Sunday, October 30, 2011

Oktober the Thirtieth: The Cavalry!

 Those very few who have read some of it will know, today's story is taken from the world of my WIP, The Fall, and Further Fall, of Miriam Bronski. But it's brand-spanking new, written just for today. That novel is 188,000 words long now... still, I might include this, if I can make it fit. Let me know how it holds up as a piece alone.

 Peace, Mari


The Cavalry!

By Mari Kozlowski

 When I get to her apartment she’s already wasted: drunk. And I mean literally stinking drunk since she hasn’t showered for god knows how long, her clothes are covered in dried puke and maybe snot, and there’s blood congealing on the right side of her face.

 The door is open, and her place is full of trash— as I go through there are containers of some smelly old Chinese food with ants crawling out of it tipped sideways on the couch and dirty clothes on the floor, and the chair and the kitchen table.

 Which is where I find Reese, sprawled on top of a Star Wars t-shirt and trying to drink from a mini-bottle of vodka, only it’s not working well since she’s holding it upside down.

 I don’t know which mess to clean up first.

 Probably Reese, since every second she’s still conscious, to whatever extent, she’s making more mess.

“Honey, it’s time to get cleaned up and go to bed.” I put my arm under her head and lift, gently. She’s skinny as hell, but when she’s drunk you’d swear she weighs 400 lbs.

“Nawww…” she drools at me,” We were’rer going out Miryum. S’dancing…”

  She pushes my head, getting blood on my cheek.

“Reesy cup, it’s time to get some rest. We’ll go out tomorrow, promise.”

 She lifts one leg, like she’s going to stand, then passes out, falling in a heap onto the linoleum. Slipping right out of my arms and whacking her head on the floor. Dammit.

 I can't get her up, and when I try to drag her by her feet, she moans, loud. So I find her phone after a ten minute search and call Angelo. He’ll be able to help, if he’s home. Only he doesn’t-- he won’t.

“Miriam, I can’t see her like that anymore. I’ve been through this for a year with her, trying to get her into rehab or something. I can’t take it, I’m sorry.”

“Ange, for me then okay? Not for her. Just help me out here.” I can’t believe he’s flaking out on us… what the hell? He’s in love with her, last I heard.

“Maybe you should leave her there to wake up in her own puke on the floor. Maybe one of these days she’ll get sick of it.”

“She looks like she’s been beaten, Ange--- that’s how not sick of it she is. I don’t think she’s eaten in three days or more, and her head is bleeding. Please…”

“I can’t, Miriam! I can’t do it. Don’t make me!”

 He’s quiet for a moment, and I let it stretch, hoping he’s about to break. But he’s closer to breaking down, when he finally talks again.

“I’ll call someone, okay? I’ll send you some help.” His voice is strained. Maybe she needs an ambulance, really. I don’t know.

“Okay. But tell them to hurry… I don’t what’s happened to her, Ange.” I hang up and find a blanket to cover her with, then start cleaning up a little. I don’t want paramedics or whoever seeing how fucked up she’s gotten.

 Which is stupid, I know, and enabling, and all those things you’re not supposed to be with an alcoholic. But she’s still my best friend, even if we live a 6+ hours drive apart and hardly ever see each other anymore. Even if she doesn’t remember it most of the time. Even though one out of three times I see her, I have to see her like this. But it was never this bad before—that’s the part that scares me.

 So I toss all her clothes in the hamper and throw out the trash, wipe away the spilled vodka and search for any half-empty pill bottles that might have contributed to tonight’s stupor. There aren’t any I can find, not under furniture or in her bed or the kitchen— nothing. That’s some relief. Then Alex walks in.  

“Where’s Reese?”

“On the kitchen floor; I couldn’t lift her.”

 He stalks into the kitchen and looks at her, shaking his head.

“Jesus Christ, Reese.”

 He sticks an arm underneath and gathers her up, and we take her to her bedroom, get rid of the sickening clothes she’s wearing, wash her face and tuck her in, sideways, so she won’t choke if she vomits. Alex finds a bowl to put next to her for the purpose, but we both know she won’t be conscious enough to use it.

 He leaves the door open halfway and leads me into the kitchen again, under those harsh tube lights. He doesn’t sit down.

“What happened? Did she fall in the bar?” He looks pissed, but not at me. I think.

“We never got there. I called last Wednesday to let her know I was coming in from Cincy, and she wanted to go to City Lights tonight. The last time I talked to her was three days ago, and it was still on then. I left her messages…”

“But she never answers back. I know.” He looks around the kitchen, searching it for something.

“Doesn’t look like she was on a binge,” he says, and I cringe, feeling like a jerk.

“I cleaned it up. It was disgusting; I thought Ange was sending an ambulance.”

“Do you think she took anything besides booze, Miriam?”

 I shake my head. “I couldn’t find anything. I just think she’s been living on vodka for a while. Before that her last meal was greasy egg foo young.”

 He smiles, and instantly I feel a little less pressure. I could have died when he walked in, but here he’s handling it all, taking care of things. Like always.

“She loves that crap,” he says, “and it really is: the only Chinese place that’ll deliver here is run by a Jewish guy from NYC, and he just can’t keep a decent cook. She loves it, though.”

 My ex-fiancé sits down in his sister’s kitchen and looks up at me, and it’s hard not to melt. We haven’t seen each other in two years.  

“What should we do? Get her stomach pumped?” I sit down, too. It’s easier to be across from him than next to him, still.

“From the look of the shirt she had on, I’d say no.” He stops smiling, and it’s a relief. His smiles always got me.

“I’ll stay with her, Miriam. You can go… I’ll let you know that she wakes up tomorrow.”

“Why don’t make some coffee?” I say. I get up and start looking for what I need, and he sits there, watching me.

“That’d be nice.” he says.

  From the bedroom, we both hear Reese begin to snore, loud. And we laugh together, and make coffee.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Oktober The Twenty-Ninth: The Falling Season

 Revisiting an earlier story here, Seeds on the Outside, for a second installment. I would like to think it stands on its own as flash fiction; on the other hand, I'm almost sickeningly comfortable in the mind of this character. I could see a longer series of connected stories growing from the Seeds.
 I took Seeds to my writing/critique group meeting and got some helpful feedback, there. I may take this one as well.
 Two more days, two more stories to go! Please do feel very free to leave commentary/critique, or just a hello. I'll be checking this site even during NaNoWriMo.

 Peace, Mari


The Falling Season

By Mari Kozlowski

 There are five blue jays on the maple tree outside my Aunt’s house, and one rabbit hiding in the bushes.

 He isn’t hiding from me; he couldn’t see me in here watching him. He could be hiding from the blue jays, since blue jays are loud and annoying even though their feathers look pretty, except that I know he isn’t because he was hopping around the dead peony bushes when the blue jays came into the yard and he didn’t jump or run away, even when they squawked.

 I guess he’s hiding from a dog in the yard next door. The dog keeps barking. The rabbit is completely still, but I saw when he hid behind the weeds and the tip of his ear never moved, so I know he’s there.

 If he knew my uncle was in the house, he would be scared of us. My uncle hunts rabbits and deer and shoots them and then gets their guts taken out and their fur torn off, so he can eat them. I would never eat a rabbit because rabbits are interesting to me since I read Watership Down; but I did have a piece of a deer my uncle shot once and it tasted good, like the Swiss steak my Mom used to make before she was killed, but after I ate it I thought about how the deer and goats in the zoo sniffed me and stuck their noses in my pockets, and I cried. Then I decided not to eat animals anymore, not even Swiss steak.

