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Note to the piano movers

First, thanks so much for coming during the hurricane. As I told Big Al on the phone, the upright piano in the dining room needs to be moved into one of three upstairs rooms.

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Ignore the dog

I am talking about the Steinway, not the Baldwin, which is slated for destruction and may already be rigged with explosives. The first and best option for the Steinway upright (please do not move the Steinway grand) is the bedroom in the southwest corner of the west wing of the second floor. Take precise measurements of the hallway before you start. Of particular concern is the sharp left zig-zag leading to the small stairs. Remove the handrail but under no circumstances are you to destroy it – nothing should be destroyed unless you receive instructions from me to the contrary. If you are able to navigate the west wing stairs, hallways, and hairpin turns place the piano along the south wall. As always, before moving the piano, please check inside for dead animals.

Should the southwest second floor bedroom prove inaccessible, try the north tower. Again: measure, measure, measure. You may use my husband Derek’s surveying tools as long as you wipe your fingerprints from them when you return them to cold storage. The round tower stairway may prove tricky, however, I have every confidence in your abilities. If needed, you may construct and install a suitable winch which should be removed upon successful completion of the move. Place the piano in the exact center of the tower facing west so that my daughter Ezmerine can play her little concertos at sunset, her only real joy. If you see Ezmerine, please do not comment on or make notice of her nudity. Though she is a free spirit, she is very touchy on the subject. On second thought, the tower is the first choice.

If options one or two fail, then as a last result, use the east by northeast drawing room. I don’t think any explanation is needed here as I’m sure one of the first two options, particularly number two, which is now to be considered first. If this third option is even a consideration, contact me on my fourth mobile phone. Big Al should have briefed you, but phone #1 is for my husband and family; #2 is for my agent and attorneys; #3 is for my current lover, Geoffrey, although it’s possible that Antoine, Isabella, or Gert may still have that number as I haven’t blocked their calls yet. Just in case. So, cell phone #4 only. #5 is for my aftermarket medicinal supplier.

Anyway, it’s a small job and I expect you to be finished in under an hour. Help yourself to the special brownies as you leave. Should the access road to the house be under water due to the hurricane, you may wait out the storm in your truck.

TTFN,

Violetta Cheesegrater-Fencepost

She looks familiar, but then, everyone does at a distance

Editor’s Note: this is a continuation of story started two posts earlier about a reluctant detective. You may recall that the narrator observed a man chasing a woman down Eighteenth Street and out of a sense of either chivalry or boredom decided to intervene. There’s no connection to the most recent post, and no way to explain that entry’s  appearance other than we’ve had some difficulty with the writer lately and he’s back on track now after we threatened to replace him with either a robot or a random word generator. 

I’m standing there on Eighteenth in the shadows of the overhead building corridor, twisting the arm of a thug I happen to know who goes by the name of Thorn. I shove his face into the wall, just enough to let him know that he’s got some explaining to do.

“Thorn,” I say. “How’s things?”

“Not bad. Keeping busy,” he says.

“That kid of yours ever get straightened out?”

“Yeah. You wouldn’t believe it, but he’s applying to law school,” he says. “Thanks for asking.”

“Great. That’s great to hear. Why are you chasing the lady?” I ask.

“There’s no chase,” he says. “I’m just in a hurry.”

With my free arm, I increase the pressure on his face. It has to be uncomfortable, but he doesn’t make a sound. The red-headed woman is now nearly a block away. Even with her in those heels, I wouldn’t be able to catch her on foot. She looks back over her shoulder, stops for a moment, appraising the situation, then slows to a casual walk. She looks familiar, but then, everyone does at a distance.

Decision time: get some answers from the thug, or go after the woman and see if she has anything to say. There’s a third option. Keep the thug here long enough to let the woman get away, then get back to the business of finding some business.

I twist Thorn’s arm with a bit more pressure. “Still got nothing to say?”

This time he responds, “Unnnnh.” I’m getting through, but not fast enough. I think maybe the woman might be in a chattier mood.

“Have it your way,” I say. I pull a zip tie out of my pocket, untwist his arm and zip his wrists together behind his back. With another tie, I zip him to a street sign. Then with a third, I zip him at the ankles to the sign. That ought to keep him still.

“Good luck with things,” I say, waving goodbye.

“Yeah, you too, Py,” he says.

