Sunday, April 23, 2017

SPECIAL DELIVERY

Copyright (c) 2017 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This is a work of fiction. All persons, locations and actions are from the author's imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner.



By R. Peterson

“I hated that infected-boil-on-the-arse-of-humanity, Rutherford Sutherland, his enemies call him Rutty … he has no friends … with the fury of a tormented wolverine I loathed Sutherland Home Delivery equally as well! Yes! I will have more tea. They’ll deliver anything, anywhere to anyone for a price. I’d been sacked from my last two jobs … it wasn’t my fault … not really. I blame the vile, green-the-morning-after suds they pump and pour at the Squealing Pig and a pissing-dance-all-night rock group called Abortion Clinic.”
“Sure you get screwed while you’re dancing but you leave it all behind! I was an undocumented immigrant from America at the time … still wet from the forced swim.”
“You think things are bad here … they’re worse over there. Six months and I’m already out of my mind.”
“Two lumps in mine but hold the cow back. Knock the bitch up and strand her in London … that was my lover’s plan. I was running low on opportunities, pleasure and especially funds … with an accent on the part about fun.”
“There should be a bloody-law against indenturing without trial, even if I am guilty as a fox with an exhaust port blowing chicken feathers, and a proper jury conviction.  So this girl, step-daughter, runaway, unpaid-prostitute, unmarried-mother-of-three nappy-rats was running out of room to breathe. Thank the Devil in Hell the f%$#@^% horn still functioned … sounds like an angry goose! Move out of the f$#%&@# way! I’ll scratch your sideboards and passage where I will if you don’t take me serious! I yelled. They’ll never make me drive on the left!”
“I understand that!”
“I’d made a solemn vow, my second day on the job, that I would someday kill both Rutty and his ever-peering-over-his-shoulder hunch-backed lover. I do wish I was her. He’s such a prize with those flapping fish lips and an enormous paunch that hangs over his belt like unbaked bread. Ethel obviously raked deep lines in her face with a metal comb when she was younger and planted pimples. A bumper-crop sprouted year after year and the tremendous weight of the infected acne obviously twisted and bent her spine … and I worry when I get a cold sore.”
“No, I think your complexion is marvelous!”
 “Now where was I? How I hated them! The first week I was forced to pay for a broken cooling-fan belt … Rutty claimed I’d been over-revving! I haven’t changed my mind about the ghastly murders; I’m just waiting for the right time and place … and a few more paydays. “Perhaps mum if I caress your f#$%$#@ boot with the edge of my bonnet I can get you to crawl a little faster!” I yelled as the traffic thickened. “Is that a Bentaga you’re driving or a Scotland Tortoise with a  f#$%#@  leg-brace?”
“I’m afraid I do get in a bit of a rage when I drive!”
“Of course … anyway it was that on the rainy night of nineteen April two thousand and six that I found myself bouncing and careening across all twelve lanes of the M5 … of course I’m exaggerating. But pay attention to the plot … I promise … it gets better!  Petherton, Puriton and Burnham-on-Sea hoping the clattering three-cylinder engine, no doubt made of recycled Korean beer cans, didn’t blow! I was knighted by Ethel Sutherland herself and given the title Dame … or was that Damn? … A quest to deliver and obtain signature for one thirty-six point nine kilogram package that gassed like the final-product-end of a squirting English Longhorn. What the f%$# is that vile puddle seeping under the wooden box? I thought. Smells like a copper pot ready to melt!”
            “Thank you, dear, for the cake; sweets have always been my doom.”
“Rutty and that fat, creaking bitch who seduced him decided to purchase, used of course, a fleet of tiny super-tawdry Lorries for half of what you’d play for polite vehicles and then overloaded each one to the point of exploding all the hair-club tires. Someone should tell the Asian dictatorships about shock absorbers. No bolts … everything is held together with gum. When I left the M5, near Brean, I was lost and bouncing like Belle du Jour on a clandestine visit to the back rooms of Parliament. Of course Southerland doesn’t invest in GPS. I had Rutherford’s hand-written scribbles! “F%$# off with the high-beams Mate! Can’t you tell I’m hunting an address? Bloody frog from across the channel he was!”
            “I’m sure you have … we all know that sort don’t we?”
“Ah! An hour later there’s the sign hanging from a bent nail. Chancy my headlamps still work, dim though … like my bloody forgotten! I haven’t seen a streetlight and only one smoking Billy since Brean. Another five miles and we should be there … me and my shadow. Don’t start me singing … I’ve enough trouble! What the f#$% happened to the gravel? Two ruts skirting a rabbit hedge! I cranked down my window and told all the hairless tires to hold their breath. I could hear what sounded like restless snoring coming from the back.”
“No, it doesn’t bother me now!”
“Creepy! Surely the angels would know I was coming.”

