Not Non-Fiction

Stories.

The Weird Series.

baseball1

Bob: All right, we’re back from the break. Ray, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a game like this, but that’s the beauty of the playoffs. We really get to see some very different teams go up against each other.

Ray: Don’t I know it. If you’re just tuning in it’s William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying playing against Lewis Carrol’s Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland. The score is currently tied at the bottom of the ninth with the Wonderlands taking the field. And…wait a minute! Yes! The Queen of Hearts is coming out to pitch.

Bob: Listen to that crowd. They really love her here.

Ray: She’s the best closer they’ve ever had. Can you believe there was talk of trading her to Wuthering Heights?

Bob: Yeah, they’ve needed a good closer since Heathcliff has been on the DL with a torn tricep.

Ray: Vardaman is now coming up to the plate. You know we’ve talked about how interesting it is that he uses a bat shaped life a fish.

Bob: And he’s a switch hitter. Looks like he’s going to be batting left-handed since it’s the Queen pitching. And here comes the pitch…it’s up…looks like a foul. That’s one strike for Vardaman. Looks like the Queen is really brushing off the catcher.

Ray: Can’t have anything to do with him being mad as a March hare can it?

Bob: Well, since he is…wow! Line drive right down the center! Vardaman is running to first. The Mad Hatter has it. He throws it to the Caterpillar at first base, but too late. Vardaman is safe at first.

Ray: The Dying have shown a really strong offense this year. Earlier this month they did amazingly well winning two out of three games in their series against Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome.

Bob: Dewey Dell is coming up to bat now. She has a current average of .225, with a strikeout in the second and a ground out in the seventh.

Ray: And the first pitch is a strike! Wait a minute. Coach Vernon Tull is taking the field to talk to the umpire about that call.

Bob: The umpire is Stephen Dedalus who was a right fielder for James Joyce’s Ulysses, and before that played first base for Portrait of the Artist As A Young Man.

Ray: Right. And this is Coach Tull’s last challenge of the game.

Bob: You played with Stephen Dedalus, didn’t you Ray?

Ray: Yeah, he and I both played as substitutes for Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory. I was filling in for left-fielder Grandpa George in that big matchup against The Epic of Gilgamesh.

Bob: They had a substitution too, didn’t they? I think I remember their shortstop the Bull of Heaven was out that game.

Ray: Right, Phil Rizzuto was substituting.

Bob: Anyway Coach Tull is done talking to the umpire now. It looked like a pretty clear strike. I wouldn’t have wasted a challenge on that if I were him.

Ray: I know. It looks like he’s going back to the dugout now. He’s pretty steamed. Look at the replay.

Bob: Here comes the next pitch. It’s a ball…and another ball…and a strike. Even count. And it’s another ball.

Ray: Do you think the Queen is going to walk Dewey?

Bob: Well she’s only walked eleven of the last seventy players she’s pitched against. Seven of those were in the three-game series against Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.

Ray: Another ball! Dewey will go to first and Vardaman advances to second. No outs.

Bob: We should take this opportunity to point out that all players are wearing the number twenty-four today in memory of Hall of Famer Odysseus.

Ray: Doctor Peabody is coming up to bat now. He’s one for three with a solo home run in the third. Here’s the pitch. Strike!

Bob: Looks like the change-up really threw him there.

Ray: Strike two! And that’s another swing and a miss and Doctor Peabody has struck out. That gives the Dying their first out of the inning. Darl Dell is now coming up to bat.

Bob: Darl has a .195 average. With two on and one out and Wonderland ahead by two he’s in a position to make a big difference in this game.

Ray: Swing and a miss. That’s one ball, one strike. There’s the pitch. It’s a high fly to left field! The Mad Hatter drifts back! He catches it! And Darl is out.

Bob: Two out and two on base. And Coach Alice is going to the mound now. The March Hare and the Cheshire Cat are coming over. The White Rabbit is coming too. He’s been warming up in the whiterabbitbullpen. You don’t think Alice is going to take out the Queen this late in the game, do you?

Ray: Coach Alice makes some surprising choices. Remember she substituted Humpty Dumpty for the Gryphon in that matchup against Dante’s Divine Comedy.

Bob: Addie Bundren is at the plate now. Being in a coffin hasn’t hurt her at all. She’s still hitting a solid .301.

