Another Damn Bottled Message

anotherdamnbottledmessageMarceline Fiole had almost decided to quit going to the beach. This was not out of any concern over sun-induced skin cancer or gritty sand tucked away in those sensitive spots hidden by her bikini bottoms or even being hit upon by amorous beach bums with a fling on their testosteroned minds. It was the sealed bottles she kept finding washed ashore nearly every time she strolled along the shoreline. And not just any sealed bottles, but sealed bottles with messages inside them! How was this possible? Had it become yet another idiotic trendy thing to do? Who were all these people who wasted their time — and more important, the precious time of the finders — stuffing bottles with ridiculous communications from afar with some aberrant expectation that they would receive a reply? Marceline equated it to the very similar and yet vastly pricier foolishness of astronomers sending willynilly signals right and left across space in the hopes of aliens in far-flung worlds picking them up and saying, “Oh, wow! Here’s a cryptic message from a planet two-hundred light years away! I guess we better drop everything and answer it immediately so maybe it’ll arrive in time for Christmas in the year 2215.” It thus might be conjectured that Marceline Fiole harbored a sardonic and perhaps even a somewhat cynical bent of mind. Either way, all these bottles cast off by whom she regarded as nothing more than asinine litterbugs irritated the hell out of her and was somehow spoiling her weekend.

Some people thought it indisputably romantic about casting a missive into the sea and wondering where wind and current might convey it. Marceline, au contraire, found it inane.  Some, if not all of the bottled messages she’d uncorked were simply preposterous. Castaways, ghost messages, unfinished business, love potions, memos to mom, lifesavers, come-ons, hooks, lures, last words, contests, class projects, and on and on. The Internet was rife with examples. The few that she’d thought made any sense at all were the scientific ones with a practical purpose, like those of measuring ocean currents and whatnot, not that this method was necessary anymore what with today’s technology — though in 310 BC Greek philosopher Theophrastus found this method quite useful as part of an experiment to show that the Mediterranean Sea was formed by the inflowing Atlantic Ocean.  The ones from stranded sailors, on the other hand, were only realistic if the message was received and attended to before the crew starved to death or was devoured by sharks. Marceline hadn’t tripped across any bottles of that nature, however. In any case, mobile phones and the Internet were far more pragmatic and immediate for such rescues.

During this particular morning’s stroll along the beach, which took Marceline beneath a pier that jutted a hundred yards into the ocean, she was no longer surprised to eye yet another bottle floating aimlessly back and forth in shallow water. She thought at first to ignore it and move past, but then paused, suspecting that the bottle, through the ebb and flow of the waves, might eventually smash against one of the piles supporting the pier and create a potential hazard for other walkers. It also occurred to her that the bottle itself might be of some worth. And so she sloshed into the water and retrieved the sealed glass container, which she vaguely recognized from recent googling into bottle types as perhaps a rare, olive green New England chestnut bottle. And for the first time she found herself mildly excited by the find. As she recalled, this type of bottle had been around since ancient times. It was not round but more flask-shaped, and about eight inches in height. Once out from beneath the pier, she held it up to the sunlight, but it was oddly semi-opaque and all she could detect was an amorphous shadow inside. She decided that she would take it home with her and check it out on the Internet to be more sure. If it was old enough, it might even be valuable—unlike the others she’d come across, read their idiotic contents, and then tossed into the dumpster near where she was staying. And if it wasn’t, she thought she might still keep it, for it was a lovely piece of glass-work and would look very nice on a shelf she had in her den back home. That was her only consolation. She also hoped to God that there was no message inside.

With bottle tucked under arm, Marceline turned to continue her stroll when she peripherally noticed a man wearing a swimming suit and a T-shirt waving aloft one free hand while clutching a pair of binoculars in the other, trotting in her direction from atop a nearby sand hill to her right. He seemed to be calling out to her. She slowed her pace and inclined her head toward him, feeling a slight tug of uncertainty. Did she know him? She frowned. There was in all probability no reason that she should.

She watched him carefully as he approached, wondering if it might not be prudent for her to start running in the opposite direction. He didn’t look dangerous, however, despite a scruffy beard. More like . . . what? Agitated? Distraught? Why would he be distraught? She looked around to see if there were other beach people nearby. No. At least not close-by. It was still early.

