Category Archives: Insight

An open letter to America…and maybe the world

java-1

Java typed with determination and focus, as she was prone to do in these situations…

An open letter to all Americans…and maybe the world.

Dear Americans (or…Worldians?):

You don’t know me…well, I suppose some of you do, but the bulk of you don’t. And that’s OK.

It’s been a hot minute since we last spoke and that’s on me. It seems that the latest presidential election threw me for quite a loop. Not like a “damn, I didn’t see that coming” kind of loop, but more of a “KER-POW”, tiny cartoon mouse clobbers the cartoon cat so hard with a giant frying pan that his head flattens out kind of loop. And when I sat down to write to you all about it, to try and “work through it” as they say, I found the only things coming out of me were just awful. Anger and frustration bubbled up in me in such a way that I just could not put something down here without it turning all bad, just counterproductive maniacal ranting really. Who needs that?

So I stepped away for a piece. Took a moment to search for that inner calm, many of us seem to seek out so regular. I unplugged my TV. I read a couple books and learned some new things. Did you know there are over 40,000 different kinds of rice? News to me too.

Eventually, I felt the harder edge of my frustrations dull a bit, at least to the point where I could consider a different perspective. After a while, I did plug my TV back in and I took a “baby steps” approach to reacquainting myself with what the world was becoming. And through my calmer, deep-breathing induced, more rational state of mind, I realized – the world is a mess and we made it that way.

It’s awful to say, but that realization is not the culmination of frustration and vitriol as much as it is just an acknowledgment of the fact that, collectively, we have lost our way. We are on a path that needs to change or we will do great and eternal harm and it seems like we just don’t care all that much.

My friend Stella likes to say over and over that, “the first step to solving a problem is admitting you have one.” She says it a lot. Like a parrot. But there’s truth in it. We have a problem, and by a problem, I mean a whole slew of them.

I’m not talking politics here, although politics surely feed the beast. I’m talking about how we seem to have stepped away from our lofty, yet primary objectives that define us as a species. Where is our decency, our compassion, our interest in helping others up so we can move forward together, or our interest in making a better world over slowly destroying it?

Understand that I am not so newly enlightened and calm that I believe we can all get along all the time and gather in some sort of eternal kumbaya moment like the Whos around a Christmas tree – nice as the thought may be. I mean, there are long-time neighbors and blood relatives that can’t stand to be in the same room together. Everybody has their shit and everybody loves their drama. But over the short term as those types of things work themselves out, or don’t, our job is not to proactively make things worse when these situations arise.

First, do no harm, right?

If you are a stranger to the obvious, let me share some of the things I’ve learned in addition to that tidbit about rice. We are divided. We are selfish and self-serving. We don’t listen. We are unforgiving. We are unyielding. We are inflexible. We are demanding. We are intolerant. We are irrational. We are easily amused. We are easily manipulated. We are lazy. We prefer style over substance. We go for the popular and discard the less so. We strive to be adequate. We spend billions on things that don’t matter. Comparatively, we spend little on what does. We gather and hoard. We crave fame and notoriety. We want to see and be seen. We are superstitious. We are frightened. We are weak. We are fragile. We are damaged. We are damned lucky to be alive at all and more.

Remember when I talked about stepping away from our lofty, yet primary objectives? That’s probably wrong. Truth be told, we probably never embraced the concept of those objectives. They are merely platitudes. We talk about how we should live. We have A LOT to say about how others should live, but we can’t keep up. The real work is hard. Too hard maybe, since we can’t seem to commit to it.

Now, I’ve heard people say, we all aren’t all those things and that it is unfair to use such broad and negative generalizations. You may be right. But we will be judged by who we are as a collective society, and not by the actions of our singular heroes.

We’ve had centuries to try figure out how to get along with each other and we can’t manage it. We keep making the same mistakes. The more people we squeeze onto the planet, the bigger those same old mistakes become. We progress far slower than our full potential because the masses rely on the work of a few to get things done for everybody.

You want an example? Pull up to the corner of virtually any intersection, look down at the curb, then count the cigarette butts you see sitting down there.

Even one is one too many. And that’s my point. We know smoking is bad, but people do it. We know littering is bad, but people do it. We know bombs are bad, but we keep making them and we keep using them. These are not the unfortunate byproducts of things beyond our control, like mold after a flood or whatever. These are things well within our control, but not within our immediate interest or sphere of caring. So as long as there is a person out there who feels it is their God-given right to smoke and flick cigarette butts out the window, or blow something up every time there is a disagreement – everyone else be damned – we will be a lesser species.

So what then? What happens now? What do we do? Whatever we can.

We have one world to live on and Heaven help us and whomever, if we find another one out there we feel we have the right to mess up. If you aren’t helping, you’re hurting or hindering. You’ll say no, but inside you know it’s true.

Think. Breathe. Get involved. Demand more from others, yes, but demand more from yourself first. Be humble. Be understanding, Let go of the anger and whatever else pollutes your day. Try.

Good luck to us all.

Your friend in the cosmos,

Java

*Editor’s note:
To read other “Something to Ponder” entries, search for Java at the top of the page.

An open letter to all American voters

JAVA--1

Java typed with determination and focus, as she was prone to do in these situations:

An open letter to all American voters – Dear Voters:

You don’t know me…well, I suppose some of you do, but the bulk of you don’t. And that’s OK.

You see, we don’t need to know each other on a super personal level to know that we are all part of a giant community of Americans who share the most important, and some might say daunting task that is electing our new president. That’s right, come November, we – collectively – get to pick who is going to represent us, protect us, nurture us, guide us, promote us, support us, inspire us, engage us in combat, embarrass us and calm us over the next 4 years.

Thing is, as I watch you on TV and such, campaigning or protesting or sharing your views with the world as to which candidate you back and why, the thing I keep coming back to is the notion that very few of you – OK, very few of us – really know what we’re talking about.

First, understand that I want every able-bodied and capable American to vote in this election. It’s our right to vote and it’s important to participate in the process. Secondly, every able-bodied and capable American who wants to vote in this election owes it to himself, herself and every other American to do the homework.