Ray: High pop to left field! It’s a foul.

Bob: Addie had the other home run in the fifth to bring Reverend Whitfield home. And there’s a hit! She’s running to first! The Cheshire Cat has the ball. He throws to the Caterpillar! And Addie Bundren is out.

Ray: Vardaman has moved to third and Dewey Dell is on second now with two outs.

Bob: Cora Tull comes to the plate now. This could be the Dying’s chance to at least tie up the game.

Ray: Ball one. Cora let that go right by. Ball two. The White Rabbit is really throwing wide. You don’t think he’ll walk her, do you?

Bob: And load the bases? Strike one! Strike two! Oh! The White Rabbit just threw to the Dormouse at second and picked off Dewey Dell! That’s the game!

Ray: Lucky he wasn’t asleep. Alice in Wonderland wins the game. They’ll go on now to play against Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.

Bob: With the narrator of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart filling in as the starting pitcher that’ll be an interesting game.

Ray: Don’t I know it.

dontiknowit

Where’s The Sauerkraut?

AF: Good afternoon. I’m Alan Freed and thank you for tuning in to WKGR, the Grocery Radio. Here are this hour’s headlines. A short in the freezer section has caused the freezer containing ice cream and novelties to stop working. A repair crew is expected shortly. In the Gourmet Items section of Aisle 4 a small child dropped a bottle of kumquat syrup on the floor. A cleanup crew is currently on the scene. T-bone steaks are on sale this week for $4.99 a pound, and this week’s circular includes several valuable coupons including one for fifty cents off all JJ brand cereals. I’m going to turn things over now to Robert Weston Smith, our eye on the aisles, for a traffic update.

RWS: Thanks Alan. We’ve got things moving along smoothly on the back wall from Produce to Poultry, with a little bit of a delay over by the dairy cases. There was a brief altercation between a couple of women over blocking the case that holds the artificial creamers, but it’s resolved itself without too much trouble. Looks like the milk is being restocked and that’s slowing things down. Over in Aisle 4 the kumquat syrup cleanup is going ahead but it’s causing some rubbernecking, so that’s slowing down traffic a little bit there too. There are also volume delays in Aisle 14 where the bread is, and Aisle 15 from the shampoo to the diapers. The maintenance crew has also just arrived at the freezer, and that’s starting to slow traffic from the frozen waffles all the way to the fish.

AF: Thanks for that update Robert. Now over to John Peel for the weather.

JP: Thank you Alan. The misters are on over in produce, so if you’re picking up cucumbers be sure to bring an umbrella. I’m just kidding. They’ll shut off in a minute. Things are cool and dry in the rest of the store, but a warm front is coming from the bakery where they’ve just brought out some fresh bread. And over in that freezer section Robert mentioned things are heating up, so now would be a good time to get ice cream. Back to you Alan.

AF: Thanks for the weather report John. Here’s some late breaking news: Butterchurn butter is now two for a dollar, and there’s a new brand of pecan sandies available in the cookie aisle. Coming up: three continuous hours of instrumental top 40 hits. Somebody please kill me now.

sourkraut

This Was A Big Hit With The Application Board.

The following college entrance essay was submitted along with an application to Catalpa University.

Question: Describe an encounter with a famous or notable person.

Answer:

He’d been dead for a couple of years at least, but there was Vincent Schiavelli sitting on a park bench. He was alive but not well. He never looked well. Maybe he’d faked his death as a deliberate final performance, spurning the entertainment industry that used him but never seemed to want him. Danny DeVito, one of his co-stars in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, found his niche, but Schiavelli never did. I wouldn’t call myself a fan. Maybe no one would but seeing him on that park bench, strikingly tall even sitting down, with his heavy-lidded eyes and head that resembled an ivied silo so many memories came back. First I remembered a dozen cameos. He had that bass baritone voice, but a lot of times it was just his voice that did the talking. But I also remember what seemed like every single Christmas having to watch his “Dorf On Golf” video. Schiavelli’s quiet passivity was the perfect foil to Tim Conway’s ludicrous behavior. As I passed him I said, “I never saw Venice.” He nodded, but there was a twinkle in his eye that said, “Seek professional help.”

dorf

The Mirror Trick. (Part 2 of 2.)

