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“...been rumors of war and wars that have been, the meaning of life has been lost in the wind, and some people thinkin’ that the end is close by, ‘stead of learnin’ to live they are learnin’ to die.” ––Bob Dylan
Itzel’s final memory log:
Earth. Four elements make up ninety percent of the planet…iron, oxygen, silicon, and magnesium. After a billion years, artistic forces wrestled away the chisel, and replaced it with a paintbrush. The first flowering tree was a magnolia. A palette of color washed over everything so that Earth became pleasing to the eye. Genesis was formed with those four raw materials, revised, and revised again. The development of humanity started out well, yet as the brain developed, a strange irony arose. You preferred the chisel to the brush.
The Day the Music Died
The music stopped. How did that happen? Before Max died…no, before that; when? Here I sit, still as death, snuggled into his favorite chair, surprised at how quickly life dissolves when it loses meaning. Yes…there’s my answer. The music stopped when I no longer served a purpose.
The coffee was cold in Itzel’s mug, yet she continued to sip because there was nothing else to do. A teardrop gathered in the corner of her eye, and she willed it not to flow. Crying was useless when no one was around to comfort you.
Itzel pushed herself out of the chair and walked to the kitchen window. A soft rain floated to the street. She thought of going to see the new movie everyone was raving about. She opened the window to hear the sound of the rain. The ambient songbird program had ceased when the first drops were picked up by sensors, and would resume shortly after the rain ended. It’d been years since she’d seen a live bird, although it was reported that numbers were up slightly.
Itzel strolled into the office and stared at WallEye. She and Max had never been able to afford Holovision. WallEye provided a flat dimension, yet it was better than nothing. She needed to find something…anything that would fill this void. She began sifting through channels,shush, shush, shush, stopping for a moment to switch to the network. From there she could surf the web, make phone video calls, play virtual games.
Perhaps I should call a friend…no, they won’t want to be disturbed. Each had lives that were separated from work…even family. They needed space. She hated the botheredsound in the voices when she called friends. If Max were alive, he’d be in his chair watching WallEye…already dead in so many ways. Sometimes she felt guilty for not missing him much, but he’d been more companion than husband; a comfortable quilt providing warmth and security without really meaning to.
Without thinking, the words escaped from her lips.“No reason to go on.” She stared at WallEye, and an advertisement materialized. Her words had prompted popups, businesses that hawked quick-fix happiness.
“That one,” she pointed.
A large logo for RepliCan slowly dissolved, and was replaced by a smiling, well-dressed man.
“We know why you’re here.”
“We can’t blame you for being cynical.”
“Cut the dog’n’pony; what kind of snake oil you selling?”
“Relief for an aching heart; tonic for loneliness.”
He shook his head. “We offer joy you can touch.”
“At competitive prices, satisfaction guaranteed, or your money back.”
“What’s the damage?”
“Analysis shows that you pre-qualify for a 2093 refurbished M3 of your choice.” Her current bank balance popped up.
Itzel had never dreamed of such a thing. Acquaintances raved about them, yet she and Max had never discussed investing in one.
“Try for a month, and if you’re not completely satisfied, you’ll get a full refund.”
“Show me a demo,” she said.
“Very good, Itzel—beautiful name by the way—let me know if you’ve any questions. My name’s Tom, and it’s been a pleasure to serve you.”
Tom’s image dissolved, replaced by an M3 demo compilation, with an optional icon if she wanted to see replica’s going beyond the call of duty. But the onset of menopause had reduced her sexual appetite to a tiny pilot-flame. Another feature caught her attention. A serious looking man in a white lab coat said, “Here at RepliCan, we’re able to customize to your specific needs.”The scene changed to an old woman opening her front door, and being faced with a replica of her dead mother. A tearful reunion followed and the image faded, replaced by a father playing with a deceased daughter, a wife reunited with a missing husband…all programmed with real memories and crafted to look, and feel, authentic.
