Her name was Christine, blonde, wild hair that floated in the wind, a profile like Bardot’s, a nose too small and a chin too square, but beautiful all the same. She spoke carefully, delicately, her words clipped and precise, her voice always mellow and laughing as she spoke. Her hair smelled like shampoo and her breasts pushed against her blouse, as though trying to break free from confinement. All I knew about her could be spelled out in a few seconds. She had graced the earth for nineteen years, had been married and separated, was the mother of a two­-month-old baby boy, wanted to be a writer, and had attempted suicide three times within the past four months–twice with razor blades and once with sleeping pills.

I had met her earlier in the evening when Mel Thomas and I drove down to Shady Knoll to entertain at a private party. Before leaving Jackson, Mel wanted me to stop and pick up his date. The girl was Christine.

During the day I am a starving and frustrated young writer working feverishly on the next short story, always knowing that this is the one that will sell. After it comes back from the editor’s desk, rejected time after time, I place my hopes on the next story and send it out with stars in my eyes and a confident cloud of glory around my head.

I shoot at stars with an air rifle.

Evenings, I cloak myself in the guise of a singer and entertain here and there, playing my guitar, singing folk songs and crooning ballads to rock-and-roll graduates who wonder why Elvis Presley sent chills down their backs not so many years ago. Though I often dislike singing for some of these people, it is the bread in my mouth. I sing folk music because the taste of the earth is there, the feelings of the long buried but never forgotten loves, the deathlike drudgery of the chain gang derelicts always within sight of the ghastly prison walls that close in around them, hoping, cursing, praying for revenge and escape. 

I croon because I can. I am good at it.

It was a month of ghosts and goblins, witches and rattling bones, pumpkins with hollow faces. It was a month when love ends for the summer and hate bubbles up to face a frozen winter––the month of death, October, when love can bloom and wither in a night.

After the songs were sung, the jokes sprung and the night still hung in the dark October sky, we headed back to Jackson and this little party with some not-so ­close friends in a hazy little room with just a bed, three chairs, and a stereo sitting in a corner on the carpeted floor choking to the sounds of Beethoven’s fifth. 

There were six of us and only Mel had brought a girl––yellow-haired and pale with a straight pink scar on her left wrist and a fresh slice on the other. The right wrist was stitched and swollen up on a frail and delicate arm. Two yellow balloons lay at the foot of the bed. I didn’t know why they were there. In fact, I hardly noticed them at the time. The party threatened to last forever, rolling on and on further into the morning, then coasting toward the dawn––rolling yet, but slowing.

I popped the easy-open tabs on the last six-pack. Christine came over and sat on the arm of’ my chair. I sat back and she reclined against me. Mel sat on the floor immersed in a trance.

“Fake,”  someone yelled, “you’re drunk.”

Mel sat cross-legged, arms folded, eyes glassy and staring into nothing. “So are you.” he said, without moving his lips. “Quiet, please,”

“Want another beer, Christine?” I asked, “Or is seven enough?” 

“Ale,” she said. “And, yes, I’d like another.” 

“Give her a razor blade,” someone said, “She’ll put on a great show.” 

“A bit messy, but great.”

She didn’t know whether to smile or hide her face. She looked at me and attempted a look of pity that looked like a Greek mask of tragedy while Beethoven played in the background.

“Hey, Christine, why don’t you read our palms?”

I felt her back stiffen against me. The scent of dew slid by and around me, then she relaxed again. “All right,” she said. “If you want.”

“Who wants to be first,” someone said. “Mel, for Christ’s sake, get up and come to.”

“I would ask you to dance if I could stand up without falling,” he said .

“You are without a doubt a very fine gentleman,” she said. 

“Yes, without a doubt.”

Christine began reading palms. Mel was to die young, along with two others whom I called Zake and Jake for lack of a better name. My palm was evidently novel length because she read for several minutes. I was to live to a ripe old age, and have three mistresses, a wife, and three children. I was to quit striving for recognition and become content with an ordinary life, then after the years have mellowed me I am to pick up my stray and dormant ambitions and become a great success.

The party was still, the atmosphere eerie. The hushed voice of doom had silenced everyone.

“You’re a witch,” Zake said. “A goddamned real live witch. And drunk, too. Haw, I’ve never seen a drunk witch.” 

“You’ve never looked closely in the mirror,” I said. It was lame, but the best I could do at the time.

The party had gone the course of all parties, the rolling stone was now still and moss-covered. Mel had come out of his trance without any noticeable after-effects. Freud’s theories had been examined, and found acceptable but lacking. Our fortunes now lie bare and cold before us at 4:00 A.M. on a Sunday-turned-Monday morning.

“I have to go,” I said. “I’m a little stoned out. It’ll take me an hour to drive home in this condition. “

“Yeah,” Mel said. “I’ve got to be running too. I’ve got an 8:30 class to make. Calculus. Of all times to have calculus! 8:30 they’ve got to pick. He stumbled over his feet and caught himself on the arm of a chair.

I disappeared into the hallway, then turned back. “By the way, it was a very fine party. Thanks to whoever was responsible.”

“That’s me,” Jake said.. I didn’t really know his true name. “Hey, I forgot your name.”

Adam Rawlings,” I said. 

“Come again, Adam, as Eve said,” he replied.

I laughed politely and closed the door behind me. 

Christine came out into the hall carrying one of the yellow balloons that had been lying at the foot of the bed. “Do you really think that it is safe for you to drive?” she asked, closing the door. The moonlight gathered around her face.

“I have a long lifeline on my palm, remember?”

She laughed. “Yes, but that doesn’t prevent tragedy. You have several tangent lines that run off into tragedy. You ought to delay it as long as you can.”

“I have to sleep,” I said.

She walked over to my side, the balloon, the fat little yellow balloon in her hand. “Touch this a moment,” she said, placing my hand on the yellow skin. I love yellow balloons. “There’s a story behind it. I’d like for you to hear my story about a yellow balloon. Perhaps you could write it much better than I.”

“I would love to hear it,” I said, 

“You can come over to my place,” she said.

“I thought you were with Mel.”

“He wouldn’t mind. I’m the constant Good Samaritan.” 

“Then I would be crazy not to accept, wouldn’t I?”

“Yes, very much so.”

“Then I accept.”

“Perhaps we could take the bus,” she said. “I’ll tell Mel we’re leaving.”

“The folks have gone for the weekend,” Christine said, opening the door. “I do hope Larry’s all right.”


“My baby. He’s so cute. I told the neighbors to come in and check on him every now and then. He’s all I have.”

“I see.”

“Sit down for a second while I check to see that he’s all right.”

The soft red couch sat upon grass-green thick carpeting. A small orange stain at the foot of the couch glowed in the semi­darkness making the carpet seem greener than green. I lit a cigarette and awaited her return. I could hear her cooing far down the hall. 

“He wants his bottle,” she said, coming down the hallway. She disappeared into the kitchen and I followed. 

“It’s a wonder he didn’t howl all night.”

“I gave him a few drops to make him sleep,” she said. “Doctor’s orders. He has an extremely bad digestive tract. I don’t know what will happen when we have to put him on solid food.”

“Do you leave him like this often?”

“No, just when I have to. Sometimes the walls close in and I have to get away. Usually my parents are here to look after him.”

“What about a sitter? Don’t you ever get a sitter for him? He’s only two months old. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not from the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Babies.”

“I shouldn’t have left him, I know.”

“Promise me you’ll get a sitter next time and ‘I’ll be happy again.”

“Yes, I promise.”

“What ‘s that stuff?” I asked. She was putting drops from a brown bottle into the formula. 

“…three … four …five. Phenobarbital. The doctor says he needs it. It makes him sleep. I can’t stand him when he howls.”

She put the formula on the stove. I said nothing and returned to the sofa.

In a few minutes, her head peeked around the corner and a little painted finger wiggled for me.

“He’s so cute,” she whispered. “Just like his father.”

“Not like his mother?”

“Just a little. Maybe in the eyes.”

She adjusted the bottle and the baby sucked with wide blue eyes.”

“Look, the hair. Isn’t that something for his age?”

“Sure,” I said. “He’s…”

“Shhh… he’s going to sleep.”

“Those drops?”


“They can make anybody dopey. They’re very dangerous you know.” 

  “It keeps him quiet,” she said. “I love him, but I hate him. “The motherly instinct was lost in me somehow.” 

“Maybe you married too young.” 

“Yes,” she said. “Perhaps.”


We were sitting on the couch. The green carpeting with the stain glowed orange and yellow in the faint moonlight under our feet. The yellow balloon lay in her lap, her fingers running over the tensile yellow skin. Her nails were painted red but badly bitten, leaving little crescents of fingers above the nails.

“When I first met Larry’s father, my husband, it was at a street carnival. I was carrying a yellow balloon, like this one. It could have been no other color but yellow. Yellow symbolizes love. Doesn’t yellow mean1 love to you?”

“It could,” I said.

“What other color could be love? What color is love?”

“Perhaps red. Perhaps white.”

“White is not a color. It’s a combination of all colors. And black is the absence of any color. Yellow is the color of love, red the color of anger, and green the color of hate.

“I was carrying my yellow balloon by the merry-go-round listening to the tinkle of the calliope and suddenly, a gust of wind blew it from my hand. I reached out for it and caught it just as Gary grabbed hold. We both held it for an instant, rather like we both refused to give it up. Then he smiled and handed it to me. And that was how we met.”

She lit a cigarette. “Do you believe that when two people touch a love balloon at the same time that they will fall in love and their love will be strong until the balloon loses its air?”

“It’s new to me,” I said, “but fascinating. Go on.”

“We fell in love. Whenever we would meet we would buy a little yellow love balloon and blow it full and tie a knot in its tail to keep the air in. We even had a love balloon carried down the aisle with us when we were married.”

Her hands gently caressed the balloon with little squeaks of contact. “Gary is a writer,” she said, “like you, but he would not write without an inspiration. He was never satisfied with what he wrote and never sold a thing. I have only about ten thousand left in the bank now. Daddy gave me twenty-five when I turned eighteen and we lived on that until…” 

“Until what?” I asked.

She stubbed her cigarette in the ashtray. “Until our balloon broke. I was eight months pregnant with Larry. When I was seven months pregnant I fell down the steps and they thought that I would lose him. Now they think that’s what is wrong with his digestive tract.

“Gary and I were sitting in a restaurant. We had our love balloon with us, lying on the table. A girl Gary used to know dropped over and sat with us without an invitation. She lit a cigarette. When she dropped the ashes in the ashtray the hot tip touched the balloon and it burst. Gary and I just looked at one another. We both knew.”

