“Charlie, have you ever been to Disneyland?” I asked. Mom was standing at the countertop making pancakes and sausage and pouring Dad black coffee. I looked to the window. A new frost dusted the grass. “It’s a pretty morning, don’tcha think, Charlie?”

“Ugh, shut up already!” Robby yelled. “Charlie is not real, Liddy!” I turned to Robby and gasped, “Stop, you meany! Leave Charlie alone!” I turned to the chair next to me and put a comforting hand to the air in front of me. “I’m sorry, Charlie. Some people just don’t know how to behave. Mama, will you tell him that Charlie is real?”

“Rob, please leave your sister alone,” Mom sighed into her coffee cup and hung up her apron. “Your sister can have an imaginary friend if she wants.”

“It’s just so dumb!” Robby rolled his eyes and filled his mouth with buttered toast. He leaned back in his chair (“Rob, I told you not to lean in those chairs!” Dad yelled) and said, “I’m so sick of hearing about stupid Charlie! Get some real friends!” And with that, he noisily got up from the table and left for school.

“Wait for your sister, you two need to walk together!” Mom walked over to me and gave me a little kiss on the cheek and with a soft whisper in my ear she said, “Don’t let stupid boys get to you.”

* * * *

I thought of that memory as a tear ran down my crinkled cheek. It was so vivid in my mind. I looked down at the small prayer card I had collected from the baskets along the funeral home walls.

Robert Ulsted, September 21, 1947—June 20, 2013. Forever in our hearts, the card read. People walked around me, their black suits and dresses blurred together, moving in both fast and slow motion.

“How ya holding up, mom?” I heard Susan from behind me.

“Oh, I’m fine, dear. Thank you,” I gave her a little smile, before her toddlers Joe and Greg interrupted by bounding from across the room. “Careful!” I yelled, stopping them before they knocked over a vase of flowers. Susan kissed me on the cheek before running after the little munchkins.

The drone of voices in the room began to quiet as the pastor approached the front of the room for the prayer service. I gripped my rosary with one hand and the palm of my husband Chuck with the other.

Another tear made its way down my cheek and I glanced at my side to Chuck. He gave my hand a soft squeeze. It was time to say good bye.

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Homecoming

“Now, what did you say happened again?” The officer wrote on a worn notepad. I couldn’t see his eyes, but I could tell he was rolling them behind his dark aviators.  Marie was putting up a fuss on the boardwalk.

“I said, He jus’ took off with my purse. I paid a lotta money fa dat, ya know. I was jus walkin wit my girlfran Jessica here, and all a sudden this guy comes outta nowhere and rips my purse outta my hand. I screamed at da guy, but he just took off and I’m wearin these new heels I got from that shop on Grand Street. Ain’t they nice? I got em for only forty dollas,” Marie took a break from smacking her gum and blew a pink bubble that snapped loudly as it popped. I was almost embarrassed to be standing here with her. Passing tourists were stopping to gawk. I gave them a glare to scare them off—there was still a little Jersey left in me.

The officer sighed, “Yes, anyways, what did the man look like?”

“Hell if I know!” Marie barked. “He was wearin’ one of them black hoodies from that store down the boardwalk a ways. Ya know, Paula’s? Only reason I know that is ‘cause my fiancé Jimmy has the same one. I saw the label on the back, looks like the same one. Yeesh, it’s way too hot out here fa that though. My hair startin’ to get flat in the back. Ya know how long it took me to get it like this, and now I’m out here, sweatin’ my ass off because this dope stole my purse. An’ my friend Jessie is here visitin’ from Maine and this is just—“

“Ma’am,” the officer interrupted. “I just need to know what he looked like. Can you give me a general idea of how tall he was?”

“Ah jeez, he was like medium height, probly,” Marie pointed her finger at me. “Like the height of my friend Jessie. You gonna catch him?”

“I’m trying, ma’am,” the officer groaned. I felt bad for him—Marie was making this absolutely impossible.  It was great seeing her after all these years, but it just reminded me of how different I was after moving east for college.

“Well, I hope ya get him. I really liked that purse. Say, you gotta girlfriend? You want my friend Jessie’s numba?”

Nine

“And you never put down the toilet!” Michael heard from behind the bathroom door. He quickly ran down the hall and knocked.  Jen was slamming cabinets inside.

“Excuse me?” he yelled. He ran a hand through his hair and tried to calm down. “What did you say?”

“I said,” the door opened suddenly, revealing a red-faced Jen, “you never put down the damn toilet!” She grabbed a tub of lotion from the bathroom counter and proceeded to angrily rub the pink cream on her face. Michael inhaled a heavy breath and said, “What does that have to do with any of this?”

“It has everything to do with this!” she stormed past him and into the bedroom. He stood in the doorframe and rolled his eyes. “Jen…” he groaned. “Please help me out here.”

He was so sick of this back-and-forth nonsense they were doing. Nine years together and now it seemed like all they did was fight.  This is not to say that they hadn’t fought in the past.  But lately their fights had been lasting days. It all started when Jen’s best friend got engaged. Jen was starting to think about marriage more and it was evident that she was getting frustrated with him.  Five years ago they moved in together and everything was great. She understood that he was against marriage and agreed that they were just as committed to each other now without the piece of paper. His parents divorced. Two out of his three siblings divorced. He knew the odds.

Jen said something he didn’t catch.  He snapped to and his eyes focused on her face. Tears were forming in her eyes and she choked, “Oh great, what are you, just spacing out now? My God, Mike.”

