written by lauren d. h. miertschin

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Excerpt from "One of Us," Chapter 1

Chapter 1

Charlotte let out a wail that traveled to the edges of their thousand-acre ranch. Armadillos stopped in their tracks. Tiny white butterflies paused on blades of grass swaying in the hot August breeze. A rattler or two slithered out from beneath a rock, stunned. Somewhere a dog howled. And three or four newborn kittens emerged from the barn.

“Get it out of me,” Charlotte screamed. “Get it out!” When once modesty prevailed, she made no attempt to cover her exposed breasts. Instead Charlotte slapped at the nurse, the doctor’s daughter actually, with no real nurse training at all. Nurse or no nurse, Charlotte wasn’t about to let the young woman tie her fists to the bedpost that her husband hand carved for their marriage.

“You’ve got to push Charlotte.” The town’s only doctor leaned in and forcefully pried Charlotte’s knees apart.

Hatred peered through the dark hair that hung over Charlotte’s eyes. And she did happen to note that the recently purchased General Electric oscillating fan provided absolutely no relief. It was at her insistence that her husband paid the only electrician in fifty miles a small fortune to come out and wire the place. Before that, Dwight swore that they would do without the modern convenience. Despite his wealth, her husband was a man of simplicity.

“Get it out,” she screamed. “What kind of doctor are you? Ahhhhh!”

A pound sounded from the bedroom door. “Don’t let him in,” the doctor growled.


“Damn it Doc – what are y’all doing to her?”

Charlotte struggled to raise herself from the bed. Balance lost, she fell back onto the mattress. Before she could raise herself again the nurse had her left wrist yanked back. Charlotte pulled and fussed but had not the strength to fight the doctor’s daughter as she tied her wrist to the bedpost.

“You bitch!” Charlotte wiggled and squirmed. “Untie me,” she screamed.

A succession of pounds came from the bedroom door. “Give her some whiskey,” yelled the shaken male voice from behind it. Awaiting the birth of his first child, Dwight had no idea the trouble little ones made coming into this world. “My God Doc. I can’t stand it.” Thud, thud, thud.


The nurse made a movement towards the door. She didn’t think that she could stand it either. Her first birth as well, she thought that Dwight might help his wife through this ordeal.

“You stay put Dolly,” the doctor snapped.

“Come on Doc, let me in.”


“PUSH Charlotte.”

Before Charlotte even realized, the nurse had her other wrist successfully tied back to the bedpost. She tugged, but the knot only tightened.


“What do you think I’m doing – Damn you!”


Charlotte blew at the hair obstructing her view of the doctor for a better look at the man she intended to fire first thing in the morning. She swore underneath her breath that he’d never work in Dublin again – in the whole county of Erath for that matter.


Charlotte groaned, finding little energy to scream. An urge to pound her tied back fists overwhelmed her instead. Yanking her wrists only tightened the ties further. So she bucked like a wild horse and though it did not relieve the pain, possibly even worsened it, the ruckus at least provided her some satisfaction of having done something about the throbbing pain in her thighs that radiated up into the abdomen.

Dolly placed her hands on Charlotte’s belly and pushed in her father’s direction.

“Push,” he hollered again from the end of the bed. His hands still held her legs apart despite the wild bucking. Then finally, “I see the baby – yes siree, that’s a baby,” he said.

“Ahhhhh! Please Lord.”

“Push. You can do it Charlotte. Push.”

Charlotte bore down and let out another monstrous scream. Dolly jumped back. But then with a look from the doctor she fell onto Charlotte’s belly again pushing, pushing, pushing. Charlotte bore down and like with the last, thought this one would finish her strength.


Charlotte obeyed without complaint and with that, a small baldhead crowned between her legs. The doctor smiled, relieved. Charlotte found comfort in his expression.

The nurse leaned her weight into her hands placed on charlotte’s abdomen, and pushed from her end some more.

“Just a little longer,” Doc said. With a scalpel he cut her where she would otherwise tear. Charlotte shrieked – this scream was unlike all the others, one that would add three or four gray hairs and steal her voice for the next week.

A succession of pounds sounded from the door more forceful than before. “I’ll knock this door down,” Dwight threatened.

“Damn it, PUSH WENCH,” screamed the doctor.

“Daddy, please.”

The doctor’s cheeks blushed with embarrassment that his daughter should hear him use such language. But she’d have to get used to it, he reasoned, if she intended to work with him again.

Charlottes eyes bulged, but not over the language. “Damn you,” she mouthed. She whimpered a cry and bore down with all of her might.

“You can’t expect me to do this all myself,” the doctor said. With his forearm he wiped the sweat from his brow then bent in to gently tug at the newborn’s head. One shoulder slid out, then the next, and like a damn bursting, flowed the rest – a tiny pale chest, spidery arms, stomach, skinny legs with scrawny toes and along with it all, what everyone had been anxiously waiting for . . . a penis. Baby boy screamed furiously, seemingly angry that someone yanked him from a cozy sleep. His face flushed with color, his little legs squirmed and kicked.

“Will you look at that?” the doctor exclaimed. He held the baby up for Charlotte to see.

She reached out for her baby. “Thank God,” she whispered. “Thank God.” Charlotte could manage no other words. She merely whimpered as all the hate she had felt for the doctor faded away.

Thud, thud. “Come on Doc,” Dwight hollered.

“Let the father in.”

With the baby in arms the nurse unlatched the door then hurried over to the hand basin where she scrubbed the screaming boy clean. His bottom lip quivered from the chill. Even the hot August air of central Texas was cold compared to a mother’s womb.

Dwight usually didn’t mind the heat, never much did. People often commented how he rarely broke a sweat – even out beneath the hot sun as he drove his herd into town. Now, he just stood there, his felt hat pressed against his chest, his Sunday best shirt drenched in sweat. “Charlotte you did good,” he said. “We have a baby boy.” His voice cracked, his eyes teared up. He didn’t notice the agony across his wife’s face as the doctor leaned in with needle and thread, poking in and out of her skin, to repair the cut he’d made.

“Here you go, Papa,” the nurse said. “Congratulations.” Wrapped in a clean bed sheet, she handed baby Payne to Dwight. They all noticed that the world seemed to pause for a glimpse at the Payne heir. He would after all, have claim to some of the best land outside Dublin, Texas, not to mention the best herd of Red Angus west of the Mississippi. Even Dolly noticed the two cardinals that landed on the bedroom windowsill to take a peek. A gang of squirrels frolicked on the lawn below, as if to celebrate the newborn.

Clean baby in arms Dwight approached the nightstand and poured a tumbler of illegal brew. He often said, “I’ll be damned if any lawmaker’s gonna stop the whiskey from flowin’ here.” He went to his wife’s side and carefully poured the liquid into her mouth as she lay on her back looking up to him. Baby Payne closed his eyes. Red faced and crinkled nose, he yawned.

“Hurry it up Doc,” Dwight said.

The doctor pulled another stitch through. Then he laid the needle down and wiped the sweat from his forehead again. “You’ll want this done right if the missus plans on more younguns – specially if she’s wanting a delivery as easy as this.”

“You did good Charlotte,” Dwight repeated. He pulled the baby up to his clean-shaven face.

With a weak hand Charlotte reached up and caressed the sheet that held her son. “We’ll call him Jeremiah,” she said barely audible.

Dwight hesitated. He had hoped for a namesake.

“Jeremiah,” she whispered. She reached for his cheek then caressed her newborn’s sheet again. “Jeremiah Payne.” She paused to contemplate the sound of the names combined. “Yes, Jeremiah, like your granddaddy,” she whispered.

“Jeremiah,” Dwight repeated, nodding his head to confirm approval.

“And no one, Jeremiah Payne” she added, “no one will dare disrespect you.”

A full twelve hours passed before someone put Jeremiah Payne into the arms of his mother for the first time. Looking back she couldn’t recall just who that was. All she remembered from that moment was that the only person in the room was her baby boy, Jeremiah Payne. Before then she had ached a great deal and called on the nurse frequently to change bloody sheets. But with her son finally in her arms, she let the blood flow without a whimper. She had yearned for her baby boy too long to be bothered by pain, blood or anything silly like that.

At age twenty-nine Charlotte imagined that Jeremiah would be one of many in a long succession of children. In her perfect world, baby number one would have arrived before she turned twenty, nine months after her marriage to Dwight. Who lives in a perfect world? Perhaps Dwight, she thought. But Charlotte had not. She’d be damned if anyone was going to take that perfect world away from her son though.