 And my Mom said I was being ridiculous and that I loved fried chicken too much to stop eating it, so I stopped eating anything until she told me she wouldn’t make fried chicken ever again or make me eat any animals.  

 So I started eating all vegetables and fruit and cheese and bread and desserts, and I thought about not eating eggs anymore because they’re almost chickens; but Mom told me that the eggs we get at the store aren’t fertilized so they couldn’t ever become chickens. And she reminded me that pancakes and French toast both have eggs in them. So I told her I would still eat eggs, only now it doesn’t matter because she won’t have to cook for me anymore since she is dead and we buried her in the cemetery by the highway this morning.

 I’m staying in the back of the house by the two big windowed doors my Mom called French doors, which I don’t know why they are called that since we don’t live in France, we live in Ontario, Canada, in Grimsby; but you wouldn’t call them Grimsby doors since all the doors that exist here could be called that, no matter what kind of doors they are, single or double or windowed or screen. When I asked Mom once when we visited here why the doors were called that, she didn’t know and she told me to look it up in the encyclopedia when we got home, but our set of encyclopedias is pretty stupid and bad and it wasn’t in there anywhere.

 I like these doors, no matter why they’re called French. I can see the garden from here, and there is lots of sunlight, and since I came and stood near the windows looking outside no one is bothering me anymore like they did all morning while I was checking out my Mom’s casket. I was trying to figure out if she was really in there, because it’s kind of short looking and my Mom was tall. But people kept coming up to me and trying to hug me and cry on me, which I didn’t like.

 So when we came home in the special long black cars they ride you in for funerals and weddings, I took a plate of food and brought it back with me, and now I can watch the leaves falling and eat cheese cubes and be alone without my Mom’s cousins dripping tears and getting lipstick and face-colored powder on me. Plus I hate when they ask how tall I am now. I’d rather watch the rabbit and think about what kind of food he’s looking for under the maple leaves lying on the grass.

 My Mom hated when our tree’s leaves dropped off and we had to rake them up; she liked Spring, when the tree got buds and flowers on them and started to get green again. She said it was the Growing season, the best season, but I told her I liked the red and yellow leaves in their piles better, in the Falling season.  

Friday, October 28, 2011

Oktober the Twenty-Eighth: Weather or Not

Snow yesterday, in Buffalo. Okay, it was mixed with rain, melted when it hit the ground and didn't last for more than a few minutes. But it was there, with all the bumming power that early snow contains.
Let's say the story well caught a chill.

NOTE:  Just a few days left in Oktober, so what will happen here? Well, I'll be doing NaNoWriMo there.

 My plan for Oktober Ski is to come back in December and start revising the existing stories, with notes. Should be a cool process, and I will surely enjoy any helpful comments. I'll be leaving the site up at least till the end of the year, but more likely continuing into late January to get everything done. Then, we'll see if there's more use to be had. I may run it on slow fiction till next Oktober; details will be posted, I promise.
 So after Oktober 31st, posts here will be rare or non-existent for a month. It'll give ya time to catch up on the stuff you didn't read.

  Peace, Mari


Weather or Not

By Mari Kozlowski

 If the weather was a conscious thing, an entity that delighted in throwing itself through the space of a planet’s skies and waters, you could see it enjoying the unexpected snowstorm in October that broke the still-green branches from a thousand trees, the heatwave in February melting polar ice, the upheaval of a hurricane. You’d know that it gloried in the monsoon, you’d feel its warm pleasure in the crack and tremor of the earthquake. You could see that the downward flow of glowing autumn leaves followed a pattern that was not random, after all.

 If the weather of your world was alive in a way you hadn’t imagined before and you came to know that, what would you do? How would the knowledge change your perception of your own life’s value, the value of animals and plants and places you relied on? Would it make you listen to them harder?

 Would you still believe in God? Would you still think God intercedes for you when the storm rages, ready to blow off your doors?

 Would you start listening for laughter in the tornado? Would you begin to hear harsh whispers as ice thickens on the roof of your car overnight?

 Would you hide inside everyday, hoping not to be noticed?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Oktober the Twenty-Seventh: Specialty of the House

If it seems like I'm spending alot of time writing about bars, that's because my new NaNoWriMo project takes place in and around a bar, and I'm getting into that mindframe. Or would be, if I could get me a Manhattan.

 Peace, Mari

Specialty of the House

By Mari Kozlowski


 The pool of beer on the wood in front of him was widening, and he grabbed a thick rag from under the bar to sop it with— it took just one good, slow wipe. He cleaned the last traces away with a damp cloth and set the clumsy guy up with a fresh microbrew.

“There you go.” He was down at the other end before the guy even noticed or thanked him. Happy Hour was hopping.

“What can I get for you lovely ladies this evening?” he schmoozed.

 The gaggle of girls came in on Tues. and Thurs. after their spinning class, to undo all the calories burned with chocolate martinis and fried ravioli. Now they heaved their chests onto the bar and gave him flirty smiles. He’d wanted to fuck one of them for months, but it wasn’t a good idea. Or so he told himself when they left, every week.

“Something spicy, John?” said the tall one; Sheryl, he thought. Her tits were incredible.

“I got something spicy for you, sure” he said, and the girls all laughed and moved like they’d been tickled. They loved to torture him.

“How about a Cajun martini?” he offered, and showed them the jar of whole jalapenos the drink got garnished with. All four of them shook their heads.

“Oh, wouldn’t you like to see us try to choke one of those down…” the little blonde one said.

“They do have a certain shape, now you mention it,” he said, “but trust me, mine is easier to swallow.”

"Whoo! Listen to this, huh, Sheryl?” the blonde one said. “I bet yours is longer and redder, too, right, John?”

“I don’t like to brag. Let’s just say it’s twice as hot but it won’t make you cough afterwards.”

“Why don’t you set us up with those nice mango margaritas, instead?” Sheryl said.

“Cowards.” John got to work, tossing booze and sour mix into the blender. Maybe he’d stepped out a little too far, but they’d forget it by their third drink.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Oktober the Twenty-Sixth: Cat in Mouse

 The title above is a working title; well, they all are, but this one more so. I have no idea where this ghost story is going, and I'm bummed that it's not done. But it's something, it's up here, and so far it's okay. Running towards the finish line of November 1st, we're slacking off a little here in practice. Better tomorrow!

 Peace, Mari

Cat in Mouse

By Mari Kozlowski

 One of the things you don’t expect to happen when you put down your aged tabby cat, out of love and respect for his pain and dignity, is for him to come back and haunt you every day and night.

 Sorkin wasn’t the best at living up to expectation, though… why should he be good at dying up to it?

 It took me a few days to catch on. A few days of having the empty food bowl I couldn’t bear to remove, at first, knocked over or upended. You see that in the morning when you’re too bleary to note the important details and you think you knocked it with your own foot, or the hubby did, or anything other than, “Hey, maybe my dead cat is trying to tell me something.”

 The splashing sounds I kept hearing were easy to ignore, too. I live with the world’s cleanest man: Bertram typically washes his hands a hundred times a day, and that’s when he’s not cooking dinner. The nights he cooks, you can add forty washings to the total.

