Yung Luv’

“I don’t think he’s going to call me EVER.”

“Probably not. I don’t see you as a pair.”

“What does THAT mean? I thought you said he likes me?”

“Yeah, but not in THAT way.”

“Why not?”

“How the hell should I know?”

“I thought he was your friend.”

“He is but, believe it or not, we talk about other stuff. We don’t talk about you.”

“You’re mean.”

“No. I’m honest. I’m just telling you like it is.”

“Does he have a girlfriend now? You said he doesn’t have a girlfriend.”

“I don’t know. I don’t think so, but I’m not with him 24/7. Why don’t you just go find something to do and forget about Keith?”

“I can’t ‘forget about Keith’. I’m in love.”

“Oh god. Again?”

“Kids! Supper!”

“Let’s go in. Mom hates it when supper gets cold.”

What are you kids doing, anyway?”

“Brenda is in love again,” Ryan pulled the bar stool away from the breakfast bar in the kitchen where they ate their meals.

“Oh. Well, it’s to be expected.”

“What do you mean, mom? You’re as mean as Ryan.”

“Honey, you’re fifteen. You’re just boy crazy.”

“That’s not fair! I really LOVE Keith. He’s THE ONE I want to spend my whole life with. Didn’t you and dad meet in high school?”

“You really want me to repeat THAT story?”

“You loved each other, right?”

“Yeah, for a while. But then we didn’t love each other any more…”

“Why did you stop loving dad?”

“Honey I don’t really want to talk about it. It’s over, in the past, we’ve worked out a way we can be here for you, sometimes that’s the best two people can do. Your dad is happier with Cynthia than he ever was with me.” Mom shrugged.

“You didn’t answer my question.”

“OK, Brenda, I’ll lay it all out for you. When we’re young hormones rage through our bodies…”

“Everyone blames ‘hormones’. This isn’t ‘hormones’. It’s love.”

“OK, but you asked a question, and I’m trying to answer it. Your dad was cute, I was cute. We were propelled by higher forces toward each other and there was Ryan, so we had to get married.”

“You weren’t even MARRIED when you made me?” Ryan almost tipped over his barstool, laughing.

“No, we weren’t married. It made things very very difficult. I had to drop out of school to have you. Your dad had to go to work while he finished school. We weren’t kids any more. Life changed from one thing to another thing, a very serious thing.”

“Why didn’t you use a condom?”

“Buying a condom in those days was embarrassing. You had to go to the drug store and ASK for one.”


“Listen, kids, the world doesn’t stay the same. Something changes every day. Anyway, as time went by, I got my GED, dad went to community college, Brenda came along, we got a house, and, sometime in there, we realized we had nothing in common. Your dad was already sleeping with Cynthia. He didn’t want to break up our family, but… So, Brenda, when I say ‘hormones’ I mean ‘hormones’. When I see your dad now I wonder what I was thinking. In fact, I wasn’t thinking.”

“There you go, Brenda. If Keith isn’t calling you, it’s not because he doesn’t like you. It’s because his hormones don’t.”

“Pretty much,” said Mom. “You want more Tuna Helper?”


“He said he’d call.”

“They ALWAYS say they’ll call. That’s their way of saying they’ll never call.”

“But I thought he liked me.”

“Didn’t you and I go see that movie, He’s Just Not All That Into You? That wasn’t based on fantasy, Doris. If he doesn’t call right away, he’s ‘just not all that into you’. Forget about him. Move on. There are other fish in the sea and another one will be by in 20 minutes.” Trina laughed.

“Very funny. You HAVE a boyfriend. In fact, everybody has a boyfriend. Everyone but me.”

“That’s true,” Trina acknowledged. “Stop checking your phone!!!”

“I was checking the weather.”

“We’re OUTSIDE idiot! You’re IN the weather!”

“Doris? Is that you?”

She turned around to see a skinny, bespectacled man in a white polo shirt and black jeans.


“You remember me!” The man’s face turned bright red.

