write here, write now

Journal THAT

A Guide to Writing

cynthia gregory

Once upon a time I belonged to an amazing clutch of writers who met every week to explore writing through timed exercises. It was one of the best writing experiences I ever had, and it did more to develop my skills as a writer than almost anything I’ve done since. Twenty years later, I still miss meeting with that group of women. We shared a very important time, you might even say a sacred time, two hours each week, supporting one another and learning to develop our writing voices. Few things were allowed to interfere with our commitment to meet. We gathered faithfully each Friday at an outdoor table at the Bear Street Café in Orange County, California. We parked our individual cares at the door in order to be fully present and nakedly honest during our journaling session. We wrote furiously, read aloud with quaking voices, listened respectfully, and grew as writers.

Now that I live in another state, I maintain virtual relationships with several of these fabulous women, and we see each other when our travels coincide. But the thing that remains one of the greatest gifts of my life is that even though what we mainly have in common is our passion for writing – no matter what, we support each other. We celebrate each other’s success, and provide insightful comments to help make each other’s work the best it can be. Writing groups are an excellent way to develop as a writer. You can find or form  a group by taking classes, getting to know other writers, and then meeting outside of the classroom setting to give yourself more honest writing time.

Back in the day when we met at Bear Street, we maintained a strict routine that goes like this: write nouns or phrases on a slip of paper, and drop them in a cup. One by one, the words are extracted from the cup, and the group collectively writes a timed exercise based on the prompt. After the time is up, we go around the table and read our work. At first, it isn’t easy. But in the right group you soon learn that it is a safe place to expose your heart. Writing is like a slice of your soul, a trickle of blood. You put it out there and your bravery is rewarded a million times over. One unbreakable rule is that no one is allowed to comment on anything anyone reads. Ever. This is not about opinions or feedback; it is about expression. But I will tell you one thing: our writing got stronger and better and more deeply creative by just listening to each other.

I think we secretly tried to out-compose each other, but the result was that we pushed each other to spiraling heights of creativity without so much as one critical word. It was amazing and illuminating and a huge lesson in the art of paying attention.

The exercises were sometimes fun; and just as often downright grueling.  But the important thing was that it pushed us to write beyond “inspiration.” If you wait to write until you’re inspired, you’re not a writer, you’re a waiter. By pushing yourself to write for a set amount of time about a set subject you learn to write beyond the boundaries of comfort and the results can be profound. Sometimes, as we filled out those slips of paper, one of us would throw in a ringer and add the words “one sentence.” This meant that when we wrote our journal entry, it has to be all one sentence.

This might sound about as hard as a second slice of your favorite chocolate cake, but it’s more challenging than that. To jettison periods flies in the face of every eighth grade grammar drill you ever sweated through. It’s right up there with cutting your own hair – or wearing your painting pants to church. It’s simply not done, my dear. But oh, the freedom! You can’t even know .  Have you ever been hiking on a deserted mountain trail and taken off your shirt to expose your skin to all that pure alpine air? The freedom is exhilarating. . .it feels like skinny dipping in a pond of oxygen.

This is what eschewing periods can do for you: it can open a door into your essence that you didn’t know existed.

Now you are probably afraid that if you drop the period out of your writing it will be pure gibberish, but this simply isn’t true and in fact, I suggest it  will open you up to possibilities or maybe an indulgence like a dirty little secret, oh say, like those grapes you sample before you buy them because you want to know if they’re really sweet even though you’re paying for them by the pound but it’s a big grocery store anyway not like that wonderful little farmers market where they hand out samples of pastry and cheese and rich, ripe strawberries, and oh the onions were so beautiful today that I almost bought a pound of them and put them in a vase they were just that purple and shiny with skin so tight you just wanted to lick it and I really really need to plan my grocery shopping a little better so that I can come to the farmers market and listen to the man playing the guitar and think about the million little ways we are connected and what really matters and a meal prepared with love is better than sex and if you don’t believe me just go out and rent Chocolat one more time and imagine what it would have all meant without a little slice of mango and chipotle and bitter, bitter chocolate.

