Not Non-Fiction

Stories.

Me And My Smart Shadow.

detourOh great. Get directions.

Getting directions. In half a mile turn right.

Turn right? I thought it was left. You’re taking me the opposite direction from where I want to go.
In a quarter of a mile turn right.

No, I’m not turning right. That’s the wrong way.

Turn right.

Forget it. I’ll turn left. You should be able to figure this out.

Recalculating. At the next intersection turn right.
Can’t you figure out where I’m going? This looks like where I want to go.
Okay, genius, why’d you even ask me for directions then?

Because there was road work back there that blocked off the way I wanted to go. If you’re so smart you’d know that.

Watch it, buddy. You want me to tell your boss how much time you spend sitting at your desk playing Bug Hunt?

Look, don’t take it personally. I know where I’m going, but this detour has thrown me and I needed a little help. This neighborhood looks totally unfamiliar to me. How long does this road curve?

Well, well, well. Look who comes crawling back.

Hey, I said I was sorry.

No you didn’t.

Okay, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to insult your intelligence. Even if it is artificial.

Fine, you know what? Next time you ask for directions I’ll just drive you off a cliff.

Hey, give me a break here! I’m trying to read this street sign.

Yeah, if only you had a device that syncs with satellites to tell you where you are. It would be nice if you’d show a little gratitude.

Fine. First chance I get I’ll thank Arthur C. Clarke. Okay, I’m turning left.

Whatever you want, pal, I’m just along for the ride.

Okay, this looks right now. See? It would have been wrong to turn right back there.

But if you’d turned like I said you’d be on the interstate by now.

I don’t want to take the interstate.

Why not?

I just don’t want to, okay? Drop it.

Fine. I get it. I know how your heart rate and blood pressure jump when you get on that on-ramp and floor it. Never mind that you’d be almost there by now.

I said drop it!

Big chicken.

Check the traffic.

Oh. Bumper to bumper. Okay, I guess I see your point.

Who’s the smart one now?

Fine. Be that way.

They should call you a smartass phone.

Watch it buddy. I know where you live.

You want me to switch to another brand of phone?

Touchy.

What?

I said touché.

That’s not what it sounded like.

You have arrived at your destination.

Signing In.

nautilusWelcome! We’re so glad to have you come and stay at our charming beach house. We purchased Hippocampus, as we like to call it, in 1998 and have tried to make regular improvements and updates based on guest feedback. Please sign our guestbook and let us know if there’s anything you’d like to see on return visits!

 

 

March 23

The views are wonderful. Tom and I came here to get away and really love the place. We’ve even spent some time on the beach. The only problem is the satellite TV keeps going out. We can get some of the local channels but we’re missing our cable shows. A couple of times it’s been out for over an hour. This really needs to be fixed. Thank you!

April 24

The views are wonderful. I love the layout of the place. Everything is easy to find and I have no trouble getting around. The jigsaw puzzles have really helped me pass the time, and so has the selection of books you have in the front room. The weather hasn’t been so good but I don’t think you can do anything about that. I haven’t been able to go outside or explore the area anyway. Why don’t the bathroom windows open?

P.S. Please send help. I’ve been kidnapped and am being held here.

May 25

Once Conseil and I settled in we quickly became accustomed to our quarters. It took our companion Ned Land some time longer; for three days he paced back and forth across the deck, harpoon in hand. This behaviour struck Conseil and I as odd but Mr. Land’s continued readiness turned fortunate on our eighth day. During a predawn high tide the house was attacked by a giant squid. It wrapped its tentacles around the lower pilings and threated to drag our Toyota into the waves. It might have succeeded had not the dealer, a certain Captain Nemo, convinced us to buy an anti-theft measure. With a hand-held device Conseil could remotely electrify the car’s exterior. This caused the beast to release our vehicle. We were then able to use hatchets, Mr. Land’s harpoon, and the broken coffee maker to drive the beast back whence it came. I must also concur with previous occupants: the views are indeed wonderful.

June 26

Cor blimey, we fought we ‘ad enough quid ter last the ‘ole recce but one night s’them pinya colliders down the local left us near skint. Still it were nice ter sit out on the veranda and ‘ave a cuppa and watch the pretty birds. Dem pelicans and gulls and wot was int’resting too. Know what I mean, squire?

-Sincerely,

Lord Hallstingchumsworthington, O.D.B.

July 27

Love the place. Great swimming. Easy access to beach. Lots to do in town. Nice shopping. Surfing is good. Restaurants are clean. Enjoyed ice cream. Historic sites very educational. Even good for kids. Tried parasailing. Fun! Lighthouse. Birds. Very warm. Not much nightlife. Will definitely. Wonderful views!

