Ugrás a tartalomhoz Lépj a menübe


Jerome K. Jerome: Three Men in a Boat (Extract) 



O, on the following evening, we again assembled, to discuss and arrange our plans.Harris said:

"Now, the first thing to settle is what to take with us. Now, you get a bit of paper and write down, J., and you get the grocery catalogue, George, and somebody give me a bit of pencil, and then I'll make out a list."

That's Harris all over - so ready to take the burden of everything himself, and put it on the backs of other people.

He always reminds me of my poor Uncle Podger. You never saw such a commotion up and down a house, in all your life, as when my Uncle Podger undertook to do a job. A picture would have come home from the frame-maker's, and be standing in the dining-room, waiting to be put up; and Aunt Podger would ask what was to be done with it, and Uncle Podger would say:
"Oh, you leave that to me. Don't you, any of you, worry yourselves about that. I'll do all that."

And then he would take off his coat, and begin. He would send the girl out for sixpen'orth of nails, and then one of the boys after her to tell her what size to get; and, from that, he would gradually work down, and start the whole house.

"Now you go and get me my hammer, Will," he would shout; "and you bring me the rule, Tom; and I shall want the step-ladder, and I had better have a kitchen-chair, too; and, Jim! you run round to Mr. Goggles, and tell him, `Pa's kind regards, and hopes his leg's better; and will he lend him his spirit-level?' And don't you go, Maria, because I shall want somebody to hold me the light; and when the girl comes back, she must go out again for a bit of picture-cord; and Tom! - where's Tom? - Tom, you come here; I shall want you to hand me up the picture."

And then he would lift up the picture, and drop it, and it would come out of the frame, and he would try to save the glass, and cut himself; and then he would spring round the room, looking for his handkerchief. He could not find his handkerchief, because it was in the pocket of the coat he had taken off, and he did not know where he had put the coat, and all the house had to leave off looking for his tools, and start looking for his coat; while he would dance round and hinder them.

"Doesn't anybody in the whole house know where my coat is? I never came across such a set in all my life - upon my word I didn't. Six of you! - and you can't find a coat that I put down not five minutes ago! Well, of all the - "

Then he'd get up, and find that he had been sitting on it, and would call out:
"Oh, you can give it up! I've found it myself now. Might just as well ask the cat to find anything as expect you people to find it."

And, when half an hour had been spent in tying up his finger, and a new glass had been got, and the tools, and the ladder, and the chair, and the candle had been brought, he would have another go, the whole family, including the girl and the charwoman, standing round in a semi-circle, ready to help. Two people would have to hold the chair, and a third would help him up on it, and hold him there, and a fourth would hand him a nail, and a fifth would pass him up the hammer, and he would take hold of the nail, and drop it.

"There!" he would say, in an injured tone, "now the nail's gone."

And we would all have to go down on our knees and grovel for it, while he would stand on the chair, and grunt, and want to know if he was to be kept there all the evening.

The nail would be found at last, but by that time he would have lost the hammer.

"Where's the hammer? What did I do with the hammer? Great heavens! Seven of you, gaping round there, and you don't know what I did with the hammer!"

We would find the hammer for him, and then he would have lost sight of the mark he had made on the wall, where the nail was to go in, and each of us had to get up on the chair, beside him, and see if we could find it; and we would each discover it in a different place, and he would call us all fools, one after another, and tell us to get down. And he would take the rule, and re-measure, and find that he wanted half thirty-one and three-eighths inches from the corner, and would try to do it in his head, and go mad.

And we would all try to do it in our heads, and all arrive at different results, and sneer at one another. And in the general row, the original number would be forgotten, and Uncle Podger would have to measure it again.

He would use a bit of string this time, and at the critical moment, when the old fool was leaning over the chair at an angle of forty-five, and trying to reach a point three inches beyond what was possible for him to reach, the string would slip, and down he would slide on to the piano, a really fine musical effect being produced by the suddenness with which his head and body struck all the notes at the same time.

And Aunt Maria would say that she would not allow the children to stand round and hear such language.

At last, Uncle Podger would get the spot fixed again, and put the point of the nail on it with his left hand, and take the hammer in his right hand. And, with the first blow, he would smash his thumb, and drop the hammer, with a yell, on somebody's toes.

Aunt Maria would mildly observe that, next time Uncle Podger was going to hammer a nail into the wall, she hoped he'd let her know in time, so that she could make arrangements to go and spend a week with her mother while it was being done.

"Oh! you women, you make such a fuss over everything," Uncle Podger would reply, picking himself up. "Why, I like doing a little job of this sort."

And then he would have another try, and, at the second blow, the nail would go clean through the plaster, and half the hammer after it, and Uncle Podger be precipitated against the wall with force nearly sufficient to flatten his nose.

Then we had to find the rule and the string again, and a new hole was made; and, about midnight, the picture would be up - very crooked and insecure, the wall for yards round looking as if it had been smoothed down with a rake, and everybody dead beat and wretched - except Uncle Podger.

"There you are," he would say, stepping heavily off the chair on to the charwoman's corns, and surveying the mess he had made with evident pride. "Why, some people would have had a man in to do a little thing like that!"

Harris will be just that sort of man when he grows up, I know, and I told him so. I said I could not permit him to take so much labour upon himself. I said:

"No; you get the paper, and the pencil, and the catalogue, and George write down, and I'll do the work." 


Velveteen Rabbit


by Margery Williams
Illustrations by William Nicholson

Garden City New York 



HERE was once a velveteen rabbit, and in the beginning he was really splendid. He was fat and bunchy, as a rabbit should be; his coat was spotted brown and white, he had real thread whiskers, and his ears were lined with pink sateen. On Christmas morning, when he sat wedged in the top of the Boy's stocking, with a sprig of holly between his paws, the effect was charming.

There were other things in the stocking, nuts and oranges and a toy engine, and chocolate almonds and a clockwork mouse, but the Rabbit was quite the best of all. For at least two hours the Boy loved him, and then Aunts and Uncles came to dinner, and there was a great rustling of tissue paper and unwrapping of parcels, and in the excitement of looking at all the new presents the Velveteen Rabbit was forgotten.

Christmas Morning

For a long time he lived in the toy cupboard or on the nursery floor, and no one thought very much about him. He was naturally shy, and being only made of velveteen, some of the more expensive toys quite snubbed him. The mechanical toys were very superior, and looked down upon every one else; they were full of modern ideas, and pretended they were real. The model boat, who had lived through two seasons and lost most of his paint, caught the tone from them and never missed an opportunity of referring to his rigging in technical terms. The Rabbit could not claim to be a model of anything, for he didn't know that real rabbits existed; he thought they were all stuffed with sawdust like himself, and he understood that sawdust was quite out-of-date and should never be mentioned in modern circles. Even Timothy, the jointed wooden lion, who was made by the disabled soldiers, and should have had broader views, put on airs and pretended he was connected with Government. Between them all the poor little Rabbit was made to feel himself very insignificant and commonplace, and the only person who was kind to him at all was the Skin Horse.

The Skin Horse had lived longer in the nursery than any of the others. He was so old that his brown coat was bald in patches and showed the seams underneath, and most of the hairs in his tail had been pulled out to string bead necklaces. He was wise, for he had seen a long succession of mechanical toys arrive to boast and swagger, and by-and-by break their mainsprings and pass away, and he knew that they were only toys, and would never turn into anything else. For nursery magic is very strange and wonderful, and only those playthings that are old and wise and experienced like the Skin Horse understand all about it.

"What is REAL?" asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. "Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"

"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."

"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.

"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."

"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?"

"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."

"I suppose you are real?" said the Rabbit. And then he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive. But the Skin Horse only smiled.

The Skin Horse Tells His Story

"The Boy's Uncle made me Real," he said. "That was a great many years ago; but once you are Real you can't become unreal again. It lasts for always."

The Rabbit sighed. He thought it would be a long time before this magic called Real happened to him. He longed to become Real, to know what it felt like; and yet the idea of growing shabby and losing his eyes and whiskers was rather sad. He wished that he could become it without these uncomfortable things happening to him.

There was a person called Nana who ruled the nursery. Sometimes she took no notice of the playthings lying about, and sometimes, for no reason whatever, she went swooping about like a great wind and hustled them away in cupboards. She called this "tidying up," and the playthings all hated it, especially the tin ones. The Rabbit didn't mind it so much, for wherever he was thrown he came down soft.

One evening, when the Boy was going to bed, he couldn't find the china dog that always slept with him. Nana was in a hurry, and it was too much trouble to hunt for china dogs at bedtime, so she simply looked about her, and seeing that the toy cupboard door stood open, she made a swoop.

"Here," she said, "take your old Bunny! He'll do to sleep with you!" And she dragged the Rabbit out by one ear, and put him into the Boy's arms.

That night, and for many nights after, the Velveteen Rabbit slept in the Boy's bed. At first he found it rather uncomfortable, for the Boy hugged him very tight, and sometimes he rolled over on him, and sometimes he pushed him so far under the pillow that the Rabbit could scarcely breathe. And he missed, too, those long moonlight hours in the nursery, when all the house was silent, and his talks with the Skin Horse. But very soon he grew to like it, for the Boy used to talk to him, and made nice tunnels for him under the bedclothes that he said were like the burrows the real rabbits lived in. And they had splendid games together, in whispers, when Nana had gone away to her supper and left the night-light burning on the mantelpiece. And when the Boy dropped off to sleep, the Rabbit would snuggle down close under his little warm chin and dream, with the Boy's hands clasped close round him all night long.

And so time went on, and the little Rabbit was very happy–so happy that he never noticed how his beautiful velveteen fur was getting shabbier and shabbier, and his tail becoming unsewn, and all the pink rubbed off his nose where the Boy had kissed him.

Spring came, and they had long days in the garden, for wherever the Boy went the Rabbit went too. He had rides in the wheelbarrow, and picnics on the grass, and lovely fairy huts built for him under the raspberry canes behind the flower border. And once, when the Boy was called away suddenly to go out to tea, the Rabbit was left out on the lawn until long after dusk, and Nana had to come and look for him with the candle because the Boy couldn't go to sleep unless he was there. He was wet through with the dew and quite earthy from diving into the burrows the Boy had made for him in the flower bed, and Nana grumbled as she rubbed him off with a corner of her apron.