You see, I don’t really care who you vote for if you come to a responsible, educated, well-informed decision that suits your personal ideals of where this country should go. But – if you’re gonna pick who you vote for based on your gut, what spews forth from whatever news channel you favor, who slips you a fresh $20 bill, what your mom tells you, what lies in the bottom of your tea-cup, what Ben Franklin told you in a dream, what way the wind blows or whatever other magical seventh-sense, mystical voodoo that motivates you, stay home. If you’re gonna guess, stay home. If you just don’t like the way somebody looks, or you just want to vote the way you’ve always voted, stay home.

If you feel all those things above, or you driven by spirits or whatever and you still want to vote, just go ahead and jot your choice down on a piece paper and cast it to the wind. I assure you that the magical elves of Clannor will gather up your vote and see that it gets where it belongs. No harm, no foul.

It’s like this. Let’s say you watch a thousand hours of a medical drama (or a combination of medical dramas – there are some great ones out there) how likely would you be able to safely and successfully remove somebody’s appendix based on what you’ve seen? I think most of us would see ourselves as absolutely unqualified no matter how many hours we’ve watched and would step away from the challenge entirely. Why? Because we know we would likely do more harm than good. We could kill somebody.

It’s not a sign of failure. It’s the human brain being reasonable. You realize that the only way you will likely, successfully remove somebody’s appendix is to actually learn how to do it. You need to understand the anatomy of the body, where to cut, what to take out, what to stitch up and a whole host of other things plus, you need to know how to react if something goes wrong. It’s complex. Body parts aren’t conveniently labeled.

Now, there are those out there who would take on the challenge and want to step up, grab that knife and give taking out that appendix a go. These are the truly dangerous among us and don’t kid yourself, these people do exist. They will push their way up to the body and maintain that not only do they know what they are doing, but they can probably do it better than most because they are just all that. Even when things turn sour and they find themselves in trouble, they will maintain they know what they are doing and keep at it rebuffing help and wisdom, until it is way too late. Finally, as the body cools after their tragic ignorance does its terminal damage, they will not take ownership of the loss. No, they will likely blame the darned fool who let them have the knife in the first place. They are forever and always without fault.

You see, the average American voter is lazy, yet pompous and full of bluster. They don’t want to do the work. They don’t want to invest the time to figure things out. Rather, they pick, they commit, then sit back and have a fit when things don’t go as they thought they should. They are ready to go poking around for America’s appendix without having so much as an inkling about what lies under the skin and we can’t afford that. The world is a complex place. The issues we face are complicated. You just can’t pick a stance out of the blue based on a headline. It just doesn’t work that way.

The average American voter stands solidly behind the candidate that tells them the prettiest story or stirs the greatest anger within them. They don’t allow themselves to believe that the stories are stories and that solutions are useless unless people work together to make them a reality. They refuse to understand and accept that the backstory of our decaying government was written by their own hands and that they made the world we live in by filling the government with people who sit under their favored label or are apt at stroking the voter’s frail and fragile ego.

You can’t invite separatists, extremists, isolationists, egotistic, narcissistic bigots and zealots into your government and suspect that things will go well.

You need to get at those folks who are willing and able to do the job and who actually understand that the job is doing the work of the people, for the people and not the just relentless task of constantly getting re-elected. Seriously, we have enough of those do nothing career politicians.

I truly believe people spend more time looking at a dinner menu than they do evaluating their prospective elected officials, their qualifications, or what they really bring to the table.

I hesitate to blame the politicians. They only do what politicians do and that is press their advantage. If they can get voters to put them into office with pretty words and platitudes, they’re going to jump on that opportunity like a crow on roadkill. However, their work is a matter of public record. You can see what they do and don’t do. They’ll tell you they’re doing the good work, but it’s easy to see there’s not much work getting done.

We are the ones that keep putting people into places they don’t belong. Then we expect that we will get some sort of magic out of them when they get into office. Like they really heard us or something. It used to be cute; voters being all naive and aw shucks and such. Now, it’s just sad.

It’s time for each and every American voter to get off their proverbial backsides and start rubbing some brain cells together. The bluster and partisan pageantry of the conventions are over and now the real work begins.

How loud you yell, doesn’t make you a good voter. The size of your sign doesn’t equate to how well you get the message. You don’t “win” by being able to shout someone else down. You don’t “win” by vilifying another because their beliefs don’t align with yours. You don’t “win” by voting for one because you hate the other.

This ain’t a TV show folks. Do the research. Check the facts. Demand information. Ask questions then shut your mouth, open your ears for a moment and listen. Resist the urge to attack and disparage the moment you think you hear something that bumps up against your tender sensibilities. Dare to hear and understand the debate that takes place on both sides. Dare to expect more.

I’m talking to you American voter. You’re never going to teach someone else a lesson by wasting your vote. In fact, every wasted vote, every voter who withdraws from the process or treats the right to vote as anything less than the real and sizable responsibility it is, is an insult, a slap to the face of every person who fought for, died for and still fights today for your right to continue to vote.

The world is watching. We can show the world we still know what we’re doing and that we do it with mindful purpose and intent. That we give the right we have to vote the respect it deserves by taking the time to push beyond laziness, ignorance, apathy, bitterness, dogma, prejudice, spite, anger and more to ensure that our decisions truly reflect and serve the needs of our people. Do the right thing the right way. See you in November.

Your friend in the cosmos,

Java

 

 

An Open Letter To Donald Trump

Java typed with determination and focus, as she was prone to do in these situations:

An open letter to Donald Trump –

Dear Donald Trump:

You don’t know me, and while the chances are greater that we might one day meet now because you are running for President, I’m not holding my breath. So, let’s just leave it at you don’t know me, and you probably never will.

Still, despite – at least based on my research – what appears a complete and total disconnect between us, I think it’s appropriate and important for me to reach out to you because of your interest in representing me, and the interests of our country, as the President of the United States.

You see – the job of President is a complex one. We the people need to respect the person who gets that job. More importantly, the person who gets that job needs to respect the job itself and the mantle of responsibility that comes with it. If you want to be my President, you better grab a seat and give a listen to what folks like me have to say.

Listening is a critical skill for a successful President. My mother always told me that the best way to listen is to keep your mouth shut so that the message you’re supposed to get comes in clear, avoiding anything your mouth might try to throw at it to confuse things. The second part of listening, is hearing – actually hearing the message that’s coming at you. Since you are everywhere these days I’ve had some good opportunities to watch you, and yes, listen to you.