See? Writing is about pushing borders and you will never get to where you want to be as a writer if you don’t do something you have never done before, at least once, the end.

ashes, ashes, we all fall down

copyright 2012


a novel by


Chapter Twelve

Robbie, Gil, Kori and Avery piled into the late Ruth Tirabi’s Honda Odyssey . Thanks to Honda, Ruth hadn’t needed to substitute comfort for clean air simply because she had a large family. The Odyssey had accommodated her need to transport a husband, four kids, their dog and their gadgets without sacrificing low emissions, and it still got pretty  good gas mileage, two things American car manufacturers deigned unworthy of excess research funds.

“Where we going?” Kori asked, starting the engine.

“What about Jersey? We could go down to Cape May point?” Avery said, fiddling with the lid of the cardboard that contained his parents ashes. “This way they can look at the sun rising and setting all the time. I’m also thinking I should drive.”

“Forget it. I’m driving,” Kori said.

“Cut him a break once in a while, Kor, or are you too old to remember sixteen?” Robbie said with raised eyebrows. “Soon he won’t need your permission. But you’re still going to need a lawyer someday.”

“If you let me drive today I promise I won’t charge you,” Avery added.

“I’m thinking Chickies Rocks overlooking the Susquehanna. Mom and Dad loved that spot,” Kori said, ignoring both her brothers. “I’m also thinking you should both shut up and just be passengers.”

“Awwww, you said shut up,” Gil said in a sing-song voice.

“Yeah, and who you gonna tell?” Kori said. Gil turned to the window. Robbie shot Kori a sad look; Avery squeezed Gil’s thigh, but said nothing.

When Ruth and Marty died, Kori installed herself as the family matriarch despite her lack of any obvious mothering instincts.  She hated to cook, couldn’t stand the sight of blood, and her advice — which in no way resembled Ruth’s thoughtful and incisive rumination — sucked.  If Ruth’s words were like creamy hot fudge over vanilla ice cream, Kori’s were more like motor oil. There was a good flavor in there somewhere, but you’d be likely to throw up before you were finished.

The boys shouldered on even though most days they wanted to tell her to just shut up. But they held their tongues out of love and a sense that Kori’s assumption of Ruth’s role was the only thing keeping her from fracturing into a billion jagged shards. So the three brothers exchanged glances and suppressed smiles which Kori didn’t notice.

“Whatever, Kori. Let’s just go,” Avery said. An excellent judge of character, a skill that would serve him well throughout his life, Avery was the first to discover that going head-to-head with his sister rarely worked.

“We’ll let Gil decide,” Robbie suggested. All three siblings turned to Gil for a decision.

“Rocks,” he said, and Kori peeled out of the driveway.

“Hey, let’s get there in one piece, huh?”

“Hhmmmph,” was all Kori said in response.

Two hours later, they pulled up to the precipice at Chickies Rocks, a favored spot of the remote-controlled plane cognoscenti, a steep three hundred foot drop straight down a rocky ledge.  Four pairs of eyes looked upon the banks of the mighty Susquehanna River.

Robbie pulled Gil’s remote-controlled plane from the back hatch and Gil plopped down on the ground to fiddle with it, adjusting the tail, the landing gear, and anything else that moved.  ZiZi ran over to Gil and after a cursory sniff, licked Gil’s face several times.

“Down, Zi,” Robbie said.

Gil made no move to push ZiZi away while he scrounged through his toolbox, huffing and shoving the tools around. Robbie reached in and pulled out a small wrench. Gil snatched it and adjusted a few screws on the plane.

Although the weather was balmy, the force of the wind whipping up the sides of the cliff made it feel ten degrees cooler. Like an insistent child, it swiped at Kori’s hair as she stood, clutching the cardboard box to her chest.  She dropped to her knees, squeezing her eyes shut.  Moments later, she felt the gentle pressure of Robbie’s hands as he placed his baseball cap on her head and tucked her hair up underneath.  She leaned against his leg in gratitude.

In private, Kori had cried every day since her parents died, her body wracked and shuddering with silent tears, her shoulders aching with the weight of grief and new responsibilities, and the one thought that kept returning to her again and again – tinny and insistent – they were orphans.

Avery joined Kori on the precipice.  Gil handed Robbie the small wrench and stood back to remotely test the landing gear, driving the plane forward and back on its makeshift runway.

“Box, please,” Gil said to Robbie.

“He’s ready,” Robbie called over his shoulder.

Avery took the box from Kori and set it next to Gil’s plane, pulling out the contents: two thick plastic bags filled with charcoal grey ash and small white bits of bone.

“How are you going to keep the bags in the plane,” Robbie asked.

