How I Spend My Sunday Morning

Crawling out of bed
on Sunday, like the living dead
and facing
a bracing
shower to wake my head
enough to stumble,
bumble,
grumble
to the kitchen,
where nothing more than stale kuchen,
a brown banana, milk, granola,
thank God not variola!
await to get me through the day.
Public Radio’s Rachel Martin,
“Car Talk”, perhaps a run-down Aston Martin,
“Wait! Wait! Don’t Tell Me!”
And then God’s gift, hot coffee!
Awake at last, I face the beast,
check unanswered mail—that ever-swelling yeast.
Facebook, of course, must go not ungreased…
and last, not least,
I spend what’s left of morning
adorning
an unmindful world
with tales of love unfurled…
my mind aswirl,
typing gems of polished pearl.
And once complete,
I pause, reflect…then bleat…
and press delete, delete, delete.

Steve Pulley
4/6/2014
Posted in Poems | Leave a comment

Sleeping Beauty, Back from the Crypt

sleepingbeautyMesta Nefertari awakened from a long slumber—five thousand years of it. To be precise, five thousand years stretching back to 2986 BC, during the reign of Den (“he who brings the water”), an early Egyptian king of the First Dynasty. And, coincidentally, the same year—according to author Max Brooks in his definitive best-seller The Zombie Survival Guide—that there had been a recorded zombie outbreak in Egypt.

Mesta’s miraculous resuscitation had not been anticipated by any of the Egyptologists at the Pangbourne Museum of Really, Really Old Stuff (aka The Pangbourne, or its acronym, PANGEYMORROS) in Kairo, California, where she had been stored, virtually untouched, in its basement for the past four and a half decades. In one of those freak occurrences that happen only in the movies, her unopened sarcophagus had been erroneously routed from Thebes to Kairo, California, instead of Cairo, Egypt. Somehow, through either an accidental or a deliberate misreading of a shipping label that contained a delirious potpourri of hieroglyphics, Arabic, and broken English—a tendency habitually haunting even the most prestigious of archaeological museums—the intended addressee, “Pasebakhaenniut Museum”, a short-lived upstart depository of Egyptian antiquities, inexplicably became “Pangbourne Museum”. How Cairo, Egypt, was transformed into Kairo, California, is anybody’s guess.

In any case, while those at The Pangbourne in Kairo, California, were scratching their archaeological heads over the unexpected cargo and what to do with it, the Pasebakhaenniut Museum, in one of those freak occurrences that happen only in the movies, was about to be one of only two buildings in all of Cairo, Egypt, utterly destroyed during the Sharm el-Sheikh earthquake of 1969. The Pasebakhaenniut Museum would never be rebuilt, and all records of Mesta Nefertari’s whereabouts were irretrievable. While The Pangbourne awaited news that would never arrive, the shipping crate and its contents were at last consigned to a remote recess deep within the museum’s bowels and there—thanks to one of those sudden and incomprehensible purges in management and staff that happen only in the movies—to be eventually forgotten for the next 45 years.

Until, that is, Monday, March 31st, 2014.

PANGEYMORROS was poised to launch then its first important Egyptian exposition in a decade. Over that time frame, it had exhibited Indian artifacts from both east India and “west India”, Japan, China, Korea, and Vietnam, relics from the Aztec, Toltec, Maya, Tiwanaku and Inca civilizations, stelas from Aboriginal Australia, and vestiges from the Pacific Islands. It was high time for The Pangbourne to haul out Egyptian antiquities from its own storehouse, as well as to beg, borrow and/or steal, if necessary, relics, remnants and remains from other museums. It had taken several months of planning, selecting, and assembling, but they finally had put together a respectable collection of Egyptology.

It was during this flurry of preparatory activity that the crate, and subsequently the sarcophagus, of Mesta Nefertari was unearthed in the museum’s underground depository. The curator, Dr. Hortense Pandergrist, and her archaeological minions were astounded at the discovery. They’d had no previous inkling that this monumental find had been all the while in the keeping of The Pangbourne. Only the labeling on the crate indicated that it had been sent to the museum in 1969 from Thebes, Egypt, and documentation inside the container explained that the sarcophagus had been located during a dig in the sands of the Theban Necropolis, and from the hieroglyphic inscription etched on its surface, its inhabitant was believed to be the mummified remains of Mesta Nefertari, a feminine spirit mentioned in the Ritual of the Dead and considered to be a good and beautiful companion. She had been dead five hundred centuries! The field archaeologists at Thebes who discovered the sarcophagus declined to open it on site, opting instead that this be done in a more aseptic environment. The same documentation was addressed to the Pasebakhaenniut Museum in Cairo, Egypt.

A review of archived correspondence at The Pangbourne from 1969 revealed that there had been a mix-up in the labeling and that the sarcophagus had clearly been sent to the wrong museum. Evidently The Pangbourne had never received word from the Pasebakhaenniut Museum, and so while waiting for reply, the crate and its contents had been stored away. Professional integrity obliged Dr. Pandergrist to immediately contact her colleagues in Cairo, only to learn that the Pasebakhaenniut Museum had long ceased to exist, having been destroyed in the Sharm el-Sheikh earthquake. Without further elucidation motivating her interest in The Pasebakhaenniut, she thanked her Egyptian counterparts and rang off.

“Finders keepers,” whispered the archaeological devil on Dr. Pandergrists left shoulder. The angel on her right shoulder shrugged philosophically and looked the other way.

She met with her senior staff. “Ladies and gentlemen,” she announced, “as far as I am concerned, possession is nine-tenths of the law. This babe is ours!”

They enthusiastically agreed that the sarcophagus and its denizen must without doubt or hesitation be the star display at their upcoming Egyptian exhibit in early April. It meant that they would have to move far more quickly than normal to ready it, while at the same time ensure that the remains be carefully conserved. Expert museum preparators attired in surgical jump suits and masks got underway and dollied the sarcophagus to a special germ-free laboratory where they began the painstaking work of unsealing it. Inside lay a pottery coffin of unusual design and exquisite beauty, the likes of which in their experience they had never seen nor before been aware of. It in itself would have alone been a crown jewel for the exhibit. They first x-rayed the casket so that they might determine its contents and their state before opening it, only to discover much to their surprise that it was apparently lined with lead or some other metal that blocked all possibility of tomography—completely unheard of in Egyptian coffins of that era. There was nothing to do but open it, sight unseen. They took scrupulous care to damage the casket as little as humanly possible as they prepared to remove its top from the remains of whom purportedly was Mesta Nefertari. After hours of work they were finally ready to lift off the upper half of the shell. Dr. Pandergrist was called in for the uncovering. The top was lifted away. Dr. Pandergrist, her preparators and senior staff, leaned forward in anticipation.

All reared back, gasping in astonishment. The young woman who lay there was not wrapped in a shroud, but regally attired as a princess or a goddess. And she was beautiful. Stupefyingly beautiful.

“B-but this is impossible!” cried Dr. Pandergrist, dismayed. She turned to her colleagues. “Is this some kind of joke?”