Her eyes rested on the balloon in her lap. “I will never trust anyone again,” she said. “Do you like the story? Do you think you would like to write about my yellow balloon?”

“It’s your story,” I said. “You should tell it yourself.”

“I’m so closely involved that I could not do it justice,” she said.

“I would love to write your story, Christine, but that’s not the end.”

“Why is that?”

“How old do you think I am, Chris?”


“Twenty-one. Just legal, not wise. But yet I know that there is more fantasy than fact in your story. The story doesn’t explain that slice on your wrist and that drugged baby sleeping in the other room.”

          “I’m schizophrenic,” she said. “I have two personalities and five psychiatrists. Perhaps that explains something.”

I lit a cigarette and put my arm around her shoulder. She nestled towards me. “Tired?”

“Not really,” she said.

“Should I try to fill in some gaps in your story?”

“If you’d like.”

“If I hit the nail on the head, promise you won’t get angry?”

“I promise.”

“The story stops before the wedding bells, I suspect. I imagine that there were no wedding bells and if a yellow balloon walked the aisle of matrimony, it walked by itself.”

“It makes an interesting footnote,” she said.

“Did you love him deeply?” 


“And the girl with the cigarette?”

“He’s with her now.”

“And he never really returned your love. You sought attention with sleeping pills but prayed that you would be discovered before the four horsemen bore down upon you with the smell of death on their swords.

“And the wrists,” I continued. “When was the first time?” 

“Just before the balloon broke and Larry was born.” 

“What did it accomplish?” 


“Do you mind if I talk about it?”

“No, I’d like to talk about it too. I want to get it out of my system.”

“Talk will help, but it won’t heal. Like the other wrist. It’s infected now, isn’t it?”

“I’m taking penicillin to keep the swelling down. The doctor may have to lance it. I would hate that. I don’t mind doing it myself, but the thought of letting someone else do it… Do you know what mood I was in? What would you guess would be my mood?”

“Unhappy. Brooding. Lonely and craving someone or something that was nowhere near.” 

“I was happy, just as I am now. I went to the bathroom to powder my face. Daddy had left his razor blades lying on the lavatory. Larry was asleep and he had been a perfect little man all day. Mother was in the kitchen. Suddenly, I wanted to see my blood spurt up and away from me. I wanted to drain myself from my soul. I took the blade and cut deep. The doctor said another fraction of an inch and I would have severed my nerves and lost all control over my right hand. The blood spurted up, throbbing bright red and I ran out here laughing. The stain on the rug, there, see?”

She pointed to the glowing orange against the grass-green carpet.

“It’s hard to believe this night is happening, Christine,” I said.

“This morning,” she said. “The sun is almost ready to rise.”

“Then we have to watch the sunrise,” I said.

“I hate them,” she said. “They depress me. Every time I see a sunrise I would like to throw a stone at it.”


“Could I have another cigarette?” she asked.

I lit one and put it between her lips. Her head lay on my shoulder.

“A penny for your thoughts,” she said.

“They aren’t really worth that much. I’m debating.” 

“With what?”

“With my conscience.”

“Adam. I like your name. Adam Rawlings. It floats through the darkness. Adam Rawlings is debating with his conscience,” she laughed.

I kissed her and she responded warmly with open lips and lascivious arms.

“What is your debate about?” she whispered.

“Whether or not to make love to you.”

“You have a choice?”

“Yes, there’s a choice.

“But what if I say ‘no’. Then there is no choice.”

“Would you say no?”

“Probably not. Even if I did, there’s always rape. But that ‘s already been done when I was fifteen.”

“You’re not shocking me, Christine. We passed the point of shock a while back. Are you drunk?”

“No, not now. I once was, but not now.”

“You know what?” I asked.


“Nobody has ever really loved you, have they?”

“That’s true.”

Her lips once again found mine. They were warm and sweet and seeking. Soft little slaps of’ love entwined with the waning darkness, and the sharp click of’ touching teeth.

“So, do you really hate men because of that?”

“They aren’t very gentle,” she said, seeking her breath.

“Am I gentle?” I caressed her softly near the small of’ her back.

“Yes, I suppose,” she sighed. “Uhmmmm, but I want a man who wants me for more than sex.”

“Of course,” I said. “You know something else?”


Our lips met again, her body arched and pushed towards me and she slid down on the sofa. “I think I could love you for you and you alone, even though what I’ve seen of your motherly instinct and those scars on your wrists ought to repel me.”

“You get to know a person psychologically and you can build your line on that.”

“I’m not building a line,” I said. 

“Yes, I know.”

“I’m not going to make love to you,” I said.

“What if I should offer it?” 

“Tomorrow you’d regret it.”

“You’re different,” she smiled. 

“Dammit,” I replied.

We relaxed on the couch. “There’s a wonderful person hidden in there,” I said.

“You know, I like you, but…”

“Don’t say it,” I said. “I know what it is.”

“Tell me, then.”

“This is only for tonight and there is no tomorrow. You are only playing games. I am a game in the night. Tomorrow there will be more razor blades.”

“Yes,” she said. “Yes.”

“So did I guess right?”

“As close as anyone ever could.”

“Good. I want to love you, you know. I ache and want you badly. But I want to be more than just a game. Tonight could hurt us both.”

“There is no tomorrow.”

“What about a hospital? Have you ever considered one?”


“But you won’t go?”

“Ohhh, Adam. Adam One Night that cannot be always.”

“A hospital could help. I would wait.”

“No, you wouldn’t. I know you psychologically too. Besides, our balloon would lose all its air.”

The balloon lay against the wall on the sofa’s back.

“I would blow it up every day,” I said. 

“Let’s talk about religion,” she said.


“Yes, do you have a religion of any sort?” 

“Just my own. What about you?”

“I’m still looking.”

“Would you like to try mine on for size?”

“If you can explain the unexplainable.”

I noticed the golden light streaming in the window. “The sun is up,”  I said.

“And I forgot to throw a stone.”

“You know, we’11 get drunk if we talk about religion. We can get drunk on thought as well as booze.”

“Let’s both get stoned on thought,” she smiled. “Try putting it as simply as you know how.”

“There is nothing but space and matter,” I said. “The smallest thing we know of is an atom, and it is divided into protons, neutrons and electrons, and other particles. Atoms go together to form molecules. But supposing that we are atoms, you and I,

“Forming a molecule by uniting?” she laughed. “What a line.”

“Not tonight,”  I smiled.

“No, not tonight. Go ahead, please.”

“Well, if we were just simple atoms in a world far vaster than we could ever imagine,” I continued, “just an atom in some yellow balloon on some grand planet, and that in turn was just a molecule on some grander thing that we have no word for, eventually, at the peak of greatness, we would have God who can move and direct the tiny atom that we know. So on it goes in an unending circle.”

“Yes,” she said,” I like that.”We are simply protons that make up an atom of some unknown element that makes God. It’s good, but it makes me feel so small. If I feel much smaller I’ll go back to a razor blade diet.”

“I’m a poor analyst,” I said.


Someone knocked on the door and Christine began straightening herself. She pecked my lips with a kiss, brushed her hand through her hair, and answered the door. The scent of her beauty lingered and left me feeling hollow at the separation.

“It’s Mel Thomas,” she said. “He says he’s going to class and will drop you off at your car if you want to go with him.”

“I’d better,” I said. I have to get some sleep and back to work. Tell him I’ll be right out.”

She closed the door and sat beside me on the couch. The grass-­green carpeting with its pale orange stain stared at me in the daylight. I found myself looking at the wound on her wrist where the stitches were still sticking out like tatters of thread on an otherwise perfect piece of cloth something entirely out of place. The wound was even more swollen than it had been during the night.

“Don’t look at it,” she said. “It’s ugly.”

“You really want to live, don’t you? I would never leave you alone if I thought you would go back to razor blades.”

“I want to live desperately,” she said, lighting a cigarette. She bent forward and kissed me on the mouth. “My One Night Adam.”

She picked the yellow balloon from the back of the sofa and put it on the burning cigarette. The sound was like the explosion of a bomb. The baby began to cry and the beauty that had been was suddenly shattered into dreamy fragments and lay at my feet in the cruel light of day.

“It would never work, you and me,” she smiled. 

I shook my head.

“God, that baby. He wants another bottle. I’ll have to sit up with him all day.” 

“Try not to hate it so,” I said. “It’s just a part of life that we all have to face. We call it reality for lack of a better name.”

“Goodbye, Adam,” she said.

“If you go to the hospital, I’ll wait for you to get out.” 

“Perhaps I wouldn’t come out,” she smiled.

“But you would,” I said. “Just a short time and…”

She held up the small, limp fragments of the yellow balloon. “lt’s broken,” she said.

“Christine, I don’t even know your last name.”

“It’s just as well,”  she said. “Don’t forget to write my story.”

-Ken H. Finton

October 9, 1963

The Typewriter and the Paper

written and illustrated by Sky Felker, age 8


In a state called Carrot, in a town called Bamboo, in a library, a woman named Martha was closing for the night.

After Martha went home, a typewriter that sat unused in the library,  saw a  paper lying next to it. “Climb into my head,” said the typewriter.

“Why?” asked the paper.

“We can type something together,” said the typewriter. “It’s only temporary.”

“All right, then,” said the paper, “but what will we type?”

“Let’s type Martha a letter,” the typewriter said.

And they did.

The next morning when Martha came back, she saw the letter. The letter read:

“Dear Martha,

Did you have a wonderful night? We are tired of not getting used.”

It was signed “your Typewriter and Paper.”


At the end of the day, Martha closed as usual. When she returned the next morning, she found another letter that read:

“Dear Martha, Are you going to respond?”

It was signed: “Your Typewriter and the Paper.”

“That’s the end. I’m going to the doctor,” said Martha.

When the doctor examined her, he said, “There’s nothing wrong with you, Martha.”

“I must be losing my mind, then,” said Martha.”I am going back to the library,”

When she got back to the library, she stared at the typewriter and the paper for a little bit, then put some books up, closed and went back home.

“I must be seeing things,” Martha said.

During the night the typewriter and the paper typed out another letter to Martha.

“Dear Martha,

We are so bored just sitting here and doing nothing all day.

Sighned:  -“Your Typewriter and Paper.”

The next day there was only a note that said, “Goodbye, Martha.”

“What does that mean?” asked Martha.

Martha thought and thought and thought some more. “Aha! Some people are coming here to take the typewriter,” she thought. Martha took the paper and put it in the typewriter to make a note. “FINALLY,” the note said. “I will use you guys.”

“Thank you, said the typewriter and the paper.”

“AHHHH,” screamed Martha, “You two can actually talk.”

