Sunday, June 28, 2009

Short Story Sunday - Part V

It so happens that one of my short stories shares its title with a hit Michael Jackson song, making it a most appropriate selection for this week's installment of Short Story Sunday.


BY ROY L. PICKERING JR. Copyright by Roy L. Pickering Jr.

A.J. stepped out of the biting cold and into the brownstone where he resided with his wife Nicki. He inspected the flowers he bought on his way home from work to make sure they had all survived the trip. As he climbed the stairs towards his second floor apartment, A.J. crossed his heart in hopes that the landlord had gotten around to fixing the radiator in his bedroom. The temperature had fallen so low that the body warmth and three comforters he and Nicki had been relying on might not be enough tonight.

Hopefully Nicki would not be in the middle of a painting. It wasn't often that his boss let him out a couple of hours early. The old man must have gotten some really good news, for he was rarely so generous. If Nicki wasn't glued to her easel, A.J. hoped to catch a movie. There were a couple of pictures out that he wanted to see, but had no intention of waiting on those inevitable weekend lines. Not in this weather.

A.J. fiddled with his keys until he finally got the right one into the lock on his front door. He had never been adept at handling things with gloves on. A.J. couldn't even make a decent snowball without using his bare hands. Nicki accused him of being a spaz on account of this the night of their very first date. That was the moment which convinced him that he was in love with her.

As he stepped into the living room, A.J. simultaneously became aware of two things. The first was that his apartment now had no heat at all. But the sounds coming from his bedroom immediately replaced his annoyance with curiosity. It couldn't be what it sounded like. A.J. pushed open the bedroom door and was hit with verification. The woman he cherished making passionate love with another man.

A.J's response was consummated in slightly more time than it took the bouquet which had fallen from his hand to hit the floor. Despite being fixated on the sight before him, he noticed the pair of scissors on the bureau. Without being conscious of willing his body to any particular actions, A.J. picked it up, walked forward, and plunged it repeatedly into the naked flesh on his bed. The man took the brunt of the attack from behind, never seeing the person responsible for taking his life. But Nicki was able to get a clear look at the deranged mask her husband's face had become, before he drove the blades into her eyes.

What had he done? A foolish question. Insanity is what had certainly overcome him, and though it was apparently temporary, the results definitely were not. His biggest fault was his jealous nature. How many times had Nicki said that to him? But how could he not be envious? His love for her was so enormous that the slightest hint of betrayal was too much to bear. He had received considerably more than a slight hint today. How could she throw it all away? Their love had been perfect, the only pure thing he knew of.

None of it made sense. This had to be a nightmare. When would he awaken? When would he find out that Nicki had been as true to him as he to her? Surely she was sitting at her easel, or perhaps outside enjoying the gentle snowfall. Not lying in a pool of blood, that of her own mixed with an anonymous stranger's, done in by the hands that wanted only to hold her.

A.J. walked back into the living room. He was exhausted. Murder took a lot out of a person. He knew now that it was no dream. It was too cold. That was his first clue. The sheet of paper on the sofa was his second.

A piece of tape was stuck to the top. Apparently the paper had been held to the wall, but fallen off. A.J. flipped it over to the side where a message was scribbled.


A.J. had not killed his wife after all. He had killed Nicki's twin sister, Sheri, and her latest boyfriend.

Despite being a novice at such activities, A.J. found himself acting quickly and decisively. A moment ago his wife had cheated on him and was dead on account of it. Nothing mattered beyond those two facts. But they were no longer true, so now the consequences of his actions mattered very much. Somehow, A.J. had to get out of the mess he had created. There was plenty of time for guilt later on. Now, there was only time to fix things.

He would make it look like a botched robbery, or that someone who had it in for either Sheri or her boyfriend had followed them and done this. It could be done, it had to be. A.J. took off his blood drenched clothing and put them into a garbage bag along with a few "stolen" valuables. Tomorrow was trash day. The evidence would be taken away by the city. A.J. took a quick shower. He could do this if he remained calm. What else was there? He couldn't have left fingerprints because he had never taken off his gloves. Turns out there was something he could do well with them on. A.J. inspected his body for any wounds he may somehow have suffered, mixing his own blood with that of his victims. There were none to be found. He would tell his wife that he had noticed her through the window of the diner on his way home. This was plausible. Nicki had been asleep when he dressed and left for work, as she always was. The different set of clothing he had on would not arouse her curiosity. She would have no reason to suspect that he had already been to the apartment.

A.J. stepped cautiously into the hallway. The coast was clear. He needed to make it appear that someone had forced the door open, crossed his fingers in hope that it would open in one solid kick and the noise would not alert any neighbors. The door cooperated. His luck was holding out. Garbage bag in hand, he sprinted down the stairs. If he passed by anybody on the way out, he was screwed. But he didn't.

"Hi, baby."

"Hi, honey."

This would be his first test and the most crucial. Nicki had always been able to see into his heart. Somehow, he would have to wipe all memory of the last hour from his mind. Who was he kidding? How could what he had just done not show?

"What are you doing here? You have painter's block?"

"Didn't you get my note?", Nicki asked in return.

"I haven't been home yet. I saw you through the window while I was walking by."

"Good eyes. Sheri needed to borrow the place for awhile. Her and her new man."

"Your sister really needs to get a place of her own."

