Lou became a different person when he talked about his dead brother. Each time he mentioned Joey’s name Lou’s own plain, pleasant face would animate. It was as if a locked cabinet door suddenly swung open, each time letting out bright treasures long stacked up and locked away for safekeeping.
Margaret learned not to interrupt the flow of memories; when she asked too many questions the stories might derail. Plus Lou tossed out medical terms that meant nothing to her. She had no idea he knew so much about medicine and genetic diseases.
She preferred the details about what his days with Joey had been like. “We’d sit on an old couch in the rec room and watch TV,” Lou recalled, and it took shape as he spoke. It was yellow and brown plaid and really ugly. Mrs. Bocci had covered it with a clashing afghan, luckily out of sight down in the remodeled cellar. Lou and Joey watched television down there in the darkened room, drinking cokes and eating candy bars. Or Lou did; Joey had to avoid sugar as his parents and medical team tried successive diet regimes to control his myriad conditions.
Lou and Joey were exactly the same height, and they had the same features. The boys were monozygotic, what they call identical twins. They were truly identical. Only 8% of twins are monozygotic, and double births like Lou and Joey make up only 3 in every 1,000 deliveries worldwide, regardless of race. The chances of a fertilization ending in monozygotic twins are the same, for every population everywhere, all around the world.
Lou’s voice took on a slightly lecturing tone as he recited each fact about Joey and his life. Margaret ate them up. The more facts he imparted the smarter she became, both about the topic of twins and about her boyfriend. With fraternal twins, Lou told her, the most frequent occurrence is brother/sister births. In identical or monozygotic twins, brother/brother births are the rarest births of all.
When the boys were out together in public it was more than obvious something was wrong. Clearly Joe was confined to a wheelchair or needed to use a cane to walk. If the viewer didn’t see the handicaps, though, Joey and Lou were identical. Without the cane or braces in plain sight, it was only when Joey coughed that someone could identify which twin was which.
As they aged they would likely become more alike, with the same IQ and personality. How twins are brought up, whether in the same house or separated at birth – that factor makes surprisingly little difference. Of course, the fact Joey was born with congenital defects complicated the math equation for the prediction. But the boys loved being twins; it was cool. Because of his brother, because of Joey, Lou was automatically special. While Joey was still alive, Lou stopped wanting to be an astronaut. For a time he wanted to go into genetic research.
Margaret went home each evening to sleep that was attended by strange dreams. Cells replicated in her dreams, forming up on the left into a perfectly regular human shape. On the opposite side, a tragically beautiful über-human took form. The gestalt was unquestionably male. But then the contour of the image blurred and curled at the edges, unable to hold his ideal form.
She woke up thinking about Lou and his frail, pale double.
Margaret began looking at Lou with different eyes. He simply wasn’t the same person as before. Lou hadn’t changed, of course, but his past and the absent twinned half that had been tragically cut down by illness, the part of him inexorably gone was the part Margaret found mysterious. The lost duplicate cells were of endless fascination for her.
In the hours between dates with Lou, Margaret daydreamed about her lover. How many other seemingly ordinary men and women might there be in the world, persons who seemed so common on the outside, all of them with their secrets and old tragedies. How many people had strange cloned or parallel universe doubles, tragically vanished and never to be retrieved? Maybe, she mused, maybe we all have doubles we sense on some strange level, and we mourn them without ever realizing it. When we talk about the search to find your soul mate, maybe what we really mean is your other half, the part you lost in some earlier life. And when you meet again in the current incarnation, you come together to be whole without even recognizing it’s happened. It’s just your missing twin, whom you’ve refound.
She scoffed at herself for such fanciful notions, but Margaret was a little bit envious of her boyfriend’s past history. Strangely, his incompleteness made him whole. Lou wasn’t a decent guy with a good if boring career. He was somehow so much more than the sum of his parts, both those existing and the ones that had vanished. Or maybe especially those parts that were dead. Not only did Margaret observe Lou with new eyes; she really saw him for the first time. Margaret began to fall in love.
– from my short story “Hit and Run” in Broken In: A Novel in Stories. Available online at amazon.com,amazon.de, and amazon in countries everywhere. Go to my posts Hit & Run 2 & 3 for more on Joey, Lou and Margaret.
“No one must ever come here,” Danny commented. Jilly was focused on the forest floor and didn’t answer, but he was right. The carpet of woods was undisturbed, and the trail she and her brother were following was unmarked by old boot tracks from anybody else.