Gil’s imperturbable face grew wide-eyed and he looked to Avery for help.

“Don’t look at me, man. I just record the stuff,” Avery said.

Gil rummaged through his tool box, picking up each tool and throwing it down again. Robbie walked to the car and returned with a role of duct tape. He made a ring, sticky side out, and stuck it to the bottom of each bag before setting them in the plane.

“Good to go,” Robbie said. Avery put a hand on each bag, blinking away the water that flooded his eyelids. Kori shuffled her feet and folded her hands across her chest.

“Anyone want to say anything?” Robbie asked. Kori covered her mouth; Avery shook his head from side to side.

“I’m no good with words,” Robbie said, his voice cracking. “They know how we feel.”

Gil stepped forward, cleared his throat as if about to deliver an edict. “Mom, Dad, we love you very much. It sucks that you’re dead.”

Avery giggled, breaking the tension. Gil leaned over, his face touching the bags, containing the last mortal remains of Ruth and Marty Tirabi. He opened them and whispered something to each, then stood back and started the plane’s engine. It lurched forward, bucking under the additional weight, bumping over small sticks, and gradually picking up speed as it approached the end of the makeshift runway and the cliff’s edge.

“It doesn’t have enough speed, Gil,” Robbie said. “It’s gonna crash.”

Gil bopped his head slowly in time to a beat the rest of them were not privy to. At the exact moment when the plane would run out of ground, and gravity was about to have it’s way with her, Gil flipped a switch on the remote and a turbo thrust sent it hurtling out and up, clearing both rock and trees. It hung tenuously for several seconds, but Gil hit the turbo switch again and it took off like a shot arching up and away.

Gil sent the plane soaring over the cliffs of Chickies Rocks, swooping and sliding, in, out and around, but not upside down, edging closer each time to the banks of the Susquehanna. Bits of the plane’s contents were occasionally swept away by an errant gust of wind, but for the most part, Ruth and Marty’s ashes remained solidly ensconced inside the cockpit of the little plane.

“Mom’s going to get dizzy,” Kori said.  They watched the plane, now far across the river.  Handfuls of ash spilled out, whirling like mini-tornadoes before drifting to earth.

“Last chance. Anybody want to say anything?” Robbie said.  No one responded.

Avery’s speech was more akin to a whisper: “You are in our breath and in our bones. You are in the lights of our eyes, and the shapes of our hearts. As long as we live, we will think of you and remember, and we will never be a minute without you for it’s your blood mingled with ours, your life, the life you’ve given us.”

Gil sent the plane hundreds of feet into the air before bringing it back down to dive-bomb the river. At the last minute he pulled out and sent it up again, this time, though, instead of climbing straight, he performed a series of spirals which sent the plane up through a spinning vortex of ash. “Bye-bye, Mommy and Daddy,” he said, as ashes arced out and down to the river. When the wind scattered the last of them, Gil brought the plane in for a landing.

Robbie dried his eyes and removed the bags from the cockpit, turning them inside out; they were empty.

“What do we do with the bags?” he asked.

“Burn ‘em,” Kori said.

“You can’t burn them,” Avery said. “They’re plastic.”

Robbie gathered everything up, plane, plastic, remote control and placed it all in the backseat of the minivan. He pulled out an insulated backpack and a blanket and walked to a small clearing. From the backpack he procured a small feast: bread, cheese, pepperoni, olives, grapes, mangos, peanut butter, yogurt, a bottle of wine and some dog treats for ZiZi. He whistled low and ZiZi charged over, tail wagging. Robbie handed Gil, now smashed up against his brother, clutching his arms around himself as if he were cold, a yogurt and a spoon.

“Nice insulation,” Avery said. “Does it work?” Robbie nodded, and wrapped an arm around Gil who relaxed. He handed a knife to Avery to cut pieces of cheese, and pulled plastic glasses out of the pack along with a bottle of spring water.

“Geez, how much’ ya got in there?” Kori asked.

“Gil doesn’t make anything half-ass, sister,” Robbie said, accepting the half glass of water from Avery.  He topped it off with a sip of wine and handed it to Gil.

“You’re giving him wine?” Kori glared at Robbie, then Avery. “You’ve done this before, haven’t you?”

Gil giggled and cast his eyes downward. He sniffed the glass several times then put it under ZiZi’s nose and let her sniff. The dog shook her head to remove the scent from her nasal passages.