(This is Part 2 of 2 of a short story. To read Part 1 click here.)

mirrortrick1I could tell Max was teeing me up. He wasn’t looking at me but I knew it was coming. My notepad was black with marks from every time he’d said “you”. I was on the far left. He was staring at the center of the room. “I was about to ask you the same thing!” he said. Another mark and then I raised my hand. At the same time I saw something out of the corner of my eye on the other side of the room. Max looked over that way.

“Yes sir?”

I saw someone stand up and heard him speaking. “I have a degree in psychology and have worked in the field for decades…” I craned my neck to see who was talking. I didn’t want to stand up. It looked like a bald guy, like me, but that was all I could tell. I looked at Max. He wasn’t giving anything away.

“Thank you sir. I did learn this from a psychologist, and I know it’s a way to build rapport and trust with a potential customer.” Then he started his wrap-up. He pointed to the product cases and binders he had stacked in the back. The starter kit. All for one low fee. I got in line and pulled out my checkbook.

I took the kit with me and loaded it into my rental car in the hotel parking lot like a lot of the real customers. Then I took a drive out to the boonies. Signs pointed to a zoo that wasn’t there anymore, and a campsite. I had a bacon cheeseburger and a beer at a place on the edge of town called Shylock’s. Shylock. That’s another name I’ve forgotten since school. Then I went back to my hotel room and took a nap in front of a cop show marathon. Every other episode in these shows there’s a guy who looks like me. Bald, maybe a little white beard, hunched over. At least I think he looks like me. I don’t spend a lot of time looking in the mirror. Sometimes he gets mugged, but he’s got these special cop moves he uses to protect himself. Maybe that’s why I never get mugged. I look like that guy. Maybe it’s because I don’t go out in the streets at night.

Quarter to eleven I went two floors up. Maybe it was the cop shows, I thought, when I thought I saw a guy coming out of Max’s room who looked like me. Same shirt, same slacks. His head was bent down. I wondered if this was the guy who stole my speech earlier. I gave the door our special knock. It opened and there was Max unbuttoning his shirt.

“Oh, Mike, was there something else? I thought we got all your expenses covered.”

I didn’t know what to say. “Oh, no,” I stumbled. “I just remembered what it was.”

“Yeah, good night then.” He closed the door. I looked at my watch. How was it eleven thirty already?

The room was full. Bigger turnout than usual for a weekday. I was in the back corner with the exit just to my right. Max was getting to the end. I could feel my blood pressure going up. Heart pumping in my ears. The whole room felt hot to me. He was wrapping up, and I froze. It was my job to raise my hand, but all I did was sit there with my palms on my thighs. Max pointed out into the middle of the room, not at me.

“Yes sir?”

Someone stood up. I couldn’t get a good look. I heard them saying, “I have a degree in psychology and worked…”

“Who is that?” I muttered. I tried to stand up, but some guy next to me shushed me. I looked over at him and it was like looking in a mirror. He looked just like me. If I didn’t know better I would say he was me. “Who are you?”

He looked over at me. “Are you gonna shut up or do we need to step outside?”

Yeah, I would have said that too. Something was up here. I looked around. Every person in the room was me. It was a damn hall of mirrors.

I stood up and yelled. “Who are you? Who are all of you?” A hundred pairs of my own eyes looked back at me. Then the room rumbled with a hundred identical voices saying, “I was about to ask you the same thing!”

Max was up there on the stage grinning at me. He held out his hand.

I backed out of the room. Something funny going on here. Maybe I needed a doctor, but I thought I’d better lay down instead. I went out to the elevators in the hall and pushed the button for my floor. Then I changed my mind and punched the button to make the doors open. I walked to the lobby, brushing the wall with my hand as I went.

The lounge was a dark enclosed room just off the lobby. The bartender looked at me.

“Haven’t I seen you before?”

I didn’t know if he was being cute. If I thought he was in on it I’d have taken a swipe but instead I just asked for a Scotch. There was a buzzing in my ear, like bugs or something. I reached up to swat it away. Nothing doing. I decided to let it be.

“Are you all right?”

The bartender was looking right at me.

“You can sit here as long as you want, sir, I just want to make sure you’re okay.”

“Yeah, I’m fine.” I looked down at my scotch. Half melted ice cubes were floating in the glass. I pulled out a twenty and pushed it over to him.