 How could I guess that someone I had paid to have a hypodermic needle full of heart-stopping drugs stuck into had come back, thirsty as hell? I don’t think I was being dim, just rational.

 That stopped when Sorkin jumped on the bed the third night. He’d always slept on top of my feet in cold weather, and I loved having that extra layer of warmth on top of my blankets. Only this time, the layer wasn’t supposed to be there.

“Bert, get your feet off me. Too heavy.” I was almost asleep when I felt the pull of weight near my toes. Bert mumbled and rolled further away from me. I scrunched deeper into my downy cocoon. Then felt a scratch.

“Honey” I moaned to Bert, “your toenails are sharp… they’re killing me. Would you please move your feet??? I have an early day tomorrow.”

 This time Bert didn’t even mumble an answer. He was out, zonked, I could see. I lifted my head to check if there was a belt buckle or a blanket tag that was sticking me, and there was Sorkin, sitting on feet, kneading them a little with his paws. I reached down the bed to pet him and stopped with my hand just above his head.

“Sorkin?” I whispered. “Sorkie???”

 He looked at me, closed his eyes, and curled into a cat ball. His usual sleep position.

 I laid my head back into the pillow and closed my eyes, sure I was dreaming. And in a few moments I was. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Oktober the Twenty-Fifth: Patterns


By Mari Kozlowski

White roses in the heel of a shoe... bland and matrimonial, maybe, but it works. Interesting, putting those pumps together with the trippy orange shorts. I could go somewhere with that..

"Malyssa, have you FINISHED that goddam basting?"

 "Two minutes, Elena."

"Make it one or you're fired. I'm sick of your shit."

 I could walk out, and she'd be fucked with her second biggest client. Fucked.

 "Here you go. Jersey isn't behaving..."

 "Excuses? Get going on the lace inserts for the long skirt. I need it in half an hour for a private showing, and Zubari screwed it up. She's history here."

 I'd never get my own label, if I fucked her over. She gets to treat me like a slave, because I want what she has. She does.

 She does for now.

Oktober the Twenty-Fourth: Light Footed

Sliding in under the finish line, here, at just midnight. I think you can tell, atfer reading this, I could use a

Peace, Mari


Light Footed

By Mari Kozlowski

 Mack floats over to the bar and I get ready. New joke, new drink, gin based. I slide the glass in front of him. His hands are shaking a little tonight, but he manages to get it up to his mouth okay.


 The Cure song he put in on the juke starts playing, crazy loud. A half dozen couples or so get up to dance.

 “Not sure about this mix, Anna.”

 Another sip, a little drip on his chin. I give him a napkin and he wipes it off, slow. Too slow.

 "I know you’re shaking Mack, so cut out trying to hide it. Did you take your meds today?”

 He shakes his head no, and tries another little sip. His face is somewhat pale.

“I brought them for here, though. I was afraid I might choke, so I didn’t take them alone.”

“Great. Then give me that.”

 I try to grab the frothy green drink away, but he holds onto it with unexpected strength.

“Fine. Then what do you think? Should I bother naming it?”

 Mack smiles, showing his bad gums. And takes a long sip.

“It’s good. Really. The perfect drink for a fag bar.”

 He sets down the glass, and I see the tremor. He can barely hold the fucking thing unless it’s being pulled away from him.

“It’s needs a name,” he says, eyeing it.

 The froth is dying down, making the bright emerald tone look deeper, now. Sort of luminous pine. Pretty.

“I know,” he says, “SuperQueer Soda!”

 We both burst out laughing. He takes another sip, and I top off his sidecar glass with some more from the shaker. And pour one for myself, since technically he isn’t supposed to have booze at all. It’s astringent, at first, but the taste grows on you.

“How about The Green Dragon?” I ask.

 He rolls his pretty eyes at me.

“Way too Bilbo Baggins. Though he was suspiciously happy as a bachelor in the old Shire.”

“And friends with all his young cousins, too.”

 “Makes you wonder if there’s a good reason Gandalf’s fireworks were legendary…”

 And I do a spit take, as they say. 

“Oh, shit. You almost made me piss myself, Mack.”

 I wipe my mouth, now, and pour us off the last of my new concoction. Which still doesn’t have a name.

“Heard a new one this morning at Denny’s,” I say, and he motions me to go on while drinking his green stuff.

“How many homophobes does it take to screw in a light bulb?”

 Another Cure song comes on, of course. Mack moves a little to the rhythm and thinks for a second. The music is so loud I barely hear his answer.

“I give up. How many?”

 I lean in so I can yell in his ear.

“Two,” I yell, “One to hold onto the socket while the other guy does the job, and one to tell the first guy he’s not gay if he wasn’t the one screwing it in.”

 I laugh, Mack doesn’t. A big sweaty guy puffs down onto the barstool next to him and signals me over.

“Honey, that old chestnut is older than my chestnuts. And they’ve been roasted for years.”

“Shoulda known you’d heard it before.”

 I sigh and go to take care of Sweaty Guy, then come back. Mack is on his last sip, and there’s about to be waves of thirsty dancers coming at me. Pretty good for an off night.

“We still need to name this drink.” I tell him. “What about Lime Loafer?”

“There isn’t enough lime for that.” Mack says. “Besides, it’s shouldn’t have a silly name. It’s too good.”

 Reprieve! An Alice in Chains hit, and everybody but Mack is dancing, even Sweaty Guy.

“Thanks, Mack, I’m touched.”

 He looks at me, serious.

“I mean it. It needs the right name— something pretty, and a little mysterious. It’s soft, but it burns nice in your throat after a while.”

“Not too much bitters?

“No. Can I have some water for my pills before you get too busy too watch?”

 He pulls out his six bottles and takes the pills he needs, one by one. I give him the last green sip of my drink to wash away the taste and relax his throat again.

“It reminds me of the smell of the woods when I was kid,” he says, “When I used to run for hours, trying to burn off my sex drive.”

“So maybe we should name it Light in the Loafers.”

“What is your loafer obsession today?” he moans. Then snaps his fingers.

“Got it! Your homo-feeble rambling inspired me.”


 He’s gonna draw it out. And Sweaty Guy is on his way back, with a friend in tow.

“Light-Footed.” he purrs, smiling ear to ear.

“That’s good,” I admit, “I think that’s the one.”

“Then you should pay me another shaker full.”

 I start moving towards Sweaty Guy and Co. Fighting with Mack over booze is a pain. 

“You don’t think that’s too much, for the night?”

 Mack sighs and leans over the bar.

“Everything is too much. When you have cancer, then you can tell me not to medicate myself if you want.” 

“Give me a sec,” I tell him, and finish pouring the shots for Sweaty Guy. Who looks very interested in what I mix in the shaker afterwards.

“Hey, what is that?” he asks, and Mack turns to him, proud as shit.

“She named it after me, in honor of my youthful urges.”

 I pour a shot of it for SG and his gal pal to taste, and they dig it.

“Good for dancers,” I tell them, “I call it Light Footed.”

 I think it’s going to be a hit.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Oktober the Twenty-Third: The Trouble with Unicorns

 This thing here wants to be long. Loooonnnngg. Longer than a short, maybe.

 Which is why I didn't finish it yet. I will, tomorrow I hope, but I've put the bud here for blooming or deadheading, whichever you choose. I spent more of the day than you'd believe on it.