“What, babe? What do you want from me?” He sighed.

“Why won’t you marry me?” she replied with a stern voice. He knew this had been coming. This had been the topic of every fight for the past three months.

“Jen, you know how I feel about marriage. It’s nothing against you.”

“But it is though,” she pleaded. “What is different about what we’re doing right now if we are married?”

He threw his hands up. “Right!” He yelled. “What is different? It’s a little piece of paper. Don’t you believe that I love you?”

“Of course I do, Mike,” she sobbed. “But commitment is about wanting to make each other happy. Can’t you try to see that?”

“I’m sorry that I can’t give you what you want, Jen.” Tears began to soak her face which made him unclench his fists. He walked towards her and reached with a gentle hand for her waist, but she pushed past him and whispered, “Please not right now.” He eased onto the bed as he heard the front door slam.

Domino

There was a thick morning fog forming over what was once the Thames. Harris sat on the pavement; his grey eyes matched the storm clouds flowing from the horizon.  He fiddled with a small domino, the white paint on the dots nearly worn off. The piece belonged to a set that was long forgotten, but he always kept this one in his pocket. It reminded him of a time ages ago, long before The Fall, when he would line them up in extravagant designs with his son Jared. Jared would giggle with joy when Harris tipped the first domino. That small moment of time before his finger pushed it felt suspended and all was still, a moment of peace before everything collapsed.

Harris was interrupted from his memory by the marching of city guards down the street. He moved back into the shadows of a nearby building.  It was not smart to be out at this time of day, especially on the morning of inspections. But on this particular day Harris needed the fresh air.  He woke up with new aches that only this anniversary could bring.  It seemed like only yesterday that Jared died.

There was something different in the air exactly one year ago. Being a fairly compliant man, Harris was angry when he discovered Jared’s involvement in the Rebel movement, but Jared had agreed to let go of his illusions of revolution. When Harris heard the gunshots and shouts that early morning, he knew something was wrong.  Call it fatherly instinct, but something drove Harris to run out into the street.

“Stand down, Rebels!” an order erupted from the block of city guards. With their large silver guns, they looked significantly stronger than the small group of rebels.  Harris felt a drop in his stomach when he saw Jared standing in the front, his eyes shining bright despite the dark marks on soot on his face.

“My fellow British people!” He yelled to the groups of commoners now lining the sides of the street. “We must not let this harsh government control us! We may not have the power of machines, but there is strength in numbers! Together we can overcome this oppression!”

“Stand down, or we will be forced to fire.” A guard yelled, his demeanor frighteningly calm.

“Jared!” Harris heard himself yell. His eyes met Jared’s, who then looked away with a vigor that told Harris standing down was the last thing he would do.

In a second that now seemed like a lifetime, Harris watched the actions unfold in slow motion. Just one slip of a finger led to a chain of catastrophe. A shot in the crowd from a nervous Rebel rang out and in the next moment, gunfire and Jared lay on the ground, gasping in a pool of his own blood.

Harris breathed deeply in the shadows, still holding tight to the worn domino piece.  He pulled himself up from the ground and knew his role in this game. Their roles had reversed; Jared was the first piece—the moment of silence was over. Harris slowly walked out of the shadows: a new man, a Rebel.

Bitter and Sweet

            The white chocolate latte was scorching as it drenched Sarah’s blouse. “Ahh fuck!” she groaned, exasperated. Just what she needed before this meeting with her attorney. She could just imagine Brett’s face when she walked into the room, a smug look on that perfectly scruffy face of his. She hated him. She already wanted to smack off the grin forming on his face and could hear his piercing laugh.

            She felt for a napkin in her Coach purse and tried to wipe the steaming coffee off her white blouse, which she had ironed diligently this morning. She quickly hit the “close” button on the elevator before anyone else could get on.  It seemed so ironic that she was a mess right now when she usually had it together. She still felt the hot embarrassment of telling her mother two months ago that she and Brett were getting a divorce. It didn’t help that she still felt attracted to the bastard. But she couldn’t bear to be with him any longer.

            It’s not like Sarah couldn’t blame him.  Starting her own advertising agency had really put a damper on their relationship.  With the finances alone, it seemed like they had constantly been fighting.  They hadn’t slept together for what seemed like months.  She was so busy and tired with work, it was hard to feel sexy anymore.  She could feel him pulling away, working more nights at the office, falling asleep on the couch, having more “guys’ nights.” Sometimes she didn’t mind—she even enjoyed the solitude.  But once being alone was more comforting than being in the same room as him, she knew something was wrong.  She considered therapy. But when it was brought up, his face grew pale and he stammered, saying “we aren’t there quite yet.”  Many late nights brought her to a bathtub, eyes sore from tears, wondering…what had she done wrong? She went to college, got a degree, met a man she loved, got married. She was willing to fix this. Sarah was good at solving problems.

            It wasn’t until she decided to surprise him for lunch at work and walked in on him with his mouth on another woman’s neck that she realized it was over. She could feel her throat tapering in and her breath tearing in her chest. She remembered his face, how it drained her with its empty stare.  The woman ran out of the room, holding her loose dress around her bare body. She later learned this woman was a newly employed intern, fresh out of college.  It only took Sarah two weeks and many bottles of wine to file for divorce.

            And now here she stood, wiping hot milk off her shirt, feeling the flutter of a sob in her gut as the elevator lurched upward.  She took a deep gulp of air and pushed down the urge to cry. Not today, she thought. He won’t see me cry today.