As he drew near, he slowed down to a quick walk. Then slowed further, and finally stopped a few feet from her. He seemed out of breath. He dropped his binoculars on the sand and leaned over, hands on knees, gasping for air. After a few seconds, he raised one hand, forefinger extended in the air.

“Gimme . . . gimme a second,” he wheezed. “No . . . better make it . . . make it a-a minute . . . .”

Marceline’s initial uncertainty ebbed, replaced by amusement. She decided to wait him out, curiosity overcoming any prior urge that might have occurred to her to simply walk away.

“Whew!” he exclaimed finally, still panting. He stood up. His face was pale. “Sorry. I am really out of shape. Desk job. Hope I didn’t alarm you.”

“Are you alright?” she asked, now somewhat concerned. Was he about to have a heart attack? He seemed about forty years old or so, a risky age for cardiacs.

“Just a bit winded is all. Don’t get enough exercise.”

She regarded him for a moment, suppressing a smile. “Umm. Well, if running downhill did this, then I don’t expect you do.”

He arched his eyebrows in mild surprise, blinked, then chuckled, shrugging ruefully.

Marceline grinned back, then remembered an unanswered issue. “So, what was it you wanted to see me about? You were calling me, weren’t you?”

He nodded, then pointed at what she held under one arm. “The bottle.”

“The bottle?” Marceline looked down, then back up. “You mean this one?”

“Exactly . . . It’s mine.” His face reddened slightly.


“Yes . . . Ahem, you see . . . well, this may sound a little odd to you, but I threw it into the water several minutes ago. But . . . uh . . . it . . . well, it floated back.”

“And it wasn’t supposed to.”

“Precisely. At least not yet. Not here.”

Marceline closed her eyes. Oh, God, he’s one of those loony message-in-a-bottle tossers! Isn’t it enough to find their stupid bottles washing ashore all over the place, and now I also have to actually see one in the flesh! This is definitely not my day. She opened her eyes again.

“Let me guess. You stuck a message in this bottle, didn’t you?”

He saw her face tighten slightly, and he gulped. “Well, uh, yes, as a matter of fact . . . .”

“And you expected it to float away and end up somewhere else far away for somebody to find, right?”

“A-as an experiment, you might say, yes.”

“Excuse me, but this weekend I have managed to find this particular stretch of shoreline littered with nothing but beached bottles, each and every one carrying a message inside.”

“You have?” He seemed surprised and chagrined at the same time.

“In effect.” Marceline paused a beat, regarding this idle rascal with disapproval. “Would I be wrong to surmise that some or all those bottles prior to their corresponding launch point belonged to you?”

He blinked several times, his blush deepening. “Oh, well . . . I-I suppose that . . . that as far-fetched as it may seem, it, uh, might be . . . conceivable that some did.”

“I see.”

“Wait . . . D-do you mean you have in your possession all those bottles that I may or may not have, uh, as the case may be, conceivably launched over the past few days?”

She stared at him for a moment, lips pursed, then shook her head. “Only fourteen of them. The others I recycled.”

“You recycled the others?” He looked as appalled as he sounded.

“The ones not worth keeping, yes.”

“Not worth keeping?”

Marceline nodded. “Umm. They were of little if no collectible value at all, nor even particularly nice-looking. The others, though, are very definitely keepers.”

He blinked. “They are? How so?”

“Let me ask you a question first. How is it that you ‘conceivably’ had these bottles in the first place?”

“Ahem . . . Well, you see, I was cleaning out my late uncle’s garage and there are shelves of them.”

“Indeed? So you just decided to use them for bearing your messages across the seven seas.”

“Uh, yes, I guess you could say that. Although it’s now apparent that they didn’t get very far.”

“No, fortunately they did not.”

The man frowned. “Why do you say fortunately?”

“Because the fourteen bottles I kept happen to be collectors’ items. Now fifteen with this one, I’m suspecting.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean that each one of them is worth a lot of money.”


“I admit I’m no expert in bottles, but the obvious age of these naturally piqued my interest. And so I’ve been doing a little Internet exploration.”

“You have? A-and?”

Marceline cleared her throat. “And, if I am not terribly mistaken—and not counting the present bottle, mind you—you’ve shipped me what I believe to be roughly ten thousand dollars worth of rare, antique bottles . . . give or take a thousand.”