She squeezed her infant, kissed him on the forehead. So peaceful, his eyes closed in deep sleep, she could see Dwight’s features in the boy – his high forehead, light eyebrows, long dark lashes. A single tear ran down Charlotte’s cheek in gratitude – certainly he would take on the traits of his grand daddy later on. It was after all what the fortuneteller said. Charlotte would have a dark-haired heir, a boy to rule over others, one of authority and great mission. Charlotte rocked him in her arms, humming the only lullaby she knew as a child, a tune her grandfather taught her. Jeremiah opened his eyes and appeared to gaze in the distance. Then they both fell asleep together in bed – a picture reminiscent of a Cassett painting, except for the bloody sheets.

Charlotte awoke empty handed to the nurse tugging at her undergarments. She gasped at the sight of her vacant arms.

“Time for a change Missus.”

“My baby?”

“Don’t you worry, he’s with his father.”

“His father,” Charlotte whispered. She felt relieved now having finally given Dwight a child, and a son at that. For years her constant prayers couldn’t give him that. She wondered what he’d think if he knew about her visits to the gypsy – the one who pitched her tent with other traveling families on the southeast corner of the Twitchell ranch. It had taken her weeks to gather up all the items the gypsy needed to cast her spell – a toad’s left leg, a thorn less branch of the mesquite, and one hundred, brand new dollar bills. The money, the gypsy needed to meditate over, as money was the root of all evil. Charlotte wasn’t sure if the quote went exactly like that, as she remembered her granddaddy once said, “it was the love of,” or something like that. Regardless, the fortuneteller promised to return the cash. Never did. But Charlotte considered it a worthwhile investment.

(c) Lauren D. H. Miertschin

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Excerpt from "Beyond the Pale," Chapter 6

Sevastopol, Russia 1889

Six year old Joshua picked up a stone and threw it so that it skipped along the rippling edges of the sea. All the neighborhood children, and even some adults, tried to beat the record, eight skips – set by thirteen-year-old Yerik Levy two summers ago. No one even came close.

“Three hops. Did you see?” Joshua ran up shore and unwittingly kicked sand into his uncle’s lap.

“Well look at that!” Axel set his papers face down on a leather bag and grabbed for a flat round rock. “Give her a try.” He tossed it against a gentle sea breeze.

Joshua leapt, caught the rock midair and ran off toward the bay’s mouth. Then he sent it soaring barely an inch above the water where it touched down, hopping not three, but four times before plunking into the sea.

“Wow! Did you see? Did you see?” The boy paid no attention to the sand that flew up from his running feet and slapped at his face.

“Now that’s a champion’s throw.” Axel applauded his nephew. He glanced about casually, his actual attention focused off shore – up the bay where a lone fisherman rowed in toward the docks. “Say . . . I heard a certain someone’s mother is making pancakes dipped in sugar and cinnamon.”

“You don’t say!” Joshua ran up the sandy slope to the road and took off running as fast as his feet could carry him. He halted and turned back to the beach. “Are you coming or not?” He shrugged his shoulders and let out a laugh before racing home.

Axel picked up his papers and resumed translating articles he wrote for Witness into the German language. His underground publication was into its sixth year running. Not one issue missed since start-up. He prided himself in that; authorities gnashed their teeth over the same fact.

The fisherman pulled up to dock as Axel worked the final page. He waved to Axel who nodded. He scribbled out one last line as the old man tied his boat to the weatherworn dock.

Shoving the papers into his bag, Axel remained in the sand and watched. A man and woman fished from the shore down a ways, while their little girl dug for sand crabs. A group of teen boys worked at breaking Yerik Levy’s rock skipping record further down shore. Axel waited until a commercial fishing vessel sailed past the several rundown private docks on its way out to sea. Then he casually walked down the beach as the old man heaved two sacks of piked dogfish, lethargically twisting and turning amongst themselves up onto the dock.

“Good catch today?” Axel knew the answer – the old man was an expert fisherman.

“Better than you know.” The setting sun lit up the old man’s tired, leathered face. He spit onto the dock’s wood planks and diverted his eyes to the sack in his rickety boat.

“Let me get these for you.” Axel grabbed the sacks on the dock and threw them over his shoulder with little effort. The fisherman pulled the other from the boat and the two made their way up to the wood shack close to the road where the fisherman gutted and cleaned his catch before he would sell it to a mid afternoon crowd. As long as Axel could remember the old man had been supplying locals with their fill of fish.

Axel dumped the fish from his sacks into a tattered metal bin filled with sea water outside the shack. He then followed the fisherman into the building further behind a canvas curtain into a back room. A small desk stood against the wall where the fisherman counted his earnings out each night, made notes about the fishing conditions that day and what he predicted for the next.

He offered Axel a seat, took his at the desk. He lit his pipe and hesitated before speaking. “It’s got to be ready today,” the old man said finally. “I set sail in the morning.”

“Have it right here.” Axel pulled out the final draft of Witness, written out in three languages: Russian, German and Yiddish.

“Excellent.” He took a puff from his pipe. “Give me a look.” The fisherman flipped through the pages that reported anonymously on the pogroms, on the Tsar’s callous response. It listed names of men and women wrongly accused. It promoted resistance and strikes, but also showed another side of the argument that Axel still felt uneasy about – that is men have the responsibility to rid itself of bad governments. But how to do that mercifully, Axel spent many a night pondering and writing about. Witness used France and America as examples –dangerous comparisons to make in a world such as his. Lesser words if traced to Axel would certainly cost him his life.

“Oh, yes. I like this . . . ‘Campaign of Terror’.” The fisherman read on silently. “Oh, and this,” he slapped his thigh. “ ‘Holy Mother Russia Frowns in disdain.’ You should have been a poet mate.”

Axel chuckled. He took back the empty leather bag and held it close to his heart.

“Great stuff. But you scare me mate, working this close to deadline.” The old man lit his pipe again and grinned, revealing three or four gaps where teeth had rotted and simply fallen out.

The bag draped over his arms, Axel rubbed his hands nervously. He looked over his shoulder twice before speaking in a low tone. “Any word on materials? Not much paper to last.”

“Leave it to me. Next week maybe. Take one of those fish for now. And this sack too; thirty-five pounds of sugar here.” The fisherman pulled a key from his trousers and turned his back, situating himself purposely to shield Axel from the desk drawer where he secured his papers. If all went well, by nightfall the next day, Witness would be in the hands of university students, in the hands of bankers and other businessmen, and perhaps even the Tsar himself.

Axel took the sugar, Rebekah, he thought, would appreciate this, but the fish, its skin was smooth, no scales. He found it endearing that the old man couldn’t remember that Jewish Law didn’t allow Axel to eat such meat. So, as usual Axel had it cleaned and smoked and gave the fish to the old Turkish woman who lived in the wood crate on the edge of town. She refused to live elsewhere, despite a couple of offers from kindhearted families in town. On the average, most people shunned her. She did not adhere to any divine law, but what did that matter, Axel thought, when you’re starving?

* * *

Axel and his brother, Jared, along with several longtime neighbors rebuilt the Levin home in the same spot it burned down seven years ago. It was two stories, still modest, but made mainly of stone this time instead of wood. The shed out back survived the fire, though it leaned to one side due to years of weathering. The neighbors offered to build a new one while they rebuilt the house. Axel declined. Grass covered the hillside now between their home and the shore where homes once stood. A small creek once diverted by those families who used to live there, had finally dug its way back through, bound for the Black Sea.

Though many left town after the pogrom of ’Eighty-Two, a great number remained and rebuilt. The city also had many newcomers. People from Odessa, and as far as Brest-Litovsk traveled to Sevastopol to set up a home. Many businesses were back and running. And the Russian Navy brought much needed revenue with sailors who took leave in this scenic, waterfront city of Sevastopol. The widow, Ruth, who lived across the street from the Levins, made a good business selling poppy cakes to famished, half-drunken sailors. She often stopped by the Levins with a batch as well.

Sugar was quite a luxury and certainly not cheap, which explained Rebekah’s gratitude. Joshua screamed with delight because sugar meant the future held treats. But neither Jared, nor Rebekah asked Axel how he came upon riches such as this. They never asked him where he got the money or goods he brought home on a regular basis. Both suspected though, that it had something to do with the writings he produced working late nights in the shed out back.

“Let’s tell him,” Rebekah said after packing away the sugar. She looked at her husband and smiled. “We have wonderful news.”

“Well?” Axel leaned in forward.” I’m always in the mood for good news.”

“Soon . . .,” Rebekah blushed. “Soon,” she giggled, “another Levin baby will fill our days.”

“And nights,” Jared chuckled.

Axel slapped his brother’s back and reached out to Rebekah.

“Hooray!” Joshua jumped up from the table and holding tight onto his pancake ran circles around his mother. “I’m going to have a brother . . . A baby brother!”

“Or sister.” Rebekah pulled her son in close.

“I’d say we have cause for celebration.” Axel lifted his nephew and plopped him on his lap. “So you’re going to have a brother or a sister? Won’t your grandmother be delighted.”