"Or start dating guys who don't still live with their parents."


He was pulling it off. Things were going to work out okay. His plan to make it appear that he was innocent of all wrong doing was transpiring without a hitch. He would suggest that they go to a movie. By the time he and Nicki arrived home to the gaggle of policemen which would undoubtedly be waiting, his reaction would be as close to genuine shock as could be. Once the initial hubbub was over, he would comfort Nicki over the loss of her sister. They would grow closer than ever.

As perverse as it seemed, A.J. was proud of himself. More proud than guilty. He had made an honest mistake. His reaction, as unfortunate as it had been, was instinctual and based on love. When he believed his wife was being unfaithful, he became a different person. The real A.J. was a charming, happy-go-lucky guy who never lacked for friends. He wasn't the monster who had briefly wreaked havoc in the bedroom of apartment 2G. As long as A.J. knew this in his heart, he would be able to sleep at night. His conscience was not exactly clean, but A.J. had never been much of a neat freak anyway.

He regretted the hurt that Nicki would feel. A.J. was sorry that he had taken two lives, one of whom he genuinely cared for, though Sheri did tend to annoy him. In the end however, two facts outshone all others. Nicki was alive and well. And A.J. would not be separated from her for the rest of his days by iron bars.

"I almost forgot. These are for you."

A.J. handed the bouquet to his beautiful wife. If petals could talk. But fortunately for A.J., they could not. Nicki smiled and A.J. soaked in the radiance of her beauty. He felt so happy, so alive, so ... Free. That's the word he was looking for. Instead of everything coming to an end, A.J. felt as if his life was beginning anew.

"Read the card."

A.J. prided himself on his note writing ability. He had once fancied himself a writer, but turned out not to have the patience to pen an entire novel or even a decent short story. But when confined to fifty words or less, he could give Shakespeare a run for his money. A.J. was quite pleased with the romantic ditty he had composed. Nicki inspired the best in him.

"What card, A.J.? I don't see anything."

A wail of police sirens shattered the silence. A.J. turned to watch shiny blue vehicles race to the scene of the crime. The cops would find two mutilated corpses in the bedroom of apartment 2G, and not a shred of evidence to guide them.

Except of course, for the killer's calling card.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

One Glove-One Love: Michael Jackson tribute

This flood of tender memories set forth by the sudden passing of Michael Jackson has taken me somewhat by surprise, setting my fingertips twittering away. Many things have been said about him by many people, but no truer words have been stated on the subject of the king of pop than these. He was like no one the world had ever seen before him. Below is a running commentary taken mostly from my statements on Twitter over the past couple days about a most amazing performer and fascinating individual. Whether you were a fan or not, surely you recognized that stars who shine so brightly come along very few and far between.

* Just turned my computer on and learned about death of Michael Jackson. My youth is officially done. One glove - One love.

* Two well known people in history, for better or worse, never gave up grasp on childhood. Michael Jackson was Peter Pan personified.

* He was rightfully considered by many to be a freak, but Tinseltown & Motown are both full of those. MJ's freaky side was simply more publicized than most. As for the horrendous criminal charges that were brought against him, innocent until guilt proven is the rule of our land. He was convicted of nothing. MJ probably was asexual, not a molester. As bizarre as he came to be seen, it was a strangeness accompanied by the aura of innocence.

* How will I remember Michael Jackson out of all his legendary images? That amazingly talented boy & young man who every black kid idolized.

* As a lover of music and musical performance I remember life before the video for Thriller, and then, the way we SAW music forever changed.

* The ultimate icons of my lifetime to date - Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan, and Michael Jackson. Unlike the first two, the third one didn't get to fulfill his comeback.

* I will ALWAYS remember tribute show for Berry Gordy when the Jackson brothers performed & then gave way to breathtaking Michael Jackson solo performance.

* Have Friday off and finally getting to watch some Wimbeldon action on TV. More gray skies and raindrops outside. TV on mute with Thriller 25 on IPOD. Not a bad way to spend a day at all.

* Young Michael Jackson singing Ben live in Japan. So talented at such a young age. What a gift he was given, one that he certainly didn't squander.

* Did Michael Jackson set himself up to be the butt of jokes? Certainly. The skin lightening, cosmetic surgeries, feminine quality, eccentric behavior, and most damning, the child molestation accusations (which if he was guilty I say good riddance, but like I said before, I don't believe he was). I understand the urge by some to make jokes at his expense, particularly those who aren't huge fans of his music. But bottom line is that a single father of 3 kids died at 50. There simply is nothing funny about that. Feel free not to praise him, feel free not to miss him, but for at least a day or two, don't mock. Is that so much to ask for. Would you not want and expect the same courtesy?

* - Lisa Marie Presley speaks about MJ on her MySpace page. She has interesting, poignant things to say about the man she was once married to.

* Cranked MJ compilation this morning. Great way to get started on sunny day along with cup of coffee. No cuss words to guard my daughter's ears from. Then I went running with his music coming through headphones and although I'm not much of a runner, today I felt like I could keep my legs pumping forever, or at least until the last note.

* Favorite Michael Jackson memory: My first job was as a summer camp counselor. For final day ceremony we put on a show for parents. I was a counselor for kids 7-9. Boys & girls did separate routines. The girls adorably performed Stop in the Name of Love and the boys performed Dancing Machine. Those kids were great. The lead on Dancing Machine was a really talented little guy who did an amazing job of channeling Michael. Rehearsals were a blast and they came through like pros at the show.

