New Short Fiction Series

New Short Fiction Series For fans and collaborators of the New Short Fiction Series, Los Angeles' "live literary magazine." Featuring local actors presenting short fiction by established and emerging West Coast writers.

Founded and directed by Sally Shore. The New Short Fiction Series is L.A.’s longest running spoken word series. Presented at The Federal Bar every second Sunday of the month in cooperation with Barnes & Noble, The New Short Fiction Series is a recognized standout in the Southland’s artistic landscape. Each performance features carefully selected excerpts from new works of short fiction by a West C

Founded and directed by Sally Shore. The New Short Fiction Series is L.A.’s longest running spoken word series. Presented at The Federal Bar every second Sunday of the month in cooperation with Barnes & Noble, The New Short Fiction Series is a recognized standout in the Southland’s artistic landscape. Each performance features carefully selected excerpts from new works of short fiction by a West C

Operating as usual

Hope Gardens Story Time September 27,2021

In celebration of the opening of the new Hope Gardens Children's Library and return to live Story Time tomorrow, today's story is The School Mural by Sarah Vazquez and Melinda LeVine #savewithstories #homestagesaf


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g c cunningham discusses public readings, NSFS event on March 10, Federal Bar, North Hollywood
Rock N Roll Stories By Dave Shafran (excerpt, chapters 1-3) Chapter One Snake River Blues ok, idaho falls. what a great little town. we had a day-long pause in our tour, and were headed to jackson wyoming for a 2 week run at a venue there, but here we were, finally a rare day off, and our management had just seen fit to finally pay out for the last few gigs we did. i had a thousand dollars cash in my little wallet. and a day and night off in idaho falls. what could possibly go wrong? the rest of the band, the other three members, decided that this would be a great time to just relax in our hotel, maybe go out just for a nice dinner, then back to the room to quietly drink some beers, talk about the finer moments and not so fine moments of the last few shows, and get to bed reasonably early. not shafran. that thousand bucks was burning a hole in my pants, and so i changed into my coolest black suit (no tie, just a black tshirt), gave my wingtips a quick spit shine, and headed out on the town. as i left the hotel room, my bandmate and lead guitar player reminded me that we were leaving the following morning at 9AM sharp, headed for wyoming and a show that same night. i said hey man you know me, i'll be here on time, you guys have fun watching tv, i'm going out, and off i went into town. i won't bore you with the more mundane details of my carousing, as i want to get as quickly as possible to the exciting end of this tale, but suffice to say, i hit every bar in town, played endless games of pool with the locals, almost made it with a few girls, ate pickled eggs for the first time and loved them and have been eating them solidly ever since that very night, but ok, finally the night was getting long. and late. i walked unsteadily out of the last bar i visited that night, no idea what it was called but they had pickled eggs too, all the bars did, and i decided that maybe i should be getting back to the hotel. i walked a few blocks and realized i was totally completely lost, even in this small town. all the booze and dope i had consumed that day, not to mention the pickled eggs, had caused me to become disoriented, in terms of being aware of where the hotel was, and how to get back to it. in a moment of fear i reached into my pants pocket, fearing that my hotel key was gone. i breathed a sigh of relief upon finding it lodged deep in the lining of that pocket. now all i needed to do was figure out where the hotel was. it was then that i found myself walking along the banks of the Snake River, which runs right through the center of town, and at the time of year we were there, it was flowing fast and furious, whitewater almost, and a good 30 feet across at the smallest. i stood for a moment in the late night admiring the power and ferocity of the river flow, and it was then that i saw, past the river and a good 1/2 mile in the distance, our hotel, lights glowing cheerfully, beckoning me to safety. for a brief moment i felt elation at the idea of being safely reunited with my bandmates--i'd shower off the night, get some sleep, and off we'd go to wyoming in the morning. but there was a god damn river, flowing fast, standing between me and my destination. well f**k it, i thought, f**k it all, i'll just f**king swim across the river and by the time i get to the other side and walk the remaining distance to the hotel, i'll be dried off and won't have to admit anything. i took the first apprehensive steps into the ice-cold water, my wingtips and socks instantly filling up with silt and mud. i am doing this, i thought. i am going to do this, and i am going to succeed. i waded further into the icy black current, now my pants, along with my wallet, etc were soaked through in an instant, and then i took a few more steps and my suit jacket was fully immersed, i was fully immersed, up to my neck in the freezing river, the pretty and warm inviting lights of my holiday inn beckoning me home like a friendly beacon, by god, i was going to make it, but the current was surprisingly strong and i began to lose control of my desired direction, the powerful flow smashing me now and again into enormous boulders sitting in the riverbed, and i realized i was also being swept downstream. now banged and bruised, with the weight of the waterlogged suit and shoes conspiring to drag me under to die, my animal survival instincts kicked in, and i began to frantically wildly swim and flap my arms and legs in a desperate bid to reach the opposite shore. many times i faltered, taking suffocating mouthfuls of the muddy river water in my mouth and nose, and for a moment i considered giving up, but being in my early twenties i knew it would be a damn shame to die alone here in the snake river at 2AM, and never get to egotistically selfishly screw whatever slutty groupies that awaited us in jackson wyoming, i had to live in order to keep on course with my agenda of getting paid to live a life of nonstop s*x, drugs, booze, and random ass in this country and elsewhere. i redoubled my efforts, thrashing the water as if gripped in the death-spin of an alligator, except the only thing really spinning in this instance was my head, but oh yeah, i made it, i made it to the other side, at first foolishly grabbing onto thin reeds and small branches and they giving way and dumping me back into the icewater, suit and all, but at last i managed to scrabble and stumble and drag myself to land, the soft mud of the riverbank now covering my face, my beautiful friday night ladies man suit filled with silt and plant material, i felt something bothering my ass crack, i reached down inside my now-destroyed suit pants, into my muddy underwear, and pulled out a flip tab, aluminum, from a budweiser can. no matter, i tossed it aside with a victorious and dramatic sweep of my arm, i had beaten the river, mother river no match for the great dave shafran, i had braved her treacherous boulders and beercans and broken glass shards and used diapers and made it safely, against all odds! it was just then that i happened to look over to my left, at the snake river, the river i had just conquered, flowing downstream, and just about 30 feet from where i was standing, there was a bridge. yes, a bridge over troubled water, just a few minutes walk downstream. a bridge that would have taken me directly to the holiday inn, drunk but dry as a bone and safe. i took a deep, deep breath, now shivering in my soaked filthy clothes, and i took a long morose look at that nice dry bridge. so what, i told myself, bridges are for cowards, i am a real man, i always take the hard way and i always win!! with this momentarily comforting rationalization firmly in mind, i slogged and squeaked and squeegied my wet miserable ass towards the hotel, falling down on the unforgiving pavement several times, breaking the skin on my face