Two things on that, first, as I listen to you, I hear what you’re saying. And while I’ve never been quite sure what a “bejeezus” is, I know that when I listen to you and I hear what you say, whatever bejeezus I have in me is scared shitless. Because when you boil it down, I’m not hearing much of value at all. Like a handful of those puffy cheese curl snack things, what you say lacks all kinds of substance. What I see is that you have throngs of people who do hear something in your words. I surely don’t begrudge them for that, even though I’m not clear on what it is they’re getting. To me it seems that on the surface, what they hear from you centers on, and seems to incite hate, violence, separatism, intolerance, misunderstanding, ignorance and a few other tasty negatives, which they appear to be OK with. The truth is, you have followers. Therefore, you have a responsibility to them and for them. You owe them the courtesy of your attention, your humility, your sincerity and your respect.

The second thing is that I’m not sure you’re listening or hearing. I get the feeling that instead of listening, you talk until you get tired, you pause for a bit, and then you spend your time looking for your next opportunity to speak out loud. Then when you do – BOOM – there goes my bejeezus again! It’s a terrifying cycle.

Look, I am one voter. While I have my doubts, they tell me my one vote counts, so like anything extremely personal to me, I’m very careful about where I put that vote. In my mind, it’s so much more than a single vote. It is an expression of who I am as a human being, as an American and it is a representation of what I stand for in my life. I don’t give my votes away. A candidate has to earn them. And I can tell you that no hot, steaming pile of rhetoric or reality show based shenanigans will earn my vote.

I’m a voter who needs solutions, solid ideas, compassion, a broad vision of the future, an understanding of the global circumstance, temperance, tolerance, empathy, strength, courage, common sense, a dash of humor, and a slew of other tasty attributes.

My hope is that you got into this because you are sincere in your efforts and intents to guide this country in a way that is beneficial to all. My hope is that you are not just some pot stirring, bile spewing, hate mongering, short-sighted, cartoon strip, ego driven, narcissistic, circus master who’s pulling his show into the center ring because he found someone who’ll shine a spotlight on him.

The fact that you are currently leading your party certainly says something about America. I’m not sure what it says yet, but it has a very sort of “monkeys running the zoo” kind of feel to it. It makes me sad in my soul. Don’t worry. While you are a huge part of that, the whole field of candidates seems lack a certain sense of…gravitas.

I’m thinking maybe you started this thing as a lark and it all got out of control and now you just don’t know how to get out of it. Mostly because you’re tossing some real doozies out there that make it feel like you are just begging someone to eject you from the game. For if they kick you out, you still win. You save face. You can say you didn’t quit.

Look, if you really want out, my first suggestion is to take a page from the Jeb Bush campaign. Look at that poor man’s face. Have you ever seen anyone who wants to be President less than him?

The long and the short of it is, you have yet to earn my vote. I don’t get the feeling that you truly respect the job or the responsibility that comes with it. You are welcome to prove me wrong. Should you do that, I am more than happy to make a full, fair and public apology for doubting you. Until then, it’s all just a big show, a big joke, a whim and a scam, but a scam with severe consequences. I urge you to dance on that line carefully.

Your friend in the cosmos, – Java

The Glorious Sunset of Taffeta Spaulding – XI

“The other one was going to let us go,” Taffeta said softly.

Myrna’s hands squeezed hard into her arm as the words left her mouth. She could hardly believe she spoke out loud. She wasn’t thinking about talking, but there were her words, cutting through the silence like a hot knife.

While she tried to look away when the one continued to drive the head of the man with the hammer over and over again into the floor, there was no way to shut out the horrible noise that came with it.

Then, out of the blue, she spoke, as if in a dream.

Danny looked up from his seat on Hover’s body.

“Excuse me?” he said.

Taffeta gave Myrna a quick reassuring look, took another deep breath and turned back. “The man who got hit with the hammer, Petey? He was going to let us go.”

“Yessss,” Danny hissed softly. “And you can clearly see where that got him.”

“The point is,” Taffeta said, pressing on. “He realized we’re not a threat… to him, or to you or to whatever you have going on here.”

“Well, lady,” Danny said shaking his head. “All that seems to have turned into tough shit for you now, considering that your benefactor seems to have had his brains scrambled. And whatever it was you didn’t see before. Since then it seems to me that you’ve both seen quite a bit more. I mean, look around you. We’ve got bodies now. This is what they call, a bona fide shit storm.”

Whatever it was that had bolstered Taffeta’s confidence, faded quickly as a smile crawled across Danny’s face and he began to climb off Hover’s body.

“Now, you look like a couple of smart ladies to me,” Danny said, trying again to wipe the blood from his hands as he gained his balance. “Although, how smart can you be really? I mean look at where you are.”

Taffeta leaned back into the couch.

“Just a bit ago, whatever Petey there was feeding you, was still pretty fresh and I guess, not far from the truth. But now, he’s dead. Hover there is dead. They spilled my money all over the place while doing the dance of the idiots. And, now I’m left with you two. And, you think I should let you go?”

Taffeta cleared her throat. “Yes,” she said. “You should let us go.”

Danny began to pace, laughing to himself before turning to face the old woman. “You…,” he said, pointing with a dramatic flair. “Make a very compelling case. However, I can’t let you go. You know that, right?”

“You’re a horrible human being,” Myrna said, lurching up and throwing herself into the mix.

“Yes,” Danny said, feigning reproach. “I’m sure you see it that way. But you see, none of this was supposed to happen!” He went back to pacing and sliding his bloody hands across his shirt. “I mean really, look at this mess!”

“This isn’t our mess,” Myrna shouted back. “We’ve had just about…”

“SHUT UP!” Danny shouted, spinning around and ducking down to get into Myrna’s face. And while it may have been the rest she got after Danny knocked her out, or she may have just reached her limit, Myrna didn’t flinch and she didn’t waiver. She set her one good eye sternly on his gaze and they stared at each other, each one not daring to flinch.

“Let us go,” Taffeta said softly into the heart of the stand-off. “Let us go and we won’t say a word. I promise.”

The silence flowed between the three of them with little resistance, like a barely there summer breeze.

Danny blinked first. Breaking the stare down with Myrna, the turned his glance to Taffeta. “You’ve got guts lady,” he said, before reaching up to pat her cheek with a smile. “Both of you! You’ve got a lot of guts.”

He kneeled down before them to finish the work Petey started, untying their legs and tossing the ropes aside. He stood uneasily before them. “Hell, if my mother or grandmother had half the guts you two have, who knows where I’d be today.”