“My God!” exclaimed an assistant. “It’s Sleeping Beauty!”

Mesta Nefertari was, without doubt, the most perfectly preserved mummy any had ever before witnessed. She shown none of the desiccated manifestations of other mummies. She, in truth, seemed as though she were only fast asleep and would awaken at any moment with but a kiss from a prince.

“This has to be a prank,” stormed Dr. Pandergrist, now outraged. “I will have someone’s head for this!”

The staff around her began to shout denials and speculations.

“It’s impossible, Hortense,” protested the chief preparator, Dr. John Boyington. “I can swear on my own reputation that this sarcophagus has been untouched and its seal unbroken since it first arrived here, only until we began work on it this week. We have all labored on this as a team. Never has anybody worked in here alone. And you are the only one with a key to this room during our absence.”

Dr. Pandergrist sputtered. “But she can’t be human! Sh-she must be, oh, I don’t know, one of those damned mannequins from Madame Toussauds Hollywood Wax Museum.”

“Impossible! That only opened a few years ago. This has been sitting here since 1969. You’ve seen the documents.”

“Then the old Movieland Wax Museum that existed back then in Buena Park near Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm! Somebody back then must have perpetrated this hoax!”

One of the archaeologists reached over and boldly touched the dead woman’s arm. He jerked back.

“Good God! It’s no wax figure. She’s human!”

All the others retreated a step as well.

“M-maybe it really is Sleeping Beauty,” suggested the all-too-romantically inclined intern archaeologist, Susie Q. Cornish.

Dr. Pandergrist snorted, turning to the young woman. “Then, Miss Cornish,” she riposted acidly, “perhaps you should care to give her a kiss and rouse her up.”

“H-has to be a p-prince, Dr. P-p-pandergrist,” stammered the mortified intern, face beet red. “S-so the story goes.”

“A prince…” Hortense Pandergrist hoicked her head up at the others. “Any princes on hand? Speak up! No? A duke perchance?”

The group giggled dutifully. Miss Cornish cringed in shame, shrunk, and slipped away to the back of the room.

“So, what do we have here then? Is this an expertly embalmed Buena Park corpse from 1969, or an Egyptian woman who has been inconceivably preserved in—what?—perfect suspended animation for five thousand years?”

The room exploded into another cacophony of wild speculation.

At some point during the prolonged hubbub, chin-pulling, and debate, Susie Cornish surreptitiously worked her way from the back of the laboratory to the center of controversy and peered into the coffin to get a better look at her Sleeping Beauty. Suddenly her eyes popped wide. She opened her mouth and let loose a bloodcurdling shriek that shook the room.

“It’s alive! It’s ALIVE!”

Everyone lunged in her direction, then followed the tip of her trembling pointed finger toward the coffin’s interior. A shrill collective gasp burst from the assemblage. Some clutched their breasts. Others seemed on the verge of fainting. All blanched in shock.

Mesta Nefertari had awakened. Her eyes fluttered momentarily, then focused on the dazed conglomeration of scientists now surrounding her coffin, disbelieving their very eyes. She turned her head up and down, side to side, then cracked a dazzling smile, and sat up. She then proceeded to draw her tongue back-and-forth across what must surely have been parched lips. She closed her eyes, drew in a deep breath of air, and sighed with profound content. The group, now utterly speechless, stood aghast.

Then Mesta Nefertari reopened her eyes, smiled again, and began to sing in dulcet tones. It was, of course, in ancient Egyptian, which none assembled had ever heard before, but the tune seemed somehow uncannily familiar to all. But from where?

“W-what’s that song?” stuttered one.

“What is it?”

“I-I know that song,” said chief preparator John Boyington uneasily. “But this is impossible. It can’t be.”

“What? What?”

“I-I’d swear that it’s from ‘The Wizard of Oz.’”

“What’s that you say? ‘The Wizard of Oz’?”

“Yes, yes. I-it’s the song the Scarecrow sang. I’m almost sure.”

“The Scarecrow? What nonsense are you talking about?” cried Dr. Pandergrist, still struggling over the enormity of what had just occurred.

Dr. Boyington’s eyes slowly lighted with comprehension, then abruptly widened in horror. “My God! No!”

“What? What?”

“Everybody! Quickly! Get out of here! Now!”

“What are you talking about, John?”

The scientist began to back away, the pallor on his face now palpably bloodless. “The song! The song!”

“What on earth do you mean?”

“We need to leave this place now! Don’t you realize?”

“Realize what?”

“Don’t you remember what happened in Egypt five thousand years ago?”

Boyington began pushing people toward the door.

“Get out! Quickly! She’s one of them!”

“One of who? Whom? What’s he talking about?”

The scientists looked around at one another in confusion. Mesta Nefertari, still singing happily in her ancient Egyptian language, lifted her elbows to pull herself out of the coffin. People glanced at her, then began to back away slowly, not sure what was happening, but now not taking any chances.

“What’s going on? What song? For God’s sake, John, make some sense! What are you saying?”

Boyington cried out over his shoulder, still struggling toward the exit, “Don’t you understand? It’s the Scarecrow’s song!” He then began to sing the English version of Mesta Nefertari’s song.

“I could while away the hours
conferrin’ with the flowers
consultin’ with the rain.
And my head I’d be scratchin’
while my thoughts were busy hatchin’…

…If I only had a brain.”

“Dammit! Don’t you get it now? She’s a freaking zombie!”

There was a pregnant pause, then a screeching stampede.

Poor intern Susie Cornish never quite made it out in time.

Steve Pulley
3/22/2014
Posted in Stories | Leave a comment

Because It Was On Sale

becauseitwasonsale“What have you got there, darling?” asked Gina Chang of her husband Bart, eying the plastic bag with the Truman’s Own logo that he had set on the living room coffee table.

Barton Chang, who had just arrived home, pulled off his coat, tossed it on the sofa, and glanced at his wife with a certain characteristic expression of chagrin. Gina recognized it, closed her eyes, sighed, and raised a hand. “No, wait. Don’t tell me. Let me hazard a guess. Today you bought a Flitzbok trouser-cuff creaser.”

Bart winced. “Not exactly, sweetheart.”

“Then a Boscoe kickshaw fix kit?”

Barton raised an eyebrow. “No, it’s a . . . .”

“Stop. I’m still game to come up with the right answer. A Gransack biggle-knocker.”

He sputtered a laugh. “Had I only known there was one, I’d have bought it.”

Gina smiled thinly. “I’m sure you would have. Okay, I give up. What is it this time?”

“Well, it’s kind of awesome,” her husband began.

“When hasn’t it been?”

“Be nice, now. It’s very futuristic looking.”

“I’ll bet. Give.”

Barton almost whined. “It was on sale, honey.”

Gina clenched her teeth and reached for the bag.

“What the . . . ?” she exclaimed, extracting a device that appeared to be, with a certain stretch of the imagination, a plasticky gunmetal sci-fi hybridization of a sawed-off didgeridoo, a hair blower and a miniature parabolic camping heater. She turned it toward Barton. “What on earth is this thing?”