Danny stopped to sit back on his heels and look up into the clear sky. The sound of Jilly’s woodpecker was louder; either they’d gotten nearer, or else the bird (or whatever was making the noise; he still wasn’t convinced it was necessarily a pecker) had flown in their direction. Tap tap tap tap thwock tap thwock. He stood back up. “Come on. Let’s go find your not-bird.”
Obediently Jilly followed, too happy with the day and the peace in the woods to respond to the comment. The trail narrowed, and the siblings walked single file without making noise as they followed an occasional tap thwock. The noise was less frequent and had stabilized itself to a point somewhere not far off.
Jilly looked behind her to see if she’d missed anything back down the trail, and promptly ran into her brother. Danny stood in the middle of it, concentrating on something ahead.
“Someone lives out here.” He pointed left. The trail rose a little, and they stood on the only point where the building could be seen clearly at all. Jilly squinted; she would need glasses soon, but so far nobody had noticed. Jilly’s quick wits compensated for what she lacked in visual acuity. Jilly narrowed her eyes into slits until she made out a dull brown building. It was a small hut, and the builder hadn’t bothered to clear out any of the trees or surrounding underbrush.
Danny and Jill went nearer, moving more slowly but intensely curious. Danny didn’t say anything as they kept following the trail. He ignored the No Trespassing sign nailed to a tree; Danny knew his sister hadn’t seen the other signs either, all warning they were on private property.
The trail ended abruptly. They stood at the edge of a wall of brambles, towering 4 feet above their heads. The screen of thick blackberry canes shielded the cabin from sight. Sharp points grabbed onto Danny’s knap sack when he went nearer, and he shrugged the pack off his shoulders and set it on the ground as he searched for a way through the thorny wall. The surrounding ground was awkward with rocks.
“We’ll never get through this,” Danny said.
“Over here.” His sister had found a path cunningly cut into the bramble, low enough that an adult would need to duck down to see it at all. The two children were just the right height to make out the path, visible only if you were searching for a way through the thicket. Jilly and her brother made their way into the low brush, moving carefully to avoid getting snagged.
They came out on the opposite side of the briar hedges and discovered they were close to the dwelling. It was constructed of smooth planks of wood and had a single door that was closed, and no windows. Jill moved back to the trees beyond the cabin, still looking for her bird. She vanished almost immediately into the darkness created by shadows of the tall trees. Danny circled around the side of the cabin.
He stepped into a messy clearing filled with wire cages, some of them with busted wire netting, all of them empty. Other than the ground under the abandoned cages, nothing had been cleaned or cleared. He discovered another, smaller hut almost completely hidden by the bushes and saplings crowding back into the forest.
There was no longer any sound of the hammering. “Told you there wasn’t a wood pecker,” Danny began to call after his sister. Before he could finish the words a shrill yapping drowned out his voice.
Danny shrieked and something banged against the hut’s inner walls. It went on banging without pause, as if a gigantic creature with fifty frantic scrabbling legs climbed up the wall in a desire to attack him. The yaps didn’t let up for a second. Things were hurling themselves against the planks, rabid with anger. For a moment the clearing was suddenly, terribly still, all sound sucked out of the day and into the creatures trying to break their way out of the cabin.
Danny glanced wildly around the clearing. He ran over to the cages and put his weight on the nearest one to see if they were stable enough for him to climb up out of biting range. He was testing the surprisingly thick wooden frames when the cabin’s owner stepped out in front of him.
Danny wondered why the burly man was wearing boots on a warm day, but the shovel the man carried took up his attention. “What’s your name? What do you think you’re doing?” The adult went on talking without waiting for an answer.
“I’m Danny Tarbery,” Danny answered. “I was just riding around, out exploring, that’s all.”
“Danny? Why, that’s my name, too.” The man came closer. “Danny. Dan. You can call me Big Dan. Little Danny, you’re a long ways from town for exploring.” Danny swallowed hard and tried not to make a face. Big Dan smelled unbelievably bad. It was a stench of very old sweat, the crusty plaid shirt he wore, and the mud caking the shovel and his boots with a combination of earth and partially decomposed swamp grasses.
Big Dan was directly in front of Danny but he didn’t stop coming. Danny backed up until he was cornered between the man, the cages, and the cabin. He stumbled a little as his body touched the back wall. The dogs became aware of his presence against it outside and Danny felt the boards yield. They threw themselves against the wood over and over, the movements harder and more insistent.
The man bared his lips and brown teeth showed in an incongruously attractive smile. He flicked almost white hair out of his face and never let go of the dirty shovel. “What d’you think you’re exploring for?”