“Thank you,” Taffeta said, reaching down to rub at the spot where the ropes nibbled into her ankles.

“The sad thing is,” Danny said as his smile melted away. “Guts can make you stupid. They can give you a false sense of right and wrong, and of power. They make you careless. If I let you walk out of here, we both know where you’re gonna go. And I can’t have the police showing up here. Not before, at the very least, I get a chance to spruce the joint up a bit.”

He looked around his domain almost sensing the possibilities that could come with a good cleaning.

“No,” he said. “You’re going to leave all right, but you’re not going home.”

Again, with an unsuspected speed and seemingly peculiar strength, Danny lunged forward grabbing the front of Taffeta’s coat, and jerked her up and out of the couch to stand before him.

She let a small whimper slip as her legs wobbled and tingled a bit from sitting so long.

Danny looked into her eyes with a dark determination and he spun her around to drag her from the room.

“Wait!” she cried. “Please! Wait! Just let me say goodbye.”

Danny paused, letting the words sink in. The day was getting long and his patience thin, but a quick goodbye seemed reasonable. He spun Taffeta around like a giant doll and without letting go, leaned her out toward her friend.

Myrna reached out. Taffeta reached out. Their hands met and clasped around each other.

“I’m sorry,” Myrna said as tears trickled down her face. “I’m so sorry.”

“Shhh,” Taffeta said, closing her eyes softly and shaking her head ‘no.’ “I love you. You know that right?”

Myrna shook her head, squeezing Taffeta’s hand.

Taffeta squeezed back as hard as she could. “Myrna,” she said, searching for her friend’s eyes. “Don’t worry about me. Do you hear me?” She started to cry. “You can get out of this thing. You get out of this thing and you get out of here and you go far away where it’s safe. Do you hear me?”

Myrna gave her an obligatory nod, holding back a sob.

“Ok,” Danny said, pulling at Taffeta. “That seems good enough.”

“You get out of here,” Taffeta urged. As Danny pulled their arms stretched between them, but their hands held tight.

“You do what you need to do!” Taffeta shouted, fighting to stay with her friend. Danny pulled again, finally breaking the link between them and trying to spin the old woman away and into the shadows.

“You get free!” Taffeta yelled. “You let Cora protect you!”

Taffeta pushed back as hard as she could, but Danny held tight. She bounced around as he fought to control her. She tried to point at Myrna. “You get Cora!”

“SHUT UP!”

Danny pulled Taffeta up in front of him with a hearty shake and a head-jarring jerk that stilled the fight in her. He stared directly into her eyes, again silently communicating all the seriousness he was about to bring down upon her.

“The show’s over lady!” he spat.

Taffeta stared back for a moment before squeezing her eyes shut as tight as she could make them.

Two seconds later, the room exploded.

Pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop!

Holding her eyes shut, her ears began to ring as the sound of Cora’s report filled the small room like thunder. Wood, glass and molding drywall shattered around her making the air thick with dust and debris. She felt her captor wriggle and shake. She heard him grunt and howl, but his grip held tight through the storm.

Thirty shots later, with a soft click, it was over.

An aggressive silence sought to recapture the space, save for a few bits and pieces that had yet to find their way to the ground.

Taffeta, with a measure of hesitation, slowly opened her eyes.

Danny face filled her vision. His eyes darted across her face showing anger and hate and fear and finally, emptiness. Like she has seen in Petey’s eyes, Danny’s life slipped away from him. One single, small smile crossed his lips before he loosed his grip and crumbled to the floor in front of him.

Taffeta took in a huge breath, and tried to blink away her tears. As he eyes adjusted, she say Myrna standing before her. Myrna’s arm stretched out. And at the end, where one would have expected to see her hand, Taffeta saw her purse. Coming from a dark black, powder-burned hole in the side of the purse, a thin, delicate stream of smoke rose up into the sky.

Myrna sobbed.

“I heard you!” she said. The words poured out of her like water from a rusty bucket. “I heard you and I didn’t think I knew what you were telling me, but then I realized. Then I couldn’t get it out. The gun got stuck in the bag. I tried to get the safety off and I really wasn’t sure if it would work because I couldn’t see.”

Taffeta walked to Myrna as she spoke, smiling and wiping away the tears that streamed from her eyes.

“Then I pulled the trigger and just hoped,” Myrna said. “And it did, but then I couldn’t aim, and you were right there and…”

Taffeta reached up slowly, felt into the bag and softly urged Myrna’s hand to let go. She hefted the bag with the gun off her hand and set it on the floor. She moved Myrna’s outstretched arm down to rest at her side.

“…and you were right there. And my God, what if I had killed you? But he was horrible and he said horrible things. And the way he kept slamming that other man’s head over and over. He was never going to let us go he…”

“Sh, sh, shhhh,” Taffeta said, moving in to hug her friend in earnest. “It’s over now. It’s ok. It’s over.”

Myrna kept talking, kept saying every word that came to her head until there were no more, and the trailed off into the dark silence. They stood together, hugging each other, rocking back and forth ever so slightly and assured themselves that they were both alive and that everything was ok.

A long while passed before they moved. Eventually, Traffeta broke from the embrace, pulled a pair of tissues from her pocket and offered one to Myrna.

Together, the wiped their eyes, gathered their wits and calmed their souls.

“Such a mess,” Taffeta said first. “Such a waste.”

“They were horrible, right?” asked Myrna. “I mean, I killed…”

“Sh…,” Taffeta cut her off gently. “Don’t.”

Myrna drew another breath and nodded. “I want to go home.”

“Me too,” Taffeta said.

“Can we just…go?” Myrna asked. “Are we allowed to just…leave?”

“I guess.”

“What about…”

“I don’t know.”

Myrna reached down and took Taffeta’s hand. “Then let’s go. Let’s get out of here before something bad happens.”

Myrna stopped. Her brain caught up to what he mouth just said and she couldn’t help but giggle. “Before something bad happens. Did you hear that?”

Taffeta nodded.

“Let’s go!” Myrna said. “Medication be damned, I need a drink!”

She held on the Taffeta’s hand as she gathered up her own purse and moved to maneuver around the bodies and to the door, but Taffeta pulled at her.

“Myrna, wait.”

The Glorious Sunset of Taffeta Spaulding – X

Taffeta stared down into Petey’s eyes which in almost the same moment, popped wide with the realization of what Hover just did to him, then dimmed as his consciousness, and his life slipped away from him.

