlier, neither of the girls is volunteering much information.”

“Carrie says Lin does get counseling at Cuyahoga. And I believe she is seeing a psychologist as well.” Deborah sips some tea but not much. Jarrod only has Earl Grey which is three months too old. But she didn’t decline.

“Okay,” Jarrod says and then something more, but Deborah doesn’t hear it.

I wonder if I can keep this up a week more without going all the way? He sure wants to, even tonight. Using Lin as an excuse wasn’t the best, but I am really thinking about what’s going to happen to that poor girl. And what happens to Carrie, when she finds out that maybe Lin is not going to be alright? Like my mother, like my brother, like …

“… and Lin is from one of the better-off families.” Jarrod continues his analysis and pours more coffee – his third cup. “They should be able to afford anything for her – doesn’t matter with insurance and all …”


“I mean it is Theodoris Kouris’ daughter. My God, he really made it big with that new program for – what was it? – Dell computers? I have a Dell myself …”



“Do you have more aspirins?”

“Sure – I’ll go get one.”

“Make that two.”

He hesitates briefly, then he is off. A few moments to think …

It hasn’t been easy for Carrie since we moved over here. I haven’t been easy. She hasn’t been easy. Nothing is goddamn easy. Why can’t it ever be? If only I could find a steady job. If only that asshole, Calum, would call her more often and not just sit at the pub and sulk with his ‘chums’ …

Deborah stands up and goes to the window. Jarrod’s condo is not far away from her own, but there is a world of difference. There is an actual view here, to one of the lakes, not to granite industry blocks whose only redeeming feature is that they are blocking the view to one of the freeways.

There is a world of white out there now. The lake is white, too, and below it … ice.

Used to love skating, when I was Carrie’s age. Now I’ll probably fall on my ass …

She closes her eyes, but the white is still there. Or she wishes for it to be there, soothing, in her mind. She remembers the fights. Not Lin’s. Her own fights with Carrie.

Deborah had heard all the gossip about that family, about how Lin’s father died. She had argued that maybe Carrie and Lin should ‘take it easy’ after that Christmas party, where they suddenly became peas and carrots.

But Carrie had hungered for new friends, any friends. And it had been a rough start at Cuyahoga Heights High. And how many times had Carrie come back after school and locked herself in her room and Deborah knew she was crying? Carrie vehemently refused to admit it, much less talk about it, but Deborah was sure. How many times …?

I have not been able to give my daughter a good life after I talked her into going with me instead of staying in Scotland. It was for the best, wasn’t it? Calum is so deep in the bottle now he can’t take care of the bloody dog …

And what would be left for a 16-year old girl on that rock anyway? Carrie already hated Skye after all the problems she had had there, in school and everything …

No, I have done her a favor. It is hard, it takes time. But it is for the best that she stays here, get to know her grandparents and uncles more. Gets a fresh start …

“Here are the aspirins.”

Deborah opens her eyes and sees the two white pills in Jarrod’s outstretched palm.

“You look like you could use them.” With the other hand, he takes her untouched glass of juice from the table and hands it to her.

Deborah hesitates for a moment. Then she takes just one of the pills and puts it in the corner of her mouth, thoughtfully, as if it was a piece of altar bread.

She takes the glass but puts it back on the table. “I have to go. Carrie is probably a bit out of it after last night.”

“I thought you said she didn’t want to talk about Lin’s problems with you?” Jarrod breathes heavily, glances at the juice like he is torn about giving it back to her or not. “Don’t you think it’s better to stay here awhile and then we can discuss how you and Carrie best can-”

“No.” She brushes past him to the hallway for her coat, then stops for a brief moment and looks back. “I have to try to talk to her again.”

“I don’t think she wants to, Deb. I have seen this attitude in a lot of kids her age.” He crosses his arms. “It takes time to thaw. You have to consider-”

“I’m sorry. I’ll see you Monday, okay?” And then she is out the door and into the white.

It is also a world of cold, of icicles on roofs, of road signs glazed over. But it is a cold that clears the mind.

Deborah spits out the pill and heads for home.

In Black and White

In Black and White

The snow feels like crushed diamonds beneath my feet, as I slowly walk towards the house. The winter day would be beautiful if it wasn’t for the fact that I am going to die in this house.

A part of me anyway.

The part that’s going to be dissected and spilled all over the psychiatrist’s room like entrails.

She is going to try to explain it all away in that obnoxiously calm voice of hers. Worse, she is going to say it’s okay to “show how I feel”.

I can already see her house’s burnt-red roof over there—behind the other burnt red roofs dotted by snow clumps, looking like lines of giant square amanitas.

Today I think I could walk on coals and not feel anything. My breath is so white with cold it’ll turn to snow crystals at any moment. Who am I going to be when I reach the house?

First option: The stoic Lin?

‘Yes, my father is dead. Yes, it’s terrible. It’s hard but … that’s how it is.’

Bullshit. So how about the second option?

‘Yeah, my dad’s dead and I don’t give a shit. The motherfucker had it coming.’

No. Nobody wants to hear that. Least of all me …

I crush more diamonds as I pass the last street corner before the house. Soon I’ll be inside the square mushroom, at the living room table where others go to confess and pay for it.

There’s a bag man scrounging around in a garbage bin over on that corner, opposite the house. He looks like a hippo wrapped in heavy dark-red carpets, two or three dirty jackets, blouses, to keep the cold out. Didn’t think they were out here in this neighborhood.

He smiles at me with teeth edged with nicotine and half-chewed remnants of something bread-ish he put into his mouth recently. It is a friendly smile to my surprise.

But I can’t help myself. For a moment I’m so revolted I wish I could blink him out of existence.

Since I don’t succeed I just try to walk faster, past him. He nods and makes a vague attempt at lifting his cap but it seems glued to his greasy tangle of hair so he gives up quickly.

“G’day. Lov’ly cold, isn’t it?”

His breath is white mist, the only thing that looks clean on him. I walk faster. He shrugs and turns back to the garbage bin. Then I get revolted again, but this time it’s over someone else.

I turn back and squeeze a hundred-dollar bill into his greasy, gloved hand, and before he can even say a word, I’ve withdrawn around the next corner.

I walk faster. More diamonds …

That was pathetic of me. But we never get a real choice about what life we are born to live, no matter how hard we try to tell ourselves otherwise, and if there’s one thing I can feel sympathy for it is that.


Grains of the Golden Sand

Grains of the Golden Sand

The first time it happened, she had been very afraid but now it had become increasingly normal, and she had an inkling of hope that it would end well.

Perhaps it is my gift? Maybe I can use it to tell great stories? 

Those were Lin’s last thoughts before the lane of the street changed and became completely dark. It was always like that.

Mick had not noticed anything in the driver’s seat, in fact, Lin could barely see him now. She knew she was alone. Caught in the darkness, like a fly that had accidentally flown into a long-abandoned pipe and then would eventually drown once somebody flushed.

But there is light in my tunnel, Lin thought. It has always come. It has to come. 

And so it did. Once more. 

The darkness changed like mists of ink that drew aside. But Cuyahoga Heights and the suburbs of Cleveland were not on the other side.

Lin felt the hair stand up on her neck and arms. 

No. I won’t be afraid.

A gray land stretched before her, and now she could not feel her body, the car, anything. She was drifting through it, alone, like a mote on the wind.

