What's really written on Liberty's tablet? This:
I’M THE STATUE OF LIBERTY!
Gimme your tired, your poor? Is you crazy?
Gimme your broke, worthless dudes with clue disabilities?
Gimme your cheaters, your promise-breakers?
Gimme your lazy-ass weasels yearning to drink free on my couch...
while I’m at a jay-oh-bee paying the bills?
Are you shittin’ me, people?
If I wanna hunky monkey with no money, honey, I’ll go to the zoo!
Why is Liberty so peeved? Well, it's part of a long story. Okay, she's (literally) at the beginning of a novel titled THE MUSEUM OF SUDDEN DISAPPEARANCES. That book kick-started this low-budget blog, which is dedicated to, in no particular order, the Statue of Liberty, the misunderstood city of Detroit (the jewel of the Midwest), heart-breaking doo-wop ballads, wandering Detroit expatriates here and abroad, vinyl records, all things obsolete, the faded, the vanished, beautiful stuff that has gone "poof" and popped out of sight. And, of course, America's foremost curator in search of a museum -- "Jurassic Jim" Fleetwood. Mr. Fleetwood is also a deejay and host of The U-turn Time Machine Show.
(This is a Time Machine. Imagine drag-racing through the decades with this, honking your horn through the 1940s and 1950s, throwing beer cans through the window through the 1960s.)
This blog is also dedicated to weary pilgrims searching for their place in this world where nothing stays in place. If that journey doesn't tire you out, nothing will. And if you're beat and broke and need a place to collapse, feel free to spend the night at The Museum of Sudden Disappearances. We completely understand. We've been there. Many times. One wing of our museum is dedicated to 18th century fainting couches. We have over 200 plush couches, and can accommodate an entire neighborhood that feels the need to faint. Bring the folks. Bring the kids. Come on over and faint.
This woman was listening to Jim Fleetwood's midnight show on the radio, and just heard that the legendary Dancing Dictators of Doo-Wop will no longer be singing and dancing across America's street corners, and touching the nation's soul. She fainted. Can you blame her?
Or, for those who prefer to collapse in luxury after getting hammered with the grim news that their favorite TV show has been canceled, imagine keeling over and falling face down on this.
At any rate, relax and read, on or off the couch. Below is an excerpt from the novel, PAST IS PRESENT, a sequel to THE MUSEUM OF SUDDEN DISAPPEARANCES. What's it about? Well, it's just over 100,000 words. So it's about 400 pages. And yes, both stories feature Jurassic Jim, who loves heading backward as the world moves forward. Also, these are thrillers with a backbeat. Feel free to laugh, gasp, and dance through the pages. Deejay Jim would encourage it.
PAST IS PRESENT
first 2 chapters from a novel by
Time is like a river.
It flows one direction,
but with a little force
you can go back.
But like a river,
everything you do has a ripple.
— Kevin R. Hutson
In memory of Jayne Voskuil
WIZARDS, CARS, STARS
October 3, 1968
Life must be lived forwards,
but can only be understood backwards.
Buddha sat fuming beside her on the front porch.
Etched on his little green belly was the word: incensed. Jasmine smoke poured through Buddha’s ceramic ears. Enlightenment never looked so furious. The world is strange, Linda Mitchell thought, each day presents the familiar in unfamiliar ways. An uneasy feeling stirred inside her, again, as prickly as thorns, until footsteps snapped her dark reverie.
The screen door squeaked open in the fading twilight. Her three-year-old wore a pink sweatshirt depicting Little Red Riding Hood inside a dark forest. Celestial slid her Mother Goose book onto Linda’s lap, and climbed aboard the wicker chair. Behind the living room window, a black-and-white Walter Cronkite flickered on the TV screen. “And that’s the way it is, Thursday, October third, 1968.”
“What shall we read tonight?” When she opened the book, a sheet of paper fell onto her lap, a crayon picture of a face in a window. Her back stiffened. “Who is this, Cel?”
Inside the floppy hood, Cel’s sky-blue eyes drifted toward their little white bungalow with green shutters. A whisper on the wind: “I dunno. I just drawed it.”