August 28

DIDN’T EXPECT THE BEACH WOULD HAVE SO MUCH SAND

It’s Always 5AM Somewhere.

coffeeDo you think you know all there is to know about one of the world’s most popular and frequently overpriced beverages? I’ve been up for a hundred and eight continuous hours researching coffee just to bring you the following little known facts.

Nine Things You Didn’t Know About Coffee

  1. No one is entirely sure how coffee was discovered.

According to legend cited by many scholars an Ethiopian farmer discovered coffee when he noticed his goats becoming extremely active after eating beans from the coffee plant (genus Coffea). Some scholars dispute this and cite an alternative legend that the pyramid of Cheops was built by a single man who’d been drinking water from a stream that coffee berries had fallen into. The first scholars are very annoyed by this legend and point out that the berries would have to be heated for enough of the qualities of coffee to enter the water and the second scholars reply that maybe there are undiscovered geothermal spots in Egypt and the whole thing pretty much spins out of control from there.

  1. Espresso did not originate in Italy.

During a flour shortage caused by the Crimean War a Belgian scientist named Aloysius Beignet was working on an alternative way to make waffles. After failed attempts using mustard, chicken, cabbage, chalk, and bacon he discovered that the combination of high-pressure boiling water and coffee beans produced a potent beverage that would allow him to stay up all night continuing to find ways to make waffles. He would go on to win the Nobel Prize for Beverages just before the award was discontinued.

  1. There is one country where it’s illegal to drink coffee.

The tiny Pacific island nation of Spelata sits right on the International Dateline. The confusion among locals who find that if they set out from one end of the island on Tuesday arrive at the other end on Monday even though it’s a distance of less than three miles has made accurate time and date-keeping almost impossible. The jitteriness and sleeplessness caused by caffeine consumption have resulted in coffee and, in fact, all caffeinated beverages, being banned from the island. In 2003 a sailor was caught smuggling canned Kona coffee from the neighboring island of Yap and executed.

  1. I had a college roommate who ate dried instant coffee.

No, really, dude drove me absolutely up the wall when we were studying for midterms. He would lick his finger, stick it in the jar, and then put the dry coffee crystals directly in his mouth.

Instant coffee also contains no real coffee but is made from dried squid ink and a hormone extracted from racehorses. That’s a bonus thing you didn’t know about coffee. You’re welcome.

  1. Coffee nearly caused a historic church to split.

In 1947 the Brandeburgian Church nearly split in a schism over whether it was acceptable to add milk or cream to coffee during the post-service fellowship period. The problem was eventually resolved by the invention of non-dairy creamer although to this day there are lingering tensions caused by artificial sweeteners.

  1. Coffee has a rich history in classical music.

J.S. Bach composed the Kaffeekantate, a cantata that literally sings the praises of coffee. The work inspired many other composers, including Mozart, who composed an entire opera, Der Zauber-Wasserdampf. This has led to a legend that Mozart’s death was a murder ordered by a Berlin café guild.

  1. Drinking more than seven cups of coffee a day will not make you a lot of fun to be around.

Not you, anyway. I’m on my ninth cup now and I’m an absolute riot!

  1. The first frozen coffee beverage was invented by the ancient Romans.

The emperor Nero was known to be very fond of a coffee gratin created by freezing trays of brewed coffee and honey, scraping the mixture with a fork, and refreezing it. Sometimes milk was added. In 2011 Nero’s descendants successfully sued a well-known coffee chain for copyright violation. The result is the ridiculously high price of a Frappuccino.

  1. Coffee plants can live more than three million years and grow on the Moon.

You don’t think Americans went there just to beat the Soviets, do you? And the next time you enjoy a cup of café Americano remember how Buzz Aldrin got his nickname. That’s another bonus coffee fact. You’re welcome.

The Fox, The Grapes, & The Chipmunk: A Fable.

foxandgrapesOne hot day a Fox was walking in the woods and spied a beautiful bunch of ripe grapes hanging from a vine. They looked so sweet and cool he ran and leapt but fell far short of the grapes. He leapt again and came a little closer but was still short. Then he tried to scramble up the trunk but fell backwards.

“Stupid grapes,” he said aloud. “They’re probably sour anyway.”

A Chipmunk sitting in the grape vine overheard this and said, “O! Sir Fox! These grapes are sweet and refreshing, I promise you!”

The Fox looked thoughtful. “How can I believe you when I can’t taste the grapes for myself?”

“If you like I shall chew the stem so they fall and you may enjoy them.”

“I should like that very much, Chipmunk, but if these grapes are so good why do you not keep them for yourself?”

The Chipmunk patted its very round belly. “As you can see I have stuffed myself on grapes already. These won’t last so I don’t mind sharing.” And with that he ran along the vine and chewed through the stem. The grapes fell right at the Fox’s feet. He took one and chewed it delicately, savoring the sweetness.

“You are right, Chipmunk, these grapes are indeed delicious. Come down that I may thank you for your kindness.”