-------2-------

“There was so much f#$%#@ fog rising from the weeds I had to look at the address again to see if the moss and mortar rock manor growing out of a forest of dead roses wasn’t the residence of some Lon Chaney lurch-a-like. Nope … this time I’d found a real upper-class English gentleman … “Aleister Crowley III” I believe the label read, although I could have been wrong about the numbers.”
“I know he’s famous and also dead … at least I think he is!”
“Sorry, let me continue. My North Korean, petrol-powered rickshaw coughed and died just as I pulled up to the house. Just as well, with short pants and a pair of trainers I was ready to walk … or to run. The package wasn’t all that heavy but by using a shovel (I get stuck at least twice a week) I scraped it out the back and onto a dolly … I didn’t want to get my hands dirty … or God forbid break one of my ragged and chewed fingernails. I’ll grow them out in the spring for my Allure cover-shoot.”
“Yes dear, I am one of the chosen.”
“Walking on the gravel-over-cement driveway my boots sounded like a pack of wolves chewing old bones. The creaking wheels of the hand-truck were like the cries of terrified rabbits. My forever broken heart, in too many pieces to pound, made a soft rattling noise.”
“Don’t roll your eyes … I’m trying to make this story entertaining!”
“A huge oak door sagged on rusty hinges that looked like they were made when King George was taxing tea in the colonies to pay for an army of mistresses.”
“Of course I can’t prove that … let me finish! I rapped on the splinters with an iron knocker in the shape of two dragons breeding … and then waited. I’d almost battered down the door knocking one of the lusty lizards to the ground when I finally turned and pushed the load back to the rickshaw. From somewhere in the distance a quartet of dogs, or hopefully wolves to make this story better, began to howl. I knew how they felt. I’d driven over three hundred miles and couldn’t leave the soggy package without a signature. I can’t tell you what I yelled into the night … but it was f#$%$#@ rank even for tender wolf ears. By the time I got the box loaded into the back I was sweaty and furious.”
“No, not with you dear … never with you!”
“With the infinite power of profanity I finally got the starter to catch and was pathetically trying to fling gravel with the skinny tires on the way out when a bean-pole thin man, with an unkempt pointed goatee, leaped from a foggy thicket into the center of the twin cow-paths. There was no way to go around him with the long pole he thrust forward in a horizontal position as he approached. If my lorry had had more power I swear I would have tried to run him over.”
“Is that a cat I smell … you really should invest in a dog.”
“Yes, he looked dangerous, but I cranked down the window anyway.”
“I was ready to die; let the bloody orphanage in London raise my brats! “Deliver the package in the rear,” he suggested with a mouth full of crooked teeth. “I’m Harry and I’ll let you in!” I bet he was. He also smelled like a goat. I was glad it was night; I could only imagine the swarm of flies that infested that beard during the day. One of his eyes looked straight ahead; the other popped out of his skull and twisted and turned as it tried to peer down my blouse. He was obviously deranged! If I had any breasts, they were somewhere on a nude-beach in Spain enjoying a holiday and soaking up the sun.”
“Thank you, but I’ve wiped mist from a mirror after a shower many times.”
“I don’t know where the gas-lanterns came from, dear, but Bean-Pole Hairy hung one on each end of the pole as I followed him around to the back. From behind he didn’t look half bad … perhaps it was that lurching hop that turned me on. He removed a chain and opened wooden doors covering stone stairs and ordered me to transport the box down them. I’m not desperate … just practical. I would love a nip … thank you! Perhaps this tale will now go a bit smoother. Of course he stood there gaping as I struggled to once again get the heavy wooden box out of the back and onto the hand cart. I couldn’t really blame him; I must appear like a lovely ballerina when I work.”
“Oh really? That’s your opinion then isn’t it?”
“The stairs were steep and many and it was all I could do to bump the cart to the bottom. “I’ll come in from the front and light the lamps,” he promised. Of course he closed both doors and I heard him secure the chain. I expected no less. I was left alone in the black with what I hoped were only my thoughts. I’ve never been afraid of rats … often they’ve been my only friends. No offence to you, dear, you’re a real charmer! It was there in the utter darkness that the raspy voice first came from the leaking package. “Don’t be afraid,” it said. “Were almost home.” I was squirming … I desperately needed the services of a loo … now more than ever before! Damn! I thought. I should have gone when I passed through Petherton!”
“Oh, I know you wouldn’t”
“I held my water for as long as I could but when Bean Pole Harry flipped a light switch and I saw four headless humans lurching toward me and a couple of doctors standing by with stitched-on heads I let go and splashed the floor. The place was as clean as any hospital but I still wasn’t sorry for what I’d done. There’s a limit to how you can startle a person and I’d hit mine.”
“Thank you dear. I think I will have more tea.”
“Don’t bother I’ll get it.”
“Now where was I? The doctors were all smiling and walking toward me like we were old friends. “We only want the box,” they said, “and you can be on your way!” That’s when I heard the voice from inside the package speaking again … and I thank God I did. “Don’t believe them,” the voice said. “Sure they want me … but you’ve got a good head on your shoulders and I’m sure they want it as well. As long as you hang onto the box they cannot touch you!”
“There was truth to what the voice told me … and I thank you again. Every doctor with a sewn-on head was looking at my own head as if it were some new gadget in an electronics store. I backed toward the stairs keeping the hand cart with the box in front of me. One of the doctors tried to reason with me. “You were hired to deliver the package,” he said.  “Leave it and be off or I’ll have to file a complaint!” I laughed in his face and he was furious. “They’ll want you to go downtown and fill out a form.” I told him. “I don’t suppose you own a turtle neck sweater do you? Those huge stitches around your neck are sure to draw a few questions!”
“They followed as I backed up the stairs but none of them got too close. You’ll be sacked by the time you get back to London!” one of the doctors promised.”
“But at least I’ll still have my head!” I told him. “I was feeling more confident as I rolled the cart back to the rickshaw. I laughed each time they made a new threat. One of the doctors even tried pleading with me. “My wife needs what is inside that box desperately,” he said. “We’ve waited for over a year and today was to be the happiest day of our lives!”
“Sorry,” I told him. “But there’s always tomorrow!”
“I had a bit of a start after I loaded the crate in the back of the van and it failed to start the first few times I cranked it over. The doctors and the headless people started crowding closer. I could see smiles on the faces of those with sewn on heads and I believe they thought as long as I didn’t leave there was still a chance that they could get what was inside the box!”
            “I’m here aren’t I? Of course the van finally started!”
 “Thank you, but I believe I’ve had enough tea. I do believe I’ll have another piece of cake though.”
“No, don’t get up … I’ll get it!”
 “It was a long way back to London and I was terrified by what might be in the crate so I stopped at a pullout near a scenic view and cast the box into a clump of brambles. I felt better without the burden and went straight to the police when I arrived back in London.”
            “Oh, you know him?”
            “Inspector Crombie is a sly muffin in anyone’s book. He listened to my entire story while tapping a pencil against a pad that he’d only written my name on. He had a way of looking at a person as if he’d seen it all and even knew the color of my underthings. “You’re an American aren’t you?” It was more of an accusation than a f#$%$#@ question.
            “You believe I’m lying?” I blurted. I was furious, but the good inspector never batted an eye.
            “I believe you need a bit of a rest!” he says still tapping his pencil.
“I spent three weeks in a private room in St. Andrews for observation because the good inspector thought I was mad as a hatter! After the second day I had everything figured out and confessed to anyone who would listen that it was all just a harmless prank … that had gotten away from me.”
“There’s a lot of crazies in Britain … I guess they needed the room. Once I was out and had my job back I could stop pretending.”
“Of course Rutherford was an arse … but he was so desperate!”
“Oops! I didn’t mean to horde the sugar! Here you go love!”
“No, he never received a complaint about the non-delivery.”
“Now where was I? Oh yes, the last bit of my story! I began to get worried. I couldn’t sleep at night and began to imagine doctors with sewn-on heads and other people creeping through the garden outside my flat. I finally drove back to the bramble bushes next to the scenic overlook and hunted till I found the crate. Only a few broken boards … but no real damage. You of course can determine that much better than I”
            “You know the rest!” I was thrilled when I opened the box … and what we have just keeps getting better each day.”
            “I feel the same way!”
“Yes, I’d love to travel with you. Perhaps on my next holiday I’ll rent a proper car and we’ll drive north. I hear Scotland is beautiful this time of year!”
            “No, of course we’ll sleep in separate beds … I’m not that out there.”
            “You’re gurgling! I didn’t hear that last bit. Oh dear! You’re bleeding again and that China-plate was my mother’s!  That’s some nasty gash below your chin! Not too ragged though … I’ll bet it was fast … and I hope … not too painful. I’d say one of those huge double blades on an axe.”
            “Here let me tidy that up a bit!”
            “Of course I’m not angry, dear. Like I said, I don’t have many friends … and you’re so easy to talk to!”

THE END?


Sunday, April 16, 2017

DREAM LOVER part 3

Copyright (c) 2017 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This is a work of fiction. All persons, locations and actions are from the author's imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner.