With a soft grunt, he tipped forward dropping his head into Taffeta’s lap, then slid down from her knee and along her calf as his body slumped to the floor.

Taffetta’s breath caught as she tried to pull her eyes away from mound that was Petey, or at least tired to squeeze them shut, but they would not comply. Instead she slowly lifted her head tracing the room until her gaze fell upon Hover. Her face twisted in to disbelief and fear.

“Dammit!” Hover shouted, dropping the sledge to the floor. His body grew rigid as his hands clenched into and out of frustrated fists.

“Dammit! Dammit! Dammit!”

He stomped around in a small circle as a child might while having a tantrum, shaking his fists and at one point, raising them up to hit himself in the forehead several times in quick succession.

“Dammit, dammit, dammit!”

He kicked out at Petey’s lifeless body, catching him in the leg and making the body shift with its force.

“You stupid son of a bitch,” he said, grinding his fists harder into his head. “You couldn’t just leave it could you? Could you?”

Taffeta stared at the building, brooding mass of anger and frustration before her, her heart beat rising in pace with the escalation of the situation which had quickly deteriorated from a moment of hope and possible escape to…this.

Whatever this was now, whatever their situation had become, it came with a heavier weight than anything up to this moment, as her husband might say, “This was the shit and they were up to their armpits in it. Time to do, or be done in.” She missed that about him.

When Hover kicked out at his associate’s corpse, the alarms screeched through Taffeta’s head.

She burrowed deeper into her friend’s side trying in earnest to elbow her awake, but without drawing attention.

“C’mon, Myrna,” she shouted silently in her head. “C’mon, c’mon. I need you now.”

For the first time since plopping her into the dilapidated sofa, Myrna uttered the very softest of groans causing Taffeta to jerked her head toward her friend’s face.

“That’s it,”she dared to whisper. “C’mon Sweetie, wake up.”

Myrna uttered another soft and barely audible moan as her right eyebrow raised up ever so slightly.

Even that ever so subtle response set Taffeta’s heart to beating faster, but with a greater sense of comfort and relief than compounding fear.

Hover’s swearing boiled down to a base growl as he continued to smack and berate himself while churning in a small squall of a manic pace.

“Myrna,” Taffeta whispered, following another nudge. “You have to wake up now, but you have to be quiet…really quiet.”

An eyelid quivered, then lay quiet for a moment before both eyes popped open.

“What the…,” Myrna said, sitting bolt upright.

Taffeta grabbed the lapel of her friend’s coat and pulled her close to her.

“Sh, sh, sh,” she whispered directly into Myrna’s ear as loud as dared, but with the intention of being heard. “Keep calm. Keep quiet. We’re OK, for the moment.”

Myrna’s eyes shot around the room as her brain worked to put everything together as fast as she could. She remembered the…pharmacy, yes the pharmacy, they were going to get, but then there was that horrible, dirty boy and… She turned a face twisted with fear and a dash of panic back to her friend.

Taffeta raised her hands to catch Myrna’s face and made her focus on her. Her own face mimed deep, careful and calming breaths before she mouthed a long and silent, “Shhhhh.”

Myrna nodded, working to match her breathing to Taffeta’s. The two calmed each other to the point where Taffeta could finally hear something other than her heartbeat banging in her ears. At least until…

“Sweet Jesus! What the hell?!”

Hover stopped instantly, dropping his arms and turning to face the voice that blew out of the shadows like a child who got caught lifting the goods from the family cookie jar. Whether knowingly or by reflex, he took a small step to the side in an effort to block the greater problem, which was the slumping dead pile of Petey Chambers.

“It’s not what you think Danny,” Hover said, pleading his case. “He was gonna let them go.” He pointed accusingly at the ladies cowering on the dilapidated couch. “He was gonna let them go, just like that and you know they would rat us out! I mean he was untying them and everything! He…”

“SHUTUP!” Danny Mackenoy, leapt from the shadow swinging a fist wide and fast that caught Hover square in the jaw, knocking him to the ground.

“Just,” he said, through dangling, dirty strands of hair and a heavy breath, “Shut up.”

Hover lay on the ground rubbing the side of his face as a small tear welled up and dripped down to his cheek. Danny slogged forward, kicking as Hover scurried out of the way, clearing a path to Petey’s body.

“Jesus,” he said, leaning down to poke at the corpse that lay in the dark. “What the hell have you done? What the hell, Hover!?” He spun around and lurched toward Hover who tried to spider walk himself into retreat.

“Did you forget the plan?” Danny asked. “I made a plan! A careful plan that uses three legs of a stool made up of my brain, your flair for on the job security, and Petey’s gift for distribution, everybody playing to their strengths. But you, you with no brains what so ever decide that you will, kill our key to effective distribution!”

Danny’s words started clear enough so as to emphasize his point, but as his own words sunk in along with the realization that his plan, which worked perfectly up until this point, was now messed up beyond reasonable repair, his words grew tight and forced. He began to spit them out through gritted teeth. And as Hover tried to slink away, Danny inched ever closer.

“No distribution, no cash! It’s a pretty simple formula!”

Danny jumped forward grabbing Hover and dragging him across the floor to Petey’s body. “No distribution, no cash, Hover!”

He forced Hover’s face to the floor so that his gaze would have to meet Petey’s lifeless stare. “No cash, no plan!” He brought Hover’s face up to his own. “Did you ever think of that? Did you?”

“No!” Hover yelled, “No, I guess…”

Danny forced his head back into the floor. “Of course not!” He yelled. “You didn’t think!” He raised Hover’s head and forced it back into the dusty, dirty wood floor with a heavy thud.

“You never think!”

Thud.

“You aren’t paid to think!”

Thud.

“But I guess you wanted to give it a try anyhow!”

Thud.

“Now, look what we’ve got!”

Thud.

“No distribution!”

Thud.

“And, that means…”

Thud.

“No…”

Thud.

“More…”

Thud.

“Cash.”

Thud!

The last blow pushed Hover’s head in a way that his now similarly lifeless eyes stared into Petey’s. Danny sat, perched on top of Hover’s body, holding his one time partner’s head against the floor until the slight twitching in Hover’s left foot stopped completely. Then he slowly forced out a heavy breath before sitting upright and shooting his head back in a way that should have flipped his hair back and out of his eyes, but the dirt and sweat held it back. He brushed it away with a bloody palm leaving a smear of red across his forehead. He looked up.