I unlock the door to the Flamm, grab my bicycle, a Rudge, and sling my leg over the seat and wheel off down Eighteenth in pursuit. My right pant leg, however, gets caught between the crank and the chain and in an instant the bike halts and I go over the handlebars landing hard on the cobbled street. I pick myself up to check for damage. A hole in the jacket and shirt at the elbow and a bloodied, skinned elbow showing through. The right pant leg torn at the cuff. Damn. I like this jacket.

I tuck the pant leg into the sock and start off again, a little more slowly.

Fear of _________

There’s too much air in the house,” Lydia said.  She took a deep breath and pinched her nose to hold the air in then all at once blew it out until her lungs were empty. Then she took long sniffling breaths until her lungs refilled, again pinching her nose then coughing the air out.

Archie looked up from his Sunday Times puzzle, which, after three solid evenings of work had little more than the top right corner completed. Sure, there were a few three-letter words scattered about – ego and fur – but the abundance of white space was beginning to agitate him. “I’m never going to finish another puzzle,” he said.

“Who are you kidding? You’ve never come close…,” she squeaked, and on the verge of passing out, took another massive inhale. “…to finishing even the Monday puzzle. Did you hear what I said about the air? There’s too much air.”

“Tourniquet!” Bob said, slapping his hand on the arm of his chair. “This changes everything.”

He glanced up at Lydia, who was holding her nose. Her face was getting red and a bead of sweat drizzled down one of her temples.

“Archie, honey,” she said, “I think I’m going to pass out.”

Her head pitched forward and Archie, quick as an ocelot, sprang from his chair and caught her an inch from the coffee table. He lay her down on the couch with her head on his lap and fanned her face with the Sunday Magazine.

She opened her eyes. “The air,” she started.

“I know. There’s too much of it. Why don’t I open a window to let some out.”

“Oh, would you?”

Archie stood and opened the window.

“Archie?”

“I know, darling, I’ll close it in a minute before too much air gets out.”

She sighed, contented, and picked up his puzzle. “Twenty-seven across.,” she said. “Anemophobia. It fits.”

“Well, look at that; it does.”

“Close the window,” she said.

The jelly bean conversation

Jelly Beans?

No thanx. I’m off sugar.

Oh come on. Have one. Just one won’t hurt.

No really. I’m not eating the sugar anymore.

These are really special jelly beans. They’re imported from Madagascar.

Madagascar? Bullshit.

Kids love ’em. You know, Reagan kept a huge bowl of jelly beans in the Oval Office.

And you’re saying that because Ronald Regan ate jelly beans, I should too.

Yep.

I should start eating processed fake sugar because some wingnut fascist did.

I think you’re being awfully hard on The Great Communicator.

Well, I have a headache.

That’s too bad. Long day?

It’s caffeine withdrawal. I’ve cut out coffee.

Why would you do that? I couldn’t do that.

And Archie, he don’t give a shit. He makes a fresh pot every morning. Drives me up a wall.

Archie’s coffee is the best. Is he still baking those amazing pies? The ones with pralines and burnt sugar…?

I wouldn’t know.

How long you two been together now? Eight, nine year?

Eleven. I don’t know what I’d do without him.

So what is all this about anyway? Why no sugar and coffee?

I just want to be better.

What do you mean? You got diabetes or something?

No.

The cancer? This some new age treatment?

I just want to be better.

How about a jelly bean then?

The Canal Street Subway (day 17)

Real history: in the 1920s, the IRT, one of the subway companies operating in Manhattan, proposed an east-west Canal Street Line (CSL). Though the CSL spent many years in the preliminary phase, blueprints, endless city council meetings, budget discussions, announcements, pronouncements,  and denouncements, ultimately it never was built. The plans, blueprints, and proposals all were safely catalogued into the city’s extensive archive.

Left to itself, the basement on Canal Street functioned perfectly. The interior of Susannah Fontaine-Williams’ extra-dimensional bag stabilized itself. The ladies who ran the Excellent Bag House, the knock-off store upstairs, though they heard stray sounds from below, stayed away from the door SFW had long ago padlocked.  Understandably, the basement spooked them. Walt’s other projects, aside from Vax, the lone conscious nano-bot, remained in the state in which Walt had left them prior to his caninization.

As for Walt the big black dog, he had grown content in his role of protector of the Susannahs. Most of the time, that meant lounging on the sunny terrace, barking at odd sounds, and accompanying her on her rounds. In this particular moment, one Susannah was airborne. The other called, “Walt, let’s go for a run!”

On a subterranean shelf in Chinatown, Vax, self-appointed Lord of the Nanobots, discovered the sensation of loneliness. Without water, he would be forever alone and helpless, and he pondered  shutting down. Who wouldn’t?