and drawing blood, i didn't give a f**k, all i could see were those lights, the green sign, and as i listened to the sound of small-town traffic purring through the sleepy late streets of an american friday night, i at last arrived at the hotel, made it to the elevator, greatly alarming the concierge, who had his left hand on the phone to dial 911 and report a soaking wet, mudfaced, disoriented maniac in his lobby, until i managed to fish my room keycard out and wave it weakly in the air for him to see. the customer is always right, especially in places like idaho falls, so he let me go ahead into the elevator. i arrived finally at the door to the band's room, and took a deep breath. just act normal, i told myself. if you don't seem like anything's unusual, they won't even notice. mind over matter, i can do this, this is easy compared to getting onstage in front of crowd of strangers, just play it off. i inserted the key, opened the door, and there were my 3 bandmates, staring, staring, staring at me, for some reason. i said, hey guys, what's up? having a fun night? hey, if no one minds, i think i need to hit the shower. everybody's eyes were rolling, but not a word was said, so i took that to mean the shower was free for use, and i went in and locked the door. ahhhh, i thought, sweet sweet victory. i'll take off this suit, wash all the mud and sticks and leaves and insects off, by the morning it will be more or less dry, and i'll be dry too and have some sleep, what a night! now naked, my clothes lying in a defeated, utterly decimated pile on the bathroom floor, i reached up to grasp the shower curtain rod, just for balance as i tried to step into the tub, i was careful not to put my full weight on the curtain rod, but i guess i put just enough on, and it came loose, totally free from it's moorings on both ends, and came crashing down, curtain and all, on top of me, and with this i lost my balance as well falling like a stone into the hard bathtub, the moldy curtain smothering my face, i went down, it went down, everything went all the way down into that tub, crashing horribly, it sounded like audio from a car crash, and then, it was silent. out in the room, just a few feet away, it was also very, very quiet. i learned later that my bandmates thought i might be dead, and that whether or not i was actually dead, they didn't want to find out right then. so they left me there, n**e and freezing in the tub, mangled curtain rod next to me, shower curtain grotesquely wrapped around my neck like a moldy wet necktie or a noose, maybe, but sure enough the morning was not far off, and when it came i collected myself as best i could, got into some clean clothes, and made it downstairs to our van, where my bandmates stood fuming silently, waiting for my sorry ass to arrive. as we all got in the van, my guitar player broke the silence. he said, dude, that's all very rock n roll of you, but if you keep going like this, we're going to be attending your funeral in no more than five years tops. no one else said anything, and we drove on to jackson, wyoming as planned, and played a few great shows, and i sang like an angel, and i did not die in five years, and that was 25 years ago, as i sit here now, eating a pickled egg and drinking a straight vodka, and that's my story and i'm sticking to it. Chapter 2 The Mechanic's Daughter I’m never, ever going to see another art film again. For a long, long time, I allowed myself to be persuaded to go because my uberwhite artsy friends peer-pressured me, only to sit there feeling like a moron or ignorant white trash because for the most part I was unable to grasp the meaning of whatever was taking place on the screen, and I’d occasionally sneak a look to either side at people’s faces, hoping to spot someone who felt like me—but I never did. they all seemed enraptured, mesmerized, absorbed in the dialogue, and afterwards they always stayed to watch all the credits roll, commenting with great interest on the work of the people listed, right on down to the gaffers, grips, and craft service people, and out of shame i’d sit there with them, not wanting to be scorned for leaving before the names of the production assistants rolled, dying for a cigarette as the house lights at long last came up, signaling the ok for all the genius art lovers to exit the theatre, earnestly and vociferously discussing the cinematic mastery of truffaut, tarkovsky, bergman, fellini of course, kurosawa, and on and on, adjusting their felt berets over unfiltered gauloises and black coffee, and I’d be there rolling my eyes, secretly looking forward to the upcoming sequel to die hard with bruce willis and the next ac/dc album, notions so repugnant, so unsophisticated, so unrefined and artless I dared not share them with a soul. And yet I kept going to these movies because like any young man 18 or 19 years old I longed to be cool, whatever that meant, and more than that I wanted to be accepted. Then, when we’d get outside, my intellectual so-called friends would ask what I thought, you know, about eric rohmer’s bent for monarchist propaganda, jean-luc godard’s existential and possibly marxist politics, so forth and I’d stand there speechless, trying to have an interesting and positive opinion about what to me was mostly a lot of pretentious, dull, and self-obsessed bad art. Inevitably my pretense at being cool would be seen through, and, my cover blown, I became the sole target of their snide and snickering asides, which was, after all, the very reason they had invited me, they needed someone to condescend to, to look down upon, to feign tender forgiveness for my obvious intellectual shortcomings, almost lovingly they derided me, shamed me, and all with soft-spoken tones of mock pity, oh, he doesn’t know about kurosawa, how could he, the poor simpleton, the town dummy, the uncultured and boorish tag-along, they made me feel stupid and I hated it because deep inside I knew it wasn’t true, and then and there I saw through the whole absurd swindle of modern so-called art—it was the same old children’s fable about the emperor’s new clothes—if enough artsy, beret-wearing white people agreed that some film or performance art or theatre show or art installation was “important” well then, it was important. If someone took a three-day meat-and-potatoes dump on the laminated concrete floor of a downtown art gallery, and proclaimed it art, well then, it was art, great and revolutionary art, or it was genius, pure, groundbreaking, visionary genius that south-claremont hillbillies like me could never hope to contemplate or understand. And it went on and on like this, this perverse little situation continued for years and years, until I finally got older and got wise. Many of these occasions seem blurred and mixed together in my remembrance, but I do clearly recall the last and final time I attended an art film. Earlier in the day, I had started off the morning at my place by eating a very large handful of dried psilocybin mushrooms—that might sound unusual in terms of breakfast choices, but in my life at that time it was pretty much a typical day. Except this was a really, really healthy handful, about 7 grams or roughly a quarter ounce of mushrooms—I loved the taste, too, and as I chewed I removed the vinyl lp of bob dylan’s album blood on the tracks from the album jacket, placed it on the turntable, and gently set the needle down on the first track, tangled up in blue, hearing the first crackle of needle on vinyl just for a moment, and then the jangling acoustic guitar and lovely shuffling beat of the drums, and then the lyrics coming in, and I sat down on my bed as the music began to flow over me like water, to caress my face and neck, to swirl in colors around my head, whoooosh, ahhhhh! And now my green s**g carpet had liquified, had turned into water, and I swung my bare feet off of the bed and into the cool now aquamarine current, and as dylan moved on into his song simple twist of fate, abruptly and without warning, my watery verdant reverie was shattered. I looked down, and to my horror and disbelief, watched myself disappear, inch by inch, starting with my feet, they were gone, vanished, then my lower and upper legs, and then my lower torso vanished, and finally, my view looking downward