By R. Peterson

The smoke and the flames were visible blocks away. The Cloverdale police had the street barricaded and only allowed emergency vehicles through. I parked my truck and ran past a line of ambulances and quick response units, ignoring the officer shouting at me to stop. Two dogs ran past, barking with excitement. Fire trucks continued to spray water on the still smoldering building. Mrs. Childs stood across the street with a group of bewildered and frightened residents. Two of her assistants were covering the trembling old people with blankets even though the night air was at least eighty-degrees. “Where’s my mother?’ I yelled and then silently counted to ten as Mrs. Childs held up her index finger. She was talking to someone on a cell-phone and as I listened I could hear her assuring a family member. “Mary is going to be fine,” she was saying. “She can’t talk right now because they have her wearing oxygen. No! It wasn’t smoke … just the excitement of having to leave the building!” I glared until she finally clicked off the call.
“Your mother is in the QRV being checked-out for smoke inhalation,” She said pointing to a white van with a crowd of people milling around it. The family contact names must have been programed into her phone; she was already talking again as I ran toward the truck. They wouldn’t let me in to see and I waited at least three minutes before a fireman lifted her from the back door.
“It was those incense candles we were using to hide the kittens,” Mom said as she pushed away the hand of an EMT trying to force an oxygen mask toward her face. “Big-nose cat-hater Florence Hicks put two burning candles under her box springs to conceal the imagined litter-box smell coming from down the hall and her bedspread caught the curtains on fire! Even if that grumpy woman didn’t have Alzheimer’s … she’d still be dangerous!”
Mom looked fine and relief swept over me. “Are you okay?”
“I’ll live,” she said holding up a photo album in clenched fingers. “I had to scratch a fireman’s face before he’d let me take my memories. What’s wrong with people these days?”
It was then that I noticed the county morgue van; two white clad workers were loading a cloth covered gurney into the back. “My God! Someone died?”
Mom looked at me with the same compassion she had when my pet collie Skipper had been ran over by a truck when I was ten. “Jennifer succumbed to smoke inhalation,” Mom said. Tears of sympathy welled in her eyes. ‘I thought you knew. The firemen went through the building calling out to anyone who was left inside; there was so much smoke, it was hard for them to see. No one thought about a woman unable to speak!”

-------2-------

It wasn’t until the funeral that I realized Jennifer’s married name was Jennifer Kruger Roker. I sat in the row behind the family holding the program in my shaking hands too stunned to speak. The picture on the front had probably been taken when Jennifer was about thirty. She looked stunning. It could have been my imagination, but I thought I noticed a hint of sadness in her eyes. I’ve seen that look many times as if not just the passing of years but a lack of love somehow dims the light that a person has inside them. If she was married to a bully like Rex Roker how good could her life have been? It wasn’t just the sadness over finding her again after all these years and then losing her so suddenly. I felt like I’d caused her death. I still remembered Rex’s car bursting into flames in my dream and I felt responsible. I remember reading that some of the world’s most brilliant quantum physicists  think that everything we perceive about the universe — height, width, depth, and time, including time — may be actually a hologram, a flat surface with information in the boundaries.       What I took that to mean was this: Anything that you can create, even in the corners of your mind has the possibility of becoming real. Right now, that theory made sense. It seemed too big of a coincidence; Jennifer burning in my dream in a fire and then succumbing to smoke inhalation in real life.
A woman, who introduced herself as Jennifer’s younger sister Beth, talked to me for a minute and invited me to a luncheon afterwards put on by a local church. “Jen wrote about meeting you again and visiting with you these past weeks,” she said. “I think you made her happy … something she didn’t get enough of in her life while she was married to Rex Roker. Did you know he cheated on her? My God! Someone like him should have been grateful that he found anyone decent. ”
I didn’t remember Beth from school and was too stunned by everything that had happened to attend the lunch. I wasn’t surprised at Jennifer’s sister’s reaction to Rex. He was trouble from the time he learned to walk. Try as I might I just couldn’t see Jennifer ending up with someone like Rex. She was caviar and he was burnt macaroni and cheese without milk.
After the funeral, I didn’t feel like driving so I left my car in the lot and decided to go for a walk. Guilt is a heavy burden to bear. The wind came up and blew dead leaves, rustling across the sidewalk as I trudged through the town without a destination. Anything that you can create, even in the corners of your mind has the possibility of becoming real. My God! What had I done?

-------3-------

I didn’t have any more dreams, how could I when I wasn’t sleeping? I lay in the double bed in my apartment, hogging all thee pillows and with two bestselling novels that I read cover to cover, even though I couldn’t have told you five minutes later what they were about.  I was hypersensitive and was conscious of everything: the dripping water-sound of the alarm clock ticking on my nightstand, a freezing wind bending over the arborvitaes planted just outside my window with hushed shouting and the ominous sound of isolated silence … that loudest and most annoying distraction of all.
            After the fourth night without sleep I decided to wear myself out. I actually ran around the block. At sixty-five years of age I figured that if physical exertion didn’t knock me out at least I’d have a heart attack. Anything was better than suffering through insomnia. I had only a quilted ski-parka on and had forgotten gloves when I found myself walking through the city park later that afternoon. A long shelter open to the public by reservation was enclosed and bricked at one end. The stone from a wood-burning fireplace was still radiating heat from an earlier fire with a large pit of coals. My numb hands were more than grateful. Best of all, someone had left a folding chair, a recliner, near the warmth and I sat down just for a minute. Night was still a couple of hours away. I wouldn’t say I felt happy or any relief from the guilt that seemed to hang like an unwanted albatross around my neck … Did I destroy Jennifer by bringing her into my dreams? How selfish of me. I could no longer hold back the tears. At least with my hands in my pockets … I was warm. I wasn’t aware of when the darkness came … only that it did.