There was a pause inside as the canines heard the older man’s voice. The thudding began again even harder. Danny literally felt them as they scrabbled up and down the other side of the thin planks. The frame and walls shuddered; the dogs were rabid to get outside. Danny began trembling, and couldn’t stop.
“You had to come looking even though the road out there has a bunch of No trespassing signs, right?” The owner pointed in the direction of the dirt track, clearly indicating it as the road in question. “You saw the signs, don’t pretend you didn’t.” He looked at Danny, calculating. “Boy, how old are you?”
“My step father’s waiting for me,” Danny began.
He heard the snapping of brush littering the ground off to the right on the far side of the cabin. The door to the cabin creaked as it opened and there was silence for four seconds. The air filled back up with shrill barking. Danny listened terrified as dogs sniffed the air and dashed towards where he stood trapped against the back wall of the cabin.
Calmly the man with the terrible smell turned and called out, “We got a visitor here. Stop!”
Danny watched in incomprehension as three dogs, far too small to have produced the huge amount of chaotic noise, immediately stood at attention. He wanted to laugh, but he was too scared. “Chihuahuas?” Danny said.
(Photo from Wikipedia)
– from my short story “Just Riding Around” in Broken In: A Novel in Stories. Available online at amazon.com,amazon.de, and amazon in countries everywhere.
Upstate NY; then the NW; and finally, Europe. Home is now a 1,200 year-old village near Stuttgart, Germany.
What do you do when you are not writing?
Ideally, travel. In my daily life I enjoy physical activity, exploring the cultural offerings here, cooking, and reading.
Do you have a day job as well?
I’ve been a massage therapist for 25 years. The intense one-on-one work is the perfect foil to the solitude writing requires. Also, working deeply with other peoples’ mind-body-spirit process provides a wonderful source of material for my stories.
Do you ever experience writer’s block?
I like each part of the writing process, so on days when new ideas aren’t coming, I’ll edit work-in-progress, or write blog posts.
Is there any particular author or book that influenced you in any way either growing up or as an adult?
Shakespeare. As a child I saw a college production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The theatre was filled to capacity, so my sister and I sat on the edge of the stage. When Puck sprinkled magical dew on the sleeping humans, we were showered as well. The drops that hit my skin were real to me! From that moment on, I was hooked. Later in college I studied Shakespeare and revere the way he knew us in all our foibles and flaws… and loved us in all our humanity anyway.
Tell us about your book…
Broken In: A Novel in Stories
Broken In may be read as a novel or as individual short stories.
Can you summarise the book for us?
In JJ’s, the bartender and a teenaged patron plan exotic trips. JJ’s chef meets several men who’d kill for her. Valuables and peace of mind literally get stolen. Couples celebrate, or split up. On a rainy night accidents happen and people vanish. These are the stories of people whose paths cross – or crash.
The tales begin in a bistro and move on to Bangkok, a carnival midway, and the bottom of a lake, among other places. Small acts have a huge impact, and people are connected in ways they never imagined.
How did you come up with the title?
Broken in can refer to comfortable shoes. It might be the way new employees learn the ropes, and how we adapt to our lives. But it’s often ominous, and signifies the theft of what we value. Each of my characters is forced to react to loss or the challenge of adjusting to being broken in, one way or another.
Is it going to be available as an ebook only or are you planning to print it too?
Broken In is available as a paperback and also as an eBook with Kindle.
How are you planning to price your book?
The paperback is £6.98 ($11.95) and the eBook is £2.49 ($3.99) on Kindle. The pricing in Euros is equivalent. These prices mean my book is reasonably priced for everyone.
Can you give us a little taster?
Here is an excerpt from “Looms Large” in Broken In: A Novel in Stories.
Judy reached the wading pool. Parents young and old dangled tiny children by their waists down into the shallow water. Other adults lurched, strangely hunched from the back. She walked past and saw the tiny people gripping index fingers and attempting the great walk of the upright, little feet between those of their parents, everybody’s legs sloshing happily through the water. At least 70 children had to be crowding into the pool: the surface was a dazzling panorama of tender sunbonnets in every possible color and configuration of flowers and cartoon characters.
Finally she found Steve. He’d been waving at her for some minutes to get her attention. Judy waved back. He’d laid a large brown blanket on the grassy verge at the edge of the lake. Tree shade just covered half of the blanket.
The park lawns were filled with bodies seeking the heat like winter creatures coming out of a long hard hibernation, but everyone was in a good mood. A family had claimed the next section of grass. The mother determinedly lay on her stomach with her breasts nestled in a pillow and her chin propped on the backs of her hands. Her entire concentration was focused on a popular paper back mystery opened on the blanket in front of her.