Linda pinched the paper, lingering on the drawing until she heard a noise.
A rusty VW van clattered up
and stopped. Its bumper sticker announced: I
brake for hallucinations. A shaggy-haired man waved. “Hello, ladies.”
Cel pumped her hand in the air. “Hi, Trippy!”
“Peace!” He flashed the peace sign with two fingers.
“Peas!” Cel echoed. She tried a V-shape, but only her middle finger popped up.
“Whoa!” Trip said. “That’s a little harsh for a preschooler.”
“Honest, she doesn’t get it from me.” Linda first met Peter Van Winkle in junior high school, when he weighed ninety pounds with two pounds of pimples, and wore pants that surrendered several inches of shin. A classmate suggested that Van Winkle’s brain was on permanent vacation. The nickname stuck—Trip Van Winkle.
Linda set the book on a crate, next to Buddha and a box of incense cones. She jogged down her front walkway, six cement squares. The square adjoining the sidewalk announced to the world in yellow-chalked words:
this way. A green arrow decorated the
next square, with the chalked proclamation: Cel’s
Castle straight ahead. But the third square warned in screaming red
letters: Goblins begone! Mitchell Mansion
Linda stood on the curb, facing the van. “Any update on Kenny Grogan?”
“I went to see him again yesterday. He’s still…” Trip looked at her as if from a great distance, his eyes creased with worry. “And Blue dropped from sight.”
She swayed on her feet as her paisley, button-front long dress rippled in the breeze. “I last saw Blue and Kenny here on Sunday, and later that night when Blue showed up alone. But I have the strangest feeling he’s been around here again.”
“Is that guy weird…or what? If he fell out of a window, he’d fall up.”
“What’s his story?”
Trip shrugged, scratching his goatee. His green army jacket hung loose on his thin frame, a faded red bandanna tied through one of the epaulets. When he adjusted the door’s rearview mirror with his left hand, she saw a red line between his thumb and index finger, running into his sleeve. His tour of
went without a scratch.
During his R&R in Vietnam ,
alas, he got robbed and stabbed in a rainy alley behind a massage parlor, and
suspected his taxi driver was somehow involved. But he wasn’t sure because the
rain blurred his bloodshot eyes. Sometimes life tattooed the hands of callow
boys from Bangkok Columbus High School in western . Massachusetts
He finally answered, “I don’t even know his real name.”
Linda recalled Blue lurking on her porch—six feet tall, jet-black ponytail, and an ornate design stitched on his shirt. “It’s the legendary phoenix being consumed by fire,” he’d said. His sapphire eyes sparkled, intense as an electrical fire, when he revealed the back of his shirt. “And this is the phoenix rising from the ashes.”
She shook off the image, and asked, “How’s Kenny?”
“He looks like he got shock therapy at Castle Frankenstein. Been flying four days on Saint Anthony’s Fire. Get this, he said Blue was into the CIA. But with a head full of acid, he just as easily could’ve told me that Superman flew by to play pinochle.”
Linda leaned against his door. “He what?”
“That was my reaction. I don’t mean that he belonged to the agency, but he’s fascinated by its history, its drug experiments.”
“I don’t want him suddenly showing up, ever again, not with Celestial here.”
He watched her intently. “Anyone ever tell you that you do that a lot? Rock back and forth when you’re deep in thought?”
She waved it off. “Be careful. That guy is twisted.”
“He’s worse. The dude’s crooked molecules from the hat down. If he comes here again and you’re alone, get out. Take Cel and run. You don’t want him inside the house.”
Linda turned, seeing her walkway warning: Goblins begone! “Sunday night, when I told him to leave, he said ‘It’s cool. Cool as permafrost.’”
“Linda, the guy belongs in a freakin’ hospital—blowing his nose in the curtains.”
She leaned back on her heel, an admonitory finger waving in the air, and said, “Watch out.” Then she headed back to the porch and scooped up Cel and Mother Goose.
A pool of lamplight shone through the window screen and illuminated a wizard on the open page. He wore a purple peaked hat and long coat decorated with silver crescents and stars, and stood on a deserted road filled with rocks and stones. Next to the wizard was a nursery rhyme:
For every evil under the sun
There is a remedy or there is none.