-------4-------

It’s strange to be inside a dream when you know where you are. That same long hallway with doors on both sides loomed once again before me. I could see the light seeping from beneath the door that I’d went through twice before and I almost opened it. Why I didn’t I’ll never know. Perhaps I had no desire to witness the horrible accident as Rex’s Chevy struck the white station wagon just on the other side of the bridge and then careened into the service station in a fiery ball of finality. I turned my head and when I did I noticed something I’d never noticed before. The next door down on the opposite side had a faint light coming from underneath. It’s often said that in order to get new results you must pick up a different rock or else pitch at a different window. Perhaps this is how fate is broken.
            The sweeping strobe beams illuminating the floor of Starlight Skating were like threads of colored light weaving a hippie-style tapestry in a magical era. Three Dog Night’s Easy to be Hard was booming over the wall mounted speakers. Jennifer was like the sister with the icy powers in the Disney feature Frozen with blue-white sequins reflecting all the colors of an indoor rainbow as she twirled around the floor. I was happy again and joy is a key that can unlock any ability. My roller-skating moves matched hers, perhaps not with the same elegance and choreographed grace but still with an acceptable resolve. One realizes after a lifetime of looking back that there is never a next time … for anything. We didn’t skate to all of Billboard magazine’s top-forty songs but we must have enjoyed a good number of them. It’s odd how the most euphoric dreams can turn into nightmares with the simplest of sounds. Rex Roker’s steel toed work-boots as he crunched on the gravel behind us as we walked to my dad’s car had the same spine chilling effect as the shrieking tones of the Teen Slasher horror-movies to come twenty years in the future.
            I wish I could say this time I put up a better fight, but I didn’t. People are who they are inside, even when they’re dreaming. He knocked me down and his friends pushed my face into the gravel as Rex forced Jennifer into the back seat of his car.
            The next thing I knew I was following Rex’s speeding Chevy in my dad’s car. At first I thought it was blood running down my cheeks but there really isn’t any physical pain in dreams … it was liquid fear. Probably a cold sweat while I slept. I almost started honking my horn again with the justification that I could get the attention of a cop and that somehow he’d rescue Jennifer. I don’t know why I didn’t. I think it must have had something to do with realizing that the world is like a hologram … everything is controlled by a projection from the outside and if you want to change things you have to pick up a different stone or choose another window. I know this all sounds confusing … but that’s the way our imaginations are and it’s the only way they work. My honking horn had caused the person driving Rex’s car to drive faster. Timing is everything; a second faster or one second slower and Rex’s car would miss colliding with the white station wagon. As it was I had to slam on my brakes and slid sideways in a near miss with the same vehicle.
I followed Rex’s bouncing car down River Road and I knew where they were heading. Mawkat Lake, named for a Blackfoot Indian Chief, lay just inside Motha Forest where Comanche Springs fills a ten acre depression before joining the Cottonmouth River on the way to Magician’s Canyon. It was a favorite teen hangout and a place for underage drinking parties. The kids called it Make-out Lake for good reason. I got my first kiss there when I was fifteen and later scared the daylights out of Nancy Groom and her friends while they toasted marshmallows around a fire with a homemade lake monster costume me and my pals had hidden beforehand in a hollow tree.
 I was glad to see the figures in the backseat were no longer fighting but strangely I felt a twinge of jealousy at the thought that they might be talking. Surely Jennifer is trying to talk herself out of being ravaged by the brute I reasoned. There is no way she couldn’t help but hate the guy. But she had married and divorced him in the future hadn’t she? Maybe I’m not really aware of everything going on here. Reality invades all dreams and the defenders are always unprepared.
It was a party. At least ten cars were parked in a meadow just two hundred yards from the lake shore. I could hear music blasting from someone’s stereo and the sound of raucous laughter. Most of the cars in the lot had a “Shadows” decal in the back window: a silhouette of a hot rod burning rubber with spinning 45 RPM Chuck Berry records for wheels. It figured; most of Rex’s pals were non-paying car club members, oily-comb-in-the-bathroom addicts and reform school graduates.
I followed and hid in a clump of cottonwood trees … This wasn’t my crowd although I knew they’d love to have me show up … for some fun and games at my expense. There were roughly as many girls as there were guys. Chicks with tight pants, mouths full of Juicy Fruit gum and greasy Levi jackets with the Shadows logo stitched on the back.
The Shadow bitches were trying to talk Jennifer into going swimming … al la nude. “Come on … it’s initiation,” one of them told her as she tried to pull off Jennifer’s jacket. The others had noticed Jennifer’s skating outfit. “My don’t you look like a sparkle!” When Jennifer protested that she didn’t want to go swimming or join the club … she just wanted to go home … they began to get indignant. “Think you’re too good for us, do you?”
            “Rex,” One of the girls yelled as Rex helps tap another keg. “Your date is talking bad things about you!”
            “She just needs to loosen up!” Rex said as he walked over. He chugged a quart sized paper cup filled with beer and foam ran off his chin as he belched. “Take me home,” Jennifer insisted, “or I’ll have the police charge you with kidnapping!”
            “Aw, common baby we’re just out here trying to have us a little fun,” he told her.
            `”I mean what I said,” Jennifer told him, ignoring the laughs from the girls.
            “I’ll tell you what,” Rex told her. His puffy lips formed into a ridiculous amorous pout … as if he’d been practicing in a mirror. “I have to get something for my trouble … after all I brought you all the way out here on our first date!” He threw his arms in the air as if in resignation. “Just one little kiss and I’ll take you home!”
Jennifer was fuming mad. I could almost feel her fury as she looked at the ground. Maybe Rex was telling the truth. She surely had plenty of witnesses … even if they were his friends.
            “Okay,” she said at last. “But make it fast … I want to get out of here!”
Rex walked toward her smiling. “Just relax, baby … it’s not the end of the world!”
As soon as their lips touched a camera bulb flashed. One of the girls giggled as a Polaroid photo popped out of the camera and began to develop. “We got proof that nobody forced you to come here … and that you were having a good time,” she cackled.
            “A picture is worth a ton of words in court my dad says!” Rex was laughing as he put the picture in his wallet.
I felt sorry for Jennifer as the girls began to strip her. There were just too many of them. If I charged in I was sure to be killed. Even though you know it’s only a dream reason still drives your nerve. I could almost imagine my parents and the cops finding my beaten and bruised body floating face-down in the lake tomorrow morning.
The girls were pulling Jennifer into the water and the guys were all taking off their own clothes. I’d never been to an orgy but I’m sure this was the way many of them started.
I don’t know what made me think of the gravel pit monster costume that I hoped was still hidden in the hollow tree. Looking back, scaring Nancy Groom and her friends had been one of my best teenage moments. Things rarely go the way you planned usually any attempt to change fate makes you end up looking ridiculous. I could hear laughter coming from the water. I thought I could hear Jennifer’s voice mixed in with the others. She didn’t sound as angry … she married him after all didn’t she?
            The hollow tree was at the far end of the lake hidden behind a huge clump of mulberries. The costume fit better than I remembered … the water was even colder. I pulled clumps of last summer’s moss off the bottom and tucked them into the spaces around my waist and where the hood attached to my shoulders. When I could see the people swimming I submerged and swam just below the surface. My heart was making the shark noises from Jaws as I moved toward the kicking legs.
Seldom do our dreams explode in euphoria … this was an exception. When I burst from the water with a low bellow like a cow that has missed three milking’s all the eyes in the water were like full moons with terrified white faces. I was aware of the screams and the thrashing madness as everyone scrambled to get away from me. Fear is the ultimate weapon to those who can wield it and I charged after them utilizing a morbid lurching gait that would have made even the great Lon Chaney squirm with envy.
The cars were starting up and moving out too quickly. Clouds of dust drifted toward the night sky as flying gravel struck the trees and bushes like buckshot. I heard two girls arguing and a last pitiful cry as one girl was pushed to the ground just before the car sped away. I walked toward her forgetting for a moment what I had become and what I now looked like. Somehow I knew it would be Jennifer and it was. Crouched low on the ground so that I couldn’t see her nakedness. “Are you okay?” I mumbled.
She sprang from the ground like a cornered wolverine moving too quickly for me to comprehend what was happening. A chunk of firewood the size of a baseball bat struck me squarely on the side of the head and I was seeing stars … too many for a single galaxy as small as the Milky Way. Then there was only darkness.
When I woke up the gravel pit monster hood was under my head. Jennifer had placed it there as a pillow. She was dressed and warming her hands by the fire. “What were you thinking?” she demanded. “That’s the worst monster costume I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s a wonder they didn’t put you on a stick and roast you over the fire lie a hot dog!”
“This is some date,” I told her as we walked toward my car.
“I’ll never forget it,” Jennifer said as I opened her door. All the stars seemed to be in her eyes as she kissed me and then suddenly all those same stars were falling … shooting across the universe and taking me along for a ride. This time there were no white rectangles … no doors to pass between what was and what might have been. With a touch of sadness I knew there would be no return.
The fire was out completely in the park shelter and the fire-pit stones had lost their heat. It was the cold that had taken me from Jennifer’s warm dreamy embrace and back to reality. There were dry leaves on my head and shoulders as if I were some kind of Rip Van Winkle just waking up after a century of slumber. If I could have gone back to the same dream and stayed forever … I would have.
My car wasn’t in the Alpine Meadows parking lot … in fact there was no assisted living center on that corner of the block … there was an Ace Hardware store … I checked the street signs twice. I walked to the apartment that I had rented for the last three years but a large Negro woman with children wrapped around her legs answered when I tried to use my keys on the front door. She was threatening to call the police as I ran into the night.
An hour later I finally found a listing for my name in the white pages hanging in a phone booth. The address was only two blocks away and by this point I had nothing to lose. The house was a split-level with a nice yard and a two car garage. Jennifer looked surprised when she opened the door in answer to the doorbell. “It wasn’t locked was it?” She squinted at me obviously bemused. We were both the same age, midway through our sixties. There was a touch of grey in her dark hair but she still looked great. Best of all she was talking and wasn’t writing on a pad. “Dinner has been ready for a half an hour,” she said, and gave a mock pout. “It’s our anniversary … did you forget?”
“Of course not.” I lied. The memories were beginning to come to me … forty years of the most happiness I could have ever hoped for. What looked like a three course gourmet meal had been placed on a lace-covered table with place settings for two and three candles. The roast beef looked delicious and then I remembered it was my favorite. Everything was coming back with uncommon clarity while other things were fading.
“You look like you’ve been sleeping in the woods,” my wife mused as I sat at the table and she brushed a bit of leaf from my hair. “That’s what I get for marrying a wild-man. You said you were just going for a run … I hope you had sweet dreams?”
“The best,” I told her.