Barton blanched, but attempted as a joking reply, “Better not point it at me, sweetie. I-I’m not sure, but it might be dangerous.”

“Oh really? Well, I’ll keep that in mind in case I decide I might need to use it on you. What is it and what’s it for?”

“I-It’s a Phrigofax hogantwanger.”

Gina peered down at the device. “A Phrigofax hogantwanger. A-ahh . . . and a Mark V, no less.” She formed a “V” with her index and middle fingers. “At any rate that’s what it says on the barrel.”

“The barrel? It’s not a barrel. At least I don’t think it is.”

Gina looked back at her husband and stared at him a full ten seconds. “Bart . . . what is this for?”

He swallowed and cringed. “I . . . I’m not quite sure. It was in a-a bargain bin at Truman’s Own. I saw it. It looked interesting. And above all, it only cost a dollar forty-nine.”

“Bargain bin . . . ? Ah, so that’s why it didn’t even come in a box. By bargain bin, you meant Truman’s Discount Dumpster Dive where they toss every damn contraption, thingamajig and dingus they haven’t been able to sell for the past six months, right?”

“Uh, well, yes, I guess you could put it that way.”

Gina glared at the thing in her hand. “And you don’t even know what it does?”

Squirming, he shook his head. “Sorry. Not a clue. A-and I’m afraid that in addition to the lack of a box, it didn’t come with any instructions, either.” He regarded it for a moment. “Doesn’t seem to have any buttons, switches, or dials, so no telling if it even has a practical function. I really don’t know what possessed me to buy it, hon. Other than its price tag. You know me . . . .”

Gina pooched her lips, then bit the lower one, resisting the impulse to let fly a couple of danderous expletives. She knew she would instantly regret it afterwards and so settled instead for a resigned, “That I do, dear. That I do.”

Barton saw her fighting back her anger, and loved her all the more for overlooking his quirks. He wanted to hug her then and there, but decided not to push his luck. “Ahem. Well, if we can’t figure out what it’s for, I suppose it might look nice on the mantel. It is rather distinctive, don’t you think? You know, kind of a conversation piece?”

Gina raised it up and gave it a shake. “Oh, it’s a conversation piece, all right. But when somebody asks what it is, what are we going to converse to them about?”

“Call it avant-garde art?”

Gina blinked. “I see. Well, our avant-garde piece of art doesn’t even have a support, does it?” She peeked into the bag. “Nope. It looks to me like it would roll right off the mantel if you just laid it there.”

Barton thought a moment, then clicked his finger. “Remember the mount for that model boat we stored in the garage a few years back? You know, that model of the for-real schooner we projected we’d buy in full scale some day? That might work.”

“The schooner gulet in Spain that was going to cost us a paltry six hundred seventy-three thousand eight hundred and ninety-seven dollars?”

“Yeah, well, I guess we hadn’t thought that idea through all the way.”

“No, I guess we hadn’t.”

Barton scratched the back of his head, embarrassed at the memory, offering a crestfallen grin. “We’re kind of more dinghy rich than schooner rich.”

Gina would normally have chuckled at that, but decided she wouldn’t let him off the hook that easy. She said, “Uh-huh. So where’s the model boat support we can mount this . . . this, what’d you call it?”

“Uh, Phrigofax hogantwanger.”

“Ah, yes . . . Mark V.”

“Mark V.”

Gina again inspected the device—or whatever it was—-in her hand, then gazed back at her husband. He’d looked woeful long enough. She shook her head. “Well, I suppose it’s not that big a deal to get my hackles in an uproar over. After all, you said it was only a dollar forty-nine, right?”

He nodded. “Plus tax.”

“Right. Plus tax.” She heaved a sigh. “Okay, go find that support. Let’s see what this latest gizmo of yours looks like mounted on the mantel. Who knows? It might pass as a Chakaia Booker or a David Smith original sculpture.” She allowed herself a laugh then. “You’re sure it’s not going to launch us into the Twilight Zone the next time we turn on the TV?”

“Not absolutely sure, but pretty sure.”

Gina sniffed. “Okay, go.”

Barton Chang breathed a sigh of his own—of relief—nodded, and turned to go.

“Oh, and one more thing, Bart,” Gina said.

He turned back again. “Yes?”

“Start dreaming up an exotic alternative purpose for this thing just in case our friends don’t buy the avant-garde ploy.”

Steve Pulley
3/2/2014
Posted in Stories | Leave a comment

The Gift

thegiftSheila Verruca Pratte-Smythe had asked me what the strangest gift was that I’d ever received. Sheila is my landlady, but she may have plans for me above and beyond a landlady/tenant relationship, if you know what I mean. Though one can never be quite sure with widowed expatriate Englishwomen of the upper crust. I expect it’s the accent that throws us Americans. As our very own Li’l Abner aptly once put it, “amoozin’, but mainly confoosin’.” I could be wrong about her intentions, of course. Misunderstandings do happen. One just never knows. A case in point:

We were taking tea together, Sheila and I. Sheila, you see, periodically invites me down to her apartment for tea. I don’t know if it’s considered to be high or low tea, not being English and not all that enthusiastic over tea in the first place, but her table is set with all the accoutrements, and it invariably includes crumpets, scones, or some other variety of sweetmeats, a term I had to look up later to see what it meant. It didn’t surprise me in the least, though, that there wasn’t any meat involved. I should probably be wary of her possible designs, but the woman is attractive, I grant you that, and she does have a way about her that does not fail to entice, peculiar though it may be.

“James, do have a scone,” she says. My name is James Olglethorpe, by the way, but everybody knows me by Jim. At least everybody but Sheila. Although I’ve lived in one of her apartments for the past two years, she insists on addressing me as James, not Jim.

“Sheila,” I say, “please call me Jim. Nobody calls me James, not even my own parents.”

“Nonsense,” she replies. “To me, you shall always be James. You look like a James. You sound like a James. You have the veritable demeanor of a James. You are James. Do have a scone, won’t you?”

And so I acquiesce, because there’s nothing quite like a good scone to take your mind off your name, I always say.

“Tell me James,” she said that day, pouring milk into my tea. I hate milk in my tea, but Sheila, being English, thinks that there is no other way to drink it. All things considered, I’d prefer a mug of black coffee, no milk, no sugar, but I was brought up to be polite to hosts—especially hosts who happen to be landladies. Ergo, I accept graciously whatever they put in front of me. “Tell me James,” she said, stirring in two spoonfuls of sugar, “what is the strangest gift you’ve ever received?”

There seemed something marginally furtive, a jot nervous, in her voice when she asked, a tone that I had not detected in her ever before, but enough to joggle my antennae to be on the alert.

“The strangest gift? Why do you ask?”

In an off-handed way she replied, “Oh, for some reason I was thinking about singular gifts today—you know, special occasions…that sort of thing. Usually they are pretty predictable, aren’t they, but sometimes we receive something quite out of the ordinary. I was just curious to know what might have been your strangest.”

