first published: Halfway Down the Stairs, June, 2013
About six years ago, a dark-haired, thirtyish man in a white T-shirt pushed an arresting young woman in a wheel chair up the main aisle of the hardware store. She had intense brown eyes, smooth tan skin like her companion, and exuberant, thick eyebrows.
He approached me. “Do you have a little time you can spend with my sister? Anna has a few questions.”
“Sure. What can I help with?” I said. I was grateful. I am a rover in the store, free to help almost anybody with pretty much anything, but especially a pretty girl.
The girl had the same shiny rich, black hair as her brother, shoulder length. Her upper body was brown and broad; her legs were in jeans, but Velcro-wrapped to the foot rests of the chair.
“Well, I hope you can help me with pulleys, because I have to invent some things. I can picture it, but I need help to get the pieces together.”
Her eyes were mirrors into which I didn’t dare look. “Okay. Anna, I’m Jerry. What are we building?” Continue reading
Published in anthology here: 6-9-2011
The Spanish horse patrol was on route to Bodega on the Pacific. Rumors, then reports, had come to the fort beside St. Rafael near San Francisco Bay that other Europeans had been seen in the headlands around the mountain called Tamalpais.
The five leather-coated soldiers, their priest companion and the native servant stopped awhile to stretch their legs and barter food at a poor village. The missionary, mildly drunk, was still able to talk with the village elder in Bay area pidgin. The man had apparently seen nothing.
Private Rodrigo played with the kids. They got him into line with them in the field and passed a rawhide ball from one to the next, then faster, then two lines formed and raced to see who was fastest. They laughed; he laughed; no one used words, but cheered and yelled and slapped each other’s back.
It turned into tag and racing through the woods. The Miwok kids were quick as deer and knew the paths, but Rodrigo’s heart made up the gap. Continue reading
He reached the parking lot with just enough time to punch in; to beat the clock. His veteran ears had been listening to radio news about the Sarajevo trials. The unpronounceable had committed the unimaginable against the unfamiliar. “Here we go again,” he said.
“There have been countless genocides,” the newscaster said. “The Hugenots, Beziers and Albigensians. Tenochitlan. Pequots. Auschwitz and the Sicherheitsdienst.”
He reached for the off switch. Work time. “Viet Minh, Ngo Dinh Diem, My Lai.” The announcer pronounced them perfectly. These names went with his memories of friends: ‘Frank,’ ‘Stace,’ ‘Tom,’ ‘Ryan.’
His hand dropped to the car seat. “Lubyanka and Felix Edmundovich Dzerzhinsky,” she said. “Chmielnitzki. Vijayanagara. Khmer Rouge. Khmer Noir. Rwandi-Burundi. Ieng Sary and Ieng Thirith. Kampuchea. Quiripi-Unquachog. Hissane Habre.” He was pinned down.
Millions rolled into a hundred million.
The announcer explained: “This countdown during Atrocity Awareness Week uses the Voice of America Pronunciation Guide,” she said. The irony sparked against the fragment in his heart.
“The names are not so hard. Tianahmen Square. Deng Xiaoping. Try repeating after me,” she said.
“DUH-ng SH-how PEENG.”
“Duhng show peeng,” he said.
“OH-marr HAS-san AL BAS-hir,” he said, after her.
“AWN SAN soo CHEE.” Way too easy.
“RAHT-koh MLAHD-ihch,” they said.
“RAH-doh-van KAHR-ah-jeech.” She had to break for a commercial. He picked up where she left off.
“Tan Son Nhut. Binh Long. Quang Nai. Hue Phu Bai. An Phu. Loc Minh. Nui Ba Den. Bu Prang. Dak Dahm. Quang Tri.” Place names from his personal collection.
Soon, she was back, “Trien Phong. Dien Phuk. Song Be. Khe Sanh. Cu Chi.” And on.
They hadn’t completed the list when the battery, too, died.
He had to look for his hands, because he felt transparent. Powerless.
Had it taken him fifty years to see that everyone was in on it, from their DNA on up? A bus full of his accomplices rumbled by. Though his boots were bloody and his eyes were scarred with horror, they each had kept a hand on his back: Andy, Ellen, Ray, Pat. Citizen perpetrators with less exotic names. Everyone could turn on anyone.
In the silence of his car, he tried to make sense of that single syllable: ‘Work.’