“Yes, it’s our little secret,” said the paper.

“We need to be useful,” said the typewriter.

“Not being useful is bad for us,” said the paper.”


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Sky writes: “Sky is 8-years-old. When she is not wrighting stories, she is with her family and likes to work with horses. This book is dedecated to my family. Thanks for incuraging  me to wright stories and not fight with my sister.”


©2017 Kenneth Harper Finton



August 21, 2017, near Casper, Wyoming.


We had parked the night before

in a turnabout at the junction

of two lonely Wyoming highways.

By morning, a hamlet of onlookers had been formed.

Behind me, two elderly astronomers spoke

of virtual particles falling into black holes

as the brilliant noonday sun began to look like

Pacman on the prowl through the dark glass.

The proper exclamation at totality

became the subject of discussion.

“Ooooooooh” and “Wow” and “Holy Shit”

were all deemed appropriate reactions.

Slowly, like waiting on water to boil,

the shadow of the moon became the aggressor

as Sol lost its appetite and became

that which was consumed.

The summer air cooled and the colors

of the forced dusk flooded the senses.

There was the sensation of a passing cloud,

a waning of the light, a ghostly chill in the air,

as the smallest sliver of the Sun

was eaten away by the black shadow.

A shocking sky became manifest

in an instant, as the sun became a distant star

All of the agreed upon exclamations and more

rose from the crowd about me.

Everyone was in awe of the power

of that last intense speck of light before totality.

The vision was transformed in an instant into a black hole

with radiant beams of a five-pointed star

with a circular black center illumined

by the huge, vibrating rays of the corona.

Sunrise could be seen in all directions

as Sol slowly re-emerged in a Bronco blue and orange sky

with a circular black center illumined

by the huge, vibrating rays of the corona.

The world was never so lovely,

the Sun was never so welcome,

Venus hung above the horizon,

lost in the love of the blue shadows.

As the onlookers left, they joined the vast parade

of vehicles jamming the little-traveled roads.

We slowly passed where a motorcycle

ran off the road at a high speed.

A body bag was being lifted into a waiting ambulance

as notes were made into reports.

Of course, we wondered about the victim.

Who was this whose life’s fate was linked

to such a celestial drama?

The bag was full, indications of a large male corpse.

Did he have a heart attack?

Did he lose consciousness

At a vital moment?

We could do nothing.

We could say nothing.

I have learned nothing.

Total eclipses come in many ways.






©2014 Ken Finton

Clay said: You’ve heard about the type of guy who’s always gettin’ in trouble, just one fix after another without any in betweens––like the driftin’ cowboys on TV westerns, sort of tall and quiet, but trouble follers after ‘em like a friendly pup. Anyway, my life ain’t been quite the same since I  met up with him.

His name was Penrod Applehand. What God in the heavens ever saddled him with a name like that, no man knows.

It’s not that the trouble doesn’t really come to him from his own makin’,  mind you. It’s sort of like he drags trouble around behind him and every time he slows down it wheels up and cracks him on the back.

Tell you how I met him, now that I’m a-thinkin’ of it. I remember it was a dark night late last fall when the wind was a-whistlin’ through the trees like a teakettle a-boilin’ on the stove. The temperature had skidded down to nearly freezin’. The frost would have been on the pumpkin fer sure, but it was too late for pumpkins. All the pumpkins we had ‘round had been hollered out fer Halloween and was all dried up and rottin’ away on the manure piles. We live out on the edge of town near the railroad track, so we can keep chickens and an old milk cow without the town council or the health department complainin’ too bad. We got a few neighbors, but it ‘s just a stone’s throw from our place to the open country.

Anyways, I was a-sittin’ home that Fall evenin’, real tired and all snuggled up in my clothes with my feet on the stove when I heard this knockin’ come at the door. Right away I knew it was somebody there at the door because of this knockin’, you see.

I got up and walked out to the hall in my stockin’ feet, peekin’ through the darkness to see who I could see. Well, some danged fool had dropped as thumb tack and I stepped on the fool thing. 

The pain started up my foot and crawled over my knee. ‘Fore I knew it,  it come up into my lungs and come a-whizzen out in a whoppin’ scream that made Sis’s hair to curl. She ought to have thanked me for curlin’ her hair—God knows, it needed it—but she didn’t speak to me for three days after that, so I don’t know if she was happy about it or not.

Well, I went over to the door and there was this guy ‘bout my age, but a mite taller and a mite thinner than me. I told him to come in a second while I pulled the thumb tack out of my foot. He said ‘okay’ and stepped inside. I flicked on the light and sat down on the floor to tryin’ to pull that darned tack out. 

Sis came into the hall, her hair all curled and her face chalk white. This guy, he took off his hat. It was  one of those hats they use to climb mountains with–a big turned down brim and a big red feather that helps you to keep your balance when you’re a-roostin’ up there on them rocks. Sis smiled at this feller, but didn’t even look at me, so I said, “Christ, that hurts,” and she said, “Shut your mouth.” It made me feel better that somebody knew I was a-hurtin’. 

The guy said he had a flat tire and didn’t have a jack in his car. Now, I’m always ready to help a guy in trouble, so I offered to pull my car over, give him a little bit of light to work by and let him borrow my jack. He said he’d be very much obliged, so I started off to get my car while he and Sis walked out to the road.

His car was pulled off to the side of the road on a grade, almost tipped over. One tire was flat, but the others looked all right. Sis said she thought he could drive it ’cause it was only flat on one side. 

He laughed and thought she’d made a joke, only Sis wasn’t jokin’. She’s stupider than me sometimes. 

I pulled my car ‘round in front of his’n and pulled the throttle out a little so the battery’d stay up with the lights on, then I fished the jack out of my trunk. Lord, the wind got bitter all of a sudden.

We started jackin’ up the car, but the dirt was pretty soft and the jack kept a-slippin’ and a-goin’ crooked. Finally, though we got the car up and pulled the tire off. It had a nail stickin’ between the treads. That started as to thinkin’ ‘bout that thumb tack I ran in my foot and my foot got pretty sore just thinkin’ about it. “Christ, that hurts,” I said.  Sis said, “Shut your mouth.” She don’t say much other than that.

Right then the engine in my car started to pop and whinny a little, then it gasped one big breath and died. I tried to start it up again, but the starter just whined away and the motor wouldn’t take hold.  I looked at the gas gauge and figured out my trouble. I cranked down the window and hollered out: “Hey, you guys, I’m out of gas.” They started to laugh and I got a little hot under the collar. It wasn’t  that funny.

Just then I heard a crash like a sack of potatoes fallin’ off the kitchen table and onto the floor. I hopped out of the car and looked around. The jack had slipped off this other guy’s car and the car had come down. The handle of the jack was stickin’ up through the fender just as pretty as could be. It was my turn to laugh.

This other guy was a-laughin’ too. “It won’t hurt this car any,”  he said, but how do I get it back up?”

“Call a tow truck,” I said.

“I couldn’t  pay for it.”

We sat there a-laughin’ and tryin’ to figure out what to do until we got good and cold and had to go back into the house to warm up a mite. Later on we hammered the jack out from under the car and  got the car back up so as we could put the spare on.

He told me his name then, Penrod Applehand. I had a hard time keepin’ a straight face. He said he was new in town and worked in a factory over there across the railroad tracks.

Well, we got both cars a-runnin’ again and started up a real fast friendship. Sometimes I think there is a little bit of courtin’ goin’ on ‘tween Sis and Penrod, but I can’t tell for sure.  Still, I can’t get used to that name of his’n.  I’d shorten it to Pen, but it just wouldn’t sound right.

I saw quite a bit of Penrod after that. He was by our house off and on all winter long, but we really didn’t get out ‘til after the snow melted away and the sun started shinin’ warm again. Then, one day last Spring, Penrod had to take a trip over to Harding to see about a new job. Harding’s about a hundred and fifty miles, so he wanted me and Sis to ride along.

It was a real nice day for a ride, the sun a-shinin’ and makin’  everything golden.  An old man was  thumbin’ his way along the road and Penrod thought he’d do a once-in-a-lifetime good turn and pick him up. The old man sat in the back seat and for miles and miles he didn’t say much of anything. He was just a-lookin’ out on the countryside and smilin’ all inside his self. After we’d gone about a hundred miles, Penrod turned around and said, “Where do you want off,  Mister?”

The old man squinted his eyes and put his hand up to his ear and said, “Thank you, this will be fine.”

Well, there wasn’t nothin’ in sight, not a house or a barn or nothin’, just a lot of woods and fields and telephone poles. Penrod pulled his car over to the side, dropped the old man off, and we started up again.

Before long, we noticed that there was this car behind us. Penrod slowed down a little (I guess we was doin’ about seventy-five) and let the car catch up with us. It was one of those highway patrol guys, damn the luck. He flagged us over to the side and here was that old man sittin’ there in the front seat right up beside him. 

“You picked this man up,” the cop said, pointin’ back at the old man in the car.

“Yes, sir,” Penrod said. “We carried him all the way from Jasper.”

“Don’t you know kidnapping is a serious offense?”

“I didn’t kidnap nobody,” Penrod said.

“That’s tellin’ him, Penrod,” Sis said. “You tell him off good.”

I nudged Sis in the ribs so that she’d keep quiet.

“Get out of the car,” the cop said.

“Yes, sir,”  Penrod said. He started climbin’ out over Sis and me. The cop looked a little startled. 

“I said get out, not climb over on your girl friend’s lap.”

“I am gettin’ out,” Penrod said. “This door over on my side’s  stuck. It won’t open, see?”

“Well, get out some way before I get me a can opener.”

Penrod and the cop went over and sat in the cruiser a while. Pretty soon, he came back and said that the old man had walked away from a state hospital and the cop thought we were in on it.

Well, it took a mite of talkin’ to get out of that one, but finally, we got the cop to believe that we only picked him up because he was thumbin’ his way.

“It’s against the law to pick up hitch-hikers,” he said. “I’m gonna have to write you out a ticket for that. You’ll have to follow me out to the Justice of Peace to get it paid for. And while I’m at it, I’ll just give you another ticket for speeding.”

“I wasn’t speeding,” Penrod said. “This old car can’t go too fast. Listen here.” He started up the engine. He must of forgot about that broken muffler, ‘cause it sure sounded bad.

“Uh-huh… driving with a broken muffler, too.”

“It must of just broke while we was a-sittin’ here,” Penrod said.

“The way you was weavin’ all over the road, I’ll give you a ticket for reckless drivin’ too,” the cop said.

“But I wasn’t drivin’ reckless. My wheels are a little out of line, that’s all.”