Spring Time

"You must have your old Bunny!" she said. "Fancy all that fuss for a toy!"

The Boy sat up in bed and stretched out his hands.

"Give me my Bunny!" he said. "You mustn't say that. He isn't a toy. He's REAL!"

When the little Rabbit heard that he was happy, for he knew that what the Skin Horse had said was true at last. The nursery magic had happened to him, and he was a toy no longer. He was Real. The Boy himself had said it.

That night he was almost too happy to sleep, and so much love stirred in his little sawdust heart that it almost burst. And into his boot-button eyes, that had long ago lost their polish, there came a look of wisdom and beauty, so that even Nana noticed it next morning when she picked him up, and said, "I declare if that old Bunny hasn't got quite a knowing expression!"


That was a wonderful Summer!

Near the house where they lived there was a wood, and in the long June evenings the Boy liked to go there after tea to play. He took the Velveteen Rabbit with him, and before he wandered off to pick flowers, or play at brigands among the trees, he always made the Rabbit a little nest somewhere among the bracken, where he would be quite cosy, for he was a kind-hearted little boy and he liked Bunny to be comfortable. One evening, while the Rabbit was lying there alone, watching the ants that ran to and fro between his velvet paws in the grass, he saw two strange beings creep out of the tall bracken near him.

They were rabbits like himself, but quite furry and brand-new. They must have been very well made, for their seams didn't show at all, and they changed shape in a queer way when they moved; one minute they were long and thin and the next minute fat and bunchy, instead of always staying the same like he did. Their feet padded softly on the ground, and they crept quite close to him, twitching their noses, while the Rabbit stared hard to see which side the clockwork stuck out, for he knew that people who jump generally have something to wind them up. But he couldn't see it. They were evidently a new kind of rabbit altogether.

Summer Days

They stared at him, and the little Rabbit stared back. And all the time their noses twitched.

"Why don't you get up and play with us?" one of them asked.

"I don't feel like it," said the Rabbit, for he didn't want to explain that he had no clockwork.

"Ho!" said the furry rabbit. "It's as easy as anything," And he gave a big hop sideways and stood on his hind legs.

"I don't believe you can!" he said.

"I can!" said the little Rabbit. "I can jump higher than anything!" He meant when the Boy threw him, but of course he didn't want to say so.

"Can you hop on your hind legs?" asked the furry rabbit.

That was a dreadful question, for the Velveteen Rabbit had no hind legs at all! The back of him was made all in one piece, like a pincushion. He sat still in the bracken, and hoped that the other rabbits wouldn't notice.

"I don't want to!" he said again.

But the wild rabbits have very sharp eyes. And this one stretched out his neck and looked.

"He hasn't got any hind legs!" he called out. "Fancy a rabbit without any hind legs!" And he began to laugh.

"I have!" cried the little Rabbit. "I have got hind legs! I am sitting on them!"

"Then stretch them out and show me, like this!" said the wild rabbit. And he began to whirl round and dance, till the little Rabbit got quite dizzy.

"I don't like dancing," he said. "I'd rather sit still!"

But all the while he was longing to dance, for a funny new tickly feeling ran through him, and he felt he would give anything in the world to be able to jump about like these rabbits did.

The strange rabbit stopped dancing, and came quite close. He came so close this time that his long whiskers brushed the Velveteen Rabbit's ear, and then he wrinkled his nose suddenly and flattened his ears and jumped backwards.

"He doesn't smell right!" he exclaimed. "He isn't a rabbit at all! He isn't real!"

"I am Real!" said the little Rabbit. "I am Real! The Boy said so!" And he nearly began to cry.

Just then there was a sound of footsteps, and the Boy ran past near them, and with a stamp of feet and a flash of white tails the two strange rabbits disappeared.

"Come back and play with me!" called the little Rabbit. "Oh, do come back! I know I am Real!"

But there was no answer, only the little ants ran to and fro, and the bracken swayed gently where the two strangers had passed. The Velveteen Rabbit was all alone.

"Oh, dear!" he thought. "Why did they run away like that? Why couldn't they stop and talk to me?"

For a long time he lay very still, watching the bracken, and hoping that they would come back. But they never returned, and presently the sun sank lower and the little white moths fluttered out, and the Boy came and carried him home.


Weeks passed, and the little Rabbit grew very old and shabby, but the Boy loved him just as much. He loved him so hard that he loved all his whiskers off, and the pink lining to his ears turned grey, and his brown spots faded. He even began to lose his shape, and he scarcely looked like a rabbit any more, except to the Boy. To him he was always beautiful, and that was all that the little Rabbit cared about. He didn't mind how he looked to other people, because the nursery magic had made him Real, and when you are Real shabbiness doesn't matter.

And then, one day, the Boy was ill.

His face grew very flushed, and he talked in his sleep, and his little body was so hot that it burned the Rabbit when he held him close. Strange people came and went in the nursery, and a light burned all night and through it all the little Velveteen Rabbit lay there, hidden from sight under the bedclothes, and he never stirred, for he was afraid that if they found him some one might take him away, and he knew that the Boy needed him.

It was a long weary time, for the Boy was too ill to play, and the little Rabbit found it rather dull with nothing to do all day long. But he snuggled down patiently, and looked forward to the time when the Boy should be well again, and they would go out in the garden amongst the flowers and the butterflies and play splendid games in the raspberry thicket like they used to. All sorts of delightful things he planned, and while the Boy lay half asleep he crept up close to the pillow and whispered them in his ear. And presently the fever turned, and the Boy got better. He was able to sit up in bed and look at picture-books, while the little Rabbit cuddled close at his side. And one day, they let him get up and dress.

It was a bright, sunny morning, and the windows stood wide open. They had carried the Boy out on to the balcony, wrapped in a shawl, and the little Rabbit lay tangled up among the bedclothes, thinking.

The Boy was going to the seaside to-morrow. Everything was arranged, and now it only remained to carry out the doctor's orders. They talked about it all, while the little Rabbit lay under the bedclothes, with just his head peeping out, and listened. The room was to be disinfected, and all the books and toys that the Boy had played with in bed must be burnt.

"Hurrah!" thought the little Rabbit. "To-morrow we shall go to the seaside!" For the boy had often talked of the seaside, and he wanted very much to see the big waves coming in, and the tiny crabs, and the sand castles.

Just then Nana caught sight of him.

"How about his old Bunny?" she asked.

"That?" said the doctor. "Why, it's a mass of scarlet fever germs!–Burn it at once. What? Nonsense! Get him a new one. He mustn't have that any more!"

Anxious Times

And so the little Rabbit was put into a sack with the old picture-books and a lot of rubbish, and carried out to the end of the garden behind the fowl-house. That was a fine place to make a bonfire, only the gardener was too busy just then to attend to it. He had the potatoes to dig and the green peas to gather, but next morning he promised to come quite early and burn the whole lot.

That night the Boy slept in a different bedroom, and he had a new bunny to sleep with him. It was a splendid bunny, all white plush with real glass eyes, but the Boy was too excited to care very much about it. For to-morrow he was going to the seaside, and that in itself was such a wonderful thing that he could think of nothing else.

And while the Boy was asleep, dreaming of the seaside, the little Rabbit lay among the old picture-books in the corner behind the fowl-house, and he felt very lonely. The sack had been left untied, and so by wriggling a bit he was able to get his head through the opening and look out. He was shivering a little, for he had always been used to sleeping in a proper bed, and by this time his coat had worn so thin and threadbare from hugging that it was no longer any protection to him. Near by he could see the thicket of raspberry canes, growing tall and close like a tropical jungle, in whose shadow he had played with the Boy on bygone mornings. He thought of those long sunlit hours in the garden–how happy they were–and a great sadness came over him. He seemed to see them all pass before him, each more beautiful than the other, the fairy huts in the flower-bed, the quiet evenings in the wood when he lay in the bracken and the little ants ran over his paws; the wonderful day when he first knew that he was Real. He thought of the Skin Horse, so wise and gentle, and all that he had told him. Of what use was it to be loved and lose one's beauty and become Real if it all ended like this? And a tear, a real tear, trickled down his little shabby velvet nose and fell to the ground.

And then a strange thing happened. For where the tear had fallen a flower grew out of the ground, a mysterious flower, not at all like any that grew in the garden. It had slender green leaves the colour of emeralds, and in the centre of the leaves a blossom like a golden cup. It was so beautiful that the little Rabbit forgot to cry, and just lay there watching it. And presently the blossom opened, and out of it there stepped a fairy.

She was quite the loveliest fairy in the whole world. Her dress was of pearl and dew-drops, and there were flowers round her neck and in her hair, and her face was like the most perfect flower of all. And she came close to the little Rabbit and gathered him up in her arms and kissed him on his velveteen nose that was all damp from crying.

"Little Rabbit," she said, "don't you know who I am?"

The Rabbit looked up at her, and it seemed to him that he had seen her face before, but he couldn't think where.

"I am the nursery magic Fairy," she said. "I take care of all the playthings that the children have loved. When they are old and worn out and the children don't need them any more, then I come and take them away with me and turn them into Real."

"Wasn't I Real before?" asked the little Rabbit.

"You were Real to the Boy," the Fairy said, "because he loved you. Now you shall be Real to every one."

The Fairy Flower

And she held the little Rabbit close in her arms and flew with him into the wood.

It was light now, for the moon had risen. All the forest was beautiful, and the fronds of the bracken shone like frosted silver. In the open glade between the tree-trunks the wild rabbits danced with their shadows on the velvet grass, but when they saw the Fairy they all stopped dancing and stood round in a ring to stare at her.

"I've brought you a new playfellow," the Fairy said. "You must be very kind to him and teach him all he needs to know in Rabbit-land, for he is going to live with you for ever and ever!"

And she kissed the little Rabbit again and put him down on the grass.

"Run and play, little Rabbit!" she said.

But the little Rabbit sat quite still for a moment and never moved. For when he saw all the wild rabbits dancing around him he suddenly remembered about his hind legs, and he didn't want them to see that he was made all in one piece. He did not know that when the Fairy kissed him that last time she had changed him altogether. And he might have sat there a long time, too shy to move, if just then something hadn't tickled his nose, and before he thought what he was doing he lifted his hind toe to scratch it.