And now, Lin was sure somebody was watching her. And at some point, she thought she actually saw a pair of large eyes, but then the vision faded and she was left, again, in the surrounding dimness of the gray world.

“Awright, missus. You go in here, I will take the car to the garage.”

That was Mick’s voice. Lin blinked. She was back.

They had arrived at her three-story block-like home at Tinkers Creek Road 14124 and the gray world had turned into suburban slush. 

Lin quickly got out of the car and relished the chill wetness of the melting snowflakes on her face. At least they felt real. Something to be sure of, for as long as they lasted.

Lin thought she could see Mick nodding like he was about to fall asleep, but he did not. He drove the car towards one of the garages and left her in the park-like driveway.

Mick was old and should have been let go a long time ago, but that was the last thing on Lin’s mother’s mind, now that Lin’s father had died so suddenly. She needed someone around her, not just to help with the practical things …

If only you weren’t so busy with what you need, mom, Lin thought and looked back over her shoulder.

She thought she could still see the mysterious eyes somewhere in the darkness. But of course, she couldn’t.

In her thoughts, though, she addressed the Eyes, like they were there still:

You are a figment of my imagination and you scare me. But I am going to use you to write the greatest story ever. About someone, maybe a girl like me, who falls into this mysterious world but finds her way out. I’m going to become an author no one will ever forget …

Then she went into the house.


Photo by Rhett Wesley on Unsplash

Strangers In Moscow

Strangers In Moscow

We had only been hanging out together in school for about a week after the party … before Lin pops the question I’ve been dreading:

“Why don’t I come over to your place?”

Yeah, why don’t you … girl-who’s-about-to-inherit-the-seventh-biggest-company-in-the-state?

“Sure thing, that’d be … fine.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah, yeah – just come by.”


“Uh … yeah, why not? My mom’s probably home, though … “


“Well, we … it’s a small apartment … “

Suddenly the noises from the yard seem crisp and intent as if they are all zooming in on me. I glance around. Denise passes over by the shed, some new boy wrapped around her but I’m not sure if she looked in our direction.

“I’m sure I can fit in,” Lin says. “I’m not that voluptuous.” She flashes a grin, as she heaves up in her A-cup breasts and I try to find a stance that indicates to people who’re looking that we’re not having this conversation.

“Okay,” I manage to confirm. “Ye can come.”

“Okay!” Lin sparkles even more. “I can go with you after the last lesson?”

I nod, feeling as if somebody had strapped an anvil to my neck.

“Maybe I should call first? It’d be better if she’s out … “

“I wouldn’t mind meeting your mom, Carrie. I’m sure she’s nicer than mine.”

“Lin, it’s only two rooms.”

Her eyes widen, just for a sec, and then she quickly finds the ‘normal mask’ again.

“So?” Lin shrugs.

“Lin, ye live in a friggin’… castle… ”

“So maybe I’m tired of that. Did I tell you my mom’s gonna sell everything and move back to England?”


“Yeah, everything – the company’s going to some cousin or something. But she gets a lot of money. She won’t have to work for the rest of her life.”

“And you?”

Lin shrugs again. “I’ll tell you later. Let’s go back in. I think I saw Old Hacksaw heading our way. He probably thinks we’ve been smoking again.”

“Admit it, Lin – ye have the hots for him.”

“Oh, I’m sure the old fart likes petite girls, but I’m not gonna be one of them. I’d rather be Willie the Groundkeeper’s wife!”

We both crack up for a few, joyful moments, but enough to notice – for the first time today – that the winter sun over Cleveland feels mild.


“Yeah – who is it?”

“Mom – I’m bringing a friend home.”

“Caroline? Are ye already off from school? Guess I lost track of time there … ”

“Mom, are ye … up?”

“Yes, yes – of course, I’m up. Why are you calling, hon?”

“Ye sound … tired?”

“I just have a little headache. What is all this about? You never call from the school.”

“That’s because I can’t afford a cell, mom. If we had the money for one of them I might call a bit more often, don’t ye think? The payphones in the school basement ne’er work, remember?”

“Apparently you found one that worked, sweetie. So what’s all this about?”

“I’m just bringing a friend. We’re going to be there half an hour after the last lesson. So maybe two hours from now.”

“Do you want me to make tea? Does he drink herbal tea?”

“It’s just a girl.”

“Okay, someone from class?”

“We have some classes together.”

“So … you think she’d prefer that a little cleaning lady comes around before she steps through our door, is that it?”

“Yes, that’s what I think.”

“I’d better call her up then.”

“Please, mom. Just a little … ”

“Don’t worry. I might as well try to find those damn pills … ”


After school.

And I finally hear the blessed door to the stairway slam.

“Oh, goood – At last! She’s out!”

I fall back on my couch/bed as if I’m ready never to get up again. Then I notice where Lin is still sitting.

“ – Ye sure ye do not want to be up here?”

“I’m fine down here,” Lin assures me with a tone of honesty that chills me just for a second, although it’ll take years from now until I find out why.

She pats the floor in my room, and moves her pillow a bit around – unnecessarily, it seems. Then she sips more Diet Coke, slowly, attentively, and then continues to memorize every CD I have in the stack on my little night table.

Mariah Carey sings about heaven on the radio and outside frail snowflakes silently fall over the neighborhood and dissolve immediately as they kiss the concrete roofs.

“Your mom’s not so bad, you know.”

“Yeah … right.”

“No, really.”

“She’s an old hippie … who spends way too much time flirting with TM and too little time getting more hours.”

“She works as a sub, right?”

“Righ’ … she just took over for a three-month run in a school downtown; sick-leave or something. But I do not think there’s anything new, or anything coming up.”

Another careful sip:

“Must be hard. My mom’s never had to worry about money, although being an English professor isn’t a goldmine. But my dad always provided the gold.”

“So ye said he left ye some of … it?”

Lin nods and looks out the window as if there was something she was missing that was waiting – just out there. But there are just the snowflakes, dying against the window.

“2 million … ”

“What?! Lin – that’s … ”

“I know. I know.”

“Jesus … “

“You’re thinking about Jesus again?”

We both welcome the laughter. It postpones the rest of the con a little.

“I’m not that much into Jesus, Lin.”

“Is your mom?”

“No, it’s more Eastern stuff … ”

“I saw that.”

“I wish we didnae have to go through the living room to get here.”

“Come on, Carrie – your apartment is not that bad.”

I get up on my elbows. Across the room Michael Jackson is sending me that look again from his poster as if to challenge me:

‘Tell her! Show her!’

But I’m not going to repeat old mistakes. I want to be Lin’s friend, even if it already feels impossible.

And it’s crazy. I know. What am I to her?! – some kind of girly Oliver Twist that she has scooped up to care about?

“I feel shitty about living here, that’s all … ”

“I can understand that.”

“Can ye?”

“Don’t give me that look. Just because I’ve been imprisoned in that cheap imitation of some French mansion for most of my childhood, doesn’t mean I liked it there!”

“No, but ye had a wee bit more space, had ye not?”

“I sure did. Do you want it? It’s for sale now.”

“Ha-ha … ”

“Look, I mean it, Carrie. I may not know what it’s like to live in a 2-roomer, I admit that. But… I can feel how much it bothers you. I can – ”

“Sure ye can.” I’m about to smack real hard with words and then I remember that it wasn’t so long ago that I did that – to Lin. And almost lost her before I ever got to know her.