 Those familiar with the RPG world of Shadowrun will realize where the basic background comes from, but I've taken liberties, as I'm not intending to write a module for Shadowrunners, but a story.


 There's a helpful prologue. Now I'm going to bed.

 Night-night, Mari


The Trouble with Unicorns

By Mari Kozlowski


 In the year 4027, after magic had reawakened in the world, become entrenched, taken over, and inevitably run its course through humanity’s capacity for enlightenment, there were few real practitioners left in Canada and the USA. Not many of those lived openly as mage or wizard anymore, either. Religious pogroms and political marginalization had taken their toll on the population, and magic-users gradually became second-class citizens, unwelcome in many areas; sometimes violently so. Even book-learned witches had lost their former cachet as normals began to consider them dangerous imitators.

 Natural born healers went into private practice as doctors that hired nurses or midwives also afflicted with magic, or at least sympathetic towards those so cursed. Mages with a mechanical specialty worked in R&D departments, or as geek squads, or wherever they could find a fit for their talents. It wasn’t what it had been; large corporations that had once hired scores of mages to maintain mainframe security or commit ethereal espionage had gone back to hiring human technicians, programmers and guards. It was hard to make a living off of magic.

 The Elves had it harder; their wispy beauty and lovely voices made blending back into “normal” society difficult. Some let themselves go to fat and had their ears surgically altered, took up smoking and procreated with unattractive humans, that their progeny might have an easier time of it. Some lived as hermits, in the mountains as hermits will; some settled in enclaves of their own kind and refused to intermingle with the rest of the world. The rest of the world didn’t care enough to be insulted, except when it needed a scapegoat.

  The other mutants had it worse-- Orcs had been all but cleansed from the North, and those in the South mostly stayed by the rivers, the deltas, the bayou, where oddity was a given. It was the same for ogres, trolls, lizardmen and werewolves. They made their living off of fishing and hunting, or cooking and selling illegal herbal preparations for various ailments.*  A small contingent worked the line in factories or picked cotton, fruit and tobacco, keeping alive the American tradition of back-breaking labor for lousy pay. They began to die at about the same rate as humans, instead of the doubled lifespans they had enjoyed in the previous millennium.

 The more things change, the more they stay the same; those who forget History are doomed to repeat it, etc. These clichés were proven again and again in the century leading up to the year 4010, when the old laws protecting the rights of mutants were repealed. Wage disparity and lack of opportunity for advancement became the rule for all mutants as their numbers dwindled to minority status. Even the magical creatures once considered preciously exotic, like the Great Gryphons, Chimerae, Dragons and Unicorns fell out of favor. Some species had already been hunted to near extinction, but in 4010, they got thrown off the endangered list, and other protective measures were canned as well. It was open season. The 25+ species and subspecies of Basilisk had completely disappeared by 4016.

*The ironically named Wolfen Salve was still the surest way to heal a bite, gash or other open wound quickly and without scarring. It smelled good, too.


 Matt held the filthy string between his teeth and pulled till the knot tightened as far as it would go. Lenny shook his hoof, trying it out— it held the muffling fabric cover on so it didn’t move. Now his clodhoppers wouldn’t make such a recognizable sound on the pavement they had to cross.

 “Thanks, man. That should work.” Lenny said. “You think we have long to wait?”

“Naw.” Matt answered. “Another ten minutes it should be dark enough, maybe twenty.”

“I told you we’d end up in the suburbs if we kept going East.”

“Nothing wrong with the suburbs that a good mushroom cloud couldn’t improve.”

 Matt searched his backpack for something to eat and found a single Three Musketeers  left from their last midnight grocery store raid. Luckily, Lenny hated chocolate, so he wouldn’t be sharing.  

 He ate his last candy bar, watching the unicorn polish his iridescent violet horn against his pearly sides. Well, they were pearly when he could catch a bath every few days… the last week of traveling through slimy underbrush in the backwoods hadn’t done their hygiene any favors.

 But still, even over the smell of their combined funk, Lenny’s wide nostrils flared at the scent of the chocolate. He looked up from his grooming and frowned, disgusted.

“Do you know what that’s made of? It’s pure chemical death in a sweet package.”

“Len, you have your vices, I have mine. It’s a hereditary weakness, okay? That’s what being half-human does to you.” He took a quick look in the sack tied onto Lenny’s back and found an apple.

“Here, take this. We can get more soon.”

 Lenny shook his head. “I can’t eat with that smell near me. Just hurry up and finish it so I can psyche up for this. The last time I went through the ‘burbs some kid shot me with a BB gun. That shit stings!”

“Right before we met?” Matt asked.

“Yeah. Remember the bandage on my ass?”

 He stretched his neck and looked out from around the billboard they had camped behind this morning. It was a risk, using a billboard as shelter— cops used them too. But this location wasn’t great for catching speeders. They’d had a quiet day’s rest, for once.   

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Oktober the Twenty-Second: Another Drop in the Bucket

There are days when I lose patience with the animals with whom I share a home.

 Peace, Mari

Another Drop in the Bucket

By Mari Kozlowski

"Jesus, you had to do that there, didn't you? Now I have two rooms full of your mess to clean up before I even have coffee.  If you didn't eat so fast, you might not get sick all over the place, you furry bastard."

 She knelt down and swished a rag in the bucket to mix the cleaning fluid and the water, then put a long yellow rubber glove on. The cat came up from behind and rubbed her ankle with his face, marking her as his... his maid, his cook, his masseuse.

 "Watch it, Marcus. You're tickling me." 

The cat sniffed her toes and left. He liked being in the way when she cleaned, but he didn't seem to like the orange smell of the cleaning solution. Maybe he'd even avoid that area in future, if she was lucky.

 "Fine with me," she said, and started wiping down the floor where the vomit had dried on before she'd found it. It was stuck in the fibers of the rug, which made for hard work scrubbing it out.

 A small commotion in the hallway made her look up, and there was her husband, looking down and holding his mouth.

 "Honey, could you please carry a bowl around with you while you're sick? I'd like to not spend my whole day cleaning puke."

 "Sorry." he said.

"It's okay, just try not to make it worse. Are you feeling any better now?"

 "Don't know. Were you asking me something a minute ago? I thought I heard you say something"

 "Must have been hallucinating, hon."

Friday, October 21, 2011

Oktober the Twenty-First: Save Room for Dessert

In WNY, we can tell for sure that Autumn is getting on... it's way past chilly and windy as hell. Giant crows are flying behind my house all the time, looking for a chipmunk nosh. So, at under 1,000 words, here's a neat little story that's ripe for Hallowe'en...

 Peace, Mari


Save Room for Dessert

By Mari Kozlowski

 The long driveway curved up to their new home in a graceful swath of pale rose pavement, custom laid. The view was spectacular in every direction— well tended flowerbeds bordered by playful arbors or inventively planted patches of herbs made just to step on and give up their fragrant souls as they were crushed. In the center of it all, the riot of greenery framed the most beautiful house Kit could ever imagine living in. She turned to her husband, eyes gleaming in excitement as they parked.

“It’s really ours?”

 Ted smiled and put his hand on her knee. “Yep.”

“And you seriously checked on all that poltergeist stuff we heard about it, right? We’re not going to have any problems?”

“No, we’re not. It’s going to be great. It all checked out fine, you’ll see.”

"Thanks, Babe. You’re the sweetest, most considerate husband in the world.” 

“I know.”