“How could I forget,” Doris’ voice was flat. This was the last person she ever thought she would see again or wanted to see again.

“I think about you all the time,” he said, blushing a second time.


“Do you think about me?”

Doris shuddered inside. “Frank, it’s really nice to see you, but we’re in a hurry.” She grabbed her friend’s arm and started walking down the street as if they had somewhere to go.

“What was that?”

“High school.”

“High school?”

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Is he???”

“I said I don’t want to talk about it.”


Wide Shining

“What’s that?”


“That thing in your hand. It looks like an eye.”

Bennet looked down and, sure enough, in the center of his left hand, was an eyeball blinking at him. As he stared, it winked.

“What about your other hand?”

Bennet opened his right hand and no, it was normal. “What about you, Beth?” His voice was shaking. “Do you have a, uh, eyeball in your hand? Either hand?

Beth closed her eyes and slowly opened her hands. She really did not want to know. “You look, Bennet.”

There in the middle of both Beth’s hands were eyeballs, very pretty lilac ones, gazing up at Bennet. “Well, yeah, hun. But they’re very pretty. Lavender.” He even thought they looked as if the were wearing mascara and eyeliner but HOW they got mascara and eyeliner was a puzzle way too weird for the human brain. “Hmmm, maybe that permanent makeup,” he mused aloud. “But permanent mascara?”

“What Bennet?” The eyes in her face were still squeezed shut.

“You might as well just look, Beth.” He stared at the mischievous brown globular organ looking up at him, bringing it up to his face so he could, uh, look it in the eye. “It likes me,” he thought.

Life on Planet Theia had been full of surprises. The light was always very clear, spotlighting anything that Beth and Bennet were looking at as if the planet’s features volunteered answers about their nature. Beth’s early reports back to Earth were filled with rapturous descriptions of Theia’s beauty and its apparent willingness to reveal its secrets. But, after a time, Beth realized that such raptures might be a threat to this planet that was its own kind of paradise.

“You have to keep making reports, sweetie,” said Bennet. “If you stop, they’ll send a search party or, at the very least a probe.”

“You’re right. I’ll just make them a little less, you know, glowing.” Slowly, slowly, Beth’s reports reflected fewer and fewer discoveries and everyone on Earth thought the Away Team had exhausted the novelties of the planet. Just another ball of iron oxide out there spinning around a star. “Whatev'”

“I think what we do now,” ventured Bennet looking down, having come to like the brown eyeball in his left hand, “We use them. We’re scientists, Beth.”

“Just because we’re scientists doesn’t mean we can’t be freaked out. How will we use our hands with those eyeballs? Eyeballs are fragile.”

“I guess they know enough to close. C’mon. Let’s go try them out.”

Beth opened the eyes in her face and looked down at the two beautiful orbs in the palms of her hands. “They ARE beautiful!” Beth whispered staring into them. She saw their expression change to one of pride mixed with a little embarrassment. The palm of her hand even appeared to blush. “Really, Bennet, this is amazing.”

Planet Theia had been chosen for exploration because of its uncanny visibility in the early morning sky. Not the closest earth-like planet outside of Earth’s solar system, but certainly the brightest one. This shining planet was named Theia — one of the Greek Titans — Theia Euryphaessa meaning “wide-shining.” The planet exerted an unusual appeal to scientists planning scientific research expeditions — Away Teams as they were called.

Theia’s oxygen levels were about the same as Earth at 10,000 feet/3000 meters, about the same as Leadville, Colorado, plenty for human life for someone with good lungs and a strong heart. Beth and Bennet headed out of their hut into Theia’s unwavering luminosity. Bennet, who usually walked with his hands in his pockets, lifted his left hand up so the eye could see. Beth had instantly realized that she was no longer limited to frontal vision, but soon saw that it was important to give the eyes a chance to focus in whatever direction they were aimed. It took some time — and practice — before all the eyes worked in sync with each other.

“This is incredible,” she said, awestruck and bewildered. “I’m going to sit here and just LOOK.”