* Yes, I once owned a replica of a Michael Jackson jacket received as a Christmas gift. I certainly wasn't the only one.

* Trip to visit family this weekend supposed to be an hour drive but time doubled due to heavy traffic. We found a radio station playing a Michael Jackson marathon so all was good. Easy to lose track of how much great music he produced in his lifetime of arrested boyhood and immeasurable talent.

Michael Jackson did not get to live in much peace but I sure hopes he gets to RIP.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Short Story Sunday IV


"My father, despite his many failings, was a man of his word."

Fish Dinner Short Story by Roy L. Pickering Jr.

Copyright by Roy L. Pickering Jr.

My wife beams with pride over her creation. Computer technology proved far more fascinating during her formative years than emulating Betty Crocker. Yet every so often Grace will don an apron, crack open a recipe book, and take to the kitchen.

Laid out on our dining table is a feast to behold. The main dish of this unexpected banquet is a grilled red snapper topped with tropical fruit salsa.

“Dig in, honey.” When Grace told me that she intended to take the day off from work, little did I know she would spend it in such a manner.

“Wow. What did I do to deserve this?”

“You showed up and swept me off my feet.”

I smile, then load up my plate as a surge of remembrance brings me back to the last time I was served red snapper. An astonishing count of sixteen years has passed between that meal and the one before me now. I suspect this dish has been avoided in the interim not by conscious choice, but rather, due to a mental connection made between the fish and that distant day.

“You haven’t touched your food yet,” Grace observes. “Aren’t you hungry?”

“Just thinking about something.”

When I returned home after several hours spent with my friends, talking about those things that preoccupy the minds of fourteen year old boys, I was surprised to find a grilled red snapper soaked in lemon garlic sauce awaiting me for dinner. My mother rarely prepared fish for us, even though we both loved seafood, because my father adamantly did not. This had always struck me as odd since he was born in the West Indies, the grandson of fishermen on both sides of the family. But not everything is passed down the genealogical line by tradition and heredity. Some choices we make for ourselves in spite of who we are supposed to be. The preferences of my father, dietary and otherwise, were noted and accepted as the way of our world. My mother was an excellent cook and the meal she had prepared looked scrumptious, but it also seemed to be premeditated defiance. Why had she cooked what she knew my father would not eat?

“Is Dad home?” I asked, for he was nowhere in sight. Typically he would be seated on the sofa watching whatever ball game he could find on TV when I traipsed into our apartment shortly before the assigned dinnertime of 7:00. We were a family of routine, of well respected rituals, but on this day evidence pointed to a disturbance in the balance of our lives.

“Wash up for dinner, Jimmy. I need to talk to you. And no, your father won’t be joining us for dinner tonight.”

“Why not?”

“Please do as I say.”

Her voice was calm, yet clearly fragile, moments away from shattering unless events unfolded in the precise manner she had planned. I washed my face and hands, then returned to the dinner table. My mother and I silently said a prayer of gratitude for the food. The first bite taken of the red snapper was exquisite, and the second somehow surpassed its predecessor. Next I consumed a forkful of saffron rice followed by a sip of pineapple juice. As my fork headed back towards the fish, my mother spoke.

My food would grow cold and unsavory as her words tumbled out. I sat frozen while learning that my father had left us that morning and would not be returning. I did not doubt what he said to my mother in the note left behind as legacy. My father, despite his many failings, was a man of his word.

I did not hear from him again until I was twenty-four, a married man with far more debt than my meager paychecks could significantly dent, about to start a family of my own. Grace was three months pregnant. My father had somehow learned that he was going to become a grandfather, not that he expressed pleasure over this development. He did not bother to claim regret either. He had sent money to my mother and I sporadically, the envelopes always postmarked with a new location. These payoffs alleviated any guilt that might otherwise have disturbed his sleep. I did not mask my bitterness, but it was voiced without passion. Over time I had decided he was not worth the effort necessary to actively hate him. I simply maintained a passive state of disapproval. As for my mother, her second husband is a great guy who aided amnesia about the first.

Ten years after his departure, my father did not invite himself back into my life. Actually, there didn’t seem to be much reason for the call. We exchanged unpleasantries, hung up after a few tense minutes, and that was that.

There were complications with her pregnancy and Grace miscarried a month later. On top of the misery of losing our child, we learned that Grace would probably never be able to conceive again. But these were to be future concerns, as far more immediate matters needed to be dealt with. I came close to losing Grace as the surgeons toiled to keep her alive. My world nearly collapsed as the agonizing hours crawled by and I helplessly awaited fate’s verdict. But my wife is a strong woman and she pulled through. Her life was saved. Hers and mine.

I will not allow the red snapper to grow cold this time. The efforts of my wife, the impossibly beautiful woman whom I love beyond comprehension, will not be in vain. I place a tender morsel into my mouth. As expected, it is delicious.

“This is wonderful”, I say, referencing a great deal more than the food. I do not have all that I want, nor even all that I need. What I do have is the love of a good woman, and what could be a simpler or greater miracle than that?