A shiver ran down Itzel’s spine, yet an idea took shape in her mind, and she smiled self-indulgently. “The King,” she murmured.
Chapter 6 – Picasso the Wonder Dog
Rad Ambrose has lived his entire life in Atascadero, which is a Spanish word for mire, bog, deep mud, or stumbling block. Nearly everyone I knew called it Deep Shit. After high school, Rad tried community college, but higher learning didn’t set right with him. He never had very much interest in academics. On his first day of English 101 at Cuesta Junior College, a girl sitting next to him asked where he was from. She sniggered when he whispered, “Deep Shit.”
A few weeks later, he dropped classes and got his job back at the Atascadero Rite Aid. At that point in my life, I was a young adult, trying to find meaning with the events of 1970-1972. Now I’m sixty-two, and this novel is also an attempt come to terms with them. I confess to a generous use of poetic license in the retelling.
As we popped tabs on our tepid Falstaffs, Radley’s story began something like this: “Hear about Picasso?” he asked.
Rad drew a line across his throat. I clamped a hand over my mouth to keep from spraying
beer. Then I looked down at my curly fries and made the sign of the cross.
“He was creatin’ a masterpiece on ol’ man Vinson’s front step. Vinson surprised him with a BB-gun. Picasso tore off down the street and that tiger came outta nowhere. Chomped down and took the fuckin’ dog at a dead run. Vinson says ol’ Picasso didn’t even have time for a final piss.”
“That’s messed up. Picasso was an artist. They found that tiger yet?”
“Naw, but they caught the guys that let’im loose. Animal rights weirdos.” Rad sniggered, “Seen Picasso balance a turd on a sprinkler head once, then turn to admire it.”
“Remember when he shit in my mom’s rubber gardenin’ boots?”
“Leave anything like that out and you’re askin’ for it.”
“Front bumper of Rod Gardner’s Mustang,” I added.
“Pissed on his rims too.”
“Rod still got that Mustang?”
“Far’s I know. Yep, Picasso, he was somethin’ else.”
Sipping beers, I pictured Picasso, an average sized mutt nobody stopped to pet. He wore long, patchy dreadlocks. A severe case of mange created large bald areas dotted with oozing sores. Picasso smelled like roadkill and couldn’t walk ten paces without hiking a back leg or twisting to lick his boner—and Picasso always had a boner. The dog had interrupted an intimate moment for Rad and his date, Ellie Perez. He told it like this:
“My ol’ man let me borrow the pickup, and Ellie Perez and me went up to Lake Success. You remember Ellie—kinda pretty, short black hair, had them almond shaped eyes?”
“Yeah,” I said, “not bad lookin’.”
“A half-moon was hangin’ in the sky that night. She told me she was from Oaxaca. Even spelled it for me.”
Rad pronounced it, Oaksakuh, and I set him straight.
“It’s pronounced Wah-ha-kuh.”
“Whatever, man. The way they spell stuff in Mexico makes no fuckin’ sense. Anyway, Ellie’s kinda plump, but I like that.” Radley paused to let out a long burp. “It was a Wednesday night, so we had the lake to ourselves. Thought of taking her into a prune orchard but she was scared we’d get stuck.”
Finally, Rad launched into his story. They were lying on an old quilt in the truck bed, looking up at the sky. He told her how nice the stars looked, even though there was only two or three visible. He kissed her, and the cat-scratch moon gave off enough light for him to find her shirt buttons. He carried a condom in his wallet. Just as he unhooked her bra, there was a noise. Ellie folded arms over her bared tits and sat up.
“What was that?” she cried out.
Tried to pull her back down, but she pushed me away.
“No, I heard something.”
“C’mon, baby, ain’t nothin’.”
“I heard something,” she repeated.
“Shit,” he muttered, sitting up with the open wallet in his hand.
A stand of bushes off to the side snapped and rustled.