I regarded her a moment, wondering what her motive beyond mere curiosity might be. Surely she wasn’t thinking about giving me something for my birthday, was she? In any case, it was a long way off. My strangest gift was a no-brainer, of course, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to share that with her yet, if at all. You see, Sheila, were it to come to pass that she eventually has her way with me—and I’m not saying that she will, but I haven’t completely discarded that possibility of her purposes—might not appreciate either the gift or its background. All I will say is this: it was from an old flame with a rather creative, if not unorthodox, imagination for gifts, something I expect one wouldn’t ordinarily care to pass along to one’s landlady over tea, especially a landlady perhaps entertaining designs. As such, I tried to recall a second-strangest gift, but for the life of me I could not.

“I’m afraid I can’t come up with a strangest gift, Sheila. Mmm, delicious tea,” I exclaimed then, sipping the treacly milk-infested liquid, and finding, to my sheer amazement, that it tasted quite good. Better than quite good, in fact.

She arched an eyebrow in my direction. She knew that I was dissimulating. But she did not insist.

“Thank you. It’s an extremely rare golden oolong tea specially imported from Pangborneo.”

“Pangborneo?”

“Yes, it’s a tropical island just off the coast of Negara Brunei Darussalam.”

“I see,” I said, not seeing at all.

“A sultanate in northwestern Borneo,” she elucidated, possibly noting my glassy-eyed expression.

“Ah…” I sipped the tea again. It tasted like tea, but not like any tea I’d ever sampled before. I actually liked the stuff. Very much. Almost too much. I wondered idly if she’d perhaps spiked it. “Well, I have to say, Sheila, this is most remarkable…extraordinary even. Dare I say superlative? It has a distinct flavor all its own, doesn’t it?”

She seemed quite pleased by my enthusiasm. “That it has. Most teas are white, green, pu-erh, black, and oolong. Golden oolong comes from a special sub-species of Camellia sinensis. I’m elated that you like it, James. I’ve noticed at previous teas that you showed a somewhat lack of exuberance, shall we say?”

“Nonsense, Sheila,” I lied. “Your teas are always a delight. But this… this tea simply defies adequate description.”

She laughed outright then, which I suddenly realized was the very first time I’d ever heard her really unleash. I liked it. “Oh, James, this makes me very happy indeed,” she said, and then burst out with another unabashed laugh, now with a distinct sparkle in her eye. She’d abruptly lost her aristocratic aplomb, and I must say that it became her exceedingly. Still, however, I couldn’t say with all certainly whether her intentions toward me were merely neighborly or something more predatory, if you follow my drift. So I was not ready to let my shields down just quite yet.

There was a point when her laughter subsided and she stared at me with what seemed open affection, and I also noted something of a blush, which most certainly surprised me. I’d never thought of her as the blushing type. I smiled nervously.

“What?” I asked.

“Oh, James,” she practically gushed, “you’ve made me quite cheerful.”

“I have?”

“Assuredly. This Pangbornean tea?”

“Yes?”

“Had you asked, I would have said that this was the strangest gift I have ever received.”

My eyes widened. “The tea? How so?”

“Let me tell you a little story, and then you will understand.” She beamed a smile at me.

I beamed one back, uneasy but curious, and took another sip from the teacup. “Please do.”

She set aside a napkin that had been in her hand and sat up in her chair. Then she closed her eyes briefly, as though reflecting back to some earlier memory. Then she opened them again.

“Many years ago, when I was but a little girl,” she began, “my father, who was in the tea import business, decided to journey to Southeast Asia to seek out new sources of tea which he might sell in England. We—my parents and I—were living in Southampton at the time, which is an important seaport. My father had been dealing with tea exporters in India and in Sri Lanka, but he’d learned that in Indonesia and Malaya there were also some interesting non-mainstream crops that might be worth exploring. I suppose he could have simply had someone from the area send him samples, but my father—and my mother, dear soul—also loved a little adventure in their lives, and they decided it would be marvelous to travel the distance themselves and mix their business with a little pleasure as well. I was eleven years old at the time, and they felt that I was of an age where I might also properly appreciate such a trip, and so they took me with them. I was enormously pleased, because this was the very first time I was allowed to accompany either of them on an extended journey. Before, I’d been bundled off to my maternal grandmother’s house in Alcester. Don’t get me wrong. She was certainly darling enough, and we did have great fun together, but she was not what you might call the paragon of adventure. So you can well imagine my delight when I was at last permitted to join my parents to the Far East.”

“You must have been very excited,” I said.

“Delirious, James, delirious. And to make the journey more exciting even, my parents decided to go by ship instead of plane. A tramp freighter, no less.”

“Goodness,” I exclaimed, having no clue what a tramp freighter might be, though it sounded thoroughly disreputable for a child.

“I don’t know if you are familiar with tramps, James, but they are ships that do not operate on a fixed schedule. They engage in spot freight, picking up contracts as they become available.”

“Ah… Then it’s possible that a tramp might not necessarily arrive at a specific port on a specific date, but rather go from port to port depending on where cargo is to be delivered? Wouldn’t that mean one could not really depend on one ship arriving somewhere at any given time?”

“Exactly. Which also meant that a traveler might conceivably have to change ships more than once to get to his or her destination, with extended layovers perhaps at different ports. Which is why they decided to wait until I was on summer holidays, so we would have ample time for travel.”

“Your mother and father were audacious to choose this mode.”

“They were that indeed. It was a side of my parents that I had not known before, and I must say that it surprised and exhilarated me no end.”

“Please, go on. This is fascinating.”

“Well, initially the journey for me was just that…fascinating. I had never been aboard a ship before, and I was captivated. Fortunately, I had no trouble accustoming myself to sea travel, although my parents, ironically, suffered from motion sickness for the first few days. I won’t burden you with the details of the voyage, but after many days of travel, with stops along the way, we arrived at the first stage of our journey in Cape Town. The ship was to remain there a fortnight awaiting cargo from another ship, and its subsequent destination was uncertain. So we sought out another freighter, and learned that in three days one was bound for Toamasina, the main port of Madagascar. We arranged to sail on it. And so on and so forth. Galle, Sri Lanka; Tanjung Pelepas, Malaysia; Kuching, Sarawak; and finally Kuala Belait, Brunei. It took us weeks and weeks to reach our final destination of Pangborneo. An exhausting, dreadful trip, all in all, though I must admit that had it not taken place, I possibly would never have received this gift of tea. Timing can be everything sometimes.”

“I agree,” I agreed.

“Pangborneo was a tropical island paradise. Think of Tahiti, Hawaii, Fiji, the Seychelles and the like, all rolled into one, and that’s what Pangborneo was.”

I cocked an eyebrow. Why hadn’t I heard of the place before?

“We three were delighted with the place and instantly fell in love with it. In particular, I expect, because we had been on the sea and in seaports for over a month, and sandy beaches, mountain peaks, and swaying palms of any kind seemed a godsend to us. The capital city, Ibu Kota, was more a town, but every inch a picture postcard. And the people there, simply charming. Warm, friendly, and most accommodating. We found rooms at the only local hotel—the quaint kind you usually associate with remote tropical islands—and after a day of rest and a bit of poking about town, my father made contact with the tea plantation people he wished to do business with. It was arranged that we be taken on a tour of the tea fields and the processing plant the following day. Although everyone seemed to be native islanders, the manager and several others spoke passable English, and so we had no trouble communicating. As for me, I was introduced to children my own age, and in no time at all we became fast friends.”