“I’m sorry. It’s just that … ”

“No,” Lin interrupts. “I’m sorry, I … ” She looks down. “You’re a good person, Carrie. One of the best I ever met.”

“Ye hardly know me.”

“Trust me, I feel like I’ve known you for a long time.”

“Why do ye want ta know me? I live in this dump and you … ”

“I suppose …”


I send her the firmest ‘it’s-closing-time-for-this-subject’-look.

It’s not.

Lin finally gets up from the floor, up on the couch.

She takes a deep breath, pulls her legs up to tailor-position, and lets her hands drop in between, fingers slightly folded as if she’s readying for prayer.

“Carrie – what if I bought you a condo? Just for you?”


“Are ye crazy?”

“No, I’m about to become a millionaire.” She shrugs as if she was talking about what’s for lunch. “Okay, the money is not mine until I’m 18, but that’s a little over a year away, we can look for the right place in the meantime.”

“Lin – I can’t … I … ”

“Why not? You hate living with your mom. This place is way too small. I don’t have any use for the money – I don’t even want them. It’ll be a win-win. I’ll donate the rest to charity or something.”

“I just can’t … It’ll be too m… ”

“Why not?” She sounds almost aggressive. “Do you often get an offer like this?”

“No, but … it’s just too m-much … ”

“Too much to receive? Why?!”

I am at a total loss for words. Mariah Carey does her high note, and I kill the radio immediately. But it’s only a one-second respite.

“Lin, I cannot receive that much money from a … ”

“ … a stranger? I thought we were friends!”

“We are. I mean we’ve known each other for a week but we’re –  we’re friends.”

“We are. And we’ve known each other longer.”

“Yes, we have. Yes, but we started being … friends for real … a week ag- Lin this is crazy! Ye cannot buy me a bloody condo!”

“What if I want to?”

Something’s shining in her eyes, but it’s something I dare not look at it. It’s that kind of shining that comes in the eyes before you take your last breath or something.

Then she sees just what she did to me and –

“Forget it – just forget it. It was a stupid suggestion anyway. And maybe you’ll hate me after Christmas anyway, and then you wouldn’t want to be indebted to me like that. Stupid. I say crazy, stupid things sometimes. Can you forgive me?”

I want to smile. Then, with just a little bit of willpower, I manage to make it. And it feels like a relief:

“I say crazy stupid things sometimes, too.”

“Good – ” Lin smiles, too, but quickly. “Then we’re made for each other.”

“Do ye … do ye want to listen to something else?”

“What you got? More Mariah?”

“Goodness, no.”

“Yeah … how about Michael, then?” She nods towards the poster, where MJ is frozen in eternal moonwalking.

“Ye like his new album?”

“Love it. Put it on.”

“ … friggin’ CD-player’s making trouble again.”

“Try knocking on it.”

“I already did – oh, there.”

“I want to hear number three first. On disc 2!”

“Oh – okay. I’ll just change it.”

“You don’t have to if it’s too much trouble.”

“No, no, not at all. There. Ah – Jesus is with us today. It works!”

Snickers – both of us – and they feel bloody good, too. (I’m sure Jesus won’t mind.)

And then there’s Michael, and more Diet Cokes, and more dying snowflakes, and more talking about… everything. And Deborah wisely stays out until late in the evening, but by that time Lin’s already caught a cab home, and I’m left alone in my room without really believing that she was there, to begin with.

Something automatic kicks in, something that doesn’t want to accept this new reality. It’s too weird. Too far out.

It’s not happening.

Adeline Alexandra Kouris did not just drop by for Diet Coke in my messy little room.

And we did not have a good time.

It just didn’t happen. It couldn’t.

Not… her and me?

I try to convince myself that the first real friend I’ve made here in Cleve is probably already gone when Christmas is over. It couldn’t possibly last. We’re too different.

I mean, didn’t she just offer to buy me my own place to live? Of all the crazy…

No, it can’t last. I think maybe it was the last time when I closed the front door after her. I should feel relieved.

I really should.

I keep rehashing it, over and over, in my mind before I go to sleep – as if to find some way to convince my brain that this was really both the first and last time.

But all I can think of is that when I really admit to myself… what I want… then I know that it’s not to close the door on her as I did a few hours ago:


“So … have ye been to your father’s funeral, yet?”

She shakes her head, whilst at the same time having a minor struggle with her overcoat. It looks a bit ludicrous and I almost manage to forget that it isn’t.

Lin doesn’t mention her father’s funeral again and I don’t ask.

Just as I don’t ask about the condo again.

After all… we can’t just receive that kind of gift from someone we’ve barely known for a week.

But it would sure be good if we could.


Last edited 22 Oct 2021

The Wild Cry

The Wild Cry

I was eleven the first time I died.

It happened on one of those tedious excursions with my fourth-grade schoolmates.

It was a very beautiful summer’s day.

Both Ms. Donovan and my father had expressly forbidden us to venture past the tiny fence which kept sheep from grazing too close to the cliff’s edge. But for the umpteenth time that day, Rory Macpherson whispered ‘Yankee-whore’ so close to me that the nearest of my classmates also heard.

The adults didn’t hear a thing, because my father was busy impressing our young substitute teacher with all the intimate details about why so much moss could grow on those 50 billion tons of lava that the Atlantic had puked up at the dawn of time in order to make Skye.

But I was a big girl. I would rather cut off my right arm than tell—especially when my dad was there that day because he was the local Ranger. 

Of course, Rory divined this in about five seconds.

“So what’s up, Carrie? Did the lil’ Yankee-whore get some cock today?

“I cannae heeear ye! Did ye get some cock today, Car-rieee?! Cockcockcock … ”

Something broke inside me. I couldn’t bear it if it went on. I had held out all winter in school, while Rory and his gang had done their best to make each day their private version of hell for me.

So I threw myself at him. But he slithered aside at the last second and jumped over the small fence. So did I.

At 11, I hardly knew what ‘Yankee’ meant. I think our history teacher had mumbled something about it in his class the week before we went out to gawk at lava formations. Mr. McIntyre was busy rambling on about the Highland Clearances and who migrated when to the U.S.  and I was busy sending small, curled-up paper notes under the table to Siné, so I’m not 100% sure, but it was probably in his class when we first heard it.

I have since found out that the word ‘Yankee’ possibly derives from a word the Cherokee Indians had for white people—eankee—which means ‘coward’. But no one knows for sure. During the US Civil War, it had become a derogatory term for people from the Union (no matter their ethnic origin, as Mr. McIntyre also stressed so passionately). Since then it just became derogatory slang for all people from the US of A.

Until that day, I had only been to the States twice, and I had never lived there.

So it didn’t make an awful lot of sense. But according to the devil’s logic of children who molest other children, it probably just had to hurt enough.

While I chased after Rory, dad shouted something after us. But all I really heard was the waterfall of scolding anger and sharp adrenalin roaring through me. And of course Rory.

“Why can ye nae catch me, li’l whore? Did ye fuck so much ye cannae run anymore?”

I yelled back that I would indeed catch him and make sure that he never ran anywhere again.

My wish was fulfilled.

I remember that it happened the exact moment after I had just managed to strafe the backside of Rory’s coat with my fingertips. In front of us were the sea and the horizon and the shape of Raasay, Skye’s little sister island, wedged in between the two. Rare sunshine framed everything, just like a beautiful painting.