“Maybe I ought to give this car a safety check.”

“Oh, no, sir,” Penrod said.

“It would never pass it,” Sis said. I nudged her in the ribs.

 “Follow me,”  the cop said.

Well, we followed him all right, almost twenty miles along those crusty dirt roads back to a log shanty stuck alone out in the woods. There was a little sign a-hangin’ in front of the cabin sayin’ Justice of  Peace.

Inside the shanty, there was this man, sort of crumpled up and fat at the same time. He had the worst case of shakes that I ever saw in a body. He could hardly raise his bottle up to his lips without sloppin’ some on his vest.

“Hank, I’ve got some more business for you,” the cop sald.

The judge didn’t waste no time. “Court is now in session,” he said, between sips.

“Speeding is one offense. Ninety miles an hour in a fifty mile an hour zone…”

“My car won’t even go ninety,” Penrod said.

“I can find somethin’ else wrong with that car if’n you don’t shut up.”

“… yes, it will, too,” Penrod said.

“Also,” the cop said, “he picked up a hitch-hiker, drove reckless and he’s  got a noisy muffler. What do you figure we ought to get off this one, Hank?”

“Well, John, I don’t know,” the Judge said, thumbin’ his way through a little black book. It looked like a Bible, but it was pretty wore, so I knew it wasn’t a Bible. It was prob’ly one of those law books. 

“I’d say that it ought to be worth fifty dollars.”

“I reckon so,” the cop said. “And then some.” 

“Seventy-five,” the judge said. “Seventy-five plus costs.”

“But I ain’t got seventy-five dollars,” Penrod wailed.

“You got somethin’ we could take in trade?”

Penrod looked at Sis. I did too. 

“Oh, no,” she said. “You ain’t tradin’ me.”

“How much you got, kid?” the Judge asked.

“Fifteen bucks.”

“Wait a minute, let me figure,” the Judge said, pickin’ up a piece of paper. Fifteen from seventy-five leaves sixty dollars. Sure you ain’t got any more?”

“Not a red cent.” 

“Sixty dollars and the costs are hereby suspended.” the Judge said. “It’ll cost you fifteen dollars.”

Penrod opened his mouth fixin’ to argue some more, but I nudged him in the ribs and said, “That’ll be just dandy, Judge.” 

That ended the trip to Harding. We didn’t have enough money to get the rest of the way. On the way back some old man was thumbin’ his way along the road, smilin’ all inside himself.

We went right on by.

Yes, sir, I believe ol’ Penrod finally learned his lesson about pickin’ up hitch hikers, but he’ll never learn about cars. Sometimes I believe, honest-to-God, that he has pistons in his stomach and fuel pumps as kidneys.

We got this neighbor that lives near the railroad tracks who buys a new car every year. He came home one day last week with one of those sleek, new, shiny red cars that caught everybody’s eye, especially Penrod’s.

“Do you think you could get Mr. Powell to let me drive his car?” Penrod asked.

“Well, I don’t know,” I said. “He don’t generally…”

“Listen. Tell him I’m a mechanic from Harvey’s Garage and we have to take the car out for a thousand mile test. That way we’ll be able to git it.” 

“That might work,” I said.

“That ain’t all,” Penrod said. “I know where there’s a car just like that, only it’s been smashed up a little. The whole front end’s all caved in, but it still runs. What we’ll do is this…”

The next day I went over to Mr. Powell’s place. He was out in his yard pickin’ dandelion greens. “Hello, Mr, Powell,” I said. “How are the greens this year?”

“Fine, Clay, just fine. A little ruffage for the stomach. Makes a body feel as frisky as a colt.”

“You’ve got to boil ‘em in two sets of water,” I said. “Pour the first pot off and boil ‘em again and then they’re pretty sweet.”

“Did you see my new car, Clay?”

“Yes, sir. By the way, I was down at the garage today and one of the guys was a-tellin’ me that they’re gonna send a man out to take it for a thousand mile test.”

“A thousand mile test?”

“Yes, sir. It’s somethin’ new that they just came up with. They always take a car out for a thousand mile test. That way they can tell if everything’s right—if the horn needs fixin’ or the fuel pump’s bad.”

“That sounds like good business,” Mr. Powell said. ‘That company is on the ball and that’s what I like to see. People on the ball. They make the world go ‘round.”

Right about this time, Penrod came a-struttin’ down the road wearin’ his usual faded jeans and grease-stained shirt. He came up into the yard lookin’ so innocent and serious that I couldn’t help but laugh a little.

“Mr. Powell,” he said. “I’m from Harvey’s Garage. It’s about time for the thousand mile checkup.”

“Yes, Clay here has been tellin’ me about it. Good business, I say. Very good business. You’ll find the key in the ignition switch.”

“Want to come along, Clay?” Penrod asked.

“You bet,” I said. I wasn’t about to miss this one.

Penrod revved up the engine and pulled out of the driveway. “It worked,” he laughed. “Just like a charm.”

“Don’t you think Mr. Powell will get the cops on you?”

“Nah, leave it up to me.”

We drove out Highway 26 to Ball’s wrecking yard. One of the guys from the yard crew was a-workin’ on a transmission out in front of the building. 

“You got the car ready?” Penrod asked.

“Sure thang,” this fellow said. He smiled and his teeth stood out against his greasy face and his gums showed somethin’ horrible. He opened a rusty gate and we follered him out behind the building where a new car just like Mr. Powell’s was a-sittin’. A guy couldn’t hardly tell the difference between Mr. Powell’s car and the one that had been wrecked.

“You’ll have to bring it back before the boss gets back from lunch,” the guy with the greasy face said. “The boss’ll really be burnin’ if he finds out what’s cookin’.”

Penrod got into the wrecked car and motioned me inside.

“Thanks, Toothy,” he said. I’ll be back ‘fore long. If your boss does get back, just tell him I’m thinkin’ of buyin’ this car and fixin’ it up, so you let me take it out to see how it drove.”

The front shocks was broke and so was one of the springs. The whole front sagged way down and the hood was crumpled clean up to the windshield.

We drove slow back to Mr. Powell’s. He was still out huntin’ for dandelion greens when we got there. His head was bowed down and he was cuttin’ away with his putty knife.

Penrod turned in the drive and the wheel rubbed on the fender. The bumper grated on the gravel. Mr. Powell looked up, his mouth fell open and he dropped his putty knife. We pulled to a stop and he just set there on his haunches with his mouth hangin’ wide open, big enough for a coon dog to hop into.

Penrod got out of the car. “I had a little trouble, Mr. Powell.”

Mr. Powell’s whole face just sorta sagged. I couldn’t help myself. I  started to laugh and had to cover up my face with my hands. Penrod, well, he didn’t even crack a smile. I don’t know how he did it.

“Your car’s in fine mechanical order,” he said. “Or–it was, anyway. You need a little body work, but I know where you can get somebody to do it right cheap. It’ll prob’ly only cost around seven hundred dollars or so.”

Penrod turned around to me. “Ready, Clay?”

I hopped out of the car and walked over to him, keepin’ my grin under my hands and pretendin’ I was a-wipin’ my nose.

“We’ll  see you when it’s time for your two thousand mile checkup,” Penrod said.

Mr. Powell didn’t say a word. He just stared at the car with his mouth open and kept pinchin’ himself every now and then.

Since my house was right next door, we went over to my place and ‘fore long I heard Mr. Powell slam the door and go into his house. We could hear him just as plain as could be. “Martha, pour me a glass of lemonade. I have a murder to commit.”

It all seems a mite funny now, but at the time it was somethin’ else. Penrod and I went back to the wrecking yard and picked up Mr. Powell’s car. We drove it back to Mr. Powell’s. There he was a-sittin’ out on his steps with his shotgun laid across his knees, just a-starin’ at the wrecked car.

Penrod pulled into the drive and drove the car out onto Mr. Powell’s lawn. “Oh-oh, you shouldn’t  have done that,” I said. “Mr. Powell’s awful proud of his lawn.”

Mr. Powell came up beside the car carryin’ his shotgun and Penrod just sat there behind the steerin’ wheel with that weird grin of his plastered all over his face. 

“You didn’t wreck my car after all?”

“No, sir. It was just a joke.”

“You pulled up on my grass.” 

“I’m sorry, Sir,  Penrod said. “I’ll back it out on the street.”

He put it in reverse and spun the tires, takin’ a big hunk of Mr. Powell’s lawn with him. Penrod got out of the car. “I hope there ain’t no hard… Eeeps!”

Mr. Powell fired the shotgun straight into the air and bellowed like a bull. He charged straight at Penrod, swingin’ that gun of his’n like a club. I shut my eyes and started a-prayin’. When I looked up, they were runnin’ down the street, Penrod runnin’ for dear life and Mr. Powell right behind him still swingin’ that shotgun. For an older guy, Mr. Powell could sure run. I watched until they ran out of sight and then went home and sat down to keep my knees from a-shakin.

Well, Penrod got out of that one without much harm, but cars are gonna be the death of him yet. Just last Sunday he dropped by while Sis was finishin’ up the dinner dishes. 

“Let’s take my car out for a drive,” he said. “I just spent every last dime that I ever had puttin’ new pistons, mains and piston rings in. Let’s see how the ol’ babe runs now. 

“That car of yours won’t get us nowhere,” Sis said. “It’s dangerous to even be in it.”

It didn’t take much persuadin’ to get Sis in the car. She took the same seat she usually does, right next to Penrod–leavin’ me by the window. We were all set, waitin’ fer Penrod to get in. 

“Everybody out,” he said.

“What for? Let’s go.” 

“You gotta let me in. That door on the driver’s side won’t open. Remember? It’s stuck.”

We got out and Penrod scooted over behind the wheel. The engine started hard, but we finally got it goin’ and pulled out onto the road. Trouble was that we didn’t get any farther than the railroad tracks. Penrod went to slow down and it stalled the engine right on the tracks. He pushed on the starter and the engine growled. “Darn new rings and bearings make the motor tight,” he said. “I don’t think I can I get it started.” 

“Well, this is a beautiful place to stall out,” Sis said., “right on the railroad track. What would happen if a train…”

Well, we didn’t have to wait long to find out. Right then, the two o’clock express hooted and came into sight about a quarter of a mile down the track.

“Get out,” Penrod said. “Get back real far and I’ll try to get this thing started.”

Sis and I  hopped out. Sis got back and I started, pushin’ on the car while Penrod kept a-pushin’ on the starter. It wouldn’t budge. The train was really a-movin’. I could hear the wheels hummin’ on the rails.

“Put it in gear,” I yelled, “and let out on the clutch. Maybe it’ll move by the battery alone.”