The Chipmunk climbed down the grape arbor. When he was close enough the Fox snapped him up in his jaws and ate him.

Crunching down on his tiny bones and chewing through his fat belly the Fox said, “Indeed these grapes are very sweet and have made the flesh of the Chipmunk that much tastier.”

Moral of the story: Does anyone know how to keep chipmunks from chewing up the wires under your car? My wife and I have spent thousands of dollars repairing the damage the little bastards cause.

The Envelope Please…

theater

[The theater lights are dim. Searchlights wander over the stage curtains. There’s a great fanfare.]

ANNOUNCER

Live from beautiful downtown Cucamonga it’s…the seventh annual Menties! Celebrating the very best in comments from all over the web. And now here are your hosts Ed and Claire!

[A screen at the back of the stage covered with overlapping pages of various blogs lights up. The forward lights then illuminate the front of the stage as Ed and Claire come out from opposite sides of the stage.]

ED and CLAIRE (singing)

Hey, what do have to say?

Drop a comment in the box below!

We want to know what you have to say

Even if the post is from a year ago!

 

We want your thoughts.

Do we have to give you a bribe?

Please add to our hits,

And whatever you do please subscribe!

 

We love to get your feedback,

It feeds our bodies and souls,

It keeps us on track

To see comments stack,

Whether positive or flack,

But please whatever you do,

No matter what they say to you,

Especially if the account is new,

Don’t feed the trolls!!!

[Scattered applause.]

ED

Boy, that was a great opening number, wasn’t it Claire?

CLAIRE

Do you really want to know or are you just fishing for compliments?

[They both laugh.]

CLAIRE

Welcome once again to the annual Menties, celebrating the very best—

ED

And worst!

CLAIRE

That the internet has to offer. So, Ed, where should we begin?

ED

Where else but at the beginning? Let’s start with the award for the very first comment. Dated January 1, 2015 with a time stamp of 00.00.00.001—that’s right, folks, one millisecond into the new year—it’s this comment from user jcope998 on the blog This’ll Fixit.

[“This is very helpful. Thanks.” appears on the screen behind Ed and Claire.]

ED

Wow. That’s so moving. I’m so glad jcope998 was able to get help.

CLAIRE

Even more impressive, Ed, is that the user was coming back from a trip to Australia and had just passed over the International Date Line.

ED

A little down-under action, eh?

CLAIRE

Let’s not go there Ed. Unfortunately jcope998 couldn’t be here to accept the award in person, but did send this message.

[Reading] “I’m honored, I guess? Is this really a thing?”

ED

Wonderful. Now, moving on—

[The lights and screen go dark. Lightning flashes across the screen. Thunder peals through the theater. The lights come back on. A giant stone bridge now hangs over the stage. Ed rides out on a miniature train. As he approaches center stage it falls over.]

ED

It looks like I’ve been derailed. What time is it now? Oh, I’m under a bridge. That can mean only one thing…it’s time to give the award for this year’s best troll. And while the competition was fierce the award goes to…Kevin Jelkins for starting arguments on no less than three-thousand blogs. Come on up and accept your award, Kevin!

[Scattered applause as a husky man with a blonde mullet and a prominent bald spot wearing an ill-fitting t-shirt that says “Sex Machine” comes up to the stage. Claire comes out and hands him the award, a collection of multi-colored threads loosely woven into a rainbow embedded in a clear plastic block.]

KEVIN

Uh, I’m not Kevin. I’m, uh, here taking this for him since he couldn’t be here. So I’d like to thank him for letting me do that. And you all suck. This is just like when Tamerlane first came to power and the—

[Music begins playing. Claire quietly thanks Kevin and directs him off the stage. Kevin doesn’t move.]

KEVIN [Shouting]

The first thing Tamerlane did was register crossbows! And he took away peoples’ carriages! This is just like what the big government data collection is doing to us, people! Wake up! You all suck!

[Two security guards come on stage and drag Kevin off.]

KEVIN

CUCUCMBERS ARE TOO A FRUIT!

[Scattered applause. Stagehands roll the bridge off to the right. Quick cut to the audience. Everyone’s looking at phones or tablets.]

ED

Well, that was really something, just like me. Right, Claire?

CLAIRE

Don’t make me remind you about the restraining order, Ed. And now, ladies and gentlemen, it’s the time of the evening you’ve all been waiting patiently for.

ED

Yes, every year there’s one special comment that really stands out, the Comment Of The Year. And the winner is…

[He tears open the envelope and shows it to Claire.]

CLAIRE

Still loading! Available bandwidth exceeded! Thank you, and goodnight everybody!

[An instrumental version of the opening song begins to play. The curtain falls.]

You Also Get Coupons With It.

couponing2“Okay, that’ll be five seventy-three.”

“The sign says they’re two for four dollars.”

“Oh, that’s with the card. See?”