“We’re going to miss the heck out you, Mom and Dad,” Robbie said holding up his glass. They clinked plastic: Robbie and Avery threw theirs back; Kori and Gil sipped theirs.

“That was nice, what you said earlier?” Kori said.

“Thanks. Well, thank Mom for all the poetry she made me read.”

“I miss Daddy’s laugh,” Gil said. “And Mommy’s smell. Like bread and flowers,” Gil devoured a small sandwich of bread, cheese and pepperoni. The corner of Kori’s mouth crooked up watching him eat.

“I miss Mom’s cooking. And her stories. And Dad’s stupid jokes. And his crazy inventions.” Kori sipped her wine. “You don’t suppose that those people might come back, do you, looking for some of Dad’s other things?”

“I hope they do.” Robbie said. He downed the rest of his glass, and Gil and Avery did the same. Kori bit her thumbnail and cast a worried glance out across the river.

to be continued. . .

to read what came before, click here. . .

deadly circumstances

copyright 2012

art by gregory colbert


a novel by


Chapter Eleven

Manuel slid the Rolls Royce into the Hart’s driveway on wheels silent as death.  “Here you are, Mr. Hartos.”  Manuel got out and opened Hart’s door.  Hart stepped out and shook Manuel’s hand.

“Thanks, Manuel.  You’re a lifesaver.”  Manuel returned the gesture, but didn’t make eye contact.  Apparently, Bicky Coleman never shook Manuel’s hand.

“Anytime, Mr. Hartos.  Give Mrs. Hartos my best.”  The car pulled out as silently as it came.  Tired and disheveled, Hart watched Manuel leave before heading up the walk.

The front door of the house was slightly ajar.  Hart stared at it then back over the expanse of the lawn.  His heartbeat quickened yet his hands were steady as he opened the door in infinitesimal increments so as not to wake, or alert, anyone inside.

He saw no one in the foyer and swung the door open wide, his eyes adjusting to the darkness.  He peered into the silent study and saw a single ray from the streetlight, the only illumination.  Nothing appeared amiss.  He looked across the hall at the formal sitting room, useless space they never set foot in.  Even with just the paltry single streetlight to illuminate it, one could attest to the pristine condition of this room.  The couch cushions, plush, white and fluffed to capacity were offset by the deep red, hand-stitched Moroccan pillows, an attempt to convey reckless indulgence, except they were exactly where they always were.  Sonia couldn’t go to bed at night until the magazines were in the rack, the recycling in its bin, and all errant glassware stashed neatly in the dishwasher, as if a careful regulation of her home before bed would afford her an ordered night’s sleep.  When she couldn’t sleep, she sorted tupperware.

Hart continued down the hallway past the stairs.  The kitchen was dark so he turned back to the stairs and crept slowly up to the landing.  The effect was comical and he suppressed the urge to laugh.  Just who in the hell am I sneaking up on?  Sonia was probably asleep, and Hart’s overtired, overactive imagination stressed beyond endurance.  The light from their bedroom spilled into the far end of the hall.  Hart inhaled deeply and let out a sigh of relief as he strode toward the bedroom door, the monotonous drone of the television growing louder with each step.

“Geez, you had me so worried,” he said, crossing the threshold.  The bed was empty, but a light from the bathroom escaped from under the door.  “Why didn’t you pick up the phone?” he shouted to the door, shutting the television  and crossing the room.  “Sonia?”

Hart turned the handle, pushed open the bathroom door and pulled back the bathtub curtain.  He found the tub filled to capacity, the water cold.  Small rivulets of water cascaded over the side.  “Jesus.”  He reached in and shut the dripping faucet.  “Sonia?”  He turned and ran out of the bathroom, fear spilling out of him like the bathtub water.

“Sonia?  If this is a game, it isn’t funny,” he said loudly.  A growing terror gripped him as he tore down the hallway and hit the stairs, taking them two at a time.  “Sonia?”

He rounded the steps at the bottom and ran back into each of the rooms he had already inspected, flipping on the lights and scanning their perimeters in urgent, yet methodical fashion, opening closet doors and checking behind furniture.  The rooms were as empty in the light as they were in the dark.

“SONIA!”  After a brief glance outside, Hart bounded down the hallway and into the kitchen.  He reached for the light and tripped over something solid and inert. He half fell, half flew headlong across it.  He crashed with a loud thump, his head hitting first, and lay sprawled on the floor.