If there be one, seek till you find it;
If there be none, never mind it.
When the breeze shifted, bamboo wind chimes the size of bones rattled from the awning, the sound of a magic spell being cast. Jasmine smoke swirled across the page. The wizard appeared to be staring up at Cel from a fog-bound road. She pointed at the little man with the long coat. “Spooky.”
Linda thought of Blue. “If you see a spooky wizard, do you know what to do?”
“You hide.” Linda put her hands over her face, peek-a-boo style, her long, chestnut hair falling forward. Her daughter’s hair was lighter, the color of sand on a sunny beach, on a secret island that never-ever appeared on a map. “You duck and cover.”
“Duckie cover,” she repeated solemnly, head bouncing. “Ho kay.”
The phone rang. Cel scooted into the front room and picked it up. Linda, peeking through the screen, tied on a brown headscarf the color of a boxing glove. Cartoon characters covered the cloth. A two-inch Underdog stood on Linda’s forehead, the caped canine ready to spring into action. Cel loved Underdog.
Cel stood by the fish tank, receiver to ear, forefinger tracing an imaginary line on the glass. A plastic peace symbol glistened at the bottom of the tank. Until last week it was a kitchen wall ornament, but Cel took it down, carried it from room to room, and eventually dropped it into the water, turning it into an orange starfish.
Linda went inside, snapped off the TV and took the receiver. “Hello?”
The caller was humming a tune.
The Earth’s axis shifted a notch; her voice went cold. “Who is this?”
She turned toward her daughter and noticed a blazing red rose on the dining table in the adjoining room, near an open window. The phone fell from her hand, hit the edge of the fish tank and splashed inside, descending on the peace symbol like a predator. The goldfish nervously circled the black receiver and coiled wire.
“Come on, Cel, let’s go for a ride. We’ll have ice cream, would you like that? Maybe we could go to the drive-in, stay out late, huh?”
Cel danced with joy, making the floorboards squeak. “I take my Mother Goose?”
“Yes, sweetheart, let’s go. Let’s duck and cover.” She grabbed their jackets, took Cel’s hand and kicked open the door, hurried past Buddha through the jasmine fog, down the steps. The wind sounded the alarm along the street—rattling red, yellow and orange leaves. They escaped in their ‘62 Chevrolet Corvair Monza, nicknamed the Monsta.
They sped down
Elmont Avenue, past
the neon golden arches of McDonald’s Restaurant with its sign: OVER 2 BILLION HAMBURGERS SOLD! Linda monitored her rearview
mirror, finally turning at Beacon
had two drive-ins. The Bel-Air across town drew a more genteel crowd than the
nearby Galaxy, a theatre known for its drunken patrons igniting into fistfights
in the lot. Columbus
Another glance in the mirror. A dozen headlights behind her, moving from lane to lane like a stampede.
“We going to the movies, mama?”
“Yes, honey, won’t that be fun?”
A car broke from the herd, closing the gap.
“Can we see Snow Light, mama?”
Two white lights approached the Monsta. Linda tried to appear calm as the wind lifted her hair beneath Underdog.
“Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs? I don’t think it’s playing tonight.”
Two bright polka dots glowed in her rearview mirror.
Her eyes darted for an escape until she spotted the Galaxy Drive-In ahead. She pulled over to the far right lane and turned for the drive-in’s entrance.
In front of the Galaxy was a miniature golf course. A giant green leopard with black spots crouched at the entrance. Nearby, a ten-foot, duck-billed platypus with fire-engine red fur stood guard at the first hole of the course. But the central attraction was an enormous, purple hippopotamus that swallowed golf balls. The animals mesmerized Cel from behind the windshield.
Linda looked at the marquis, then at her daughter, made a silent prayer, and crept behind a monkey-shit brown ‘59 Ford. As the attendant passed a ticket through the Ford’s window, someone sneezed. He stepped back, said something to the driver. The teen got out and opened his trunk. Three red-faced boys popped up like Jacks-in-the-box.
“Look, mama, they’re sleeping in there.”
“Not exactly, Cel.”