THE END?


Sunday, April 9, 2017

DREAM LOVER part 2

Copyright (c) 2017 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This is a work of fiction. All persons, locations and actions are from the author's imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner.



By R. Peterson

I wanted to sleep so badly and so I couldn’t; isn’t that the way it always goes?  I tossed and turned in bed thinking about what Jennifer Kruger, now a resident of Alpine Meadows Assisted Living Center had told me. “Man up!” she’d written. I knew she was right as I punched down my pillows. For years I’d been afraid of rejection. This time it would be different. It was almost dawn by the time I finally drifted off to sleep. The first rays of sunlight were creeping over the mountains to the east and spreading across Motha Forest when once again I found myself moving down the infinitely long and dim hallway with entryways on each side … looking for a crack of light under a special door.
Mrs. Dern’s fifth hour English Literature class was just as I remembered it, with one exception. Jennifer Kruger was in the row of seats directly opposite me wearing a plaid skirt that rode well above mid-thigh as she arranged her essay assignment on Edgar Allen Poe. Man up! This same vision of beauty had told me almost a half a century in the future.
Even without having to look I knew Rex Roker was sitting directly behind me. I could hear him panting like a dog and chuckling as he lodged spit wads around the room. The room was buzzing with distracted chatter. Mrs. Dern was droning on endlessly about the literary virtues of Poe’s narrative story, The Adventures of Hans Pfall, but I was far less excited about a man who flies to the moon in a balloon made of dirty newspapers than about the daring thing I knew I was about to do.
I caught Jennifer’s attention by knocking my textbook off the right side of my desk and then whispering to her as I picked it up. To my horror, the classroom fell into a deathly silence the moment I opened my mouth. My wild galloping tongue was escaping through an open fence made of teeth and it was impossible to hold it back. “Er … I was wandering … if you’d love to go to a bite … and then afterwards movie with me on Friday night?”
The entire class howled with laughter as Rex Roker stood up and moved his hips in wildly exaggerated sexual ecstasy as if having intercourse with some animal – most likely a pig! His pudgy face was distorted with animated bliss. “Movie with me!” he bellowed. “Come on baby! First suffer my bite then … movie … movie … movie with me!”
I had to admit Jennifer looked almost as if she had a measure of compassion, although in a motherly way, as she peered down with her lovely violet eyes and said “I don’t think so … sorry!”
I wanted the school custodian to come in right then and scrape me off the floor and put me in a garbage can, hopefully to be incinerated as soon as possible. This was not to be part of my dream. I had to endure another twenty minutes of giggles, muffled amusement and poor Mrs. Dern trying to quiet a class driven nearly to the edge of tearful laughter and insanity. All I could think of when I finally dragged myself out of the classroom, pinching myself trying to wake up, was one word … nevermore!
            Even when you think you’ve reached the bottom another pit can be dug. The school nurse pulled me from my sixth hour geometry class and I found myself in the school councilor’s office seated before stern Mrs. Vicks. “I understand you suffered an episode today during English Literature …” The way she pronounced “episode” made me believe what I’d done was akin to having a grand mall seizure. Thankfully I saw a rectangle of light appear next to a portrait of Richard Nixon and I felt myself flying toward it.

-------2-------

            Why is it that the best dreams vanish quickly but those you want to forget linger forever? I was still fighting my humiliation when I visited Alpine Meadows later in the day to see my mother. Never before had I taken the long way around to avoid walking past Jennifer’s door but I did so today. There was no way she could have known about the results of my “manning up” but I wasn’t taking any chances. It was as if the whole world knew that an extinct Stegosaurus with a brain the size of a walnut had once again lumbered across the face of the Earth.
            The visit with my mother was a happy one although I was sure she sensed something was amiss. “I saw you talking with Jennifer the other day,” she asked with a smile. “How is she doing?”
            “Fine - I guess,” I quickly tried to change the subject. I asked her about the meals she was getting and helped her dial-in some channels on her TV. After an hour of idle chat, I left when she was ready for a nap. I almost ran from Alpine Meadows and didn’t look back.

-------3-------

I spent the next three days floating and fishing on the Cottonmouth River with a friend who was visiting from California. I thought fresh air, the sound of lapping water and an occasional fresh-caught squirming trout would dispel my anguish about what I’d done in my dream … but it didn’t. I slept fitfully at best and when I did finally drop-off there was no long hallway and no light glowing beneath a certain door to search for.
            A week later, after my mother had asked me to push her to the dining room in a wheel chair, I spied Jennifer as I placed mom at a table with her chatty friends. She was smiling and waving me to a table where she sat alone. There was no way I could refuse. Jennifer looked at me strangely before writing on her pad. What’s wrong?
I sat down and over a bowl of soup I ended up telling her my entire last dream. She smiled when I came to the part about Rex Rocker’s gyrations but looked suitably compassionate when I described the meeting with the school counselor.
            Don’t give up! She wrote. I’ll admit her smile seemed to not only brighten up me but seemed to illuminate the entire dining area.
            “What can I do?” I looked at her accusingly as I sat down my spoon. “You turned me down!”
            Don’t blame me! It’s your dream she wrote. After a moment she started a new page. Why not ask me what I want to do? And then say that you’d love to do it with me.
          “I don’t know if I could suffer through something like that again.” I told her.
She laughed silently … and I felt like a chump.
            Catch me when I’m alone and then ask she wrote be sincere and truthful … and I’m sure the answer will be …Yes.
          “Even in my dreams, I’ve never seen you without an army of friends surrounding you in the halls,” I told her.
I was certainly surprised by what she wrote next … I had no idea.
I always spend at least an hour each day after last class in the school library she wrote and I’m almost always alone.
          “I’ll do it,” I told her, “as long as you’re not sitting next to Rex Roker!”
She smiled again and I felt my heart melting as she wrote something on the paper. Instead of holding it up she motioned me closer so I had to get right next to her to read it. Jennifer planted a kiss on my lips which surprised me as much as it did Mrs. Childs, the assisted living center administrator, who stood glaring from across the room. I think she must have been afraid we would start fornicating right there between the tables before the other residents could finish their split pea soup.
I noticed my mother and her friends smiling as I left the building. It must have been some contagious disease because as I climbed in my car and caught my reflection in the rear view mirror I was smiling myself.