“What!” His face paled.

“Oh, they’d have to be properly appraised for a more exact figure, of course, but that seems to be the general neighborhood of their value according to my research. So I want to thank you very much.”

The man stiffened. “But-but they were not intended for you!”

Marceline wagged an index finger at him. “Oh, but they were. If they were yours in fact, you were definitely sending them to me. Otherwise, why would I have all of them in my possession now?”

“But, no! That’s not . . . that’s not how it works, not what I proposed!”

Marceline cocked her head to one side. “Oh? Then what did you propose?”

“Th-that ocean currents would carry them across the sea to other lands.”

“Well, sir, ocean currents can do that, of course. But there’s certainly no guarantee of that. Ocean currents can be quite frivolous, you know, dithery, free-floating, most particularly close to shore. Undertows, riptides, crosscurrents, countercurrents, and so on. Some things get carried out to sea; others return to the same shore. Your alleged bottles came back. To me, in fact. Ergo, I, it turns out, am the intended recipient. And I can’t tell you how delighted and grateful I am.”

“But this isn’t right! They are valuable bottles. You must return them to me.”

“Why is that? Had they reached other shores, do you think the recipient or recipients there would turn them around and send them back? And who’s to say that they would ever reach other hands at all?”

“But that’s not the case here. You have them. I am the sender. They are valuable. They should still be mine.”

Marceline eyed the man and sighed. “Excuse me, what did you say your name was?”

“Me? Why . . . Bradley. Bradley Bifford.”

“Okay, Bradley Bifford, let me explain it to you this way. You’re no doubt familiar of the adage that possession is 9/10ths of the law?”


“No? Well, perhaps I should mention that I happen to be an attorney. Sorry, but I am, so I know a thing or two about the legality of such cases. The law states, and I quote, ‘that in a property dispute, in the absence of clear and compelling testimony or documentation to the contrary, the person in actual possession of the property is presumed to be the rightful owner.’ So, for example, the shirt, trunks and flip-flops you are currently wearing are presumed to be yours, unless someone can prove that they are not.”

“But . . . .”

“I have recovered several bottles that were deliberately thrown into the sea, presumably by you, according to your claim, that is, for the express purpose of them falling into the hands of another or others, and therefore you can no longer claim them as your own. Ergo, the fact that they are in my possession makes them presumably mine now.”

With a dulcet smile Marceline Fiole nodded, bade a sputtering Bradley Bifford a pleasant good morning, and continued her stroll up the beach. She was, of course, not a lawyer, nor were any of the bottles she had collected and subsequently tossed in the trash bin worth more than a few dollars at most. Her smile persisted the rest of the way back home. Hoodwinking the bottle-tosser had wondrously transformed an otherwise nettlesome morning into quite a lovely day.

Steve Pulley
Note: The name of the protagonist, Marceline Fiole, is a bit tongue-in-cheek. It means “ocean bottle”.
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Carlotta Carlisle’s Carperpetuation Syndrome

This very short piece of nonsense was “inspired” upon discovery of two words I’d not yet been familiar with. A couple of background definitions and reflections are perhaps in order first, however:

Carperpetuation (n.) The act, when vacuuming, of running over a string or a piece of lint at least a dozen times, reaching over and picking it up, examining it, then putting it back down to give the vacuum one more chance. (Urban Dictionary, and elsewhere, including an English-Russian dictionary I happened to run across)

, Old English, (v.) To wander longingly through a forest in search of mystery. (Term currently bandied about on the Internet, but not found in any legitimate lexicon, or even Urban Dictionary)

Note: The two terms above which appear in the following story were most likely created in recent times for their cutesiness. The first, “carperpetuation“, seems to be more honest and less pretentious in its coinage than the second, “werifesteria“, which affects to be Old English in origin, although shows up only in flighty and facile websites, but not in any of the ‘Webster’ dictionaries, nor in extant Old English/Anglo-Saxon dictionaries that I have assiduously researched, and thus smacks of humbug as to its origins (see for yourselves at Lexilogos: ). Also, just how many verbs do you know offhand that end in “eria“? I don’t know of any, and I’ve even performed a random search. Unless I’m terribly mistaken, it appears that only nouns earn the ending. Ergo, I just don’t buy it. That said, I’m still employing both expressions in this:

Carlotta Carlisle’s Carperpetuation Syndrome

Carlotta Carlisle was not proud of it, but it was still probably a lot safer than werifesteriaing somewhere out in the boonies and being devoured by wild boars. She suffered from that mortifying obsession now identified by medical christening gurus as Carperpetuation Syndrome. Which is why she never ever vacuumed in front of her husband, children, or guests.

