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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.

Susannah and the gummy treat

Susannah Fontaine-Williams searched Walt’s lab, looking for Walt, or at least a note. Walt would expect her and if he was out, would leave a note. That’s just the way he was. However, Walt was in a most decided state of not being there. She spied her bag on the table under the cold glare of fluorescent light. Why, she asked herself, hasn’t my brilliant Walt invented something better, a cool, energy efficient lightbulb that didn’t make everything look so sterile? She picked up the bag and petted its sides as if it was a small dog. The bag felt a static chill and involuntarily gave SFW a mild shock like the kind you get when you walk on carpet wearing socks in the winter.

Without really thinking, she grabbed several tubes of nano-bots and dropped them in the bag. “Maybe I shouldn”t have done that,” she said. “But I suppose it’s too late…the cat’s in the bag.” She laughed.

She walked over to the unopened door to her pod, remembering to place the bag at what she thought would be a safe distance away, and turned the handle. It wouldn’t budge. She put her face to the window, but couldn’t see through whatever had coated it on the inside…some kind of blue-red condensation. The door was a little warm to the touch and vibrated almost imperceptibly.

Sad. There were things to talk about that she could talk about only with him: massive electric shocks, hallucinated families, second Susannahs skillfully hosting panel discussions, what to do about her hair, which once dried, had returned to the look and feel of steel wool.

She jotted a note and left it on the work bench, “Call me. -SFW” and walked up the stairs and out onto Canal.

Walt thought he might be dying. The puncture in his foot was oozing something yellow and his foot was turning black and blue. He lay on the floor after the salvo of electrostatic charges the bag had directed at him, a few feet from the open door to the pod. He tried to rise, and the bag sent a bolt that knocked him back, closer to the door.

He pointed a weak finger at the bag on the work bench that glowed under the light. “I know what you’re up to, clever bag.” He realized that the bench light was off, and that light was coming from inside the bag. The bag hummed as if recharging, and the lights in the lab dimmed, and then the bag fired another bolt of energy Walt’s way. It lifted him from the floor and threw him headfirst through the pod door. He smacked his head on the way in. “I know what you’re doing,” he said. The pod door slammed shut. Moments later Susannah Fontaine-Williams came bounding down the steps.

Out on the sidewalk, Susannah Fontaine-Williams, decided to walk at least part of the way home. After no more than a few blocks, three at most, the bag started to expand like a puffer fish sensing a threat, then it made a metallic sounding belch and spit out a tiny object that flew a few feet through the air and stuck to the back of a stop sign. It looked like a gummy bear. She peeled it from the sign and, by golly, didn’t it look kind of like Walt. A gummy Walt with a surprised look on its gummy face.

A dog, a beautiful black and white retriever mix, sniffed at her hand then slurped the Walt gummy and swallowed it. “Sorry!” the owner, a tiny woman in spandex leggings and tank top, said. “He’s always snurfling his nose into something. Bad boy!” They continued on the other way. Susannah, already with much on her talk show mind, continued uptown, a little dazed.

About a minute later the retriever mix wobbled and fell on its side, panting heavily. He convulsed once or twice, then seemed to stop breathing for a moment while his owner got to her knees and pushed on his chest. Someone said, “Give it mouth-to-mouth.” So, she tried to, putting her lips on his big mouth and blowing. The dog sprang to his feet, looked around, and dashed uptown trailing his leash behind.

Susannah, still dazed, signaled a cab, and got in. Before she could close the door, the retriever mix bounded in after her and began licking her face uncontrollably, swishing his tail wildly and whimpering with excitement. The door closed. “No dogs,” the driver said.

The dog stopped his excited theatrics at that and gave her what she thought was a solemn and desperate look. She could hear the owner’s voice getting closer. The dog licked her face.

“I’ll give you an extra hundred, but you’ve gotta get us out of here now!” The car sped away and the dog sat next to Susannah and they stared at each other on this unusually cool, dry August day. Though meteorologists are saying this is actually normal August weather, but the last twenty or so Augusts have been so blast-furnace hot, it just feels cool. So, it’s all relative, isn’t it?

Next time definitely

Note: this little story has its problems – especially the ending – but here it is anyway.  -DS

Jed typed. “I’m crossing Amsterdam right now, should be th…” a horn honked and a truck swerved, just missing him. The blast of the horn caused him to spin around and lose his balance. A man helped him up. “Jerk!” the man yelled at the driver on Jed’s behalf. The truck moved on.

“You won’t believe what just happened,” he typed, continuing across the street. “Some guy almost ran me over.”

“OMG,” she typed… “what a jerk. Are you all right?”

“I can’t wait to see you,” he typed. He looked up and saw her in the window of the coffee shop, head down, typing into her phone. “There you are! Look up!”

She looked up at him and smiled, and then quickly sent him a smiley.

Jed’s near-death experience crossing the street strengthened his resolve to say that important thing to Jessica today. They’d been seeing each other long enough and it was time to move things to the next level. Jed had paused at the door thinking about what to text. The door opened, smacking him in the nose, causing him to nearly drop his phone.

“Did you see that,” he texted, stepping through the door. She stood and went for a hug as he went for a kiss on the cheek, they both adjusted midway and she kissed his cheek while he stood with his arms out in a pre-hug stance.

“Wow,” she said, “you’re having a rough day…”

“I know!”

Her phone beeped and she glanced it and laughed.

“What’s that?” he said.

“Oh, Rosie retweeted a Colbert tweet.”

“Funny,” he said.

“I’m probably wondering why you asked to meet me. I mean, you’re probably wondering…” he stopped, looked at his screen and read an email. “Son of a bitch,” he said.

She looked up from her phone. “Everything OK?”

“Hmm? Oh, yeah. Just a work thing. You look great.”