 They got out of the car and stood holding each other, awed that their bid for this near palatial estate had been accepted. The previous owners had even thrown in a gardener, still under contract for a year. An amazing bonus on top of an amazing deal, and their realtor had been stunned— still, after she had three different independent inspections come up clean, she’d advised them to make the best offer they could. The rumors she’d heard about a family being murdered there 80 years ago were probably crap, and even if they weren’t so what? People die in their homes all the time, for lots of reasons. So they’d made a ridiculously low offer.

 And now they were spending their first night there, alone, before the kids arrived next day.

"That smells like heaven—and I’m starved. Can we eat now, please?”

 Ted sniffed the pot roast as it rode by in Kit’s oven-gloved hands. She smiled wickedly and shook her behind a little as she went by.

"You can have something in just a minute. I want to light some candles first, to celebrate. And set the mood.”

 She set the steaming casserole dish on the only flat surface table they had access to, besides the kitchen counters— a hollow black leather ottoman with a top that could be turned to use as a tray table. It was wide enough for their plates, the roast and a salad, with just space in the middle for a single candlestick.

 Kit pushed a long black taper into the short holder and lit it. It sputtered a moment before catching, and then blazed up nicely. She smiled and looked around her new living room, with its mix of deep rose and palest pink walls. Very romantic.

“Now we can eat,” she said. “If you found the cushions I asked you to unpack.”

 Ted laid the cushions from their old divan around the ottoman and waited till Kit sat, before pulling a bottle of champers out from behind a box.

"You didn’t!” Kit said. She looked at the label and back at Ted.

“Yep. The same kind we drank on our honeymoon. I think the occasion merits it.”

“Glasses?” she asked, and her husband pulled two acrylic flutes out from the same hiding spot.

 They toasted their new life, and then ate, the comforting scent of bay leaves and onion rising from the casserole, and the tingle of brut Champagne on their tongues. Kit was pouring herself a third glass when they both heard a small, sharp creak, like a foot on a stair. She raised her eyebrows at Ted and looked over her shoulder, where the noise had come from.

“Probably just the wind,” he told her. He didn’t look concerned.

 She settled back into her champagne, enjoying it.

“Just make sure you save room for dessert,” Ted said, eyeing her flute. “You know how you get when you have too much booze during dinner.”

 Outside the wind rattled through the windows; the candle fluttered a bit, then resumed its full glow. Kit sighed.

“I know. Don’t worry.” She leaned over and kissed him, then took a sip of her wine.

 Another creak sounded from behind, louder this time. Then what sounded like a moan, low and agonized.

 Kit’s head whipped around, and Ted put his hand on her arm.

“You okay?” he whispered. She nodded, then stood and began walking to where a misty figure was just materializing on the bottom stair.

 It had a gruesome wound at its throat, a gash that seemed to flow with blood that never spilled onto its long pale skirts yet never clotted. A mangled infant tucked under one of its arms twisted and started to cry, then to howl. The mother ghost ignored it, focusing on Kit.  

 Ted watched motionless as his wife strode to the apparition and reached out a hand. The horrid thing opened a mouth full of broken teeth and writhing insects, a rictus grin. Its eye sockets trained on Kit.

 Who smiled back, her mouth suddenly opening wider and wider, till her jaws extended the whole width of her face, her blue eyes glowing now with a cold white fire. She grasped the flailing arm of the ghost as it tried to pull away, grin turned to a churning dismay.

“I’m so glad you showed up tonight,” she told it, her voice deeper, smokier than before. “I’m still starved, even after that pot roast.”

 Ted watched as his transformed wife leaned over and inhaled, sucking the spirits down whole as they screeched and writhed. It was beautiful, really, once you got used to it.  In fact, it kinda turned him on.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Oktober the Twentieth: Dear J

Well, this is fiction that's pretty close to the bone, so to speak. It's super short, but I think it tells as much of a story as it needs to.

 And, it's up earlier than usual, 'cause I'm heading out to a Salon tonight, to drink and discuss the universe with like minds.



Dear J

By Mari Kozlowski

“Dear J—

  Let’s get this straight, finally, so you’ll stop giving ME the dirty looks when I walk into the joint I always went to, every weekend and Tuesdays, before I met you somewhere else and introduced you to my “Cheers, ” a move, BTW, that I’ll always regret.

 You were the one talking romance instead of just sex. Remember how you kept me on the phone for 2 hours, telling me how much I’d LOVE Boston and how you’d like to take me there?

 You were the one who never had birth control on hand. Not surprising, since you don’t know how to use a condom properly and refuse to learn.

 You were the one that passed out drunk while I was going down on you. And I have it on good authority that I do a damn decent job.

 You were the one who got us pulled over by the police for smoking a joint while driving.

 In short, you are the asshole here, not me. Except insofar as it took me a couple of the worst weeks of my life to figure it out, and another one to make you realize I that I had figured it out.

 So, either keep the fuck out of my place, or treat me politely. A simple nod or “Hey” will suffice. And stop telling people I’m harassing you by my very presence. It’s not like I’m seeking you out and trying to get back into your pants again.

          Why would I???  


   The girl with the black hair whose mailbox you ran over.”

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Oktober The Nineteenth: Radiant

Not much to say about this... I'll think of something later. It's short, and not so sweet but as of now, I like it.

 Peace, Mari



By Mari Kozlowski

"Smile for me, okay, Jill?"

 She did it, and Heather brushed her own signature peachy-pink wedding day blusher blend onto the skinny apples of the girl's sallow cheeks. Well, sallow before Heather had gotten at her. Now she glowed, dewy and delicate, innocently sumptuous as only a bride can be.

 Heather knew it was because the bitches made their best-looking friends wear hideous bridesmaid dresses in garish colors that would mess up anyone's complexion, guaranteed. It was an unwritten rule that all brides intuited about five minutes after they got the engagement ring. And it made Heather's job easier. She created one beauty queen for the day, who ran unopposed in her own rented church. Making her stand out was simple, and lucrative.

 Jill's lips were a trifle thin. Heather lined them in a pale flesh tone, then applied a pearly pink lipstick to fill them out, blending in a touch of deeper pink just in the middle to make them seem fuller. A dab of clear gloss enhanced that, and the primer underneath it all would help it last through pictures, ceremony and kisses in the receiving line.

 She always gave her brides a bag of touch-up makeup in sample sizes, too. It was part of the service, and helped keep her work looking good for the other prospective brides to see; often, one of those poor bridesmaids was the next to call and book a consult with her. They wanted to lock in the magic that had made their "less attractive" friend into the radiant belle of the ball. Then they went and picked out their own version of hideous gowns for their own attendants. It was an unspoken collusion between the brides and the dress designers, and it kept Heather's ball rolling, too.

 She put the finishing gleam of highlighter on Jill's browbone and shoulders, checked the overall impression, and handed her a mirror. Jill looked herself over, smiling wider and wider.

"You're gorgeous, Jill. You're gonna knock that man off his cummerbund."

"I am." Jill sounded astonished. She beamed at her own beauty in the handheld mirror, then stood up and pulled off the protective smock to see the whole look in the large mirror attached to the vanity.
"I feel like an Empress."

"You deserve to, right?" Heather said. "This is your day."

"I do deserve it. You did a fantastic job, Heather, Thank you so much!"

 Jill hugged her and slipped her an extra tip. On top on the fee, it was generous. Lavish even.