Her husband was left to supervise their children. A boy sat just above the water by two little girls in matching lime green swimsuits. The sisters bobbed inside bright orange life rings as they played in the lake. Their father was propped on his left elbow, leaving his right hand free for the beer hidden in a stubby can cooler. “Keep to where I can see you,” he ordered, but he wasn’t too concerned. He was sure they would be in less danger of getting drowned than they were in of being trampled. “If you go in deeper, you don’t go in without the life rings!” Okays drifted up the lawn towards him and all three turned back to their games.
“You wouldn’t believe the road traffic!” Judy gave Steve a hug and set down the food she’d carried halfway around the lake looking for him.
“You wouldn’t believe the traffic here on the lake front.” Steve yawned loudly and stretched back out on the blanket. Judy nudged him with her foot as she unpacked the lunch. “Hey. Don’t go to sleep on me, I just got here.”
“No chance of falling asleep with this racket,” Steve assured her. It was true: the water out in the deeper part of the lake was filled with people swimming or floating on air mattresses, while closer to the shore line a hundred small children laughed and splashed and shrieked. They made a joyous sounding, truly loud racket.
It fit the afternoon though, the languid mood of summer time when shadows move slowly across park lawns and picnic blankets. A slight breeze riffled the water into little waves; each one would send small children shrieking excited back out of reach for a second or two. On blankets and towels all around them people turned on their sides like sunflowers following the rays of the sun, or curled like large sleeping cats. The mother remained absorbed in her paperback mystery. Her husband’s head lolled where he’d fallen asleep still propped on his side.
Steve and Judy played Old Maid, and Judy kept winning. She’d figured out a system for cheating as a child, and couldn’t stop laughing as Steve became more and more frustrated with each hand he lost. “Just one more round!” he kept insisting.
A low, insistent shriek broke Steve’s concentration. It was similar to the piercing sounds made all afternoon by the lungs of the small children who filled the park. This one sounded different, though, a wail preceding the announcement of a disaster.
He dropped his hand of cards and the blanket bunched as he jumped up. Steve got to the water just as the little boy lost the life ring he’d pulled away from his sister. The little girl gurgled and vanished under the surface. Out in the water the bright orange ring bobbed, now empty. The little boy stood up to his neck in the lake shrieking. The ring floated further out and away. His other sister began to scream; only she and Steve had seen what had happened.
Their voices were drowned under the hundreds of other shrieking, laughing children, tinny radio music and the baseball game being broadcasted on a loud speaker, all the chatter of a hot summer afternoon on a waterfront in a city park.
Steve ran into the lake. He swam in the direction of the floating life ring, hoping the little girl had sunk somewhere in the general vicinity. When he reached what he thought was the point where she’d gone under, he began to dive.
Visibility was murky under the surface. He swam with outstretched hands and eyes searching desperately for signs of a body. Something kicked him hard in the cheek, and Steve resurfaced choking. The small child snug in his life vest simply paddled on past Steve in the water and flailed with skinny arms; he hadn’t even noticed the adult under the surface. Steve gasped in more air and dove again.
This time he was luckier and spotted a lime green object wafting in the under current. Steve grabbed her by the first part he could clutch, which was her shoulder strap. He swam back to the surface with strong strokes. Steve pulled the child’s head into the crook of his arm and made his way back to the shore.
When he emerged from the lake everything sounded far away at first, as though God had pressed a button and the world had been put on mute. With a rush his hearing returned, and the sensation of his own raspy breathing. He felt the water running off of his clothes as he lay the child on the grass and felt for a pulse. She lay as limp as a deboned fish.
Steve pumped her chest and turned her body onto the side. The lake water she’d swallowed came up in a sudden gush, and the child began to cough. Steve let out a high laugh with a feeling of exhilaration: she was alive after all. She arched her back to take in new breaths of the air. As she breathed in Steve felt his vision come tunneling back, whistling in with her new air. Her lungs expanded and compressed, and the colors of the world dimmed and glowed brighter along the ragged edges of each one of her breaths. The multiple layers of colors in the kites flying overhead, the fluttering sound they made in the suddenly windy afternoon, the breeze creating gooseflesh over his entire body, and the shadows flying back and forth over the edge of the water were almost unbearable.
Nobody except Judy witnessed the rescue. There was simply too much other activity in the lake and on the shoreline. The child’s parents listened in dozy incomprehension as the girl’s little sister and brother hysterically tried to explain where she’d gone. Incomprehension turned to puzzlement, and to horror. They scanned the lake surface, frantic by the time they finally spotted Steve resuscitating their daughter. They rushed over, the father’s eyes spilling with tears even though he could see she was going to be fine.