I raise the fork for another tantalizing bite of this fish whose journey has led to my appreciative stomach. I inherited my father’s wavy hair, wide feet, thick eyebrows, and the shape of his nose. But I do not share his distaste for seafood. I am a vastly different man than him. It is my life’s purpose to be so.

I stop eating long enough to say, “Yes, baby” to which Grace replies -

“I’m pregnant.”

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Short Story Sunday - Part III

When one's heart is irreparably broken, sometimes the mind does not lag very far behind.

The Falling Rain By Roy L. Pickering Jr.

Copyright held by Roy L. Pickering Jr.

The rain started on the day of Billy's funeral. It was neither a drizzle nor a downpour, but instead fell at the intermediate tempo of a long distance runner with half the race behind him, the tough part still to be run. The drops appeared fat, as if pregnant with future torrents. Perhaps they each held grandiose dreams for their future children, imagined them growing up to be tempests and Caribbean hurricanes. I once projected the noblest ambitions for my own son to achieve. I saw him as a star athlete, a renowned surgeon, a revered politician, anything ever beyond imagination to envision for myself. At the unripe age of four, Billy was taken from me. In an instant the world grew barren, and dark, and frigid, and empty of purpose. Then it became drenched.

By day four, it struck me that the longevity of the rain was unusual. I reflected on this briefly, then removed my gaze from out the window and aimed it back towards the television. A talk show filled the screen. Young men learned before a live studio audience if they were the fathers of babies that accusatory young women were raising on their own. This sort of manufactured real life drama once held a certain degree of rubbernecking fascination for me. Now I watched exclusively because I could think of nothing better to do. Behind the ruckus of studio audiences and the energetic blare of commercial breaks, the patter of raindrops served as constant surround sound.

At first, concerned family members and friends were a steady presence. Phoned condolences came at twenty minute intervals. Must be so hard, they would say. First Antoinetta, now little Billy. How was I coping, they all asked. As well as could be expected, I always replied. My expectations were at a bare minimum, of course.

One by one, people resumed attending to the details of their own lives and ceased fussing over me. Not that they abandoned me entirely, but what more could they do than what they had already done? They were not my keepers. They had families and jobs and everyday hassles to deal with. I would be okay, given time. Time would soothe the deepest of wounds. Every day I would be one day further from the torment, one day closer to carrying on. I did not mind when people departed any more than I noticed them being around. Unlike the rain, they came and then they went away. The rain just kept falling. Had it been two weeks already? A look at the calendar informed me that it had been nearly three.

Billy's eyes were interchangeably blue and green and brown, depending on the lighting and the angle of one’s view. I don't know if this was miraculous. Probably not. Sure was a pretty thing to behold though. I had recently begun teaching him how to play baseball. I would toss a wiffle ball to him and he'd take a mighty swing every time. About once in every four tries he hit the ball cleanly and it would take off from the barrel of his bat like a bolt of lightning. Speaking of which, no thunder or lightning accompanies the rain outside my window. It is an acoustic performance of countless drummers each beating their own unique rhythm, yet somehow in perfect synchrony. Billy's face would light up when he made solid contact with the wiffle ball, sort of like Christmas, the fourth of July, and the strike of midnight ushering in New Year's Day all rolled into one. It was a beautiful thing to witness, every time.

We were driving home from the supermarket. Billy's cheeks were smudged with melted chocolate from the Milky Way bar in hand. He was singing a song learned earlier that day in preschool. I pulled to a stop at a red light and looked at him. He finished his song and smiled. Two teeth were prominently missing from his wide, infectious grin. It was a most wondrous thing to see. My son, my reason for being, or at least for being content with my overall state of affairs. His ears stuck out just like mine did at his age, like they still do a little. I tousled his hair, told him he had sung the song very well, which he had. I turned my attention back to the road. Red turned to green, I stepped on the gas pedal, the car went forward, and then the lights went out.

Billy's mother, my one true love as the expression goes, went by the lyrical name of Antoinetta. I usually just called her “baby”. We were an unlikely pair according to conventional wisdom, which is my least favorite type of wisdom. She was educated courtesy of a strict middle class Catholic family background, followed by four years of college during which she didn't rebel from her upbringing one bit. As for me, my father was an obscene memory bitterly recalled by my mother when she was drunk, high, pissed off, or any combination of the aforementioned. My replacement father figures were the scumbags she let into her bed whenever our groceries were running low, which was pretty much all the time. They had little interest in my mother once their moaning and groaning was done with, none for me at all. So I picked up most of my smarts on the streets. They led me to incarceration at the age of nineteen.

I survived my stint with body and mind intact. Prison was somewhat more dangerous to navigate than the home life that preceded it, but no more or less lonely. Just for the hell of it, no better motivation being available, I decided to try the straight and narrow when I was released. If it didn't work out, I could always go back to snatching purses and hot wiring cars. I obtained a janitorial position on a college campus. The job didn't pay much, but I did manage to meet a girl there. She was a senior, her name was Antoinetta, and against all odds she eventually agreed to become my girl and then my bride. So goes the short version of my happily but not quite for ever after fairy tale.

A month had passed since Billy was lowered into the ground. We plant seeds so they will grow. We plant people because they grow no more. There's no lesson in this, it's merely an observation. People suggested activities to help divert my melancholy. My friend Kevin bought us tickets to a baseball game. I declined to go because the trip seemed useless. The game would certainly be postponed on account of the rain. Kevin felt that the sky would cooperate. He's much more of an optimist than I. That's probably because his wife and kids are still alive, a luxury I do not share.