And he found that he actually had hind legs! Instead of dingy velveteen he had brown fur, soft and shiny, his ears twitched by themselves, and his whiskers were so long that they brushed the grass. He gave one leap and the joy of using those hind legs was so great that he went springing about the turf on them, jumping sideways and whirling round as the others did, and he grew so excited that when at last he did stop to look for the Fairy she had gone.

He was a Real Rabbit at last, at home with the other rabbits.


At Last! At Last!

Autumn passed and Winter, and in the Spring, when the days grew warm and sunny, the Boy went out to play in the wood behind the house. And while he was playing, two rabbits crept out from the bracken and peeped at him. One of them was brown all over, but the other had strange markings under his fur, as though long ago he had been spotted, and the spots still showed through. And about his little soft nose and his round black eyes there was something familiar, so that the Boy thought to himself:

"Why, he looks just like my old Bunny that was lost when I had scarlet fever!"

But he never knew that it really was his own Bunny, come back to look at the child who had first helped him to be Real. 



Jonathan Kellerman:

The Things We Do for Love

Mashed spaghetti. Some things you could never prepare for. It wasn't as if she and Doug were mega-yuppies but they both liked their pasta al dente and they both liked to sleep late. Then along came Zoe, God bless her.
The sculptress. Karen smiled as Zoe plunged her tiny hands into the sticky, cheesy mound. Three peas sat on top like tiny bits of topiary. The peas promptly rolled off the high chair and landed on the restaurant floor. Zoe looked down and cracked up. Then she pointed and began to fuss.
"Eh-eh! Eh-eh!"
"Okay, sweetie." Karen bent, retrieved the green balls, and put them in front of her own plate.
"No, they're dirty, honey."

"Eh- eh!"

From behind the bar, the fat dark waiter looked over at them. When they'd come in, he hadn't exactly greeted them with open arms. But the place had been empty, so who was he to be choosy? Even now, fifteen minutes later, the only other lunchers were three men in the booth at the far end. First they'd slurped soup loud enough for Karen to hear. Now they were hunched over platters of spaghetti, each one guarding his food as if afraid someone would steal it. Theirs was probably al dente. And from the briny aroma drifting over, with clam sauce.

"No, Zoe, Mommy can't have you eating dirty peas, okay?"
"C'mon, Zoe-puss, yucko-grosso--no, no, honey, don't cry--here, try some carrots, aren't they pretty, nice pretty orange carrots--orange is such a pretty color, much prettier than those yucky peas--here, look, the carrot is dancing. I'm a dancing carrot, my name is Charlie...."
Karen saw the waiter shake his head and go back through the swinging doors into the kitchen. Let him think she was an idiot, the carrot ploy was working: Zoe's gigantic blue eyes had enlarged and a chubby hand reached out. Touching the carrot. Fingers the size of thimbles closed over it. Victory! Let's hear it for distraction.

"Eat it, honey, it's soft."
Zoe turned the carrot and studied it. Then she grinned. Raised it over her head.
Windup and the pitch: fastball straight to the floor. "Eh- eh!"
"Oh, Zoe."

"Okay, okay."
Time for Mommy to do her four-thousandth bend of the morning. Thank God her back was strong but she hoped Zoe got over the hurl-and-whine stage soon. Some of the other mothers at Group complained of serious pain. So far, Karen felt surprisingly fine, despite the lack of sleep. Probably all the years of taking care of herself, aerobics, running with Doug. Now he ran by himself....
"Try some more spaghetti, honey."
The waiter came out like a man with a mission, bearing plates heaped with meat. He brought them to the three men at the back, bowed, and served. Karen saw one of the three--the thin lizardy one in the center--nod and slip him a bill. The waiter poured wine and bowed again. As he straightened he glanced across the room at Karen and Zoe. Karen smiled but got a glare in return.
Bad attitude, especially for a dinky little place this dead at the height of the lunch hour. Not to mention the musty smell and what passed for decor: worn lace curtains drawn back carelessly from flyspecked windows, dark, dingy wood varnished so many times it looked like plastic. The booths that lined the mustard-colored walls were cracked black leather, the tables covered with your basic cliche checkered oilcloth. Ditto Chianti bottles in straw hanging from the ceiling and those little hexagonal floor tiles that would never be white again. Call Architectural Digest.
When she and Zoe had stepped in, the waiter hadn't even come forward, just kept wiping the bartop like some religious rite. When he'd finally looked up, he'd stared at the high-chair Karen had dragged along as if he'd never seen one before. Stared at Zoe, too, but not with any kindness. Which told you where he was at, because everyone adored Zoe, every single person who laid eyes on her said she was the most adorable little thing they'd ever encountered.
The milky skin--Karen's contribution. The dimples and black curls from Doug.
And not just family. Strangers. People were always stopping Karen on the street just to tell her what a peach Zoe was.
But that was back home. This city was a lot less friendly. She'd be happy to get back.Let's hear it for business trips. God bless Doug, he did try to be liberated. Agreeing to have all three of them travel together. He'd made a commitment and stuck to it; how many men could you say that about?
The things you do for love
But Zoe was busy with something new, little face turning beet-red, hands clenched, eyes bulging.
"Great," said Karen, ignoring the thin man but certain he was still giving her the once-over. Then she softened her tone, not wanting to give Zoe any complexes. "That's fine, honey. Poop to your heart's content, make a nice big one for Mommy."
Moments later the deed was done and Zoe was scooping up pasta again and hurling it.
"That's it, young lady, time to clean you up and go meet Daddy."
"No more eh-eh, change-change." Standing, Karen undid the straps of the high chair and lifted Zoe out, sniffing.
"Definitely time to change you."
But Zoe had other ideas and she began to kick and fuss. Holding the baby under one arm, like an oversized football, Karen lifted the gigantic denim bag that now took the place of the calf-leather purse Doug had given her, and walked over to the bar where the waiter stood polishing glasses and sucking his teeth.
He continued to ignore them even when Karen and Zoe were two feet away.
"Excuse me, sir."
One heavy black eyebrow cocked.
"Where's your ladies' room?"
Wet brown eyes ran over Karen's body like dirty oil, then Zoe's. Definitely a creep.
He licked his lips. A crooked thumb indicated the back of the restaurant.
Right past the booth with Lizard and his pals.
Taking a deep breath and staring straight ahead, Karen marched, swinging the big bag. God, it was heavy. All the stuff you had to carry.
The three men stopped talking as she walked by. Someone chuckled.
Lizard cleared his throat and said, "Cute kid," in a nasal voice full of locker-room glee. More laughter. Karen pushed through the door.
She emerged a few minutes later, having wrestled Zoe to a three- round decision. In one of Zoe's hands was the cow-rattle Karen employed to take Zoe's mind off diaper-changing. Let's hear it for distraction.
Forced to pass the three men, Karen stared straight ahead but managed to see what they were eating. Double-cut veal chops, bone and gristle and meat spread out over huge plates. Some poor calf had been confined and force-fed and butchered so these three creeps could stuff their faces.
Lizard said, "Very cute." The other two laughed and Karen knew he hadn't meant Zoe.
Feeling herself flush, she kept going.
The men started talking.
Zoe shook the rattle.
Karen said, "Eh-eh, huh, Zoe?" and the baby grinned and drew back her hand.
Windup and the pitch.
The rattle sailed toward the back of the restaurant.
Rolling on the tile floor toward the back booth.
Karen ran back, startling the three men. The rattle had landed next to a shiny black loafer.
As she picked it up, the tail end of a sentence faded into silence. A word. A name.
A name from the evening news.
A man, not a nice one, who'd talked about his friends and had been murdered in jail, yesterday, despite police protection.
The man who'd uttered the name was staring at her.
Fear--ice-cube terror--spread across Karen's face, paralyzing it.
Lizard put his knife down. His eyes narrowed to hyphens.
He was still smiling, but differently, very differently.
One of the other men cursed. Lizard shut him up with a blink.
The rattle was in Karen's hand now. Shaking, making ridiculous rattle sounds. Her hand couldn't stop shaking.
She began backing away.
"Hey," said Lizard. "Cutie."
Karen kept going.
Lizard looked at Zoe and his smile died.
Karen clutched her baby tight and ran. Past the waiter, forgetting about the high chair, then remembering, but who cared, it was a cheap one, she needed to get out of this place.
She heard chairs scrape the tile floor. "Hey, Cutie, hold on."
She kept going.
The waiter started to move around from behind the bar. Lizard was coming at her too. Moving fast. Taller than he looked sitting down, the gray suit billowing around his lanky frame.
Continue Story

"Hold on!" he shouted.
Karen gripped the door, swung it open, and dashed out hearing his curses.