To her credit, she was regarded as a model housekeeper, renown by all who had ever crossed the threshold of her spotless home. True, some, not near so tidy as Carlotta, felt personally affronted by her example, though for obvious reasons nevertheless reticent to vocally express their displeasure. Instead, they secretly harbored Hansel and Gretel fairy tale thoughts of Carlotta werfesteriaed forever in above-mentioned boonies without a breadcrumb to find her way home again.

As for Carlotta, she also was disinclined to vocally confess her irresistible impulse to carperpetuate the hell out of her carpets. But no matter what medical science said about it or how much social media mouth-offs condemned it, she’d be damned if she was ever going to stop.

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I’ll Get By

illgetbySome dolt on Facebook, obviously with nothing better to do (which is probably all our lot who roam endlessly those labyrinthine corridors), started yet another asinine status game in which dupes such as I are required to research the number one hit song of our birth date. It was not altogether clear to me the point of any of this, but being the mindless sheep that I am, I decided to give it a shot, along with countless others of an ovine persuasion. Why do we do these things to ourselves, I wonder, when we obviously ought to be busy creating in concert world peace and prosperity, not dawdling unitedly in inanities, idle fancies and vain imaginations. But alas, fleecy lambs and mutton we be, and so we hunt around for some idiot song that, if truth be known, we don’t really care a rat’s patootie about, nor will anyone else we know.

That said, I still googled my precious time away and at last located “my #1 hit song,” which turned out to be “I’ll Get By (As Long As I Have You)” (lyrics by Roy Turk and music by Fred E. Ahlert). Oddly enough, it was written sixteen years before my birth, and made hit lists several times prior to and afterward. It was also the theme song for the World War II movie, “A Guy Named Joe,” a meandering fantasy starring Spencer Tracy and Irene Dunne. Ruth Etting, Aileen Stanley, Nick Lucas, Billie Holliday, Bing Crosby, Irene Dunne, Dick Haymes, the Ink Spots, the Four King Sisters, Billy Williams, Connie Francis, Shirley Bassey, et al., sang various arrangements most of which reached the hit song charts of their respective time. But it was the Harry James Orchestra, featuring the voice of Dick Haymes, that reached the number one spot the week of my birth, with the following lyrics:

I’ll get by…
as long as I…have you
There may be rain…
And darkness too…
I won’t complain,
I’ll see it through.

may come to me…it’s true,
but what care I…say,
I’ll get by
as long as I
have you.

[orchestral interlude with Harry James on trumpet]

may come to me…it’s true,
but what care I…say,
I’ll get by
as long as I…
have you.

Now, you all know how maudlin I get while watching my beloved Korean rom-coms — which, I should interject, all have musical backgrounds craftily designed to collude with the plot to twist my sensitive heart into mushy knots requiring at least one box of facial tissues per soap. Well, as it turns out, “I’ll Get By” produces the same effect on me! While perhaps the lyrics by themselves don’t look like much, yet when sung to the hauntingly nostalgic musical accompaniment, I find myself rung out once again, teary-eyed and sentimental, blowing my nose into a Kleenex. Is that pathetic, or what?

Oh, well. I’ll get by…

Steve Pulley

Note: For those of you obsessively curious to hear the song, here are links to a number of arrangements sung by various artists, listed in chronological order of recording (all interesting in their own style):

Bing Crosby and the Ipana Troubadors (1928, year the song was written)

Ruth Etting (1929)

Billie Holliday (1937)

The Ink Spots (1943)

Dick Haymes and the Harry James Orchestra (1944)

Shirley Bassey (1961)

Connie Francis (1962)

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impudenceSince when do angels bubbles blow?
Since when do angels wings require?
Since when do angels need to glow?
Might we not enquire?

Since when do angels wave their hair?
Since when do angels wear tattoos?
Since when do angels park and stare?
Abide they minding gardyloos?