My mother, a much more civilized version than the woman who raised me, requested that I accompany her to the mall, or to see a silly movie, or to at least take a walk around the block with her. Like wine, not that I know much about wine, she has improved considerably with age. By the time Billy came along, he had a downright reputable grandmother to love him as only a grandmother can. He had everything I never did growing up. For this I was very pleased. I also appreciated that my mother wanted to keep me company, to raise my spirits with the concerned attention that she was offering late in my life, which was a good deal better than never. But I would not be going outside with her or anyone else until the rain ceased. This had become my policy, my mantra, my most holy vow. The onslaught of liquid crystals was as unremitting as it seemed infinite, neither waxing nor waning, simply descending like locusts on doomed crops. The rain appeared to my eyes as the Indians must have looked to Custer, presuming that in his final moments he grew resigned to the inevitable outcome rather than fighting till the bitter end.

A drunk driver plowed his car into the side of mine a second or two after I rolled past that deceitful green light. The side that Billy was sitting on. He was killed almost instantly. One moment my precocious four-year old son is singing a song for me, the next, poof, everything that matters has vanished. If I can be grateful for anything, it is that Billy went quickly and painlessly. Sadly, this could not be said for Antoinetta. Her stomach cancer was a vicious, hideous beast from within. It ate her alive one agonizing bite at a time, and it did likewise to my heart. The thing she had wanted more than anything else in creation was to be a mother. Her wish was granted, but the daydream was lived for less than a year. Had we not started a family, I'm certain that her death would also have been the end of me. But there was Billy to consider, so I forced myself to remain strong. I would do whatever I could to fill the void in our lives. I would love him enough for two. That is what I swore to do, and that is the promise I made good on up until Billy sung his final song.

My mother let in the men in the white coats. They spoke to me, but their words were gibberish and not worth the effort of response. My mother explained that the men wanted to take me someplace where I could receive help. I required no assistance, so shook my head with hope that the gesture would banish them and leave me in peace. This did not happen, but rather, the opposite occurred. They forcibly raised me from off the sofa. They clearly intended to take me outside. I told them that I refused to leave. I did not want to subject myself to the rain. It had been falling for forty biblical days and nights. The world outside my door had likely been transformed into an ocean. For some reason I could not recall if I knew how to swim, but I knew it was best to not find out the hard way. I wanted to be left alone, safe in the confines of my home, my museum to the wonderful life I had lucked into for awhile, my ark upon the waves of God's cruel indifference, my comfortably furnished tomb.

I expected that the men, even though they outnumbered me five to one, would fail to match my resolve. I was mistaken, for although my will was gargantuan, strength had abandoned my body. I noticed, perhaps for the first time, several plates of mostly untouched food that my mother had prepared and attempted to coax me into eating. Had I consumed the nourishment, perhaps my escape efforts would have been more vigorous. Instead I was handled with ease, as if possessing less muscles than a rag doll. My arms were constricted. I was dragged outside where the rain immediately began to pelt me, though it somehow appeared to be leaving the men in white untouched. On me alone it administered a wet and merciless punishment for crimes I failed to recall committing. It stung like a swarm of bloodthirsty bees.

Now I sit alone in a padded room. My arms are still confined. The people here are afraid that I will hurt them, or maybe do harm to myself. Perhaps they are right. I don't know anymore. I don't care anymore. I keep recalling one of my all time favorite days, the one that changed if not saved my life. As it so happened, I was sweeping the floor when a lovely coed passed by. I took a moment to observer her shapely figure recede down the hallway of the school building. That was when I noticed a slip of paper fall out from one of the books under her arms. She did not realize that the document was no longer in her possession. I rushed to retrieve it, then to catch up to the girl and return it to her. We spoke briefly. The paper was very important and she was quite grateful that I had spotted it. She claimed to always be losing things, thank goodness her head was attached to her shoulders. I grew intoxicated by her smile, dizzy from the warmth that her eyes exuded. Moments after she left, I scolded myself for falling prey to such feelings. I did not need to be told that I was way out of my league. Nevertheless, I could not wait to see her again.

Antoinetta will come for me someday, and she will bring Billy with her. Nothing would make me happier than to see the two of them again. I left no forwarding address, but I'm sure my wife will be able to track me down. Probably the only reason they have not shown up yet is this never ending rain. As soon as it stops, they will surely come. They will rescue me.

There is no window in this room, so I cannot see the rain falling anymore. I cannot hear its insistent clamor either, except in my vivid memory. The doctor who visits me says the days have been sunny and bright, that we are blanketed by a serene baby blue sky. He says that two months straight of 24 hour days of rain defies meteorological logic. Why does he, as did others before him, persist in denying the truth? What does it benefit them to ignore the rain, pretend it does not fall, try to convince me that it exists only in my head? I know better than to passively accept their blatant lies. This rain is pure torture, I hate it as I have never hated anything before, but I will not delude myself into thinking it can be wished away. I know that the sky has not been emptied yet. I can feel the deluge in a place far more perceptive than my physical senses. A less patient man would be greatly disheartened. Not me though. I have the perfect wife and the perfect son, and one day the world will right itself and we will be together again. My role until then is a simple one that I will dutifully perform.