-------4-------

My fishing buddy called right after I returned home and I ended up spending the rest of the afternoon and a good part of the night helping him put a new clutch in his F-150 Ford pickup. When I finally got home I was exhausted and after heating up two frozen enchilada’s in the microwave and woofing them down with a bowl of tossed green salad from a bag I fell into a sound sleep. I’m not sure when but it must have been in the early hours of morning when I began to dream. My friend’s truck became a shaggy dog and we were trying to brush cockle burrs from its fur and our fingers were getting greasy … then finally there was the long hallway and the door to Jennifer.

            She was sitting alone at a table in the school library just as she said she would be. I foolishly sat at a table across the empty room from her without any books and stared at her like a hungry turtle looking at a head of lettuce. Finally I manned up and climbed out of my shell.
            “Hi,” I said as I sat down at the table beside her. “I’m sorry about what happened in English literature yesterday,’ I blurted. “I seem to always get so nervous talking to girls and then my tongue starts to do summersaults on a trampoline.”
            “Your tongue must like to show off,” she smiled. “But I thought you were adorable!”
            She giggled. “Although biting and then all that movie movement stuff might sound a little kinky … at least it’s different!”
I couldn’t tell if she was playing with me and I started to get up. “Wait,’ she said. “I’m not making fun of you … I’m making fun of us! What a way to meet!” she laughed and I felt my heart melt.
She was my dream girl for a reason. I was beginning to love everything about her, the way her eyes looked directly into mine as if she could tell what I was going to think and say … even before I did. “Was this all that you came over here to tell me?” I almost said yes and walked away but I remembered what the Jennifer from 50 years in the future had written “Man Up our future together depends on it.”
            “Actually I just wanted to spend some time with you. Is there anything that you like to do that we could do together?”
            “I could think of a lot of things … but most of them require being married … in polite society,” she laughed. Suddenly her eyes grew wistful as she looked at me. “Saturday night … pick me up at seven … and we’ll go roller-skating.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing even if it was just in a dream. No-one in my school ever went roller skating; it was considered an activity for ten-year old children. Still I had my first date with Jennifer and I found myself skipping like a child as I left the High School and started down Garlow Avenue. A stoplight at the intersection with Main Street that I’m sure had never been there before suddenly switched from a green light to a white rectangle and I knew the dream was coming to an end. I only hoped that it would continue where I left off.

-------5-------


I spent the next morning walking around in a daze. I tried to go back to bed several times but sleep wouldn’t come. I finally decided to visit my mom. Jennifer’s door was closed when I went past and I was anxious to tell her how the dream went. My mother was feeding a black kitten in her room when I entered after knocking. “Her name is Isabelle,” Mom said. “I don’t know how long I can keep her. Old Mr. Barnes had his son smuggle a box full of them past Mrs. Childs and Emma Lou Dawson had already been caught with a stripped tabby in her underwear drawer.”
            “I could put a deadbolt lock on your door,” I told her in jest.
            “It wouldn’t do any good,” Mom said, ignoring my joke. “A platoon of caregivers comes in every night at seven to bring me my medications and there is a strict rule against any pets that can jump out of an aquarium, or open the latch on a bird cage.” She lit an incense candle on her dresser …“to hide the smell of the litter-box under the bed.” she explained.
After I left my mother’s room I hung around in the common area looking for Jennifer. Her door was closed and for some reason I was afraid to knock. Finally I went home did a few chores and tried to sleep. Finally about two AM I drifted off. I woke up in the morning and as far as I could tell I hadn’t dreamed at all. I busied myself mowing the lawn and cleaning the garage. After five o’clock I started jogging. I was desperate to wear myself out. Finally, after the evening news, I did fifty push-ups, ran in place for twenty minutes and did a hundred sit-ups. Either I was going to fall asleep or have a heart attack … there was no other option. I drank a large glass filled with warm milk and still punched my pillow every five minutes. As the clock on the table next to my bed slowly moved past 4 AM I began to feel drowsy.  The last thing I remember before I found myself in the long hallway with doors on both sides was the digital clock changing to 4:19.

           Starlight Skating was playing Sugar Sugar by the Archies as the skaters moved in a circle around an ever-changing strobe-lit floor. Under blue and gold flashing lights, Jennifer looked like a dazzling ballerina in a short sequined skirt and a red tank top. Her smile could have been advertising toothpaste. She didn’t skate, she danced. Her spectacular jumps, spins and slides made me look like a clumsy cow trying to cross a frozen pond. I didn’t mind I could tell she was having fun … and so was I.
            There were only three people left on the floor at closing time and Jennifer kissed me when they announced the last song. We slow danced (skated) to "Baby It's You" by the group called Smith and I was in heaven. We were the last ones to leave the place and as we walked holding hands toward my father’s Chevy Impala I heard a car skid to a stop in the gravel parking lot. Rex Roker was climbing out of his smoke-grey fifty-six Chevy. Three other members of the Cloverdale wrestling team climbed from the passenger side and the back seat. “Well! Well! Well!” Rex boomed as his booted feet crunched in the gravel. “Jenny Kruger blows me off to go roller skating with the class dork!”
            “I’ve never read the rule book that says I have to date a monkey,” Jennifer told him.
            “Just one kiss,” Rex said as he pushed past me, then turned and cuffed the side of my head. “She owes me that much for leading me on!”
Jennifer tried to scratch him and when I saw him grab her arms and twist them I hurdled my whole one-hundred eighty pounds at him. I wish I could say I knocked him off balance or even stunned the gorilla, but it was like running into a brick wall. He turned and rabbit punched me with fists as big as smoked hams. The next thing I know I was face-down in the lot getting a mouthful of gravel each time one of his friends kicked me.
            I must have blacked out. When I pushed myself upright I could see Rex’s Chevy taillights leaving the parking lot. When the car passed under a streetlamp and turned onto the highway I could tell Jennifer was fighting him in the back seat and all Rex’s friends were in the front.
It took me at less than a minute to stagger to my car and start the engine, but it felt like an eternity. Rex’s Chevy was nothing but two specks of light in the distance when I roared after them. I knew there was no way I could overpower four men built like bulldozers so I laid on the Impala’s horn trying to catch the attention of a cop.
Whoever was driving Rex’s car must have been worried too. By the time they caught air going across the Wallace Street Bridge we were both going over eighty miles an hour. I remember thinking it was a flash of lightning but it was a white station wagon being blasted apart as it pulled in front of Rex’s car just on the other side of the bridge. I was skidding sideways when I saw Rex’s car roll over twice and then burst into flames as it tore through the Texaco gas pumps.
I was on the street and running toward the inferno while my car was still moving. A ringing sound blasted my ears and I remember thinking the gas station must have had an alarm that went off when Rex’s car crashed into the wall.  I looked for Jennifer but it was like staring into an inferno. I felt something lift me from the ground and when I turned there was the rectangle of light. “No! No! No!” I moaned, but my voice echoed back to me from the other side of sanity.
I woke up in bed with the telephone ringing. Mrs. Child’s voice was alarmed but direct and to the point. “Alpine Meadows is on fire,” she said. “We need you to come down here as soon as possible!”

To be continued…



Sunday, April 2, 2017

DREAM LOVER

Copyright (c) 2017 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This is a work of fiction. All persons, locations and actions are from the author's imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner.