“Good idea,” Bennet replied, joining her on the boulder beside the trail.

A vision of the entire horizon floated sweetly along the lines of sight to the welcoming filaments of their optic nerves.

“We don’t know anything,” murmured Beth.

“No. We don’t. Not even how to see.”

“I guess we’re about to learn.”

“Looks like it.”

Inspired by Plagues

Yesterday, as I was having fun putting the short stories together and designing a book, a welcome break from this virus and the idiocy of the “liberate” people (death is a kind of liberation, I guess), I thought of our last “plague.” Thinking of that led me to think of Peter who died on the last day of the year in 1987 of meningitis, a complication of HIV/AIDs. The new anthology of short stories — Who CARES if there’s life on Mars? — is dedicated to Peter. Everyone who gets the book will see the dedication. SO… I thought I’d write a bit about who Peter was.

Anyone reading my blog might get the idea that I’m “bitter” about “luv’.” I’m not really bitter, but the way it worked out for me in my life taught me that what ought to work, might not, and that even real love might not be “happily ever after.” “Luv” is fraught with unknown perils and it doesn’t “conquer all.” It’s also not “all we need.”

Peter was a grad student at the University of Denver when I was. He was an incredibly intelligent, glib, irreverent, iconoclastic, talented and physically beautiful man. He had graduated Summa Cum Laude from Harvard. He’d studied in Italy and France and traveled in North Africa. We met in a graduate level survey of American literature. He was working toward a PhD in creative writing. I was just starting out toward an MA in English. The first real thing he said to me, besides “Hi!” was a note, “Voulez-vous faire du ski avec moi?”

One of our classmates had seen Peter and me talking in the parking lot and warned me, “Peter is gay.” It wasn’t long before Peter had told me himself, with more information, “I’ve had passionate affairs with both men and women.”

So, I went skiing with him and didn’t enjoy it much. It was cold. I didn’t like the ski area, I was a total spaz. The experience was awkward and confusing, but, so what else was new? I didn’t realize Peter was interested in me. Our first date (that I didn’t know was a date) was ostensibly (I didn’t know it was “ostensibly”) to talk about a couple of poems by Yeats for a seminar we were both taking. I took my book. He picked me up and we went for pizza. We never talked about Yeats.

My heart might have been aflutter about Peter, but I was still trying to contend with the last (two) complicated love relationships in my life. I was still married to a man who had abused me (and would, once more). He had left Denver to study in Wyoming, and I was living alone. In the background of THAT was someone who had clutched my heart since I was 19. And, and, and… I was scared.

Somewhere in all this I took my ten-speed up Waterton Canyon. The thought of riding up a trail in the foothills had captivated me, and mountain bikes hadn’t been invented yet. The tires of a ten-speed road bike are not the right thing for that rough, rocky, thorn-throttled trail. I got a flat and ended up walking back four or five miles down the canyon, picking up companions as I went. One old guy who joined me on the walk down was a true expert on the canyon and, because of him, I knew to look for mountain sheep. About a two miles before the end, a BLM truck gave us a ride. I lifted my bike into the back and we sat on the tailgate all the way down.

When I got home, quietly inspired by Peter talking about the creative writing seminars he was taking, I wrote the experience into a story. I gave it to Peter to read. Teacher-in-Training that he was, he wrote comments, most notable (and clearly unforgettable) “I love your story! It has energy which most of the stories I read in this fucked up program lack. Keep writing.”

I’d written a couple of stories in high school, but until that moment, I hadn’t thought of myself as anyone who could write a story. Peter never wavered in his encouragement, and the last letter I have from him responds to a story I’d sent while he was living in Chicago. Again he has written, “Keep writing.”

We were together in our own way for five years. Love is going to love where it loves, and that’s about all you can ever say about it for sure.

I took the title of the anthology from one of his letters in which he’s written that his grandfather is dying of cancer, then writes, emphatically, “Who CARES if there’s life on Mars?”