“Keep the change.”

It took me about ten minutes to get everything packed. Then I got a taxi. No fooling with the bus this time. Max could take his whole cloak-and-dagger bit and shove it. At the airport I dropped off my rental car. Whoever got it next could have the case of Silverskin products in the back. On the house. I cashed in a wad of miles to get an earlier flight. With layovers it would be about the same, but I didn’t care. I wanted to be on the move.

The taxi dropped me off at the end of the driveway and I hoofed it to the door. The lock was sticky. Sometimes it does that. Humidity I guess. I jammed it and nearly broke my key. Inside everything looked the same. I hit the code for the burglar alarm. That was reassuring. Nothing had been touched, nothing had been moved. All my stuff was where it was supposed to be. Okay. I locked the door and took a nap.

I woke up in the dark. Max hadn’t called. I checked the caller ID to make sure, but nothing. I had expected him to call, but then I didn’t expect him to call.

A week later I knew he wasn’t going to call.

Sometimes I see someone who looks like me coming down the street from the opposite direction. I cross to the other side. Sometimes when Max is in town I go see him. The timing has to be just right. Too early he won’t open the door, even if I use the special knock. Too late and I’ve already been there. There don’t seem to be that many of me in the area. That makes it easier. Max doesn’t look at the dates on the receipts so he doesn’t notice I’m handing him the same ones over and over. Expenses plus the fee, just like always. It’s a little added income. In the spring I plant flowers. It’s good being me.

rays

The Mirror Trick. (Part 1 of 2)

The following is a work of fiction, unlike some of the other things I write which are no more than 70-75% made up.

mikeAnother day another crappy hotel. I didn’t even know if it was Illinois or Iowa. Maybe I’d make a note of it when I got back to the airport. Never did before. Same thin olive carpet underfoot, same conference room at the end of the hall past the lobby. The location of the lounge, pool, and restaurant were the only things that changed. Not even that much, except when we stayed in that medieval themed hotel in Kentucky. I remember we met in the Grendel room. Who was Grendel? Somebody I forgot since school. I’d done this two dozen times, and what did I have to show? Seven thousand two hundred dollars and a shitload of frequent flier miles I’d never use. Oh, I mean crap load. Sorry Lucy.

I didn’t take it because it was an easy job, but it was. I filed in with the other potential customers. Max gave his selling pitch, and I’d try to stay awake. Sometimes I’d carry a notebook and make a note every time he said “Silverskin”. Or if I was really knocked every time he said “and”. Or every time he walked back and forth on the stage.

“I’m not here to sell Silverskin skincare products!” was part of the start. “I’m here to get you started Silverskin skincare products! And if you do what I say every one of you could earn a thousand dollars a month. You’d like that, wouldn’t you?” And off he’d go. I could tell by looking at the faces around me that he didn’t need to do much to sell them the stuff. That’s what he was doing even if he thought he was really in the business of making middlemen. Maybe he even believed that “I make people rich!” button he wore on his jacket. And the stuff wasn’t too bad. Same as the expensive stuff, I guess, but not made by a company big enough to make it famous. Max always told me that wasn’t why he was selling it to regular people. “These people aren’t chumps,” he told me in one of our private meetings. Maybe he really believed that. And like I say the stuff wasn’t too bad. At my age I don’t give a rat’s…I don’t care what I look like but I dipped into the free samples he gave me. The exfoliant was weird, like oily sandpaper. I don’t know what that was supposed to do. The wrinkle cream seemed like it helped the bags under my eyes. None of it smelled bad either. That’s what made me put it up. It reminded me of Lucy. I wish she’d been around to try it. She was sensitive to smells and things like that. Allergies even though she worked in the yard every day she could. Maybe it was just the synthetic stuff that made her break out. I watched her pull poison ivy with her bare hands. I didn’t think I could do that but I thought I’d help her out when I retired. Plant whatever flowers she liked. She only bought annuals because she liked the planting. Then just after I retired the cancer came. Her friends and even our kids told me she was lucky it was quick. I wanted to tell them they didn’t know jack shit, but Lucy wouldn’t have liked that. “Keep it clean, Mike,” she would tell me. So I didn’t say it. I have more respect for her than they do. And I cut them some slack. They don’t know what it was like to sit in an empty house. It’s why I started working for Max.