The world of grown-ups was crammed with mystery. Golf ball-eating hippos, car trunk naps. Her daughter’s eyes sparkled with anticipation, wondering what awaited her inside this place called the Galaxy.
The Ford turned around. The Monsta pulled up.
“Kids under twelve are free,” the teenage attendant said. “That’ll be two dollars, please. And beware, tonight is special effects night.”
She couldn’t help but notice his clear emerald eyes, the flicker of boyish innocence that would soon be gone and never return. These days she noticed that sort of thing, unbidden, and always felt a feathery twinge in her heart. It wasn’t that long ago, really, when even Trip Van Winkle had that same coltish glint in his eyes. When they all did. Without turning, she instinctively reached over and held her daughter’s hand. Cel’s fingers were as warm as…sand on a sunny beach, on a secret island that never-ever appeared on a map.
“Special effects?” Linda echoed. “What’s that?”
She dug into her suede-fringe shoulder bag.
He smiled. “I hope nobody’s hiding in your trunk.”
“Nuh uh,” Cel assured him.
He hunched down under the neon lights, a Galaxy logo on his red cap. “Sweetheart, I sure hope your daddy isn’t hiding back there. He isn’t, is he?”
“Nuh,” the little girl said, leaning forward with both pink hands on the dashboard, “my daddy died in the Vet Man War.”
The attendant’s face flushed with blood. His eyes flicked skyward, then down again. He handed Linda a ticket and waved her through, not taking her money.
Her daughter’s response made her hands tremble, so she gripped the steering wheel to hide her reaction, and said, “You’re very kind, but—”
“Please. Have a good night, ladies.”
Linda hesitated before pressing the pedal and turning off the headlights. The Monsta entered the dark, gravel lot and gravitated toward the middle. Tinny voices crackled from hundreds of speakers mounted on car windows.
Cel’s eyes were glued to the windshield. “Mama?”
A sky-high vampire appeared on the giant screen in a black cape as big as night.
“It’s just a TV.” She tapped her daughter’s knee. “A very big TV.”
They found a space near the center of the lot, surrounded by tail-finned Chevies, DeSotos, Ramblers. The screen cast an artificial moonlight on the rooftops.
Linda hooked the speaker onto her window. Blood-curdling screams filled the car. She winced, set it back on its rack. “I think we can hear just fine without that, hmm?”
A half-full bottle of warm ginger ale was wedged between the front seats since the day before. Linda unscrewed the cap and took a sip.
“Can I have orange pop?”
“Well, I guess we”—she turned in her seat and looked through the rear window—“I guess we can go to the concession stand. Come on, Cel.”
As they walked in the dark, hand-in-hand, across crunchy gravel toward the yellow neon, a teenage vampire flew by with a black nylon cape. “Hello, ladies.” He licked a front windshield, a glass graveyard for head-on-collision bugs. The occupants squealed. “I love to suck the windows.” He flared his cape with both hands and disappeared.
They hurried into the drive-in’s jammed concession stand. A green ghoul stood next to a trash can by the door, dabbing his shirt with a fistful of paper napkins. “Some jerk hit me,” he told the counter girl pouring soft drinks.
“What?” The counter girl had a rubber knife stuck in her back, bleeding catsup. Whenever she turned, the knife wiggled.
Cel saw the knife and her eyes lit up. She tugged on Linda’s sleeve.
“It’s okay,” Linda said. “It’s not…uh…” Three years into motherhood and she was already running out of explanations for the adult world.
The ghoul said, “I knocked on his window like I’m s’posed to, and he hand-grenaded a Coke at me. What a nasshole.”
“Watch your mouth,” a man in line said, “or I’ll punch your lights out.”
“I said ‘a nasshole,’ not ‘an asshole.’”
“Kid, you’re one sass away from a full-body cast.”
Cel shook her mother’s thumb. “What’s a nasso?”
The ghoul scowled, tossed the wet napkins on the floor in disgust, and retreated outside. Linda squeezed up to the counter, ordering a large orange soda and popcorn.
A skinny vampire with plastic fangs rushed inside. “Thum one thnuck up from behind and thook my cape!” He faced the counter girl and spit out his fangs. “I quit!”