“Jesus Christ.”  He rubbed his head and sat up, looking back at the source of his precipitous fall.  Sonia’s prone body stretched in front of the kitchen door, as if in sleep.  “Sonia?!”

Hart scrambled over to her and put his fingers to her neck, checking for a pulse.  He recoiled in horror as his fingers touched her cooling skin.  He wavered, dizzy and gulping air to keep from passing out.  He shook his head, trying to regain his dwindling presence of mind.  He tried CPR, a rotation of pumping the chest followed by mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, cringing each time his warm, twitching lips touched her cool, lifeless ones.  She made no move to breathe on her own.  His large rough hands, the same hands that stroked her gently during their afternoon lovemaking, now shook her gently at first, and then, as realization dawned, more violently.

“Sonia!  Wake UP.”  Gripping her by the arms, he shook her again and again, her hair, wet and sticky, flipping back and forth around her face with each surge.  Her neck jerked and bobbed like a rag doll’s until Hart heard a snap that brought him round and he abruptly stopped shaking her.  He looked at her face, illuminated by the night light in the corner, her eyes closed, her mouth agape.  He laid her back on the floor, smoothed the hair back from her face and kissed her cool lips tenderly.

“Sonia.  Please.  Wake up.”  His voice, contorted by fear and sorrow, seemed to hover above them, alien and disengaged.  His fingers reached again for her soft, white neck.  There was no pulse to enliven that hardening, dead body.

As if he just remembered something, Hart’s head jerked toward her belly and his eyes grew wide.  In that moment he tasted eternity for time stood still.  One second, and then a million passed as he held his breath and looked –  not with the detachment of an ascended master, but the calm of one in a state of shock –  at what should have been his son.  His eyes observed the splayed legs of his wife’s body, her twisted arm, the displacement and slight concavity of her stomach as a result of the partial delivery.  And then….

Hart shuddered a pervasive, body-wrenching shudder that cascaded from the top of his head to the very soles of his feet.  He was back, lucid and substantial, with full awareness of the surreal snapshot lying before him.  He made no move to turn on the light, perhaps to hide her visage for a moment longer from the pain that would surely color her face and stay with him for a lifetime.

He inhaled raggedly and gripped his hands together to stop their shaking.  Sonia’s robe, her only garment, hung loosely around her body.  Unwilling to look on the child just yet, he steeled himself and began an examination of his wife.  He inspected her body inch by inch looking for signs of injury, using his powers of analysis, long honed in the field, all the while trying to maintain a clinical, dispassionate attitude.  If he thought for a moment that this was his wife, the woman whom hours before had been alive and vibrant in his arms, he would surely crumble on the spot.

Hart noted no bruising around her neck.  No large hands held her, squeezing the tender blood vessels beneath the surface until they were pinched and bruised and dying.  He took another deep breath and ran his hands through her hair starting at the face and coming around to the back where his fingers intertwined in something sticky.  His heart jumped and he raised her head to find a large welt and a small cut at the base of her skull, misleading because of the amount of blood in her hair and on the floor.  Head injuries bled profusely, but this bump didn’t cause her death.

He continued his foray downward, slowly, haltingly, stalling the inevitable.  His fingers probed her belly, still plush, although somewhat less than round now that its occupant was only partially home.  He steeled himself for the final examination, letting his glance fall between her legs.  Tears welled in his eyes and he turned away, his body shaken by paroxysms of vomiting.

After several minutes, he stopped, wiped his mouth and looked again at the gruesome scene.  Protruding from his wife’s vagina, approximately half a foot into the world, lay the legs and torso of his dead baby.  Hart touched the curled, little legs, clammy with the blood of childbirth, noted the fingers of one hand protruding from Sonia’s body.  He tried pulling the baby the rest of the way out, but he was stuck.  Rigor mortis was already starting to set in for both mother and child.  Even without the rigor mortis, Hart knew from the parenting classes he and Sonia had attended, that breech births were the most difficult and delicate and that the baby was likely not coming out without assistance.

Whether it was the need to know, to see his child at least once, or to set him free in the world even if only in death, Hart couldn’t say for sure.  But he began pulling and prodding and adjusting until he had managed to wedge the chest out.  He continued wiggling the baby back and forth until he heard a crack.  He reached in and pulled out a tiny arm, broken now from all the jostling. And still he pulled until he reached the neck and only the head remained inside.