The last time I saw Peter was over Labor Day Weekend in 1981. He’d asked me to marry him. I went to Chicago to talk it over and learned that his boyfriend wasn’t at all keen on the idea of Peter marrying me. From one point of view, the weekend was hilarious. From another it was desperately sad. I was stuck there for two nights. The redemption was a long day at the Chicago Institute of Art seeing paintings I’d only known from books. It was the moment I learned that I like wandering alone in big cities and looking at paintings. The ending — at the airport when I finally got to get away — was absolutely, abysmally, totally, heartbreakingly and inarguably sad. Sprawled out on 3 seats in a nearly empty DC-10 I resolved that there had to be more to life than “luv.”

One of the stories in this new collection imagines Peter and me as old people, sitting outside a coffee house in the gay part of San Diego. In the story “I” am a man. It was fun to write it. It’s a “what if” these two otherwise eminently compatible people had been able to form that relationship everyone wishes for? As Borges wrote in “The Garden of Forking Paths,”

“…I leave to various future times, but not to all, my garden of forking paths.”

Fiction is that garden.

Class Warfare

The windshield wipers flapping back and forth on the rapidly icing window were no help at all. Maureen opened the wings to let the cold, outside air defrost the inside of the windshield of her 70 VW Bug.

The thin layer of snow on the ground had turned the slick ice below it into a booby trap. “At least I know that,” Maureen thought as she inched along toward the closest free parking lot to the law firm where she worked. “Why didn’t I walk?”

“You could slip on the ice walking those four blocks from the closest free parking lot,” said the voice inside her head. “Look at your shoes.” Dress shoes. Christmas party. Sheesh.

There was really no point in having driven. Even parking at the closest free lot, she had a quarter of a mile to the old building on 17th street that housed the law firm where she worked. “Christmas party,” she thought.

“I could’ve put my shoes in a bag and carried them,” she sighed. “I don’t do my best thinking at 6 am.”

She slowed gradually to a stop at the light on Downing. Watching a big Chevy slide to a stop, almost in the middle of the intersection, Maureen made up her mind. When the light turned green she turned left, left again, pointed her car toward home and pulled into the parking lot of her apartment building. “This is as close as free parking needs to be.” She closed up the wing windows, locked the car and went inside to change her shoes. She put her fancy disco sandals in her daypack, put on her boots and headed out the back door. “Much better,” she thought, taking long strides down the alley, down 13th street on the old flagstone sidewalk, bordered by winter grass and frosted leaves. To the west, a band of grey/blue was attempting to make some headway into the dim, grim light of 7 am Denver December. Maureen looked at the snowy peaks of the distant range hoping for the Alpenglow to climb up the front of Mt. Evans, but no. Still, if there was light over the mountains, maybe?

“You’re late.”

“I know. I started out driving but the roads were slick, and I decided to turn around and walk.”

“Seriously? It’s not even 10 degrees out there.”

“Well, yeah. Are the bosses here yet?”

“Of course not.” Lori laughed. “Losing valuable billable hours.”

“It’s bad out there. I wouldn’t want to be on the Interstate.”

We’re here,” said Lori who had an elevated sense of justice.

“You take the bus,” Maureen laughed.

“Yeah, well…”


On this Side



“A couple of months.”

“A couple of MONTHS???”

“We aren’t even in spring yet. That’s a couple weeks away.”

“A couple of WEEKS???”

“Yeah. Thank goodness.”

“I want SUMMER!!!!”

“I don’t think you’re in charge, EJ.”

EJ. Elizabeth Jane.

“I’m going outside. I’m sure there’s some green grass somewhere.”

“You can go to the back yard, but come in when I call you.”

Outside, EJ began a systematic study of the grass. Starting at the fence, she walked down to the alley, back up to the house, down to the alley, back to the house, each time a foot or two further inside the yard. When her mother called her for supper, she’d only finished half the yard and the sun was going down.

“EJ!!! Elizabeth Jane!!! Come in. Your dad is home, supper’s on the table.”

“I’m not finished!”

“Finished what?”

“Looking for spring!”