 "You' ll be the most stunning woman there, and that's just proper." Heather told her client. "Oh-- you did say it was okay to leave a few of my business cards at the reception, didn't you?"

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Oktober the Eighteenth: Dead Serious

Two things: first, my newest great-nephew, Max, was born today. Yay, Max! And yay, Amanda and Nick for having a Hallowe'eny baby. He'll be ready for a costume this year, I'm sure.

 Second of all, when I came home from visiting them at the hospital, I watched Seraphim Falls, with Liam Neeson and Pierce Brosnan. Engrossing movie-- the whole thing is a chase scene, really. A Western manhunt. So that's where this came from, the combo of children and guns, which normally I do not like to see together. And I'm getting back into the "showing, not telling" thing again, with a little care.

 It makes for better stories.

 Peace, Mari


Dead Serious

By Mari Kozlowski


 The boys talking on the verandah hushed up, and across the street Miss Kitty Lane drew closer to her husband for the day, when the Stranger rode through town Wednesday noontime.

 He sat lean and tall in the hand-tooled leather saddle, on a fine riding horse worth more than any of the buildings on Main Street. His hat was dark and his boots were spotless, with cruel, shiny spurs at his heels. He wore a gun on each hip, pearl handled and long-barreled. The Stranger didn’t live in town, was seldom seen there; but he was known by sight. And known for the folk he was rumored to have shot.

“I heard he kilt his own Momma for slapping him,” said Benjamin Harlow, in a low voice. “He shot her in the face!”

 Edgar Browning spat carefully aside, into the dust of the stranger’s wake. “My cousin John Lee said he’s wanted for murdering a sheriff up Colorado way,” he said, and paused to let the tidbit settle in. “With an Indian hatchet in the throat.”

 All the boys nodded solemnly, as if they had no doubt. Then little Tom Yeager piped up: “My Pa said that he gutted a mountain lion and hid inside it’s skin for three days, waiting for a deputy who was after him to show up. Then he jumped out of the belly, killed the deputy and stuffed him back inside that mountain lion.”

 Stunned gasps and exclamations followed this last bit, and Tommy smiled at having topped Edgar’s tale. They all got quiet as the Stranger looked back at them gathered there on the porch. He narrowed his cold grey eyes, searching for some thing or someone. The boys shivered and suddenly found their own shoes too interesting to look away from.

 The Stranger shook the reins and rode on.

 The boys followed after him at a distance, half awed and half terrified. They bunched behind the dry goods store to watch as he entered Jack Furlong’s tailoring shop, wondering if the devilish gunman would kill old Jack for sass— Jack was a silly old cuss with a big mouth and loud opinions.

 “You think he’s ordering a shroud for somebody?” little Tommy asked, wide-eyed.

 Edgar slapped the top of Tom’s head with his hat.

 “Dumb bumpkin,” he said, “You don’t order shrouds for the people you kill. That’s for their kinfolk to do.”

 Ben’s brother Ned shook his head. “But what would he be doing at Furlong’s?”

 None of the boys had a good guess, so they hid in delicious terror, trading more stories till he came out almost a whole hour later, and rode on to the Inn at the end of Main Street. Then they poured into Furlong’s.

“What do you young ruffians want?” Jack said, pulling a thick needle out from between his lips. A large pair of scissors sat near his hand on the counter, and the boys had no doubt he’d use them if he needed to. The old tailor grimaced at them, waiting, and finally Edgar spoke.  

“We just wanted to know, Mr. Furlong sir, what that gunman was doing in here for so long.”

 Tommy Yeager chimed in “We was afraid he might shoot you!”

 The old man laughed out loud.

“Not likely,” he said “Since I just took the order to make him a suit.”

 The boys looked at each other, sure it meant something serious. Dead serious.

“Is it the suit he’s gonna be buried in?” Tommy asked, “Is he set to hang?”

  All of them leaned in to hear Furlong’s answer. He picked up the scissors and stuck them in a pouch under the counter.

 “Of course not! Mr. Mathis ordered a new suit to wear to his daughter’s wedding next Saturday. He’s in town today looking for Sheriff Brant.”

 Ned looked scared at that, scared enough to maybe piss himself.

“Is he gonna kill him?”

“Where do you kids get these fool ideas?” the tailor asked. “No, he’s not going to kill the Sheriff. They’re good friends; they was soldiers together back in the war. He’s inviting him to the wedding.”

 Jack bustled about, tidying up his counters, then setting paper pattern shapes out a long table in the back room.

“Now you boys git. I’ve got work to do.”

Oktober the Seventeenth: The Gods of Convenience

 Here's a trippy little piece for me-- it's a fiction story, although it is based on real people, some real places, some real conversations that happenend when I lived in Indiana, a couple lifetimes ago.

 It was fun to go back there, in this way. Paco's Cantina as it was, is no more; and the food was written as absolutely true, and I still miss it.

 So this one is for Mike. I'd say I'm sorry I corrupted our past, but, hey, it was going that way already.

 Peace, Mari


The Gods of Convenience

By Mari Kozlowski

 Mike pulled into the lot and found a spot right away. I gasped in disbelief— we never, I mean never ever had found a spot behind Paco’s that quick.

“What the hell evil spell got put on you?” I asked him.

 He smiled and pointed to a plastic lizard sitting in the broken open glove compartment. It was cheap, painted flat greenish brown, but well detailed anatomically, with a long tail broken off at the tip. I'd wondered about it.

“I got me a parking god,” he said, “and it works. Yesterday I parked in the resident lot for my 10 am French Lit class and I didn’t get a ticket.” 

“Impressive,” I admitted, “especially you making it to your 10 o’ clock on time.”

 We got out of his beaten up Skylark and headed towards the back door of Paco’s fast. It was freezing, with a brutal wind chill.

 Once we’d gotten our usual-- two quesadillas for Mike and one for me, with three hot sauces splashed inside it— we began to warm up. Paco’s was always about a thousand degrees inside. It was such a tiny hole in the wall, with an open grill, no real ventilation and usually five more people eating there than the maximum allowed by law. And one whole wall was taken up with shelves full of hot sauce from all over the world.

 Eating there in winter was heavenly. Summer wasn’t, but we still managed to end up there by 2:30 am at least once a week. We walked a lot at night, and hung out at a few bars, and then got starved.

 At Paco’s, the quesadillas were huge, delicious and filling. They didn’t just use cheese: those big fuckers were stuffed with rice, asadero, chopped olives, jalapenos, salsa, and sour cream. Mike could only eat two because he made up for all the other appetites he couldn’t satisfy that way. The one time I’d tried I regretted it. If I was hungry afterwards, we walked some more first, then grabbed a donut at the Stop-n-Rob.

 When I finished, I waited till Mike had a huge bite in his mouth and then asked if he prayed to the lizard, or just sacrificed virgins on the dashboard. He wiggled his eyebrows at me and swallowed.

“What do you think?”

“I think virgins are boring as shit.” I said. Although at that point, neither of us had fucked one yet. “What I want to know is, are you turning religious all of a sudden, or is it just for the parking spots?”

“There’s 3500 students at B--, and 2500 places to park, including for teachers.”

 He finished his last quesadilla and belched into his hand. "But don’t mention it in the car. You don’t want to anger the parking god. Then we’d have to walk farther the next time.”

“Right.” I got up and dumped the plates in the trash next to us. “Let’s see if there’s a pool table open at the Alleycat.”