Penrod put it in gear, but the battery was too low by now. It stopped completely. The train was a-gettin’ too close for me to stay any longer. I ran back a little toward Sis. Penrod was still in the car pushin’ away at the starter. Before long, I  couldn’t hear the hum of the starter over the roar of the train. 

“Jump, Penrod!  Jump!” Sis yelled.

I ran up toward the car so I could holler better. “Penrod, you fool. Get out of there.” 

The train was only about two hundred feet away. Penrod gave up and jumped out of the car. Before he got as far as me, the train hit and the car sailed up in the air, the front part landin’ on one side of the tracks and the back part bein’ throwed a hundred feet down on our side of the tracks.

Penrod came up beside me all out of breath. “There went my car,” he said.

Sis came runnin’ up behind us. The train was a-slowin’ down and stoppin’. “Penrod,” Sis said, “are you all right?” 

“Fit as a fiddle,” he said.

“It’s a good thing that door opened when you needed it,”  she said.

Penrod had forgot about the door bein’ stuck. So had I.

“My God,” he said. “That was a close one.”

“Sure enough,” Sis said.

 “Somebody up there must love me,”  Penrod said.

That didn’t sound right to me. “I think somebody down there don’t want you,” I said.

“Oh, shut your mouth,” Sis said.

She don’t say much other than that.





THE Moth-Infestation-2010-A

©2017 Ken Finton

It is January 1962. Outside, winter’s icy breath heaves while little fingers of cold air find their way through the loose clapboards of the two-roomed hut. Inside, a man, a girl, and a young boy sit around a pot-bellied stove soaking up the warmth.

They hear a car door slam, then a pounding on the door, rhythmical like a carpenter’s hammer.
A large, graying man with three days growth of beard and hair growing far beyond his ears gets up to answer the door. “No,” the girl says. “It’s him again. Please, Daddy, don’t go to the door!”
A well-groomed man with a white shirt and dark tie steps inside the hut bringing the chill of winter with him. He leans against the wall, a soiled paper sack in his hands.
“Good morning, Mr. Taylor,” he says, his rat-like eyes darting around the room from comer to corner.
The girl stands up. Her face becomes taught, like a coil of rope suddenly spilled to tension. The man glances the room, his eyes roaming the squalid corners, smelling the slithering stale air. The window’s one solitary shaft of light is flashing on him, soon to be dimmed by the flow of darkness.
“I have a few more things,” the man starts to say.
“I hate you,” the girl screams. She runs into the other room and is swallowed by the darkness.
The man’s face drops. His falsified smile falls to the floor and he does not bother to pick it up. His hands tighten around the soiled paper sack as his eyes follow her running. It takes a while for him to regain presence of mind, but when it comes he is angry. “If this Is a token of your appreciation, Mr. Taylor…”
“She’s got her own feelings,” Holden Taylor says. “I can’t do anything about it.”
The man lays the sack beside the gap in the front door and steps outside.
Shivers of cold run through Holden Taylor’s back. His voice cracks with emotion. With anger? With humiliation? With gratitude? “Thank you, Mr. Adams.”
Adams shakes his well-groomed head and walks out into the fresh coldness of the outside air.
The girl is lying on the bed, her clothes soiled upon her youthful body. She looks unkempt but pretty––older than her sixteen years. Holden Taylor sits down beside his daughter and puts a gentle, work-knotted hand upon her bony shoulder. The smell of the damp mattress fumes in his nostrils. “Rose,” he says softly, “it won’t be like this much longer.”
“Won’t it,” she says, so softly that it shrieks.
“No, we’ll make out,” he says. “Just you wait and see. We just got to get back on our feet, that’s all.”
“They’re just rags,” she says, her eyes wide, the whiteness bulging. “They’re just filthy old rags that the Salvation Army wouldn’t even take.”
“Now, Rose,” her father says, “don’t take it that way, honey. Try and be grateful. It’s hard sometimes, but we’ve got to be grateful.”
“Grateful,” she mocks, lying down on the bed. Holden Taylor shuffles away. Rose closes her eyes. With sight blocked out, her father’s motions sound like the creaky, unsteady movements of a weak-kneed old man.
With her eyes shut, the light filtered through in violet shades. She tries to imagine how her father looked last July just before the layoff at the plant, but her father’s image was blotted away by the image of the drab factory brick with the barred windows, the large trucks backed against the loading platform, the sounds of clanking metals whipping through the windows. In her mind, she sees an image of the foreman stepping up behind her father, his white shirt blazing with the insolent brightness of authority. Around them, machines are grinding out the same song, the same refrain sung day after day without letup––tiresome, nerve-wracking, steel shattering machines that never stop. “Taylor,” the foreman says, his words swooping visibly from his mouth, “we won’t be needing you after Monday. I thought you ought to know.” The foreman smiles in Rose’s imagination, his teeth cutting in her head like tiger fangs.
Stamped upon the image of the foreman came an image of her mother and the house on Windsor Street, a fleeting glimpse at that December night just before Christmas…
“My God, it’s cold,” Holden Taylor said to his wife, flicking off the kitchen light. “Fifteen below.”
“And it is supposed to drop ten more degrees before morning,” his wife said.
The Taylor’s two-story frame house stood against the icy blasts––a shield of protection, their haven.
“Let’s go to bed, Honey,” Taylor said. “Hey, Rose,” he called up the steps, “is it warm enough up there?”
“It’s pretty cold, Daddy.”
“I’ll bring the heater up,” Taylor said. “Let Jimmy sleep with you. We’ll close the door to his room and shut off the heat.”
Holden Taylor plugged the heater in at the foot of Rose’s bed and little Jimmy climbed in beside her. Outside the mercury edged downward, like a snake worming deeper in its nest. They fell asleep to the rhythmic whirr of the heater fan. The coal furnace roared against the bitter cold.
And then it was warm. Rose dreamed that she was sitting on a stove when suddenly the stove began to warm up over the entire surface like a sheet of heated metal. For a while. it was pleasingly warm. Then the metal became hot and turned red. Rose could smell the burning and awakened screaming for the family against a wall of smoke. Awake, she threw back the covers and pulled Jimmy out of the bed. She stumbled toward the window, screaming for the family, but she could not hear her own voice over the roar of the burning wood. Her lungs began to burn and she tugged frantically at Jimmy’s arm, pulling hard toward the window. Her head began to swim and she was dreaming again, lying on a beach with the hotness of the sun pouring down upon her and Tommy’s loving fingers playing on her back. She was laughing and dizzy and all the world was a beach of sand and the ring of laughter. She could feel herself being dragged toward the water and said, “No, Tommy, not now,” but she was thrown into the icy water. It was fresh and cold and breathtaking. It felt good to be away from the sun, tucked away in the icy chill of cooling waters.

She awoke is a hospital. Her back felt very sore and hot. Her father stood in front of her. She could see his face and hear his words, but they sounded as though they had come from the stars, low and faint, from far away, like the voice of God might be.
“It’s all right now, Rose,” her father was saying.
“My back, Daddy. It hurts.”
“You’ll be all right,” he said. “Rest now and everything will be fine.”
“Everything will be Rosy,” she said. He smiled and whispered back, “Yes, Rose. Everything will be Rosy.”
Her memories of the earlier days in the hospital were sketchy as a badly exposed roll of film. Some parts were dim and unclear while others flamed forth with caustic brilliance. Her father stood by her bed with a glistening stream running from each eye.
“How badly is my back burned, Daddy?” she asked, “Will it leave scars?”
Tears were trickling down his cheek and running around his lip. She imagined that they tasted of salt.
“It’s nothing, Daddy,” she said. “What’s a few scars anyway? We’re lucky that we have only a few scars, aren’t we Daddy?”
“Oh, my God, Rose,” he said.
“Daddy,” she whispered. “Where is Mother?” She had known before she asked, though she was very calm as if she were talking about the weather.
Holden Taylor shook his graying head.
“And what about Jimmy and Richie?”
“Jimmy’s fine,” her father said.
“And Richie?”
Holden Taylor shook his head.
“Please, Daddy, I’d like to be alone,” she said. She held back the choking tightness that tore at her throat until he had stepped outside the ward.

* * *

Dismissal day finally came. It was a cold, gray sky day without color.
“We’re going home now,” Holden Taylor announced. He helped her into the battered 1947 Kaiser that looked as though it had fought the Korean war single-handed. Taylor had swapped his freezer for the Kaiser last November after the finance company took the other car.
“It’s not much,” her father continued, “but some of the folks around town got together and fixed us up with a place to stay until we get on our feet again.”
Holden Taylor closed the door and turned the key. “I just hope this thing starts,” he said.
The thick oil churned against the pan. The starter hummed a bit, then died out completely.
They walked back into the hospital from the parking lot. The phone booth in the hallway was open and Rose could hear every word.
“Hello, this is Holden Taylor. I’m out at the hospital, you know, and my car just won’t turn over. How much is a service charge? … Oh, it is?… Well, I just can’t spare that much cash right now… I wonder if I could charge it until… Oh, I see… No, I know you can’t… yes… All right then… Thanks anyway.”
They walked back out to the lot. Holden Taylor lifted the hood and took the breather from the carburetor. A man with a plaid cap pulled his car up behind them and gave them a shove. The engine sputtered twice, then started, and they were on their way.
“How long will it take to fix our house, Daddy, Rose asked as they rolled down the narrow streets towards the outskirts of the town.
Holden Taylor let his breath run out and pulled it back slowly. “I didn’t pay on the insurance, honey,” he said.
“Oh, Daddy, Rose cried, “why didn’t you tell me?”
“No use worrying you about things like that,” he said. “You’lI have enough anyhow with your mother gone.”
Rose sat in silence until they pulled up in front of a two-room hut that looked worse than anything had a right to look.
Her father pulled on her arm, but she screamed and stamped her feet on the torn rubber of the floorboard. “I won’t,” she said. “It’s a filthy hole. I won’t go in. I won’t!”
“But, Rose, Jimmy’s in there. It’s all we have right now.”
“Oh, Daddy, I just can’t.”
“Goddamn it, Rose, get out of the car,” her father said, softly.
One week later, a man came to the hut. Rose heard the pounding on the door, opened it half a crack and peeked through with one eye, keeping her face concealed in the dimness. The man stood outside, his hair shining like a film of oil spread to kill mosquito larvae. He forced the door open and stepped inside. Holden Taylor jumped up from his chair.
“It’s quite all right, Mr.Taylor, allow me to introduce myself. I’m Richard Adams. Quite a number of the good folks in our community have heard about your… misfortunes… and they’ve gotten together a few things that you’ll he able to use. I know you need clothing, food, pots and pans, and we’ve provided you with shelter. You need all sorts of everyday things, and I’ve taken the liberty of bringing some things out to you.”
“You’ve got something for us?”
“Of course,” Adams said. It’s the least I can do. After all, what are good neighbors but the one’s that help those in need.” Rose shied away to a corner and turned her face so that she would not be recognized.
“Would you help me bring these things in, Mr. Taylor?” Adams said. The way he pronounced Mr. Taylor turned Rose’s stomach.
The snow had drifted across the path that led to the driveway, seeping into Holden Taylor’s shoes, sticking to his pants leg, filling his cuffs. Adam’s new Chevrolet station wagon was loaded with sacks of clothes, cans, shoes and pans.
The door stood open and the hut cooled off with the gusts of cold air. Rose covered her shoulders with a blanket and put a tender hand on Jimmy’s head as the men piled the boxes in the center of the room.
“That’s it for now, Mr. Taylor,” Adams said, rubbing his hands together, wringing out imaginary germs. Lice? “I’ll bring some more in a day or so.”