Quiet neighborhood, a few people on the sidewalk who looked just like the creeps in the restaurant.
Karen turned right at the corner and ran. Rattling, the heavy denim bag knocking against her thigh.
Zoe was crying.
"It's okay, baby, it's okay, Mommy will keep you safe."
She heard a shout and looked back to see Lizard coming after her, people moving away from him, giving him room. Fear in their faces. He pointed at Karen, went after her.
She picked up her pace. Let's hear it for jogging. But this wasn't like running in shorts and a T-shirt; between Zoe and the heavy bag she felt like a plow horse.
Okay, keep a rhythm, the creep was skinny but he probably wasn't in good shape. Nice and easy with the breathing, pretend this is a ten-k and you've carbo-loaded the night before, slept a peaceful eight hours, gotten up when you wanted to....
She made it to another corner. Red light. A taxi sped by and she had to wait. Lizard was gaining on her--running loosely on long legs, his face sharp and pale--not a lizard, a snake. A venomous snake.
Ugly words came out of the snake's mouth. He was pointing at her.
She stepped off the curb. A truck was approaching halfway down the block. She waited until it got closer, bolted, made it stop short. Blocking the snake.
Another block, this one shorter, lined with shabby storefronts. But no corner at the end of this one. Green dead end. A hedge behind high, graffitied stone walls.
A park. The entrance a hundred yards left.
Karen went for it, running even faster, hearing Zoe's cries and the raspy sound of her own breathing.
Plow horse . . .
Steep, cracked steps took her down into the park. A bronze statue besmirched by pigeon dirt, poorly maintained grass, big trees.
She placed a hand behind Zoe's head, making sure not to jolt the supple neck--she'd read that babies could get whiplash without anyone knowing and then years later they'd show signs of brain damage....
Clap clap behind her as Snake's footsteps slapped the steps. Mr. Viper... stop thinking stupid thoughts, he was just a man, a creep. Just keep going, she'd find a place to be safe.
The park was empty, the stone path shaded almost black by huge spreading elms.
"Hey!" shouted the snake. "Stop, awready... what... the... f---!"
Panting between words. The creep probably never did anything aerobic.
"What... f---... problem... wanna talk! "
Karen pumped her legs. The path took on an upward slope.
Good, make the creep work harder, she could handle it, though Zoe's cries in her ear were starting to get to her--poor thing, what kind of mother was she, getting her baby into something like this--
"Jesus!" From behind. Huff, huff. "Stupid... bitch!"
More trees, bigger, the pathway even darker. Along the side, occasional benches, graffitied, too, no one on them.
No one to help.
Karen ran even faster. Her chest began to hurt and Zoe hadn't stopped wailing.
"Easy, honey," she managed to gasp. "Easy, Zoe-puff."
The slope grew steeper.
"F------ bitch!"
Then something appeared on the path. A metal-mesh garbage can. Low enough for her to jump in her jogging days, but not with Zoe. She had to sidestep it and the snake saw her lose footing, stumble, veer off onto the grass, and twist her ankle.
She cried out in pain. Tried to run, stopped.
Zoe's chubby cheeks were soaked with tears.
The snake smiled and walked around the can and toward her.
"F------ city," he said, kicking the can and whipping out a handkerchief and wiping the sweat from his face. Up close he smelled of too-sweet cologne and raw meat. "No maintenance. No one takes any f------ pride anymore."
"Poor baby," said the snake. "The big one, I mean. With the little one making all that f------ noise--does she ever shut up?"
"Listen, I--"
"No, you listen." A long-fingered hand took hold of Karen's arm. The one she held Zoe with. "You listen, what the f--- you running away like some idiot make-me-chase-you-sweat-up-my-suit?"
"I--my baby."
"Your baby should shut the f--- up, understand? Your baby should learn a little discipline, know what I mean? No one learns discipline how's it gonna be?"
Karen didn't answer.
"You know?" said the snake. "How's it gonna be the puppy learns discipline when the bitch don't know it? You tell me that, huh?"
He slapped her face. Not hard enough to sting, just a touch really. Worse than pain.
"You and me," he said, squeezing her arm. "We got things to talk about."
"What?" Panic tightened Karen's voice. "I'm just visiting from--"
"Shut up. And shut the goddamn baby up too--"
"I can't help it if--"
A hard slap rocked Karen's head. "No, bitch. Don't argue. You notice what we were eating back there?"
Karen shook her head.
"Sure you did, I saw you look. What was it?"
"Veal. You know what veal is, sweet-cheeks?"
"'Zactly. Baby cow." Winking. "Something can be young and cute, go bah-bah, moo-moo, but it don't matter s--- when people's needs are involved, you know what I'm saying?"
He licked his lips. The hand on her arm moved to Zoe's arm. Pulling.
Karen pulled back and managed to free Zoe. He laughed.
Tripping backward, Karen said, "Leave me alone," in a too-weak voice.
"Yeah, sure," said the snake. "All alone."
The long-fingered hands became fists and he inched toward her. Slowly, enjoying it. The park so silent. No one here, dangerous part of town.
Karen kept retreating, Zoe wailing.
The snake advanced.
Raising a fist. Touching his knuckles with the other hand.
Suddenly, Karen was moving faster, as if her ankle had never been injured.
Moving with an athlete's grace. Placing Zoe on the grass gently, she stepped to the left while reaching into the big, heavy denim bag.
All the things you had to carry.
Zoe cried louder, screaming, and the snake's eyes snapped to the baby.
Let's hear it for distraction.
Continue Story
Karen brought something out of the bag, small and shiny.

Reversing direction abruptly, she walked right up to the snake.
His eyes got very wide.
Three handclaps, not that different from the sound of his feet on the steps. Three small black holes appeared on his forehead, like stigmata.
He gaped at her, turned white, fell.
She fired five more shots into him as he lay there. Three in the chest, two in the groin. Per the client's request.
Placing the gun back in the bag, she rushed toward Zoe. But the baby was already up, in Doug's arms. And quiet. Doug always had that effect upon Zoe. The books said that was common, fathers often did.
"Hey," he said, kissing Zoe, then Karen. "You let him hit you. I was almost going to move in."
It's fine," said Karen, touching her cheek. The skin felt hot and welts were starting to rise. "Nothing some makeup won't handle."
Still," said Doug. "You know how I love your skin."
"I'm okay, honey."
He kissed her again, nuzzled Zoe. "That was a little intense, no? And poor little kiddie--I really don't think we should take her along on business."
He picked up the denim bag. Karen felt light--not just because her hands were empty. That special sense of lightness that marked the end of a project.
"You're right," said Karen as the three of them began walking out of the park. "She is getting older, we don't want to traumatize her. But I don't think this'll freak her out too bad. The stuff kids see on TV nowadays, right? If she ever asks we'll say it was TV."
"Guess so," said Doug. "You're the mom, but I never liked it."
A bit of sun came down through the thick trees, highlighting his black curls. And Zoe's. One beautiful tiny head tucked into a beautiful big one.
"It worked," said Karen.
Doug laughed. "That it did. Everything go smoothly?"
"As silk." Karen kissed them both again. "Little Peach was great. The only reason she was crying is she was having so much fun throwing food in the restaurant and didn't want to leave. And the eh-eh worked perfectly. She threw the rattle, gave me a perfect chance to get close to the jerk."
Doug nodded and looked over his shoulder at the body lying across the pathway.
"The Viper," he said, laughing softly. "Not exactly big game."
"More like a worm," said Karen.
Doug laughed again, then turned serious. "You're sure he didn't hit you hard? I love your skin."
"I'm fine, baby. Not to worry."
"I always worry, babe. That's why I'm alive."
"Me too. You know that."
"Sometimes I wonder."
"Some gratitude."
"Hey," said Doug. "It's just that I love your skin, right?" A moment passed. "Love you."
"Love you too."
A few steps later, he said, "When I saw him hit you, babe-- the second time--I could actually hear it from the bushes. Your head swiveled hard and I thought uh-oh. I was ready to come out and finish it myself. Came this close. But I knew it would tick you off. Still, it was a little... anxiety-provoking."
"You did the right thing."
He shrugged. Karen felt so much love for him she wanted to shout it to the world.
"Thanks, babe," she said, touching his earlobe. "For being there and for not doing anything."
He nodded again. Then he said it:
"The things we do for love."
"Oh, yeah."
His beautiful face relaxed.
A rock. Thank God he'd let her go all the way by herself. First project since the baby and she'd needed to get back into the swing.
Zoe was sleeping now, fat cheeks pillowing out on Doug's broad shoulder, eyes closed, the black lashes long and curving.
They grew up so fast.
Soon, before you knew it, the little pudding would be in preschool and Karen would have more time on her hands
Maybe one day they'd have another baby.
But not right away. She had her career to consider.


 Virginia Woolf: A Haunted House


Whatever hour you woke there was a door shutting. From room to room they went, hand in hand, lifting here, opening there, making sure--a ghostly couple.

"Here we left it," she said. And he added, "Oh, but here tool" "It's upstairs," she murmured. "And in the garden," he whispered. "Quietly," they said, "or we shall wake them."

But it wasn't that you woke us. Oh, no. "They're looking for it; they're drawing the curtain," one might say, and so read on a page or two. "Now they've found it,' one would be certain, stopping the pencil on the margin. And then, tired of reading, one might rise and see for oneself, the house all empty, the doors standing open, only the wood pigeons bubbling with content and the hum of the threshing machine sounding from the farm. "What did I come in here for? What did I want to find?" My hands were empty. "Perhaps its upstairs then?" The apples were in the loft. And so down again, the garden still as ever, only the book had slipped into the grass.

But they had found it in the drawing room. Not that one could ever see them. The windowpanes reflected apples, reflected roses; all the leaves were green in the glass. If they moved in the drawing room, the apple only turned its yellow side. Yet, the moment after, if the door was opened, spread about the floor, hung upon the walls, pendant from the ceiling--what? My hands were empty. The shadow of a thrush crossed the carpet; from the deepest wells of silence the wood pigeon drew its bubble of sound. "Safe, safe, safe" the pulse of the house beat softly. "The treasure buried; the room . . ." the pulse stopped short. Oh, was that the buried treasure?

A moment later the light had faded. Out in the garden then? But the trees spun darkness for a wandering beam of sun. So fine, so rare, coolly sunk beneath the surface the beam I sought always burned behind the glass. Death was the glass; death was between us, coming to the woman first, hundreds of years ago, leaving the house, sealing all the windows; the rooms were darkened. He left it, left her, went North, went East, saw the stars turned in the Southern sky; sought the house, found it dropped beneath the Downs. "Safe, safe, safe," the pulse of the house beat gladly. 'The Treasure yours."

The wind roars up the avenue. Trees stoop and bend this way and that. Moonbeams splash and spill wildly in the rain. But the beam of the lamp falls straight from the window. The candle burns stiff and still. Wandering through the house, opening the windows, whispering not to wake us, the ghostly couple seek their joy.

"Here we slept," she says. And he adds, "Kisses without number." "Waking in the morning--" "Silver between the trees--" "Upstairs--" 'In the garden--" "When summer came--" 'In winter snowtime--" "The doors go shutting far in the distance, gently knocking like the pulse of a heart.

Nearer they come, cease at the doorway. The wind falls, the rain slides silver down the glass. Our eyes darken, we hear no steps beside us; we see no lady spread her ghostly cloak. His hands shield the lantern. "Look," he breathes. "Sound asleep. Love upon their lips."

Stooping, holding their silver lamp above us, long they look and deeply. Long they pause. The wind drives straightly; the flame stoops slightly. Wild beams of moonlight cross both floor and wall, and, meeting, stain the faces bent; the faces pondering; the faces that search the sleepers and seek their hidden joy.

"Safe, safe, safe," the heart of the house beats proudly. "Long years--" he sighs. "Again you found me." "Here," she murmurs, "sleeping; in the garden reading; laughing, rolling apples in the loft. Here we left our treasure--" Stooping, their light lifts the lids upon my eyes. "Safe! safe! safe!" the pulse of the house beats wildly. Waking, I cry "Oh, is this your buried treasure? The light in the heart."