“There won’t be.” 

“You never know… since your conversion, it could have changed. Maybe the Almighty Lizard controls more than parking.”

 Mike stood up and stretched. He looked tired and kind of pasty in the sick light of Paco’s, but then he was pretty pale anyway. What he really needed was to get laid; we both did.

“Maybe. I’m afraid to push it. But pool sounds good. As long as we don’t have to wait for a table.”

“Like you’re not used to waiting.” I said, as we left the way we came in.

“Can’t wait every night.” he argued.

“We can if we have to.”

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Oktober the Sixteenth: Sifting

It's odd how time changes texture depending on who you spend it with. That's all I'll give for now about Sifting.

 I've had a good experience so far writing these flash pieces. At under 1000 words, this still qualifies, and yet as the month of Oktober progresses, I'm not needing to count to keep the stories short. 500 words feels positively expansive at this point, and 1000 words is a feast. This one comes in at just over 800.

Peace, Mari


By Mari Kozlowski

“Now, four cups flour, Jean, sifted. It’s got to be sifted.” Annalee said.

 Jean measured it out, sifting as she added, then hit a snag: not enough flour. She didn’t bake much, so she bought the smallest bags she could find, and used them forever.

“Don’t have four. Just three and a half! This is going to be ruined. Can you run to the store, Ann? Aw, we don’t have time. Maybe I could order something…” Jean rattled on, feeling frantic. They didn’t have time before the family showed up, did they? She looked at the kitty clock on the wall. Barely time to get it done now.

 Annalee let off a big sigh.

“Got any cake flour? Or pastry flour? Or even Whole Wheat?” she asked, pursing her lips. Her mouth looked like a cartoon fish frown when she did that, and Jean stifled a little giggle. She thought about the question.

“I guess I have some brown rice flour and some cake flour,” she said. “We could use one of them?”

 She got onto her knees to get into the cupboard and reached around the bag of pancake mix and a couple of taco kits for the box of Softasilk she remembered buying a few months back. It was unopened, of course. Annalee smiled when she saw.

“Cake, here, definitely. Only you need an extra tablespoon— two tablespoons more cake flour per cup. Or is it three? No, it’s two, I’m sure it’s two. Let’s hurry & get this mixed so it has time to cool before you frost it.”

“Oh shit!” Jean said. “I forgot it has to cool first. I’ll never make it in time.”

“Yes, you will. If you get it mixed in the next five minutes.”

 Annalee cut open the bag and started measuring the Softasilk herself. She added the baking powder and soda, then beat the eggs in a separate bowl with a fork, and blended the vegetable oil and vanilla into the eggs. Jean let her.

 She would have asked her to bake the damned thing, too, if she dared. Instead, she had asked for help. Which wasn’t quite free, she’d forgotten. There was a lab fee, like in her old art classes.

“Brown rice flour? What could you possibly want that for?”

“Breading scallops for a recipe I saw—''  Jean started to say, but Annalee moved back to her overseer’s position and held out a whisk.

“C’mon, you’ve got to get a feel for the batter— mix it with this.”

“Can’t I use the mixer? I cleaned it and everything…”

 Annalee raised her eyebrows and did the fish lips again.

“You can use it for your frosting.”

“Okay.” Jean wasn’t about to admit she’d bought two cans of prepared frosting and confetti sprinkles to top off her homemade cake. Annalee wouldn’t know, she wasn’t staying for the party.

 Jean poured half the wet stuff into the flour mix and started whisking, till she caught Annalee shaking her head at her.


“Let me show you— hold it like this,” she said, and began beating in a smooth motion. “Then you have to add the milk.” She picked up the forgotten milk and put some of it in the batter.

 Jean watched her mix the cake the rest of the way, alternating the additions. Why had she attempted a cake from scratch? It was just a barbecue. Duncan Hines would have worked fine.

“Here’s the pans,” she said, and handed them over. They were already greased, and Annalee filled them evenly and eased them into the oven. They already looked better than any cake Jean had ever made on her own.

“That’s done!” she said, smiling. She washed her hands and looked to Jean. “Any coffee left?”

“I’ll make you some fresh.” Jean said. “You can stay till it’s done, right?”

“Um, I don’t think so. Let’s set the timer.” The other woman bent over the oven controls and found what she wanted— Jean had never used the timer once in the six years they’d lived here.

“Don’t worry about the coffee,” Annalee said. “I really don’t have time for it anyway. I didn’t know this project would take us so long.” She picked up her purse and started for the side door. “Just use that tester I gave you— it should come out clean. And let the layers sit for a half hour or more before you frost. It’ll be fine.”

 Jean smiled as honestly as she could. “Thanks Ann. I don’t know what I’d do without you. I appreciate your help.”

 Her friend nodded and left, calling down the driveway.

"See you at Knitting club Monday! Don’t forget to bring that pattern for me to look at.”

“Okay!” Jean called back, and shut the door.

 She had just enough time to clean the mess before she touched up her makeup and set out the plates. She hadn’t known it would take so long, either.  

Oktober the Fifteenth: Catching The Drops

 This played out differently when it was happening in my head, but I didn't quite get there. I think that as the story progresses, the characters have a philosophical conversation about something. Maybe in the second draft...

 Anyway, I wanted to name this Rain Man, but it's taken. So I thought, Rain God of Amherst, but that is sort of taken too, by Rob McKenna in Douglas Adams' 4th Hitchhiker book. And Amherst never made it in.
 At the finish line, I realized I could steal a title from one of my February songs last FAWM. It's pretty, so I'll link to the lyrics here. There's a lovely version musicked up by my pal Gerry in Scotland, on the same page here. You'll like it.

Peace, Mari


Catching the Drops

By Mari Kozlowski

 John pulled into the Ground Round off the 290 starving and soaked. A beer and a burger were like salvation to him— he needed them now, and bad. All through Ohio, rain had splashed across his windshield so thick he could hardly see to drive. Then he’d had to stop and help a kid who’d hit a deer— the dead animal blocking half a lane and the kid’s Chevy in the ditch. The rain would wash the blood away by morning, but John doubted that kid would drive the highway at night again. He’d been shaken up good.

 The parking lot was pretty full for a weeknight at 9:30 in the middle of almost nowhere. Hot Pennsylvania night life. Who’d guess?
“Just you?” the bored server asked. She had one of those weird, elaborate hairdos black girls wore, lots of crossed braids and silver beads. It looked cute, really; but kinda much for the Ground Round. The tables in the main room were empty, but one.

“Yeah— I’ll sit in the lounge at the bar if you don’t mind.” 

“Sure. The lounge is to your left.”

 She handed him a menu and pointed the way, and half a minute later he was drinking a Boston Lager and looking around. The bar was full, unlike the dining room. There were couples, guys watching B-ball, one high café tableful of girls wearing heavy makeup and their work clothes: nice jeans, uniforms for different stores. About four rows of tossed shots in front of them and a new set ready to go. They looked as if they didn’t need any more.

 John asked the bartender, Todd by his name tag, “Is this a regular Tuesday around here?”

“Pretty much. There’s a couple malls down the way. Everybody that works there ends up here at least once a week. Mondays are crazy.” The guy rolled his eyes. “I make my car payment off Monday tips every month.”

“You don’t say?”