It was a very beautiful summer’s day.

And then Rory suddenly wasn’t there anymore.

And in the next split second, it was already too late.

I was running too fast as well, like him. The crack between the rocks was tiny—but not tiny enough for a little girl not to fall through. And none of us saw it in time, because the long, stingy highland grass grew around it, and because we were too busy chasing after one another. I guess we thought we were still far enough away from the edge of the cliff itself. Maybe we also believed we were kind of immortal like most children do.

But suddenly the sky was spinning around so I could see it under me. Then it disappeared again and changed into pointy, black rocks which came rushing up through frothing spindrifts. Up towards me.

I heard Rory’s scream before I heard my own. After that, I’m not sure whether it was his scream or my own that I heard.

And then I didn’t hear anymore but tasted … something. I think it was blood and seaweed.

I can’t remember exactly when the blackness closed itself around me. Sometimes it feels as if it has always been closed around me since I was a child, and as if I only just discovered it after the fall, after that day. Perhaps something had waited for me there at Kilt Rock, since my first day in this world? Waiting for me to come and discover the blackness? Sometimes it feels like that …

For a long time after the fall, only blackness existed. Then disembodied echoes began taking shape in it.

She should’ve been dead.

We have to operate—now!

At least we can operate. She was luckier than the boy.

In my case, ‘luckier’ meant that I broke my bones in 14 different places and was in the intensive care unit for over a week. They had me flown by helicopter all the way to Glasgow because they weren’t sure I was going to make it if I stayed at the small hospital in Portree. But I made it. And then there was the training; like being whipped every day for almost a year.

But I could walk and even ride a bicycle again with no pain shortly after my 13th birthday. And that year, I got to ride right past the pale yellow house at Dunvegan Road, where Rory’s parents lived. What was I to do? On the two afternoons a week, I needed to be by the pier to do my share of dish-washing at Sea Foods, it was the only route. And as a newly minted teenager, you are always in need of extra money—your own money—for the clothes shops in Fort William, right? Especially if you want to avoid being labeled even more uncool than you already are.

So I had said yes when Mrs. Munroe, Siné’s mom, had asked if I wanted the ’wee job’ at her fish and chips stall. But if I ever saw a glimpse of Rory’s mother or father in the window, when I biked past, I looked down the same second. And every time I felt the question cut, like a glass shard the size of a knife.

There was an inquiry of sorts. I don’t remember anything about who or how, except that it was a typical adult thing, chaired by the Highland Council’s local Committee at the high school in Portree, with older men with grave faces walking to and fro, including the local police constable. They cleared dad of any wrongdoing and the same with Ms. Donovan. They had kept us away from the fence, and the fence had been in disrepair, it was also found. Not that it mattered much. We would have gotten over it, anyway. And dad lost his job, anyway. The only job that he wanted after he could no longer be a soldier. ‘Restructuring the Council’s services’ or something like that was the official explanation.

I should mention that dad couldn’t have caught us because of his bad knee.  It wasn’t discussed much at the inquiry. But it was talked about by most other people as mitigating circumstances. It was talked about a lot. As if words could somehow create an alternate reality in which everything was all right if only you said some things often enough. 

But it was not alright. It was a twisted miracle where one died and one did not, even if we both should have ended right there and then. 

I mean, I should have been dead, like Rory. That’s what they said at the hospital. That’s what adults kept talking about when they thought I wasn’t listening. And not just adults … 

And perhaps I would have been dead if I had been chased by Rory and not the other way around? The rescue team found me lying halfway over his dead body, which must’ve shielded my fall somehow.

Rory died. I lived.

In the years afterward, I died inside, bit by bit. The shard cut so much away, so much that could make me happy before. In the end, there was almost nothing left. It was so bad the first year after the accident that I would almost throw up at the thought of eating, of giving myself something as simple as food—sometimes for several weeks in a row. And I’m unsure how often I cried all night instead of sleeping. It became almost impossible for me to be ‘normal’ with my few friends.

Even with Siné—one of the three people who still wanted to have something to do with me, now that I had become ‘weird’. But it was as if she, like all others, gradually became a stranger to me. And that just made me even more frightened. But I didn’t know what to do. 

Neither did my parents. They were busy getting divorced at the time and shrinks weren’t people you just trusted your kids with so far out in the country where we lived. Even if they were available.

One evening the following autumn, mom and I were out looking for dad, again, after one of his increasingly frequent binges. Since he came home from the Falklands without his knee and without his childhood friend he had been drinking but now, he was no longer trying to hide it.

I found him in a ditch not very far from our garden. It was close to the small road to Milovaig. Dusk was coming along with the chilling sea mist, the usual island brew. But not as threatening as the brew dad had been drinking.

“Go away, Caroline.”

“I’m going to get ye home.” I approached him slowly and stopped right in front of him, so he couldn’t avoid seeing me. I felt stiff as one of the lonely road signs. “Ma said this will be the last time we go out looking for ye. If ye dinnae come home, she will leave. She means it.”

He shook his head. “She always ‘means it’. She does nae.”

“I’m afraid she means it. She has been yelling all evening.”

“Let her.”

“Dinnae say that.”

Long shadows spread over the green hills, like tumors. 

“I will say what I bloody please!” He got up then staggered and plumped back down again. He had a bottle in his hand but managed to hold on to it.

“And I will leave ye. Like Elsie. And Tim!” It was one of the shards. 

Dad’s eyes darkened, like the land around us. “Ye dinnae mean that, Caroline.”

“Mom wants to go home—to America. And I am going with her.”

“Ye are nae.”

“Then stop drinking.”

“I … cannae.”

“Why?” Tears now, but it felt like I had always been crying, ever since the fall, perhaps ever since dad got home from the South Atlantic. “Why can ye nae stop? If I need ye to stop and mom needs ye to stop, why can ye nae do it?!”

He shook his head. His voice was thick now. “…  The war never stops. It’s always there.”

“What do ye mean?” I made my way down the ditch. He didn’t move but he looked away. 

“In war, ye can get killed or hurt just like that,” he said slowly. “There is nae point to it except what ye are fighting for. Like with Mike on his ship. But when I got home I thought there would be a difference.”

I reached for him. “Pa … ”

He drew away. “I thought … things would be good and nothing would happen again … just like that …. And yet, things kept happening.”

“Ye mean, I fell.”

He didn’t say anything, but I finally got to look him in the eyes, and I knew.

I wanted to say to him I got better and he should think of that, but then I thought of Rory and felt sick. And I felt more shards cutting again. They would always cut. 

He nodded, barely. “Life is war, Caroline. Even when the war the politicians started is over, life continues to be a war. Anything can happen and destroy ye. And … that’s just how it is.”

“Nae!” I cried. “Nae!” I thought of Rory again but I had to think of everything else. I had to.

“But it is like that,” he said. “And therefore, ye are going to leave me and go with your mother to the United States.” He had now become one of the shadows from the highlands. “But it’s fine. That’s exactly how war is. Life … I expected to get hit again soon enough. But it’s okay. I will only take the punches now … It’s nae possible to win.”

“I am nae going!” I cried. “Nae if ye stop … this.” I took the bottle from him, but I couldn’t throw it away. For some absurd reason there and then, I feared admonishment.