All I have to do is wait for the rain to stop falling.


Thursday, June 11, 2009

Who are these people

I must confess that after a little fiddling around to figure out what the heck was going on I quickly became addicted to Twitter. Of course you've heard of it already so I won't bother to describe. Earlier today on the way to work a subject popped into my head that I thought might be interesting to "tweet" about. I knew my rant would go on for awhile, but that was fine because I'd only be posting in increments of 140 characters (including spaces and with minimal regard to grammar) or less at a time. Even those with the shortest of attention spans could tolerate such miniature bursts of prose if they chose to pay me any attention at all. Below is my sequence of 46 concise comments on the state of modern day celebrity, in case you missed a few on Twitter and wish to follow my train of inane thought from start to finish. Enjoy!

* I’ve decided 2 rant a series of tweets about the current state of American celebrityhood, if not for your amusement than @ least for my own.

* Preface: Years ago I chose not to closely follow college sports. Reason – too many damn teams to keep track of.

* I can handle the # of teams in AFC/NFC – American League/National League, Eastern Conference/Western Conference.

* But there’s like a million colleges in the USA. Too many teams, too many divisions, too many players, too many bowl games to keep track of.

* I figured the players who were good enough I’d eventually see in the pros. In the meantime, ESPN highlights of college careers sufficient.

* Celebrities are now like college teams IMHO. Too many damn many of them. The requirements for admittance are ridiculously lax.

* It used to be that to acquire pop culture fame you needed to regularly appear on TV or in movies or have a few hit songs.

* Celebrities once did things worth noting and paying attention to, which is how they became celebrities in the first place.

* Nowadays it seems about as easy to be considered a celebrity as it is to get a 500 SAT score. Talk about lowering the bar.

* The celebrity bar is on the friggin’ floor. Make a YouTube video, you’re a star. Appear on a “reality show”, you’re a star.

* Be related to at least one person who actually did something to become a legit celebrity, guess what, now you’re a celebrity too.

* Being a child of Rod Stewart for example should not be enough to be called a celebrity. At most it’s a good line to help get you laid.

* Being the child of 2 whole celebs like Bruce Willis & Demi Moore should make you WAY better looking than Rumer, but not worthy of a Wikipedia page.

* How many half actual celebrity parented – half groupie parented kids must there be out there? Do they all qualify for celebrity status too?

* If an NBA All Star has a dozen kids by a dozen random women, are there now 12 new people to potentially be on the cover of People magazine?

* For a few months for some godforsaken reason I became a regular reader of Perez Hilton’s blog. Hilton became a celebrity in his own right by “writing” about and obscenely doodling on photographs of so called celebrities.

* I’m not knocking Hilton’s hustle. He no doubt worked damn hard to put that blog together. He actually accomplished something.

* In fact, ridiculous as his existence may be, Hilton was doing way more than many of the people he was either fawning over or ridiculing.

* I’ll grant Perez his fame, but why should the guy who came in 10th on America’s Gotta Dance While Eating Prawns be considered a celebrity?

* The word “celebrity” has become totally devoid of legitimate meaning. Shouldn’t a talent and an accomplishment be involved?

* Gossip columns were intended to be devoted to people who did something worthy enough for us to actually care about what else they did.

* Is the married Spencer Tracy hooking up with Katherine Hepburn or is she still involved with Howard Hughes? Now THAT’S gossip.

* Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn and Howard Hughes were each monumentally famous in their own rights, even more in collaboration.

* Is a cast member from Survivor Season 17 dating a cast member from The Apprentice Season 12? Maybe, maybe not, but who sincerely cares??!!!

* Apparently plenty of people DO care about mating rites of insta-celebs, which makes the appropriate question – Why? That one has me stumped.

* These hotel heiresses & reality show participants & game show contestants & kids of the formerly famous get all mixed together in my head.

* I stopped reading Hilton blog because I had no idea what Heidi Montag's done 2 make her worth repeatedly mentioning & didn't care 2 find out.

* What I do know is that there are a whole bunch people nowadays who are famous for being famous. That’s absurd, isn’t it? Or is it just me?

* Perhaps I’m just getting old. I want to remain in the loop of contemporary culture, but not if the loop is so flimsily constructed.

* I don’t mind reading about emerging movie or pop stars doing films & music I don’t care 4 because I can at least respect that they’re making something.

* Remember the flack Anna Kournikova took for getting way more endorsements & attention than her level of success warranted?

* At least Anna played tennis, won far more matches than she lost, even a couple titles. She didn’t just hold racquet & pose for camera at 1st.

* Being a Big Brother cast member is just sitting there holding a racquet. Nothing wrong with it but can we hold off on the Walk of Fame star?

* I’ve yet to see Zac Efron in anything but I know he acts/sings while being ridiculously pretty, and I can tolerate having this knowledge.

* Before he was Zac Efron he was Rob Lowe. Keith Partridge is now Hannah Montana. Different generation same principle, I get it.

* But why should I care about Jon & Kate and their 8? I’m 1 of 5, my mom 1 of 9, my dad 1 of 13. Not a single TV show resulted from any of this.

* And even if you do make it to TV, or to the internet which accepts everybody, that alone should not be enough to be considered a celebrity.

* Doesn’t the word celebrity imply that something is worth celebrating? Why would I celebrate someone becoming known for becoming known?