Since when do angels primp in Calvin Klein?
Since when do angels low-cut togas wear?
Since when do angels daub Helena Rubinstein?
And stand in limelight’s glare?

Since when do angels in physique exist?
Since when do angels measure time?
For is that not a watch on one’s left wrist?
And why would angels pantomime?

Since when do angels in God’s eye dwell?
Since when are angels ethnic white?
Since when are angels demoiselle?
And a tad Hollywoodite?

No angels these we might surmise,
Rather alated humans in disguise.
Ah, but are not all angels we?
For in the acorn, lies not the oak in potentiality?

Steve Pulley
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Blind Date

blinddateLife finally caught up with Rufus Wadwallow. Heretofore he had lived the life of a complacent bachelor, but his mother, Abilene Wadwallow, had finally decided that Rufus needed to be kicked out of her well-used nest and build one of his own. After all, he’d lived with his long-divorced mom for 29 years. It was enough, already. She now wanted a life of her own. Well, not precisely her own. Simply put, she’d got her eye fixed on Simon Peter Pickwick, the neighborhood butcher, and, let’s face it, his supply of prime beef, and I’m not necessarily talking only about chuck steak. She wanted a life with that old guy. True, both were past their prime, but between purchases of chuck short ribs and sirloin tips over the years, a spark between the two had finally burst into flame. And Abilene Wadwallow did not need Rufus underfoot to trample the fire. He had to go.

Although Abilene did not care much who Rufus might marry — just as long as he married somebody who was a female, reasonably tolerable, and not a harridan . . . and was finally out of her hair — she knew that if she waited for him to go shopping for a wife on his own, she may as well wait for hell to freeze over. A bit of motherly intervention and encouragement were in order . . . in other words, some push and shove and, if needs be, a hefty kick in the pants. It was high time to initiate some unexpected experiences into this boy’s busy schedule of connubial inertia.

For starters, a blind date.

Abilene knew thing or two about blind dates. Namely, she’d gained much experience by watching countless Chinese, Japanese, and Korean soap operas on TV (with English subtitles), where arranged marriages seemed to still be alive and thriving overseas. Obsessive Asian mothers were forever setting up blind dates for their sons and daughters for the purposes of marriage and the speedy generation of grandchildren whom they could thereafter spoil rotten in their old age. This antiquated custom seemed rooted in their genes . . . or at any rate in their teledrama genes. Abilene would not have tolerated it for a second in her own case, naturally, but these were desperate times. Which every schoolboy and girl knows require desperate measures. To be frank, if she were right this minute to have been asked to choose between her son and her butcher . . . well, while she loved her Rufus, Simon Pickwick would win hands down in a heartbeat. East Asia: 1; USA: Ø.

Abilene also had a sizable working list of available single women between the ages of 21 and 35. Some of these were the daughters and granddaughters of friends. Others were the daughters and granddaughters of acquaintances. Still others were the daughters and granddaughters of perfect strangers. Sisters, cousins, nieces, and even a select number of unmarried friends, no-longer-married moms, and soon-to-be spinster aunts (if they didn’t stop messing around) were also on the list. Abilene wanted Rufus married and out of the building in a bad way, and as such had become an equal opportunities procurer, so to speak.

Abilene was no dope. She knew that Rufus would probably balk if she came right out and confessed her plans. She had to use subterfuge, at least initially. Later she might have to resort to cajolery, coercion, blackmail, and beatings, but this would mean a greater output of energy. Better first to attempt simple deception. If he was off his guard, all well and good. If not, then she’d have to call out the big guns. See above.

Abilene knew that she had to work cautiously, and for a number of reasons. First, she had to consider her son’s tastes in women. Second, she had to consider prospective dates’ tastes in men, particularly in men like Rufus. Third, this had to be played out with a certain degree of finesse (stealth) on her part so that Rufus would not rebel against her interference or just because her motives to get him out from under her roof were not as pure as the white of freshly fallen snow. Fourth, she wanted that her efforts not end up in a marital disaster for her son and her future daughter-in-law for which they could point their respective accusative finger at afterward. Her own first marriage had not been exactly a Cinderella and Prince Charming tale, assuming of course that after Cinderella and Prince Charming had married, they lived happily ever after. Who’s to say how that story really turned out in the end? Then there was the matter of the evil stepsisters. No evil stepsisters. Not a single one. In any case, Abilene did not wish her first marriage on either Rufus or his bride-to-be. So they had to have at least some kind of compatibility so she would not feel racked with guilt for the rest of her life.