“Hooray!” Joshua yelled again. He blew a wisp of hair away from his eyes.

“About mother . . .” Jared interrupted. “There’s something, I mean, oh hell Brother, we need to talk.”

Rebekah and Jared looked to one another. She nodded to her husband.
“Has she grown worse?” Axel’s smile faded.

“No, nothing like that,” Rebekah said. “She’s upstairs resting now, she wanted us to talk to you first.” She moved in close to her husband to provide a united front.

“We’ve been thinking,” Jared continued, “and well, we would like to take Mother with us.”

“With you?”

“Yes. Please. We can’t put this off much longer.”

“Put what off?”

“We want to leave, Axel”

Axel opened his mouth to speak. No words escaped.

“Now look, before you say anything. Doesn’t look like its going to get much better here. In Pinsk last week a man was dragged from his home. They beat him to death.”

“I know, I know.” Axel shook his head, fearful where this conversation was leading. Though he once pleaded with his father to leave Russia, Axel could not leave now. He felt his father was right; he did belong in Russia, this was their home.

“It’ll take years for Russia to recover from what’s happened. And I’m afraid, well, you know more so, the worst is yet to come.”

Axel pushed his nephew’s dark hair away from the boy’s eyes. He stared at his brother and nodded his head in regretful agreement. “But this is your home.”

“Axel, please.”

Jared took his wife’s hand. “You understand,” he said. “I want my son free to enter any profession he desires, attend a university if he wants. And Mother, no she hasn’t gotten worse, but she hasn’t got any better.”

“Come with us,” Rebekah pleaded.

“What do you say?” Jared held out his hand to Axel. He winked at his son who with sugar in the corners of his mouth concentrated on the pancake.

“Oh, Axel do.”

“I urge you to consider, Brother. We’ll leave for Berlin in a week . . . we can stay with Rebekah’s sister until we decide where next.”

“She has a lovely home,” Rebekah piped in.

Axel kissed Joshua’s head and set him on the floor. “You can stop,” he said.

“Why? What are you saying?” Jared looked anxiously at his brother.

“I have only one thing to say.”

“And that is?”

“My prayers will be with you,” Axel said. “The journey will be long.”

Tears fell down Rebekah’s cheeks. Despite it, she smiled, leaned forward and hugged Axel. “Come Joshua.” She grabbed her son’s hand. “We have much to do

(c) Lauren D.H. Miertschin

Friday, October 23, 2009

2 Short Poems

I gave up my attempt at poetry many a year ago : ) But here's a few for your entertainment (though comic it may be), if there is anyone out there . . .

PATRIOTISM (October 1994)

The statue moves,
I turn to follow.
Ruffle the cage no more.
And when it's over
return the shrine.
At ease, resume as before.

VISITING HOUR (November 1996)

I love you, he said from behind the glass.
Do you love me?

(A fine time to ask.)

I met a girl out waiting (from jamaica, she said).
Can you believe? She travelled so far.

Did you hear me? I love you, he said once more.

(Imagine that; he never said it before.)

One minute left! shouted speakers above.
Wives gabbed children; she closed her coat.

I'll leave you twenty, she said,
be back tomorrow.

With that she hung up the phone.

(c) Lauren D. H. Miertschin

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Excerpt from "Beyond the Pale," Chapter 2

December 5, 1941, Berlin

Hazel eyes peered through the slits of the Becker’s boarded up windows where the wood planks made deep impressions in Lisette’s cheeks. You could hear only her shallow breathing as she spied through the crevice on three young cadets, Schutzstaffel cadets, the S.S. She watched them intently as they walked past Gunter’s Laundry, past the jeweler, past the defunct bakery, then up to what was once known as Levin Books. There they crossed the street and headed directly toward Becker Watch Repair. Three pairs of black, standard-issue, knee-high boots stepped in unison across the cobblestone road, quickening to avoid a car that turned the corner, quickening to match Lisette’s heartbeat that raced at their approach. Through the slit her eyes seemed to meet those of the young man in the lead. Her heart pulsated up into her throat. Could he see her blinking eyes? Lisette jerked her head away nearly falling backwards as she rushed behind the display case like she could take cover.

“We’re dead,” she mumbled beneath her breath, “dead.” The tick-tock, tick-tock of clocks and display case watches pounded in her head, then moved down into her throat, then into her arms, then her legs. “Dear Jesus,” she muttered beneath her breath, “please save us.”

“Don’t be foolish.” Martin had a knack for startling his sister with an up, jovial-for-no-reason-at-all, demeanor. He removed his metal-rimmed spectacles and concentrated on the door. He too held onto the counter to ready himself. “Smile, Sister, and welcome our guests,” he said and grinned as if he were posing for the camera.

The bell attached to the door of Becker’s Watch Repair jingled as the cadets walked in, debonair in their starched black trousers and uniform coats decorated by red hakenkruez or swastika arm bands. Their boots echoed as they clapped down against the hardwood floor. The crescent shaped metal gorgets that hung from their necks swayed with each step, reflecting off the clocks and casting shimmers of light across Lisette’s face.

“Good evening, Officers. How may we assist you?” Martin threw a look at his sister to signal her silence.

The eldest of the three S.S. lingered behind the other two, his arms held stiff behind his back. Lisette and Martin’s eyes followed him as he slowly scanned the room, clearing his throat with slow melodic beats. The two cadets parted, allowing their obvious leader, if not officially at least self-appointed, to emerge between them. Caught in the room’s shadow his face remained dark. He cleared his throat then paused only to inspect the watches laid out on red velvet in the display case that ran along the room’s edge. His stone face didn’t flinch when the three cuckoos on the wall opened their finely carved doors to begin celebrating five o’clock. Two delicately crafted pewter clocks softly chimed in unison with the ornate Grandfather near the base of the stairs. The song and dance continued while the cadet cleared his throat again, seemingly annoyed by the pendulum at the staircase that swung in perfect time.

“I’ve a bit of a problem,” he said finally. He looked down at his coat and wiped a smudge from the black and silver bandolier across his chest. Then this cadet who seemed so sure of himself, wearing the uniform envied by young men throughout Germany, nervously tapped his steel-toed boot against the wooden floor. “Hoping you could help.”

“Trouble Boys?” Martin’s grip remained tight on the counter’s edge.

The last of the chimes sounded, the Grandfather silenced and the cuckoos shut their miniature doors entrapping painted birds inside. Again you could hear the constant ticking that had been drowned out by the chimes. Lisette hastily feather dusted the counter tops. Not for a moment did she remove her eyes from their customers.

“My grandfather, you see, fought for Bismarck’s dream . . .”

“Bismarck’s dream?” Martin stepped out from behind the counter and approached the cadet.

An uncomfortable silence ensued. Lisette hummed a simple tune and dusted her way over to the hanging pendulum.

“Of course. The Vaterland, why what would we be without Bizmarck’s dream?” He looked to Martin, his brows turned inward, then glanced up at the door that led to the Becker upstairs home.

“Oh, of course. You must be very proud,” Martin said.

“Proud indeed.” He cleared his throat. “He’d be disappointed though . . .” The cadet stopped and caught his image in the wood framed beveled mirror that hung on the back wall. Every blonde hair on his head in place as if painted there, he nodded approvingly, and ran a knuckle along the little blonde mustache cut and shaven to resemble Adolf Hitler’s. “Disappointed to know I’ve broken his watch. All I have left of him,” he added, his eyes still on the mirror.

“Of course, of course.” Martin said. He chuckled. One with a keen ear, like his sister, Lisette, might have caught the tinge of nervousness in his laughter. But the cadet was not so keen, having finally pulled his gaze from the mirror. His eyes rested at the staircase.

“Let me have a look,” Martin reached out his hand.

The S.S. cadet adjusted the grinning skull and crossed bones pinned to his cap before he slid a hand into his breast pocket. Then as carefully as he might handle a Faberge egg, he pulled out a gold watch and detached the gold link fob from which it hung. He bypassed Martin’s outreached hand, and with a light touch placed the gold piece on the counter.

“She’s a beauty. Simple case, but wait to you open her up.” He placed a cuffed hand to his mouth to hold back clearing his throat. But the temptation overwhelmed the cadet and he relented with three quick clears. His two comrades let out a chuckle from the back of the room, where they huddled over a photograph falling apart at the well-worn creases from repeated folds.

“Indeed.” Martin silently admired the finely detailed roman numerals on a delicate golden-laced background. The solitary diamond imbedded above the twelve was worth more than all the watches in the shop combined.

The cadet took to tapping his foot again. “I could never get used to those wrist type watches,” he said. “A bit feminine, if you ask me.” The young man laughed and winked at Lisette who had momentarily stopped her dusting. With his look, she quickly busied herself, abruptly turning her back to the men.