He liked to be very cloak and dagger about the whole thing. We traveled in separate cars, mapped out different routes to the hotels. We never arrived at the same time and always stayed on separate floors. If I wanted to eat I had to go out. The farther from the hotel the better. Or get room service. The day of the meeting I had to leave early, take a cab to the bus station, then bum around and take a bus back to the hotel. Camouflage. Max wanted me to look local. I didn’t see the point but I played along. He was paying the piper, and it tickled me a little.

Once he sold them the idea of Silverskin skin care products he really started in on what they wanted to hear. He sold how to sell. How to greet, how to get invited in, never put your foot in the door. Standard tips that would be in the manual too, but he wouldn’t tell them that. Then once he got the basics he started in on the psychology angle. “It’s called the mirror trick. If the person you’re talking to crosses their legs you cross your legs. If they scratch their nose you scratch yours. Not right away, but within thirty seconds. And keep it subtle. You want to avoid them thinking you’re copying them if you can. And if they say ‘Are you doing what I’m doing?’ or ‘Are you mimicking me?” don’t panic. Do not panic. Laugh. Laugh and say ‘I was about to ask you the same thing!’”

Sometimes this would get a laugh. Sometimes it didn’t. It was what he said that was my signal. I raised my hand. He’d be looking the other way then he’d look at me. And he’d look confused. Did it really well. Between you and me I still don’t think he’s too bright. He would say, “Yes sir?” and I’d stand up.

“I have a degree in psychology and I’ve worked in the field for more than forty years, and what you’re saying is one of the best kept secrets there is. Psychologists know about these techniques and they don’t want regular folks to know them. Thank you for sharing them.” Max would look impressed and he’d thank me as I sat down.

“Thank you sir,” he’d say. “I learned these tricks from a psychologist. They’re a proven way to build up trust with a new customer, and I’m sharing them because I want every person in this room to succeed.”

I had a degree in psychology from a state school. The “field” I’d worked in was sales, just like Max. Takes one to know one. I just sold lumber instead of skin cream, and worked one on one instead of big rooms. I never did know where Max got the mirror trick. He told me he read it in a psychology book. Maybe he made it up. All that mattered is he got the whole room to line up and spend two hundred bucks on a case of Silverskin skin care products and a manual of the whole sales talk he’d just given. Minus the mirror trick. He kept that for himself. Most he would never hear from again. Selling is harder than they wanted it to be.

Around eleven that night I’d go to Max’s room, give a special knock, and he’d let me in. We’d total up my expenses and tack on my fee. That’s how it went. That’s how it always went.

Part 2 will be published April 10th, 2015.

It’s Part of a Ceres.

Scientists land probe on dwarf planet.—News item

orbit“Guys, come here. Check this out.”

“What is it?”

“Dunno. It’s metal. It’s been forged. This is some real quality work. This is beyond anything we could make. Way beyond it.”

“Uh oh.”

“What?”

“They found us.”

“Who found us?”

“I always knew it would happen eventually.”

“Quit stalling and tell us.”

“Remember that girl?”

“Which girl?”

“The one who came and stayed with us for a while. The one who cleaned the house and cooked and stuff.”

“I remember she was a terrible housekeeper. One morning I found a chamber pot in my sock drawer.”

“Yeah, and then she ate that poisoned apple and fell into that deep sleep for, what, a year? Remember how we made that nice case for her? And then we ran her stepmother off a cliff.”

“I haven’t had an apple in ages.”

“Shudwarft up. I thought all that was resolved when that prince kissed her and woke her up and she left.”

“Remember why we left? That crazy stepmother had to have relatives. I knew sooner or later they’d come looking for revenge. That’s what this is. It’s a weapon.”

“Get out of here. No one knows where we are. I didn’t tell anyone where we were going. Did you?”

“No.”

“Did you?”

“No.”

“See? No one could know where we are. There’s no way this is a weapon.”

“What if it is?”

“If ifs and buts were candy and nuts…something something something. I used to know the rest of that. Anyway this doesn’t even look like a weapon.”

“I haven’t had nuts in ages.”

“Shouldn’t we at least be prepared? This could be serious. We could all be in terrible danger. Come on guys, get your picks and axes ready.”

“Hey, that’s not a pick. That’s my leg.”