I smiled then, trying to imagine the scene, trying to imagine anyone by the name of Sheila Verruca Pratte-Smythe as an eleven-year old girl playing with brown-skinned island small fry. Hard to do. Sheila, now in her early fifties, did not seem to me like she had ever been a child, much less one cavorting with native Pangbornean children—but then again, appearances will fool you every time.

“What?” she said quizzically, noting my smile.

“No, nothing. Please continue.”

“This is getting far too long, and it doesn’t really address the gift.”

I shook my head, “Oh, please do finish what you started. This interests me.”

She nodded, complying. “We spent three, perhaps four weeks on the island. When my father concluded his business and a contract was agreed upon and signed to export Pangbornean tea to England, he made arrangements for us to set sail for Muara, one of the port cities of Brunei Darussalam. We’d all had quite enough of tramp freighters, and so the trip home was to be by plane this time, and we would be leaving from the Brunei International Airport at Bandar Seri Begawan, a short distance from Maura. We said our farewells, and I found myself suddenly and inexplicably devastated that I was to leave my new friends behind, and probably forever. We’d only known one another for a short time, but they had quickly become my bosom companions.”

Sheila’s voice broke slightly then, and I saw that she’d lost somewhat her composure. “Are you all right, Sheila?”

She tried to smile, but didn’t quite achieve it, and a tear slowly trickled down one cheek. “Please excuse me, James. Odd… it has been, what?, forty-one, forty-two years? And still….”

I couldn’t help myself. I reached out and placed a hand upon hers and patted it. Probably a mistake, I thought, but who could resist?

She dabbed her cheek and cleared her voice a couple of times, struggling to regain her poise, and finally managed a short laugh. “Goodness, how silly of me. But…but you know, James, since that time I have never had friends that I loved and cherished so deeply. Four decades later and I still miss them. The day before my parents and I were to leave, the grandfather of three of my friends invited me to his house. He spoke no English, and so his grandchildren translated. He said, ‘Daughter, you have become in this short time a member of our family. You are one of us.’ He then presented me with a package. He said inside was a very special tea, grown only in a very small part of the family tea plantation. ‘This tea,’ he said, ‘holds marvelous powers. I don’t know why, but it does. It will protect and reward you. Use it sparingly and only for occasions that are most special to you.’ He then embraced me, paused, a thoughtful expression on his beautiful face, caressed my hair, and then left the room abruptly. His grandchildren gathered round me, all awed, and told me that the old man had bequeathed to me something that he had never ever given anyone else, not even to the closest members of his family. It was therefore a gift of great value and should be considered a high honor.”

“How fascinating!” I exclaimed, feeling a queer prickly sensation begin on the back of my head and neck. A tea with marvelous powers? To protect and reward? What could that mean? She had called it her strangest gift. I gazed down into my now empty cup.

“I never saw any of them again, much to my enduring regret,” she continued.

I raised my head and nodded. She fell silent for a moment. I finally said, “But why do you call this tea the strangest gift you’ve ever received? I mean, by far it is the most delicious and oddly alluring tea I have ever tasted, but why would you consider it ‘strangest?’”

Sheila regarded me uncertainly, as though she were deciding whether or not to reply.

“James,” she said, clearing her voice slightly, “this is the very first time in all these years that I have ever felt moved to serve this tea.”

I blinked. That queer prickly sensation on the back of my head and neck descended slowly down my spine. My right eyelid began to twitch. “The first time…?”

I knew in an instant that I was being set up. I smelled impending doom. Sheila Verruca Pratte-Smythe was making a massive move on me!

“Not even to your late husband?” I blurted.

She looked momentarily surprised, then stifled a laugh I sensed slightly flurried. “Well, no, not really. Ahem. You see, well…he detested tea.”

“Detested tea! And married to a British tea baroness?”

Sheila sputtered, now laughing out loud. “Oh, James, hardly a tea baroness.”

“But your father….”

“My father would have laughed as well. He was a very down-to-earth man, believe me, and baronage…well, if you understood British peerage, that was quite out of the question. He was a commoner through and through.”

Her smile lingered, still amused. I raised my eyebrows. She wanted to say more, I realized, but hesitated.

“But…?” I urged.

She nodded, blushing lightly. “Well, all right, if you must know. He was knighted for his many years of distinguished services to the Crown.”

“Ah! There, you see?”

She gave me an embarrassed wave of the hand. “James, it doesn’t make me a baroness. I’m merely the grateful daughter of a tea merchant.”

“Still….”

Of course, I was insane to continue along this vein. I should have stopped there. I was only digging my own bachelor grave, you might say. I felt it in my bones but couldn’t help compliment the woman, if even through her parents. The special tea that she hadn’t even served to her late husband could only spell one thing. I realized that I needed to grasp the nettle, as the British might express it, and deal with the situation American man to Englishwoman.

“Uh, Sheila,” I began, wondering…fearing the outcome, “w-why would you serve me such a unique tea that you did not even proffer to your own husband?”

Sheila’s smile faded. Her blush deepened. Her eyes flitted away from my gaze. A slight twitch now appeared in her own right eyelid. She began thumbing nervously the beads that rested upon her generous breast. It seemed a somewhat bizarre twist from what I’d perceived as prior overtures. But perhaps I had unwittingly precipitated what she was building up to and caught her off guard. On the other hand, when in the clutch, one often must gird up one’s loins, as they say. Any second now she’ll cast her cards on the table, and I’m as good as toast.

Instead, she reached for the teapot. I noticed that her hands were trembling ever so slightly.

“Please have some more, James!” she cried.

I raised my hand, holding her off. “I would be delighted, Sheila. It is truly olympian in every sense. But…but you haven’t answered my question. There seems something that you perhaps wish to tell me, but you seem now somehow reticent.”

She set the teapot down slowly. She finally looked at me again. Most uncomfortably.

“James….”

“Yes, Sheila?”

“I-I don’t know quite how to say this. I-I must confess that I have plied you with most precious gift I possess, hoping it would appease…hoping…. Oh, God, I-I’m abashed and so mortified! I so wanted to prepare this just right.”

It was the first time I had ever seen the woman in such a pathetic state of misery and chagrin. And all along I had thought that I was the one ill at ease! Strangely, my heart went out to her.

“Just say it, Sheila, whatever it is. Blurt it out. Go ahead.” Why? Why on earth would I encourage her? Was it her tea with its supernatural attributes? It had to be! Why else would I insist? I was trapped!

She looked as though she might burst out in sobs.

“Oh, James, I feel so wretched. Do forgive me, I beg you! But… I…I need to up your rent!”