A soft creek in the floor sounded from the second story. The cadet straightened his shoulders and anticipated the upstairs door to the Becker home to open. The fact that Martin fiddled with the watch upon his own wrist went unnoticed.

“Came in mighty handy for our boys in the last war,” Martin said.

“What’s that?” The tapping foot stopped. The cadet cleared his throat.

“Here let me see,” Martin said and wondered what was he doing, about to go on with a lecture on how the wrist watch helped men in the trenches during the last war, The Great War, the one to end all wars . . . to stall, he supposed. But why stall? Best thing, he figured, was to get these men out of his shop, the sooner the better. So Martin popped open the back of the cadet’s watch, admiring its immaculate condition and the twenty-one jewel count engraved in gold. “Most likely the main spring,” he said. “Might have one upstairs. I’ll be a minute.” Martin rushed up the staircase to their home, but not before shooting a stern look to his sister.

She knew what the look conveyed. Silence.

Fortunately for Lisette, the cadets had no time to spare, as Himmler himself previously ordered all S.S. in the vicinity to a meet at the central office that evening. An elite Schutzstaffel position was such an honor, one didn’t dare arrive even a second late. The cadets quickly said their farewells with a promise to return, giving much respect to Lisette and her watch repair on the way out. “Every business is essential to lebensraum,” the cadet whose grandfather fought for Bismarck’s dream said as they rushed out to make their meeting.

As soon as the bell above the door jingled Lisette studied the cadets through the boards again, watching silently until they turned the corner safely out of sight. Several minutes passed before Martin returned with a spring in hand. Disappointed for not receiving payment that day for the repair, he placed the watch onto the counter and dropped down into the patchwork, upholstered chair behind the cash register. He ran his hand along the worn arms recalling that he wanted his sister to mend the tear on the backside.

“Just how long you think we can keep this up?” Lisette bolted toward her brother. “Well? Answer me.” With trembling hands she grabbed at the apron tied around her waist. She used it to blot perspiration from her face.

“Wish we didn’t have to keep it all boarded up.” Martin pushed himself up from the chair and approached the window, longing in his eyes. “For goodness sake, only sunshine we get down here nowadays are streams through the cracks . . . such a shame.”

“Forget the blasted windows.” Lisette glared at him, bewildered. “Somehow you convinced us to remove the boards upstairs – you think that flimsy shade will protect us? Have you any idea the cost to replace that window when it breaks? And it will you know. It will SHATTER,” her voice cracked, “next time London visits.” Gazing to the floor, she whimpered a soft cry.

The door at the top of the stairs cracked open then swung back to reveal a young woman’s petite silhouette in the frame. “Hush,” the silhouette whispered. “The neighbors, they’ll hear. Why don’t you come up?”

The young woman was Eva Graf. The only child of Martin and Lisette’s cousin, Eva, came to stay with the Beckers when her husband received orders to mend wounded on the Eastern front. Last she heard from her husband, Hans, he was somewhere outside Stalingrad – not a bad place for a German physician in the early days of the war. For a while Germany swept right on through Russia, and it looked as if the Fuhrer knew what he spoke of when he said they need only kick down Russia’s door and the whole rotten structure would come crashing down.

Eva dried her hands on the faded yellow apron wrapped twice around her waist. “Come, please – supper’s almost on.”

Lisette grabbed a metal box and threw in several watches from the display, the more expensive items, though few they were, along with the S.S. cadet’s watch. “Not right for her to take charge like that.” Lisette struggled to keep hold of the box, and stormed up the staircase, brushing her shoulder against Martin along the way.

Unaffected by her scorn, he winked at Eva. Then lured by the aroma of fresh bread he hurried behind his sister to their living quarters upstairs where Eva had pulled the blackout shade up for a moonlit dinner. She set the table with four settings, and fluffed a white cloth napkin over each plate to help show the way in night light. She frequently added little touches like that. Once she fashioned a floral centerpiece from butcher paper scraps. Another time she carved the dinner rolls into forest animal figures such as foxes and owls. Though white napkins didn’t help much on most nights, this evening, under a clear sky and full moon, the napkins seemed to glow.

When brother and sister arrived at the table, Eva rushed about as usual and checked the potatoes boiling on the stovetop. Then she neatly arranged a supper spread in the center of the table: a jar of jam and a stick basket of warm rolls, quickly cooling in the night air.

“Splendid,” Martin said as he pulled his chair up to the round table. He clasped his hands together and smiled wide, like one about to eat cake. “I am famished.” And he actually was. Martin was known for his large appetite.

Using the ends of her apron to grasp the silver platter, Eva placed the potatoes center table. Pleased that supper turned out just right, she took a seat for herself, but not before lining her glass up evenly with the fork.

Martin noticed the small detail about tonight’s supper that would upset his sister this time. And Eva knew that he noticed by the twinkle in his eyes. They both waited silently for the outburst.

“Mama’s silver?” Lisette’s eyes widened. “Martin,” she said, “how could you?” Lately she blamed just about everything on her brother.

“Nice touch,” Martin responded. Aside from the few watches though, that platter was the only valuable item the Beckers still owned. Everything else the family possessed, they sold after the last war in order to eat. Like most of their countrymen, the Beckers hoped that if anything, their Fuhrer would at least finally pull them out of the economic depression Germany had so long suffered.

“You’ll never guess what happened,” Eva said.

Martin jerked his head to look at Eva, his mouth full of bread, a dab of jam on his cheek. Lisette on the other hand, fixed her attention to spreading the napkin across her lap. “Mother’s best silver,” she complained but this time with an added shaking of her head.

“Chaotic market today.” Eva took in a quick breath “They forgot to ask for my coupons.”

“Wonderful.” Martin clapped his hands together and brought them up beneath his chin as if in prayer. He closed his eyes. “Double rations for tomorrow.”

“We’ve been blessed.” Eva smiled and squeezed Martin’s hand. “Come . . . eat up – there’s plenty,” she said. “Yogurt in the ice box too.”

“Like I say,” Martin said, “good things come to those who wait.”

Lisette rolled her eyes.

In supper grace, Martin thanked God for the extra food as music from their neighbor Gunter’s accordion spilled into their flat. The sound of knives hitting porcelain plates with faded, painted landscapes joined in with the sweet melody. For a moment there, Martin and Eva almost forgot all about the war that waged around the world.

Lisette, on the other hand resented them for their ability to drift away for even a moment. To damper it all, because no one should forget, she threw her fork on the table, a sort of outburst that was expected and becoming more and more frequent. “Him and his so-called perfect race,” she said, her voice wavering. “What are we, the Fuhrer’s personal pets?”

“Please . . .” Martin frowned, annoyed at her for pulling him from his reverie. “Careful.” He ran a hand through his hair and looked to Eva.

“I stay out of family squabbles,” she said.

Lisette knew for certain that Martin running his hands through his hair was a dig at her. She resented her brother’s good looks, his thick hair, his lucidness, most of all his, in her mind, his ridiculous positive outlook on things. “I can’t take it,” she growled.

“Be patient,” Martin said. “Please, be patient.” He helped himself to another roll.

“But our boys’, they’re pawns.” Lisette gasped to take in a breath. She didn’t want to hyperventilate like she had just twice the past week. “Oh,” she cried. “My baby, your only nephew Martin, just eighteen when they took him. Just a baby . . . and cousin Peter. You remember Peter,” she sobbed. “His Mama too, cousin Marta’s two boys – you played with them when you were young. Have you forgotten?” She paused to silently count on her fingers. “Mama, Hermann, Oskar and his wife – all gone,” she said. “DEAD.”

Lisette bowed her head and continued weeping. Eva reached out to her, but before she could take Lisette’s hand, a cluster of soft taps came from the kitchen pantry.

“No, not tonight,” Lisette said. She sobbed loudly and blew her nose into the dinner napkin. “I thought you fed him already. Oh . . .”

Eva bolted from her chair and rushed to the small walk-in pantry.

“Come, come – don’t be so hard on him,” Martin said and grabbed for the jar of jam. “We could use more company – more the merrier I always say.” He watched Eva as she walked into the pantry and thought about the wonders she performed in their home, how tidy and cheery she kept it. I could marry a girl like her, he thought. Then he shook his head quickly to wipe that thought from his mind.

With her sleeve, Lisette wiped the tears from her face. “Do you want the axe, Martin? One stroke – off with your head.” She pulled the dull side of a knife mockingly across her throat. “Our beloved Fuhrer, he does that to people like us you know. Why just last week . . .”

“Wait!” Martin said. “Don’t believe everything you hear, woman. No one’s coming with an axe.” He chuckled and patted his unresponsive sister’s back.

“Please! Both of you,” Eva cried from the pantry. “Good evening, Herr Levin . . .”

“Good to see you,” Martin hollered over his shoulder.