The neck was wrapped tightly with the umbilical cord, three times around, leaving no more give in the line.  Hart stood and walked calmly to the counter and pulled a large pair of scissors, used for cutting meat, out of the knife rack.  He took a deep breath and began cutting the cord, still slightly warm to the touch, the tendency toward life the last thing to go.  He worked one piece at a time until he’d cut it thrice, then pushed it away.  He pulled again and this time the baby emerged with a pop, his lackluster, unblinking eyes fixed on his father.

Hart cradled the head, a halo of blood forming beneath it.  He leaned over and kissed the tiny cheeks, touching the faintest line of the small eyebrow and ran his finger over the little nose and then the whole face, the color of a midnight blue sky.  He closed the baby’s eyes and laid him on his wife’s belly.  He stared at them for several minutes, tears spilling down his cheeks, anointing their bodies like holy water.  He wiped his eyes and clawed at his face, the blood and ooze of the afterbirth smearing it, a warrior preparing for battle.

The scream started as a low moan, growing in intensity and fury, building and climbing toward the crescendo, a high-pitched wail which ended when Hart was out of breath and fallen, left with his only remaining partner, the shadow of grief, lying prostrate across his past and future.

to be continued. . .

to read what came before, click here. . .

fire and icicles

copyright 2012


a novel by


Chapter Ten(b)

A crowd had gathered around them.  Bicky was going strong, telling tales about the early days in the oil business.  Hart had made several valiant attempts to part company, but each time Bicky pulled him back into the fold, talking, joking, making introductions.  Right now, Hart was sitting at the center of Houston’s power base and decided it was in his best interest to humor his father-in-law.  If he were going to quit as he’d promised Sonia, he’d need a new job and the people sitting around this table listening to Bicky wax prolifically were the very people who employed ninety percent of Houston’s employable.

By 10 o’clock, Hart was feeling the effects of the past two days of travel and two hours of alcohol consumption.  He wanted nothing more than to lay his head on the nearby rosewood table.  He decided to call Sonia while he could still speak coherently and let her know of his plans:  a brief respite in one of the alcoves to clear the cobwebs in his head; he’d drive home later.

Hart rose on unsteady legs and left the room.  Raucous laughter followed him out, seeping into the hallway’s wide-open spaces only to be absorbed by the elegant, plush carpet and thick walnut walls.  A series of dimly illuminated sconces lined the hallway; overstuffed leather armchairs dotted the landscape.  Hart flopped down in one and rubbed his face with both hands to revive or steel himself, he wasn’t sure.  He checked his watch.  If only he could keep his promises.  He pulled out his cell phone and dialed home.

The phone rang six times before the answering machine picked up.  Hart blathered into the phone, his words tumbling out in a self-effacing rush.  “Hello?  Sonia?  Pick up.  Are you there?  Are you asleep?  In the shower?  I know it’s past 9, and I’m not home yet.  Will you pick up the phone, please?  Alright.  Well, I’m still here and I probably shouldn’t drive home.  I’m really tired.  I’m going to take a short nap in a corner somewhere and then I’ll see if I can. . .”

“Beeeeeppp.”  The machine ended his little speech.

Hart banged the phone shut between his hands,  “Damn.”  He punched in the numbers again.  The phone picked up after three rings this time.  “Sonia.  Pick – Up – The – Phone.”    Hart waited several seconds before continuing:  “Listen, Babe, don’t be mad at me.  I’ll be home as soon as I can.  I’ll wake you up when I get there.”  Then he added as an afterthought: “Let’s sleep in all morning tomorrow.”  He waited a few seconds before hanging up.  “Damn.”

He replaced the cell phone on his hip and stood with a slight waver.  Though only seconds had passed, he checked his phone to make sure Sonia hadn’t returned his call.  The face glowed a phosphorescent green, but did little else.  “No calls,” he said to no one in particular and staggered to the men’s room.

Hart washed his face and stared at his intoxicated reflection in the mirror, looking for hidden clues.  A sudden, unsettling thought gripped him.  What if Sonia’s not asleep, but on her way to the hospital about to give birth to their baby?   He didn’t travel 6,000 miles in seven minutes only to have the baby born while he was across town.  He willed his reflection to give him an answer.  His normally handsome, exuberant face peered back at him, pale and haggard.  He head throbbed like he was being riven in two:  a meat cleaver to the head, a ragged split down the middle.