Steve Pulley
2/20/2014
Posted in Stories | 2 Comments

The Reluctant Guest

reluctantguestMildred Bannister opened her eyes on the morning of the 13th of June—a Friday no less—with the slowly awakening dread that she was no longer entirely human. She attributed it at first to Thursday night’s leftovers, a slightly overripe smokey meatloaf from Tuesday with perhaps just a tad too much of fennel, though she did not discard completely the accompanying prune sauce as a possible contributing perp. But the feeling did not seem to quite fit with the normal symptoms of indigestion, or, for that matter, any of the other physical ailments that her flesh might be heir to. This came, instead, from deeper within. Something of the mind that affected the body, it seemed—as though her inner being had been invaded, altering somehow what it normally felt like to be Mildred Bannister. It could have been, of course, more of an overripe imagination than an overripe meatloaf. Mildred was prone to allow the former get the upper hand over the latter at times. For several moments, she lay in her bed staring up at the ceiling in a state of disquiet over the growing sensation of alienness before daring to examine herself physically for any telltale signs, just in case, of some Kafkaesque metamorphosis. She truly did not wish to discover that she’d transformed overnight into some kind of hideous cockroach, à la Gregor Samsa. It would doubtlessly mean immediate dismissal from her job at the Della Street Beauty Salon, which she could ill afford to lose in these precarious economic times. And let’s face it, as a somewhat flaky college grad in her mid-twenties with no other job perspectives currently on the horizon, even this gig was precious.

Mildred—Milly—finally mustered the courage to pull her arms from beneath the sheets and was immeasurably relieved to see that she still had five fingers on each hand and that she hadn’t grown green scales or something equally horrendous while asleep. She placed her hands on her face and found that everything seemed intact and in its right place.

“Good. All good,” she breathed. Still, there was that wee thought nagging the fringes of her senses—frightened, disoriented, unsure, lost—which did not seem to be hers at all. It seemed almost as though it were trying to avoid her attention, seeking to hide from her.

“What is going on!” she cried out.

Milly shook her head and quickly got out of bed. Her bladder had begun to cry out its own needs, taking temporary precedence over this other concern, and she ran for the bathroom. She flipped the toilet seat lid up, dropped her pajama bottoms and sat down to pee. She sighed in relief and then, while waiting to finish, examined her lower extremities and loins and, just to be sure, pulled at the front of her pajama top and peeked down all the way to her navel. Yes! All parts present and accounted for, which meant chances were pretty good that her face would still be hers when she faced the medicine cabinet mirror, which ultimately proved to be the case once she’d vacated the toilet.

“Hi, sweetie,” she greeted the mirror and, with a sigh, smiled contentedly at her plain but pleasantly familiar face.

At the same time, the alien thing that lay semi-shrouded at the demarcation line between cognizance and subconsciousness seemed to retreat in shock, disarray, and alarm, and then it was gone, but only in the sense that it was hiding for the moment, a bit like a tortoise retracting its head within its shell until some perceived danger had passed. Milly frowned, waited for it to stick its neck out again, but it did not budge, and she finally shrugged it off as her overly excitable imagination. She headed for the shower. Minutes later, once clean, coiffed and cosmetized, she returned to her bedroom, found her glasses, glanced at her watch, yelped, and quickly dressed for work. She’d have to eat breakfast on the fly if she were to arrive at the beauty salon on time.

That evening, back in her apartment, Milly booted up her computer even before starting her supper. She had felt uneasy the entire day while attending clients, as though she were under covert observation. No, that wasn’t quite it either. More as though whatever it was that had invaded her mind was using her senses to see her world, but being very circumspect about it. It was downright eerie, and Milly felt herself becoming increasingly disquieted. Though she readily admitted to her flights of fancy and conjecture, she was—gigantic cockroach scenarios aside—not by nature a superstitious person and utterly pooh-poohed any idea of being possessed. All the same, she could not escape the thought that perhaps she might be coming unglued. After all, wasn’t there a history of insanity in the family? Uncle John, Cousin Doe, Grandma Ophie? And there were others, she’d heard whispered. She connected to the Internet and began searching for mental disorders that might by symptomatic of what she was experiencing. Dissociative identity disorder and schizophrenia seemed the closest, but the first she rejected outright, because it implied overwhelming stress or trauma or lack of nurturing as a child, and her childhood had been a relatively happy, stable one, and her job, in spite of some of the difficult clients she attempted to perform impossible miracles on, simply did not create that level of stress capable of sending her over the edge. And schizophrenia was associated with a disintegration of thought processes and of emotional responsiveness, together with auditory hallucinations, paranoid or bizarre delusions, or disorganized speech and thinking, and accompanied by significant social or occupational dysfunction. Well, she didn’t feel any of those things, or at least not that she was aware of, and nobody had ever spoken to her of acting weird, other than perhaps the occasional cries of an outraged customer over an unsuccessful bleach job to emulate Cindi Lauper’s hair in the early years: “you’ve made me look like a cheap whore!”

So what the hell was bothering her!

The presence—the semi-presence—persisted, furtive, diffident, panicky, and Milly felt its confusion, its terrified sense of misplacement, as though it didn’t know why it was there any more than did Milly. It consequently created in Milly a nagging sense of impending breakdown, but she had no idea in what form it would take or how it would affect her. She spent days—at home, during and between customers at work, while shopping, even at the movies—contemplating whether she should seek medical help. Perhaps she really was going mad. What would a shrink do? Have her analyzed, narcotized, institutionalized . . . euthanized? What’d they do these days with psychos? She thought about talking it over first with her friends, her parents. No . . . her parents, no. What with the family track record of nut cases already, they didn’t need this additional burden from their daughter. Which of her friends could she confide in? Some of the girls at the Della Street Beauty Salon would probably freak out. While they were nice enough, they were also, by and large, sweet airheads just trying to make a living. And most of them, like the majority of their clients, were total gossips, which meant that their boss Mrs. Marsallis would definitely get wind of it, and Milly would be out on her ear in a heartbeat. Not an option. Her friend Sandra Moss would probably hear her out with sympathy, but then Sandra, with all her pet projects and causes and almost fanatical devotion to social, health and political issues and movements, was at times a bit of a borderline case herself. Other friends she didn’t feel close enough to confide in. Most certainly not her ex-boyfriend, Chad. Even were they still tight—which they were not—she’d never tell him. He’d have dropped her like a hot potato had he thought she was cuckoo. He had turned out to be a real pill. Come to think of it, though, too bad that her “thing” hadn’t come along sooner; it would have saved her a lot of time and angst trying to come up with lamer excuses to dump the faithless bastard. She laughed. Who else, then?