“Shhhhhh. I tell you,” Lisette said, her teeth clenched. “He’s going to have us all killed.”

Having retrieved yogurt from the ice box, Martin by now devoured it straight from the serving bowl. Though plain, it had a tinge of sweetness, a simple pleasure in times like these. Yogurt was one of the few items not yet rationed during this war. “Relish the simple pleasures,” he often said. In fact, he said that very thing this morning at the sound of a songbird out their window.

(c) Lauren D. H. Miertschin

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Waiting for Sunrise

This one's from the archives -- written about fifteen years ago. The big clue that it's an oldie is that I wrote it in the first person point of view (a male pov at that!). I rarely write in the 1st person pov anymore. I used to find it easier, now I realize that it's much more difficult.

We scrambled through darkness. For hours . . . hell, maybe days. Days with no sun. Who knows. One thing for sure: enemy fire had ceased.

I don’t know . . . Jeez, who knew it would be so hard to tell this story? Hell. Well . . . anyone who knows the battlefield can tell you – to call out means death. All Jed and me could do was wait. Wait for that sun who took its sweet-ass time, before we could assess.

You tell me, where do we wait on a godforsaken snow covered mountain? A mountain that’s crawling with enemies, aiming to shoot our nuts off. Well, Jed and me drudged through waist deep snow. Dug ourselves into a snow cave – you know that hollow spot beneath branches? Like a dream, no, wait . . . a nightmare, slow motion kinda, we buried the entrance and crawled up to the trunk. I grabbed onto its icey bark, grateful for cover, but dreaming of that wartime Christmas Eve feast we were supposed to be enjoyin’.

Hours passed in blackness. Maybe it was minutes. Shucks. Who can tell? I shoved a stick through the wall, yanked it out. Then we switched off guard so the other could sleep. Neither slept. Instead we sat against the trunk and stared at that damn hole. We waited for dawn.

“She says she loves me,” Jed whispered. “Can you believe it? Loves me.” His teeth chattered as he spoke.

After months of no mail, it finally found our camp that night. Jed still clutched her letter in his pocket, like it were gold.

“Believe it,” I said.

He breathed quickly, his fingers smoothing the envelope’s fold. Poor kid scared to death, now that he knew she loved him, getting back to the States meant everything.

“Think they’ll find us?”

Figured he meant our company. But if they were going to find us, they would have by then. Last thing I saw was Major Helms surrendering. Those bastards mowed him down.

“They gotta find us, Kid.”

Had to give him hope. But hope crashed before we could grasp it, when the backside of our cave fell in. A bright light shot at us. We were blinded.

“Wer ist drĂ¼ben?” said the shadow.

I grabbed my M1, pointed in its direction. Strange. The shadow didn’t move. I pulled the trigger. No kick; I pulled again. Oh shit! It was frozen solid. Jammed.

We were dead.

Then somehow during that second, a second that lasted forever, Jed brought down the wall of snow behind us, and pulled me out into the darkness. Scrambling on hands and knees, we were off back into the Ardennes. A shot whizzed past my head, another hit my shoulder.

I didn’t look back. You can never look back. Never. Instead, I pushed on through the snow, away from the light – that’s all that mattered – get away from the light.

I lugged my automatic behind me, fought to keep up with the kid. My legs felt like lead weights slicing through snow, my shoulder still gushing blood had grown numb.

“Go,” I said.

“I can’t leave you man.”

“Go,” I yelled. “Forget me.”

Crazy kid. He grabbed hold of my arms at the elbows and walking backwards, pulled me along. How far did he pull me? Hell . . . far enough. The kid was super human, didn’t even flinch. Then as instant as it had appeared, the stream of light disappeared, and we found ourselves hunched down behind a boulder on a hellish slope. For a while there, I thought maybe we lucked out and lost ‘em.

The sky glowed a dark orange as the sun finally began to make its appearance. Jed peered over the boulder. I rubbed my legs to gain back feeling.

“There’s just one of ‘em, I’m sure,” he said.

A light snow fell as his fingers ran along the envelope in his pocket. Soon the sun would rise above the horizon and we’d be able to make out where tracks led. Damn sun. Had it showed its face a little sooner, we would have known the rotten Nazi flanked us.

His first shot smashed into the boulder an inch above my head. Jed turned and fired his pistol while I rushed to remove mine from its holster. Damn. Why was it in the holster? The eternal question. A fricken’ holster is no place for a gun. Before I knew it, a silhouette dashed out from behind a tree and broad sided me. I slammed against the rock and fell face down into the cold. When I lifted myself out of the powder I saw that the blood cutting through the snow did not run from my shoulder. It flowed from Jed who lay a few feet away. Tough kid all right. Even when he was down. He raised his pistol and got that damn Nazi smack in the knee.

As I pushed myself up, the bastard shot Jed in the stomach and then, damn him . . . in the head. He shot again after that, and then again – God knows why – until there was only a click, then another. And another. That dumb bastard emptied his gun into my buddy who lay dying, clutching a letter from his girl.

Then the Nazi turned to me, and I saw for the first time that he was just a boy really, about Jed’s age. Not a day older. His eyes looked crazed, sweat trickled down his face. His lips were cracked and bleeding, his boots torn. He reached out to me and stepped back at the same time. The snow fell faster, heavier, until it covered his dark hair with a thin, white layer. He brushed the snow out of his eyes, then raising his gun threw it down and showed me his hands, palms out.

“Bitte . . . bitte,” he said dropping to his knees.

Sure, you’d think I had myself a prisoner. Good as gold you’d think – use him as a hostage, help me get my way back. I’d be a hero, collect myself some award. Shucks. You’d think that, wouldn’t you?

“Screw that,” I said. I bit my lower lip so hard that blood seeped down and warmed my frozen beard.

I shot once, and then again. Again after that. Emptied my gun into that son-of-a-bitch just as he had done to Jed. The guy’s eyes opened wide like he was surprised. Damn fool. He staggered for a second, and looked up to the sky, almost as if he recognized someone up there. Then, funny thing . . . he smiled before falling into the snow, and as his blood poured out to mix with Jed’s, the sun finally peeked above the horizon, shooting golden rays across the snow covered terrain.

“Damn sun,” I yelled. “What took you so long?”

(c) Lauren D. H. Miertschin

Friday, October 9, 2009

The Breaking

It might take more pages than the actual story to explain why I wrote this one a little over a year ago. Not sure either if anyone cares. So, I'll leave you with only this story, and with one note to say that I had no intention on demeaning anyone, or offending anyone. I use very little profanity in my fiction; in this case, it was needed.

THUD. The crash on the window ripped Carla from an ill-fated meditation. She tore off headphones, jumped up and ran toward the sound. Heart beating in her throat, she listened, careful not to move, she peeked out her bedroom window.

Nothing. A strong wind swayed the blackened trees. A half moon shined brightly. A train whistle blew in the distance. Teeth clenched, Carla yanked the curtains open. She refused to notice the calm, deafening silence.

No man wearing a hockey mask, tightly gripped a blood-stained knife. No strangled kitten hung from the Maple outside her window. No prowler. No mangled car. No reaper. Nothing but an empty street that whistled softly beneath waning moon.

She flung the curtain shut and made it to the light switch in seven steps. Seven steps back to the window, she tore the curtains open again.

Still nothing.

She closed them and waited, twenty-one, specifically seven, three times, carefully counted seconds before pulling the curtains open again. The neighbor’s orange tabby cat slinked about Carla’s mother’s car. Then he darted off and disappeared in the trestled honeysuckle along the driveway.

Curtains pulled closed again, one, one thousand, two, one thousand, three, one thousand, four . . .

“Honey?” Mrs. Burke rapped at the door.

. . . one thousand, five, one thousand, six, one thousand, seven . . .


. . . one thousand, eight, one thousand, nine, one thousand . . .

“PLEASE, are you all right?” Tap, tap, tap.

. . . ten, one thousand, eleven, one thousand . . .


. . . twelve, one thousand . . .

“Carla! This instant!”

. . . thirteen, one thousand, fourteen. One thousand.

“What is it, Mother?” She marched seven steps back to the door, flipped the lock and yanked it open. “I swear. What is your problem?”

“Oh, Sweetie. You MUST answer me.” The wine glass in her mother’s hand half full, a white smile revealed it was her first for the night. “We’ve discussed this before.”

“I’m not a little girl. I’m twenty-five for goodness sake.” Her arms stiffened, fists clenched. “Mother fuck,” she screeched. “Mother f f fuck!”

“Oh Carla! I swear. You need to settle down.” Mrs. Burke took a gulp from her drink.

One, two, three, four, five, six, seven.

“Just wanted to make sure you’re all right.”