God! This matchmaking business was more complicated than she had anticipated! In the end, she threw up her hands and cried out to hell with caution. She got out her eligible women’s list, set it on the kitchen table, closed her eyes, turned around twice, sightlessly aimed and dropped her her right index finger . . . into a bowl of jam. Bad aim. This wouldn’t work at all. She next wrote out everybody’s names on separate slips of paper, tossed them into a salad bowl, shut her eyes again, and drew.

“Oh, my God!” she exclaimed. “Gretchen Mangjeol!”

Gretchen Mangjeol, a Korean-American — with perhaps a smattering of German, Abilene presumed — wasn’t exactly a dazzler, but she was by no means a dog either. Kind of somewhere in between. But that was okay, because Rufus was no George Clooney or Denzel Washington in their prime either. And Rufus had never expressed a proclivity for drop-dead beautiful women. Gretchen would do for looks. Mmm. The girl was also reasonably intelligent, good-natured, trusting, harmless, tidy, honest, and hospitable. At least, thought Abilene, that’s how she came across in public. One never knew what dark secrets lurked under the veneer. On the plus side, she was of Korean descent. No doubt if those k-dramas were any indication, her own mother would be more than eager to see the girl married before she turned thirty.

Abilene nodded now with satisfaction. “She’ll definitely do.” She then turned her eyes toward the ceiling. “God forgive me if this is so, so wrong, but may this be a match made in heaven.”

The next thing was to figure out how to get the two united. Abilene mulled it over for a moment, then looked skyward again. “Any tips up there how I put these two lovebirds together?” She waited. “Right. I’m on my own for this one.”

She sighed, just as Rufus entered the kitchen, finally awakened from the dead and scratching his head with one hand, his tummy with the other. She glanced up at the kitchen clock and frowned.

“Morning, Mom,” he said sleepily, glancing then at the paper-filled salad bowl on the table. “I hope that’s not what we’re having for breakfast.”

Wide-eyed with alarm, and surprised that Rufus was even there, Abilene swept the incriminating evidence away and scooped her telltale nefariousness into the waste basket.

“Sorry, son. Nothing but cereal again this morning. My, you’re up early today.”

“It’s nine a.m., Mom.”

“I was being sarcastic.”

“Oh. Right.”

“Weren’t you supposed to be at work an hour ago?”

“Mm-hm. Normally, yes, but the boss gave everybody the next two days off so that the exterminators could get rid of the office vermin that have infested the whole building, without gassing the employees as well.”

“That was thoughtful of her. You’ve got vermin at work?”

“Eight-legged, six-legged, four-legged, and also a few two-legged.” He grinned at his joke. “The two-legged ones are the hardest to get rid of, though.”

Abilene nodded with a knowing chuckle. “That they are, that they are.”

In that instant a lightning flash of inspiration illuminated both her brain and her face. Could this be divine intervention? Maybe God was hard at work on her behalf after all.

“Listen, Ruf, I’ve got a couple of phone calls to make. I’ve already eaten, so fix yourself whatever you like. As long as it’s cereal.”

Abilene mentally rubbed her hands together and exited stage left. Out of earshot, she seized her cell phone and started punching buttons.

“Hi, Gretchen?” she said. “How would you like to help make an old woman’s most cherished dreams come true?”

Four hours later, Rufus Wadwallow found himself sitting across from a bespectacled young lady of Asian visage he’d never set eyes on before, at a table in a local Korean restaurant he’d never been to before, called Meogja, which turned out to mean ‘Let’s Eat’ in Korean.

“It’s a subterfuge,” she said pleasantly, after he’d explained that his mother had been suddenly called away to an unexpected emergency but had been unable to contact her to cancel their luncheon engagement.

Rufus blinked. “I’m sorry?”

“A subterfuge. Your mom set you up.”

“What do you mean?”

“This is supposed to be a blind date. Your mother set you up.”

Rufus was astonished. “A blind date . . . a blind date!?  Why would she do that?”