“Oh,” she said. “I’m so glad you said that.”

“So much better than your profile picture.”

“Which one? Oh, never mind, they’re all the same.” She looked away. “You don’t like my profile picture?”

Her phone beeped. “Now Meg’s texting me that some guy is creeping her out.”

“Who?”

“Just some guy I guess.”

“Your hair is nice.”

“Oh, isn’t it? I’ve been shampooing less. I mean, it’s more manageable when it’s a little bit dirty.”

“Yeah, I saw something about that on Blitzfeed.”

“Ha ha.”

“Hey, check out this video of this enormous dog playing piano.”

“You have a dog?”

“And he howls…”

“Signal’s not great – it’s kind of choppy.”

“Yeah. Uhhh, Jessica?” he said.

“Hang on a sec. Meg has a problem.”

“Sure. I just have to answer this email. The work thing.”

She tapped her phone’s screen. He tapped his phone’s screen. He looked up at her and said, “I like the way you do that.”

“Thanks.”

“You want another macchiato?”

“OK.”

Jed got in line. Jessica stared out the window for a second, then her phone beeped.

“Miss me?” Jed had texted.

“My battery is starting to die,” she texted.

As the line advanced, Jed scrolled through email and Twitter, determined not to check Facebook. He glanced now and then at Jessica, who was furiously typing something on her phone. She’s so pretty right now, he thought, the way she’s silhouetted, backlit by the window, holding her phone with one hand. I should take a picture, he thought. But maybe that would be creepy.

“Here you go,” he said, putting two cups of coffee product on the table. He picked up his cup.

“Wait!”

“What?”

“I want to Instagram a picture before we drink it.”

“Good idea,” he said. She took a picture.

“Here, now put your face right up to the cup and look at it like it’s the best thing in the world.” He did and she snapped a few more images.

DSCF1312

They picked up their cups and sipped their hot drinks. They were happy. Jessica’s phone beeped. “23 likes!”

“Already? Wow!”

“Oh. Damn. I have to go,” she said.

“Me too I guess,” he said.

“This was really fun,” they said.

There was something else he thought he had wanted to say as he watched her walk away.

 

A trip to the pharmacy

I walk into the drug store feeling a little congested. I need Claritin, the D kind, the one that decongests. There are laminated Claritin D Cards on the shelves with the other allergy stuff, the stuff that doesn’t work that’s in its boxes on the shelves that you can just pick up without any fuss and bring to a cashier, pay the kid, and be on your way.

But with this D stuff, you got to take the card and go to the pharmacy counter and say, “I need this,” and they say “how many?” And you say, “how many can I get?” I’m congested, you know, and it’s just the seasonal allergies so I want as many as I can have so I can prolong the amount of time until I have to repeat this process.

Well the most they have is a box of twenty and I say, that’s odd, you used to have them in the thirties, and they say, well, I can give you a ten and a twenty and that’s plenty fine with me. That’ll take me thru a month, and maybe I can skip a day or two and so maybe it’ll last a little longer. Like I say, I got seasonal allergies and when the pollen or mold or whatever it is that’s stuffing me up goes its natural course, I’ll be fine.

“ID please,” the lady says and I notice for the first time that she’s really just a high school kid doing a summer job and she’s following rules and I can appreciate that. Rules are what separates us from animals and happy people. Only I left the house in a hurry on account a the allergies and besides what’s the difference? I don’t carry ID because I know who I am and it’s nobody’s business what my name is and where I live. I just want to decongest.

So I tell her, “I ain’t got an ID.”

“Then I can’t give you the Claritin D,” which she slides away with her hand. “Sorry, it’s the law.”

So I grab her real gentle by the collar of her blue shirt and I say to her real low, “Make an exception, my hay fever’s killing me.” The pharmacy has lots of security cameras pointed at us but I know no one is watching, that they only have them for after the fact. She’s just a sprightly kid so I figure I can take her in fight, fair or otherwise and I guess she reaches the same conclusion and so she slides the Ds into a plastic bag.

“You gone to ring me up?” I say but she just kind a looks at me funny. I give her thirty bucks, which should cover the cost – these suckers have a lot of profit margin built in – take the bag, and exit.

I get maybe two blocks when a police car with lights flashing pulls up next to me and one of them starts getting out. He’s sporting quite the donut paunch so I figure I can outrun him so I cut between stores where there’s a stairs to a parking lot. He doesn’t chase but I see the car coming from the around the corner now. I run straight through the parking lot full tilt and if I can just cross the street, jump a small fence into that wooded park, I’ll be free of these guys. So I put it into that extra gear I got and tear across the street. The cop car accelerates and the son of a bitch hits me on the leg, just kind of wings me really, enough to roll me over the hood. But I land like I’m some kind of a stuntman and I keep running, only now I’m limping just a little. I get into the woods, and slide down a hill and over a wall and wait. I don’t hear a thing so I figure I’m in the clear.

My eyes are itching real bad and I’m stuffed up as hell, so I open the box of tens and pop a D out of the blister pack. I swallow it even though I ain’t got a thing with which to wash it down. Mission accomplished. Except it don’t look too good because I feel this warm spot on my hip and I feel it and it’s warm and wet, kind of sticky even. Taking a deep breath, I look and, yep, there’s this big gash running from my hip down the side of my leg – cut right through my 505s. I don’t know how I didn’t notice it before.

I’m lightheaded and I’m figuring I’ve lost a lot of blood, otherwise I’d a been able to stand up without passing out like this. My throat’s dry too, but sitting here in this muddy puddle of my own hard earned blood, I’m grateful that my sinuses have cleared up real nice. I’m reminded of them commercials as everything starts blurring; the pretty lady playing fetch with her golden retriever in a field of tall grass and dandelions. She takes a deep breath and smiles. Thanks Claritin.