“Why wouldn’t I be? Off my back.” Carla returned to the window. The curtains yanked open, she studied the street. Curtains pulled shut – one, one thousand, two, one thousand, three, one thousand . . .

“Sweetie, please, let me help you back to bed. You’ve a big day tomorrow.”

“Leave.” Four, one thousand, five, one thousand, six, one thousand, seven, one thousand, “LEAVE.”

“Don’t think that I can’t tell you’re counting YOUNG LADY.” Mrs. Burke took a drink. Her eyes teared as she approached her daughter. “What’s the matter Sweetie?” She reached an arm out and clutched her daughter’s shoulder.

“The noise. Didn’t you hear it?” Carla’s elbows locked. She clenched her fists again. “Mother fuck, mother fuck,” she said.

“Now that’s enough. You know your father can’t take this.” Mrs. Burke withdrew her free arm and took another gulp from her glass. Then she searched her daughter’s dresser for a coaster. Settling on a ragged, paperback copy of The Way of the Pilgrim, she set her glass down.

“Carla?” Mrs. Burke moved in closer. “Remember last week, you actually witnessed it? That bird, remember, smacked head-on into the window?”

“Mom! Of course I remember. But if that’s the case now, Mother F . . . Fff, that would be the sixth bird to crash into the window this month. Six Mommy. SIX.”


“Mother fuck, mother fuck,” flew from Carla’s lips, her arms stiffened. Another peek out the curtains, she walked around the bed to ensure her steps added to seven before falling down onto the comforter. Her eyes shut tightly, eyebrows raised, then relaxed, raised, then relaxed. “I’m fine,” she said blindly. “Go away.” Carla flipped over onto her stomach. “Mother fuck,” she said beneath her breath. “One, one thousand, two, one thousand, three, one thousand . . .”

“Sure Sweetie.” Mrs. Burke’ voice cracked. She stroked her daughter’s head. “You have such beautiful hair,” she sighed. “Most girls would kill for a natural auburn like yours.” A waste, Mrs. Burke thought; her eyes teared up. Then without saying another word, she retrieved her glass and took two large gulps to finish it as she walked out of her daughter’s room.

* * *

The hot water ran out before Carla finished her shower. Then the struggle. No matter how she configured getting dressed, she somehow managed contamination. Rookie mistakes, all of them. A toilet flushed without closing the lid. A toothbrush dropped into the sink.

Pound. Pound. Pound. “Damn it, Carla. The rest of us gotta shower.” Drew kicked the door. “Screw it,” he mumbled and ran downstairs to catch the bus. Carla’s brother was in the final stretch now, only a month left – his valedictorian speech already written and approved with only a few minor suggestions (like omit the Jesus reference and replace it with “higher power”). He had only to decide which of the several college offers to accept. Most likely, Drew would attend Pepperdine come fall.

“Carla, Sweetie,” Mrs. Burke greeted her daughter. She smiled, unaware of purple stained teeth. Bacon sizzled on the stove top, biscuits rose beneath an oven light.

“Good morning, Mom,” Carla’s eyes were puffy from crying. “I hope that you will forgive me for last night.” She pulled a chair away from the kitchen table with her foot. Soapy cleanliness wafted the bacon aroma.

“Whatever do you mean?”

“It probably was just a stupid ole’ bird.” Carla lowered her hips, landing butt on the seat precisely on the seventh count.

“Stupid ole’ bird?” Mrs. Burke scurried off to the stove, where she cracked two eggs into bubbling butter in a cast iron pan. “Better eat up, Sweetie.” Mrs. Burke peered over her shoulder, checked her daughter out head to toe, and then made an approving nod before turning back to the pan. “Don’t want to be late to your interview.”

“No more over-easy, Mom. I hate over-easy. And by the way, why is it do you suppose that birds keep crashing into my window? SIX TIMES, Mother,” Carla’s voice cracked. “When was the last time a bird crashed into your window? Ahhhhhhhhh.” Carla clenched her fists. “Mother, mother, mother, fff, mother ffffffuck . . .”

Mrs. Burke’s shoulders dropped. She smoothed her apron then carried Carla’s plate to the table – two eggs thoroughly cooked, no bacon. “I suppose,” she said, “oh, HELL Carla. I don’t know.” Mrs. Burke looked around for a glass before realizing she had none. “When I was a girl,” she said. “You know that cabin I told you about.”

“Big Bear?” Eyebrows raised, lowered, raised. Fists clenched, elbows locked, Carla walked over to the kitchen sink where she washed her hands under scorching hot water.

“Yes, sure, that one. I can’t remember a single trip to the cabin when some silly bird didn’t crash into the windows.” Mrs. Burke chuckled. “Those poor birdies just laid there on the balcony, then suddenly, like it was nothing,” she giggled, “they fluttered away.”

“Really?” Carla raised her eyebrows then lowered them and squinched her nose. “You never told me. How many times?”

“How many times what?”

“How many times, the birds, how many times did this happen?”

“Oh, lord, Carla. I don’t know.” She rubbed her eyes, sliding her fingers over to her temples where she made small circular massages. “Please take your meds now,” Mrs. Burke said. “And remember, no one at the interview needs to know about them. None of their business. I think it’s even illegal for them to ask.”

“Mother fff. Mother f . . . fu . . . fuck, fuck.”

* * *

Carla handed the Human Resources manager her completed application. Eyes focused on the computer screen the woman tucked stray hairs back into her piled up, chestnut brown updo. “It’ll be about fifteen minutes,” she said and tossed Carla’s application to a stack upon her desk, but not before adding a pink streak from her nail polish to the page. A keyboard clicked from the desk behind the woman, its monitor obscuring the employee whose busy fingers plugged in a stream of data. Carla counted the key strokes as she rushed off to the restroom where she could hide.

A flurry of raised eyebrows erupted inside the bathroom stall. Squinched nose, elbows locked, fists clenched. One, one thousand, two, one thousand, three, one thousand . . . “Ffff. FF . . . FF . . . fu, fuck,” she whispered. Carla regretted not taking her medications. They made her so tired. How was she supposed to land a job if she fell asleep during the interview?

Fluorescent light accentuated dark circles beneath her eyes, prompting Carla as she gazed into the mirror, to wonder how she would die. Car accident? Earthquake perhaps? Crushed beneath freeway overpasses. No, probably not. She always thought she’d be murdered. Eyebrows raised, then relaxed. Fists clenched, and then relaxed, she coated her hands with pump soap. Careful to scrub between fingers, along nail edges, she finally plunged them beneath running water.

“Mother,” she screeched and jumped back from the sink. “Call that hot?” She tore seven paper towels from the dispenser. Eyebrows raised, Carla stared back into the mirror, ashamed, knowing she would skip out on another interview. She could never work here, not when they couldn’t even guarantee her safety with a simple thing like hot water.

Damn, she thought. I could do this job too. Carla knew that if she could get through the interview, she’d blow them away with her number memorizing ability. Her bother, Drew, couldn’t even top her on that.

She nudged the bathroom door open slightly. The Human Resource manager’s head remained down as she poured through a stack of papers. Keys tapped away behind her. The clock on the wall struck a loud noon.

Eyebrows raised, then relaxed, raised then relaxed, Carla crept out from behind the door and made her way toward the exit. Human Resource Lady preoccupied herself with paperwork, but behind her a head poked out from the computer monitor. Fingers still plugged away at the keyboard, a young man with kinky blonde hair winked at Carla. He opened his mouth to crack his jaw and winked at her again, all the while his fingers tap, tap, tapping.

Did he wink at me? She peered over her shoulder expecting to find someone behind her as she made her escape. No one. Eyebrows raised, lowered, raised, Carla was almost in the clear, mere steps from freedom. With one swift move she held out her arm, and keeping her stride, pushed the door open. A heart beat sped up into her throat. And as she took those final exit steps out the door, Carla turned back for one last look, against her better judgment. Lot’s wife who looked back at Sodom came to mind. Would she too turn into a pillar of salt?


“Mother fuck,” Carla said when she saw him coming after her. “Mother fuck.”

Ken caught up with Carla on the sidewalk, but remained some distance as he spoke to her back. “I think you’re per-per,” Ken slammed his fist into his chest, “perfect for the job.”

Carla spun around to face him. “What do you know? What the HELL do you know?”

Ken’s smile evolved into a jaw crack. He cracked it again. “You should sss-sss-st,” fist to the chest, “stay.”

Breathe. Breathe, damn it. Carla’s hand shaded her eyes from the bright sun as she raced off toward the alleyway where she was sure she’d find a short cut to the bus stop. One, one thousand, two one thousand . . . “Tomorrow I’m going to start feeling better,” she muttered. “Tomorrow.”

The alleyway clear, Carla averted her eyes from the trash and dirt strewn on the wayside. She picked up her pace to turn the corner, with a quick look behind her, the guy from the office gone.