“Because that’s what mothers do when they want their children married and out of their hair.”

“They do?”

“All the time. Trust me. My own mom is at the top of the list of schemers. She’s been working on me for ages to get married. I’ve been on more mom-arranged dates than you can shake a stick at. I’m sick to death of them. I would have flat-out declined your mother’s ploy, but I accepted out of pity for you, just to do you a favor so you’ll be on your toes in the future.”

“Wow! I am stunned. My own mother.”

“Yep. That’s how they are. And once you go home and tell her that I’m not the girl of your dreams and to mind her own business, she won’t stop. She’ll be cagey and try again and again. Then she’ll get downright aggressive. It’s a war of attrition. I know this from first-hand experience. They are unrelenting. They won’t let up until you either acquiesce out of sheer exhaustion, or you move to a different country under an assumed name.”

“This is absolutely amazing.”

“I know. So, let’s eat.”


“Let’s eat. Your mom’s paying for this. We may as well make the most of it. I’m famished.”

Rufus stared at the girl goggle-eyed for a moment. She adjusted her glasses, which had slipped down her nose, and smiled conspiratorially.

“Are you familiar with Korean food?” she asked.

He shook his head.

“Okay, why don’t you let me order then? Otherwise we’ll be here all day while you try to figure out what the heck bulgogi, bibimbap, galbi, deun shim, kimchee jigae, udon, sam gyup sal, ojinguh bokkum, and jajangmyeon are supposed to be. Oh, by the way, a lot of Korean foods are spicy. Do you have any preferences? Any restrictions? Beef? Pork? Fish? Chicken? Or are you vegetarian?”

“Uh, medium spicy, no restrictions . . . omnivore.”

“Good. Me too. Okay if I order what I like for the both of us?”

Rufus nodded dumbly. “Please.”

“I promise it won’t be too bizarre, and who knows, you might even like some of it.”

He did. They were married in the fall.

“Thank you, God,” breathed Abilene Wadwallow . . . soon to be Mrs. Abilene Pickwick.

Steve Pulley
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Tied Up in Knots

tiedupinknotsMaggie Inselwood was not metaphorically tied up in knots that morning. Quite literally — screw the metaphors — she was tied up in knots. Well, to be more precise, tied up in straps. Thugs of unknown origin had done this — broken into her apartment, seized her whilst in languorous slumber, the bastards, stuffed one of those red plastic ball gags in her mouth that seem to be all the rage in kinky bondage flicks, and cinched her up in straps like some crate to be shipped off to Bangladesh like an over-sized CARE package. Only they didn’t ship her off to Bangladesh. Instead, they carted her off to her own living room sofa and set her down so she could watch them ransack her apartment.

Once muted, cinched, and deposited, Maggie made no effort to struggle or protest. Struggle and protest were no longer options, in any case. Instead she used her captivity to study the brutes while they cleaned out the place. In a way, they were rather clever brutes, she concluded. There were six of them, all dressed up in furniture mover duds — with an Acme World Transport logo silkscreened onto both the front and back of their white overalls. They did not bother wearing masks or similar disguises. There was really no need. They simply looked like every-day, husky, run-of-the-mill laborers that you see, well, every day, lugging people’s appliances and belongings from one address to another. Maggie realized with a certain amount of begrudged admiration that she would never be able to identify these men were she asked to down at police headquarters, mainly because they were so nondescript. None had distinguishing scars, tattoos, cauliflower ears, broken noses, body rings or studs, or other marks or bling that she could pinpoint. Even their voices were nondescript. She even doubted she would be able to recognize them in one of those police mug shot collections, or whatever you call those picture books with endless pages of suspects and convicted felons. Obviously, they had been carefully selected. Whoever was running the operation was no dope.

These guys, other than quickly subduing her, had in no way mistreated her. In fact, they were uncharacteristically polite, almost apologetic. From time to time one or another — she could barely tell them apart — would check on her and ask if she was okay and assure her that they would be out of her hair soon and she could get on with her life normally . . . sans furniture, appliances, and accoutrements, of course. Except for during their initial abrupt arrival, she found herself not feeling excessively apprehensive of these men.

