Tid Bits

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The following prose poem is in no way reflective of personal or political views. It is merely dedicated to the memory of a friend whose young life was taken from her far too early. 

FOR HABIBA

In the heat of the afternoon,
a mourning dove cries.

Women lounge leisurely under maple trees,
sip sweet tea,
fan themselves from blazing sun,
chat about shopping sprees, weekend getaways, and summer cookouts—
heedless of the world outside their scope.

In the heat of the afternoon,
a mourning dove cries.

Children laugh and play,
splash and wade in tepid pools,
run and jump and chase in games of tag,
hope for endless days of summer fun—
rueful that the school year starts too soon.

In the heat of the afternoon,
a mourning dove cries.

Men in sweat-soaked shirts
trim lawns and shrubs,
curse summer’s scorching heat,
work busily to move on to their next task—
anxious for an ice-cold beer to quench their thirst and numb their minds.

In a faraway foreign land,
a massive crowd cries.

Some cry for freedom, some for peace. Some simply pray
as teargas burns their eyes and stings their throats,
and screams for justice are soon lost in dins of hatred.
Heated bodies push and shove, then—
beaten, bloodied—drop in place.

In a faraway foreign land,
a massive crowd cries.

A young woman shivers, shaken to the bone,
buries face in hands to shield smoke as black as pitch,
holds dear her hopes and dreams of one accord,
stands brave and strong, steadfast when bombs explode, fires rage, and bullets rip through flesh.
Her blood flows free, like icy-hot rivers, through the streets.

And the mourning dove cries.

* * *


A little flashfiction exercise. . .a little eerie prose in time for Hallowee

When Darkness Falls

Sometimes, when darkness falls and claps a heavy hand upon us, a voice whispers through the night in that old cemetery. It echoes off of trees and carries on the wind. They say ’tis the call of such a fool who lost his love, and roams o’er gravestones searching yet in vain. John Caufman was his name. He lived but many a year ago, and his restless spirit lingers still and never sleeps. Now, I’m not one to tell tall tales, but I myself have seen him. I swear an oath ’tis true. One bleak and stormy night was I upon the back of my fine steed, riding straightaway towards home from dear Aunt Jenny’s farm, when such a roar of thunder spooked the beast. He reared and cast me off and I did land into a muddy rut, deep and dank. To my knees in muck was I and couldn’t grasp his reins. A flash of lightning sent him off at a fair gallop, heading for his barn, a place of safety from the storm. He kicked up such clods of mud in his wake it covered me from head to toe. I finally stood and wiped my hands on all too wet and mud-laden breeches. As black as coal was that eve, and I could scarce see a thing but for the lightning strikes. At last I spied a wavering light that twinkled in the distance. A kind soul, I thought, had come to aid me in my plight. So slowly I did step in the direction from whence it shone. I called a greeting, but my cries were lost in the clatter of driving rain and thunder. Many a time I fell to the ground and cursed that blasted storm. But still that light did shine, and with it as my guide, at last I found myself before the mausoleum. Atop a fence post, a lantern freely swung from side to side. Scarce could I imagine from where it came, for no one was in sight. I grabbed that lamp and went inside to seek shelter from the storm. And there was I met with moans and cries the likes of which I’ve never heard. A man of historic vintage stood, bleating, lamenting, like a lost sheep. “You found my lamp,” said he to me, and smiled a toothless grin. And when I offered it up, he stretched his hand to take it. But that lantern did slip right through his grasp. I knew at once ’twas he, the lost soul, John Caufman. So scared was I my knees did quake until I found my feet would carry me away. “Bring back my lantern,” I heard him call. “For n’er without it shall I find my love in the shadows of the night.” But my faithful legs did carry me quickly away, with lamp in hand, until I found myself upon my own threshold. Not since that night have I wandered near that cemetery. Nor do I think I ever shall, not even on my dying day, lest that wandering spirit haunt me for eternity—or ’til I do return his lamp.




A short story to celebrate St. Patrick's Day:

Short on Luck

Clancy O’Reilly went looking for his roots, not by choice but by chance.

Half an hour into the flight, he questioned his motives.  What the hell was he doing, flying all the way to Ireland?  For what?  Another wild goose chase in his life, most likely.

The letter he’d received requesting his presence at the reading of his grandad’s will, not to mention the prepaid air fare, had sparked some interest.  But, never knowing the old man, Clancy wondered what real benefit it could be to him.  With nothing to lose, he decided to accept this little free vacation.  If for no other reason, than to clear up some of the unanswered questions he’d lived with his entire life.  Like why his alcoholic father had never allowed so much as a whisper about the old man.  Or why his granddad hadn’t attempted to make contact, especially after Clancy’s mother had passed.