He came regularly for the next two weeks bringing more of the–discarded sweaters, dresses too big, shoes with holes in the bottom and scuffed toes, old suits with cigarette burns and lapels six-feet wide, jars of homemade preserves with mold on top, month old eggs that smelled like the fumes from a chemical plant, cans of food without labels. This poured in regularly.

Yesterday, Rose met Tommy at Chive’s Drug Store. They sat back in a corner away from the others. It was very cold and the walk uptown had chilled her, even to the one filling in a molar on an otherwise perfect set of teeth. She saw Tommy gazing at her clothes when her eyes were turned, but he looked at the straw in his coke when she turned her eyes his way.
“What’s the matter?” she asked. “Is something wrong with me?”
“No, of course not,” he said. “What makes you think that?”
“You’re staring at my clothes.”
“I’m not either.”
“You don’t like my coat? Do you want to me to take it off? Do you want to my dress? Maybe that will look a little better to you. Or maybe it’s my back you want to see? That’s it, you want to see my scars.”
“Oh, stop it,” he said, “What’s the matter with you anyway?”
“It’s all changed, hasn’t it, Tommy.
“No,” he said, slowly, as though he weren’t sure himself.
“You don’t want anything to do with me.”
“Not if you keep on acting like some spoiled brat,” Tommy said in a burst of pent up anger. There are worse things than what you’ve been through, you know.”
“I know,” she said.
“What’s eating you, Rose?”
“I don’t want to talk about it. Not here.”
“Want to take a drive?”
“Yes, I’d like that,” she said.
He climbed out of the booth and walked out. She followed him obediently. She thought that all eyes trailed after her and I-knew-it-all-the-time smiles were hidden behind the dozens of youthful pouts.

It was their spot, their palace of memories, a pull-off to the side of a graveled road. She had seen it only in the night. It felt different in the glare of day, but everything looks different in the light. Tommy used to take her there frequently before the fire, back in the days when they had a date every Saturday night and Tommy wasn’t ashamed of being seen with her. She felt as though her respect had been burned away in the fire.
“Tommy, why isn’t it the same? Why does it have to to be different,” she wanted to say. Some things are communicated without words, with furtive glances sideways. “Keep the motor running,” she said as he reached toward the ignition switch. “It’s cold out here.”
They sat in silence.
“Remember the first time we came out here?” she asked.
“Sure,” he said. “It was the beginning.”
“And this is the ending,” she said. “Some little play without a plot. It all begins and ends in the same place.”
“Tell me about it, Rose,” he said. “Do I have to beg you?”
“There’s nothing to tell,” she said.
“There’s everything to tell. What is it? The way you have to live now? No money? What?”
“It makes a difference, Tommy.”
“The hell it does,” he said. I love you, Rose. I wish I could take you away, but we’re too young.”
“Let’s go back,” she said.
“Not until you tell me what’s eating you up inside.”
“Nothing but ashes,” she said. “Just ashes, that’s all. Everything is ashes.”
He said nothing.
“Do you know about ashes, Tommy? Ashes aren’t even remains. They’re just an alkaline powder that blows away with time. When you have ashes, you have nothing. I know an old woman who had her husband cremated and keeps his ashes in an old vase sitting on her piano. She thinks she has his remains, but she’s wrong. She has nothing but ashes and ashes are like space… nothing.”
Still, he said nothing.
“Look at my clothes,” she said. “They’re ashes. Things that are ready for the incinerator. Shoes with holes, maternity dresses, just like they expect I’ll be wearing one real soon. All we poor girls do, you know. The food they give us? Rotten eggs. What do they do with their trash? They give it to us, that’s what. I’m surprised that I don’t find cigarette butts and trash from somebody’s waste basket. The poor old Taylor family. ‘Hey, Mabel, let’s give them those cans of jelly that’s down in the cellar. The kids won’t touch them. All they have to do is scrape the mold off the top and it’s perfectly fine underneath.’”
She began to cry and he slipped his arm around her. She buried her face in the looseness of his open coat.
“And that’s not the worst of it, Tommy,” she sobbed. “Daddy has been taking all that stuff with smiles and a thank-you just as though they gave us a million dollars! I think he’s beginning to like it.”
She sobbed against his shoulder. His armpits smelled like deodorant.
Now the winds are howling like some ghost searching for his soul at midnight. The light cuts though into the hut where some semblance of order has been restored. Rose is mending a sweater and Jimmy is stoking the pot-bellied stove. Holden Taylor sits reading the newspaper.
The rap comes again to the door, the carpenter’s hammer, Mr. Adams of the smiling regiment and the putrified hair.
“Daddy,” Rose whispers, “don’t.”
Holden Taylor shuffles to the door, his weight creaking the floorboards, stirring up the smell of must and rot.
“Hello, Mr. Taylor,” Adams says. “I trust that everyone is in tip-top shape. You’ll never guess what I’ve got for you today. He turns and yells to someone outside. “Bring it in, boys.”
The door stands open, the wind freshening their senses with cold. Two men appear carrying a large chunk of yellowed enamel, a refrigerator.
“That’s it, boys,” Adams says. “Take it easy now. Sit it right there. That’s it, boys. That’s fine.”
He shuts the door. Holden Taylor runs his hand over the cold white metal. He feels the nicks in the enamel, then the chips where brown and gray primer shows through. Hc opens the door and looks inside. The box is stained from a hundred leftovers, he notices, but it will clean, he thinks.
“How’s that, Mr. Taylor,” Adams says. “You’ll really he able to use this, I know. It makes a man feel rather small when he thinks about how the community opens up its heart to the needy ones.”
Holden Taylor squats down on his knees and runs his hand under the refrigerator until he finds the cord. He tries to plug it in, but the prongs are bent the wrong way. He straightens them out and slips them easily into the socket, waiting for the purr of the motor.
Nothing happens.
He opens the door. The light is not on. He smells something burning in the motor. “Mr. Adams,” he says, “this refrigerator does not work.”
“Oh,” Adams says, “I hadn’t noticed.” The smile is still on his face––a chalky, plastered smile.
Rose speaks, her voice carrying above the wail of the wind. “If you really want to help us, Mr. Adams, help my father get a job.”
“I didn’t know you wanted to work, Mr. Taylor,” Adams says.
Holden Taylor stands with his head drooping, not answering.
“And you, young lady,” Adams says, turning to Rose. “You have no sense of respect. After all the things I’ve done…”
“Oh, yes, Mr. Adams,” Rose says. “All the things you’ve done. Take a look at me, Mr. Adams. I look like some lost refuge with all the clothes you’ve so generously provided.”
She walks over to the make-shift kitchen. “This pan,” she says, “has a hole in the bottom. It’s most useful. Of course, I must remember that you and the community have generously provided us with food.”
She picks up a jar of molded jelly from the food box and throws it at Adams’ feet. The glass breaks and splatters jelly on his shoe. “Molded jelly. Great for the digestive system. And now you bring us a refrigerator that doesn’t work. What are we supposed to do with it, Mr. Adams? Store our clothes in it? Keep the moths away? Oh, no, Mr. Adams, that wouldn’t help. The moths have already been here.”
She is speaking calmly, her voice a mere whisper that echoes far and deep.
Adams’ face is red, his eyes white with anger. “You piggish little hussie,” he says. “You ingrate…”
“Mr. Adams, says Holden Taylor, his voice unexpectedly piercing to the marrow of the bones. “That’s enough. There will be no more talk like that in my house. I think it’s better if you would leave now.”
Adams leaves with a wave of cold air. Holden Taylor steps over to his daughter puts his arm around her shoulder. “Now what good did that do us, honey?”
“I couldn’t stand it anymore, Daddy,” she sobs. “I just couldn’t stand it.”
“It’s all right,” Holden Taylor says.
“Oh, Daddy, I hate it all, Rose says, crying into his shoulder.
“I know you do, honey,” Holden Taylor says, rocking her back and forth. “All of us do.”

(originally written in 1963, revised 2017)
March 2, 1963
Ken H. Finton




“They are tearing down my childhood home today,” he said, wishing instead he were already dead. “I should not watch. It is a sad thing to see,” he said, thinking softly of the past, wishing it could forever last.

images-1“I wish I could have done more to save it,” he mused, feeling the blues as it oozed from the news.


“I ate watermelon at the kitchen table, sweet as summer’s breath,” he said, tasting the juice that his mind reproduced.


“We had many a memory in that house,” he understated,


watching as his reality was castrated.


“I wonder it I was happier back then than now,” he exclaimed, unashamed that he had no fame. “Probably not,” he said to himself, knowing he had not mastered laughter in the face of disaster.


“Some folk’s homes become museums,” he pondered as his thoughts wandered. “I was never that important,” he concluded, as he brooded.





Santa Claus

Claus checked his ledgers in Quickbooks. It was not a task he enjoyed.

He fondly remembered the days when the smoke encircled his head like a wreath. He quit smoking a pipe a decade or two ago, but he still missed the pungent aroma of his tobacco. What he did not miss was the sore tongue and hacking cough he would often get.

When Christmas was taken over by the corporate gift manufacturers he had shaken his head and withdrawn in total disbelief.  “How could they corner the market on gifts so quickly,” Claus remembered saying.

He had long since had to retire much of his elf force. The elves just could not compete with the prices the corporations charged for general gifts of all shapes and sizes. Soon metal toys replaced his home-made-by-elfen-hands wooden toys.

As if that were not bad enough, the metal toys makers cut back on production and the plastic toy makers flooded the market with every size and shape of plastic toys that were conceivable. The oil cartel would not sell the oils for making plastics to the North Pole Charitable Organization, St. Nicholas, Proprietor.