“Come on, Cel.” Linda held the snacks. “Let’s go back to the car.”
The green ghoul stuck his head inside the door. “Yo, pops! Come kick my teeth, you shit-head!”
“You little punk.” His two boys yelled Dad! and chased after him. The man crashed into Linda on his way out. She spun—her popcorn and soda flew through the air—and fell back into the crowd.
Regaining her balance, Linda looked around. Cel was gone. She muscled through the crowd, stepped outside, called Cel’s name. Someone yelled shut up! and a car horn blared. A giant werewolf dominated the screen. Every speaker in the Galaxy crackled with howls. She ran down a lane, calling her child.
Cel stopped by a big black car and bent over, holding her knees, hearing screams all over the Galaxy. Her heart was going boom boom. A vampire, as big as a building, was on the giant TV, with the biggest teeth in the world. Teeth as big as trees. And boys who looked like monsters ran between cars. And where was mama? Boom boom. She leaned against the car with one hand, her knees shaking. Where was...
A big man in a cape approached, resembling the wizard with the long coat in Mother Goose. He stopped and said, “Come here, Celestial.”
She’d seen this wizard on the front porch with mama, and peeking in the window today. Boom boom. Boom boom. Where was...
Then she remembered what her mother had told her about spooky wizards. Hide. Duckie cover. She bent down and crawled behind the front wheel, under the car, hearing footsteps on gravel. Someone grabbed her foot and her shoe came off, because she tied that shoe and not her mama. Mama tied them tight. Cel said “uh-oh” and kept crawling into the dark cave under the car.
Above her, the sound of voices.
“Who’s...that guy?” the teenage boy said, looking at the eerie man standing in front of his car. “He’s looks too grown-up to be working here.”
His girlfriend, Vickie, huddled next to him. She hid her face behind the big sponge dice hanging from the rearview mirror. “Scooter, this place gives me the creeps. Let’s go—now.”
The caped man glared at them through the windshield, then bent down by the front bumper and vanished, as if searching for something. He reappeared and began circling the car like a shark.
“I seen enough.” Scooter grabbed the keys.
Vickie bounced in her seat as if she sat on a tack. Either she was crazy, or a voice rose from the rubber floor mats. “You hear it?”
“There’s like a weird voice by my shoes!” She shuddered as the caped man drifted by her side window. “The floor mat said, ‘uh-oh.’ Oh Scooter—I gotta pee!”
Scooter lowered his window, unhooked the speaker and dropped it. Paranoia flared in his eyes. “We’re outta here.”
Voices above her. Cel lay on her back, looking up at the bottom of the car, hiding like mama told her. Nearby, two shoes crept alongside the car. The wizard went round and round. Then something fell from the sky and hit the ground. It bounced and landed by the back tire. A speaker. A voice in the speaker said: “Dracula is here! Run before it’s too late!” A moment later, a big blast. The engine roared above her feet—one with a silver shoe, one with a pink sock. Rust flakes sprinkled onto her forehead like little bugs.
Boom boom. Boom boom.
Scared, she backed up, scooting herself over the gravel with her heels. The stones made her think of the spooky wizard in her book, standing on a rocky road. Maybe this was the same road. But she had to stop when she felt it. Just behind her head, a big hunk of sharp metal hung from the car’s stomach. Pinned down, no room to squirm. Beside her ear, a werewolf howled through the speaker. And the wizard’s feet were gone.
From straight up inside the car, a girl’s voice: “Hurry up, he’s crazy!”
The wizard’s arm appeared, his fingers crept toward her like a spider, touched her ankle without the shoe. She stared at the car, an inch above her nose, and pretended she lay hidden beneath her bed. A drop of goo hit her chin, oozing down her neck. She tried to kick the wizard’s hand, move her foot away. How did the wizard find her hiding spot? Cold metal behind her head, couldn’t back up, pinned in. Wizard fingers pulled her sock. Boom boom. Boom boom. Where was mama? Boom boom.