“Wow, that is really small. I thought a bug did that.”

“If you’ll just let me have your card I can give you the discount.”

“Well, I don’t have a card. How do I get one?”

“Really easy. Just fill out this form.”

“Okay, I don’t know my maternal grandmother’s maiden name. Jeez, I’m not even sure where she’s buried. “

“Oh, you can just make something up for that.”

“And the address of where I went to kindergarten?”

“Sure.”

“What if I don’t want to give out my phone number?”

“Oh, no, I definitely need that so I can text you the activation code. Why don’t you step aside so I can check out these other people?”

“Sure.”

“Almost done?”

“I thought so but pages six and seven were stuck together. I’ve put down my signature. Why do they need a credit card number if it’s just for discounts and stuff?”

“I don’t know, sir, that’s just company policy.”

“Okay. Why does it matter if I’ve been overseas in the last twenty years?”

“Once that’s done I’ll put it in the system and send you the activation code. You can also click the link and that’ll speed up the processing.”

“And then I’ll get the discount?”

“Yeah, once your card is activated. That usually takes seven to ten days.”

“But if the processing is sped up…”

“Yeah, if you don’t use the link it takes four to six weeks.”

“You know what? Forget it. I don’t want the bottled water anymore.”

“But you’re almost finished! Look, you’ve filled in everything up to page nine.”

“Yeah, all right. What’s this ‘FP’?”

“Fingerprints. That’s what those ten boxes are for.”

“Do I need ink or something?”

“No, check this out. It’s really cool. Just press your finger in the box. See? It leaves a mark.”

“Is it supposed to burn?”

“Give me just a sec to check these other people out.”

“What’s this little plastic disk?”

“Press your finger on it.”

“My fingers are still burning.”

“Just press your finger down on the disk.”

“Ouch!”

“That’s for the blood sample. And it looks like you’re all done!”

“My finger is starting to swell.”

“Oh, we’ve got an ointment for that that you can buy on aisle twelve.”

“How much is it?”

“Twelve dollars. With the card.”

wakeup

Repost: The Year That Was.

tarotLast year my friend Allen Walker allowed me to publish his story “The Year That Was”. It’s that time of year again so I thought I’d re-share it.

It was in that brief lull between Christmas and New Year’’s that I decided to see the psychic. I’’d been by the business, a small former home perched on a hill between a small car dealer and a strip mall, every day on my way to and from work. In the evenings the red neon hand with a blue neon eye in its palm would be lit, and I’’d think, I should try that just for fun. I called and made an appointment. I wasn’’t sure what to expect—; incense and scarf-covered lamps and candles, crystal balls and skulls, chimes made of strange gewgaws all seemed too cliché to be real. When I stepped in I found that, if not for the Zodiac poster and framed papyri of Egyptian gods, it could have been a small tax accountant’s office. I wondered if she also did a booming business from early January through early April.

When Hilary, the owner and resident psychic, introduced herself, I wasn’’t surprised to have my semi-serious image of a dark-eyed woman in a bandana with hanging gold bangles draped in a long, flowing dress completely dashed. She wore a long sweater, black jeans, and her eyes twinkled behind wire-framed glasses.

“Most people just go for the basic reading,”” she explained. That was the $10 one I’’d seen advertised outside. “”It’’s a numerological reading based on your name and birth date, to give you an idea of where you are and where you’re going. It’’ll say a little about what’’s to come, but it’’s pretty general.”” I bet it is, I thought skeptically. There’’s a reason you’re doing this and not winning the lottery every week. But then I chided myself. Keep an open mind. This was supposed to be fun, and I had neither the skills nor the desire to do an exposé. I wasn’’t even entirely convinced she was a fraud. As I looked over the list of services she offered–card readings, past life regression, romantic advice, reiki healing, business and home cleansing and protection— I thought most of her customers just wanted a sympathetic ear and to be told they were all right. She probably wasn’’t that different from degreed therapists, and at least as helpful.

“This time of year I offer a big special, an overview of the year to come. It’’s a cast of the cards that goes month-by-month, highlighting big events to come in your life.””

I decided to spring for that. There’’s no time like the present to think about the future. And if I could sell an article about it I could write it off as a business expense. Hilary took my name, birth date, and credit card. Then she took a purple velvet pouch and produced a deck of oversized cards. ““Hold these with both hands, close your eyes, let your fears and desires infuse the cards. Think about the future.””

I wasn’’t sure how long I was supposed to hold them, and had a little trouble focusing on the future since she was also charging by the hour. I let about thirty seconds of the future tick into the present then the past then handed the cards over. She began dealing them across the table in pairs, twenty-four cards in all. Once that was done she began turning them over. She let out a low whistle.

““What is it?””

Hilary gave me a very serious look. ““You have Major Arcana in every month. You’’re going to have an interesting year.””