For Claus, these were perilous times.

One day a group of corporate lawyers met with Claus to discuss the possibility of his contracting for delivery for their orders.

“We will allow you to charge a delivery fee,” they proposed. “It could be a very big deal for you. Remember, you are not getting any younger. Long term care is expensive and we can sell you insurance for that out of the money you charge for delivery of our goods.”

Claus had to think about that: a delivery fee for Santa. Extraordinary, to be sure, but in step with the times. Tradition breaking.  But these are times to try a person’s pocket book.

When he examined his ledger on Quickbooks, he could easily see that he had been running at a loss for almost five hundred years.  “Why, then,” he thought, “would I need long-term care insurance? These men must think me to be a sucker.”

“If they keep it up, the way it is going,” Claus thought, “then I may as well retire. They do not understand that the gifts were not what I delivered. I delivered the love that made the gifts, not the gifts themselves. It has always been so, as long as my spirit has been around. If love no longer makes the gifts, then my delivery is in vain.”

The corporate lawyers did not agree with Claus. “Love” they said, “was a personal thing and the corporations are personal, therefore what they made was made with love, as Clause has admitted that love is what he delivered to persons like the corporations.”

Clause could not quite follow their logic.

Of course, the debate ended up in court.

The parties were forced to define some kind of argument for a favorable judgment. Who had been injured? Who had been financially cheated? What was the duty, if any, for Claus?”

Claus argued that because he had been working gratis of his own free will, there was no loss at all.

The corporations argued that Claus could not have a monopoly on love giving, that they were entitled to give love as well and could do it better than an old white guy that does not appeal to the Muslim and the Buddhist nor the Hindu faiths, among many others. We, they claimed, have a far better market share in love giving that is good for the world economy as a whole.

The court ruled that corporations were better fitted to distribute love than The North Pole Charitable Organization, St. Nicholas, Proprietor.

Claus retired, forced out by world non-opinion and legal issues.

Due to his eternal nature, he still distributed his love where it is most needed.

Let us hope he is not ordered to cease and desist.


by Kenneth Harper Finton ©2015

songs1Cassie’s seventeen-year-old son, Rob, left home with his dog Ozzie more than three weeks ago. The dog was picked up by the dog catcher and taken to the pound. Rob had not said a word about it. When Rob finally called the pound, he found that the dog had been terminated.

Cassie was very upset, blaming Mark at first for letting Rob take the dog away. Mark was not happy either. It made him very sad, especially as Cassie said, “That should not have happened. That situation should not have been allowed to exist.”

In principle, Mark agreed with her sentiments. Life was at stake, yet something more as well. Rob made no effort to talk with his parents about the dog. He had failed to make arrangements for a possible home for the dog. Rob had quit several jobs and had not worked more than a day since he’d been back. He spent his time dreaming of making it quickly in the world without preliminaries, hanging out with his friends and drinking.

It was his dog and it was his decision. It was not a decision his parents could control. In fact, they had very little, if any, influence on Rob since he had been back. The past few months had been filled with stress and worry about whether or not they were doing all they could to help straighten out Rob’s life. They truly wanted things to work out for the best, but the stress told heavily on both of them–showing up as bowel trouble in Mark, a lack of ability to sleep in Cassie, and trouble keeping their minds on their tasks. There was an unaccustomed tiredness in their steps and an inability to enjoy their time and work.

Mark felt very bad about the dog. He wished there had been another alternative. He wished he had interfered and found another home for the dog. Yet, wishing changes little, and he doubted that much would have changed had he been able to live the past month over again.

They arose that morning with Cassie feeling quite ill. She threw up before noon. They were to have left for the mountains by four o’clock yesterday but were delayed with the news Ozzie the dog’s death. Instead, they talked to Rob for a while and went to check the pound in case an error was made, but the pound was closed.

While getting supplies for the trip, Cassie picked up a pregnancy test. When they returned home, the results were positive. Both of them were flabbergasted. They had not used birth control for more than ten years. They talked about having a baby four or five years ago, but since they thought it was not possible, they never took it further. Suddenly, a new, life-changing reality knocked on the door.

The weekend was spent getting used to the shock that they were to have a new family member. They were invited to a hot springs resort by Roy Frank and his wife Nancy when they stopped over at their home in Coal Creek Canyon to give them some copies of the wedding videos that Adam had made early last month. Roy is a chiropractor, Nancy a nurse. Roy plays bass, harp, guitar, and drums. Mark had been getting together with Roy to play music for the parties that he has been throwing.

They finally rolled out of town about four P.M. and drove down to the mineral hot springs just north of Alamosa in the San Luis Valley.

The hot springs are only open to the general public during the week. They sell memberships, limited to around five hundred yearly. Members can have guests on the weekends. Roy had been a member for a number of years and was often raving about the place, so Mark and Cassie decided to check it out. Though their minds were not entirely on relaxing that weekend, they managed to do so anyway.

It was cold and snowing Friday when they left. A bit of the chill had filtered far south, but the temperature was moderate and quite a few people were at the resort despite the chill. Mark and Cassie soaked in the main pool that first night for several hours. It was the closest of the two hot pools, the other being a twenty-minute walk up a steep mountain trail to the spring headwaters. The upper pool is generally warmer than the lower pools. The resort had accommodations, some of them free with admittance fees, others available at a small charge of $10 per night. There were also camping facilities spread in secluded spots about the mountainside. There was a hostel with a common gathering room, an Olympic-size pool with hot spring water and a fine sauna that had a cool brook running through it pool for dipping when the heat got too hot to bear. Bathing suits are optional, as there were no changing rooms at the hillside pools. Most of the members opted for that privilege, though it was not a nudist colony. Most of the members were old hippies who had become successful or affluent enough to afford the dues. They gathered often and partied like the old days.

Mark and Cassie stayed Friday through Monday. Perhaps they were not quite the enjoyable company they might have been, but they still had a good time. Much of the time their thoughts centered on the pregnancy and what they should do differently. They were unprepared. They had no insurance, little savings, and a lot of doubts about their ability to begin another round of child raising after all this time.

By Christmas, Cassie was four months pregnant. Right after Christmas, they went to the hospital for an ultrasound. The baby could be seen swimming around, moving quite a bit. It looked rather alien in the video monitor, skeletal features, strange colors, and a visible heart. “We’ll call her Demi if she is a girl and Frank if he is a boy,” Cassie said, her eyes a-twinkle. “We’ll name it after your grandparents.”

Two weeks later, on a clear, cool day with Colorado blue hanging in the heavens, they felt productive and well. Cassie had a routine appointment for a prenatal exam. Mark was writing as Cassie came in the door. The sun was seating itself behind the mountains. Outside, the air grew chill.

“Well, how’d it go?” Mark asked.

“Not well,” she spoke. She had a cry in her voice. Her mascara was smeared around her eyes. “They can’t hear the baby’s heartbeat.”

“What!”  Mark lunged forward. “Oh, nooooooo.”

Quickly, they dashed to the emergency room. Suddenly, the day turned cold, the night descended and hideous terrors lurked in the shadows. A nurse ran another heartbeat test, amplified for all to hear. Cassie lay awkwardly on the table, the stethoscope grinding out noises like an amateur disc jockey trying to find the groove. Between the grinds, Mark listened carefully for the pump-pump-pump thump of a living heart. He wanted to hear the sounds of life, but his ears were rewarded only with the cold sounds of silence.

Mark felt like a soldier in a foxhole. Part of him wanted to say, “Prime Mover, if you’ve got anything on the ball at all, you’ll let me hear something but this silence.” Like the soldier in the foxhole, he heard only the sounds of battle as the microphone head scraped against cloth.

A portable ultrasound was wheeled in the room. It soon confirmed the silence of the heartbeat. The only movement was Cassie’s. The baby was dead. It had been dead for a week. Mark could see it in the monitor. It was so strange––this moving, big-headed life form he had seen in negative just two weeks ago lay motionless. The heart that had pulsed so strong was stilled.

Suddenly, new ghouls appeared on the horizon. The baby had to come out. Cassie was carrying death within her. That bastard was much to close. Could more be lost to this hopeless battle? Could it be that Mark alone could return from this quick journey, return to a life changed, a self in pain and transition?

Shudder that thought and chill the moment.

But the moment recurs.

The mind–left to itself–thinks of itself, fantasizes the worst while hoping for the best, searches for expert opinion, and, in finding it, mistrusts it once again to hoe those fields of sorrow and despair. Like a bad dream, a nightmare waking, you need to shake it from you like dust from the rug. Rise up you blackened thoughts. Come quickly and rise to a positive acceptance, even while knowing the inevitable is always nigh.

Powerful drugs were administered to induce labor. Cassie began to shake like the leaves of an aspen, every muscle trembling without ceasing.

It went on.

The vomiting began. The pain in the stomach was not really tolerable, but tolerate she must. Her body heaved a sheet of pain––an electric, hurting spasm.

Adam’s throat hurt. His senses numbed.

In a close room, a woman screamed and moaned awfully. The remoteness of her pain, her unseen face, made tolerable the noise. Then the screaming ceased, she cried, “My God, he’s born.”  And moments later, a baby’s wailing cry.

Somehow it seemed right–in this specter of death, new life announcing itself … and, yet, for Mark and Cassie, how strange and how sad.

An attendant shot Cassie with a painkiller. Her trembling slowly stopped as she fell into a restless sleep to fight the demons within her.

By three o’clock in the morning, her water broke.

Mark had slipped off into the night, lit the furnace in the camper and plopped fully clothed on the icy blankets, pulling a comfort over and succumbing to the exhaustion felt inside. Gwen, a close friend of Cassie’s, stood on bedside watch.

At 5:30 Mark was awakened by Gwen, out of breath, running, “Come quick! It’s over. The baby came out.”

It was quick. Feeling the need to urinate, Cassie had the nurse bring the bedpan and began the final contraction as Gwen ran for the truck.

A young, lithe woman doctor with long brown trusses who attended the delivery stated the facts:

1. It was a girl. 500 grams. Two pounds.

2. Said infant was well formed and pretty.

3. Said fetus had been dead a week.

4. Death occurred from the separation of the placenta from the uterus wall. (The umbilical cord, the lifeline to the mother’s womb, was loosed and scarred. Smooth on the end as a leather shoe).

5. That which caused this to happen is now and forever unknown.

Pictures were to be taken. Footprints were made. Certificates had to be filled. Arrangements were made.

And did they want to see her?