was that of the bedsheet, twisted and wrinkled from the previous night’s sleep, and no one, I mean nobody, upon it. I began to panic. Boy oh boy I had really done it this time, like when a mother tells you your eyes will get stuck permanently if you keep crossing them, or you’ll go blind from ma********ng, I had taken a step over and past some sort of psychedelic boundary line, and now I had unwittingly willed myself out of existence!! Gripped with helpless terror, I suddenly became aware of the sound of frantic hyperventilation, ragged breathing----and with immense relief I realized it was my breathing, and that therefore I must still actually exist, and if I think therefore I am, and thankfully, by the time dylan was getting into his song idiot wind, my whole body had slowly reappeared, from the top down, ending with a little popping sound as my toes, last to return, came back into existence. Whew, I sighed, that was a close one. I looked at the clock and apparently my morning and afternoon bob dylan marathon and journey to non-existence and back had taken the better part of the day, and I was now due at the theatre within the hour to meet up with my friends, my erudite and genteel hipster overlords, to take in yet another three-hour, totally indecipherable montage of some miserable people suffering indignities somewhere in europe, of course. I was feeling a little bit tired from thinking about all this, and I badly needed some kind of pick-me-up, so I looked in the crumpled bag that had contained the mushrooms I had ingested, and observed an almost equal portion still waiting, hiding in the corners and folds of the bag. I neatly extracted the desired material and wolfed it all down, chasing it with a couple of cold beers. Then I got dressed and walked down to the theatre. I arrived and got seated just as the lights dimmed and the curtain over the screen was lifted. I don’t recall the name of the film, or who the genius visionary director was, or really anything, other than it was black and white. Still I sat quietly squirming in my seat, trying to get involved in the film, and hoping to mentally rehearse my artsy opinion statement that I was damned to have to present afterwards. Suddenly, I had the profound and non-negotiable need to urinate. I began to stand up from my seat in the crowded theatre, but whereas a normal movie audience attending, let’s say, a bruce willis movie, would take note, and move out of the way as much as possible, these very special, very brilliant artistic people were apparently so captivated by the endless droning speeches and lengthy silent single camera shots of inanimate objects, that they failed to perceive my presence, and my polite whispering, excuse me, pardon me. Finally, about halfway to the aisle, I knew I had to do something to move events along. I got down on all fours, and proceeded to crawl under the legs of the moviegoers, and at long last, I made it out to the aisle. Now the clock was ticking. I ran out to the lobby, which was silent and unmanned, whipping my head around, trying to locate the door to the men’s room. Around and around I spun, looking in every direction, to no avail. I concluded that the restroom had been intentionally camouflaged in order to discourage uncultured lowlifes like me from relieving themselves indoors. Ok, fine, I thought, man urinated outside only, for a long, long, time before theatre restrooms, and before French new-wave and avant-garde cinema. I headed right for the exit doors, ran outside into the parking lot, and spotted a heavy area of brush and shrubs, fairly discrete, good enough. As I ran across the parking lot to salvation I was already unbuttoning my slacks, trying to fish my dick out of my underwear, lest a second of precious time be wasted. At last I arrived at my destination, panting and sweating, but no matter, I felt victorious, and whipping my c**k out roughly, I began to release the contents of my turgid bladder. Ahhhhhh, I said out loud to no one, aahhhhhh, as a lovely pee-chill ran up my spine, aahhhh, nothing so satisfying as this, ahhhh, my tensed-up body began to finally relax as the last trickles dribbled out lazily, and somehow in my sudden state of relief, my leg muscles went soft under me, and I pitched forward, heading face and body-first into the brush. As I fell in slow motion I thought, this won’t hurt too bad, and I relaxed even further, knowing this would minimize any potential injury. But what I was not able to see, in the poor light of the parking lot bollards, was about four square feet of a native variety of barrel cactus, huge rounds of cactus flesh, covered in enormous long sharp spines. As I had still been urinating at the time of my collapse, my p***s and balls were nakedly exposed outside of my slacks, and as I fell with my full weight, they were impaled upon the spines, totally skewered, a shish kabob of a man’s worst nightmare. Feeling the immediate need to extricate myself from the situation, I somehow managed to get back up and on my feet, but in doing so, i tore off a large chunk of the cactus, which remained firmly attached to my ge****ls, and, seeing this horror, my first instinct was to reach down with my bare hand to try to tear it from my flesh. But much to my dismay, this only resulted in my left hand also becoming impaled on the long spines, so now my hand was tethered to the cactus which was tethered to my c**k, and I was really beginning to feel the pain as the initial shock of the fall wore off. Now there was unfortunately only one remaining course of action—I had one free hand left to work with, and though it seemed the odds of success were against me, I reached on down to try to free myself once and for all, and wouldn’t you know it, that hand also became stuck to the cactus, and now I was out of options, standing there in the moonlight with my pants around my ankles, my bare ass hanging out in the breeze, wondering well what next. After what seemed like hours I freed both hands, pulled the remaining spines out of my poor impaled p***s, and last of all, using my teeth, I managed to remove most of the spines that were imbedded in the palms of my hands. I looked around, amazed that I had managed to work my way through this challenge without anybody witnessing it. Maybe that was luck enough, and as I took a couple of steps backwards from the brush and cactus for safety’s sake, I stepped into a large, wet mud puddle behind me, lost my balance, and fell backwards into the mud, still wearing my suit jacket, pants still down around my ankles. I laid there quietly for some time, feeling the dirty water permeating my jacket, shirt, and underwear, and I looked up at the moon hanging way up there in the sky, a beautiful creamy color like a round of brie, I heard the crickets begin their evening song, and right then and there I promised myself I’d never again attend an art movie, and that there was nothing shameful about enjoying car chase scenes and explosions, and that bruce willis really was a pretty good actor, and, most of all, that just because some art is indecipherable to a south-claremonter like me doesn’t mean that it’s any good, and that if art is so esoteric as to appear meaningless, perhaps the only foolishness is in paying money to go look at it. After a time of quiet reflection, it occurred to me that the cops were probably about due for a drive through the area, and that spending the night in jail with my sore dick and balls and muddy clothes would only make a bad night worse. I again struggled to my feet, managed to get my pants back up and buttoned and zipped, and I walked on out of there, leaving my highbrow friends back in the theatre. It was a double feature that night, and the second film, my dinner with andre, was just getting started, a movie that could have used a few car chases and explosions, a s*x scene, a murder, anything, and right then I picked up the pace to a brisk walk, putting as much distance as possible between myself and the art crowd, the cactus, and all else that conspired against me that night and all the nights before. I arrived home at last, wearily closing the front door, and removing my ruined clothes and muddy shoes. I went to the bathroom, got into the claw-footed tub for a bath, and just as I began to