“Raccoon or opossum most likely,” he said, trying to capture a nipple with his mouth. She put hands flat against his chest. The noise grew louder, and then they saw a shadowy shape move from out of the darkness. Ellie screeched, thinking it was a mountain lion, which are known to hunt at night.
Picasso emerged from the dry brush on cue. He waddled forward, sat, and looked up at Rad and Ellie.
“Shoo, mangy mutt!” he tried.
Picasso stood his ground and studied the canvas before him.
He looked for something to throw, but the back of the pickup was clean. At that point, he was thinking, For eight bucks, we could’a gone to the Easy-8 Motel.
“Go on! Git!” He shook his fist.
“We should go, Rad,” Ellie said.
He put an arm around her shoulder and kissed her neck. “It’s early, baby. Hey, look, more stars came out.”
By this time, Picasso had considered his options. He twisted so they got a bird’s eye view. Out came his tongue, and he commenced licking and chewing on his butt slow and easy.
“That’s so gross!” Ellie re-hitched her bra.
Sonofabitch, he thought, knowing his opportunity was fading fast. He tried to draw her intohim, but she jerked away.
“Let’s go, Rad,” she demanded.
“A’ight then. How ‘bout we head over to the Easy-8?”
“Please, just take me home.”
As Radley finished the story, he burped beer through his nose and squeezed the nostrils together with a thumb and forefinger.
“So, that was it?”
“Yep, Ellie wouldn’t go out with me after that.”
“Got knocked up, didn’t she?” I asked.
Rad nodded. “Should be thankful it wasn’t me.”
He snagged a handful of my curly fries.
I knew I’d end up writing his story someday. Rad gave me a lift to the Rite Aid parking lot where I’d left my pickup.
“Hamm’s is better than Falstaff,” Rad said.
“Next time,” I said.
An exerpt from, LUCIA
CHAPTER 1: Lucia (1987)
Lucia lifted the hand mirror to examine herself. She was up earlier than usual—before the rooster determined that it was time. In early mornings, Lucia had a few minutes for herself—to think and to dream. She undressed and climbed into her tiny shower. There was a hand mirror in there, and she gazed at the twenty-two-year-old woman she had become. Her naturally wavy hair was short because it was unconquerable when it grew longer. She never needed makeup, using red lipstick to highlight her full lips. She touched her eyebrows, and wondered if she should thin them with tweezers. No, she thought, a waste of time.
It was a rare morning. Her mother, Giselle had taken a bus with the younger half-brothers to visit the family of her latest lover. The man was a truck driver, and they’d found each other a month earlier at the open-air market in Zacatelco. He had purchased quesadillas for her and the half-brothers, which entitled him to move in with Giselle. Lucia called it the Mexican repayment plan. She and the half-brothers would be introduced to his mother. She would ignore them, judge harshly, and that would be the end of it. That’s the way it always happened.
Yet, this morning was Lucia’s. She had time to review her life, to feel proud of her accomplishments. For the first time in her life, she liked herself. She turned on the shower to warm up before she stepped in, and then she closed her brown eyes to feel the water pouring down her body.
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Adobe Walls, is a collection of edgy fiction that will transport readers into strange worlds, filled with wonders:
The young woman timidly stole glances at the stranger who’d given up his seat for her. He connected with her gaze for a moment and smiled. She shyly stared into her lap, controlling the urge to return it.
He looks out of place, she thought. This bus carries ordinary people to everyday places, and he does not look ordinary. As he gripped the metal standing-rail over his head she saw that he was taller, and stood straighter than other men swaying in the aisle. His smile contrasted sharply with the somber faces of other travelers. Even his eyes had smiled. She read his face as only a woman can, and there was kindness written there.