By R. Peterson

The hallway looked to be infinite with dimly lit doorways on each side, fading into darkness as the passageway sloped. I looked for the source of illumination but found only a mysterious glow around each doorknob. Behind me, the floor and walls looked unfinished with tile, stud and drywall rising from nothing to an invisible barrier that kept me from moving in that direction.
I began to walk and then to run, searching or fleeing from an unknown.  As I passed each entrance, the doors changed. The round, brass and chrome knobs, with key inserts in the center, gradually became ornately decorated with locking mechanisms below in rectangular plates of brass. Others still farther along the hallway were made of dark iron and even wood. Those in the distance contained not knobs but latches. The decorative quality of the doorknobs and the doors appeared to increase the farther I journeyed. Modern bright and pastel technology gave way to an engraved and gilded quality that looked to be of Victorian, Colonial or even earlier craftsmanship.
Most doors appeared to be locked although I didn’t try them all. It was when I had returned to almost the beginning of the passage where the walls and the hallway were unfinished that I perceived light coming from beneath a door that strangely I hadn’t noticed before. I turned the brass knob … and the door opened.
It only took a moment for me to realize where I was, approximately halfway down Junior Hall inside Cloverdale High School. I stood next to a double row of metal lockers. Mike Blueberry and Jason Scott stood on either side alternately dumping and picking up book and spiral tablets. I looked down. I was wearing jeans and a black t-shirt with the album cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Are You Experienced?” silk screened on the front. Just by watching the faded Levi 501’s and the tie-dyed shirts that moved past as well as the tantalizing just-above-the-knee (tugged down for school) mini-skirts that drafted, napalmed and then helicoptered our attention I discerned the year had to be 1968.
Jennifer Kruger appeared, strolling down the hallway toward us with a blinding smile and dangerous curves that made even the most popular senior boys apply the brakes on their out of control desires. “Who does she go out with?” Jason gasped as Jennifer moved past us like an angel looking for someone to rescue … let it be me.
“Girls like her don’t go out with guys like us,” Mike said as if that fact was common knowledge.
“Who do they go out with?” Jason couldn’t stop staring. I didn’t blame him none of us could.
“They go out with college men … guys with lots of money.” Mike replied.
I was vaguely aware that I was in a dream. I’d been here before … many times. The sudden realization that I could do anything in a dream … even fly if I wanted … struck me as an opportunity I couldn’t overlook.   Just be cool I told myself as I walked toward Jennifer. She was clustered with a small group of girls in senior hall laughing and talking to Janna Wood another one of the un-dateable sophomores that were every boy’s forbidden fantasy. Just as I was about to reach out and tap her shoulder, Rex Roker pushed past, his almost three hundred pound lineman’s bulk brushing me aside like a tumbleweed. “How about taking in a movie Friday night?”Rex was looking at Jennifer with his little pig eyes attempting to dazzle her with a too-big smile stuck in his square jaw. “Planet of the Apes is playing at the Royal.”
            “I’ve seen it,” Jennifer said, “and besides … I’m grounded.”
Rex hefted a flabby arm over her shoulder and gave her a hug. “Let me know when you’re available,” he smiled as he swaggered away.
I was close enough to see Jennifer’s deep violet eyes roll upward behind his back. She and her girlfriends all giggled. I suddenly lost my nerve and turned back. A large white rectangle like a doorway appeared in the wall between Mike and Jason. I was off the ground floating and speeding toward it … knowing that my dream was coming to an end. The noises of voices chattering became a buzzing sound as I passed through the light… and apparently through the cinderblock wall.
I was in bed at home and I reached a liver spotted sixty-five year old hand out to shut off my alarm clock, wishing I had the time and energy for five minutes more sleep.

-------2-------

            Alpine Meadows was an assisted living center that my uncle had recommended. His oldest sister had resided there for eight months before she finally died from heart failure and the complications of old age. “It’s expensive,” he told me. “But you can’t take it with you.” I wanted something nice for my mother. After being a stay at home mom for years and putting up with my father and my three brothers and two sisters she deserved a good place. Not that my life was bad. We were a closely knit family and my father made a decent living selling insurance, eventually opening his own brokerage. My parents were the type who spent everything on their kids and almost nothing on themselves. The 1966 Cadillac parked in mom’s garage was my late father’s pride and joy, still less than eighty-thousand miles, but it was forty years old. It was 1969 before my mother had an electric washing machine and she’d never owned a dishwasher in her life. She wore the same blue dress to church for years even after my father died and continued to bake bread and bottle her own pickles even when I was the last child left in the house.
It wasn’t until she began to exhibit signs of dementia that my brothers and sisters insisted that I be given power of attorney to look after her affairs. I was recently retired and had been divorced for ten years. My siblings must have thought I needed something other than an old electric guitar with rusty strings and even rustier dream of rock stardom to occupy my mind. I discovered that in addition to a monthly social security check that she lived on, mom had several bank accounts, safety deposit boxes, stock certificates and land deeds. I was afraid I might be missing something, some vast looming debt that would balance things out, so I had an accountant friend investigate and tally up my mother’s finances while I sat in a kind of daze.
            My mother had a net worth of a little less than two million, three hundred and eighty-six thousand dollars, not including her house and car, and she was eighty-nine years old. I was determined to drag her away from the fourteen-inch Philco color TV, watching old Lawrence Welk re-runs, with the snowy picture that rolled and give her a better life for however many years she had left.
            My uncle was right Alpine Meadows was clean with a friendly staff and even a chandelier hanging from the ceiling of an elegant common room. The manager, Mrs. Childs, let me talk to the cook and showed me a list of last week’s menus. The place was actually within walking distance of my apartment and I could visit mom every day.  I was ready to sign the papers right there but the manager smiled and said to think about it for at least a day. I liked that. People with integrity are rare in today’s world. It was while walking back from the room that would be mom’s, a kind of studio apartment with a tiny kitchen, living area, bathroom and bedroom that I happened to glance inside a room with an open door.
Something about the dark violet eyes that stared at me from under a quilted bedcover made me stop. I knew her or thought I knew the woman lying in the bed. Her hair was darker than I remembered and with streaks of highlights that gave her a somehow youthful appearance. The wrinkles under the eyes reminded me of my own and I knew we had to be almost the same age. “Jennifer Kruger?” I gasped.
            “Jennifer had a stroke a few months back that has unfortunately left her unable to speak but I believe her maiden name was Kruger.” Mrs. Chiles smiled. “Would you like to visit for a minute? Jennifer doesn’t get many visitors.” Mrs. Chiles looked at Jennifer as if seeking her approval and Jennifer nodded.
            I instantly felt awkward. I’d known who she was from school but we weren’t exactly friends. What was I supposed to say. Remember me? I was that skinny kid who used to ogle you and bang my head on a locker when you’d walk past in the hall. I walked shyly into her room. “Hi, I’m Ray Simmons,” I said. “You probably don’t remember me … but we went to high school together.”
Jennifer squinted her eyes as if trying to see me clearly, for a moment I saw a frown forming on her brow then suddenly she smiled. I hadn’t felt this much warmth since I was thirty … perhaps never. Her smile was the same brilliant bouquet of flowers that I remembered and it erased the tiny lines under her eyes. I was awestruck by how beautiful she was even after all these years. She reached for a lined yellow notepad and pen resting on a table next to her bed and wrote carefully with smooth and slender fingers while I waited. There were lots of flowers in her room white and blue gardenias but no photos. I remember you  the note said when she held it up grinning. I was trying to catch my breath and couldn’t think of what to say.
            “I’m thinking of putting my mother in this place as a resident,” I stammered. “Mrs. Childs was just showing me around.” Jennifer glanced behind me and I could have sworn the two of them exchanged some kind of secret communication.
            “I’ll leave these papers on my desk and you can call me know tomorrow and  let me know what you decide,” Mrs. Childs grinned as she walked away. Jennifer stared at me for a long minute before she picked up the pad Tell me about yourself she wrote.
            “I retired three years ago,” I told her. “I worked most of my life as a carpenter building houses except for the two years I spent in Viet Nam.”
She folded over the page on the pad and wrote again. Wife and kids?
“A boy and a girl,” I told her. “Mike and his wife Misty live in Columbus Georgia and he is a dentist. Susan and her husband Jeff live in Hawaii. She gives dance lessons while he teaches school.”
She stared at me a smile forming on her lips when she noticed my hesitation. “My wife Karen and I got divorced three years ago,” I shrugged my shoulders.
Jennifer wrote on the pad again and I was surprised when she held it up. Who won? Her eyes seemed to be looking right through me.
            “No one really wins in a divorce,” I told her. “I guess you could say at best it was a tie.”
Jennifer seemed to accept my answer. I didn’t know what to say to her. Then suddenly words spilled from my mouth like hot coffee. “What about you? Did you live around here after High School?” She shook her head slowly as if wondering how much to tell me. Finally she picked up the pad and hesitated as if wondering what to write. You wear it well she wrote. I looked down at my faded Levis and black t-shirt with a tiny hole near the hem where I’d splashed a drop of acid while changing the battery in my car. I glanced at her and she shook her head before she began to write again. Not your clothes … life!
Two of the caregivers came in the room to tell her that lunch was ready and I knew they wanted me to leave while they helped her out of bed. “I hope to see you again,” I stammered. Jennifer smiled and then turned away.