Hart loved his life and was reluctant to give up the part of it that made him feel so viable, so indispensable.  How many people took the physical risks he took on a daily basis without even a second thought?  His occupation, not the engineering part, even Sonia could live with that, but the field work – that’s what set him apart from the average guy, and Hart liked it that way.  Hell there wasn’t enough money in all of Akanabi Oil for Hart to take a desk job, toiling away under the leak and glow of florescent lighting.  Damn her need to control.  Hart had noted the similarities between Sonia and Bicky long before he married her.  The attributes that lurked just below the surface of genteel southern behavior had formed more distinctly with time.  Some parts had broken off or withered away, while others were polished to a smooth, impenetrable finish that only water and a million or so years would be able to alter in any appreciable way.  He married her because of, and in spite of, those attributes.  That, and the fact that she was beautiful, and probably the most passionate woman he had ever met.

Hart himself was from a family of academics.  His father was a professor of law at the University of Penn and his mother a professor of Shakespearean minutia, one of only a handful of scholars across the country with that particular nomenclature, which put her in high demand in academic circles.  His mother was constantly being wooed by competing universities desirous of her services.  Sabbaticals and six-week architectural tours of Europe were the norm when Hart was growing up.  He’d read more literature by the age of fourteen than most people read in a lifetime.  It was no surprise then, that his parents weren’t exactly thrilled when Hart went to work for Akanabi Oil.  They had wanted him to choose a more scholarly occupation –  as if chemical engineering was for slackers –  something with a professorship attached.  But his parents’ reticence, or perhaps inertia, was so entrenched they couldn’t arouse sufficient passion to convince him otherwise, so off to Columbia he went, which is where he met Sonia.  To Hart, Sonia Coleman was the antithesis of his beige upbringing.  Her colorful, passionate outbreaks about everything from Goethe to guacamole were something Hart had never known on any intimate level, and something he soon found he couldn’t live without.

But Hart also found that passion and the need to dominate often went hand-in-hand.  Thankfully, Sonia was more like her mother than her father, and lacking Bicky’s mendacious spirit, her demands on life in general and Hart in specific were guileless, prompted by a need to be loved.  He pandered to her whims when he could, and when not, they fought an aggressive fracas that could reach levels of inanity for which Hart had no frame of reference.  Despite their different temperaments, they hung together.  The battle scars did not run all that deep, not yet, and were still easily erased by the night of intimacy that inevitably followed.  Hart knew this kind of behavior would eventually catch up with them, but they were young and he believed in the power of love.

He shook his head to clear the sense of foreboding that had begun creeping into his grey matter, checked his cell phone again.  Nothing.  What if something really was wrong?  He closed his eyes.  Sonia knew where he was and could have had him paged if he didn’t answer his cell phone.

But what if she couldn’t get to the phone.  He shuddered involuntarily, threw the towel in the trash can and sprinted out of the bathroom intent on coaxing Bicky into handing over his car and driver.  He found Bicky sitting in the place he’d left him, gesticulating with abandon.

Hart begged the pardon of the gathered crowed and pulled Bicky  over to the bar.


“Hey, thanks for the madcap evening, but, I gotta go.”

“Stay.  Have another drink.” Bicky’s tone was sharp.

“Can’t.  It’s Sonia.  I can’t get her on the phone and I’m just…worried.  You know, with the baby and all.”  His voice cracked uttering the last bit, and Hart felt a little foolish given the way Bicky glared at him.  Bicky attempted a thin-lipped smile, his head bobbing up and down mechanically, the closest thing he could manage to empathy.

“So be it.  Who am I to stand between a man and his wife.”

“Do you think Manuel could run me home?  I’m a little tired.”

“Sure. Sure.”  Bicky snapped his fingers once and Manuel, his driver, materialized out of the shadows.  Hart started, wondering how much you had to pay someone to stand within finger- snapping distance.

“Would you see to it that Mr. Hartos arrives home safely, Manuel?  And come right back.  I suspect I’ll be ready to leave by then.”  Bicky patted Hart on the back and shook his hand.  “Give my regards to my daughter,” Bicky said.  His voice was sad, but Hart’s slushy brain didn’t pick up on it.  Instead, he nodded thanks and followed Manuel out the door.

to be continued. . .

to read what came before, scroll down. . .