“The golden moments in the stream of life rush past us and we see nothing but sand; the angels come to visit us, and we only know them when they are gone”. —George Eliot
In small towns, desperate dreams are engineered, seldom built. According to Google, Meadowland is hardly anywhere—a blip midway along a gash known as the San Joaquin Valley. Closer inspection reveals green alfalfa fields of sprouting ambitions. Meadowland’s a small California town like most others, populated with dreamers. Some reach for stars—most are content to gaze up at them from the safety of frayed lawn chairs.
When July the fourth rolls around, children beg parents to take them to the Meadowland fairgrounds. At nine o’clock there’s a fireworks show there.
“You can see them from the front yard,” they’re told by parents.
Kids argue, “Not the same as being there.”
With each successive generation, children grow less likely to argue about fireworks. As the world expands, humanity contracts, until one day we’ll all disappear deep inside the social networks.
Weather can be factored into how people act upon dreams. Here’s how Meadowland seasons circulate: Winter ushers in dry, brittle cold, and yet it rarely snows. In springtime windows are left wide open to breathe in the voices of youngsters playing outside. The tangy air fosters separate hopes. Like faith, hope can’t be explained, only believed in.
Springtime’s too short. Wild mountain flowers make a brief appearance, and just as you reach to touch, they curl back like the slippers worn by the wicked witch of the East.
Meadowland summers are hot and dry. Hope is born in the early morning and withers by midday around two. Any dreams you may have are baked out of your head.
Fall’s an attitude. Leaves hang-glide to earth, children are scolded for not raking them, and adults look inward. Their reflective nature this time of year may originate with the spicy smell of autumn—nature preparing to hide Her secrets for a winter siesta.
Citizens of Meadowland embrace fall. New rains rinse away old dreams to be replaced by new ones. Meadowland dreams are as refreshing as the breeze they blow in on—so soothing that most sit to admire them as they stray lazily away, not thinking to follow until the final wisp has faded. By then the trash needs emptying, cars need washing, Facebook needs checking, and a favorite TV show will be on in half an hour.
The end of fall is a bad time to stop at a Meadowland gas station for directions. Most of the town is deep in mourning for dreams that have drifted just out of reach.
“Look Karen, there’s a monkey in our yard.” Michael approached the front gate and pointed to Jimmy. Karen giggled. “What you doin’ monkey-boy?”
“I’m not a monkey!”
“Sure you are. Doc Parkinson chopped off your tail when you were born, but they couldn’t do nothin’ about the rest of yuh.”
Jimmy pursed his lips and focused on the freshly covered Indian grave.
“He’s burying a banana to eat later.” Karen added.
Michael cackled and squatted next to his little brother. “Ooo-ooo ah-ahhh!”
“Bet you could climb this ol’ walnut tree, lickety-split.”
Karen added, “Roses are red, violets are blue, you look like a monkey and you smell like one too.”
Jimmy stood to face his adversaries. “You’re both monkeys!”
“What’s going on out here?” Mother was standing in the front doorway.
Jimmy’s face was pinched with anger.
“Nothin’.” Michael answered.
“Doesn’t sound like nothin’,” she said.
“Be nice to your brother.”
Monkey, Michael thought. “Okay.”
“You too young lady.”
The door closed. Jimmy was facing Michael. His teeth were clenched. “Hate your guts and wish you were dead.”
Michael pitched himself to the ground and lay still.
“See what you did?” Karen said. “You killed him.”
“He’s not dead.”
“Look at ‘im.”
“Mom!” Jimmy yelled.
“Shut up. I can bring him back. Anybody in the club has the power.” She bent over Michael. “Trizzle-trazzle-trozzle-trup, time for Michael to wake up.” She waved a hand over her big brother’s limp body.
Michael sat up. “W-what happened? It was so dark.”
“See, it worked.” Karen said. Then they sang in unison. “Camp’n’wee is Carl, Carl means good, Zemo means bad.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Jimmy wanted to know.
“It’s a secret,” Karen said.
“Hey sis,” Mike continued. “Should we initiate Jimmy into the club.”
“Think he’s ready?”
“What you think, monkey? Got what it takes?”