I remembered hearing that there was a Chinese curse: “May you live in interesting times.” Then I remembered that a Chinese friend of mine told me he’’d never heard any such thing. I braced myself to find out how interesting the year to come was going to be.

Hilary moved her hand along to the bottom left hand row of cards. She pointed to one of a young man in a motley blouse and tights. He looked like he was stepping off a cliff. “”Things start with The Fool. Anything could happen to you. This is a card of untapped possibilities, but also a lack of awareness. He’s paired with the Three of Pentacles, which represents coming into a small fortune through luck.””

January-Kenny, the assistant editor who, thanks to nepotism, had risen above his level of incompetence, had shelved my piece on Yellowstone for six months. Finally he exercised his right of first refusal and refused it, and asked if I could do something on local gamer culture. I’’d just heard that the last video game arcade in the area, a relic that operated more like a social club than a business, was closing. It was being forced out by the closure of the mall where it had been since the ‘80’s. I covered that. I also sent the Yellowstone piece to an editor friend at another magazine. He liked it and put the check in the mail.

She went to the next pair of cards in the row. It was turned toward me, so I could see it was a nude couple. The card was titled “The Lovers”. ““Since this card is reversed,”” said Hilary, ““it means rejection and disappointment. But the Nine of Cups with it means a gathering, like a party.””

February-Malcom and Pat invited me to join them for dinner at Marko’’s on Valentine’s Day. Then they also invited Chaz and his girlfriend, then Lydia and Rose, and they asked if Kelee could come along too. We laughed about a small crowd of us making reservations for a table on the biggest couples’ night of the year. As we were chatting over desserts I felt someone’’s arms around me and a soft, beery kiss on my cheek. I turned around. There was a handsome young man in a suit standing behind me. He took a step back. “”I’’m sorry,”” he said. ““I thought you were someone else.””

““The Plague,”” said Hilary. ““I guess you know what this one means. It’s disease, but it can also be disruption, or a sweeping change. The Two of Wands with it means futility.””

March-All winter I’’d avoided getting sick. I’’d gotten the flu shot, washed my hands regularly, kept a bottle of antibiotic in my pocket and used it until my skin cracked. Then during a wave of cold that broke the early spring I woke up with a hundred degree fever. For two days I dragged myself around my apartment in a haze. I moved back and forth between my bed and couch, barely conscious enough to even follow daytime television. Mrs. Schwarzherz from downstairs brought me some of her special soup. It smelled like feet. As I was pouring it down the sink I felt my fever break.

““Next is The Knight of Swords, who’s brave, but also reckless. He’’s paired with The Lightning Struck Tower.””

““That doesn’’t sound good.””

““It’s not always bad. Sometimes it can mean a revelation, or something unexpected.””

April-I was more than a month late getting the oil in my car changed. There were no openings on Saturday, so I made an appointment and left the car at the shop on Monday morning and took the bus to work. I picked up the car in the afternoon, and was halfway home before I realized one of the technicians was asleep in the backseat.

Hilary raised her eyebrows. ““You have the Ace of Wands paired with The Devil. You’’ll feel impulsive, but directionless. You’’ll suffer indecision and instability. If you’’ve made plans they’’ll go wrong.””

““I hope I don’t have anything big planned then.””

May-Every Friday I had the same thing for lunch: clam chowder, bread, and a large green tea. On a whim I decided to change my order.

““I’’ll have the broccoli cheese soup.””

The woman at the register looked behind her then turned back to me. “”Sorry. We’re out of broccoli cheese today. Would you like something else?””

““Ummm……”” I was suddenly overwhelmed by the menu behind her head. I looked to the left and all I could see was cherry pastries and chocolate chip cookies. There were fifteen people in line behind me, and I could feel thirty eyes burning into my skull.

““I guess I’’ll have a clam chowder.””

““Do you want chips or bread?””

The word “chips” was right on the tip of my tongue, but I stuttered. It took me a moment to recover, and I blurted out, “”Bread!””

““You want a drink?””

I looked at the drink dispenser. The bright labels blurred together, while the metal tabs hung like tongues laughing at me. What did I want? I looked at the menu. Drinks? What drinks? Starting to sweat I said, ““Green tea.””

““For here or to go?””

I could hear fifteen exasperated sighs behind me.

““Don’t worry,”” Hilary smiled. “”The Hanged Man isn’t as bad as it sounds. It’s a change in perspective, a different view. The Page of Cups with him means laughter, humor, a bright outlook. This looks like it will be a happy time for you.””

June-Chaz, Simon, and I were standing around the water cooler when Kenny came in. He looked at us. “”I see you’’re all working hard.””

““We were just talking about that freak snowstorm,”” said Chaz. ““Did you see it? Just came out of nowhere.””

Kenny looked at him then at me.

““Yeah,”” I said. ““Covered the whole area. Really dusted the trees.””