Party On

“Babe, let’s go home.”

“But I’m having fun. You never want me to have fun.” Cora’s eighth apple cinnamon martini sloshed over the glass. OO7 she wasn’t.

“Cora, sweetheart, your left tit is just about outside your dress. Your lipstick is smeared down to your cleavage. I’ve had to hold your hair back three times. The heel broke off your shoe when you fell down the stairs, seriously, hun, it’s time. How is this fun?”

“Go home by yourself.”

A lightbulb lit in Travis’ mind. “You got it, sweet cheeks,” he thought.

He made his way through the crowd of guests all in various stages of inebriation, and opened the front door. The night was cold and clear. The sky held the infinite promise of the Milky Way.


“What if I shaved it off?”

“Your moustache?”


“It’s your moustache.” She shrugged, pulled her turtleneck over her head then pawed around the bed to find her glasses.

“I’m going to do it.”

Marcy went to the kitchen and made coffee. This was one hell of a hangover. Saturday nights were wildly fun, but this was a pretty high price to pay. It wasn’t long before the coffee was ready. She filled a cup for her and a cup for Paul.

“Marcy?” Paul called out from the bathroom.


“Come and see. I want to know what you think.”

She took both cups to the bathroom. “I made you coffee.”

He was turned away from the door, facing the shower wall.

“Paul?” He turned around slowly.


Marcy set down her coffee and looked thoughtfully at Paul. He was — had always been — one of the handsomest men she’d ever seen. Lapis eyes, brown hair, warm and friendly smile, strong chin. Until this moment, he’d also, always, in her life, anyway, worn the heavy moustache of their time in history. Without it?

He looked at her as if he were a child looking for approval. She wanted to cradle him in her arms, tell him everything would be all-right forever, erase all his doubts with a certainty that existed no where on earth.


“It looks good, Paul.”

“You hate it.”

“No, no, not at all. I like it. It’s good.”

“What does ‘good’ mean?”

Marcy sighed. “Paul, if you don’t like it, you can grow it back.”

“See? You hate it.”

Marcy understood then that HE hated it.

She went home. She was dehydrated from drinking and dancing the night before, exhausted and psychologically worn. This whole day would be given over to recovering enough to go to work on Monday. A shower helped clear her brain and she thought…


“Hi babe. Whatcha’ got?”

“Seed catalog. It’s my first one EVER. I feel so grown up!”

“Uh, that’s not your name,” said Josh, looking at the mailing label. “I think that’s the people who lived here before us.”

Spring was still a long way off, but the catalogs arrived well ahead of time to prime the atavistic urges of the snowbound denizens of the far north. Kira took off her boots and set them by the door.

“It doesn’t matter. We’re here now. We have our own house, our own yard, maybe a garden in summer. This proves it!” Kira held up the catalog with it’s WAY too brightly colored flowers and photo of bi-colored corn on the cover. “Isn’t this pretty? We can grow corn!!!”

“‘If you build it…'”


“Never mind. Whatever you want honey.”

Josh was thumbing through a catalog that had arrived at the same time, one that also had the previous occupant’s name on it. In it was the photo of a shiny, new, rototiller. Bright red handles and bright sharp blades. A chill went down Josh’ spine. “I don’t want to think that,” he thought, shaking the disturbing image from his mind. He turned the page and there was a beautiful, big chain-saw. “Good god,” he thought. “Is that how I really feel about Kira?” He set the catalog down on the coffee table, but the images persisted. He got up, took the catalog and threw it into the recycling in the kitchen, but the disturbing pictures remained in his imagination.

“Is this what I’m REALLY like?” his heart beat 100 miles an hour. “I LOVE my wife!”

The kitchen recycling can was clearly not going to do the job. He took the catalog out to the alley and lifted the lid on the big recycling bin, but as he was about to toss it in, the neighbor two houses down started up her chainsaw, the little one she used for cutting branches.