“Ye will have to learn that, too.” My father’s voice broke. “Ye will have to learn, aye. Because ye are a soldier’s daughter and I fear for ye.”


“I have this recurring dream that ye are followed by … by soldiers, Caroline. Some of them are on your side, some not. But it’s a different kind of war. It’s life and it follows everyone, but most people dinnae want to see it.”

“Pa, please … stop. I dinnae understand. Please. Please. Stop!”

He shook his head and took the bottle again. “Go home.”


It continued for a few more years, and we tried everything, but he didn’t stop. Mom finally decided to go back to Ohio and so inevitably there came a day for the question. Who did I want to stay with? 

“It is your choice, honey. I will miss you, but it is okay if you stay with dad.”

I was 16 and I remember that afternoon just as I remember the fall at Kilt Rock and the Milovaig road and one or two other things, like my first kiss and what happened afterward. All shards. They made you remember. All the time. 

It was late in the year, and the highland hills outside our kitchen window were black.

I remember looking into the living room for dad, but he was not there.


The morning we left, I saw Mr. Macpherson at the train station. Rory’s father owned a fishing equipment store in Mallaig where the train departed from. I had never seen him in town, but that day I did.

My mom greeted him with distance in her voice. “James.”

“Deborah … I see ye are finally leaving.”

“Yeah. We are.”

I tried to look away, but Mr. Macpherson bent down little, mournful gray eyes scrutinizing me.

“Carrie,” he said. “We have been talking a lot about this, Megan and I. We know a long time has passed but we know it’s been hard for ye, too. And we want ye to know … we are glad one of ye survived. Ye could both have been killed that day.”

My mom held back a sob and clung to the handle of her suitcase. 

I finally looked up, but I saw only shards. “Nae.”

He shook his head as if punched. “We mean it, lass. We are glad.”  

“Ye should nae be.”

He pulled away like he had stung himself on a thorn, and then excused himself. Around us were the cheerful sounds of tourists chatting, the announcements from the single loudspeaker on the platform, and a few gulls circling overhead.


Now, I’m sure you are thinking, what a sad end to the story, but of course, it did not end there. 

Remember, I was only 16, with my whole life ahead of me, even if I felt I didn’t deserve any of it. 

But somewhere inside you, there’s always that reflex, like when you are underwater and instinctively swimming toward any light. You know you can’t do it, but you always fight even so. You can never accept that life is over for you.

So in the years that came I fought, like the kind of soldier, my dad always wanted to be, but couldn’t be himself. Even if he also fought long and hard.  

His first big fight was to save his first wife from depression and when that didn’t happen he fought feverishly to start over quickly. I mean, he met my mother at a pub in Inverness three months after his marriage to Elsie ended. My mother was the eternal hippie-traveler, his ‘happy half’ as he later joked, and they ended up marrying, a year to the day after his first divorce, and Elsie went to an asylum. Another year went by, and they had me. And then in April 1982, he went to the Falklands.

I was three years old and understood very little of it all. I remember only grainy images on TV of the Prime Minister and then ghostly islands further away than I could imagine. You know, I was in wonder that there could even be islands other than the ones I knew from home, the Hebrides, and I was in wonder that dad was going there. That’s how a child deals with stuff like that, I guess. 

Dad was not afraid to go. It was everything he had trained for, after all. Okay, I guess he must have been a little afraid, but he was also excited, and confident. He wanted to make a difference. 

Instead, he got to sit in a landing craft somewhere waiting for action when an Exocet missile smashed through the galley of HMS Sheffield and burned up his best friend. And when he wanted to find someone to get back at for that, an Argentine sniper at Goose Green found his knee with a bullet. 

But back home, I suppose for a long time dad always believed that we could be better soldiers than him. Perhaps that’s why Tim preferred his aunt to live with us on Skye. 

But in the end, dad couldn’t fight anymore. He meant what he said that night on the road to Milovaig. And so he never won.

I was still very young, and I had already decided, deep down, I couldn’t win either, and yet I kept trying. I kept trying to forget and to be happy and to have friends and some kind of path that would make sense. I kept fighting. 

Crazy, huh?

I guess what I am saying now, so many years later, is that in hindsight I knew it would always end this way. That I would always keep fighting … 

That’s the first real question of importance, no matter which Rock you fall down from. Even if people keep getting taken away from you, even if you do all the wrong things to fix it, even if you still sink deeper and deeper into the pit—even then, do you keep on fighting?

The second question—is it possible to win?

And is there any way to truly know before you die for the last time … ?


Updated and expanded 14.4.2023

Point Of Divergence

Point Of Divergence

She had turned the other way at the crossing. Quickly she biked west on the 884 instead of going to the school in the village. When the tension of just going on without a definite goal became too great, she stopped and left the bike in the tall wiry grass on the hillside, then made her way down to the beach. She felt that she should go to the water’s edge. But she had to cross the stones first.

She carefully stepped from one big gray boulder to another, each of them protruding from the naked wet sand like small islands. It had not rained last night so the surfaces of the stones were dry and hard, unlike the sand below them which was continually soaked in the shallow surf that breathed in and out from. It wasn’t much of a hide-out here, she had to admit – probably only a few miles from the house.

Eventually ma would find her if she stayed here much longer. She knew ma would soon come looking. She also knew that pa – if ma had called him first –  would have told ma in no uncertain terms why it would be best for ma to find “the wee brat”. And without something else to do, except roam the house looking for dust and the remnants of a dream, it would for sure be ma who came a-looking. She wondered how much time she had left.

The red wristwatch which gran had given her for Christmas already reminded her that it was more than an hour ago that she was supposed to have been at her table beside Siné. She scolded herself for looking at the watch again. She should make a decision on which way to go – now.

But the truth was, she knew, as she stood still here at the edge of the indifferent gray-blue waters of the loch – that she could not decide where to flee. Maybe when she got older, but how much older? When you are 10 a year or two is a long time, and even then running away seems like a frightening liberation, like running into one dark room – away from another.

No! She could do it this morning! She could go back up the hill, pick up the bike, and … there was Siné parents’ boat down at the pier in Milovaig. She knew how to turn on the engine or make the sail work. Sinés father had shown her countless times. And Siné would understand … she hoped. So she turned to go back up – quickly stepping from one imaginary island to another, on the stones. She had been a fool to go down here first, to think about it, but she hadn’t been decided. And maybe … she still wasn’t decided?

She began running. If she moved quickly enough, perhaps she would outrun the doubt before it could delay her again. She couldn’t bear the indecision anymore. She had to try something. Unfortunately, immovable and dry as the stones were they didn’t exactly invite for a sprint. She had to slow down again when she almost fell.

That’s when she recognized the car up on the road. It stopped. Ma had spotted the bike. There weren’t many other things to spot out here, except a few lazy seagulls. Blast it! She might as well have put up a road sign for her ma on where to find her. Her mother stepped out of the car, slowly … as if she had seen a wild animal that she was now afraid of chasing away.

“Caroline – why aren’t you in school?”

“Because I hate school! Because Rory an’ Sid an’ – an’ I wish … I wish they’d all die.”

“We talked about this, with Mrs. Gregory – remember?” her mother tried, soothingly. “They promised they would leave you alone.”

“They lied. They’re nothin’ but a bunch o’ liars!”

“Come, honey – I’ll drive you to school. We’ll put your bike in the trunk.”

“I am ne’er going back ta school!”