“She’s alive? How could I have? What sort of parent? In just a matter of seconds?” He spoke in fractures, unfinished questions, knowing there could be no answer to the enormity of the monstrous disaster that had almost happened. His muscles shivered in hard spasms, matching Steve’s.
Steve had begun to shake so hard that he had to sit down abruptly, almost falling on the child as she tried to sit up. The father grabbed Steve by the arm and helped him sit while he pumped his hand over and over, a wordless thank you. Everyone except Judy was crying.
Let’s talk a little more about your story…
Who is your favourite character in your book and why?
My favourite character is Gabe Burgess, the bartender at JJ’s. Gabe is adopted, and comes from a mixed background. One month out of every year, Gabe travels the globe looking for his roots. He comes to see the world as his home and that he’s connected to everything, everywhere. Gabe never stops questioning or attempting to see the world as it is. He’s the sort of human being I would most like to know, and to be.
How did you go about developing your characters?
While they aren’t based on actual people, I write characters who are real. Readers should pick up the book and identify themselves and people they know in my characters. To begin with a character, I flesh out with emotions and a background, and give them a situation or event to respond to. What interests me are 3-dimensional characters; you will not meet good vs. evil stereotypes in my stories.
Is there anything you’d change about your novel?
I learned so much writing this first book and hope the books to follow will reflect that fact. But, no, I would not change anything. Once I decided to publish, I had to let go of my book and send it off into the world!
Tell us about your publishing journey…
Why did you choose the self-publishing route?
I spent over a year trying to find an agent, without any luck. The one agency kind enough to write me a detailed response explained that with the advent of the Internet they couldn’t keep up with requests. Where they used to get 100 letters a week, they now receive 200 queries a day. It was clear that I’d need to find another route to publication!
I did a lot of research and it felt right to try self-publishing. My desire to see my work in print pushed me to take the risk.
Did you make any mistakes along the way?
Is there anything you’d like to recommend to other authors?
Yikes. A marketing plan is vital. Like most writers, my weak point is self-promotion. (My words should speak for themselves, right?) I am still figuring out that piece to the puzzle and am slowly getting better at it.
Have you used any professional author services?
What was your experience with them?
No. However, I belong to a terrific writers’ group and get steady feedback from my peers.
Is this your first self-published book?
While this is my first published novel, I wrote for over a decade as a European Correspondent for international massage magazines.
What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What has been the best compliment?
I took a writing class in college and the professor was clearly bored. We were a group of insecure young 18-year-olds, and her indifference was devastating. I would rather have a sincere critic than someone who just doesn’t care.
In terms of the best compliment, I have been told that dinner wasn’t cooked and conversations were delayed so that my readers could finish just one more page of my story! The second best compliment was that the story stayed with the readers long after they finished the novel.
How do you market your work? What avenues have you found work best for your genre?
I have a blog at http://jadicampbell.com/ and use it as a platform to build an audience and community. I email my contacts with information and updates as well. And my writers’ group does public readings several times a year.
What can we expect from you in the future?
I’m working steadily on my next novel. In it you’ll meet a former cult member and a therapist with a fear of flying. A collection of short stories is also in the works and receives all the tales that don’t seem to fit anywhere else for now. The blog has been surprisingly fun (and way more work than I ever expected). The huge world of bloggers out there constitute a generous and fascinating community.
My husband and I are avid travellers and impressions from around the world have found their way into all of my stories. I write about universal themes, sometimes in exotic settings, with characters we can all relate to.
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
Writing is like breathing for me. I’ve wanted to write since the age of 6. It’s given me enormous joy and satisfaction to make that dream a reality. All readers are welcome!
Bronwyn is in charge of our editorial services here at standoutbooks. You will generally find her helping our authors perfect their work. Unsurprisingly, she loves reading and is always on the lookout for that next great book.
Gabe was grateful that in all the years of his travels, no one had ever thought to inquire, “What’s the worst experience you ever had traveling? What’s the worst thing you ever witnessed?” The day he spent being witness outside of Krakow, Poland in the Auschwitz concentration camp was a terrible experience he never wanted to repeat. The atrocities humans committed against one another was beyond comprehension. And it wasn’t ancient history. It had happened in his parents’ lifetimes.
He could never understand the racism that had been involved. What could there possibly be in an identity or religion that would make someone want to wipe out an entire people? It was inconceivable to him, and he sent up a fervent thank you to whatever gods might be listening that this was so. No! There were some things he didn’t ever want to understand. Auschwitz broke his heart. Gabe cried his first adult tears sitting on a cold bench in front of an execution wall.