In the end, Milly said nothing to anybody. Whatever was wandering about in the labyrinths of her brain did not seem to be causing her any problems other than unease, and it had not interfered at all with her day-to-day life. For a time she felt it sneaking around tip-toe inside her head like a tenant behind in the rent avoiding the landlord, but little by little she perceived that the entity seemed more settled, as though it had gradually acclimatized itself to her. She no longer detected the former fear and restiveness. Though it remained purposefully quiet and unobtrusive, it now seemed more curious, calm, perhaps contemplative and, if not yet more accepting or embracing—resigned. But there also lingered what Milly appreciated as a sense of sorrow and loss. In the end, Milly grew so used to its unassuming presence that she decided she could live with it more or less comfortably. She finally convinced herself that it was not part of her, nor a malignancy, nor lunacy, nor even a figment of her imagination, but perhaps some kind of benign, symbiotic organism that had circumstantially strayed into her brain in search of sanctuary that at some point would prove a benefit to her, or maybe already was. Who knew? Milly even started reading up on non-competitive symbiotic relationships such as mutualism, commensalism, parasitism, and mimicry. Perhaps her reluctant “guest” was the clown fish to her sea anemone brain; the oxpecker to her zebra. Kind of mutual or commensal partners, or something. Certainly better than the other alternative: a straitjacket and a padded cell in the loony bin. And she certainly wasn’t about to go under the knife. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Live and let live.

Once Milly had persuaded herself that there was nothing inside of her that needed a shrink, surgical extirpation or, in the most unimaginably preposterous scenario for her, exorcism, and that it might be intelligent, she decided to initiate discourse, albeit one-sided, with her supposed symbiont boarder. When by herself, she spoke to it at times aloud. In public, always in her head. At first she felt awkward, but she reasoned, hey, who doesn’t talk to themselves now and then? So, why the heck not? More important, however, she wanted to determine whether her mute partner was reasonably sentient or not. It might only be puppy-dog smart, or . . . or what? For all she knew, she might be harboring anything between a genius rhizopod, a version of that insurance company’s talking gecko mascot, and a telepathic Svengali.

She started things off with, “Hi, it’s me, Milly. I’m your personal, exclusive host. Uh, welcome. Hope you’re comfortable. If you can, let me know how things are. If I can do anything to help.”

Later: “What should I call you?”

No answer.

“Is it okay if I call you Emma? I mean for the time being? I had a sister named Emma once. She died when she was a kid. We were about a year apart from each other. Uh, you wouldn’t happen to be Emma’s ghost by any chance, would you? Ha-ha. No? You’re a girl, right? Somehow you feel girlish to me. Well, no harm asking, I guess . . . Emma. Is that okay?”

Later: “Are you for real? Who are you? Do you understand me? Emma? You still in there? Testing, one, two, three . . . .”

“Emma, I sense sorrow inside, but I feel that it’s not mine. Did something awful happen to you? Can’t I help?”

Milly wondered if “Emma” spoke English, or, for that matter, any language. She knew it was weird, but she began reading books aloud, which she had almost never done, at least not to herself. If Emma were human, or whatever “she” was, maybe she could learn to associate her reading with the words she spoke. Milly started watching television and listening to the radio again. May as well introduce the creature to American culture.

“Are you getting any of this, Emma?” she’d ask.

For a time, when Milly showered or used the toilet, she felt suddenly uncomfortable and self-conscious, and kept her eyes tightly shut. She was sure that Emma could see through her eyes. “You’re not supposed to peek!” she’d caution. “I hope to God you’re at least an Emma and not some pervy Emmet or something.”

When she’d prepare meals, she’d invite Emma to join her, and she would carry on the conversation while she ate, describing foods, ingredients, cooking hints, then wander into what she did during the day, why she’d become a hair stylist instead of a movie star or a rocket scientist. She talked about her family, her friends, the girls at the Della Street Beauty Salon. Where she’d gone to school, the boys she’d dated. She discussed the news of the day, her hobbies, religion, politics, society, culture. She talked about books she’d read. She loved to read. Did her Emma read? There were many unanswered questions she’d addressed to Emma.

This went on for several weeks.

“You know something, Emma?” she said one night, laying face up in her bed, staring at the ceiling and feeling depressed. “I’m getting to feel like a damned idiot or a lunatic talking to myself like this. Are you there at all, or have I really lost it and don’t even have the good sense to know that I’m a nut case? Speak to me, godammit!”

The room remained silent. Milly listened, and she listened. And she listened. And tears at last began to flow. “Please say something, Emma. Make a sound. A sign. Anything. You must know by now that I mean you no harm. I just want to know if you are real. It would ease my mind. My heart. Don’t you at least owe me that?”

Milly only heard her own breathing, and now the sniveling of her nose. “Oh, God, maybe I really am crazy after all,” she blubbered, and turned on her side. She closed her eyes and sobbed. A moment passed. And another.

“You are not crazy,” said a voice softly. It was her own.

Milly swallowed, and listened to the silence. “I’m not?”

“No. I’m the one who is crazy. Please don’t cry. I don’t want to make you unhappy.”

“Is this just me talking to myself? Again?”

“No. I’m just using your voice, because I have none of my own.”

Milly opened her eyes. She felt its presence then, loud and clear and warm like never before. She felt goosebumps everywhere. And at last hope.

“Truly?” she pleaded. “I’m not going schizoid and hearing voices?”

“Truly. You are completely sane. It was I who was battling with my sanity. For so long I thought I’d lost my mind. I needed time to sort things out, to figure out what had gone so horribly wrong, and where I was. And then to learn to understand you. To trust you. And to make sure that my presence would not harm you . . . physically or mentally. I’m the intruder—your uninvited, your reluctant guest. I did not ever intend for this to happen, you see. It was an accident. A freak accident. And all my fault. I am so sorry.”

Milly listened, heart now throbbing. Was she still talking to herself, but now some delusion commanding her tongue? Or was it really . . . .

“Emma?” she whispered.

“Yes, dear Milly . . . . Emma.”

Steve Pulley
2/19/2014
Posted in Stories | Leave a comment

Bubbles Abounding

“I thibubbles aboundingnk you owe me an explanation, Manfred,” said Constanza Pangborne (née Metapatas Lambada, aka Bubbles Abounding, her stage name as a featured exotic dancer at the Oooh-La-Lah! Royale Lido where she hid her considerable charms behind strategically-placed polyvinyl acetate bubbles). She attempted to sound formal and businesslike—once she’d gotten past the initial shock, up to a certain point, of having discovered a posteriori that she’d married an alien of the extraterrestrial ilk. She still had enough of the jitters to sit close to the front door, clear across the room from her new husband, just in case she thought it prudent to make a break for it. After all, she’d seen “Men In Black,” “The Thing,” “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” “Mars Needs Women,” and TV episodes of “V”, so she knew already that she had to be prepared for any eventuality.

Manny Pangborne (in other reaches of the Galaxy known as Mapudungun Atchcamar III) squirmed a bit, unsure where he now stood with his beautiful Vegan bride—as in Las Vegas Vegan, not as in Vega Vegan or as in vegan Vegan—with whom he’d wedded earlier that day in a brassy chapel just off the Strip on Rigel Street called “Starship to Heaven.” He’d tried to reason with her, using as his chief argument Las Vegas’s marketing catchphrase, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas,” but it cut no ice with her. She sustained serious reservations about the legitimacy of her sacred union with a shape-shifting Pangbornean capable of consummating a marriage in seventy-five different ways…and in kaleidoscopic Technicolor. Not that she was necessarily complaining—just unnerved.

“I’m waiting,” she said starchily.