Ma looked tired, her voice sounded tired:

“Should I phone dad, then? Let him pick ye up?”

“I’d rather be spanked a hundred times by pa than be chased by Rory and that gang o’ his one more time.”

“Well … what do we do then?”

“I do nae know.”

Her mother thought a bit about it then said:

“Maybe we could go home and I could bake you some of gran’s pancakes? Then I’ll call Mrs. Gregory and say you are ill?”

Carrie stood still for a while, feeling under her feet the big smooth stone she had stopped on. It had been smoothed by countless millions of waves running over it, like an ancient rhythm repeating itself again and again. It felt as if it lay very still, but everybody knew that the stones and rocks were moved by the eternal surf, even if it was just a few inches a year. Where they eventually would end up was another question. But it was almost certainly in a fixed area near the beach or in the loch. There was nowhere else to move but within the fold, that nature dictated.

Unless you didn’t need the surf to move you. Maybe that was scarier, though, because even with a completely free choice you might just end up repeating the same old mistakes over and over, and end up at the same old shore where you came from. Then it would be your fault if you never got off the beach.

“Please, honey – “ Ma looked like she was about to cry again, like last night.

Carrie looked down at the stone she stood on.

“Okay,” she said and stepped off it.

The Seat With The Clearest View

The Seat With The Clearest View

Shinty …

It would be more fun to watch if I understood the rules of the game. ‘Scottish highland hockey’, I have come to think of it as …

… but if I said that out loud I think I’d be pegged as even more of a Yankee intruder on Skye than I already am.

So I cheer along with the rest of the guys when my husband’s colleague scores for what I think may be the first time.

Calum wraps his arm around my shoulder and gives me a quick hug as if I was the one responsible for the goal. For the first time in many weeks, I see his smile going all the way up to his eyes. I’ve missed that. A lot.

“See, honey—” he says, the smile still holding, “he’s just as bloody good as I told ye.”

I nod vigorously and take another bite of my sandwich and a gulp of the strong black coffee from the thermo and I feel a good warmth spread in my throat and stomach. It’s enough to banish the last of that late spring chill that still clings to the mountains of the island and seem to creep into the valley and down here to Portree during the night along with the mist, and just … stay.

The sun is already working hard to convince us that there will be summer, eventually, but as an immigrant, I’ve learned all too well to notice some of the small, but important differences between the rolling hills of my new homeland and the concrete fields of the old: Cleveland.

In the city there’s so much heat, even in winter, coming from the big glob of people who are just squeezed together there and all their appliances—car exhaust, radiators, laundry ventilation shafts, even open windows. You always have some source of heat nearby, however weak. Hence, you can often fool yourself into thinking that heat is an inherent quality in your environment, something that nature somehow put there.

Not so here in the Highlands.

The Isle of Skye and the rest of the Inner Hebrides may have a core of volcanic rock, but it went cold millions of years ago. The winds that greet me in the morning when I get up and go over to the school to dance with my broom, feel like they have been waiting up in the mountains, circling the highest, iciest peaks before swooping down on me.

They always make me shiver. Even in summer.

It’s the same with the ground, like the small one-track road that leads from our house in Glendale and down to the larger one-track road that leads to Portree: There is no warmth in the earth here. Only cold that is hidden deeper down in the summer than in winter when it is everywhere. In the rocks, hills, mountains, even below the snow-white pebbles on the little beach on the other side of our house …

Everywhere there is only what Nature put here, and once you move to live in the Highlands nothing will fool you into believing that what’s in the ground here shares any kinship with the sun above.

If there is any feeling about this land at all, it is the feeling of an ancient force that was an ocean of intangibility at the dawn of time and then suddenly erupted upwards, solidified, and finally petrified into the majestic cliff walls at Kilt Rock and Talisker.

Something as beautiful and powerful as only creation can be.

I love that feeling.

That’s one reason I came here the first time. It’s also one reason I stayed.



Calum is up from his wooden seat again, waving his arms. Paul and Greg, his other two work-mates from Ranger Station 17 North, are jumping up and down right behind him. Portree’s home team scored and the visitors from Lewis are behind with three points now, and the way the crowd billows there is no question that they expect there will be more added to that score.

Calum dumps down on the seat again and this time he gives both my shoulders a good steadfast clasp as if he would make sure I was going to stay in the same place. Gusts of wind in the now late afternoon play havoc with hair, loose scarfs, and the homemade banners that the kids from school made with heartfelt dedication yesterday.

“It’s a bloody good game, eh?” Calum still clasps my shoulders and I nod with my mouth full of another sandwich chunk. I have to swallow it before I can add my cheerful agreement to his evaluation of the game and smile at Paul and Greg as well, and remember to joke about Greg’s prediction that we would be behind with at least three points by now because “’twas a long time ago since we ‘ad any class … “.

“I love it,” I say and find my hand around his, large and rough like some of the rocks I found in the garden the other day: The pale stripes of grass will never really be as velvety as the green that clasps the hills but shun human settlements. Rocks and small stones constantly pop up like they had fallen down from Mars during the night.

Or maybe it was just something I dreamt because I fell asleep while my record played out, and I remember that one of my last worries was whether or not Calum would remember to take the needle off the record when he came home …

Then, the image in my mind’s eye of something in the song becomes another chorus from the crowd as the home team scores yet again.

I try to make out who of the men who’re embracing and hugging like crazy down on the pitch—actually scored, but it’s a lost cause.

“Why don’t we go ta Tongadale’s afterwards? Get a lil’ somethin’ ta heat the throat?” Cal suddenly suggests.

But when I look up to meet his smiling invitation I see only the back of his head, as he addresses Greg and Paul. Not me.

They receive his spontaneous invitation with a roar which for a moment almost deafens out that of the home crowd’s cheers because it looks like we are not only going to win the match. We are going to win big …

“Hon, ye’ll go pick up Carrie and Tim?” Cal asks and his eyes meet mine again, and something shines in them that is difficult to resist, perhaps because there’s still an ember of that warmth from his squeeze just before. Somewhere in the spot in my chest where it had glowed, the only place where I always need warmth.

So I say yes.


Last edited: 24 April 2021

Blind As the Moon

Blind As the Moon

Ye know what they say about guns? That whenever ye see one ye dinnae want to be at the wrong end of it.

Well, the Argies were at the wrong end this morning when HMS Arrow opened up on them with 135 rounds of HE shells and a good load of star shells, too.

I dinnae think the destroyer hit anything, though. But that’s nae the point. The point is to make the enemy freeze, like a deer in headlights.

In the old times, they had battleships for headlights and as we crawl through the stubby grass towards the Argentine positions I find myself wishing that it had been a different war and everything in those trenches had been blown to kingdom come before we even got there.

Then I remind myself what my job is and go forward bent on finishing what those sailors could nae.

As far as I get …


Later when I sit near the prisoners, checking the compression around what’s left of my knee, I get to talk to a young Argentine soldier with a face like a graduate student. He speaks halting English.

I give him my last smoke and ask him if someone was actually hit by the initial fire, and he shakes his head.

“That is a lie,” Jones says to my right, “I saw one of them blown to bits by a shell.”

“So how about that?” I ask Miguel, as I find out his name is. “The ship did hit someone.”

He shakes his head again. “I no see it.”

“Well, Jones here says there was a body. Did ye nae see it?”

