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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.

Customer service

Susannah Fontaine-Williams landed at JFK, ambled quickly through customs, and isn’t the new system great, and saw the man holding her sign, S WILLIAMS. Her driver, Rodrigo, led her to the black car waiting at the curb, held the door open and in she climbed, escaping the sweaty New York City morning.

Walt sat in the back seat behind the driver; though she saw him she didn’t acknowledge him. Let him speak first.

“Home?” Rodrigo said. She nodded to his sunglassed reflection in the rear view mirror. The glass partition began closing and she said, “Let’s drop off your other passenger on Canal first.” He nodded and the partition closed.

Skippable pleasantries:
“Hi Walt,” she exhaled.
“Hello Ms. Fontaine-Williams,” he said. “Good flight?”
“Slept through it.”

On with the story:
She thought for a minute how badly she’d wanted to see Thomas Jefferson’s copy of the Declaration of Independence at the New York Public Library. She’d landed on July third, the last day it would be on display, but this post didn’t get written for nearly a week and by now it had returned to from whence it came. “Damn,” she whispered. “My fault,” I whispered back, that voice in her head we all have, only hers is mine.

Walt fidgeted beside her, uncertain where to start. He didn’t like being a passenger in cars. He never knew what to do with his ungainly long arms. The limo had handles above the doors and he grabbed the one on his left allowing his left arm to hang. But the right arm, what to do with the right arm? On the ride to the airport, it spread wing-like over the top of the back seat. Very comfortable. Now, with Susannah next to him an extended arm would drape over her shoulders – and that would require explaining – so he crossed it back in front of him and now held the handle in a two-fisted grip.

SFW reversed her position on who would go first and said, “Walt, it’s very kind of you to come meet me at the airport. Not many people would do that, especially for just a customer.”

“How is the bag working out?” Walt said.

“It has exceeded my every expectation,” Susannah said. “You have no idea how much I crammed in here for my trip.” Despite the ever-present construction,  they soon were entering Manhattan via the Queens-Midtown Tunnel.

“My memory isn’t so good – I wrote it down.” He pulled out a slip of paper.  “Six dresses, two pair of shorts, a few tank tops, a dozen panties and bras, six pair flats, four pair of heels, some gifts which I see you’ve brought back with you. Six skirts, six tops, two dozen…”

“How do you know all that?”

“Hard to explain. Maybe it’s better I show you.”

She turned to look out the window and watched the buildings of Midtown Manhattan roll by. This should be taking much longer. Where’s all the traffic? And she wasn’t sure if it was her voice or mine asking those questions. If he knows the contents of my bag, what else does he know?

“Am I in trouble, Walt?”

“May I see the bag?” he said. She tilted her head slightly and it reminded me of what a golden retriever does sometimes. It’s a quizzical thing. “I just want to check it out. I’ll give it back.” She handed it to him.

He held it up by the handle at eye level, slowly turned it, rubbing its surface and closely eyeing it. “Amazing!”

“What?!?”

“No damage, no signs of wear. It’s held up remarkably well. May I open it?” he said while opening it. He peered into its black interior, shook it, turned it upside down – nothing came out – and put a hand inside and rooted around.

“Anything you want to tell me…about the bag’s performance?” he said. “Anything odd?”

Oh, she thought, like a shoplifted Vera Wang disappearing? Like a hat and a knife conveniently appearing just when I needed them? 

“This bag saved my life.”

The car pulled up to Walt’s place in Chinatown. Walt handed back the bag to her. Rodrigo came around and opened Susannah Fontaine-Williams’ door, and helped her out. She signed the receipt – her show would be billed, or the station would – and handed him a fifty. “Shall I wait for you?” Rodrigo asked.

She looked to Walt for guidance. It must have been a combination of the sweaty air, a growing psychic disorientation, and standing too quickly that made her dizzy and she leaned against the car until the feeling passed.

“We’ll be awhile,” Walt said.

Hats and upgrades

Models posing in examples of three floppy hats.
Models demonstrating examples of three floppy hats.

Walt thrummed his fingers on his workbench as he watched the newsfeed on BBC International. Susannah Fontaine-Williams, tanned and relaxed, watched from a bar at Athens International, while Macallan and wife, back on the Greek mainland, drove back to Alethia’s ancestral home.

It came as no surprise to any of them that the bodies of a man and a woman were found in a cabin below deck, that the man’s skull had been caved in by a fire extinguisher and the woman’s windpipe had been brutally crushed.

“Authorities are searching for a tall man and a woman wearing a floppy hat in connection with the double homicide,” the news said.

A picture taken by a security camera at the dock showed a man and an unrecognizable woman wearing a floppy hat. Walt screen-grabbed the image and enlarged it. SFW’s grainy, hat-obscured features grew even less distinct, but anyone could clearly see the stylish handbag dangling from her sunburned shoulder.

Susannah Fontaine-WIlliams boarded her flight, pleased that she’d upgraded to the pod section in the front of the jet. On her mind as the jet taxied to the runway:

  1. Take a zolpidem and try to sleep, or stay awake and watch movies?
  2. Turn to a life of crime?
  3. Turn to a life of heroic deeds?

She popped the zolpi and chased it with duty free cuban rum.  Are  numbers two and three mutually exclusive, she wondered. “Oooh, they have the Lego Movie!” she said. She’d been scrolling the movie listings.

“Excuse me miss,” a flight attendant said, “did you need something?”

“A glass of champagne would be nice,” and she pulled the blanket up around her, put on the complimentary eye mask, stretched out in her pod and started the Lego Movie.

Macallan finds nothing in SFW’s stylish, yet functional bag

The head of security at Neiman’s, Macallan, saw what he saw in the monitor and radio’d the doormen to stop the blond talk show host as she left the building. The man everyone called  Single Malt very much liked Susannah Fontaine-Williams. They’d met a few times in the massive department store and she chatted with him as if they were old grade school buddies who’d somehow lost track of each other over the years. She remembered his wife’s name and how old his kids were. He made a point to DVR her show though he seldom had a chance to watch it, what with the crazy hours and the side jobs.

So when Darrel’s voice came over the radio, “She’s here boss,” he felt more than a tinge of sadness as he made his way to the 52nd Street entrance. He found Susannah Fontaine-Williams and Darell talking  basketball. “If I was the NBA comissioner, Miss Fontaine-Williams…” “Please, Darrel, just call me Susannah already.”

Darrel continued, “…first thing we do is get rid of at least six, maybe eight teams. Talent’s too diluted.” She nodded appreciatively. “Then, I order the refs to start calling ‘traveling’ again. Anyone can make Top Ten if you can take four steps to the basket!”

“Mac!” SFW squealed. Macallan watched her face and body language and thought, wow, for someone caught shoplifting on camera she is one cool customer.

“Miss Fontaine-WIlliams,” he started. “I mean, Susannah, I hate to ask you this, but I need to have a look inside your bag.”