Copyright: this story is in the public domain and not protected by copyright.

Beatrix Potter: The Tale of Peter Rabbit


Once upon a time there were four little rabbits, and their names were Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail, and Peter. They lived with their mother in a sandbank, underneath the root of a very big fir tree.

One morning old Mrs. Rabbit said, "I'm going to the bakery to buy brown bread and currant buns. You may go into the fields or down the lane, but don't go into Mr. McGregor's garden. Your father had an accident there; he was put in a pie by Mrs. McGregor."

Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cottontail, who were good little bunnies, went down the lane to gather blackberries ... but Peter, who was very naughty, ran straight to Mr. McGregor's garden and squeezed under the gate! First he ate some lettuce and some beans, and then he ate some radishes. On his way to find some parsley, whom should he meet but Mr. McGregor!  Mr. McGregor jumped up and ran after Peter, shouting, "Stop, thief!"


Peter was very frightened. He rushed all over the garden, for he had forgotten the way back to the gate. Unfortunately Peter ran into a gooseberry net and got caught by the large brass buttons on his jacket. Peter gave himself up for lost; but his sobs were overheard by some friendly sparrows, who flew to him in great excitement and begged him to try to free himself. Just as Mr. McGregor came up with a sieve, which he intended to pop on top of Peter, Peter wriggled out of his jacket, leaving it behind him. He rushed into the tool shed and jumped into a watering can. It would have been a good thing to hide in, if it had not had so much water in it. Mr. McGregor was quite sure that Peter was somewhere in the tool shed, perhaps hidden underneath a flowerpot. He began to turn them over, one by one.

Suddenly Peter sneezed – Kerty schoo! Mr. McGregor was after him in no time. Peter jumped out of a window. Fortunately the window was too small for Mr. McGregor. Then Peter ran away from the tool shed, all around the garden. At last, he found the garden gate. He slipped underneath and was safe once more in the woods outside. I am sorry to say that Peter did not feel very well that evening. His mother put him to bed and gave him a dose of chamomile tea.

"One tablespoon to be taken at bedtime."  But Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cottontail had bread and milk and blackberries for supper.





One lovely summer day, rabbit was busy tidying his garden, as Eeyore passed by he admired the flowers in rabbits garden. " They are very pretty flowers, I would like to have some flowers in my garden." said Eeyore.

So Rabbit very kindly fetched some seed and handed them to Eeyore. "Plant the seeds in a very sunny place and keep watering them." Rabbit told Eeyore. "And you will have some very pretty flowers all of your own."

Eeyore was so pleased with the seeds rabbit had given him, "Thank you," he said. Eeyore hurried home very quickly and planted the seeds in his garden straight away, and then he watered them just as rabbit had told him. "I can't wait to have some pretty flowers of my own," said Eeyore. But by lunch time the flowers hadn't grown.

Eeyore thought to himself and decided that maybe his flowers needed watering again and went to fetch his watering can and watered the seeds. Just then Pooh and Piglet came walking by and asked Eeyore what was wrong. "Rabbit gave me some seeds to grow in my garden, I watered them, and they did not grow, so i watered them again, now I am waiting to see if they will grow." But still no flowers.

"But Eeyore" said Pooh "Flowers can take a long time to grow." Eeyore felt so sad that he walked off. Pooh decided that it would be a good idea to go and see rabbit.

Pooh and Piglet told rabbit about Eeyore flowers and how very upset he was." So rabbit gave Pooh and Piglet some flowering plants, they took them too Eeyore's garden and planted them as a surprise.

When Eeyore came back his flowers had grown and he was so very happy, "My flowers grew after all." said Eeyore.



It was a lovely sunny day, so Owl decided to for a stroll around the hundred acre wood. As he was walking along, he noticed a very unusual flower peeping out from a bush. It had long red and white petals and was pink in the middle.

"Well. i've never seen a flower like that before," Owl muttered, staring at it. " I wonder what it's called?" Owl was so puzzled about the strange flower, he went to ask rabbit if he knew what it was called. "mmm, long red and white leaves with a pink middle," murmured rabbit, looking through his flower books.

" I can't see anything like that in here. Id better come and look." So he followed Owl through the wood to the bush where the flower was growing. "See," said Owl pointing to the red and white flower. "it's so bright and unusual, I noticed it right away." "Goodness, I've never seen a flower like that!" said Rabbit.

He searched through his flower book again. "And there's nothing like it in the book. I think that we have discovered a rare flower!" "Really? How wonderful!" said Owl. Just then Kanga and Roo came along. "There it is!" cried roo, pointing to the flower.

"I told you it must be around here." Owl and Rabbit watched in astonishment as Roo ran over to the flower, picked it up and gave it Kanga. "You can't pick that, it's a rare flower!" gasped Rabbit. "It might be the only one of it's kind." "It certainly is" smiled Kanga.

"It's the paper flower from my bonnet. It fell out when I went for a walk earlier." Rabbit and Owl did feel silly. Fancy them not noticing that their rare flower was made of paper.

Edgar Allan Poe: The Black Cat


For the most wild, yet most homely narrative which I am about to pen, I neither expect nor solicit belief. Mad indeed would I be to expect it, in a case where my very senses reject their own evidence. Yet, mad am I not - and very surely do I not dream. But to-morrow I die, and to-day I would unburthen my soul. My immediate purpose is to place before the world, plainly, succinctly, and without comment, a series of mere household events. In their consequences, these events have terrified - have tortured - have destroyed me. Yet I will not attempt to expound them. To me, they have presented little but Horror - to many they will seem less terrible than barroques. Hereafter, perhaps, some intellect may be found which will reduce my phantasm to the common-place - some intellect more calm, more logical, and far less excitable than my own, which will perceive, in the circumstances I detail with awe, nothing more than an ordinary succession of very natural causes and effects.

From my infancy I was noted for the docility and humanity of my disposition. My tenderness of heart was even so conspicuous as to make me the jest of my companions. I was especially fond of animals, and was indulged by my parents with a great variety of pets. With these I spent most of my time, and never was so happy as when feeding and caressing them. This peculiarity of character grew with my growth, and in my manhood, I derived from it one of my principal sources of pleasure. To those who have cherished an affection for a faithful and sagacious dog, I need hardly be at the trouble of explaining the nature or the intensity of the gratification thus derivable. There is something in the unselfish and self-sacrificing love of a brute, which goes directly to the heart of him who has had frequent occasion to test the paltry friendship and gossamer fidelity of mere Man.

I married early, and was happy to find in my wife a disposition not uncongenial with my own. Observing my partiality for domestic pets, she lost no opportunity of procuring those of the most agreeable kind. We had birds, gold-fish, a fine dog, rabbits, a small monkey, and a cat.

This latter was a remarkably large and beautiful animal, entirely black, and sagacious to an astonishing degree. In speaking of his intelligence, my wife, who at heart was not a little tinctured with superstition, made frequent allusion to the ancient popular notion, which regarded all black cats as witches in disguise. Not that she was ever serious upon this point - and I mention the matter at all for no better reason than that it happens, just now, to be remembered.

Pluto - this was the cat's name - was my favorite pet and playmate. I alone fed him, and he attended me wherever I went about the house. It was even with difficulty that I could prevent him from following me through the streets.

Our friendship lasted, in this manner, for several years, during which my general temperament and character - through the instrumentality of the Fiend Intemperance - had (I blush to confess it) experienced a radical alteration for the worse. I grew, day by day, more moody, more irritable, more regardless of the feelings of others. I suffered myself to use intemperate language to my wife. At length, I even offered her personal violence. My pets, of course, were made to feel the change in my disposition. I not only neglected, but ill-used them. For Pluto, however, I still retained sufficient regard to restrain me from maltreating him, as I made no scruple of maltreating the rabbits, the monkey, or even the dog, when by accident, or through affection, they came in my way. But my disease grew upon me - for what disease is like Alcohol! - and at length even Pluto, who was now becoming old, and consequently somewhat peevish - even Pluto began to experience the effects of my ill temper.

One night, returning home, much intoxicated, from one of my haunts about town, I fancied that the cat avoided my presence. I seized him; when, in his fright at my violence, he inflicted a slight wound upon my hand with his teeth. The fury of a demon instantly possessed me. I knew myself no longer. My original soul seemed, at once, to take its flight from my body and a more than fiendish malevolence, gin-nurtured, thrilled every fibre of my frame. I took from my waistcoat-pocket a pen-knife, opened it, grasped the poor beast by the throat, and deliberately cut one of its eyes from the socket! I blush, I burn, I shudder, while I pen the damnable atrocity.

When reason returned with the morning - when I had slept off the fumes of the night's debauch - I experienced a sentiment half of horror, half of remorse, for the crime of which I had been guilty; but it was, at best, a feeble and equivocal feeling, and the soul remained untouched. I again plunged into excess, and soon drowned in wine all memory of the deed.

In the meantime the cat slowly recovered. The socket of the lost eye presented, it is true, a frightful appearance, but he no longer appeared to suffer any pain. He went about the house as usual, but, as might be expected, fled in extreme terror at my approach. I had so much of my old heart left, as to be at first grieved by this evident dislike on the part of a creature which had once so loved me. But this feeling soon gave place to irritation. And then came, as if to my final and irrevocable overthrow, the spirit of PERVERSENESS. Of this spirit philosophy takes no account. Yet I am not more sure that my soul lives, than I am that perverseness is one of the primitive impulses of the human heart - one of the indivisible primary faculties, or sentiments, which give direction to the character of Man. Who has not, a hundred times, found himself committing a vile or a silly action, for no other reason than because he knows he should not? Have we not a perpetual inclination, in the teeth of our best judgment, to violate that which is Law, merely because we understand it to be such? This spirit of perverseness, I say, came to my final overthrow. It was this unfathomable longing of the soul to vex itself - to offer violence to its own nature - to do wrong for the wrong's sake only - that urged me to continue and finally to consummate the injury I had inflicted upon the unoffending brute. One morning, in cool blood, I slipped a noose about its neck and hung it to the limb of a tree; - hung it with the tears streaming from my eyes, and with the bitterest remorse at my heart; - hung it because I knew that it had loved me, and because I felt it had given me no reason of offence; - hung it because I knew that in so doing I was committing a sin - a deadly sin that would so jeopardize my immortal soul as to place it - if such a thing wore possible - even beyond the reach of the infinite mercy of the Most Merciful and Most Terrible God.