“And that’s not an axe, that’s my…and wipe that stupid grin off your face! Do we have to take him?”

“We’re not leaving anyone behind. There are only seven of us.”

“Six. Remember? We lost the one who was in a bad mood all the time on the way.”

“Oh, yeah. I still regret cutting him loose.”grumpy

“You’re the only one.”

“Hey, look at this. It’s a camera. This isn’t a weapon. It’s just for exploring.”

“You’re sure it’s not spying on us?”

“Don’t be paranoid. Come on guys, line up. Let’s do something fun for the folks back on Earth. Come on, everybody gather around. You—get that stupid grin back on your face. Okay, all together now!”

“CHEESE!!!”

“I haven’t had cheese in ages.”

dwarves

Try The Caviar Cluster

February 13, 2015

Wexler Candy Company
Valentine’s Day Deluxe Assortment Focus Group Testing
Session CRM-114

Sample 1
Participant response:
Part.2: Oh, I’ve had these before. These are really good.
Part.5: What the classic caramel lacks is a crunch factor to punch it up a bit and make it stand out a bit more.
Part.3: I like it, but it sticks to my teeth too much.

Conclusions: Mixed responses, but overall positive. Recommend continuing to include the classic Maryland caramel in this year’s selection.

Sample 2
Participant response:
Part.7: I love the little sprinkles on the dark chocolate. I just wish they wouldn’t fall off.
Part.2: The round ones are soft on the inside, right? I like those. Sometimes those caramel things are hard to chew. I’ve had fillings come out. Really I have.
Part.3: I feel funny.
Part.1: I like the texture of the inside. Fluffy. Cool, it’s pink! What are these little spots? This is really good.

Conclusions: Overall responses were positive except for Part.3. Emergency services got him to the hospital in time and legal affairs is arranging a settlement. Other participants liked this enough I think it’s worth keeping.

Questions: Do we want to risk including the Dragonfruit whip after what happened? What are the odds? Check with the FDA, see if we need to update warning to "Contains nuts, peanuts, and dragonfruit". We don’t want a repeat of the mocha chewing tobacco debacle.

Sample 3
Participant response:
Part.6: I’m, uh, I’m not a real big fan of nuts, you know? I mean I’m not allergic or anything. Not like that other guy. Hey, does he still get paid?
Part.5: Did you consider white chocolate? That would be a subtler flavor playing off the saltiness of the cashews, really bringing it out.
Part.4: Hey, you know what you should call this? "Cashews Clay"! Har!

Conclusions: Overall positive response. Add the cashew cluster.
Questions: Forward "Cashews Clay" idea to marketing. Possible boxing tie-in?

Sample 4
Participant response:
Part.1: I’m sorry, I don’t care for this. It’s not very sweet.
Part.7: Yeah, if this were the first thing I pulled out of the box it’d be a real turnoff.
Part.5: Maybe it’s us. We might be better off with a sugar-free sherbet or ice as a palate cleanser instead of just bottled water.

Conclusions: Withdraw Bordeaux truffle.
Questions: Put it in the carb-free collection?

Sample 5
Part.1: What is this? I’m afraid to put it in my mouth.
Part.2: (spitting out sample): It tastes like moldy wet onions and smells like raw sewage.
Part.4: Is this a, what do you call it, a control? I just call it nasty.
Part.5: Is this something avant garde?
Part.6: I like the taste, it’s kinda sweet, and custardy, but I don’t know if I can get past the smell.
Part.7: This greenish color is almost as big a turnoff as the smell. Are we supposed to eat it or thin paint with it?

Conclusions: Discontinue durian fruit cordial immediately.

Sample 6
Part.1: This is different. Kind of salty. Is it peanut butter?
Part.7: Yeah, I think it’s peanut butter, but there’s something different about it.
Part.5: It has more umami than you’d expect from a traditional peanut butter, and a spiciness that plays well off the chocolate. The texture is unusual, with a kind of melting quality that’s very nice.

Conclusions: The gravy cream is a success.
Questions: Participant 5 watches too many cooking shows. Guys, can we screen for this sort of thing?

Final conclusions: Implement changes immediately. Have marketing prepare a press release.

Prep the next focus group. This afternoon we’ll have them testing the new line of chocolate-covered sushi.

The Year That Was (Part 3 of 3)

deathtarotUnlike 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.

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