He dozed on his mother’s memory.

A kind, loving woman, Clancy had never known anyone else like her.  Countless weekends, she took him with her to serve at the soup kitchens.  She consistently helped the needy at St. Catherine’s, and assisted the orphaned and widowed.

“Maw, how can you help other people when we ain’t got nothing ourselves?” he’d ask her.

“We got family, each other, a meal on the table, a roof o’er our heads.  If you don’t give to those who have less than you, you’ll never be rich,” she’d always reply.

“Not in this lifetime,” he responded.

“Clancy, my boy.  You’re rich in here,” she said, pressing her hand against his heart.

How she ended up with the likes of his father still mystified him.  Clancy believed it was a blessing the day that man died, though it also took the life out of his maw, grieving like she did.  Not a year later, she was gone too.

“Tell me again, Maw.  How am I rich?  Tell me, Maw.”  Clancy grasped the hand at his chest.  “Maw?”

“I’m sorry, sir,” the gentle voice of the stewardess stirred him. She gave him a bewildered smile and pulled her hand away.  “We’ve landed, sir.  It’s time to deplane.”

“Uh, right,” Clancy muttered.

She helped him gather his things, collected her own, and walked with him through the terminal gate into the airport.  “First time in Dublin?”

“Yes.”

“Well, I’m sure you’ll enjoy your stay. Maybe you’ll find some luck of the Irish while you’re here.”

“Thanks, that would be nice.”

Clancy followed the signs to baggage claim, nervously tapped his foot while he waited in the designated area.

“Your grandaw used to do the very same thing, Boy-O.”  The voice behind took him by surprise.

Clancy jerked his head to see its origin, stared down to just above waist level into a smiling, portly face.

“You’re his spittin’ image, you know.” The sprite extended a welcoming hand.  “I’m Michael Flannigan, known by most as Shorty.  I’m the. . . .”  He cleared his throat.  “Executor of your grandaw’s estate.”

The statement took Clancy off guard.  “Estate?”

“Of course.  Your grandaw was quite well to do, Boy-O.”

“It’s Clancy,” he said defensively. “And that’s the first I’ve ever heard of any estate.”

“Well, Boy-O,” Shorty said, pulling Clancy’s suitcase from the carousel.  “We’ve got a will reading to attend.”  He grabbed Clancy’s shoulder and whisked him out to a limo at curbside.

During the ride, Clancy mulled over one recurring thought.  How did he know which suitcase was mine?

He hadn’t noticed the car had stopped until the driver, a man about the same height as Shorty, opened his door.  The ‘Executor’ was already halfway up the brick walk conversing with another man, also short in stature.

Even Clancy had a hard time trying to keep up with the little fellow.  For a small guy, he sure can hustle, he thought in amusement.

Clancy gasped at his surroundings:  a rolling, finely manicured landscape, majestic equines pastured near a stable to the west, grandiose servants’ quarters bordering the east, and the largest mansion he could ever image right in front of him.

When Clancy reached the massive steps to the entrance, Shorty and the other man hushed their whisperings. “Don’t worry, Boy-O.”  Shorty patted Clancy’s hand.  “Leave me to do all the talkin’,” he instructed.

They proceeded through the doorway, down a huge foyer, into an oversized library.  At least a dozen mahogany chairs, arranged in a circular fashion adjacent to large leaded-glass windows, were already occupied by men in suits.  They reminded him of marionettes propped in the huge wing-backs. Shorty seated Clancy in a large captain’s chair, then took a seat next to him.  The plush, overstuffed bagheera gave only slightly to Shorty’s weight.

Clancy had never felt such luxury.  He looked around at the others, and shrunk inside from their scrutiny.  They were all about the same size as Shorty, faces stern. He fidgeted in his seat, but found it hard to be comfortable.

Shorty spoke.  “We’re here to witness the readin’ of the will of Master Shane Donovan O’Reilly.”

“This is highly irregular, Mr. Flannigan,” one man piped up.

Shorty shot the man a curt stare.  “Mr. O’Shea, we’ve discussed this matter before the arrival of Master Clancy O’Reilly.  I believe we were all in agreement.”

Another man interjected, “Mr. Flannigan, I concur with Mr. O’Shea.  By rights the fortune should be returned to us.”

A loud whisper buzzed throughout.

Shorty stood abruptly to quell the ruckus.  He slammed a fist into his palm.  “The matter has been settled.  We must abide by the last wishes of Master Shane O’Reilly.  We are bound by our word.  Master Clancy O’Reilly is the sole and rightful heir to the fortune.”