On the night of the day on which this cruel deed was done, I was aroused from sleep by the cry of fire. The curtains of my bed were in flames. The whole house was blazing. It was with great difficulty that my wife, a servant, and myself, made our escape from the conflagration. The destruction was complete. My entire worldly wealth was swallowed up, and I resigned myself thenceforward to despair.

I am above the weakness of seeking to establish a sequence of cause and effect, between the disaster and the atrocity. But I am detailing a chain of facts - and wish not to leave even a possible link imperfect. On the day succeeding the fire, I visited the ruins. The walls, with one exception, had fallen in. This exception was found in a compartment wall, not very thick, which stood about the middle of the house, and against which had rested the head of my bed. The plastering had here, in great measure, resisted the action of the fire - a fact which I attributed to its having been recently spread. About this wall a dense crowd were collected, and many persons seemed to be examining a particular portion of it with very minute and eager attention. The words "strange!" "singular!" and other similar expressions, excited my curiosity. I approached and saw, as if graven in bas relief upon the white surface, the figure of a gigantic cat. The impression was given with an accuracy truly marvellous. There was a rope about the animal's neck.

When I first beheld this apparition - for I could scarcely regard it as less - my wonder and my terror were extreme. But at length reflection came to my aid. The cat, I remembered, had been hung in a garden adjacent to the house. Upon the alarm of fire, this garden had been immediately filled by the crowd - by some one of whom the animal must have been cut from the tree and thrown, through an open window, into my chamber. This had probably been done with the view of arousing me from sleep. The falling of other walls had compressed the victim of my cruelty into the substance of the freshly-spread plaster; the lime of which, with the flames, and the ammonia from the carcass, had then accomplished the portraiture as I saw it.

Although I thus readily accounted to my reason, if not altogether to my conscience, for the startling fact just detailed, it did not the less fail to make a deep impression upon my fancy. For months I could not rid myself of the phantasm of the cat; and, during this period, there came back into my spirit a half-sentiment that seemed, but was not, remorse. I went so far as to regret the loss of the animal, and to look about me, among the vile haunts which I now habitually frequented, for another pet of the same species, and of somewhat similar appearance, with which to supply its place.

One night as I sat, half stupified, in a den of more than infamy, my attention was suddenly drawn to some black object, reposing upon the head of one of the immense hogsheads of Gin, or of Rum, which constituted the chief furniture of the apartment. I had been looking steadily at the top of this hogshead for some minutes, and what now caused me surprise was the fact that I had not sooner perceived the object thereupon. I approached it, and touched it with my hand. It was a black cat - a very large one - fully as large as Pluto, and closely resembling him in every respect but one. Pluto had not a white hair upon any portion of his body; but this cat had a large, although indefinite splotch of white, covering nearly the whole region of the breast. Upon my touching him, he immediately arose, purred loudly, rubbed against my hand, and appeared delighted with my notice. This, then, was the very creature of which I was in search. I at once offered to purchase it of the landlord; but this person made no claim to it - knew nothing of it - had never seen it before.

I continued my caresses, and, when I prepared to go home, the animal evinced a disposition to accompany me. I permitted it to do so; occasionally stooping and patting it as I proceeded. When it reached the house it domesticated itself at once, and became immediately a great favorite with my wife.

For my own part, I soon found a dislike to it arising within me. This was just the reverse of what I had anticipated; but - I know not how or why it was - its evident fondness for myself rather disgusted and annoyed. By slow degrees, these feelings of disgust and annoyance rose into the bitterness of hatred. I avoided the creature; a certain sense of shame, and the remembrance of my former deed of cruelty, preventing me from physically abusing it. I did not, for some weeks, strike, or otherwise violently ill use it; but gradually - very gradually - I came to look upon it with unutterable loathing, and to flee silently from its odious presence, as from the breath of a pestilence.

What added, no doubt, to my hatred of the beast, was the discovery, on the morning after I brought it home, that, like Pluto, it also had been deprived of one of its eyes. This circumstance, however, only endeared it to my wife, who, as I have already said, possessed, in a high degree, that humanity of feeling which had once been my distinguishing trait, and the source of many of my simplest and purest pleasures.

With my aversion to this cat, however, its partiality for myself seemed to increase. It followed my footsteps with a pertinacity which it would be difficult to make the reader comprehend. Whenever I sat, it would crouch beneath my chair, or spring upon my knees, covering me with its loathsome caresses. If I arose to walk it would get between my feet and thus nearly throw me down, or, fastening its long and sharp claws in my dress, clamber, in this manner, to my breast. At such times, although I longed to destroy it with a blow, I was yet withheld from so doing, partly by a memory of my former crime, but chiefly - let me confess it at once - by absolute dread of the beast.

This dread was not exactly a dread of physical evil - and yet I should be at a loss how otherwise to define it. I am almost ashamed to own - yes, even in this felon's cell, I am almost ashamed to own - that the terror and horror with which the animal inspired me, had been heightened by one of the merest chimaeras it would be possible to conceive. My wife had called my attention, more than once, to the character of the mark of white hair, of which I have spoken, and which constituted the sole visible difference between the strange beast and the one I had destroyed. The reader will remember that this mark, although large, had been originally very indefinite; but, by slow degrees - degrees nearly imperceptible, and which for a long time my Reason struggled to reject as fanciful - it had, at length, assumed a rigorous distinctness of outline. It was now the representation of an object that I shudder to name - and for this, above all, I loathed, and dreaded, and would have rid myself of the monster had I dared - it was now, I say, the image of a hideous - of a ghastly thing - of the GALLOWS! - oh, mournful and terrible engine of Horror and of Crime - of Agony and of Death!

And now was I indeed wretched beyond the wretchedness of mere Humanity. And a brute beast - whose fellow I had contemptuously destroyed - a brute beast to work out for me - for me a man, fashioned in the image of the High God - so much of insufferable wo! Alas! neither by day nor by night knew I the blessing of Rest any more! During the former the creature left me no moment alone; and, in the latter, I started, hourly, from dreams of unutterable fear, to find the hot breath of the thing upon my face, and its vast weight - an incarnate Night-Mare that I had no power to shake off - incumbent eternally upon my heart!

Beneath the pressure of torments such as these, the feeble remnant of the good within me succumbed. Evil thoughts became my sole intimates - the darkest and most evil of thoughts. The moodiness of my usual temper increased to hatred of all things and of all mankind; while, from the sudden, frequent, and ungovernable outbursts of a fury to which I now blindly abandoned myself, my uncomplaining wife, alas! was the most usual and the most patient of sufferers.

One day she accompanied me, upon some household errand, into the cellar of the old building which our poverty compelled us to inhabit. The cat followed me down the steep stairs, and, nearly throwing me headlong, exasperated me to madness. Uplifting an axe, and forgetting, in my wrath, the childish dread which had hitherto stayed my hand, I aimed a blow at the animal which, of course, would have proved instantly fatal had it descended as I wished. But this blow was arrested by the hand of my wife. Goaded, by the interference, into a rage more than demoniacal, I withdrew my arm from her grasp and buried the axe in her brain. She fell dead upon the spot, without a groan.

This hideous murder accomplished, I set myself forthwith, and with entire deliberation, to the task of concealing the body. I knew that I could not remove it from the house, either by day or by night, without the risk of being observed by the neighbors. Many projects entered my mind. At one period I thought of cutting the corpse into minute fragments, and destroying them by fire. At another, I resolved to dig a grave for it in the floor of the cellar. Again, I deliberated about casting it in the well in the yard - about packing it in a box, as if merchandize, with the usual arrangements, and so getting a porter to take it from the house. Finally I hit upon what I considered a far better expedient than either of these. I determined to wall it up in the cellar - as the monks of the middle ages are recorded to have walled up their victims.

For a purpose such as this the cellar was well adapted. Its walls were loosely constructed, and had lately been plastered throughout with a rough plaster, which the dampness of the atmosphere had prevented from hardening. Moreover, in one of the walls was a projection, caused by a false chimney, or fireplace, that had been filled up, and made to resemble the red of the cellar. I made no doubt that I could readily displace the bricks at this point, insert the corpse, and wall the whole up as before, so that no eye could detect any thing suspicious. And in this calculation I was not deceived. By means of a crow-bar I easily dislodged the bricks, and, having carefully deposited the body against the inner wall, I propped it in that position, while, with little trouble, I re-laid the whole structure as it originally stood. Having procured mortar, sand, and hair, with every possible precaution, I prepared a plaster which could not be distinguished from the old, and with this I very carefully went over the new brickwork. When I had finished, I felt satisfied that all was right. The wall did not present the slightest appearance of having been disturbed. The rubbish on the floor was picked up with the minutest care. I looked around triumphantly, and said to myself - "Here at least, then, my labor has not been in vain."

My next step was to look for the beast which had been the cause of so much wretchedness; for I had, at length, firmly resolved to put it to death. Had I been able to meet with it, at the moment, there could have been no doubt of its fate; but it appeared that the crafty animal had been alarmed at the violence of my previous anger, and forebore to present itself in my present mood. It is impossible to describe, or to imagine, the deep, the blissful sense of relief which the absence of the detested creature occasioned in my bosom. It did not make its appearance during the night - and thus for one night at least, since its introduction into the house, I soundly and tranquilly slept; aye, slept even with the burden of murder upon my soul!

The second and the third day passed, and still my tormentor came not. Once again I breathed as a freeman. The monster, in terror, had fled the premises forever! I should behold it no more! My happiness was supreme! The guilt of my dark deed disturbed me but little. Some few inquiries had been made, but these had been readily answered. Even a search had been instituted - but of course nothing was to be discovered. I looked upon my future felicity as secured.