relax in the warm water, I heard a knock at the door. No rest for the wicked, I sighed to myself, climbing out of the tub and wrapping a towel around my waist for decency’s sake, and to hide the very visible puncture wounds on my dick which had now developed an allergic reaction to the spines, and had swollen up to look like a tiny little version of the goodyear blimp. still feeling grateful for my earlier escapes from permanent nothingness, French new-wave cinema, and indigenous barrel cacti, I answered the door. It was one of the daughters of the local auto mechanic, who along with an excellent reputation for his repair work and ethics, was widely admired among the drinkers of the town for the potent, clear, pure grain liquor he distilled as a hobby and sold to the men of the town a few times a year. This daughter, to put it modestly, was very, very, very full-figured, and very homely in the face. Her hair tied back loosely from her pimply forehead, she stood there on my doorstep, and next to her sitting there was a large bag with 4 large mason jars of her father’s infamous corn white lightning inside. What I couldn’t figure was why, and why today or ever, but then as she explained her presence there, it suddenly all came rushing back to me, just as one can sometimes recall events that took place during a drunken blackout, if there is an available sober witness available to remind them what horrible things they did or said. A few nights earlier she had appeared at my doorstep and dropped a bombshell—she was now, and had always been madly, deeply, wildly in love with me, she wanted only me, and she was still a virgin and wanted me to be the one to deflower her, and it would be a day she would treasure and hold dear to her heart forever, and would I please, please make love to her and be her first? I stood there awkwardly on my porch that evening, unsure of what to say or how to react, as I had no desire to sleep with her, much less take her god damned virginity. And then the depraved, misogynistic, twisted solution came to me. I would make her an offer, an offer so outrageous, so insulting and offensive, that she would have to curse me, slap my face, and then storm away to her car and leave. I looked her in the eye and said, ok, tell you what. If you bring me a whole bunch of your dad’s liquor tomorrow, i’ll f**k you. You may have to sit and wait a while because I’m gonna need to get pretty drunk before I can do it. I leaned back just slightly, steadying myself for the slap across the face and the screaming and the stomping off in tears, but to my surprise, she just looked at me deadpan and said, ok, and without another word walked quietly to her car and drove off. I closed the front door, thinking, she probably just held it together long enough to turn the corner, and now she’s weeping and blubbering. I’ll never hear from her again, I feel bad, but good riddance. And I went on about my usual night and didn’t think another thought of it and in fact as I say entirely forgot it, and yet now, here she was, a few days later, making good on the deal. As this all came rushing back to me it dawned on me that she had cleverly one-upped me, she had transcended my shameful cruelties and turned the situation to her advantage. And there she was, with all the moonshine I had requested and more, waiting to be let into my place and to complete the transaction. Having really no options, I opened the door and let her in, and up we went to my bedroom. The poor girl sat there in my chair for over an hour, as I lounged on the bed, taking big jolts of the corn liquor, but finally the moment arrived, bob dylan playing yet again on my record player, something clicked inside me, as I looked over at her massive body, right then and there I suddenly knew I could do it. In fact, not only could I do it, I was actually going to enjoy it, all a man needed were a few very strong drinks to change his perspective and turn someone just plain unattractive into someone freakishly arousing, thrilling in their grotesque splendor, yes, the dirtiness and nastiness, the perversity of the scenario began to work on my mind, and now my c**k was rising, ready for the challenge, and I told her to turn off all the lights and get in bed. I wanted to fulfill my obligation, get in and get out, and then get her out of my house, leaving behind the rest of the corn liquor, I hoped. I climbed in bed…and there I was, naked, with her. Her body seemed even larger in the n**e and I was concerned that I might not be able to locate her entrance, or tell it apart from, say, the inside of her elbow or the back of her knee but somehow, there in the dark, the dylan record now finished and only the sounds of our awkward communion, sweaty queefings and farty humpings and the odor of her stinking arousal and my foul bad breath filling the room, I climbed up on top of her, wobbling slightly from side to side, trying to stay balanced as the flesh undulated like a small earthquake beneath me. trying to make it at least a little bit nicer for her, I began to kiss her on the lips, and she exploded with passion, jamming her thick, saliva-drenched tongue into my unsuspecting mouth, ra**ng my throat, choking me, and I gagged then, a wave of nausea overtaking me, and had to withdraw from our romantic kiss to take a few deep breaths and thereby avoid the possibility of vomiting all over her chest. Never a quitter, I resumed anew, determined to finish the grim task at hand, and magically, almost magnetically, my c**k found its destination. being a virgin, she was incredibly tight, and I have to admit it felt great, almost good enough to drown out my guilt for having initiated this whole pathetic fiasco, but not quite, and as I tried not to think about what a horrible bastard I was, I heard a little pop and felt the blood, warm and sticky, coating my dick and balls. The poor girl was no longer a virgin, and when I dared to look at her face in the near-total darkness, i could see she was smiling blissfully, she had done what she came to do, and it was now forever cataloged in her memory for future recallings and wistful masturbations of later age. As for me, I knew I would never be able to finish, given all the guilt and disgust I was feeling, so I kissed her once more, really trying my best to make it nice for her, and then I climbed down off her and over to my side of the bed, still panting and sweating from my efforts. For some reason, maybe it was all the exertion, I finally was hit full-force with a powerful wave of dizzy intoxication from her father’s corn whisky, and before I knew it, before I had a chance to ask her to leave, as I had been planning, I fell asleep beside her, the morning sun now just a few hours away. I awoke to one of the most intense and agonizing hangovers I had ever experienced, and as I wiped the mucus from my bleary eyes, I looked over to my side and there she was, just an enormous, pasty-white mountain of snoring flesh, her back was facing me, and then, already feeling very queasy from the hangover and from the whole situation, I looked down at the sheet, towards the actual area where she had become a woman the night before—there was a large and frightening puddle of blood there, and dried blood on her ass and on my legs, and worst of all there were big gelatinous bloody globs of…..something that had come loose inside of her, some tissue she had voided during our sweaty odiferous union, and at that sight my stomach lurched, and I leaped from the bed, still naked, and sprinted down the hall to the bathroom, arriving just in time to stick my head in the toilet bowl and let it all go, and out it came, like a volcano, roaring and gushing, so much puke, I had never puked that much and that long before, and finally my exorcism was complete and I rose from the bowl, feeling drained but purified somehow, and I went to the sink, brushed my teeth, splashed ice-cold water on my face, and felt quite a bit better. Gathering my wits and whatever little bit of charm I may have had left, I went back into my room, and there she was, having awakened and dressed, and she was combing her wiry, ratty hair and looking quite satisfied, quite pleased with herself. At a loss for what to say, and seeing that she, thankfully, was preparing to