He shakes his head for the third time.

I get up on my crutches, look out over the sound, focusing on the numbness from all the painkillers. Then I hump away, suddenly feeling disgusted.

In a moment the chopper will be here to take me to the Uganda, where I can finally lie down in one of them fancy hospital beds they got in Gibraltar.

Jones calls after me. “Don’t matter what he says, Cal. We hit them. And then we killed some more of them.”

I nod. “I know ye did.”

“Don’t feel bad,” he says. “You didn’t get shot up like Hardman.” He nods over at the body bags. The Argentinian line is the longest, but ours is nae that much shorter.

“I don’t,” I say. “I’m just glad we got the bastards.”

He nods gravely. “Damn, right. Will you be okay over there? Got to stay and watch these blokes, you know.”

“I’ll manage.”

At least I manage nae to fall while humping around the minefield of sharp rocks. I dinnae get more than 25 yards then I have to sit. Now I can actually feel my knee. I wish I still had that cigarette I gave Miguel.

I think of Deb, and of Caroline.

Strange. I should nae think of them.

I promised myself. They would nae understand.

But now I will come home and be a cripple and I have nae done anything. Will they understand that?

Will Deb understand that better than if I had killed someone like Miguel?

I breathe in the cold air hard to clear my head, but all I smell is seaweed and saltwater and that somebody pissed nearby.

I have to get up.

But there is nothing for me to do. Nothing but wait. Here on a particularly cold and wet rock, I just found to sit my ass down on.



He grins, as I call for him over my shoulder. I can see it even though he is partly obscured by those big rocks I just risked my other knee to get past.

Yeah, he grins all right. Prick.

“What gives, Cal? Want me to come and carry you back on my free arm?”

“Shut up, bawbag. Just checking if ye were paying attention to the prisoners.”

“They aren’t going anywhere, mate.”

“I want to shoot them.”

“You don’t mean that.”

I raise my voice. “They will nae see it! The lad who took my last smoke said he did nae see Arrow make haggis of his pals. They might as well all be friggin’ blind!”

Jones raises his voice, too. “The sailors didn’t hit anything, you know that you dumb ass—now get back here. The Brigadier is coming soon.”

I dinnae answer. I just sit still on my rock.

For a long time, I watch flocks of albatrosses diving after fish in Grantham Sound. They are very high up, to begin with, then they come swooping down, leaving misty trails over the gray waves.

They can see everything they need to see from up there.


Photo by Scott Szarapka on Unsplash

Without Any Fear

Without Any Fear

I woke up early, not because of the news but because I couldn’t sleep.

Somewhere in my mind, I could still hear the sound of escaping helicopters and above them, dark shapes of planes that should never have existed.

The fact that this seemed to be my only reaction to yesterday’s letter that they stopped searching for Billy, scared me. A jumble of odd images from hours of television last night and imagined memories of what it was like for Billy.

What he did …

Frances was still asleep and I didn’t care to wake her. I had practiced many times sneaking out of our kitchen-sink-sized apartment to fetch bread at the small bakery on Columbus and 71st. I wish I had my own bed. I wish I had more clothes. I wish I didn’t need to stay here.

I go to Central Park instead of getting anything to eat and sit down by The Lake, far away from the tourists and other people who seem to think this doozy morning is normal. It is anything but.

I close my eyes and see him. He is dead, and yet he is still alive. I open my eyes and see a man with a cheerful brunette passing by, hand in hand. I see a child playing in the grass that smells of fresh dew and looks like a piece of another world that doesn’t belong here. Somewhere beyond skyscrapers and the foreboding spires of the Dakota.

But it’s not. I’m the piece.

And he will never come home again. And the war is finally over.

Out In the Haze

Out In the Haze

The young sergeant had looked so uncomfortable, that she almost felt sorry for him. Which was absurd, of course. She had to break down now and scream and hit things, but no – she did not. She allowed herself to feel sorry for him because it was all she had. That single dandelion seed floating in the humid morning air at Don Muang.

Deborah didn’t even know if they had such flowers here. She had not been here for that long. Everything was so new, and she had been awed that she had been allowed to come with Billy, to this place. But it was allowed, and they would see a lot of each other.

So he had said.

It was mostly about staying put and searching for the right type of grease oil, he had joked. Nothing ever happened except shifts in temperature. So he had said.

And when he had to go, and didn’t come back – they said he’d soon be home.

“Ma’am, we have to go now.”

She nodded. She had already waited for so long here, and her family wanted her to come home. But they would keep up the search. So they said.

In the end, perhaps that meant that what everybody had said would eventually turn out to be true.

Working Class Hero

Working Class Hero

“—You really think so?” The tall skinny man with the sunglasses laughs in a distinctly mocking tone after I tell him that I think The Beatles are ‘kind of bland’. 

It is my first day waiting tables here and I already screwed up by offending one of the customers, and since my boss is at the counter five yards away, I’m probably back on the street this evening. 

The skinny man lowers his sunglasses and looks directly at me, while I still balance the damn strawberry cakes and steaming black coffee on my tray, but now with noticeable trembling.

He then turns to the small Asian woman who is also seated at the table, all in black. She is looking away from us, a knotted fist under her chin, looking like she is either very tired of the man—or of me. 

Now, for a 20-something from the country who has been hustling for ages to get somewhere in life—at least somewhere with a steady paycheck – my nerves get the better of me. It has only been two weeks since I was fired from the last place because I was too slow and ‘had an attitude’.  

“Did you ‘ear that?” the man asks the woman in his peculiar nasal accent. “I ask her what she thinks of The Beatles and she says ‘bland’.”

The woman shakes her head, then fixes me with a penetrating stare. “You can put the coffee down now, dear.”

“W-why, yes. Of course.” By some miracle, I get both the cake and coffee onto their table without spilling anything. “I am sorry if you happen to like … The Beatles.”

The man grins. “Not anymore.”

The woman shakes her head. “Can we please—”

I almost bow and retreat quickly. On my way a couple by the wall with all the movie star pictures call out to me. They ordered soup – where is it? They quickly go back to talking excitedly like they had had a revelation, and the man fondles his wedding ring and nods at the woman with knowing eyes. I hate him already.

And before I can get to the lovebirds, I have to serve an elderly, very querulous man who insists that a piece of pastry contains chocolate when it does not. It takes me a while to sort that out and it doesn’t make me shake any less when I come up to the counter for the next order. I fumble with the tray while Mr. Beck watches me and I am sure he has been doing it all the time. Then as I am finally ready to take the two damn bowls of tomato soup Mr. Beck puts his hand down on my tray.

“Getting to meet some of our regulars?” His voice is deep, inscrutable.

I glance nervously back toward the chocolate man, who is seated near the window where you can watch people buzzing by in the humid Village afternoon—all, it seems, with more control and direction over their lives than me. 

“You fixed that one fine,” Mr. Beck says. “But you’re not out of the woods yet.”

He nods toward the skinny man and the dark Asian woman, and his eyes narrow. 

I freeze. “I think I made him angry. Or the woman. Or both of them.”

The couple is huddled away in an alcove on the far side of the counter. In front of the counter and all the way up to the street door, there are only a few other patrons who seem likewise stuck in their own worlds, as if each shining brown table was a mini-universe all of its own. The chocolate man seems especially happy with the pastry that is the exact same type as he had dismissed 10 minutes earlier.