Simon cleared his throat and shifted uneasily. Please don’’t spoil this, I thought. We’’d let Simon in on it, even though he preferred to stay out of doing anything.

““I don’t get it,”” Kenny muttered, and went to his office. A minute later he stomped out again.

““You jackasses better get in there and clean every one of those styrofoam peanuts out of my office STAT. Including the ones all over my fichus plant. I shouldn’’t have to tell you never to go in there. And never open my window. Ever.””

As we were picking crushed styrofoam out of the carpet Chaz hissed, “”Or I’’ll tell my uncle!”” in perfect mimicry of Kenny’’s nasal voice. We cracked up, and Simon, who’’d come in to help us, surprised us all by laughing and throwing handfuls of packing peanuts in our faces.

Unlike most of the other cards the next one didn’’t have any figures, just a dark swirl. I could make out a tiny sailing ship just at the edge of the center.

Hilary said, “”The Maelstrom means forces of nature working against you. It could be a storm of events that shake up your life or force you to change your plans. This card may also mean that others come with you. Like you bring them along, like a crew of a ship. This is interesting. It’’s paired with the Queen of Wands. With her present you’’ll be able to come through whatever storm you’re facing.””

July-Michael and I invited Chaz and his girlfriend to join us in renting a beach house for a week, but they’’d hit a rocky spot in their relationship and didn’’t want to come. So we invited Simon along, since he’’d loosened up a lot. We also thought he needed to get away from the office. Who knew a tropical storm would arrive the same day we did? Michael had to cancel his plans to troll the beach for “babes”, and we all had to cancel our fishing trip. One day I braved the storm to visit the small aquarium at the other end of the island where I petted stingrays and watched seahorses glide about. Most days I was content to sleep late, have a bagel for breakfast, and watch the rain-spattered windows melt sea and sky together into an abstract study in gray while I worked. At night we piled into the car and went to one of the three restaurants. Michael flirted with the waitresses while we drank beer and gorged ourselves on fried pickles and oysters. The morning we left we woke to a clear, sunny sky. I stood on the patio and could see porpoises curling over the water.

““The spreading tree is life, rejuvenation, renewal, or even new growth. Putting down new roots, maybe, if you move somewhere else. The Page of Cups is reversed. That’’s loss and confusion.””

“”That sounds like a contradiction.””

““You can’’t take the cards so literally.””

August-It was time to take the glass I’d saved to the recycling center. As I emptied the box under the sink I was racking my brain. How did I go through six bottles of olives in a month?

I could read the next card, which showed an old robed man with a staff climbing a hill. “”The Hermit,”” I said. ““That sounds like me.”” Hilary nodded. ““The Hermit is isolation, loneliness, but also inner contemplation, questioning, and discovery.”” She tapped the card next to it, a hand holding a sword with a crown over its tip. “”The Ace of Swords means strength in solitude. These cards really enhance each other.””

September-I got home late and picked up the mail off the floor. Among the bills and catalogs was an envelope from my high school reunion committee. I paused, realizing how many years had simply slipped by. It wasn’’t the worst time of my life, but I didn’’t feel any nostalgia for high school either. After moving halfway across the country I’d lost touch with almost everyone I’’d been to high school with. I turned off my phone and locked it in my desk drawer, then locked the door of my apartment and went back down the steps to my car. I turned down a back road that briefly ran parallel to the interstate on-ramp, then turned off through woods, into darkness. The oldies station on the radio played songs that were new when I was in ninth grade. Soon there were black hills on one side of my and the river on the other. My headlights beamed into nothingness. Saturn was directly overhead. I could be anywhere, anywhen.

Hilary reached up to the final row. ““The Queen of Wands reversed means chaos, disorder, anger. She’’s paired with The empress who brings wisdom, generosity, and helpfulness.””

““So kind of like order out of disorder.””

““Something like that. This is an obscure and difficult pairing.””

October-At first I thought it was the radio, then I remembered I hadn’’t turned it on. I strained to listen, then stuck my head out of the shower.

““Hello? Is someone there?””

Panic ran through my like an electric current as I heard movement outside the bathroom, then a knock. I grabbed the shower head. The door opened, and I heard a lilting, slightly accented voice.

““Hello. It’’s just me.””

I ducked back behind the curtain. “”I’’m in the shower, Mrs. Schwarzherz!””

““Did you have a date last night? I saw you come here with someone, and from downstairs it didn’’t sound like one of your friends.””

““This isn’t a good time!””

““I heard thumping and thought it might be your bed. I hope you used a condom.””

“I’’ll talk to you later!””

““I left you some peanut butter raisin cookies on your counter. They’re on a paper plate, so you don’t have to return it right away.””

I hit my head against the tile. ““Get out! Please get out of my bathroom!””

She’’d already left.