“Ladies,” he said, matter of fact. “I’m sorry you had to see that. However, the poor behavior of my associates has brought us to a rather uncomfortable crossroads in our relationship.”

He looked down at his hands covered with blood. The tops. The palms. He clenched his fingers to feel the stickiness before dragging them hard across his shirt.

“Idiots,” he muttered to himself.

Myrna and Taffeta sat still, clutching at each other, trying to remain calm, in the face of this recent turn of events.

The Glorious Sunset of Taffeta Spaulding – IX

Taffeta managed to move Myrna across the sidewalk and into the passenger seat of her car near the door of the pharmacy. Not that she expected any help from the younger man who was causing her this pain, but it seemed worse to have him watch her struggle.

As gentle as she tried to be, Myrna’s head bobbed with every tug and pull. The whole left side of her face was swollen now, effectively closing her eye.

Once Hover emerged from the store, Danny crawled into the back seat slouching low and leaning into to the window. He pulled a pair of sunglasses from his pocket, slid them on his face and settled into the oncoming high. Hover jumped in next to him wiping the blood from the end of his sledge with some paper towels he pulled from aisle 4.

It was Hover who told Taffeta which way to go. Four miles down Wilkes, take a left, then a right, then two miles, then a right and so on. Taffeta aptly followed his directions, but was more concerned about Myrna whom after twenty minutes of driving still had yet to come to. Besides, she was pretty certain Hover was taking the long way around to wherever it was they were heading, just to throw her off.

Another fifteen minutes later, in a part of town Taffeta never knew existed, Hover had her pull around to the back of a series of brick row houses, mere shadows of what they once were, now boarded up and settling into at least a decade of decay.

“Pull up here and stop the car,” he said. Silently, she did as she was told while keeping one eye on Myrna and the other on any possible pathway to escape.

“Now get out, and get her,” Hover said, climbing out of the backseat and setting the sledge on his shoulder. Taffeta stepped out of the car then walked around to the passenger door. She opened it and leaned in to unclip Myrna’s belt, grab their purses and start to heft Myrna out.

“Hey, wait,” he said, just as Taffeta got her friend to stand limply beside her. “I don’t think you need the bags.”

“She has asthma,” Taffeta blurted out. “She needs her medicine. Doesn’t your mother carry a purse?”

“My mother never carried anything, but a bottle of whiskey and a grudge,” he said dropping the sledge to the ground. He stepped over to her and pulled one of the bags from her shoulder. Looking at her the whole time, holding her gaze, he yanked the purse open and reached his hand inside. His hand moved around the inside of the bag feeling for anything.

“Bah,” he said. “Asthma, my ass. You got nothin’ in there but a wad of tissues, a compact and a handful of candy.” He tossed the bag at her feet. “Pick it up, let’s go.” He turned to get his sledge and start up the steps to the first row house.

Taffeta retrieved Myrna’s bag from the ground, almost dropping her, but then righting them both to standing again. “Do you want to check mine too?”

Hover stopped and turned. He took one step toward her then stopped. He thought, then smiled shaking his head and keeping himself on task.

“Keep it up lady,” he said. “I got more things to do than to rustle around in a bag full of tissues and hairpins. Just get inside, huh?”

“What about him?” Taffeta said nodding her head back toward the car where Danny now slept soundly.

“What about him?” Hover said looking over at Danny. “You best mind your own. You don’t really want to be waking him up when he’s, you know…sleeping. Better for me that you just get inside. Better for you too.”

“You could let us go.”

“Lady…,” Hover said, shaking his head again. “Really, just get inside.”

Taffeta struggled to get them both up the steps and inside the dump of a house, again, without any help aside from Hover impatiently holding the door for her as she moved slowly past him. The house was dark, beyond whatever light found its way through the cracks in the boards that covered the windows. She squinted to help her eyes adjust so that she could get a better lay of the land. The smell hit her first, a hearty wave of rot mixed with a touch of urine. As she stood there she could make out a couch, a small table and a couple of chairs and the along the wall were stacks of boxes.

“Don’t just stand there lady,” Hover said, moving up behind her. “Go over to the couch and sit down.”

“Could you get me some water?” Taffeta asked. “For my friend.”

“This ain’t the Ritz, lady. Just sit down until Danny figures out what to do next.”

She found her way to the couch and slowly dropped Myrna into place first before plopping herself down tightly next to her. She could almost feel a cloud of filth, dust and debris billow up around her. Despite the lack of comfort and the layer of disgust, it felt good to sit. She was exhausted.

Hover came over with a hand full of rope and kneeled before her.

“You’re going to tie us up?”

“Shut up lady.”

“Is that really necessary?” Taffeta said. “I mean look at us. She’s not going anywhere, unless I drag her and frankly, dragging her here was more than I was made for.”

“Just…shut up.”

Hover tied her feet the best he could. Then he tied Myrna’s to hers then worked the rope to connect them both to the base of the couch. Then he left them.

Her first intent was to get free and get them out of there, but the distraction of another soft moan from Myrna, sent her into caring mode. She adjusted her friend to make her more comfortable. Then got herself as comfortable as she should. She stroked her friend’s hair calmly in the dark. Who knows what damage she suffered by the blow to the face. Whatever it was, Taffeta hoped it was temporary. It wasn’t long then until the excitement of the day took its toll and Taffeta herself drifted into a soft, uneasy sleep.

It was hard to tell how much time passed before Taffeta jerked herself awake. Myrna leaned hard against her shoulder, snoring, which was probably a good sign. She was sleeping. Not slipping away into a coma.

Worse still was that in the dimly lit room, she squinted to see Danny standing before her, still, stoic, and staring at them. His face was blank and emotionless. He just stood there drifting ever so slightly back and forth, his dirty hair hanging down across his face. A thin string of drool hung from his lip and stretched down towards the floor.

She watched him.

He stood there. An unnecessary standoff, between the victim and the vacant.

She had no idea how long he stood there before he moved, but when he did, he shook his head and squeezed his eyes as if he were trying to close off someone who might be talking to him. He raised his hand lethargically and waived the phantom voice, away.

“Shut up,” he mumbled, but it sounded more like. “Shuup.”

Then he staggered forward a step, then another, then managed to step slowly into the shadows.

Taffeta breathed out a hard sigh, dropping her head forward. She closed her eyes trying to calm the pounding in her chest.