The men simply bowed their heads in conciliatory surrender.

“Now, to make it official, we will continue with the business at hand.”  He read, “I, Shane Donavon O’Reilly, being of sound mind, hereby decree that my entire fortune, amassed from the Shire Luckland, in accordance to the pact made and bound by word, shall be left to my sole survivor and rightful heir, Clancy O’Reilly.”  A long list of assets followed.

Dumbfounded, Clancy got lost somewhere between this ‘small’ countryside estate in Dublin and the ‘much larger’ one on Lough Ree.  When Shorty finished reading, he passed a pen and paper around for each man to sign, then handed the document to Clancy.

He glanced at it briefly and managed to decipher its meaning:  they had no legal claim on ‘his’ fortune, now or throughout his lineage.  Clancy stifled the question but the thought was strong.  Who, or what, are these guys anyway?

As if reading Clancy’s mind, Shorty answered, “Aye, Boy-O.  We’re the wee folk of Shire Luckland.  Leprechauns, if you will.  Bound to your grandaw by word.  ’Twas he who found our gold.  And we, by honor, passed it into his hands.”

Clancy’s mouth gaped.

“Don’t be so surprised, Boy-O.  It all belongs to you now.  Your grandaw wanted it so.”

“If he was so concerned about me, why didn’t he tell me himself before he died?”

“Not disrespecting the dead, but your no good father would have none of it.  A great feud ensued.  Your grandaw was against the marriage to his only, beloved daughter from the start.  Like to killed him, it did, when she ran off with the bloat.  For years, your grandaw didn’t know where to find her, didn’t even know you existed until the letters.”

“What letters?”

“The ones your maw sent.  They started after you were born, and came one each year thereafter.  She wanted Master O’Reilly to know he had a grandson.  She sent him you pictures, told him your life story and how proud she was of you.  She asked him not to write back, for fear of what her dastardly husband would do.  Master O’Reilly loved that girl something fierce, so he obliged, though it hurt him.  When your paw passed, she wrote with the news saying she was coming home to Ireland and bringing you to meet your grandaw.  But she never came.  All we had was a postmark, no address.  We did some investigatin’ and tracked her down.  But it was too late.  Your maw was gone.  I think Master O’Reilly died of a broken heart.  But before he did, he made provisions for you.”

The news crushed Clancy.  “I never knew.  I would have made sure. . . .”

“What’s done is done, Boy-O.  It wasn’t meant to be.  Best now to live your life the way Master O’Reilly wanted for you.”

Shoulders drooping, head hung low, Clancy slumped in the chair.  “What good is all the wealth, if I’m not rich in my heart?  If I don’t have family?”

A smile broadened Shorty’s face.  “Well, Clancy, you can make a start right here in our midst.  We got family enough for you.  Who knows?  You might just find yourself a pretty leprechaun lass to marry.”

Clancy placed a slack arm around Shorty and gave a hearty laugh.  “Oh, Shor. . .  Mr. Michael Flannigan, you sly dog.  That way you’re certain to find a loophole to get the riches back into the Shire.” Clancy wasn’t sure, but he thought he saw a crafty twinkle in those Irish eyes.

* * *

Here's a little story for the Holidays:
Broken Bells, Healing Hearts

The Twelve Days of Christmas blared through the living room, tempo increasing with each verse.  Liz caught herself singing along, then stopped abruptly.  “Bah, humbug,” she snickered.  “What a stupid song.  Let’s get real.  Whoever had a true love that would give them all those gifts?  Definitely not me.”  She plopped in the corner chair, stared blankly at the naked tree and numerous boxes surrounding it.

She heaved a heavy sigh.  “How am I gonna sort through all this mess?  What a job.  I don’t even know if it’s worth it.”

“M-o-m-m-m-y.”  A whirligig of curly, blonde locks landed in her lap.  Cherubic dimples and bright blue eyes smiled up at her.  “I help you.”

“I don’t know, Steven.  You’re still kind of little.”

“I’m not wittle.  I’m phreee,” he said, holding up three fingers.

A gesture too cute to ignore, Liz relented.  “Okay, honey, I’m just not sure where to start now that Grams is. . .”  She bit back tears, then continued.  “Not here to tell us where to put everything.”

“Can’t she call us from heaven to let us know?”  Steven ran to the phone.

Grief caught in Liz’s throat.  “I only wish she could, sweetie.”  Truth be told, Liz half-expected the phone to ring.  If there was a way to communicate from heaven, her mother would surely find it.

“Start wiff that big box, Mommy.”  He pointed to the biggest of the bunch.