As her household swiftly disappeared through the front door, almost like she imagined stars swallowed through a black hole, Maggie at first bewailed her loss — as much as she could with a gag in her mouth. It seemed as though her entire life was also vanishing. Everything — at least everything inorganic for the most part — that she had acquired, amassed, hoarded, saved over years and decades that meant anything to her was on its way out. It was as though she were dying, and all her worldly goods no longer amounted to a hill of beans anymore, and so they were now passing on to other hands.

The last piece of furniture to be removed was the sofa she’d been sitting. They sat her on the floor and hauled that away as well. When they had finished, two of them loosened her straps just enough that it would take her several minutes to work her way out of them. By that time they would be long gone. They also left the gag in her mouth — “a memento”, they said with a grin — which she could take out and scream bloody murder only after she’d extricated herself from her bonds. Of course, by then there would be no point in screaming bloody murder. They told her that they were leaving her land line and cell phone, but both had been hidden in one of her closets to further delay her from calling the cops. They also declined to make off with her computer, her photo albums, and her credit cards. They weren’t monsters, after all. And then they all lined up in front of her briefly, gave her a nod, and thanked her kindly for her patronage and cooperation. She rolled her eyes, shrugged, and nodded back. And on that note they were gone, closing the door gently behind them.

When Maggie Inselwood had finally extricated herself from her constraints fifteen minutes later, she remained on the floor for a time, shaking her head in dismay. She glanced around to observe the emptiness of her apartment. Well, at least they didn’t take the carpet, she said to herself, then allowed a sardonic chuckle. She made no move to find her phone, to call the police. What was the rush now? She wanted to collect her thoughts first, to savor for a moment what she discerned in a curious way as her death to nearly all of her earthly possessions. It almost seemed a dress rehearsal to the real deal. And to her astonishment she found herself detached from all her anticipated gnashing of teeth, tearing of hair, rending of clothes, and weeping and wailing. Why was that?

What was it that one of her captors had remarked?

“Lady, trust me. I’ve been in this business a lot of years, and I can see that you aren’t the type who’s going to miss a thing.”

And he was right! How could he have known? How could she have known? She felt a distinct sensation of release. She now knew that when she did finally die, it would be like this. Release! She almost wished now that they’d taken her phones, computer, photo albums, and credit cards as well. Even her hair brush. Did they take that as well? Ye gods, what would the police think!

At last she struggled to her feet, sighing, and made her way to the balcony glass door on opposite side of her living room, slid it open, and peered down at the street three stories below. Of course, her home invaders had long gone.

Still, she took a deep breath and shouted at the top of her lungs, “Have a great day, guys!”

Steve Pulley
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yesterdaytodaytomorrowOutside my apartment there grows a flowering shrub. Its common name, yesterday-today-and-tomorrow, may seem long and perhaps a bit pretentious, but it is certainly more descriptive than its scientific name, Brunfelsia pauciflora, of the nightshade family. Its name reflects the color of its flowers: purple or blue-purple, lavender, and white. Its name describes the ages of its sweet-scented flowers. When they first burst forth, they appear a splendorous purple or violet or deep blue, depending on the variety. As they mature, they become progressively lighter, and before they finally expire and drop away, they have transformed to a hoary white, with a little yellowing along the fringes. The flowers are small, profuse adornments that grace a hearty, green-leafed shrub whose seeds and berries prove to be toxic if eaten.

This may be a stretch, but as I see it, yesterday-today-and-tomorrows are as close as a plant can get to being human.

I find I cannot resist stopping to gaze at the shrub with a certain degree of awe at its simple beauty each time I step outside and pass by. If I have a camera in my pocket, more often than not I’ll feel the irresistible urge to snap off a picture or two. And if I’ve left the camera inside, the temptation to dash back inside to fetch it is almost overwhelming.

Yesterday-today-and-tomorrow, for reasons I don’t quite understand, seems to be the vegetable world’s image of myself. Vain, surely, but also fascinating and unsettling, it conjures up something within me, a vision of my life from a seed, a pregnant berry, bursting into a brilliant flower that excites the imagination of its potential, then its softer maturation, and finally to a wizened, frail, white-haired old man, with withered edges, and then death. But not death. For in the end, as the blossom falls to the ground and disintegrates, there lies fallow a new seed, a legacy for the future — potentially toxic, potentially a thing of fragrant beauty if allowed to flower.

Steve Pulley
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