Upon the fourth day of the assassination, a party of the police came, very unexpectedly, into the house, and proceeded again to make rigorous investigation of the premises. Secure, however, in the inscrutability of my place of concealment, I felt no embarrassment whatever. The officers bade me accompany them in their search. They left no nook or corner unexplored. At length, for the third or fourth time, they descended into the cellar. I quivered not in a muscle. My heart beat calmly as that of one who slumbers in innocence. I walked the cellar from end to end. I folded my arms upon my bosom, and roamed easily to and fro. The police were thoroughly satisfied and prepared to depart. The glee at my heart was too strong to be restrained. I burned to say if but one word, by way of triumph, and to render doubly sure their assurance of my guiltlessness.

"Gentlemen," I said at last, as the party ascended the steps, "I delight to have allayed your suspicions. I wish you all health, and a little more courtesy. By the bye, gentlemen, this - this is a very well constructed house." [In the rabid desire to say something easily, I scarcely knew what I uttered at all.] - "I may say an excellently well constructed house. These walls are you going, gentlemen? - these walls are solidly put together;" and here, through the mere phrenzy of bravado, I rapped heavily, with a cane which I held in my hand, upon that very portion of the brick-work behind which stood the corpse of the wife of my bosom.

But may God shield and deliver me from the fangs of the Arch-Fiend! No sooner had the reverberation of my blows sunk into silence, than I was answered by a voice from within the tomb! - by a cry, at first muffled and broken, like the sobbing of a child, and then quickly swelling into one long, loud, and continuous scream, utterly anomalous and inhuman - a howl - a wailing shriek, half of horror and half of triumph, such as might have arisen only out of hell, conjointly from the throats of the dammed in their agony and of the demons that exult in the damnation.

Of my own thoughts it is folly to speak. Swooning, I staggered to the opposite wall. For one instant the party upon the stairs remained motionless, through extremity of terror and of awe. In the next, a dozen stout arms were toiling at the wall. It fell bodily. The corpse, already greatly decayed and clotted with gore, stood erect before the eyes of the spectators. Upon its head, with red extended mouth and solitary eye of fire, sat the hideous beast whose craft had seduced me into murder, and whose informing voice had consigned me to the hangman. I had walled the monster up within the tomb!

Copyright: this story is in the public domain and not protected by copyright. 


Charlie Fisch: Death by Srabble

It's a hot day and I hate my wife.

We're playing Scrabble. That's how bad it is. I'm 42 years old, it's a blistering hot Sunday afternoon and all I can think of to do with my life is to play Scrabble.

I should be out, doing exercise, spending money, meeting people. I don't think I've spoken to anyone except my wife since Thursday morning. On Thursday morning I spoke to the milkman.

My letters are crap.

I play, appropriately, BEGIN. With the N on the little pink star. Twenty-two points.

I watch my wife's smug expression as she rearranges her letters. Clack, clack, clack. I hate her. If she wasn't around, I'd be doing something interesting right now. I'd be climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. I'd be starring in the latest Hollywood blockbuster. I'd be sailing the Vendee Globe on a 60-foot clipper called the New Horizons - I don't know, but I'd be doing something.

She plays JINXED, with the J on a double-letter score. 30 points. She's beating me already. Maybe I should kill her.

If only I had a D, then I could play MURDER. That would be a sign. That would be permission.

I start chewing on my U. It's a bad habit, I know. All the letters are frayed. I play WARMER for 22 points, mainly so I can keep chewing on my U.

As I'm picking new letters from the bag, I find myself thinking - the letters will tell me what to do. If they spell out KILL, or STAB, or her name, or anything, I'll do it right now. I'll finish her off.

My rack spells MIHZPA. Plus the U in my mouth. Damn.

The heat of the sun is pushing at me through the window. I can hear buzzing insects outside. I hope they're not bees. My cousin Harold swallowed a bee when he was nine, his throat swelled up and he died. I hope that if they are bees, they fly into my wife's throat.


She plays SWEATIER, using all her letters. 24 points plus a 50 point bonus. If it wasn't too hot to move I would strangle her right now.

I am getting sweatier. It needs to rain, to clear the air. As soon as that thought crosses my mind, I find a good word. HUMID on a double-word score, using the D of JINXED. The U makes a little splash of saliva when I put it down. Another 22 points. I hope she has lousy letters.

She tells me she has lousy letters. For some reason, I hate her more.

She plays FAN, with the F on a double-letter, and gets up to fill the kettle and turn on the air conditioning.

It's the hottest day for ten years and my wife is turning on the kettle. This is why I hate my wife. I play ZAPS, with the Z doubled, and she gets a static shock off the air conditioning unit. I find this remarkably satisfying.

She sits back down with a heavy sigh and starts fiddling with her letters again. Clack clack. Clack clack. I feel a terrible rage build up inside me. Some inner poison slowly spreading through my limbs, and when it gets to my fingertips I am going to jump out of my chair, spilling the Scrabble tiles over the floor, and I am going to start hitting her again and again and again.

The rage gets to my fingertips and passes. My heart is beating. I'm sweating. I think my face actually twitches. Then I sigh, deeply, and sit back into my chair. The kettle starts whistling. As the whistle builds it makes me feel hotter.

She plays READY on a double-word for 18 points, then goes to pour herself a cup of tea. No I do not want one.

I steal a blank tile from the letter bag when she's not looking, and throw back a V from my rack. She gives me a suspicious look. She sits back down with her cup of tea, making a cup-ring on the table, as I play an 8-letter word: CHEATING, using the A of READY. 64 points, including the 50-point bonus, which means I'm beating her now.


She asks me if I cheated.

I really, really hate her.

She plays IGNORE on the triple-word for 21 points. The score is 153 to her, 155 to me.

The steam rising from her cup of tea makes me feel hotter. I try to make murderous words with the letters on my rack, but the best I can do is SLEEP.

My wife sleeps all the time. She slept through an argument our next-door neighbours had that resulted in a broken door, a smashed TV and a Teletubby Lala doll with all the stuffing coming out. And then she bitched at me for being moody the next day from lack of sleep.

If only there was some way for me to get rid of her.

I spot a chance to use all my letters. EXPLODES, using the X of JINXED. 72 points. That'll show her.

As I put the last letter down, there is a deafening bang and the air conditioning unit fails.

My heart is racing, but not from the shock of the bang. I don't believe it - but it can't be a coincidence. The letters made it happen. I played the word EXPLODES, and it happened - the air conditioning unit exploded. And before, I played the word CHEATING when I cheated. And ZAP when my wife got the electric shock. The words are coming true. The letters are choosing their future. The whole game is - JINXED.

My wife plays SIGN, with the N on a triple-letter, for 10 points.

I have to test this.

I have to play something and see if it happens. Something unlikely, to prove that the letters are making it happen. My rack is ABQYFWE. That doesn't leave me with a lot of options. I start frantically chewing on the B.


I play FLY, using the L of EXPLODES. I sit back in my chair and close my eyes, waiting for the sensation of rising up from my chair. Waiting to fly.

Stupid. I open my eyes, and there's a fly. An insect, buzzing around above the Scrabble board, surfing the thermals from the tepid cup of tea. That proves nothing. The fly could have been there anyway.

I need to play something unambiguous. Something that cannot be misinterpreted. Something absolute and final. Something terminal. Something murderous.

My wife plays CAUTION, using a blank tile for the N. 18 points.

My rack is AQWEUK, plus the B in my mouth. I am awed by the power of the letters, and frustrated that I cannot wield it. Maybe I should cheat again, and pick out the letters I need to spell SLASH or SLAY.

Then it hits me. The perfect word. A powerful, dangerous, terrible word.

I play QUAKE for 19 points.

I wonder if the strength of the quake will be proportionate to how many points it scored. I can feel the trembling energy of potential in my veins. I am commanding fate. I am manipulating destiny.

My wife plays DEATH for 34 points, just as the room starts to shake.

I gasp with surprise and vindication - and the B that I was chewing on gets lodged in my throat. I try to cough. My face goes red, then blue. My throat swells. I draw blood clawing at my neck. The earthquake builds to a climax.

I fall to the floor. My wife just sits there, watching. 

Jesse Miller
Madeleine Rain

It happened because she was edgy and bursting. It was the first day you could really feel Spring approaching. It was that brief time in between seasons that she could feel something new happening, and it made her anxious and excited. It was like new air, or sweeping cobwebs. There was a light rain outside and Madeleine wanted to throw open her two little windows to her small apartment space and let the warm mist fill the room. But the noise from the traffic would've been too much, and she was worried for the bird. As it was, the hiss of the scratchy needle was barely audible. She crouched down beside the heating vent to listen. The music was low and tired. Something like Billie Holiday. It was Billie Holiday, but for the two weeks she had looked, she hadn't been able to find it in any of the record shops. She leaned against her raggedy old reading chair and stared at the stack of books and odd art supplies next to her. Too much time spent inside reading and dreaming, she worried.

She looked up at the small, blue-green bird in the cage next to her bed, and then picked up a blue crayon. The bird was quiet. Quite still and beautiful. Every once in a while she would turn her head slightly to observe her new surroundings. She was calm. Even when Madeleine had brought her home a week ago and taken a polaroid of her, she had fluttered her wings, but in a gentle way. The softly blurred movement was a moment of perfect grace, Madeleine thought, as she ran her fingers along the edge of the picture which now hung on the wall beside the chair. She looked like the sea. As she put down the crayon for another, it started. She wondered how long Maggie had lived down there. How long she had been there. She rested her head against the wall and began to slowly peel away the old crayon's paper label. She reached for a jar of rubber cement and twisted off the top. The music mixed with the sound of Maggie, as if the sobs were a part of the song. Not like an instrument - not an accompanying sound - but interior, as if growing from within the music. A ghost. Madeleine brushed a streak of glue next to the polaroid and stuck the green paper to the wall. "Seafoam," she whispered.

< 2 >
Typically, she had only gone on Wednesday afternoons. It was the one day that they ran a bargain matinee and it only cost her $3. Besides the price, she liked the fact that the theatre was empty then. It was an old movie house where they played revivals and art films. Madeleine liked the musty smell inside, and the worn crushed burgundy of the seats. She liked the warm glow of colors that were muted by the darkness, like the old Hopper painting that hung above her chair. Occasionally, she would bring her little reading light and a sketch pad and work on a face from the film.

It was on a Sunday night that she had met her. One of those odd times when she had to pay full price, because the film she wanted to see was only a weekend run. It was Stardust Memories, by Woody Allen. He had been one of her favorites before the awful thing with his wife's daughter. Before the fear of age and death had become too overwhelming for him. She had seen one or two of his newer movies, and it made her feel embarrassed. Like finding out a close friend has been lying to you.