leave, I managed to say a meek, “thank you”, to which she replied, oh no, I want to thank you! And with that, I walked her to the front door, and she kissed me once more, and then turned, practically floating on air, and waltzed over to her car, stuffed herself inside, and drove off. I waited a few minutes, just to make sure she didn’t come back to retrieve some forgotten item, then I went into my room, hoisted my deflowered bloody mattress up onto my back, and carried it out to the dumpster. I knew it was beyond cleaning, it was permanently defiled, violated, and after that I came back inside, washed the blood off my hands and arms, and called the mattress store. They had a special going on that weekend, a clearance sale, with free delivery included in their low, low, closeout prices. It was going to be a great weekend. I lit a fresh cigarette, popped a morning beer, and put bob dylan back on the record player as the morning sun came through the window, and most of the rest of my life still lay out ahead of me like a grand and endless highway yet untraveled, and I exhaled the luxurious blue smoke into the rays of sunlight, and waited to see what next. Chapter 3 Saving Annmarie In order to get to the meat of this tale, I do have to take just a little time to relate the backstory, a brief synopsis of the events leading up to the dramatic rescue that is the primary focus of the narrative. I first met Annmarie at a performance of mine. About halfway through my show, as I was onstage singing and playing guitar for an enthusiastic audience, I spotted her, walking in through the front door. At the time I was about 25 or 26 years old, and she clearly was older than that (42, I soon found out), and she was just really, really beautiful, with piercing blue eyes, long straight dark brown hair down to her waist, a petite and feminine body, and as she walked I noticed that one of her legs was just slightly turned inwards, pigeon-toed if you will, which in turn caused her hips to sway in a really unique and s*xy way, and with them, her long hair also swayed back and forth, and her facial features were entirely European, strong-jawed, high cheekbones and thin but kissable lips, and she was evidently alone, and I was about to be single. I say about to be, because in those days my women always overlapped each other—I made sure of it to the best of my ability. I’d sense, just like anybody can and does, when a relationship was souring, things weren’t going well for some reason, I’d feel the end coming, and that would be my cue to open hunting season again, and the way I looked at that age, I pretty much never got rejected, so I’d go out, easy as pie, find my new girl, and have her waiting in the wings, ready to deploy at my whim. Things in fact had been going poorly with my girlfriend, and, whereas typically she’d attend my shows and parade around making it known that that guy singing lead was her man, this night, in a show of disinterest she had zipped off up to San Fran with some friends, and here I was, seeing my next opening, not to be intentionally crass. Annmarie sat towards the rear of the club, but still I could see her pretty well back there, and more than that, I could feel her eyes, those blue-ice-daggers, drilling into me in an electrifying and almost alien beam, and as I continued on with my performance, getting almost to the end of the night, I knew that the evening was about to get interesting. Finally the band and I concluded our performance, right at the stroke of 1:45AM, fifteen minutes before closing, and time for last call at the bar. Having no roadies or helpers at that early stage, we all set to packing the gear and cables, but as usual we did it while enjoying a few free beers, not in a huge hurry, and I looked up from packing and she was walking towards me, with that one pigeon leg turned inwards and her hips insanely s*xy and funky in their gyrations, and the long, long hair swishing this way and that, and she smiled at me, showing perfect teeth, as she got closer, and I knew right then I had to have her for my own. I stood up from a crouch where I’d been packing up, and smiled back at her, moving now in her direction so as to enjoy a private conversation away from the stage and the other young and h***y band members. As we approached each other, there was a huge electricity, a current, moving back and forth, our eyes were locked, and when she extended her hand for a handshake, I reacted without forethought or premeditation, or any sort of ethical or moral inner debate, I just did what felt natural, and I took her extended hand in mine, and rather than shaking it, I pulled it (and her, naturally) closer to me, right up against me, and then I guided her hand right into the top of my jeans, into my boxer briefs, and directly onto my p***s, which by now was rock-hard and as big as it was capable of being. And that was our meeting, she shook hands with my dick. And she moaned a little with pleasure and then she looked at me with a huge grin, her small but nimble hand already stroking me, making me even more engorged, and she laughed a deep throaty laugh, she had been observant and wise and mature enough to appreciate the boldness and the humor of my gamble, she’d passed my little test, as not many do, and that throaty deep laugh coming from the petite body of this beautiful woman, was a laugh I’d hear and relish many more times, but this was the first, and her iceblue eyes suddenly sparkled and the sadness I had seen there for a flashing moment was gone. And from that day and that night on, we became partners and lovers. Annemarie was a hippie girl in the early seventies, and now in the late eighties and early nineties, she retained every bit of her youthful beauty and appeal, but now at age 42 she had matured, ripened, had remained elegantly strikingly gorgeous, had transcended the common beauty we all enjoyed to a certain degree merely because we were young and unblemished fruit. This was a woman, the first one I had ever been involved with, all the others were girls, naturally, more or less my age, as I was of course, at 22 or so, a boy in a man’s body. She was a hairstylist at an expensive boutique and enjoyed a loyal following of wealthy women living in the area. She drove a rust-red Audi convertible, the image of which is forever branded in my mind, even today, as you will come to understand and empathize with me, in my recounting of this story. Our romance began to blossom, and we had many wonderful times together. The good times we had, in fact, were so great and so worth recounting that I’ll have to indulge you in just a sampling, a peek, if you will, into our short-lived glory days. Flash forward about six months, and we were still going strong. She was talented when it came to knowing how to pleasantly surprise a man. Once, on a weekend, we booked a cute little hotel down in San Juan Capistrano, hopped into the Audi, put the top down, and rolled a few fat joints for the ride down the coast, then dinner, and a stay in the charming little room. It sounded wonderful to me, and it was, and then it got better when we arrived at the hotel and checked into the room, and without a word to the wise, or any kind of warning, she shoved me, hard, down onto the bed, on my back, and quickly tied my legs and arms to the bedposts, using some heavy rope she had stashed in her bag. I made no effort to resist, and in fact encouraged her to tie the ropes tighter—I wanted them to hurt and to chafe and maybe rip skin and draw blood a little bit. You don’t have to ask me twice to get kinky if that’s your pleasure, and having secured me firmly (I forgot to mention she had stripped off my jeans and underwear and t-shirt, so I was naked except for my socks), she went into the bathroom and closed the door, leaving me n**e and helpless. She emerged a short time later wearing a pretty blue negligee and blue crotchless panties, and she made it over to the bed, laying her beautiful slim warm body on top of mine, her long thick mane of lustrous hair cascading over her shoulder and tickling my cheek. Then, suddenly, she rose slightly from me, and turned to face the other direction, reverse cowgirl style, and as I watched in amazement, she took the whole length of me deep in her pretty, dainty