* Story on the ass size of daughter of the guy who defended O.J. appears directly next to story about volcano eruption that kills 2000. WTF?

* If side by side coverage was not the norm, existence of faux celebrities would fail to register & I’d have no complaint. But it is, so I do.

* The Maytag Repair man was on TV all the time but at no point did I know a damn thing about his sex life, and I was totally cool with that.

* Or maybe I really did want to know. Maybe I am subconsciously interested in the doings of those who have done little to nothing of note.

* Nah, that can’t be right. I’m much deeper than that. After all, I tweet therefore I am of significance.

* In fact, as of this tweet I declare myself a celebrity. Come see if you can snap my photo without getting slapped upside the head, paparazzi.

* This rant of sentences under 140 characters is done. I doubt anyone will have read the entire thing due to the bizarre nature of Twitter. [UNTIL NOW]

These tweets are the sole opinion of Roy L. Pickering Jr., aka
My brain is now over capacity.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Short Story Sunday - Part II

A married couple endures trials, tribulations and greasy food on the road to becoming adoptive parents.

Diner French Fries at Two in the Morning By Roy L. Pickering Jr.

Copyright held by Roy L. Pickering Jr.

Fred absentmindedly flipped through the selection of songs on the tableside jukebox in their diner booth. His wife Arlene made random patterns in the splotch of ketchup on her plate with a French fry. They had mostly avoided eye contact since placing their orders, kept conversation to a bare minimum. The silence would not last. There was too much to be said.

Fred and Arlene were a couple that frequented diners. It fell just short of being a hobby. The two of them had never been to this particular establishment before. They had never been anyplace in Delaware previously, except perhaps for a rest stop along the highway while passing through on the way elsewhere for one of their extended weekend east coast vacations. Fred was in the habit of ordering a side of fries with gravy from diner menus, since he had yet to encounter a diner that made the dish poorly, and he would devour them at what appeared to his wife to be an almost inhuman rate of speed. Upon completion, he would greedily stare at the fries sans gravy on Arlene’s plate and inevitably ask if she was eating the remainder of them. She decided that if he asked the question on this of all days, she just might stick her fork through his hand.

The diner was about one quarter full at two in the morning. Fred and Arlene did not pay much attention to the other customers, who ignored them right back. The two midnight shift waitresses wore pink and white uniforms, moving from table to table refilling coffee cups and water glasses with zombie-like determination. One of them had red hair and emphatically chewed gum like a cow working over its cud. The other was also a redhead, though not naturally so, and her nicotine stained fingernails indicated that cigarettes rather than Wrigley’s Doublemint was her drug of choice.

The hospital that Fred and Arlene had just left in their wake could be seen through the window if they craned their necks. Neither of them had any intention of looking back towards that bitter sight. They had not had a bite to eat in hours, but ate more for the sake of having something to do than to satisfy hunger. They were exhausted, but did not expect sleep to overcome them any time soon. Neither of them would cry, because they were overwhelmed by a form of sadness that was beyond tears.

“Maybe we should just give up on the whole thing,” Arlene said. “We could travel more. You could write that book you’re always promising to start. Instead of looking at this like it’s the end of the world, we could choose to see it as the beginning, as an opportunity to truly transform our lives.”

“Any decision we made at this point would be rash, Arlene. We’ll probably see things differently in the morning. Right now you’re focusing on how disappointed you are, and the fact that you never want to feel this way again. I don’t either. But the next time will be different, I really believe that. We just need to be patient.”

“I think Brenda took it even harder than us.”

Brenda was the social worker assigned to them by the adoption agency. Fred and Arlene had become quite fond of her over the course of the past two trying years. In that time, Brenda had brought them together with three women who chose them to be the adoptive parents of their babies. The first was Ashley, a 19 year old college student who had gotten drunk at a fraternity party and been taken advantage of by at least three guys she could recall. With a month of her pregnancy left to go, Ashley decided to keep her child.

The gum chewing waitress stopped at their table and poured them more ice water. Fred briefly wondered what her story was. Did she have a blue collar husband waiting at home? If not, had she ever been married, or did a series of one night stands to alleviate boredom and a few abbreviated relationships that never quite panned out define her love life? How had she been in bed at her sexual peak? How frequently did she get in the mood now? Did she have any kids, and if so, what was the pleasure to grief ratio that they caused her? Did she favor trashy novels, soap operas, the wit and wisdom of Oprah Winfrey, or the biblical guidance of televised evangelists? Did dissatisfaction gnaw at her perpetually, or had she mastered tricks to muzzle her state of discontent? It did not matter in the slightest to Fred what the answers to these questions were. He simply liked to ponder the hypothetical lives of people he crossed paths with before moving on and forgetting them entirely. This habit bestowed a measure of significance to even the most minor encounters of his days.

Their experience with Ashley made Fred and Arlene much more wary when they met Paulette. Brenda assured them that while there were no guarantees, they should be looking forward to a best case scenario taking place rather than dreading when the proverbial rug might be pulled out from beneath them. Paulette sincerely did not wish to raise a child on her own. Having grown up miserably in a single parent household, she wanted a more traditional upbringing for the child she had not intended to conceive. Two weeks before her due date, Paulette’s ex-boyfriend defied expectations by returning and proclaiming he was ready to be a husband and father. There was no longer a need for Fred and Arlene to be part of the equation. Strike two.