“Okay.  Let’s see what’s in it.”  She pawed through until she found a smaller one for Steven.  “See if there’s anything here we can use,” she said placing it carefully in his arms.

He carried it to a non-cluttered section of the room and began inspecting its contents.  His dutchy rendition of Jingo Bells made Liz laugh to herself.  He’d been singing carols since summer after hearing an advertisement for a Christmas in July sale.  Boyish impatience sparked perpetual queries of “Is it Christmas yet?”  Now that it had arrived, his enthusiasm was magnified.

Even Liz found it slightly contagious.  Digging into the box with a bit more vigor, she pulled out golden garland, amber lights, sparkling bows and ribbons, and tons of delicate glass balls.  It was the padded envelope at the bottom that tugged at her heart.

She opened it reluctantly.  Shaky hands spilled pictures onto the floor.  The ghost of Christmas past haunted her in images of a once happy family:  scenes of her and Jeff kissing under the mistletoe, Steven’s first Christmas, and her mother hanging stockings on the mantel.

“I miss you, Mother,” she mumbled, scooping up the photos.  Realizing Steven had been exceptionally quite for awhile, she peaked over her shoulder.

He gave her a proud grin.  “Wook, mommy.”  He gingerly held a crystal bell by the handle, the clapper lightly tapping out a clear ring.

“Be careful with that,” Liz shrieked.  She snatched it from him.

“Not nice to grab things, Mommy.”  His lips drew into a pucker.

Liz patted his head.  “I’m sorry, Steven.  Grams gave me that when I was a little girl.  Let’s put it up where it won’t get broken.”  She took it to the hutch where she placed it on the highest shelf out of Steven’s reach.

“Pretty,” he said.  Suddenly distracted by the TV in the next room, he ran off.

“Well, back to work,” she mumbled, gathering decorations to clothe the tree in glittery garb.  She’d become so absorbed, once again humming as she worked, that the discordant echo didn’t register at first.  Then the sound of broken glass shattered her concentration.  She flew to the hutch where she found Steven kneeling beside an overturned chair.

He looked up in wide-eyed horror, hands held as if in prayer.

“What have you done?” Liz hissed through clenched teeth.

“Mommy, I. . .”

Liz cut him off mid-sentence.  “I don’t want to hear it.  I don’t even want to see you.”  She gathered the broken pieces and ran upstairs to her room.  She stood entranced for a long time, staring at the broken bell she’d placed on the dresser.  Bitter tears flowed between bursts of anger.  Finally, she threw herself on the bed, her new found place of refuge.  After several long minutes, she sat upright.  She grabbed her mother’s picture from the nightstand, clutched it to her tightly.

“How could you leave me so soon after Jeff abandoned us?”  She sobbed harder.  “It’s not fair, Mother.  I need you now more than ever.  I can’t do this alone.”  Liz tossed the picture to the end of the bed and cried some more.  When tears refused to flow, she stood to face the shattered pieces.  Miraculously, the handle had only cracked away from the base.  Just like the bell, her life had been torn in two.  At least the crystal heirloom could be repaired.  She searched her desk drawer for glue, and successfully fit the sections back together neatly.  There was only one small chunk missing by the handle, and that could easily be disguised.

Liz sat on the bedside to wait for the glue to dry.  At last, she slipped downstairs and returned the bell to the hutch.  She shuffled into the bathroom to wash her hands.  As she was leaving, she noticed clumps of bright red, splotched tissues in the wastebasket.  “Blood,” she gasped.  “Steven?” she called out.  Liz raced to the TV room where he sat motionless on the couch.  Silent tears stained his pink cheeks.

“You okay, Stevie?”  She took his hand, but he jerked away.  Small droplets of blood had already begun to clot.  “You need a bandage for your oopsie?”

“Okay,” he replied with a pout.

“Spiderman or Elmo?” she asked.

“Spidey.”

“You got it tough guy.”  She inspected the wound and dressed it.

“Hey, Stevie?  I need your help in the other room.  You up to it?”

He nodded.

“Could you help me tie this ribbon around the bell?  It’ll hide the missing piece.”

Steven pressed a small, bandaged finger against the ribbon as Liz tied the bow.  “The bell gots a oopsie too.  We heal it,” he beamed.

Liz lifted his finger to her lips, kissed it lightly.  She cupped his tiny hand around the bell and carried him to the hutch so he could place it beside Grams’ picture.

He smiled gleefully.

It warmed Liz’s heart to see that smile, and to know she was not alone.  Steven was her only family now, her blood, the most important thing she had this Christmas.

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