She must have nodded off again, for when her head jerked up again, another young man was kneeling before her, one she had not seen before.

“Hey lady,” the man said. “You want some water?” He held out a plastic bottle.

Taffeta reached forward slowly. Her muscles sore from hefting Myrna around so much moved under protest.

“Thank you,” she said softly.

The young man looked back and forth quickly before producing another bottle from under his jacket.

“What about her?” he said, reaching out again.

“Yes, thank you.”

“What the hell is this?” Hover said, stepping into the dim light of the room. “What are you doin’ Petey?”

The young man on the floor jumped up, “Nothing. Why? What do you care?”

“Seriously,” Hover said, pressing the other. “What the hell are you doin’? Danny aint gonna like this.”

“Danny doesn’t know what he’s doin.” Petey said. “What’s he thinking bringing two old ladies here?”

“It doesn’t matter,” Hover said. “It’s what he wants and he’s making the decisions. Maybe he wants them to clean up around here.”

“You’ve got to be kidding. We should be letting them go.”

Hover stepped closer to the other man, who held his ground.

“I said…we don’t make those calls,” Hover said. “You sell the stuff. That’s your job. The rest is all up to Danny.”

“Have you seen him? He’s really not looking his best today…or any day lately.”

“So?”

“So…,” Petey leaned in. “I’m making this call. I’m letting them go. They don’t belong here.”

“Don’t do it, Petey.” Hover swung his sledge up slowly to rest on his shoulder as his hands shifted along the handle to find the right grip.

“Screw you, Hover!” Petey said spinning around. “I signed on to this thing for one thing and one thing only – cash. Not kidnapping. Not murder. Just Cash.”

Slowly he stood. “I don’t know what you signed up for and I don’t care. Danny is losing it. He broke the first rule, stay out of the product, and now he’s just a mess. He’s sloppy, careless.”

“Brave talk, coming from a small time street pusher.” Hover said working his hands and training his eyes on Petey.

“Small time?” Petey laughed. “Maybe. maybe it started small time, but who is responsible for this?”

Petey lunged at the boxes along the wall and pulled hard, the first toppled to the floor breaking oven and releasing a spray of cash.

“Or this?” He grabbed another ripping at the flap which allowed more cash to escape.

“This wasn’t Danny. And it certainly wasn’t you! Anything we’ve built, I brought to the table. And this…,” he broke off pointing at the two women. “Is not what we do.”

Petey stood in a puddle of money breathing heavily with his arm stretched out and his eyes fixed on Hover.

“Now,” he said. “I’m making this call. You’d be smart to step back or crawl into whatever hole it is you call home and just let it happen.”

Hover shifted his weight, leaning his head back in consideration. His eyes thinned his stare at the other man and they stood quietly, until Hover finally took a single step back and gestured with one hand as if to say, go ahead.

Petey dropped his arm and nodded with relief at Hover’s slow but, ultimate recognition of what made sense here. He stepped back to the ladies, kneeled down and again, began to work the ropes.

“You ladies get out of here. Get right out of here. Get into your car and go home and for get all about this place and anything you saw here.” He looked up for a brief moment at Taffeta. “You got that?”

“No…,” was the only thing Taffeta had time to mutter.

Petey’s face shifted from contorted confusion at what he thought was Taffeta’s denial, to wide-eyed fear as the woman before him tried to recoil deeper into the couch. There was no time to turn, or flinch or duck for in between those taught seconds, Hover’s sledge found its next target and the aim was true.

The Glorious Sunset of Taffeta Spaulding – VIII

Despite whatever went on inside his drug addled mind, and despite the self-inflicted tattoo that boldly, yet sloppily declared himself the “New Capone,” Danny Mackenoy was small time.

On the surface, his story read like the pages of so many others; very few friends, bad in school, truant, fighting, petty thefts, stints in juvie and everything else that would lead one to believe his destiny was either prison or an early death caused by any one of his random acts of stupidity.

On a deeper level, Danny was his own worst enemy. He wanted to be bad. He boldly slapped away every hand that ever reached out to him in earnest with an offer of honest help or reform, opting instead to dive deeper into forming the skin of a big time, hard-core crime boss. The way he saw it, he had the brains, he had the guts and there was nothing but opportunity all around him.

If Danny had anything going for him at all, it was his recent string of pure luck.

His latest scheme involved a line of robberies aimed at amassing cash, for cash meant power and power meant Danny Mackenoy could do whatever he wanted.

The plan was simple enough, steal as much cash as possible or steal whatever he could easily convert into cash. After cracking into a few houses and a gas station out in Millersburg, Danny stumbled upon the notion that drug stores, especially older ones, could render even faster results. They had cash. They had drugs. The drugs could be sold for cash and whatever was left over could help him soothe away the worries of another hectic day. Win, win, win.

Smart enough to know he couldn’t take on such an enterprise without some help, he enlisted the skills of a low-level hacker and petty thief, Hover Johnston. He also brought Petey Chambers in as his primary sales associate to move the various pills and notions into the town’s dark crevices where the lesser knowns hungered for his brand of relief, at a cost, of course.

Once Hover disarmed the security systems, which he often accomplished with a sizable sledgehammer, if there was one at all, they could walk right in and take charge. Hover stood watch at the door, while Danny went to the back to “fill his prescriptions” and otherwise relieve the registers of the burden of their legal tender.

Danny kept an eye on a number of area drug stores, to see if he could tell when their primary shipments came in so they would be ripe for the picking. But it was less an effort to conduct concerted stake out and more an exercise in smoking and aimless loitering. His decision to strike rarely grew from his research, but more from boredom and a lack of patience.

When Cowell’s Pharmacy grew ripe and in his mind, was ready for the picking, Danny was going in shit be damned.

And though he would rather have had the store to himself, Hover was already in the back doing his thing when the two old ladies stepped through the doors. Flies in his ointment to be sure, but small, frail flies at that. Nothing he couldn’t handle.

A soft step or two and he was right behind them without so much as a sideways glance. Dropping his sizable mitts on the far side shoulder of each woman, he pressed them together and brought his face to meet theirs in the middle.

“Good morning ladies. Welcome to Cowell’s. Let’s go shopping!”

He held them there for a moment as his hands curled into a grip on the shoulders of each of their coats, then pushed them forward to walk an arm’s length ahead of him.