ass, in one go. Her grip was unbelievable, and although all my life I had been lucky to be one of those men that could ride it out and let my lover climax first, this time I knew instantly I would not last long. I could see a little bit of her arm and hand, frantically circling her c**t, her little breasts bouncing in unison with the movement, and her long hair waving and flowing like a beautiful river down her sculpted back. The imagery, combined with the intense physical sensation, was too arousing to bear, and feeling the base of my c**k surging with the rising force of my climax, I lost all control, I roared like a river into her, bucking against my restraints, and she came at the same time, ej*******ng, her come all over my legs, and it was nothing short of amazing, the whole thing, and then as we came down she untied my feet and hands, lovingly kissing the rope burns along the way, and we got dressed and walked down along the shoreline, ending up at a cozy romantic little Italian restaurant, bottles of chianti in webbed baskets hanging from the ceiling, checkered red and white tablecloths, candles in little red glass vases, the accordion music, all that. And we enjoyed a wonderful dinner and some wine, afterwards walking slowly, arm in arm, back to our room, where we smoked a joint, made love all over again, minus the rope tricks, and fell asleep in each other’s arms. And we had many, many days and nights like the one described here, and I began to feel that our relationship was invincible, that there was no conflict or challenge we could not resolve or overcome, that we were, truly, meant for each other. And of course, as these things go, that’s right about when things began to get, for lack of a more expressive term, weird. The first time I noticed something awry was during a conversation we were having in her kitchen. I at some point thought it had concluded, whatever we were discussing, and so I turned away and walked into another room far down the hall, and it was then that I heard her, still carrying on the conversation, same topic, but with no one else in the room to hear her. I realized, feeling sick to my stomach, that actually it didn’t make a difference to her if there was actually someone there or not. Either that, or she perceived someone to be there that was not. Either way it was bad news. And sad news. Then I began to really see the cracks in her façade----in the middle of smiling at me, her grey-blue eyes would suddenly flash with rage, really a look I can’t describe, except to say that it made my blood run cold, made me afraid to sleep in the same bed with her. I tried my best to sort of humor her, to play along with her madness, her delusions, but in addition to being mentally ill she was quite intelligent and perceptive, and then she’d detect something in my eyes, my doubt, my concern, my disbelief, and then she’d explode, screaming and cursing at me, that amazing gorgeous long brunette mane waving wildly about her small body, and then her tirade would subside gradually, and she’d begin sobbing, and then, I learned, that was my time to hold her tightly, encircle her with my arms, comfort her, as she shook with huge gasping sobs, and this I did willingly, feeling terrible for her suffering, and at a loss to do anything else. And eventually she'd calm down and get quiet, and then we’d make love, starting the whole insane cycle over again. It was unsustainable and I knew our days were numbered. The final red flag, for me, came as we were in the red Audi, driving to the library, on a Saturday afternoon. I made a teasing comment to her about her choice of route heading to the library, too many left turns, ha ha, something totally innocuous and lighthearted, but I had unwittingly triggered her rage, and without warning, she swerved wildly over to the right lane, slammed on the brakes, and parked it/crashed it into the high curb, my head banging against the dashboard and then whipping backwards. Without taking her hands from the wheel, she turned her head from the road, and her eyes were full of livid, nightmarish grey fire, a look of such ferocity and pure hatred that I felt beads of sweat forming instantly on my upper lip, and then she said to me, in a very, very soft voice, “I am going to kill you, you know that, don’t you? It’s going to happen while you are asleep. You’ll never see it coming. I always wanted to kill my father with a hammer. A common, hammer-and-nails type of hammer, that he kept in the garage. But he died from drinking before I got the chance to kill him. And now, sometime very soon, I am going to kill YOU with that same hammer. I saved it, when we cleaned out his house after he died, that bastard. I saved it for a special occasion.” Well. I didn’t know what to say to that, really, so I decided to remain quiet, as she put the car back in gear, and proceeded again towards the library. As we drove along in silence, I knew, and I’m sure on some level she knew as well, that our relationship had effectively just ended, with that statement of intent. After those words were spoken, there was simply no way I’d ever be able to fall asleep in her bed, or even turn my back to her, and whatever remaining physical attraction I’d managed to salvage instantly evaporated as I replayed her words, spoken so matter-of-factly, in my mind. I felt like opening the door and jumping out of the moving car right then, but I managed to play it cool, as we dropped off our return books, and she drove me back to my place. As I got out of her car I knew I had to say something, something passive, and calming, so I just said, “hey thanks, see you soon.” And she drove away. But I knew that it was not the last time I would see her. I could sense a storm brewing. And just about then, as these events tend to transpire, someone appeared in my life to conveniently divert my attention from the dark hurricane of Annmarie’s building rage and psychosis. She was hired on as an administrator at the main office of the company I worked for, and she was about as different from Annmarie as anyone could be, a beautiful pale-skinned all-natural dark blonde from Texas, born and bred—she looked a lot like Jodie Foster and drove a big Chevy pickup and listened to country music and seemed very, very sane. We became friends and I felt a huge sense of relief, when, driving back to my place from the tense and increasingly ominous atmosphere of impending violence at Annmarie’s, I’d stop at my new friend’s place for a cold beer, sit at her counter, and watch her cooking in the kitchen. It was so relaxing and comfortable, and listening to her funny stories about country life back in Texas, told in her pretty feminine drawl, I soon began to have romantic feelings for her. She, for her part, was understandably wary of my LA slickness and especially of my still ongoing association with Annmarie, but eventually she began to warm to me, and her guard came down, and we came together, and now I had another overlapping girl situation on my hands. One day I mustered up the courage to spill the beans to Annmarie, to sort of marginally do the right thing, though there was no “right” solution to the situation and certainly no calm or collected response to be had from her. When I sat her down, in the kitchen at her place, a decent distance from the garage where hammers and the like were stored, I was surprised at her calm demeanor, and her nearly indifferent reaction to my grim announcement. She simply looked away from me, off into the distance, and with wetness forming in her eyes, she said softly, “Of course. I knew it. I knew it already. You can go, now. Please leave.” I felt as if I were sitting next to a live bomb, one of those big round black balls you see in bugs bunny or wile e coyote cartoons, with the fuse on top, burning down, and I recognized that I had better make like the roadrunner and mmm-beep beep the f**k out of there before it detonated. I literally ran to my 1978 4-door Fiat 128, slammed the tinmetal door closed, and screeched off down out of the Padua hills where she lived. I had escaped my death at the end of a Heavy-Duty Sears-Craftsman hardened steel hammerhead—but over the next couple of months, as my new romance began to blossom with my sweet Texas bluebonnet, Annmarie’s fury began