Eyebrows raised, then relaxed. Fists clenched, she stunned herself with a jaw crack. Carla stopped dead in her tracks. She cracked her jaw again. And then again, erupting into a flood of jaw cracks. “Mother Fuck. Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck,” she yelled and turned to run back out of the alley.

“Where you headed so fast Missy?”

“Fff, mother fuck,” Carl screeched as she turned around, confused to find the source of that voice.

“Over here, Bitch.”

In front of her stood a man, a pull-over sweatshirt-hooded man, wearing blue sweatpants to match. She noticed his torn athletic shoes, but not the rock in his hand. THUD. He threw that rock so quickly, Carla didn’t have time to react. It hit her smack in the middle of the chest. She gasped for air, stumbled back.

As she turned to run the hooded man grabbed Carla’s arm and pulled her body to his. His breath reeked of liquor. She shuddered at the sight of an infected cut that leaked puss on his cheek.

“Like I said, Missy . . . Where you headed off to so fast?”

“Mother F f f f f,” Carla bowed her head and let out a single deafening wail.

The man jumped back, nearly losing his grip on his victim. “What do we have here?” He chuckled. “A fucking retard? Don’t tell me I’ve caught myself a retard. Oh lordy, lordy. I ain’t never had me one of them.”

Carla yanked at her wrist, but his grip did not budge. Millions of germs jumped from his cracked and caked-on-dirt skin onto hers. One, one thousand, two, one thousand, three one thousand . . . “I’m such an idiot,” she screamed.

“Oh Sweetie,” he said. “Sweetie. Sweetie. Sweetie.” His grin revealed several missing teeth. “Don’t be so hard on yourself.”


Before that heart beat could rush up her throat and choke her, she found the hooded man collapsed into her arms. His body weighed down heavily upon her, pushing Carla down onto the beer and piss stained asphalt. Billions of germs whirled about the two. A fly landed in the puss on his face. “This is how I die,” Carla moaned, “eatin’ alive.”

She thought she could hear fingers tap, tap, tapping. And there he stood, the kinky-haired blonde, three-hole punch in hand. He reached out to her with it and his face contorted in a jaw crack attempt. He contorted his face some more before closing his mouth. Then he helped her crawl out from beneath her attacker.

“Mother f,” she said. “He dead?” With her foot she poked at the hooded man’s abdomen, her left hand still clutching Ken’s.

“N-n-na. He’s s still breathing,” he said and gently pulled Carla way from the drunken pile. “Have this,” he continued and handed her the three-hole punch as if he handed her the jewels of the nation. “Use it wisely,” he said. Mouth opened, crack. “You’re no id-idiot.” Ken averted his eyes from her, then after cracking his jaw he looked back at Carla. “B-b-b-brea,” he said.



“What?” Carla cracked her jaw.

“B-b-b,” Ken slammed his fist into his chest, “Break away,” he finally blurted out with controlled force. The two’s eyes locked on each other. “Once you ba-br-br BREAK AWAY, then it won’t m-m-matter.”

“What the hell?”

“You’ll know what I m-m-mean.” Ken smiled. He had a calming twinkle in his eyes. “Just care about now. Be f-f-f . . . Be f-f-fr.” Ken smiled. He’d try again later.

Carla released her hand from his and dusted off her knees. “Be free,” she mumbled to herself. She cocked her head looking at the friendly stranger, noticing straight teeth and a strong jaw. She licked her finger tips and smoothed down her auburn hair. One, one thousand, two, one thousand, three, one thousand . . . three-hole punch poking out from her purse, she locked arms with someone she thought that she might understand. Four one thousand, five, one thousand. And they both walked back to the office to see if she might land a job. Six, one thousand, Seven.

(c) Lauren D H Miertschin

Friday, October 2, 2009

The Tower

One from the archives -- you tell me: yah or nay, toss or file away?

A stroller and a Winnebago-like wagon, loaded with three toddlers, an ice chest and clip-on fan, sandwiched Tara as she scooted her feet across a sticky floor. Bruce’s fingers hooked into her belt loops. He pulled up behind her like a trailer in tow. Popcorn littered the floor. Air-conditioned air smelled of cotton candy, sweat, caramel, beer. Continuous haggling melded together into one sound – a sound they had grown to love. For them the whole scene conjured up irrevocable good moods. Tara and Bruce hadn’t missed a county fair in six years.

A row of smocked women reached out from behind draped counters, reminiscent of lepers who pawed after Jesus. They begged, challenged, even dared Tara to let them polish her jewelry. She flashed a ring with no signs of tarnish, a simple wedding band that fit loosely on her finger. They swore she’d walk away amazed, of course with a bottle of JewelKleen tucked into her bag for a mere $6.99. Tax included.

Behind them a young girl in a wheelchair roared with laughter. There was clanging and bells, rock and roll music, country western, applause, applause. Tara swore she even heard a bark. “Was that a dog?” she asked. But her voice only meshed together into that one sound – the county fair sound.

An orange balloon hovered above the chaos, creeping along, silently nagging. Tara followed it with her eyes until she crashed into the back of a leggy red-headed woman. The red-head spun around with the grace of a ballerina, then swayed, practically losing her balance.

“Watch it,” the woman growled and proceeded to plow her way through the crowd, swerving back and forth.

Opened mouth, Tara let an apologetic thought linger. A parachute tower loomed over the building’s glass ceiling. She shuddered.

Ashamed for resenting his wife, Bruce turned away. Why couldn’t she embrace the racing heart? Eyes glued to the falling parachute, he envied the screaming kids packed in like french fries. Lost in reverie, he reached for the balloon that crossed his path. It floated out of reach

His resentment did not go unnoticed, nor did the orange balloon. Tara ignored the former and watched the latter drift up and down, up and down. What did it mean? she wondered. What the hell did it mean?

“Must be a sign of good times.” The movie-star smile Bruce flashed revealed a pride in knowing what she was thinking.

“Sure,” she said and her eyes gazed past the tower in the sky.

“It dices, it slices, folks! We have for you here, the one, the only kitchen tool you’ll ever need.”

The crowd bottle-necked at those who stopped for a look. An amazing tool.

Like a seasoned chef the salesman tossed in a tomato, bell pepper, onion, both red and white. He turned the plastic handle and mixed up a batch of salsa in seconds flat. The crowd oohed and some of them wide-mouth awed. Tara denied the tortilla chip held out before her as she made for an opening behind a family of five. She cut off a stroller and lost Bruce to a group of Girl Scouts. Troop 339.

“Tired of dusting those hard to reach places?”

“We’ve got white fudge, double fudge, peanut butter fudge, and more . . .”

“Yes, ladies and gentlemen, you can make that old, cracked leather look brand new.”

“Foot massage?”

“Toe ring?”

“This hair tie does it all – braid, french twist . . .”

“Ice Cold Beer!”

Tara grabbed her husband’s hand and pulled him through the crowd to a row of aquariums with piles of oysters submerged in a few inches of water.

“For just eight dollars, take your pick – the treasure inside yours to keep.”

Bruce tugged in the opposite direction toward the beer. “I haven’t had one all day,” he complained. He flashed that star grin once more.

She fidgeted with the strand of pearls around her neck – four white pearls, and one black, treasures from county fairs past. Last year they found the black one. “A diamond in the rough,” Tara claimed – a sure sign that their marriage was meant to be.

Beers in hand the lovers zigzagged their way back to the oyster stand.

“You never know what you find.” The woman behind the aquariums held out her hand, her wrist adorned with dangling gold and diamond bracelets. A black pearl the size of a lemon drop lay in the center of her palm. “Worth five-thousand dollar,” she said. “Come, pick one.” After pocketing the pearl she swept her hand like a game show assistant, above the aquariums.

Tara stepped in, Bruce spooned up behind her. “How about this one?”

His wife tossed her long black hair to the side. “Bigger isn’t always better you know.” She grinned and batted yellow-brown eyes that many found so eerily attractive.

“That’s not what you said last night.” Movie-star smile once again.

A motorized wheelchair squeezed in between them. A biker couple pushed their way through the crowd for a better look. Which one held the largest treasure? No one knew.

“This one here,” Tara pointed to a black shelled oyster crammed in the front corner.

Bruce pulled a crumpled ten from his pocket. And before even giving change, the bejeweled woman took her butter knife and pried the oyster open.

Tara leaned forward. A white pearl would be nice – perhaps one with a tinge of pink. Her heart sped. Maybe they would find a treasure, one worth five grand.

Shells ripped apart, the woman dug her fingers into the gray jelly-like flesh. She didn’t flinch as she smashed it between her fingers. Hesitation first before she revealed its contents. Then she let the jelly fall between her fingers and plop onto the counter.


“That sucks.” Bruce tugged on Tara’s sleeve.