On the adjoining block to the north, the empty building abutting the Excellent Bag House, absorbed the first tug of a wrecking claw, sending bricks, wood and glass crashing onto and through its floors. Vax felt the vibration, but lacking any context, could not so much as wonder what it was all about.

The company operating the wrecking claw used a set of blueprints provided by the city showing the location of buried electric lines, water mains, and most importantly, gas mains. However, a computer error mistakenly delivered the plans showing the location of where all of that infrastructure would be if the Canal Street Subway had  been built. As it was, of course, no subway line traverses Manhattan beneath Canal St.

Walt, with no real regard or understanding of how real estate boundaries worked below the surface of the earth, had built the lab and the bag pod well beyond the boundaries of the building above, and a significant part of it extended beneath the building facing demolition. With each yank of the wrecking claw, a little more weight of the building crashed onto the area above the pod. A single  brick nicked a gas line and natural gas began to leak and fill Walt’s vacant lab.

35,000 miles above the North Sea, Susannah Fontaine-Williams slept, clutching her bag while the strange woman in the seat next to her watched.

10,000 days later

Dear Ovellyn,

You are a genius! As you suggested, I followed the old couple along the waterway one evening. It was so easy – they take the same route every day and walk so slowly it was no trouble keeping up. I had to slow my pace so as to stay far enough back to avoid detection. Every now and then, they would stop, hold up binoculars and look at something on the water, or on the other side – it was hard to tell which. He would peer through the binoculars, then hand them to her while pointing. Whatever it was they were looking at, I couldn’t see it and it served only to arouse my suspicions. I must remember to manufacture or steal a pair of binoculars to bring along next time. Which makes me wonder, why is it “pair of binoculars?” This has always disturbed me. Is not a single binocular in fact a pair of monoculars?

About a mile in, the path veered away from the water through some scrubby overgrown areas that used to be an industrial area. You can still see broken up bits of concrete and asphalt through the overgrowth and shells of brick buildings, now merely sections of walls, rising up among the trees and grass. It is quiet here except for the crunching of your feet. Every now and again the pair stopped, looked through binoculars and point at something, and I’d strain my eyes to see something and stop breathing to listen, but all you’d hear would be the wind biting at your memories, or the memories of the activity once hosted here. They must have built great things, I think, cars or zeppelins, or perhaps sprockets, great gears whose teeth gnashed together turning the wheels of a massive machinery.

Oh Ovvy, I may have made a mistake. At one point the old ones stopped and they seemed very excited about something and they were waving and gesturing and I could hear them laughing even from where I stood. I moved a little bit closer so I could see what they saw. What came into view was astonishing even to me. It was a long-necked beast with great brown spots and tiny little antlers or horns on its head. It stretched its neck to eat the leaves on a tree. It soon noticed the couple, and it lowered its head slowly down until it was just inches from them. The woman reached out a hand and the animal sniffed it, then extended a long, grotesque tongue and licked her hand and she laughed and the man laughed, and I admit, I laughed too. The beast heard me and turned its head to me, and I ducked into the long grass but there was nothing to hide behind. I stood perfectly still and the man turned and raised his binoculars and looked right at me. He waved to me, calling out to me to come over.

I picked up the closest thing –  a metal ring that was on the ground at my feet – about the size and shape of a small donut and I threw it as hard as I could in their direction. It struck the man in the chest and knocked him over, yet another example of my uncanny aim when hurling things. The woman bent over the man. I picked up a rusty piece of rebar, bent slightly about 2/3 of the way. It was so substantial and heavy. I moved toward them in a zig-zag pattern so that I should thrash them with the rod. The beast bellowed and the woman turned and saw me, and she scrambled to her feet and a moment later, helped the man to his feet and they scurried toward a shell of a building.

Oh what a day it had turned into with such an entertaining turn of events – and I owe it all to you. A strange animal, the thrill of being discovered, and now, a chase followed by what would surely be a fight to the death…and I always win those! Or I would, certainly, if such occasions arose. Which got me to thinking about existence and it’s strangeness and when next I came to consciousness, I was alone in that strange ruin, cloaked in darkness and unaware of the time. Once again my existential meanderings had caused my critical cohesion subroutine to stop running. The strangers were nowhere to be found.

Hope all is well with you. Do stay in touch. Will write again soon when I’ve reconstituted.