“Young man!” Myrna said in a huff, as she tried to keep up with the pace of the man pushing them. She linked her arm through Taffeta’s and they squeezed into each other for strength and balance.

“Shut up lady,” Danny growled at the back of her head. “Just shut up. Not a word from either of you, got it?”

He pushed them through the entryway and turned down the third aisle. Taffeta tried to keep her breath calm as she squeezed Myrna’s arm and caught the blur of the various items that seemed to whiz by them from their places on the claustrophobic shelves. Candy turned into socks turned into lotions before the aisle ended and they emerged on the far end in front of the pharmacist’s counter.

Danny pushed them forward hard into the edge. Myrna whimpered as she took the brunt of the blow. Her breath came heavy.

Danny loosened his grip on Taffeta long enough to reach beyond her and slam his hand down on the small bell that sat innocently next to the sign that read, “Ring for service.”

Ring, ring, ring, ring, ring.

“Hey!” he yelled.

Ring, ring, ring, ring, ring.

“Hey!”

His hand covered the bell. He lifted it up and threw it hard beyond the counter and back into the shelves with a crash.

“Hey, are you deaf back there or what? How ’bout some service?”

He gripped Taffeta’s shoulder again and shifted the ladies together along the edge of the counter so that he could see into the back better.

“Hey!” even louder. “My Nana here needs her medicine!”

The sound of some boxes falling rose up from the back, just before the disheveled pharmacist came stumbling out and into sight. Then he tripped and fell out of sight again behind the counter. Behind him, with sledge in hand, stood Hover Johnston.

“You’re not gonna believe this,” Hover shouted down to his partner. “But Doctor Drugs here was trying to sneak out the back door.”

He dropped the sledge, stepped forward and reached down to grab the pharmacist and heft him up, pushing him too, hard against the counter. A small line of blood slid down over the man’s forehead from a cut somewhere in the mass of his tousled hair.

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” the older man spat out through heavy breath, his face held tight against the countertop by Hover’s arm. “How, how,” he huffed. “Can I help you?”

“Like I said,” Danny said, disgruntled at the lack of service. “My Nana here needs her medicine.”

“Which…,” huff. “Medicine.”

Danny stood tall, releasing his grip of the ladies and spread his arms wide before him. “All of them!”

In a swift movement, he stepped back then lunged forward up onto and over the counter landing right next to Hover.

“Keep an eye on ’em. All of them,” he said, before scooping up several shopping bags located behind the counter and stepping back into the promised land.

Hover released the pharmacist long enough to reach back to the floor and grab his sledge. Jumping back, he caught the man just before he slipped off  to prevent him from heading to the floor.

“Where you goin’ Pops?” he said, pushing the man’s head and face back into the counter. “That’s right. Nowhere. Nobody’s going nowhere.

The man on the counter moved his eyes up enough to see the faces of the two ladies. The three stared at each other, wordlessly, with faces aptly contorted to suit their circumstance .

It took three minutes, before Danny emerged with full bags of merchandise – hydromorphone, hydrocodone, oxymorphine and some others just because he liked the colors. All his favorites. His mouth chewed ferociously on some tablets that he tossed in for fun and one small white pill stuck to the side of his cheek for a moment before it fell free and tumbled to the floor.

“That’s it,” he yelled, spitting. “Easy as pie.”

His eyes grew wide as he jumped on to the counter and crowed into the empty store like a victorious warrior.

Then he stopped suddenly, shook his head to shift the greasy long strands of his hair from his face, turned back behind him and said, “Mr. Johnston, our work here is done. While the service here was shit,” he said screaming the last word down to the pharmacist. “We ultimately got what we came for. So, I will let it go…this time, but I doubt we will ever return, and I will be telling all my friends to take their business elsewhere.”

He kicked out at the pharmacist causing him to wince before jumping to the floor, back next to the ladies.

“What should we do with him?” Hover asked, “And the old ladies?”

Danny turned and looked at the three, his mouth gnawing at the last bits of the chalky medications.

“Damn,” he said. “Well, I’m in no condition to drive right now, so ladies – you’re with me. And as for that guy…I don’t care. I suppose the moment we leave he’ll try to call the cops so…whatever might fix that would be…”

“Now you listen to me,” Myrna said through gritting teeth as she stepped forward. “We aren’t going anywhere with you. You have what you want. Just go and leave us all alo…”

Myrna didn’t get to finish before a fist filled with the handles of a shopping bag filled with drugs caught her in the cheek. She fell back slowly into Taffeta, who caught her as best she could, but she couldn’t support the weight and they both fell backward hard into the wall of the pharmacy counter.

“Myrna?” Taffeta said, trying to calm the quiver in her voice. “Myrna, honey. You’re ok. You’re ok now. Myrna?”

Myrna mustered a grown that while soft and weak, was enough to quell the burning fear in Taffeta’s chest. They sat together on the floor  as Danny stepped closer to them and crouched down.

“Wham!”

The sound burst up from behind them, behind the counter followed by a retching scream as Hover’s sledge made sure the last thing the pharmacist’s fingers would do is dial a phone…or do pretty much anything else for a good long while.

“You hear that ladies?” Danny spoke softly. “That there is the sound of anguish caused by an utter lack of cooperation pure and simple.”

“Now, my associate is not very smart. He would be all too happy to make your day miserable with a little wave of his sledge hammer. And the only thing between him and you is me. So, while I like this store enough to fill my prescriptions, this is not where I planned the spend the rest of the afternoon. So if you would be-so-kind, would you get off your fat asses and TAKE ME TO YOUR CAR!”

Danny’s words were well metered until the end when spit filled with the crusty remnants of a handful of tablets splashed into their faces.

Danny stared at Taffeta. Taffeta stared at Danny. Myrna moaned softly as a harsh redness spread across her cheek where the skin began to swell.

Heavy seconds ticked by like minutes.

Then Taffeta blinked. She looked away and hefted Myrna in her arms.

“Come on sweetie,” she said. “We’ve got to go now.”

She moved and struggled until both ladies were standing, Myrna leaning heavily against her friend.

“Now that’s what I’m taking about,” Danny said standing. “Cooperation! After you, ladies.” He swung his arm low as he half bowed inviting the two women to go before him.

Taffeta hefted Myrna one last time to make sure she had a good grip. She settled the strap of her purse on the other shoulder and slowly stepped before their captor heading toward the pharmacy door.