A curl of smoke from the exhaust pipe trickled under the car, swirling over her. Another trick. Just like the picture book wizard, looking up at her from the foggy road. She had to act. Boom boom. She squeezed her eyes tight and imagined a special nursery rhyme. A magic spell. She whispered: “Wizard, wizard, go away...come again, another day.”
The tires moved, crunching gravel. The metal hunk advanced, kissed the crown of her head, then lifted up like a balloon, tracing her scalp, tickling her baby hair. Her magic spell was working. She wouldn’t be cut in half. Boom boom. Boom boom.
“Wizard, wizard, go away,” she repeated as the shock springs groaned.
From the corner of her eye, she saw the back tire climb over the speaker, making the werewolf howl again. The car rose, as if driving over a big rock. The metal floated past her face like a dark knife, coming down above her chest.
“Come again...” Boom boom. Boom boom.
It dragged across the length of her hoodie—scraping the zipper—slid between her legs, past her knees. It finally bent the tips of her toes forward, and moved on.
The car passed above her like a storm cloud. Now she saw stars. The spell worked, the wizard gone. What a night in the Galaxy!
Linda heard the commotion, turned, saw a tall, caped man prowling around a black car. Headlights, an engine. She ran up, saw the car pull out, and spotted a silver shoe on the ground. She gasped, picked it up. Total heart attack. Suddenly Cel appeared, lying on the gravel, smiling at the sky. “Duckie cover, mama.”
“Oh my God!” Linda gasped, scooping her up. Her baby had a dark goatee of oil on her chin. “Are you all right, honey, are—?”
“Wanna hear my magic spell?”
“I’m so sorry, Cel, I feel like such a bad mom.”
Nearby, someone whistled a familiar melody. Linda thought of the mysterious phone call, and froze. Her car was out there, somewhere, but all the rooftops and windshields looked the same under the stars. Steel and glass cookies cut from the same cookie-cutter. She thought of her late husband, Jack, and felt his wedding band on her right thumb. Reliable, resilient, resourceful Jack. What would Jack do?
Beside her was an empty car. She opened the driver’s door and pushed Cel into the front seat. Then she scrambled inside and slammed the door, sending a shudder through the metal.
“Hey!” someone cried.
Linda turned and saw a shirtless boy lying in the back seat with his topless girlfriend. The boy sprang up in his white jockeys. The girl crossed her arms over her bare breasts. The smell of pot and spilled beer hung in the air.
The boy rallied his manhood: “Hey, what the fuh—”
Linda jingled the keys, stomped the gas. The car bolted out of its space, ripping the speaker’s cord in half. The two teens squealed.
Cel studied the topless twins with a serious face, and attempted the peace sign. “Piss,” she greeted, and gave them the finger.
Linda spun the wheels between the rows of parked cars with the headlights off.
“Lady,” the boy protested, “get out of my car or I’ll have you arrested!”
“Shut up or I’ll have you busted.”
“For smoking a bone—ten years in maximum security.”
Cel faced the teenage girl. “Look, no shirt.”
Linda reached over and pointed her daughter’s head away from the back seat. “Watch the nice movie, Cel, come on.” To the boy, she snapped, “Indecent exposure in front of a minor—you’re looking at twenty years in D-Block, buck-o.”
“Listen, lady, I don’t want no trouble. We can forget this ever happened...”
Linda glanced in the rearview mirror at the girl: “How old are you?”
Linda shifted her eyes in the mirror and addressed the boy: “Sixteen will get you twenty. How dare you take that little girl to the passion pit. I should slap you silly.”
“Jesus Christ, lady, whaddya want from me?”
Outside the car, two drunken men were barking at the moon. A flying box hit the front windshield. Popcorn exploded across the glass.
“Look, mama, it’s snowing.”
“Not exactly, honey.”
A beer can sailed over their hood. A second can hit the rooftop and splashed down Cel’s side window.
“Mama, it’s raining.”
“What kind of a dump is this?”
Two vampires, a werewolf, and a green ghoul suddenly appeared at the side windows, growling and licking the glass. Cel watched in horror and let out a whoop. Her hands flew in front of her eyes.