Sometimes for his month of travel he headed to the heat. He always had a loose theme to the four weeks, and one year it was ancient lost cultures. He traveled through a region where jungle archaeologists were reclaiming entire cities from the undergrowth.
Gabe got up early and caught the local bus. He spent happy hours at the site, with satisfaction doing what he’d come to call connecting some of the dots. If the world were a large puzzle, a Pointillism painting, Gabe’s slow explorations gave him more of the pieces to the puzzle, more and more of the dots in which a picture was slowly emerging.
That day he made further connections in terms of ancient civilization, art history, and cultural contexts. Gabe was overly pleased with himself. He decided not to wait for the next bus to rumble past the ruins. Ignoring the rain clouds threatening the skies, he began the long walk back to his hotel in town.
Twenty minutes later Gabe knew he’d miscalculated badly. The rain clouds blew lower and closer in no time. At the halfway point, the storm broke. Gabe would get soaked if he kept on the road and equally as drenched if he tried to turn back to the bus shelter at the entrance road to the ruins. He pulled his rain jacket (a marvel that rolled up upon itself into a small ball with a carrying band) out of his little daypack and went on trudging, shaking his head at his own foolish optimism.
Potholes filled first, creating wet craters. Gabe got closer to town and the traffic increased, the wheels of old cars and carts churning the rest of the street into ruts. In less than ten minutes the single dirt road turned to roiling mud. It rained even harder, hard drops that fell in steady, monotonous sheets. Gabe moved over closer to the shoulder away from the biggest vehicles. He had to share the edge of the muddy street with other people on foot, vendors pushing carts covered with folds of plastic cloths or sheets of cardboard, and bicycles and motorbikes.
The rest of the traffic converged in the center of the street, trying to find spots that hadn’t yet vanished into a river of wet earth. A motorbike with a family on the back passed Gabe. The father drove slowly, trying to keep the bike from tilting over into the stream. His wife sat behind him with her arms around and underneath the clear plastic rain poncho her husband wore; a small boy perched, balanced in the seat behind her. He was wedged between the woman and the sacks of potatoes and peppers lashed to the rear of the motorbike.
There was a blare of arguing horns and out of the storm a jeep appeared. Sheets of rain obscured the view. The jeep driver headed alarmingly fast down the direct center of the road, his horn louder as the jeep got closer. When it was near enough people could see it was a government vehicle, and everyone moved over to the sides of the road to let it by.
Before anyone could grasp the danger the jeep was upon them. The driver kept one hand pressed on the horn as people scrambled in the mud. Gabe watched in horror as the motorbike with the family hit a pothole. The father put out a frantic foot trying to brake, but it was too late. The motorbike went over on its side. His body disappeared under water and the jeep ran over his leg.
People screamed for the jeep to stop but it never even slowed down; the driver now had both hands jammed on the horn and his foot on the gas pedal. He continued determinedly on down through the river of mud. Gabe could reach out and touch the bumper as it rushed by, it was so close.
The jeep was swallowed up in the sheets of rain and only the victims and witnesses remained. The jeep hadn’t carried any license plates and even if he had seen one Gabe was kilometers away from a police station. Who was he going to report to? All he could do was try to help the man who’d been run over. At least it had only been his booted foot, and that had been down in the pothole; maybe the man wasn’t hurt too badly.
Gabe turned back to the sodden street as rain rushed down his face and over his rain slicker. Through the damp he saw the fallen figures. The blare of the jeep horn faded, and a human voice’s wail began to compete with the sound of the waters crashing from the opened skies. Other voices joined the first one.
The traffic swerved around the center where people had gathered in a loose circle. Gabe moved closer and the driver dragged himself away from the fallen motorcycle. The man was limping, but he was up on his feet.
The motorcycle was already half buried by mud washing up over and against the frame in fast moving spurts; the bags lashed to the back of the bike had broken open. Lumps that had to be potatoes lay in the stream, some of them slowly rolling away in the force of the moving rainwater.
But the pair ignored the tubers and didn’t try to gather them back up. They huddled over another one of the sacks in the road as they wailed. Gabe tried futilely to push the water from his eyes. He shook his head to clear it, and then he saw the injured man and his wife were sitting in the mud as they held the body of their son. He lay like a broken toy, like a rag doll, small limp limbs dangling from his parents’ cradling hands.
The circle of people standing around them gently lifted the couple and half carried, half walked them over to the useless safety of the field at the side of the road. Gabe bodily lifted the damaged motorbike and carried it out of the street. Determinedly everyone moved back in the river that had been a road and collected potatoes. They ignored the blares of cars trying to navigate around them. They picked up the last of potatoes and the burst sack and returned them to the hapless parents.