A young attractive Hispanic couple entered the diner. Arlene’s line of vision went straight to the woman’s rounded belly that indicated she was approximately four months pregnant. Her husband held his right hand protectively on the small of her back. Arlene surmised they were the exceedingly fertile type that could conceive by merely talking dirty to each other. She simply could not picture the woman needing to bother with persistently taking her temperature or any other measures to determine when she was ovulating. It was difficult to imagine her in bed after lovemaking with legs pointed towards the ceiling to clear the swimming lane for her husband’s sperm. To envision them taking fertility drugs, going through the ordeals of artificial insemination or In Vitro, was pretty much impossible. Arlene had acquired an ability over the past few years to glance at an expecting couple and instinctively know how carpeted or rocky their road to conception had been. It was a useless gift that she would have preferred not to possess.

After two years of attempting to get pregnant naturally, Arlene was tested and learned that her insides would not allow her to. The disappointment was dealt with reasonably well and other options were considered shortly thereafter. She and Fred discussed and discarded the idea of a surrogate mother. That left them with the decision to adopt, which led them to the wonderful agency that Brenda worked for and their close calls with Ashley and Paulette.

The third birthmother to select them was Lisa, who like Paulette was 24 years old and seemed to have her act together and priorities in order. Earlier that night, Lisa had given birth to a healthy six pounds eight ounces baby girl. Brenda excitedly called to let them know that the big day had arrived at last. Fred and Arlene jumped in their car and headed to Delaware. They were soon to be parents. The pain and disappointment of past experiences seemed like small price to pay for the exhilaration they were about to experience.

“I guess you should have stuck it out with Kelly.”

“Don’t talk like that, Arlene. I love you. I have no regrets.”

Fred spoke the truth. He could not remember the last time he had given any thought to the last woman he was seriously involved with prior to Arlene. He and Kelly had been living together, but were no longer all that ecstatic about the arrangement, when he first met Arlene. Fred did not leave Kelly to be with the woman he would eventually marry. That just happened to be how things themselves worked out. Within six months of his leaving the apartment they shared, both he and Kelly were deeply involved in new relationships that would lead to the altar. Kelly gave birth to twin boys and then a girl who was the spitting image of her in the next few years to follow. Good for her.

“I feel as if God, or fate, or whoever decides these things is trying to tell us something,” Arlene said. “Maybe we weren’t meant to be anybody’s parents. Maybe our three major setbacks, as you call them, have actually been three big signs that we need to acknowledge.”

“You would make, will make a wonderful mother. And I wouldn’t do half bad as a father. We both want a child, and eventually we will have one, or two, or ten. It’s been tougher to achieve than we anticipated, but it’s still what we want. Isn’t it, Arlene?”

Fred took hold of his wife’s hands, hoping to transfer some of whatever strength and confidence he had at his disposal into her soul. He hated having to watch her heart be broken, yet realized the silver lining that by throwing all of his energy into buoying her spirits, he was distracted from his own heartache. The moment at hand was a critical one, for Arlene was a very willful woman. Once her mind was set, she could not be easily swayed. A new quality replaced the warmth usually exuded from her pale blue eyes after Brenda broke the bad news to them at the hospital, and the name for it was resignation. Brenda’s words continued to echo in Fred’s mind.

“The father showed up. He’s stayed completely out of reach until now. I don’t know how to break this to you, except to just say it. He has refused to sign rights to the child over to you.”

“He wants custody?” Fred vaguely remembered himself stammering in disbelief.

“No, that isn’t it. Lisa is still putting her baby up for adoption. But she and the birthfather have chosen another couple to parent the child.”

“I don’t understand.” This time it was Arlene who spoke through her shock. “What does the father have against us? Perhaps we could talk to him, set his mind at ease.”

It was apparent that Brenda needed to force herself to look them straight on and steel herself for the task at hand. She was not responsible for the result, but it was her duty to report it. If there was anything she could do to change what she had to say, she would have done so without hesitation. But the rules were what they were, and their only choice was to abide by them.

“He does not want his child to be raised by white parents. There is no budging him on this stance. Lisa agreed to go with her second choice so he would sign the paperwork. I’m so sorry.”

Tomorrow morning Fred and Arlene would embark on the excruciatingly long ride home. If Arlene was able to emotionally recuperate from fate’s latest cruel twist, they would tell Brenda they were willing to wait for the next match and hold out hope for better luck next time. Otherwise, their plans would have to be remolded to fit into the new shape of their lives. Prior to their attempts to have a child, Fred would have characterized his marriage as a happy one. He and Arlene loved each other with greater depth and maturity each day. Yet Fred understood that happiness was not impenetrable, or impervious, or infinite. There were only so many hits it could take.

Once again, his water glass was refilled by the diligent sleepwalking waitress. Arlene’s glass was still full and her food was mostly untouched. She was desperate for a respite, for something else to talk or think about, anything other than the trials and tribulations of becoming a mother. Tonight she had gone through psychological labor without the end payoff of a bundle of supposed joy in her arms. She craved a deep, dreamless sleep. She longed for peace, quiet, and harmoniously shared solitude.

“Honey?” queried Fred with caution, though perhaps not a sufficient amount of it.


“Are you going to eat those fries?”