to fester and build upon itself, and now I had both a new girlfriend, and a new stalker, a real, very persistent, very tenacious stalker. I’d be parking my car in the lot at my job, two cities away, and there, out on the street, would be that god damn rust-colored Audi convertible, sitting there empty, but letting me know in no uncertain terms that she was nearby, very nearby, and probably armed, and ready to kill me. I decided that to outwardly show fear or concern would only serve to stoke the fires of her vengeful hatred, so I tried to appear as nonchalant and unperturbed as possible, hoping that my lack of reaction would render her pursuit somehow less satisfying, and eventually lead her to lose interest in following me everywhere I went. I’d get home to my place in the evening, pulling into my driveway—rust Audi parked across the street. I’d go to the supermarket for a few necessities---rust Audi parked there, too. My new Texas flame began to be quite impressed with the off-the-beaten path destinations I was taking us to, to spend time, thankfully not realizing I was simply going to great lengths to HIDE us from Annmarie and her hammer and her f**king creepy Audi. It all finally came to an end (or so I thought at the time) at a live show I was performing. I had actually tried to spare Annmarie’s feelings somewhat, by warning her that my new girl M from Texas was attending the show, and that she would not like that, so, better that she didn’t show up etc etc. And I was young enough and naïve enough to think, whew, good, that’s handled, and I went onstage and performed like a champ, now and again looking over lovingly and blowing kisses to my Texas sweetie, initially unaware that another devoted admirer of mine was also in attendance. Much later I spotted her for the first time, well into the evening, as our show was coming to a close—far, far in the back of the venue, shrouded in darkness, I could not have made out her features or known that she was anywhere near, except for her god damn EYES….those blue-grey daggers were, how can I really describe it, illuminated with blistering fury, and for the last few numbers we performed that night, I was contemplating what the safest escape route would be for Texas and I, but there was, as the song goes, only one way out, so I resolved to greet Annmarie cheerfully, thank her for coming, and keep moving, busying myself with packing the band equipment into our van. Alas, this time there was to be no convenient escape for me—on my second trip outside, carrying several guitars, Annmarie was waiting for me. She emerged suddenly from behind a door, lunging wildly at me and causing me to instinctively throw my arms up in a defense posture, the guitars crashing horribly to the pavement. Screaming and wailing like a maniac, she began to punch me in the chest and face, as the exiting audience turned to watch in disbelief. Her long fingernails raked my face, drawing blood, and she began to tear my shirt apart, ripping away small pieces here and there, exposing my bare chest. By now, everybody had stopped and gathered around in morbid curiosity, to see what the outcome of this incident would be. I knew I had to stop the whole insane chain of events, the threats of murder, the stalking and following me, and now this ugly scene. I had had enough. Finally I was angry, too. With her next right-handed punch airborne and flying towards my jaw, I grabbed both of her arms and easily overpowered her, holding her immobile in front of me. Her eyes were wild and seemed to look in different directions, her face reddened and soaked with acidic sweat, a trail of drool hanging from her twisted lips, my god, poor baby. And then, ever so calmly, so as to try to help her minimize the embarrassment and shame she was about to feel, I said to her, very quietly, so that only she could hear me, “If. You. Hit. Me. One. More. Time. I. Am. Going. To. Kill. You. Where you. Stand, got it?” And with that, I released my grip on her arms, and she knew I meant business with my quiet threat and she turned to slink away then, her sad shoulders bent forward and inward, shaking and spasming with silent tragic sobs. What a f**king bastard I am, I thought, as I finished packing the band gear and went to collect my pay and my Texas honey. A real man would have stayed, would have tried to help her recover from her mental illness..but I was a coward, and I knew it, and besides that I knew, even at my young age, that her wounds ran far too deep for me to assuage, that it was hopeless for me to try. Suffice to say, I left the show that night with Texas girl, and with my head and body un-hammered and un-murdered, good enough. The stalking, and the creepy sightings of that f**king rust-colored Audi finally ceased, and I stopped looking over my shoulder all the time. It was about a month later, sitting at my place on a Saturday and enjoying a few lazy beers, that my phone rang. Not suspecting for a second that it might be Annmarie, I answered right away. “hello!” I said brightly, expecting to hear the voice of a buddy, or maybe Texas girl. Instead it was Annmarie, and she was crying hysterically. “Dave, I’m sorry, Dave, to be calling you, but I can’t reach anyone else, you have to help me, please help me!!” she sounded really terrified, so I took a conciliatory calming tone and said, “What’s going on up there?” As I mentioned earlier, she lived in a house in the Padua hills, a lovely area just above the main part of town, that was in fact quite prone to certain types of natural disasters, such as mudslides, sinkholes in the road, brushfires, and the like. She wailed into the phone, “fire! Fire! There’s a brush fire burning out of control!!! The whole hillside is consumed in flames! The fire department has cordoned off the area and they are issuing evacuation orders! My house is about to burn down!! You have to come and help me evacuate!!!” Oh, for f**k’s sake, I said to myself silently. I got up and went to my window, which looked northwards towards the hills where she lived, and sure enough, I could make out a brown haze of smoke hanging over the area. Holy s**t, she’s not kidding, I thought, and I went back to the phone. “Honey?” I said, trying to sweet-talk her into calming down just a tiny bit. “Yeah?”, she blubbered, in between sobs and wild, unhinged animal moans and screams, “Honey,” I said reassuringly, “you just stay put. I’m on the way.” And with that, I put on my pants and shoes, stuck the beer back in the fridge, and went outside to my car. In my mind, I thought, maybe this is perfect. Maybe, once I save her from the wildfire, she will perceive that as some kind of compensation for what, in her mind was my heartless and disloyal abandonment of her so recently. I was going to redeem myself, and in doing so, permanently diffuse any further dangerous explosions or hammer attacks that might have been awaiting me still. I floored the Fiat Northbound on Mills Avenue, shifting through the gears like a racecar driver, feeling a bit like a hero, past Foothill Boulevard, past Baseline Avenue, and finally onto the graceful curves of her street, Via Padova. Now that I was actually there, I noticed that the haze of smoke I had seen from my house had dissipated, and the sky was a pretty light blue, typical of late summer in Claremont. I rounded another curve, and there in front of me, partially blocking the two-lane road, were several large fire engines, along with a number of smaller utility vehicles. I observed that the road itself was wetted down thoroughly, and several unmanned hoses lay across the road here and there, water lazily trickling out in the afternoon sun. There were no apparent roadblocks or restrictions, so I continued on, driving slowly forward in first gear, until I came upon the imposing figure of the Fire Chief, fully decked out in his helmet, with captain’s insignia, and long heavy field coat, surveying the landscape with squinted eyes. “Excuse me, sir, sorry to disturb you, but may I inquire, what is the status of the blaze? My girl called me, hysterical, and begged me to come and save her and her belongings.” He looked at me with kind of a sympathetic grin on his weathered face, and said, “Son, there’s no ‘blaze’ here. There was a minor brush fire, heck, I hesitate