Best regards,
– V

Something akin to an epilog

It turned out that Walt preferred being a dog, all instinct, and oh, don’t get him started about all the information coming in through that marvelous nose. It was as if he’d been living in a flat, soundless world suddenly endowed with dimension and orchestration. Sure, he missed his thumbs and the ability to grasp objects with something other than his mouth. He both missed speech and welcomed its absence. And he no longer had to waste his time selecting and wearing clothes. Freedom.

Susannah Fontaine-Williams and Walt bonded. His former owner, the very responsible, ethical and momentarily heartbroken Vanessa Schlage, heiress of the Schlage lock fortune, had neutered Walt when he was still her Vernon. Are you following this? And his attraction to SFW turned into something more canine and pure. Perhaps something like love even.

Walt often thought about what had become of the creature in whose body he’d materialized. Of course, living with a dog mind meant he really couldn’t think deeply about things, so distracted was he by smells, things flashing past, sounds near and distant, urges to lick himself, itches, and visions. All these and more would banish thoughts until something new gained his attention. Anyway, was Vernon lurking within, obedient, subservient, waiting for Walt to vacate the premises so he could bound home to Ms. Schlage?

Vanessa Schlage played her part and papered Manhattan and Brooklyn with pictures of Vernon/Walt and offered a respectable but not excessive reward. She fantasized about his return even after her best friend Ethan had presented her with twin puppies that closely resembled her lost companion. For weeks, though she spent hours staring at an unopened bottle of gin, she didn’t open it and remained sober, thank goodness. I don’t like writing about alcoholism.

Susannah had, with the help of Walt’s nods, facial expressions, and paw gestures, worked out what happened. Obviously (well, duh), the bag had dragged Walt in and spat out all that was Walt in the form of a tasty treat to be gobbled by a passing living thing. Once consumed, Walt’s essence took hold and that was that. They debated bringing Walt back to the bag’s storage pod entrance so he could be devoured by a human, but that had more serious ethical issues that neither wanted to address just then. Though he now aged seven times more quickly than she, they had time to work out an exit strategy.

Susannah, with the convenient advent of Second Susannah, enjoyed an even fuller life if you can imagine that. Second Susannah appeared when needed, performed her task as admirably as if she were the first Susannah, then drifted away like mist. Original Susannah absorbed her memories and experiences and after a few years passed stopped thinking about it, as if this were a perfectly natural and normal feature of human existence. It made shopping so much easier. Necessities were taken care of: a stocked fridge, public appearances when she’d rather binge-watch Deadwood or Breaking Bad, someone to look after Walt on those occasions that she could not bring him along.

Walt loved car rides and Susannah Fontaine-Williams bought a powder blue 1963 Corvette Stingray convertible for their Sunday road trips. Macallan, a classic car aficionado, helped her with the purchase and dutifully handled the Stingray’s maintenance. She would wear big sunglasses and a long, flowing head scarf and would outfit Walt with goggles, which he didn’t mind. It kept the grime and insects out of his eyes and he appreciated that.

She set up a limited liability corporation – to be on the safe side – and bought the building on Canal with Walt’s basement workshop, and kept the counterfeit bag store going and the employees employed. She put a gigantic lock on the door and rigged up some Dropcams so she could check in on the pod from time to time. She pounded out the nail on the twenty-seventh step so she wouldn’t step on it if she ever went back down there. It cost a medium fortune but proved to be a solid investment.

Susannah had a simple Steinway baby grand in her Manhattan apartment, and one in the shore house as well. (She once turned down a scholarship at Juilliard so she could train for the Olympics and backpack the Andes – you can’t do everything.) The piano initially caused Walt much distress as his lack of fingers and dexterity prevented his playing. Once, she found him standing on the piano bench, paws on the keyboard, clinking the keys and howling. He eventually took pleasure in curling up at her feet while she played.

One August Sunday, she’d been reading the Times and it referenced an exhibit of recently unearthed Egyptian artifacts. She wasn’t interested, but Walt’s eyes caught the photo of the mysterious knife with the ivory handle and the intricately carved ankh, the one she had used to defend herself against the serial killer in Delos. He leapt to his paws and barked and pointed. She stared at it. “I guess I’ll have to go over there and steal it, won’t I? Oh yes I will, won’t I, Walt! Won’t I!” She was talking in that enthusiastic way people talk to dogs sometimes. “Will you miss me? I won’t be long and besides, other me will be here with you. I bet you can’t tell the difference, can you? Can you, Waltie?”

Walt hadn’t really thought about it ’til then. She scratched him behind the ears and he rolled over onto his back so she could rub his belly.