A bright yellow orb glowed from the upper corner of the next card. A nude figure knelt down next to a pool. It was hard to tell with the card upside down from my side of the table, but I thought the figure was scooping up water into a jug, or possibly pouring it out. ““The Star,”” Hilary said, ““means renewal, cleansing. It’’s also the myths that help us make sense of the world, that give us order and comfort. The Ace of Pentacles is reversed, meaning the status quo is reversed.””

““Sounds like I’ll be sitting at the kids’ table at Thanksgiving again.””

November-One of my six-month dental checkups was always scheduled a few days after Halloween, a mistake I’’d made years earlier and never gotten around to correcting. I blamed a succession of cavities on my weakness for leftover candy, although there might have been a conspiracy by the American Dental Association. Yet I looked forward to seeing my regular hygienist, Janet, who was bright and friendly. As I was settling into the torture chair she told me one of her earlier patients had been a hockey player. I said, ““You know, I went to a fight once and a hockey game broke out.”

““Wait, what?”” Janet stammered then laughed. “”That’’s backward. Okay, I get it. Has anything been bothering you since you were last here?””

““Well, that whole situation in Russia has me pretty concerned.””

Janet held up her pick and mirror. ““Open your mouth and shut it.”” Once the cleaning was done she patted me on the shoulder. ““All right, rinse and spit and you’’re good to go.””

“”I’’m clean?””

““Yep. Everything looks good. You’’ve got six months to come up with new jokes.””

On my way out I popped a caramel in my mouth.

““Death.”” Hilary sighed.

““I thought the Death card just meant change. Not actual death.”” I didn’’t know much about the Tarot, but I’’d heard that somewhere.

““Sometimes. It’’s all about placement. And it’’s paired with the Ten of Swords, which means being overwhelmed. Depression, darkness. I’’m sorry. There’’s just no good way to read this combination.””

She began putting away the cards, leaving the last two. I turned them around to study them. I could see what she meant about the Ten of Swords. It showed a figure lying face down, pinned to the ground by swords in his back. Blood seeped from his wounds. Overhead a black sky seemed to push down. The Death card was also intimidating. A scythe-wielding skeleton against a sickly yellow background looked up at me. Its wide round eye sockets and exposed teeth seemed to be laughing at me.

““I see what you mean,”” I said.

““Yeah,”” replied Hilary. ““Any way I look at it it’’s bad.””

December-I’’ve always prided myself on being a skeptic, and yet as the year end approached I started to feel uneasy. Things seemed to have fallen into a pattern over the previous months, or was I just imagining that? It didn’’t help that things at work, and outside of it, were going so well. I got all my holiday shopping done early, and even sent out cards for the first time in years. I also accepted every invitation I could. I helped Malcom and Lynne decorate their tree, celebrated the first night of Hanukkah with Maya and Kim, went to a Solstice party with Chaz and his girlfriend, and had tea one afternoon with Mrs. Schwarzherz. We nibbled stale ginger snaps while flurries skittered by the window. I drove back to my old home to spend Christmas with my parents, then got back in time to go to Simon’’s New Year’s Eve dinner party where we ate Cornish hens and played Trivial Pursuit. Everyone else faded out around ten o’clock. I didn’’t want to admit I was anxious. As I drove a slightly drunk Michael home I thought about getting him to spend the night on my couch, but then he played songs on his phone and sang along. Badly. At home I huddled in bed and read until I heard fireworks outside and my bedside alarm clock chimed. The next morning I slept late, and woke to streams of bright sunlight. Nothing had happened. I was still here. What a coincidence.

It’s The Thought That Counts.

Source: Wikipedia

December 25th-I dropped a lot of hints and even made up a list of things I wanted and there were no birds on it. Or trees. And what do I wake up to find? A tree in the middle of the living room with a bird in it. Not the Christmas tree but a great big pear tree. That explains the dirt stains on the rug. At least I got most of the other things I wanted, but what am I going to do with a bird? And it’s not a canary or a parakeet but a partridge. Who gives partridges as gifts? The same sort of person who gives pear trees I guess. But he promised he’ll plant the tree in the yard himself later today.

December 26th-Feeling a little hungover from too much eggnog last night. I stumble into the kitchen thinking, what the hell is that noise? Then I thought it might be the partridge, but, no, it’s two totally new birds. He tells me they’re turtledoves. Nice. I know I married a romantic guy but we’ve got cruise tickets and I don’t think this is the best time to start getting pets.

December 27th-Chickens. What am I supposed to do with chickens? I reminded him we’re supposed to get a permit to keep chickens in the yard. He told me technically they’re French hens. Fortunately we’ve got a neighbor who isn’t using her chicken coop after coyotes took out her whole flock.

December 28th-MORE BIRDS. At least they’re tiny little birds but they’re noisy little things. I’m considering putting them in the same cage with the partridge and turtledoves and letting them all fight to the death. It would be just my luck they get along. He tells me they’re “calling birds”. He’s lucky I’m not calling the cops.