to even call it a fire, but all the same, this is our job, to keep these incidents under control. Some idiot we’ll never catch tossed a cigarette out the damn window and before you know it we have a potential forest fire on our hands, at least it coulda been. But the residents here were on top of it before we even arrived on scene. They had the damn thing already whipped, with just garden hoses, by the time we got set up to do our job. Still, since we are here already, we’re going to stay a bit longer and monitor the situation to make sure the danger is completely eliminated.” “And how about evacuations, sir?”, I inquired. He laughed a gravelly laugh and advised me that none had been ordered, and none were needed, and that I was free to pass on through as I wished. Now I almost felt like a hero—not only had I shown up to save the day, but now I was going to be the bearer of wonderful news! Her house, and all of her belongings, were going to be unharmed! She didn’t have to evacuate after all! With this cheerful good news bubbling out of me, I parked the Fiat in front of her place, ran to the front door, and knocked eagerly. Inside I could hear the sounds of rummaging, of items being tossed aside, this way and that, and of her voice, cursing aloud to no one in particular, punctuated with the occasional blood-curdling animal wail she had perfected. The door opened and there she stood, her long and beautiful brown hair matted and disheveled, stuck to her face with sweat and tears. Everything about her looked unhinged and verging on some kind of fearsome meltdown from which there would be no recovery. I stepped forward, taking her in my arms in a protective embrace, trying to soothe her, as she hyperventilated into the fabric of my shirt, her body shaking uncontrollably. “Hey! Hey, honey! Hey! It’s all right! Everything is all right! I just talked to the Fire Chief and he told me that the fire is completely out, extinguished, under control! He told me that no evacuations were needed, honey, and that none were ever announced or mandated, you must have heard incorrectly, honey, everything is fine, you’re safe, it’s over!” And with that, I gently released her from my embrace, gently rubbing her shoulders and stepping back to see her face, and to see the look of relief come across, but that moment came and went, and another moment, and still it had not sunk in that there was no threat, and then, with my heart sinking, I got it, I figured it out. The words I had said had not registered in the slightest, because Annmarie did not exist in the same dimension, in the same reality, as me, or the Fire Chief, and/or everyone else up there on Via Padova that afternoon. I began to feel strong nausea overcoming me along with sadness, as I perceived that in Annmarie-world, the fire was very much still active, with huge walls of flame inching ever closer to her beloved property and her belongings inside, the air was choking her with acrid smoke, the blaze advancing like an unstoppable blitzkrieg straight from the bowels of hell itself, all her most treasured art and furniture and record albums and doodads and knick-knacks were about to be incinerated and reduced to floating ash forever, all was lost—UNLESS…..suddenly she stopped weeping and wailing and a new focus appeared in her eyes. “Dave, if we HURRY, if we really HURRY, we might be able to save most of my things. RUN!!”, she yelled at me as I stood at the doorway in disbelief, “run, and start bringing out my clothes! Then, we’ll get the paintings and sculptures, stuff everything in the Audi, hurry, hurry, hurry!” And again, knowing the futility of what I was about to say, I tried to reason with her. “HONEY.” I said, in the most fatherly, benevolent, patient voice I could muster, “THERE IS NO FIRE. THE FIRE IS OUT. THERE ARE NO EVACUATIONS. THERE IS NO DANGER. IT’S OVER, OK”…….she stopped babbling for a moment and blinked at me then, perplexed, as if I had just spoken to her in some unfamiliar foreign language, and I held out hope for a few seconds that my statement had registered somehow. But it was not to be. The look of confusion on her face quickly reverted to one of panic and terror, and again she launched into her wild unhinged play-by-play of events that were strictly happening in her mind and nowhere else. I could have just turned on my heel and walked away, back to my car, and out of there forever, and in hindsight, now more than half a lifetime later, I wish I had—but no, I was going to stay. Yet now, in place of the lukewarm compassion I felt in coming up to “save” her, I suddenly felt furious, pissed-off beyond words at her nutty situations, her talking to herself, her following me around town, all of it, and when I get really, really angry, I sometimes do things that are unreasonable, illogical, foolhardy, and dangerous, just to make a point. It’s the actor in me, I suppose, my flair for drama coming into play at the worst possible moment. Now MY body was shaking, and with my eyes bugging out of my head, I screamed at her, “OK. YOU ARE RIGHT. THE FIRE CHIEF IS WRONG. THERE IS A HUGE FIRE BLAZING OUT OF CONTROL AND IT’S ABOUT TO DESTROY YOUR HOUSE AND EVERYTHING IN IT. I WILL START PACKING THE CAR NOW. OK? OK? OK? DOES THAT SATISFY YOU? And that’s exactly what I did, starting with her clothes, I emptied out two full closets of her hippie dresses and Stevie Nicks scarves and high-heeled lace-up boots she never wore, running in and out of the house as fast as I could, as if the fire were literally licking at my heels. Her car became full to the point that nothing else would fit, so I began stuffing her things, her books and knickknacks and pots and pans and record albums and table lamps and curtains and bathroom items into my car, back and forth I went, back and forth, now soaked in sweat and breathing hard, but fueled entirely with pure resentment and sarcasm and fury. I was going to play it her way, all the way, until the job was done, by god, god damn it, I was going to prove a f**king point, what point that was, was unclear, but that wasn’t stopping me, I was on a tear now, on a bender, on a rampage, and I was not going to stop until I had safely “rescued” all of her things. At one point, as I rushed in and out of the front door, a news crew with cameras rolled up in a little economy van—it was the good folks from the village newspaper, the Claremont Courier. They had stumbled across a vague report about a fire in the Padua Hills, and had rushed up post haste to get the scoop on the big, scary fire. Now, having realized that there was absolutely nothing to report, but still needing a dramatic, compelling cover photo for the front page of the upcoming edition of the Courier, the staff photographer leaped from the slow-moving van like a stuntman, landing in a crouched position in the road, and began snapping pictures of me running back and forth across Annmarie’s lawn, arms loaded to capacity with her furniture, shoes, TV sets, and so forth. I stopped running for a moment, dropped my current armload of stuff on the grass, and charged at the photographer like a rabid animal. ÝOU MO********ER, I WILL SHOVE THAT MO*********NG CAMERA SO FAR UP YOUR ASS THAT YOU’LL BE ABLE TO TAKE A FRONT-PAGE PHOTO OF YOUR FU***NG TONSILS, SO HELP ME!!” and even as I ran towards him he managed, the little prick, to rattle off a few more action shots of me, click click click, and then jumped back into the van, and off they sped, before I was able to smash his camera on the pavement, which was my intent. As the sound of their motor faded into the distance, suddenly it was very, very quiet and still, there on Via Padova. The fire department had packed up and left, the neighbors had long since gone back into their houses, and not a trace of smoke hung in the cool afternoon air. Birds chirped cheerfully, as I slowly turned to observe the front lawn, and the results of my absurd and pointless expenditure of angry, vindictive energy. Annmarie’s front yard looked like a closeout sale at a furniture store circa 1976. I had singlehandedly, in the course of about an hour and a half, successfully removed everything of value, and everything of no value, from her house, and there it all sat, getting warm in the sun, and I looked around and did not see my dear poor