Gabe thought, Where’s the nearest hospital? His next thought was the sad realization that a local hospital was probably located next to the nearest police station: a hundred kilometers away in the next city. A clinic, he thought desperately. But the country had no money for health services, and only Bread for the World and Doctors without Borders had any kind of a presence in the region. Gabe couldn’t speak any of the local languages and he had no training in anything more than the most rudimentary medicine.
Despairing, knowing there was nothing more he could do to help, Gabe resumed the harder trudge back towards the center.
Alone back in his hotel room, he drank to get blind drunk. Whether his eyes were opened or closed he saw the broken doll body of the undernourished child, the grief on the faces of the child’s parents. Worst of all was realizing his own helplessness to do anything whatsoever. There was nothing he could have done that afternoon to change the outcome and nothing he could do now. Gabe cried, for the first time since the visit to Auschwitz years earlier. They were bitter tears that refused to stop coming. Gabe was as unable to halt them as he was to halt the rains still falling outside of his room in the shabby hotel.
No one ever asked him, What’s the worst thing you’ve ever seen traveling? Gabe knew it was the rainy day, the motorbike with a family riding on the back. What’s the worst thing you’ve ever seen traveling? If asked he wouldn’t have answered, because he carried the pain of that memory too close to his heart. It stayed alive and refused to fade. The worst thing he ever witnessed remained dangerously in real time, on a wet road between towns without names. It created a place of secret despair and awareness that the world was not a place of entirely benevolent forces.
It became his most closely held secret. Despite the sad knowledge, or perhaps because of it, Gabe determined to live as if the opposite might be true. That experience was seminal, one that defined who he was as a human being, in the inner place where his heart really beat.
– from my short story “Waiting” in Broken In: A Novel in Stories. Available online at amazon.com,amazon.de, and amazon in countries everywhere.
In a post titled Punctured, we met Jeremy: he works in a food co-op and is bitten by a gigantic Thai centipede. Earlier Jeremy worked in a coolants factory that moved operations; repaired stereo turntables until CDs took over; and serviced video stores where the only genre patrons regularly rented was pornography. Then, with the advent of on-line downloads, those shops closed as well.
He’s tried to involve his wife in some aspect of each new venture. Now Jeremy’s at the co-op, and Abigail’s nervous…
Jeremy got a job at the market and the offerings for her continued education went from disks to baskets full of items Abigail couldn’t begin to identify. “Whole foods?” Abigail asked bewildered. “What, have I been cooking halves all this time?” Her culinary repertoire consisted of items like tuna surprise, or flank steak with teriyaki sauce.
As Jeremy introduced new ingredients for her to cook, Abigail despaired. The experiment with pornography had wearied her in more than just her body. The effort to familiarize herself with her husband’s latest employment arena was too much. Abigail couldn’t even begin to cook with broccoli rape, celeriac, rose apples, or salsify…
just looking up the latter food and realizing that it was a vegetable also known as oyster plant rendered it too foreign. If she didn’t know where to start with a real oyster, how in the world would she find her way around a dastardly, cleverly named root vegetable you had to wear rubber gloves to prepare?
Abby stood in her kitchen, lost. She resented feeling inadequate, but she felt guilty, too. Nothing says loving like something in the oven. Which part was true, she wondered. Love, for whom? Something in the oven, but what?
Her husband had assaulted her senses one by one. First it was her sense of touch with the air conditioners. Sound had proved inadequate with the stereo shops. Her senses of sight, sound and touch were simultaneously overwhelmed by pornography. Currently the food store derided her sense of taste. Abigail wondered depressed what would be next for her sense of smell.
Abby leafed through the cookbook he bought her and sighed, looking without success for familiar ingredients. Miracle whip. Devils food cake. Cowboy beans and chili. A slice of American cheese on a burger. Jell-O with fruit cocktail. When she confessed this to Jeremy, he said, “I married a Betty Crocker cliché.”
He had been dismayed when she first cooked for him. After all those great meals in exotic countries of curries, tom yum gum soups, and completely fresh ingredients, Abby’s cooking was like going from Technicolor to a 50’s black and white film clip. She served fish sticks bearing little resemblance to the fish dishes of his recent memory.
“I made homemade tartar sauce!” she announced proudly.
Jeremy spooned out mayonnaise with pickles cut into it and smiled weakly.
The first time she tried to cook him Indian food Abigail choked almost to death because she had no idea that the whole spices all get taken out or pushed to one side, and are not eaten. Ditto with the hot chilies used for flavor.