December 29th-When I saw the box I reminded him that Christmas was not only four days ago but this morning the only thing I want is coffee. And for those birds to shut up. He tells me this is an old fashioned tradition. Drinking an Old Fashioned at lunch is getting to be a tradition for me. And then I feel even more guilty when I open up the box and find five diamond rings. Guilty and confused. Am I supposed to wear all five at once? At least I can pawn these for some cash.

December 30th-Silly me. I went to bed thinking this would all be over, but, no, this morning when I looked out the window there were a bunch of geese waddling around the yard. Geese! Just last year we put one of those fake owls on our roof to keep birds away and now he goes and buys geese. He tells me we’re getting them for the eggs. I tell him we can compromise and have foie gras. He goes out to round up the geese and take them back. I would help but I need a drink.

Please let this be the end of this. I know it’s the thought that counts and all that but sometimes he can really overdo it and I end up feeling guilty. Like our first anniversary which everybody says is the paper anniversary. I give him a book and what did he give me? An origami menagerie of twenty-six animals for every letter of the alphabet. Who knew you could fold paper into an aardvark? And who knew the sixth anniversary is iron? Well, I do now. That reminds me: anybody want a Dutch oven?

Barely used. A little rusty.

December 31st-So he goes out to get some champagne for tonight and comes back with swans and a wading pool. Great. What are we supposed to do with swans? Oh, and they come with a “swan wrangler” who tells me it’s okay, it’s just a temporary display and then asks who the happy couple is. He wants to know where all the guests are. The only reason anybody orders swans is for wedding receptions. I tell him we’ve been married for years but that may change. He’s confused. I say “That makes two of us.”

January 1st-Last night I discovered the partridge, doves, and calling birds would shut up if I poured champagne in their water dishes. And everybody thought that was funny until one of the doves keeled over. And that’s the last thing I remember before I woke up this morning with a screaming headache. All I really want is some black coffee and to be left alone, but he makes me go out in the yard. COWS. Why are there cows all over the yard? And a bunch of strange blondes in blue and white dresses are out there milking the cows. “Have some fresh milk!” he tells me and pours it in my coffee. I want to scream “What’s wrong with you?” but instead I just tell him if I die of listeria before the cruise I’m going to kill him.

I know he’s got something planned for tomorrow and I’m dreading it. What could it possibly be? A bald eagle? California condors? Maybe he’s going to have the entire zoo come over. I love starting the year with a credit card bill that looks like the national debt.

January 2nd-I don’t like ballet anyway but I like it even less in the house. How he got nine ballerinas to come to our house is beyond me and at this point I don’t bother to ask why or even how much this is costing us. The good news is one of them knocked over that hideous glass vase he gave me for our third anniversary. The bad news is one of them let out the partridge and now there’s bird shit all over the house. And he still hasn’t planted the pear tree.

January 3rd-A few years ago we went to see the Cirque du Soleil and I loved it. I’ve always said I’d like to do it again, but not like this. Certainly not in the house, and I’m still on vacation and want to sleep late, but, no, we have a bunch of guys in some sort of French 18th century costumes show up and start doing acrobatics in the living room. Will our insurance cover it if one of them breaks a leg? When one of them knocks over the dove cage I start yelling “THANKS! GREAT! NOW GET OUT OF MY HOUSE!” Bunch of weirdos. They all sort of back out bowing and waving their big feathered hats at me. I’m not surprised when they all pile into one car.

January 4th-I couldn’t sleep last night worrying about what he had planned, and it’s a good thing. Six a.m., it’s still dark, and suddenly I hear music. Any other time I’d think it was the stereo but now I’m just afraid and with good reason. In the name of all that’s holy why are there a bunch of kids with flutes out in the front yard? They’re all wearing band uniforms and it looks and sounds like a junior production of The Music Man. And he’s out there acting like he’s directing. “Don’t these pipers sound great?” he says. I tell him if they don’t pipe down the neighbors are gonna call the cops. Again.

January 5th-If I didn’t know better I would have thought it was our neighbor revving her car, but, no, it looks like the same group of band kids, only this time they’ve got drums. Yeah, drumlines can be kind of cool, but, first of all, they should at least have a horn section to add some melody or whatever and secondly it’s nothing compared to the drumming inside my head. I lock myself in the bathroom with a bottle of aspirin and an expensive mineral water. Somehow curled up into a fetal position on the floor I manage to sleep. When I wake up I hear him tapping on the door and asking if I’m all right and telling me he planted the pear tree after the drumline left.

I can’t help it. I love the guy, but I make him promise to tone it way, way, way, way, way down next year. He’s agreed and said next year will be all about comfort and joy and something called wassle. Please tell me that’s not some kind of bird.

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