“Hang on, Cel!” Linda raced to the edge of the lot and punched the brakes. A Nixon & Agnew in ‘68 campaign button was pinned to the sun visor. She muttered something, slipped off her shoe, took aim, and trashed the bulb in the dome light with its heel.
The boy nearly had a seizure. “Hey, this is my dad’s car! He’s gonna kill me!”
“I can’t have that light up when we leave.”
“Do something, Butchie,” the teenage girl said, “don’t just sit in your shorts.”
“Friggin’ hippie chicks!” Butchie whined. “My old man was right. He said: ‘Stick with the greasers, son. Stay on the Slick ‘n’ Stick program. Slick your hair with Brylcreem, and stick with Elvis. Them hippies got tie-dye brain fry.’”
Linda turned to Butchie. “Count to ten, punch on your headlights, and floor it. Or I’ll call the cops and you’ll spend prom night in the penitentiary.”
His muddy brown eyes were vibrant. “Lady—it’s a deal! One...two...four...”
She grabbed Cel like a football and escaped, sneaking through the lot to their car.
“…eightnineten!” The two teens barreled for the exit, a rooster tail of gravel shooting from the rear tires. The stones sprayed a row of cars, igniting death threats.
When Linda and Cel were safe inside the Monsta, they peeled out of the Galaxy.
At the first set of stoplights, Cel turned and noticed it—a fiery red rose in the back seat, on top of her Mother Goose. She squeezed her eyes shut, made two fists, and whispered, “Wizard, wizard, go away...”
She peeked. The flower was still there, so she finished her magic spell.
“...come again, another day.”
THE U-TURN TIME MACHINE
Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
— T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets:
“So the real estate agent sold the house and you have to be out by when?” Janelle asked.
“End of this month.” Sally Mitchell sat in Janelle’s parked car and repositioned her feet. Her knees brushed the glove compartment. One of the drawbacks of being five-ten in your stocking feet, aside from making short men squirm, was riding with a five–three driver. The front seat was always pulled up. Knee-knockin’ always.
Janelle Sawyer chewed on a twirl of canary yellow hair. “Halloween is your last day.”
“Aunt Alice is in her condo now. And besides, I want to move to
and get settled before graduate school
starts in January. Can you believe it? Six years later and I’m a student
“Her knees aren’t very sturdy, and she’ll be seventy-six next month. But her new place is on the first floor, no stairs to climb.”
Alice Reardon, Sally’s great aunt, never married, spent nearly forty years as a secretary and later, manager, at Shrieve-Willis Paper Company located in downtown
and, at the age
of fifty, began to single-handedly raise Sally. For that reason, along with the
enormous affection Sally felt for her aunt, she came to the house of her
childhood on Columbus Maple Street
in June, and stayed while
convalesced from knee surgery. By mid-summer it was obvious her aunt needed
smaller quarters. In early September, Alice
awoke in a different bedroom for the first time in nearly a quarter century. Alice
Sally faced the side window and looked at the house. “I’ve begun cleaning it out. There’s a lot to rummage through, family things. And yet there’s this feeling...”
“I don’t know, really.” She turned back to Janelle, her best friend at
Class of ‘83. “I sense something a bit strange inside the house. Maybe it’s all
the childhood things, the toys and games. I feel like I’m going back in time.
When I moved to Columbus High School
ten years ago, I thought I left all this behind me. But when I came back this
summer, it’s as if I stepped back in time. Everything seemed the same.” Boston
Janelle patted her friend on the thigh. “Whenever we visit our parents, we regress.”
“It’s not that way with my aunt and me.”
“Ponce de Leon had it all wrong. If he wanted to find the Fountain of Youth, he should’ve spent a long weekend in a car with his mother.” Janelle paused and looked at her friend. “You’re thinking about Graham again, aren’t you?”
Sally knew she’d been busted. Was her face that easy to read? She blushed, turning away. “Yes, I’m thinking about him, and all the rest of it. To think I quit teaching to start an antique limousine service called Cars ‘n’ Stars—what was I thinking? Beware of business ventures with your boyfriend.”
“Unless your boyfriend’s family is rich.”
“Graham said the client should feel like a celebrity in the back seat of an antique limousine. Particularly at night, driving around town under the stars. Hence: Cars ‘n’ Stars. He assured me it was poetry.”