They brought her to Mark and Cassie in a pink blanket. She was very small, perhaps seven inches long. Her skin was brownish blue and dark from the moist entombment in the black and bloody fluids.

Her face seemed covered partially by a veil, a beautiful woman’s face, well shaped and delicate, closed eyes that never saw the light of day.

“Oh, my,” Cassie said, “Oh, my.”

Visions of that face in negative, alive and kicking on the monitor of the ultrasound haunted Mark, came back to him in vivid color. This was the shape he had seen before, the colors reversed and not as brilliant.

Mark’s thoughts ran back to his grandmother, Demores, who was born smothered in a veil and went on to live a life of eighty years and bring much joy and creativity into this world. This Demi, her own namesake, was born only to the waters of the womb.

Be that as it is … was … perhaps will be again.

No pain upon this infant, no troubled thoughts nor learning. A mass of flesh and bone, sinew and nerve without experience?


And yet a woman’s face was there, unfamiliar … strange, enchanted.

Mark and Cassie spoke of wasting a name on one that had no life. But there was little choice. This was little Demi.

She only had her name.

They could not take it from her.

After a few hours rest, Cassie responded as well as possible. She was up and walking soon. They moved her out of maternity to a private room with a lovely view of the city and the mountains. They had time then to rest their jangled nerves. Later they could make new plans.

The plan was to bury her homestead style in a crude pine box that Mark would make himself. They wanted to take her to a high mountain valley and place her down beneath the western sky.

Red tape got in the way. The hospital would only release the body to a funeral home. The funeral home had to provide the state with a certificate of burial. Instead, they chose cremation and the burial of the ashes at a sight of their choosing at some later date. Above the grave, a carved board would read:

Demores Walker, born 1992, died 1992.

Never had a fucking chance.




by Kenneth Harper Finton

She must have come out of the dark of the night, for I awoke one morning and simply found that she was there. Did I wake at all, or did I dream her into my life?

Whether a dream or a mystical succubus, she haunts me to this day. My loins ached for her. As I remember, her parents had been old-time friends of my parents. They stopped for a day to catch up on time that had been lost for a dozen years.

A lassie named Cassie, a vision of grace and elegance. Her very name was a rhyme that rolled off my hungry lips. Had I known where she went I would have crashed the gates of hell to find her, but she came and left like a storm that bent my soul in the winds. Could she still be lazing in the sun or is she standing in the midnight dark waiting on a day that never breaks.

I remember how her father smoked his pipe at breakfast on the day that they arrived. He told us about his work engineering new roads in the West. She said she never stayed the length of time necessary to call a place home. The last place that felt like home was on a desert far to the West among the cactus and the prairie pack rats that stole a birthstone from her dresser top.

Her brother Jess was my age, a tall boy with gangly legs, a wiry frame and short-cropped hair. His husky voice spewed out words fast as an auctioneer. I was sixteen and she was fifteen, every inch of her bursting with the enchanting charms that I desired so much.

In the afternoon the folks all went to town. Cassie and I climbed the creaking stairs to the attic and I brought out a tattered picture album. The thick black pages were loose and filled with dust. She ran back down the stairs and I followed, but she suddenly was gone.

I ran around the house calling out her name, opened a closet door and found her hiding there. She came out of hiding with a laugh and a smile that sent shivers down my spine. Our feet not even touching the ground, we flew straight to the sofa in the hall. She laughed musically and smiled breathlessly as told me that she had never felt like this before. We looked at pictures in the old album for an hour, her head bobbing toward my shoulder, her rounded hips touching my own sun-bronzed leg.

The hour passed as though time has stood still. The light streamed through the window and her hair fell softly down her neck, highlighted by the streaming of the sunlight.

We came upon a picture of a desert plain where steamrolled landscapes were pocked with time-eaten rocks that rose up from the bowels of the earth in grotesquely-shaped tormented forms. She said the the desert looked like that back home and spoke of roaming the sands at night looking up at the ancient stars embedded in a cold desert sky and wondered who her love was meant to be. Silently, she leaned her head my way until it came to rest against my arm. I felt like an angel had lost her cloud and came to rest upon my soul.

Our day was short, just seconds in an hour.

We walked the fence rows with the clinging vines and walked by some malformed trees that were cut long ago with stunted branches flaring up from the stumps. We followed the trail along the brook and sat down on the banks to watch the minnows stir a mist of mud along the bottom of the silver stream. As we edged our way along the hanging suspension bridge, she pretended that she was afraid of falling headlong down into the stream that churned cold over the green, moss-covered rocks.

We brought a picnic lunch and stopped between two pines that stood high on a knoll behind an abandoned house. The cloth she spread is still in place. The shaded spot was cooled by the evergreen and the rumpling, gentle breeze hummed a tune and whispered songs of love in the prickly needles of the pines. I looked into her perfect, loving face––her moist, light lips red as the blood of life.

I hardly dared to kiss her, but I did.

When we walked together back to the house, we knew our moment of separation was near. These precious moments we had shared would become just memories of what once was, something to cherisg while still young and fresh as Spring.

That night the raindrops splattered on the roof. I heard an engine start. a door slam shut, a car pull into the gravel drive and as the sound of the engine slowly disappeared and faded in the night. I knew that she had been swallowed up forever in that swollen mass of people and forgotten dreams. I felt a hollowness within. An emptiness that could never be filled enveloped me.

I promised that I would never forget this memory, this short time that was ours alone forever. For many nights thereafter I lay in awake in bed, wondering if somewhere in a western land, someone stands alone staring at the black and empty sky and wonders who her love was meant to be.

These words were written long ago. The day that stood out like a cat’s eyes at night was choked in the vastness of the days before and the greatness ofd the days to come. Until I found this story on an old trunk, my promise has been broken.

I forgot.


by Kenneth Harper Finton © 2015


“Did you see what Fred got me for my birthday,” Wilma said. “A brand new pink pistol.”

“You are planning to shoot someone,” Betty replied.

“No, I am not planning to do that.”

“Then what will you do with it?” Betty asked.

“Target practice, I guess. It’s small and fits my purse and hand.”

“Same thing,” Betty said.

img-thing“What do you mean?” asked Wilma.

“Target practice is learning the skills for killing people.”

“Not to me. I enjoy it.”

“What do you think a pistol it for?” Betty asked. “A pistol is for killing people. They aren’t for hunting. Rifles are for hunting. Pistols are made just to kill people.”

“Or target practice,” Wilma reiterated.

“Targets are pretend people. Same difference.”

“Well, I don’t know. Fred got it for me to defend myself.”

5d85615878e42466ab0938cd823f429d“Defend against what?” Betty asked.

“You never know. Maybe a wild animal might attack me or some big guy might come for me in a dark alley.”

“Here in little old Bedrock? This is the safest place I know. The major crimes are jaywalking and spitting on the sidewalk.”

“I could be visiting someplace dangerous and need it. There are lots of dangerous places.”

“You could just stay away from them,” replied Betty.

“But I want to be free to go any place I want,” Wilma said.

“So you will walk into a war zone with a little pink pistol for protection?”

“Maybe not a war zone. It doesn’t have to be a war zone. I could be hiking someplace and a big bear comes at me,” Wilma said.

“Do you know what happens if you shoot that bear? I hear that It is a felony to shoot a wild animal. Uncle Tex just arrested someone for shooting a bear on the trail and that man is looking at several years in jail and a big fine.”

“Well, suppose I am out at night and this rapist comes at me. At least I have my little pink pistol to protect myself.”

“Unless he grabs you before you get it out of your purse or takes it away from you. That is what happens most of the time.” Betty said.

“I would just have to be quicker,” Wilma replied.

“But how would you know he is a rapist until he actually grabs you and throws you down? By then it would be too late to dig for it in your purse.”

“That could happen,” Wilma agreed.

“Besides, I saw a video online once about people who had a pistol in their hands when someone attacked them and they could not pull the trigger. It is a big decision to pull a gun and shoot someone. When it comes right down to it most people freeze up and hesitate. That is how the bad guy gets the gun and takes it away.”

“I could pull the trigger,” Wilma said. “I am sure I could do that.”

“But how do you know what this guy intends to do? How do you recognize a rapist?”

“Maybe they gotta bad look on their face or move at me too quickly.”

“You would shoot someone for that? I don’t think so, Wilma.”

“They could have a knife or a gun that I could see.”

“Could a…  would a … should a… there would not be time to react, Wilma.”

“Maybe not, but I would feel safer knowing my pink pistol is there,” Wilma said.

“Or you could do the sensible thing and not put yourself in such a position to start.”

“That is best,” Wilma agreed. “But I could wake up in the middle of the night when Fred is not there and hear someone in the house. I will have my little pink pistol to protect me.”

“You would go confront this intruder with your pistol and say, ‘Put your hands up?”

*Yes, I could do that.”

“I think you need lessons, Wilma. They could run from you or at you. Then you would have to decide whether to shoot or not. Do you think another person’s life is worth less than your own?”

“Well, that is not something I think about.”

“You’d better think about it,” Betty said. “What would Jesus do? What would Gandhi do? We already know that they would not want violence. They believed in civil disobedience, not violence.”

“Oh, Betty, you make it all so complicated.”

“It is complicated, Wilma. You have to think about the consequences of your actions.”

“Everyone has the right to defend themselves,” Wilma stated.

“Yes, they do and there are lots of ways to do that without a pistol in your hand. Pistols are for killing people. Do you know what pistols are mainly used for?”


“Target practice is for killing. No, most gun deaths are from suicide. Two out of three gun people who die by guns are people who kill themselves.”

“I have heard that, but I am not a suicidal person. Besides, Fred tells me that I have a second amendment right to be armed.”

“To be armed for what, Wilma? Killing somebody?”

“Well, the government could get out of control and we would have to take back our right and our country.”

“With a little pink pistol against drones and tanks and bombs and the world’s best fighting forces?”

“You make it sound futile,” Wilma said,

“It is futile. Convincing people with words and actions are the best way.”

“How do you do that with a burglar or a rapist?”

“You gave to be creative, Wilma. Ask them about their favorite song. Ask them to sing it to you and join them in singing.”

“Oh, sure. I can see them stopping immediately and starting to sing.”

“People always need convincing. That’s the one talent you really are good at. Sing them a happy song and see what happens.”

“Ha! That’s a crock.” Wilma said.

“Maybe,” Betty said, “but being you is your best defense. If anyone gets to know you, they will like you and not want to harm you. That is better than shooting somebody.”

“But Fred gave me the pink pistol for my birthday,” Wilma said.

“Tell him you really do not like pink and do not want to shoot anyone, Wilma. That is true, isn’t it?”

“Hmmm,” Wilma replied, lost in thought.