“Wait a minute.” Tara pulled back. An empty oyster? What did it mean? Sure, that was always a risk. Never a consideration. Was she barren? “What the hell does it mean?”

“I need another beer.” Tara jerked her head back, in the same motion turned from the parachute ride towering above, and made her way to the doors. Like a brick wall, a scorching block of air hit her. And that irrevocable good mood melted away.

“Come on,” Bruce said. “It means nothing.”

Tara sweated in silence – onward past dime tossers whose hopes zeroed in on Budweiser ashtrays and colored glass, candy dishes. They moved onward past boys who tried their luck at basket hoops in hopes of winning a giant Spongebob Squarepants. Onward past corn dog stands, pork chops on a stick and onions fried up to resemble flower bouquets. Forward momentum, no eye contact with vendors, they passed the miniature train depot city, snow cones and funnel cakes, and sweet corn served with margarine, but not butter because of food and safety regulations.

An old oak, its trunk spotted with chewed bubble gum gave them shelter from the sun. Teenagers screamed as their ferris wheel cages spun around and around. Skateboarder Dave juggled two running chainsaws and an apple on stage. He grabbed a bite between catches as he wheeled about, but didn’t actually chew and swallow the apple. He dug his teeth into it, then spit out the pieces as he caught the next chainsaw midair.

“Come on babe, it didn’t mean anything.” Bruce noticed his wife soak up tears with her sleeve during Dave’s encore. “Let’s go back and pick again.”

“Forget it,” she said. “It is what it is.”

As the heat bore down, Tara and Bruce made their way across the thoroughfare toward the art exhibit on the other side of the fun zone. Bruce insisted they stop for another beer – heat seemed to evaporate the juice’s beneficial effects. Drinks in hand, the crowd parted at an organ grinder monkey dressed like a man complete with a top hat, checkered pants, yellow shirt and multi-colored vest. He wobbled along occasionally stopping to collect quarters from fairgoers.

“How adorable,” exclaimed Tara. Bruce agreed and they crashed their beers together in a motion for cheers before guzzling down.

As if he knew her, the monkey stopped at Tara’s feet. With a tap, tap to his top hat he bowed, taking his time to stand upright, as much as a monkey can.

“Always the object of someone’s attention,” Bruce remarked.

The foot-tall critter tugged at his Guatemalan stripped vest as Tara slapped Bruce for a quarter. But then the monkey reached up to Tara and did something organ grinder monkeys never do: he handed her a quarter. Laughter erupted from the crowd. The startled monkey jerked around, and tore at his vest. He scampered away, extending his hat in search of more quarters.

“That’s it,” said Tara. She forced the monkey’s quarter into Bruce’s hand and chucked her empty beer cup at the trash bin. Three cups fell from the overfilled bin to the growing mound upon the asphalt. She snaked in and out of vacant spaces as Bruce picked up his pace to keep up.

Undecided on the empty oyster’s meaning, Tara alternated between chewing her lip and grinding molars. Took a month to realize that the wounded crow on her front porch signified her grandfather’s demise. Took a whole year to see that a field of daisies outside her sister’s town foretold her niece, Daisy’s, birth. There’s a message somewhere, she thought, and picked up her pace.

“What’s going on?” Bruce asked when he caught up with his wife at the pigpens. “Don’t you want to see the bunnies? We never miss the bunnies.” He flashed a cavalier grin, a little less-assured than his regular movie star smile.

“Sonya,” she said. “Gotta see Sonya.” Tara continued on past the rabbit cages and fast maneuvered a cut through the chicken displays.

Bruce headed off a line of hand holding first graders all dressed in green t-shirts to catch his wife. “What about quilts, the cakes? We don’t do Sonya till after the glassblowers. Look there’s Big Bess.” He pointed to an oversized cow chewing her cud as she lazed in a pile of hay.

“Hi Bess,” Tara said and off she was again scooting her way through the giant barn.

Next to the Mexican village where an elaborate fountain splashed overtly blue waters, stood a yellow tent dwarfed by an aged Jacaranda. It was no ordinary tent – not like a camping sort that one imagines. It looked more like something out of the Arabian Desert, its thick golden folds of material tied back with green velvet cords.

The sign outside read: “Psychic Reading $25.00.”

Arranged in the shade of the Jacaranda was a makeshift waiting room that consisted of an ashtray, an overfilled trashcan, and three white wicker chairs complimented by a floor littered with tiny purple blossoms. A lone woman with dark hair, cut in the style of Cleopatra, sat in one of those chairs. Her skin was smooth and pale, painted to perfection – dark lined eyes, plum colored lips. Foundation make-up barely masked a chain of bruises around her neck.

She crushed her cigarette into the ashtray and stood to greet Tara and Bruce. “Darlings,” she said. A swirl of purple blooms blew about her golden sandaled feet. “Are we ready for a reading?” Not a glimmer of recognition shone in her eyes, but they sparkled with a soothing welcome.

Bruce eagerly shoveled out twenty-five dollars. Then with a flip of the monkey’s quarter he was off, mumbling something about winning a barbeque.

An oscillating fan provided little relief from humidity inside the psychic’s tent. Wind chimes dangled at the doorway. Sheer red curtains decorated the windows. Though richly colored pillows covered the floor, Sonya and Tara sat in folding chairs that faced each other with a card table between them.

After tucking the cash into her bra, Sonya took Tara’s hands in her own. She closed her eyes.

“Oh dear,” she said.

“What?” Tara braced for the worst.

Sonya shook her head. “I see you’ve had your hopes dashed.” She opened her eyes and looked into Tara’s, momentarily losing herself in the yellow specks circling her client’s iris. “Something you were expecting did not come through. What is this?” She squeezed Tara’s hands.

Tara fidgeted in her seat and pulled one hand from Sonya’s. With it she tugged at her strand of pearls. Her mind drew blank. She shrugged.

“Oh, but I see,” Sonya said without losing a moment of eye contact. “You’ve also recently come into a little money from an unexpected source. Yes?”

Tara laughed. “I wish.”

“Think about it.” Sonya winked at her client. “Sometimes it’s right there in front of you.”

She released Tara’s hand and removed a tarot deck from her black velvet pouch. “Cut the cards into five stacks and arrange them in a row,” she said. Then she asked Tara which of the stacks she felt most drawn to.

For no particular reason Tara picked the center stack.

Sonya paused, looked into Tara’s eyes then attempted to catch an unnoticed glimpse of the time from her turquoise studded wristwatch. Tara noticed. An uncomfortable silence ensued before Sonya bowed her head and with her eyes closed murmured a short prayer beginning with “Dear Heavenly Father . . .” Then she proceeded to turn one card up from each stack, all but the center stack.

Swords dominated the cards. Conflict. The ace reversed, its white-gloved hand gripped tightly onto the hilt, plunging forcefully downward. Sonya read fear. Eight upright – the blindfolded woman surrounded by eight swords stabbed into the sand told of Tara’s entrapment. A knight waging forward on a white horse, his sword raised, seemed a messenger of frustrating news.

“Tell me. Why are you so fearful?” Sonya reached for Tara’s hand. “You are afraid to move without knowing the outcome. You silly girl. Darling, you are so young. Take risks.”

Then she flipped over the center card. A bolt of lightening struck a tower, set it ablaze and out of the windows tumbled a man and woman, falling through the sky. The Tower.

Sonya took in a deep breath. “Catastrophe.” She shook her head. “The foundation. Yours is cracked. A sudden and major change will occur unless you make some fundamental changes.” She spoke less stridently. “You’ve got to throw out your old habits . . . bad patterns.”

“Do you know what you’re saying?”

“Of course, darling, do you know what I’m saying?”

Tara’s eyes teared up.

Tara could deny it, but the meaning was clear. Sonya’s cards meant no more scrutinizing – no more agonizing over meaning, no more horoscopes, no more trips to the psychic. “But . . .”

“Do it.” Sonya looked sternly into her eyes. She gathered her cards together and placed them back into the pouch. Then she grabbed her cigarette case, walked back outside to the Jacaranda shaded waiting room, and lit up.

Tara found her husband waiting outside the tent his eyes glazed over. She noticed a crushed beer cup neatly stuffed into his shirt pocket.

“Hey Babe,” he said and smiled not unlike the first time they met. He had always claimed it was love at first sight. “What next?”

Tara paused and glanced over at Sonya who gave her a wink. “What next? I don’t know what next,” she said and slapped her husband in the rear. “Should be fun to find out.”

Bruce eyed his wife. Then before taking off together, he walked over to the psychic’s waiting room and chucked the crushed beer cup onto the trash bin. “See ya next year,” he said to Sonya.

“Oh, I doubt that,” Sonya said, then took a drag from her cigarette.

© Lauren D. H. Miertschin