 Todd, nodded and took off down bar to fill another order. More people were walking in, taking up the last few empty tables. John nibbled a few peanuts and waited for his burger. The Bacon and Blue, salty and rich, with a side of rings. They made the rings from fresh onions here, he remembered, instead of buying them frozen and just frying ‘em like other places. He thought he might risk a second beer with his food, this one was going down so well. He wasn’t eager to get back out in the downpour.

“Is this seat saved for somebody?”

 John looked up from the peanut bowl into a beautiful face, a truly gorgeous pair of eyes. Sort of blue, sort of grey-green, and wide set. He sat up straighter and wiped his hand on the napkin by his glass.

“No, I’m alone. It’s all yours.”

 He smiled and hoped there wasn’t any peanut skin stuck in his teeth.

“Thanks. I need something to wash away all that rain out there. What’s good here?”

 She settled her bag on the bar at her elbow and looked at him straight on.

“They have good brew on tap, and some fancy cocktails, I guess. The burgers are what they’re best at, foodwise.”

 Jesus, she was beautiful. Not the kind of woman you expect to find at a bar off the thruway. Longish legs, slim wrists peeking out of her denim jacket sleeves. High, rounded cheekbones with just a touch of shimmery makeup. Her hair seemed dark, but it too wet to be sure what shade of dark.

“Beer sounds good. Can I get you another?” She pulled out a card and waved Todd over.

 John shook his head. “No, ma’am. Thank you, but I couldn’t.”

 He’d never had a woman buy him a drink before. He wasn’t sure it legal, even. The lady smiled, wide, and took his hand in a brief shake.

“Yes, you could. But I’m not a Ma’am, I’m a Pam. Nice to meet you.”

“John.” He said, returning her hand. It was warm, despite the droplets still sliding off her hair and jacket. Todd set their beers in front of them and gave John a tiny wink. Pam lifted her glass to his and clinked, toasting to better weather.

 He drank along, too, but inside he toasted the weather just the way it was, and said a private Thank You to the rain gods.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Oktober The Fourteenth: How to Drive Your Sister Crazy

I grew up with three sisters, a mom and a grandmother in the house, not to mention myself, all our ever-present friends, my two brothers and two cousins. Plus, lots-o-cats. This week my younger and older sister both had to go to emergency care for various problems (that are totally unrelated to the story, BTW). Having people you care about can drive you crazy.

 Peace, Mari


How to Drive Your Sister Crazy

By Mari Kozlowski

“Caroline, you did so take my pink scarf yesterday. Right before Taz came over. What happened to it?”

 She turns her head like she’s not listening, but I know she hears me. She pretends to straighten up her dresser top, moving stuff around. Hanging jewelry on her little rack— a pair of Fran’s earrings and one of Evy’s necklaces. And Mom’s pearl drop earrings, too!

“Sorry, Bell, it wasn’t me. I wore all black last night.”

 And she flounces out of her bedroom. She has the whole room to herself. Me, Evy and Fran have shared a room since we were little. I’m seventeen, and I sleep in a bunk bed with my younger sister below me. You know how much that sucks for making out?

“Get your ass out of my room.” Caroline calls back.

 I know she took my scarf. My favorite one, from our trip to Florida. Maybe Mom can get her to give it up. I head to her office in the back room. She’s installing something on her computer, new software. There’s manuals and warranty junk all over the desk.

“Mom, Caroline keeps taking my good clothes. Without asking. I think you should stop her allowance till she stops stealing.”

“Bella, your sister isn’t stealing from you. Don’t be so dramatic.”


“I’m NOT being dramatic, Ma— you should see how much of our stuff she ‘borrows.’ She’s got a pair of your earrings, too, you know.”

 Mom sighs and stops fiddling with her keyboard.

“I gave her those last week, Bella; not that it’s any of your business. Will you please go set the table for dinner instead of tattling on your sisters? I’ve got to get this set up for tomorrow.”

 Unbelievable! I’m the one who’s the problem? I do the table like I’m supposed to and head to my room to listen to some Scopeful. Thank God I bought my own headphones last year— Caroline doesn’t know because I hide them when she’s around. Otherwise she’d probably steal them too, and listen to Green Day or something sick. 

 Maybe I should mess with her best clothes, so she knows what it’s like. Evy and Fran borrow whole outfits from me and each other; they always give them back. Okay, sometimes Evy rips things by accident, but at least she says she’s sorry and tries to be nice to you afterwards. And Fran is perfect about it.

 Caroline just uses our closets like they’re her own personal fashion mall. I should take her favorite tank, that pale green one with the blue tie dye pattern. She’d freak, especially if it got ripped. Like, accidentally.

 I’m leafing through Carol’s hangers (she irons all her tank tops, jeans and bras, if you can believe it) when Fran walks in and closes the door.

“You want to help me destroy this?” I ask her, and hold up the tank so she can see. She shakes her head.

“I took your scarf, Bell. I can’t get it back either,” she says, and starts crying. Crying right in front of me. “Don’t tell Ma, okay?”

 Fran doesn’t cry. She’s a total sports hardass.

“I won’t say anything. Jesus, it’s a scarf, Fran.” I grab a tissue off Caroline’s dresser and hand it to her, so she can clean up her nose—it’s dripping.

“It’s not the scarf. I mean, it is—I’m sorry I took it. I should have asked first. I wish I hadn’t taken it!!!” She just howls into the tissue, trying to keep it quiet and getting louder at the same time.

“What happened?” I put my hand on her shoulder, like I haven’t for three years.

 She sniffs and wipes her eyes.

“I told Ma I was going to Sherry’s house last night, but I was really meeting this guy— I talked to him all last week on the phone.”

She blows her nose, and I grab more tissues. Her eyes are still really wet.


“He’s this skater guy, that my friend Dean knew, sort of, so I thought he was okay. He asked if I’d go to a party with him and it turned out to be just an empty building with a lots of guys and kegs, and a few weird girls. So I told him I had to go home, and he begged me to come and eat burritos at his house with him. Like he really wanted to have a date. And when we got there, it was a horrible crappy apartment with a couple of drunk guys that were his roommates…”

“Oh no.”

 I sat down on Caroline’s bed, knowing she’d know from the crinkles in the bedspread, no matter how I smoothed it out later. She always knew. Fran sat next to me, really close.

“I was wearing your scarf as a belt, with my Traitor jeans? And before I knew it he was pushing me down, and pulling off my t-shirt. I told him I was leaving and he smacked me, right in my chest.”

 Oh no.

“Didn’t you scream, Fran? Didn’t those jerks come to help you?”

 Fran looked at me. Crying and smiling.

“No. He covered my mouth with his hand, and I was afraid they’d come in, too, and do things...”

 She sniffed again, hard.

“Then he took your scarf and tied one of my hands to the bed with it. He was looking for something to tie my other hand with, but I scratched and ripped myself free before he saw. And I ran seven blocks so fast, I didn’t even know if I still had my shorts on.”

 She showed me her wrist— scratched and bruised, purple blue, with thin red lines from her own fingernails. 

“So your scarf is still there,” she said. “And I’m not going back for it.” 

 I took her arm and held it, thinking how hard she must have scratched to break through the nylon of my scarf. Lucky it wasn’t a bandanna.

“Caroline was really acting like she took it,” I said. “You know how she sounds like she’s lying even if she isn’t, and then flakes off instead of telling you anything.”

“I know,” Fran told me. “But she only does it to drive you crazy.”