“The only time men are exposed to poetry is when they take a squirt and see a limerick scribbled on the rest room wall above the urinal.”
Graham and Sally started out with a burgundy 1940 Oldsmobile 90 with whitewall tires, and later acquired a satin blue 1947
convertible with a shiny harmonica grille. But the two began to drift apart in
the spring. When she arrived in July to assist her aunt, she also saw it as an
opportunity to put some space between her and Graham, giving them time to sort
things out. Chrysler
Janelle draped one arm on the steering wheel. “So tell me, how’s the hardest-working man in show business?”
Sally smiled. “Jim’s fine. He’s been fun to have around.”
“That man.” Janelle pursed her lips, then tried to hide it with a smile.
“His new apartment opens up on the eighth, this Friday. His landlord spent the first week making some overdue repairs.”
“You took pity on him and let him stay at
“Jim said he was the victim of a rent increase, turning him into a homeless deejay. How could I turn him away?”
“I suppose he’s not a bad guy.”
“But talk about no money and no prospects.”
Sally looked squarely at her friend, a department manager for Bank of New England. She knew it was impossible for Janelle to imagine the hardest-working man in show business holding down a respectable job. “Don’t be too hard on him. He’s a good guy, a little eccentric, but—”
“A little? I’m glad you’re not serious about him.”
“We’re friends, Jim and I.”
“In other words...”
Sally smiled when she said, “Yes, he’s still on the couch.”
“So what’s he like to have around? Dare I ask?”
“He’s kind of...how would I say? He’s actually really sweet, it’s just that...”
“Last month he turned 37, but it’s as if he just came to this planet. I can’t really explain it.” Sally giggled. “He told me his birthday, which is September 9, 1956. Do you know what happened on that date?”
“Let’s see,” Janelle said, pulling the collar of her crew neck sweater up to her chin. “Earthquake?”
“His mother delivered him the very night, the very hour that Elvis first appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show. Jim said it was ‘harmonic convergence.’”
“Oh, my God!” Janelle threw her head back, clapping her hands and stamping her feet on the floor mat like a flamenco dancer.
“Can you believe it? He has an odd take on everything. He’s just—”
“He’s Jim,” said Janelle. “Jim Fleetwood—or shall I say ‘Captain?’ So, how does Riley get along with your house guest?”
“Good for Riley,” Janelle said.
“Riley usually sleeps on the bureau in the bedroom. One night last week, he went into the living room and saw Jim asleep. Riley jumped up on the arm of the couch, took aim, and sprayed Jim on the chest. Shot him right in the heart. Jim woke up and started shouting. Riley got him good and hid beneath the bathtub.”
“Men,” Janelle said. “I grew up with three brothers, I know how they tick.” A thin smile played across her mouth. “What a buncha...reptiles.”
“And on that note...”
Janelle started the ignition. “Honey, you need a mammal with money.”
“You know what Jim calls himself? A member of the earning disabled.”
“Oh God, an earning disability. That man.”
Sally got out of the car and stooped down by the side window. “He says he’s income-challenged.”
“My advice, stick with Graham.”
“He called again last night. He wants me to move back to
with him.” Cambridge
“You could do worse—drastically worse. So, what’s he say about your roommate?”
“Jim’s name always puts a lull in the conversation. I don’t think Graham quite knows what to make of it. He calls Jim ‘the Wrong-Way Corrigan of the nineties, flying against the currents of the hip and the haute couture.’”
“The American pilot, Douglas Corrigan. In 1938, he set out to fly solo from
York to California, but went the
wrong way and landed across the ocean in .” Ireland
“That’s Jim in a nutshell, always heading in reverse.”
The driver burst into another flamenco dance behind the steering wheel.
“Remember, Graham is Tiffany—Jim is Wal-Mart.” Janelle grinned and stepped on the gas.
Prologue and Chapter One of "Past is Present," a quirky thriller with a 4/4 beat. E-book available at Amazon.
Prologue and Chapter One of "Past is Present," a quirky thriller with a 4/4 beat. E-book available at Amazon.