Mr. Beck kept staring at me. 

I lowered my voice. “When I came over this guy kept looking at me like he was expecting me to say something, and then I got jittery and so when he asked me … it just flew out. I’m sorry.”

“Have you ever seen The Beatles, Miss Sawyer?” 

“You mean—”

“What they look like. On TV? In the papers?”

“Once or twice. I think.”

Mr. Beck frowns. “What planet are you from, girl?”

I bite my lip to stay calm. “Please, I want the job—”

“Sure, you do.” He leans over the counter and a heavy hand finds my shoulder. “And now I believe you when you say you grew up on that Mormon farm and then ran away to India.”

It feels as if my cheeks are on fire.  “I—I should never talk about anything except business to customers ever again. Never.”

A tight smile crosses Mr. Beck’s lips. “No, I think you should talk like a normal human being, not a mannequin.”

“But how—”

“Just serve that damn tomato soup

“—Excuse me—”

I swallow my own breath when I hear the nasal accent again. The tall man is standing behind me. He pushes up his sunglasses to rest in his mangy hair. Then he fumbles for something in his pocket and pulls out a 20-dollar bill and presses it into my hand. “I almost forgot to leave a tip.”

I stare at the bill. 

“Keep it,” the man says quickly. “I appreciate honesty.”

“And peace and quiet.” Mr. Beck sighs. “Pity such things are only possible for so long.”

“What’s your name, luv?” asks the man. 

I tell him.

“That is a lucky name,” he says enigmatically. “And you are a real hero—well, a heroine. You say what you think. I like that.”

“He likes it too much, sometimes.” The small Asian woman has come up, like a shadow, behind the man. “Especially if it is him saying what he thinks. It will get him into trouble.”

The man smiles faintly now but keeps looking at me. “I hope you’ll serve us some more cake and coffee another day, Deborah.”

“Certainly, Mr. —”

“Boogie. Dr. Winston O’Boogie.”

“You are a doctor? How … nice.” I struggle to keep smiling as if the surname sounded like anything but a doctor’s.

“Yes, I’m a doctor. Kind of.”

“So you, er, have patients?” I go red again. That sounded incredibly stupid.

But the man keeps smiling politely. “They come and go. I’m sort of on an extended leave of absence right now, though.”

The woman takes the man by the arm. “Come.”

“Well,” he nods at me for a final time. “I guess we have to be absent.”

When they have gone, I glance over at their table. At least they have eaten their cakes. Another guest yells after me to bring the soup and I bring it over like it’s a bomb I trying to get rid of.

When I come back again to the counter Mr. Beck is still there. I look down but he waves dismissively at me. “Snap out of it, Miss Sawyer. You made a new friend, I am sure of it. I am also sure you should listen to something other than that hippie yoga music of yours.”

“Oh, like what?”

He hesitates briefly, glancing at the empty cake table.  “Never mind,” he then says with finality. “The friend part is the most important. Friends come back—again and again.”


Photo by Michael Aleo on Unsplash


Connected story: “Nancy Culpepper” in Nancy Culpepper: Stories by Bobbie Ann Mason (2007)

Streets Full of Actors

Streets Full of Actors

“Does your father know you are here, chère?” Henri looked at Deborah with somber concern in those dark brown eyes.

“Why no – non!” Deborah wanted to say something more, but stuttered and then Sophie cut in for her.

“Deborah’s parents think she is with me.” Sophie smiled at Deborah “Which is, of course, not untrue.”

Outside the small cafe, soft summer light bathed the cobblestone alley. Only inside there was conspiratorial darkness. The few older patrons who were there seemed to shun the four young students as if they hoped they would go away soon if they were duly ignored.

“We should be at the university,” Francois said. “They are going to occupy L’Odéon tonight. It will become a proper debate forum for the people.”

“The National Theatre?” Deborah gasped. She had been there with father and mother just last month to see The Nutcracker. But it was the Moulins who had invited—the whole family—and father could not say no if he wanted the deal to go through.

“The very one,” Henri said and held Deborah’s gaze. “So, chère, it is good that Sophie looks after you. Tonight is going to be a dramatic night.”

“Mm-mm,” Sophie added. “Being a revolutionary and a nursemaid has its advantages.”

“You’re not my ‘nursemaid’,” Deborah said, trying not to sound irritated. Her French was halting but she had especially keen ears when Sophie talked to the others behind her back.

“How do we best support tonight’s action?” Francois asked. “To be honest, I am not very thrilled you suggested this place, Henri—” he looked around “—I do not understand why we could not go to the university straight away.”

“If we don’t plan our input to the working group, Leland will just shout the loudest and get his way,” Henri said, looking at Francois like he was not really there.

Francois merely shook his head and gazed around impatiently. “We could have stayed in my apartment. This is too … public.”

Henri poured some beer into Deborah’s panaché. “Do not worry. I know what to do.”

“You don’t know when to stop but now you must.” Sophie put her hand over Henri’s. “I have my responsibilities, you know.”

“Cut it out, Sophie. I’m almost 18—!” Deborah took the drink and downed it. Then she looked around eagerly. “So let’s get started planning how to change the world, shall we?”


Image credit: Tarik Haiga – Unsplash

J’ai Pas Peur

J’ai Pas Peur

The brick missed Deborah’s head by only an inch and then smashed into the shop window behind her.

She didn’t even have time to be shocked before Sophie pulled her away from the street and into cover behind an overturned car.

Like an angry flash flood, the mob of students pressed through Boulevard Saint Germain, throwing more bricks, and pushing the frantic police back towards the Montparnasse cemetery.

“He – they – almost … ” Deborah suddenly had trouble breathing. She rummaged through her long hair as if on reflex, to assess how hurt she was. But there was nothing. The brick had strafed her hair. But Deborah felt as if it had gone straight through her soul.

“You are all right!” Sophie called, and she was very close by – that much Deborah could tell, even though she herself felt far away as if she was trying to leave her body, to get away from this place of madness.

The students roared on, a few feet away calling for ‘liberté’ but also calling the police names that would have shocked her law-and-order father if he had bothered to learn French before moving the whole family to Paris at the behest of the company.

“They almost hit me,” Deborah finally managed to stammer. “But I am just here to … watch.”

“It was an accident,” Sophie said and held her. “We got too close. Let’s go back to the university.”

“No, I want to go home.” Deborah struggled to keep her composure. She was 17. She was not supposed to die from a brick to the skull. She just wanted to see what all the ruckus was about. “Let’s go home.”

Sophie scowled as if Deborah had suddenly become the enemy that the students were trying to drown in swear words and the occasional barrage of bricks, but she acquiesced even so. She held out her hand as she got to her feet, urging Deborah to take it.

“You are right. And your father wouldn’t forgive me if something happened. Let’s go. The revolution is over for you, ma chère.”

Deborah brushed off her jacket and gazed after the student protesters, who had now moved further down the street. The police were now throwing something back against them. Then there were explosions of white smoke and awful cries of pain from the crowd.

“I just wanted to watch it,” Deborah repeated, looking transfixed at the billowing smoke that resembled fumes from the geysers she had seen in Yellowstone last summer before they moved.

Sophie took her hand firmly and pulled her away. “When there is a revolution going on, you can never ‘just watch’.”


Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Music tip: cover version of this story’s musical inspiration – I’m Not Scared performed by MusicGenomics