"Do you ever draw birds?"

Madeleine looked up from her wallet. "I'm sorry..."

"The drawing pad. You're a painter?"

"Um, I sketch."

Madeleine was startled to realize it was the woman from her building. She had seen her in the basement laundry room that first day she had been down there. One of the woman's laundry baskets was overturned and used as a step, so that she could climb up onto the washing machine and then again to nestled herself in a window above the machines. She had pried open the dingy window frame and was quietly feeding a few small birds through the security bars. Madeleine watched as they hoped in and out, pecking crackers straight from her hands. It was three days later that she first heard her through the vent and realized she lived in 3c, directly below her. She had seen her one other time out her window one evening. She had been exiting the building, alone. Madeleine remembered the way that her hair had lifted softly, caught by the wind as she walked off out of view.

< 3 >
"I like this one," the woman said, tearing an orange ticket from her ticket spool. Madeleine struggled with the loose bills in her wallet.

"Although, he's kind of a creep, now."

Madeleine put her $6.50 on the booth counter and looked up again. She noticed the woman was smiling at her. She had a beautiful, quiet smile, that was enhanced by deep pensive brown eyes. Madeleine wanted to tell her that she didn't really like Woody Allen anymore either, and that she was only coming to draw the sad woman who had played Woody Allen's first girlfriend in the film. That she hadn't seen the woman in anything else, as if she had disappeared. And that there was one particular scene that she adored. Just simple shots of the woman - jumpcuts of different expressions: manic anxiety, whimsical laughter, pain, sorrow. She wanted to tell her that this was all she had come for. Just to sketch her in her book, to take her from the film and close the door on Woody forever.

"Yeah, I know what you mean," she eeked out in an apologetic manner. Lame, she thought.

"Here you go." The woman nonchalantly slid Madeleine's money back at her, with her ticket.

"But won't you --"

The woman smiled softly and nodded. "Go ahead, I'll see you around. You can get me another time."

"Oh. Thanks ..." Madeleine smiled. She gathered her things.


"Thank you, Maggie."

The lines were simple, as Madeleine let her hand go. She was half-conscious of what she was doing, caught somewhere between the last sounds of Maggie and her fading song, and the tapping of the rain which had started to fall hard on her window. It was the bird who brought her out of it. She had pecked the tiny silver bell, hanging from the top of her cage. The bird tilted her head to look down at Madeleine on the floor. Madeleine stared for a moment, smiling, and then turned back to the wall to finish her sketch: a ribbon around the bird's neck drifted across the wall into words: HELLO, SAD MAGGIE.

< 4 >
She didn't take the elevator, because she wasn't sure if it would bother the bird. By the second set of stairs her hands were beginning to tremble. The rain clattered off of the metal dumpsters outside, and filled the stairwell with echoes. "You okay, honey?" The bird hopped from one perch to the next, calmly inspecting the passing walls and handrails. As she entered the hallway and stepped up to the door, a horrific thought occurred to her: "Hello, Maggie? I know i've only seen you around a couple of times, and well, there's this vent in my place, you see...anyways, I hear you crying and I...I just wanted to give you this bird?" Yeah, right. Shit. She began to freeze up. "Don't. Don't freeze up," she thought. She looked down at the bird. She turned back to the stairs, and just as she was about to retreat, it happened. The bird cheeped. A little one. She froze. She looked back down at the bird. The bird was staring up at her. Another. Madeleine couldn't move.

The apartment door opened. Maggie peered out. "Bird?"

The bird began to sing. Maggie stepped out into the hall.

"Oh, sweetheart. You're lovely. Yes." she said, as the bird continued. She turned to Madeleine. "Hi."

Madeleine smiled. Her face was red. She wasn't sure if she could move. She raised her arm tentatively to present Maggie with the cage. The bird sprung up against the front of the cage door to greet Maggie. Maggie leaned in an ran her finger against the bars near the bird.

"Um. I bought her for you."

Maggie looked up at Madeleine. She was quiet. "Oh," she said. She smiled softly, looked serious for a moment and then her eyes started to become wet.

< 5 >
She took the cage from Madeleine's slightly trembling hands. She continue to stare at Madeleine. "Can you come in?"

Madeleine tried to relax into a smile.

"Yeah. Sure."

The first thing Madeleine noticed, once inside, were all of the plants. Not the amount of them - although there were a few - but how green they were. She had never seen such lush house plants in the city before. Or, anywhere for that matter. They surrounded the two small window spaces.

"How do you keep your plants so green?"

Before she could get an answer, she felt a soft hand touch her neck. She turned and Maggie leaned in and kissed her.

"Thank you." Maggie whispered.

Madeleine looked into her eyes, as Maggie reached up and brushed Madeleine's hair lovingly from her forehead. She kissed her again.

"I talk to them," Maggie said. Madeleine smiled.

"There was something I've been wanting to tell you," Madeleine said, feeling Maggie's hands still brushing against her waist. She looked over at the bird, who was still leaning tight against the cage door, staring up at the two women.

"Well. This is kind of stupid but ... the first time when I ... well ...," She paused, serious. "When I came to the theatre I wanted to tell you ... I really don't like Woody Allen anymore, I think he's gross. I just really liked that film. Yeah. There." She exhaled and laughed awkwardly.

Maggie laughed. She kissed Madeleine's forhead.

"I sketched the woman in it." Madeleine continued shyly.

Maggie nodded, smiling.

< 6 >
Madeleine looked around the apartment and then back at Maggie.

"The first girlfriend," Madeleine added.

Maggie nodded, knowingly. "Jumpcuts," she said quietly.

Madeleine smiled. "I used to think you were a ghost."

"How do you know I'm not," Maggie grinned.

"Well. I guess I don't." She paused and looked over at the bird. "But, the bird sees you, too."

"That lovely bird's probably seen lots of ghosts."

Madeleine was quiet. She looked down at the ground. She looked back up at Maggie, her head tilted slightly like the bird. "Are you?"

Maggie paused. She sighed. "I'm not sure," she said softly. Her look became distant. Madeleine took a deep breath and step towards Maggie, squeezing her hand lightly. Closing her eyes, she leaned in and kissed Maggie just below her ear.

"I don't mind," she said.

Eliza Riley
Return to Paradise

Lisa gazed out over the Caribbean Sea, feeling the faint breeze against her face - eyes shut, the white sand warm between her bare toes. The place was beautiful beyond belief, but it was still unable to ease the grief she felt as she remembered the last time she had been here.

She had married James right here on this spot three years ago to the day. Dressed in a simple white shift dress, miniature white roses attempting to tame her long dark curls, Lisa had been happier than she had ever thought possible. James was even less formal but utterly irresistible in creased summer trousers and a loose white cotton shirt. His dark hair slightly ruffled and his eyes full of adoration as his looked at his bride to be. The justice of the peace had read their vows as they held hands and laughed at the sheer joy of being young, in love and staying in a five star resort on the Caribbean island of the Dominican Republic. They had seen the years blissfully stretching ahead of them, together forever. They planned their children, two she said, he said four so they compromised on three (two girls and a boy of course); where they would live, the travelling they would do together - it was all certain, so they had thought then.

But that seemed such a long time ago now. A lot can change in just a few years - a lot of heartache can change a person and drive a wedge through the strongest ties, break even the deepest love. Three years to the day and they had returned, though this time not for the beachside marriages the island was famous for but for one of its equally popular quickie divorces.

Lisa let out a sigh that was filled with pain and regret. What could she do but move on, find a new life and new dreams? - the old one was beyond repair. How could this beautiful place, with its lush green coastline, eternity of azure blue sea and endless sands be a place for the agony she felt now?

The man stood watching from the edge of the palm trees. He couldn't take his eyes of the dark-haired woman he saw standing at the water's edge, gazing out to sea as though she was waiting for something - or someone. She was beautiful, with her slim figure dressed in a loose flowing cotton dress, her crazy hair and bright blue eyes not far off the colour of the sea itself. It wasn't her looks that attracted him though; he came across many beautiful women in his work as a freelance photographer. It was her loneliness and intensity that lured him. Even at some distance he was aware that she was different from any other woman he could meet.

< 2 >
Lisa sensed the man approaching even before she turned around. She had been aware of him standing there staring at her and had felt strangely calm about being observed. She looked at him and felt the instant spark of connection she had only experienced once before. He walked slowly towards her and they held each other's gaze. It felt like meeting a long lost friend - not a stranger on a strange beach.

Later, sitting at one of the many bars on the resort, sipping the local cocktails they began to talk. First pleasantries, their hotels, the quality of the food and friendliness of the locals. Their conversation was strangely hesitant considering the naturalness and confidence of their earlier meeting. Onlookers, however, would have detected the subtle flirtation as they mirrored each other's actions and spoke directly into each other's eyes. Only later, after the alcohol had had its loosening effect, did the conversation deepen. They talked of why they were here and finally, against her judgement, Lisa opened up about her heartache of the past year and how events had led her back to the place where she had married the only man she believed she could ever love. She told him of things that had been locked deep inside her, able to tell no one. She told him how she had felt after she had lost her baby.

She was six months pregnant and the happiest she had ever been when the pains had started. She was staying with her mother as James was working out of town. He hadn't made it back in time. The doctor had said it was just one of those things, that they could try again. But how could she when she couldn't even look James in the eye. She hated him then, for not being there, for not hurting as much as her but most of all for looking so much like the tiny baby boy that she held for just three hours before the took him away. All through the following months she had withdrawn from her husband, family, friends. Not wanting to recover form the pain she felt - that would have been a betrayal of her son. At the funeral she had refused to stand next to her husband and the next day she had left him.

< 3 >
Looking up, Lisa could see her pain reflected in the man's eyes. For the first time in months she didn't feel alone, she felt the unbearable burden begin to lift from her, only a bit but it was a start. She began to believe that maybe she had a future after all and maybe it could be with this man, with his kind hazel eyes, wet with their shared tears.

They had come here to dissolve their marriage but maybe there was hope. Lisa stood up and took James by the hand and led him away from the bar towards the beech where they had made their vows to each other three years ago. Tomorrow she would cancel the divorce; tonight they would work on renewing their promises.



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