“I’m a homeowner now. I’m going to need this stuff.” He looked around the neighborhood. Sam had rototilled his yard last year. There was Mrs. Jamison, using a chain saw to cut back her lilac bush. This wasn’t about Kira. This was necessary to maintain the value of his property. He wasn’t evil to want power tools. No.

He stood in the alley and thumbed through the catalog again, this time a large vice caught his eye. He saw Kira’s narrowing head and bulging eyes. “Do Mrs. Jamison and Sam have thoughts like these?” He dropped the catalog into the cavernous realm of the recycling bin, and as he did, he saw Kira rotating wildly in the garbage truck’s hungry maw.

Shuffle Bored

“You wretch.”


“Nothing. A script for that play.”

“What play?”

“The one. You know. I told you. The one next month at that theater.”

“Sorry Babe. If you told me, I don’t remember.”

“Do you even listen to me when I tell you things?”

“I always listen. I might not always remember.”

“Part of listening is remembering.”

“I’m sorry, Char. I have a lot going on at work right now.”

“But I’m your girlfriend! I’m ‘going on’ too and this is your LIFE not just your job.”

“Sweetie, come here.”

“I have to learn these lines.”

“OK. You want me to help?”

“No. You have ‘important’ stuff to think about.”

Jack shrugged. Char could be moody. He’d always known that. And self-centered. He’d always known that, too. In fact, he’d always known Char. She had been the literal “girl next door,” and he’d decided, way back when they were six that he was going to marry Char. Twenty years later, it still had not happened, but they were, at least living together.

“Why can’t we get married and live together?” he’d asked her.

“What if we can’t get along? We need to know each other before we get married,” she’d answered. He’d brought up the point that they’d known each other since they were two. She’d just said, “It’s not the same. What if the way you brush your teeth drives me insane? I need to know that before I make a life-long commitment.”

Jack had thought, “But we’ve been on camping trips together, our families, just us, you KNOW how I brush my teeth.”

In some of Jack’s wiser brain cells he knew Char wasn’t all that into him, but he had managed to convince those cells to shut up most of the time. ALL of his brain knew she was hard to please.

He put down his book and went to the basement where he was slowly regaining space from the bizarre 1960s interior design the homeowners had done back in the day. It was a big job, involving the up-rooting of asbestos/asphalt tiles placed in arcane triangles exactly 8 feet apart. And why in hell would anyone put numbers on their floor?

“It has to mean something,” the realtor had said, “but godnose what.”

“Mom would know,” said Jack.

“Your mother’s dead, babe,” said Char.

It was Jack’s inheritance that had bought their house. Jack was a little nervous about buying a house with a woman who didn’t want to marry him, but whatEV.

He hadn’t done much with the floor lately, but tonight he felt a real need to do something that would lead somewhere.

He went at the tiles with a heat torch, a knife and a flat shovel. One at a time they came up. He stacked them in a pile to the side. They had called in an expert who said that since the tiles were in pretty good shape, they weren’t dangerous and they could cover the whole mess with a carpet or even pour a new concrete floor over them, but Char was freaked out by the asbestos. Jack shook his head.

When Jack came to, he was outside in the cold air, wrapped in blankets, strapped to a gurney, an oxygen mask over his face.

“You’re lucky your wife smelled fumes,” said the EMT.

“She’s not my wife,” Jack mumbled.

“WhatEV’. you’re lucky. The fire department was able to put out the fire before it could do much damage and we were able to get you out of the basement. What were you doing down there? You don’t look like a guy who snorts glue or some shit.”

“What?” Jack’s head hurt. He realized his hands were burning, but he couldn’t lift them to see why. “My hands?”

“Third degree burns. Probably be OK.”

“Where’s Char?”

“She went to her mother’s. She said she’d call. Lie back now. You’re hurt, you’ve had a close call. We’re taking you to the hospital.”

A cell phone rang, Jack’s. “Can you get that? It’s in my right front pocket. It could be Char.”

The EMT found Jack’s phone, “Just a moment, Ma’am,” he said, and put the phone to Jack’s ear.

“You wretch,” she said, and hung up.