New ingredients were dangerous. For her, bourbon vanilla meant cheap cooking sherry. Cans of condensed soup were her friends.
Abby loved tuna surprise, and the most exotic dish she could cook was a quiche. “If life is a banquet,” she thought, “I must be cheese Doritos chips. I am flat cherry soda.”
– from my short story “Punctured” in Broken In: A Novel in Stories. Available online at amazon.com,amazon.de, and amazon in countries everywhere.
Go to the post titled Punctured to read more about Jeremy.
(All photogaphs can be enlarged by simply clicking on the image.)
More pictures from our trips and of Uwe’s photography may be viewed at viewpics.de.
Salsify: also called scorzifora and ‘the poor man’s oyster’ (photo from Wikipedia)
Pomolo: gigantic relative of grapefruit, can grow to the size of a basketball
Dragon fruit: thick red rind is peeled away to reveal citrus fruit with pale flesh flecked with black seeds
Mekong seaweed: river weed harvested from Mekong River. Often fried in thin sheets with garlic or sesame seeds. In Luang Prabang, Laos, a specialty eaten with dipping sauce that includes pounded water buffalo skin as an ingredient
Pieter was right: the temple massages at Wat Pho really were awesome. Lisa wasn’t surprised by how crowded the site was, because it was dazzlingly, exotically beautiful. All of the palace buildings had golden roofs that gracefully swooped down and curled back up towards the heavens. Guardian demons held up columns or stood with watchful eyes. All of the surfaces were covered with encrusted diamond shapes of colored glass, or tiny mirrors. Throngs of tourists wandered with cameras and guidebooks, admiring the buildings that glittered in the bright Thai sun. “It’s almost as if this entire site is winking at us!” Lisa exclaimed.
Lisa and Babs wandered with their own cameras until they found the traditional massage school. An attendant asked them what kind of session they wanted (how long? what style massage? rather from a male or female therapist, or no preference?) and assigned them numbers. Babs’s number was called first and she looked nervous as she vanished out of sight with a therapist. A few minutes later Lisa heard 32 announced. She stood up and a young Thai woman led her to a different building.
The slats of the rattan walls in the low open structure let in both light and air. Lisa was led to the back of the long room, filled with low mats to the left and right. All around her fully clothed people lay on backs or stomachs as Thai therapists pulled at their limbs. Her therapist pointed for Lisa to lie down, and Lisa watched intently as the Thai girl put her palms together in front of her chest and whispered a prayer. She took one of Lisa’s legs in her hands, and Lisa forgot everything around her as the therapist smoothed away the knots of travel.
In the tropical climate Babs’s own long blond hair had gone completely limp. Babs was miserable. She was pretending she wasn’t shocked and frightened of the foreign megalopolis. Thailand’s capitol city might be a short plane ride away from Singapore. In reality, Bangkok was light years distant from any sanitized, orderly place. Babs knew Lisa admired her for what she perceived to be Babs’s sophistication and worldliness, her previous international travel experience. But just a few days in Bangkok quickly forced Babs to admit how terribly narrow the contours of her worldly knowledge were.
She was terrified of the jostling throngs and afraid of the foreign faces hurrying down the streets. The Bay Area consisted of lots of ethnic groups, of Americans. The jumble of nationalities here was far too authentic. If one more sticky brown body brushed against hers, she would have to scream.
At the temple Babs had been unable to relax despite the massage therapist’s coaxing, dexterous fingers. She had lain fearful and stiff, horribly awkward as a stranger touched her. Babs left the temple with an uncomfortable awareness of how uptight she was and no idea of how to release it.
Her sinuses were clogged with humidity and the aromas of overripe fruits and other odors she couldn’t identify. The stench from open food grills just made her want to gag, while the sly, half closed eyes of the Buddhas in their strange rich temples frightened her. They watched Babs, and on all accounts they found her wanting. The glittering Thai world was simultaneously far too blinding, and contained far too much clarity.
Lisa noticed nothing of how scared Babs was. Instead, Lisa charged head first into the contradictory experience of the crowded streets and serene, glittering temples. Babs was dismayed first by her friend Lisa’s surprising lack of fear, and next by her startling physical transformation. For the first time in their friendship she was discerning a little stab of jealousy against plain Lisa.
– from my short story “Banged Cock” in Broken In: A Novel in Stories. Available online at amazon.com,amazon.de, and amazon in countries everywhere.
(All photogaphs can be enlarged by simply clicking on the image.)
More pictures from our trips to Thailand, and of Uwe’s photography, may be viewed at viewpics.de.