-------3-------

The long hallway with the endless doors on each side was once more before me. This time I knew exactly where I was going. Sure enough I found myself inside the school gymnasium when I opened the door with light glowing from the crack at the bottom. The lights were dim and live music was playing … an after basketball game Victory Dance, although Cloverdale High School’s Stallions had lost again. There were almost twenty couples dancing on the floor to a local band’s  rendition of  Tommy James and the Shondells’ Crimson and Clover.
I watched in fascination as Jennifer Kruger broke away from a group of girls and walked toward a water fountain. Her golden auburn hair shimmered under revolving strobe lights and her radiant smile was almost like a spotlight. I wasn’t the only one staring, every guy lined up against the wall gazed at her with crushing hopeless expectation. Somewhere in the far distant future I was lying crossways in bed with covers twisted around my neck and a pillow lying on the floor but this was a dream … and I could do anything.
I stood behind her and I suddenly felt light headed. She was bending over to get a drink and the gold and blue cheerleading skirt she wore rose to mid-thigh. I stared transfixed at the back of long slender legs covered with nylon stockings that reached from the floor to heaven. I was still in a daze when she rose and turned around suddenly; her lips and mine were only inches apart.
“Wow!” you scared me,’ she giggled. She stared at me for a second or it could have been hours. I was helplessly lost somewhere in her dark violet eyes … and it was getting dark. The band had just started to play a new song Get Together by the Youngbloods and the slightest trace of a smile hummed along in the fascinating corners of Jennifer’s lips. “Did you want to ask me something?” I was close enough to catch the scent of Tuvache’s Oh! de London perfume as I  pointed toward the water fountain. “Can you excuse me please … I’m thirsty,” I stammered.
I despised myself as she turned and walked away. People like me should be marched seven abreast into the oceans before we get a chance to breed or mankind will be forever lost. I saw the square rectangle of light lingering in the air next to the band’s strobe light. I was off the ground and flying toward it even as I bit my lip. How could I blow a chance like this … even if it was a dream?

-------4-------

            The clock radio next to my bed was playing Dream a Little Dream of Me with Cass Elliott’s silky vocals when I woke up in bed. It was moving day and I had a few things of my mother’s to move into Alpine Meadows. Although the assisted living center contained all the essentials, beds, lamps, and sofas things like photos, cherished knickknacks and other mementoes of a life well lived were what made any place a home. I was disappointed to see that Jennifer’s door was closed as I walked past, carrying a cardboard box filled with books about birds. My mom seemed a bit sad although she tried to cover it with comments about how clean the place was and all the new friends she was sure to make. We talked for a while and then she said she was sleepy.
No one could have been more disappointed than me when I walked past Jennifer’s room a second time and the door was still closed. I was almost to my truck parked outside when Mrs. Childs called from the doorway. “Do you want those empty boxes back? We really don’t have room for them here and they’ll just be thrown away.”
I didn’t have any use for a bunch of cardboard boxes but I went back for them anyway. It was when I was carrying them through the large common room that I noticed Jennifer. She was seated in a comfortable looking lounge chair watching Midnight Cowboy on a big screen TV. Several other residents noticed me stop and stare. When Jennifer turned she gestured for me to come. I tried to take ten years off my age as I sucked in my gut and walked over. She smiled at me as she picked up the yellow pad and her pen. I hope one of those boxes is big enough to smuggle me out of this place she wrote. I laughed. “You’re not very big, but still I think it would be a tight fit!” I loved looking at her smile and then added. “Is this place really that bad?’
She took her time writing the next message as if wanting to say only truthful things. It’s not bad, but there is really nothing wrong with me. My daughter doesn’t want me to live alone because I can’t talk on a telephone if I get into trouble and she lives in Minnesota.
“What about one of those life alert buttons?” I couldn’t help it … I watch too much TV.
Do you have one? She grinned as she held up the pad.
“No, I don’t want the EMP’s busting down my door every time I roll over in my sleep,” I told her.
She looked at me the same way she had the night before in my dream …. Somewhere in another part of Alpine Meadows I heard someone laugh as she wrote. Did you want to ask me something?
          “I don’t think so,” I told her truthfully. “Why do you ask?”
She moved the pad so that I couldn’t see what she was writing and tore several pages out and wadded them up before she finally showed me what she wrote. You look like you’re keeping a secret.
I don’t know why I told her, maybe it was her eyes or the beguiling scent of  Oh! de London that lingered in the misty corners of my mind. The next think I knew I was blurting it out. “I had a dream about you,” I stammered. “Actually more than one.” I looked around to see if any of the other residents were listening then let it all gush out like an earthen dam with water surging over the top. “I’ve dreamed about you since High School.”
Once my dark secret was out I thought surely she must thin I was some kind of perverted psycho if not some weird senior citizen stalker. She turned her eyes shyly to the pad she was writing on. Why didn’t you ever ask me out?
          “I was afraid,” I told her. “You had every guy in the school wanting to date you and I was a nothing.”
Caregivers were beginning to push the residents toward tables on one side of the common room. I looked at my watch it was almost noon. “Would you like to have lunch with us?” An overweight Hispanic woman asked as she helped Jennifer to her feet. I was aware that they were not going to allow her to walk unassisted … although she looked more than capable.
            “No,” I told her. I was trying to see Jennifer’s face but they turned her away from me. I picked up the pad Jennifer had left on the lamp table next to her chair. “You forgot this,” I said. Jennifer didn’t turn around when one of the girls gave it to her. I’d only given it a glance but the words she wrote lingered in my mind on the drive home and even as I crawled into bed. Man up she wrote. Your future, and mine … depends on it.

TO BE CONTINUEED ….