“It’s really quite simple, darling,” he replied. “I fell in love with you at first sight.”

“That’s not what I meant,” she sniffed, though with just the barest twitch of an upturn on the corners of her voluptuous lips.

“There I was, just in from Pangbornea, exhausted from my long trip, checking into the Stratosphere Hotel & Casino, thinking only in a hot shower, a decent meal, and a comfortable bed on which to slumber. And then there you were—in the main lobby, seated upon a bench like some regal swan descended from heaven, blithely paring your nails beside a potted palm as though the world were your oyster—which, I might add, indeed it is. You were breathtaking. You were stunning. You were bewitching. In an instant all thoughts of hygiene, cuisine, and sleep serene left my mind. I was smitten. I was bitten. You were the kitten and I your mesmerized mouse mitten. Bam! I was in love. Who could possibly resist you?”

Constanza tilted her head, half flattered, half suspicious. “That’s a pretty big mouthful of verse coming from an alien who’s never been to Earth before.”

“Ah, my sweet, but I have…”

“You have?”

“Oh, but indeed. Earth is part of my interstellar territory. I’ve visited here many times over the years.”

“Indeed?”

“Surely.” Why, it wasn’t but a week ago I was in Paka Suyu.”

“Paka Suyu? Never heard of it.”

“Really? It’s an island principality in Southeast Asia. An important coffee, tea, and spice producer. I was negotiating some interesting export options. Pangborneans go nuts over java, you see.”

“Still never heard of it.”

“Well, there are over twenty thousand islands in that region, so it might not be so surprising. Paka Suyu is only about the size of Wales…”

“Never mind the size of Wales,” interrupted Constanza, suddenly looking aghast. “Oh, my God! What am I going to tell my parents?”

“You have parents?”

“Yes. They’ll kill me if they know I’ve married an illegal alien.”

“I’m not an illegal alien. I have an American passport. Okay, uh, let me qualify that just a bit…”

She paused, frowning. “Come to think of it, they’ll probably kill me even if you are legal.”

“What do you mean?”

She looked at Manny sadly. “They hate foreigners. And the more foreign, the worse they hate them. And you are about as foreign as they come.”

“Then we won’t tell them.”

Constanza rolled her eyes. “So naive. You just don’t know my parents. The first thing they’re going to ask is where you’re from. Your accent gives you away. It sounds like a cross between Mandarin Chinese and Moselle Franconian.”

“What! How would you know something like that?”

“In my line of work, I meet a lot of people.”

“Why didn’t you tell me about your parents before you accepted to marry me?”

“Oh, Manny! It was the passion of the moment. I wasn’t thinking clearly.”

“So, what now?”

“I’m opting for an annulment, Manny,” she said finally, wringing her hands. “It’s the only way out of this mess. Then my folks won’t kill me, they won’t beat you to death before they turn you over to Homeland Security, I return to my job as an exotic dancer at the Oooh-La-Lah, you return in one piece to your planet, and…and, if you want, you can marry one of your own species, raise a passel of little Pangborneans, and live happily ever after.” A tear dribbled slowly down her cheek.

Manny Pangborne regarded her for moment and then sighed. “My darling, until this moment I didn’t even know that your parents were still living, or of course we should have asked for permission. But it’s already a done deal; we can’t back out of it now. I’m sorry, but unless you tell me here and now that you don’t love me, I refuse to separate from you. I love you far too much, don’t you see? The instant I met you, I grew weak at the knees, my ears turned red, or some such color, I became woozy-brained, and my heart flip-flopped—all sure-fire clues. From the top of my head to the tip of my prehensile tail I love you.”

“You have a tail!?” cried Constanza, shocked.

“No, not really, but I could grow one for you in about thirty seconds if you like.”

“What!”

“You get to choose the color.”

Constanza’s eyes grew wide. “I do?”

“Mm-hmm.”

“Well…”

“Well, what?”

Constanza turned her head to one side, bobbed her eyebrows coquettishly, then said, “I, uhm, I just thought of something that really would incline me more to take the risk and stay married to you, Manny.”

Manny sat up straight on the sofa. “You did? Wonderful! What is it? Whatever it is, I accept!”

“It’s just an idea, mind, so don’t freak out, okay? Well, you know my dance act? My manager has been hinting that it’s getting a little old, and well…it occurred to me…Manny, darling, do…do you think you could possibly come onstage at the end of my show a couple of nights a week and pop the bubbles off my costume one by one with your tail?”

Manny Pangborne’s eyes widened. “But darling, your costume is your bubbles.”

She smiled slowly. “I know…”

Steve Pulley
Copyright©2013
reprinted from A Confluence of Grapes
Posted in Stories | Leave a comment

Selfie Freak

selfie_freak“Mr. Pulley,” pronounced Doctor Raskoph, with ruminative pooched lips, “it is my regrettable, but professional duty to inform you that you are a selfieholic.”

I stared up at him for a moment, regarding the awful truth of his words. I was indeed a selfieholic. I knew deep down I was, but I’d hoped it was nothing more than a transient case of anal-retentive photomania.

“A selfieholic? Moi?”

He nodded.

“Yes. Or selfie freak, if you prefer the common term. You suffer from what we now call chronic enselfyitis. It is a balmy, vexatious form of photoheadshot-bodyshot narcicism. Mr. Pulley, you need to address it.”

“How, doctor?”

“For starters, get rid of your camera.”

I squirmed uncomfortably on the couch. “Ahem… I-I have six of them.”

“Six? Why on earth would you have six cameras?”

“Four of them are old film cameras I no longer use.”

“Why not?”

“Film is too expensive.”

“For taking too many selfies,” he added dryly.

I reddened. He was right, of course.

“So, I take it that the other two are digital?”

“Yes…”

“Any video cameras I should know about?”

“No, none.”

“Because if you are prancing around taking….”

“I swear it!”

“Very well. My advice to you, then, Mr. Pulley, is to get rid of the cameras…especially those two digital cameras, because they are bottomless pits. There is no limit of images you can extract from them. It’s a bit like Der süße Brei, the folkloric German fairy tale of the magic porridge pot. Or in today’s vernacular, virtually the same thing as tantalizingly ever-full bottles of booze for the alcoholic.”

“But….”

“I also highly recommend that you immediately join the SA program in your community.”

“SA program?”

“Selfieholics Anonymous.”

“But that’s absurd, doctor! Why, by their very nature, selfieholics are anything but anonymous.”

Dr. Bordeleau shook his head sadly. “Then I fear that you are doomed, Mr. Pulley. If they haven’t already begun to do so, your friends, family and associates will eventually end up avoiding you, cross you off their party invite lists, dub you a nut case, probably disinherit you, and of course delete you from all their social media sites. You will become a pariah and, in the end, you will be the only soul willing to gaze upon your own selfies.”

I stared at him for a long moment, knowing in my heart of hearts that everything he said was all too true.

I scratched my chin, sighed, then shrugged. “Well, I think I can live with that.”

Steve Pulley
1/12/2014

selfiefreak

Posted in Stories | 10 Comments