ladies and gentlemen of the class of 2005:

do not mix drinks. if i can offer you one piece of advice for the future, not mixing drinks would be it.

seriously. last night, i had just three drinks: 1 frozen margharita, 1 double scotch on the rocks, and 1 heineken beer. i think it’s safe to say that, 24 hours later, i’m still drunk. not hungover, not feeling sick, none of that fun stuff – i’m just plain drunk still. i don’t know how it happened, or why my body is doing this, but i believe that it’s a direct result of drinking nothing but wine for the past month or so. ugh.

on a completely different note, i want to spend some talking about something that has been causing me some concern as of late: my chest. for 23 years, my chest decides to remain relatively hairless, but then suddenly, over the past two weeks, it decides to begin growing hair at a tremendous rate. whoever said chest hair only grew during puberty is sadly mistaken – my chest is testament to the fact that chest hair can spring up on you whenever it very well damn wants, and is likely to do so at any time. so be afraid…be very very afraid.

for many years, i was proud of my relatively hairless chest. while the rest of my body decided to break out in a massive forestation maneuver, leaving my legs and arms looking like the amazon forest, my chest obstinately refused to grow any foliage of any sort whatsoever. which was fine with me.

my primary fear is that hair is not the only thing that will be growing on my chest. my family is composed of men who generally tend to have bigger breasts than their wives. which makes it extremely awkward, because they always want to hug for the most inane reasons (more on this later). anyway, i am worried about the possibility of having breasts at some point in time. i wonder what that will be like, though. will i feel like an awkward twelve year old girl when my breasts start budding? or will they magically appear one morning, similar to breast implants? i find this to be of great concern.

but back to my family’s hugging capacity. my family has been staunchly conservative for the past eternity, where we all accept each other’s personal space without exception. not as of late, however. for some reason (i suspect it’s something in the water), my family members have decided to start hugging each other for no reason whatsoever. and it’s not a pretty sight. imagine throwing a person who’s never learnt to swim into a pool and watching him struggle. that’s exactly what this scene is like. there seems to be massive confusion with people as to whether to stand straight or sideways while engaging in this hugging venture, where to put your hands, and mostly, where to put your chin. one of my uncles has the extremely annoying habit of putting his chin on top of my head, and slowly rocking back and forth, which is a problem, because he is six inches shorter than i am. so our hugging adventure turns into some sort of complex dance, where i bend over slightly so that his chin can access my chin, and then we rock back and forth. frankly, i’m completely fine with going back to that non-hugging point in time, when things were so much better, and all displays of emotion could be accomplished through a simple handshake. i guess this is my family’s way of becoming more modern and keeping up with the times. however, they still will not let their daughters go anywhere by themselves in a car. huh. so much for modernization.

seriously, sometimes i wish i was born as a woman in this country. every single day of the week, i have to get to work using whichever mode of public transport is available, sweating my ass off, while equally sweaty strangers rub up against your body, making me feel like taking about 17 more showers once i get to the office just to disinfect, while the women in our family ride comfortably in an air-conditioned car. but not by themselves, of course. that would be a travesty. also, on the buses, the front seats are always reserved for women, even if there are none on the bus. so what ends up happening is i huddle standing with many sweaty men in a corner of the bus, while the front two rows of seats lie empty.

but the worst part is that men cannot enter the one lingerie store in dhaka. ever. if they do make their way in, say with their wives, they are exiled to the “men’s waiting room”, a concoction straight out of hell, because the walls are lined with pictures of women in lingerie staring down at you seductively. just for market research purposes, i decided to ask the salespeople: what happens if you want to buy some lingerie for your wife as a surprise? the salesgirls were shocked: they couldn’t understand why you would want to do something like that in the first place. then, when i explained that my motives were innocent, and my wife was running severely low on underwear, to the point where she needed an emergency infusion of underclothing, they told me that i would have to sit in the men’s waiting room – which, incidentally, is also filled with sweaty men – while they brought items by one by one for your approval.

now, i don’t know about you, but if i were married, although i would enjoy picturing my wife in various states of undress in different lingerie, i would definitely not enjoy it if a room of sweaty old men were doing the same. i was aghast, to the point of trying to make a break for the women’s section of the store, at which point security was called in and i was hauled out.

but then, i’m also very happy that i’m a man. especially because i have a penis. a penis is a wonderful thing when you have to pee really hard – you don’t want to waste too much time taking off different layers of clothes just to relieve yourself, after which you have to pull them on again. with a penis, all you have to do is stand straight, unzip and let fly. i feel that this works much better for me, especially with all this heat and needing to pee every fifteen minutes (see previous posts for details on the heat).

what amazes me, though, is that in this heat, people are still falling in love left and right. it shocks me to no end. i thought spring was the season for falling in love, and then summer was the season when you took all your clothes off, because of the heat, and had mad sex, because you were naked anyway (as opposed to winter, which is when you have mad sex, just to build up body heat). but no – every time i go jogging by the lake, i have to deal with almost tripping over sets of couples sitting on the sidewalk, talking away. now, if i were one of the members of these couples, i would drown my partner in the lake for dragging me outside in the heat when we could be sitting in a nice air-conditioned room. but no. everyone seems to be tremendously in love with each other, and happy to be at the lake, but aren’t too engrossed in each other to give me strange looks when i go jogging by.

speaking of young love, i saw this advertisement in the newspaper today:

“sohel and shanta: please come back home soon. your parents are sick with worry and bedridden. the only way to save them from their deaths is if you come back home soon. all of us are willing to accept your relationship. please come back soon.”

now, if this country were filled with people with overactive imaginations like me, they would never put an advertisement like that in the newspaper. being completely bored on a weekend, i had nothing better to do than to surmise about the potent scandal in this whole incident. the following is a summary of my thought processes:

a. wow. people are fucked up.

b. there’s a picture of them two together.

c. man, are they both really ugly.

d. wait a second. there’s a distinct family resemblance between them. could it be?

e. man, they both ARE really ugly.

f. well, if there’s a picture of them together in existence, they can’t be distant relatives, and they must be related, especially since if they weren’t and were having a relationship, the parents would not have had a picture of them together.

g. i wonder if by “parents” they mean one set of parents, or two.

h. ewwww. one set of parents. eloping with your sister?

i. wow. people are fucked up.

having derived enough scandal from this simple advertisement, i decided to poke my nephew in the stomach repeatedly.

but this is just a sign of how times have changed here in good old conservative-land. when i was in high school, we used to say that if two guys hold hands and walk down the road, it’s completely fine, but if a guy and a girl hold hands and go down a road, then all hell will break loose. indeed, this is the country where a couple were making out in a rickshaw in the dark, and were stopped by a gang of hoodlums, who proceeded to rape the girl and then, obviously unsatisfied, raped the guy too. but i guess those days are gone. now people are making out in rickshaws in the dark, with no threat to their virginity, except from each other perhaps. girls and boys are holding hands and going on dates all over the place. in fact, an entire service industry has sprung up to cater to these daters: restaurants with dark lighting and partitions for privacy.

i guess i’ve grown too old, because this crap really bothers me.

there’s something about asia

it bothers me to no end that when people hear the word “asian”, they immediately think that it has something to do with slanty-eyed people who substitute the letter r for the letter l. case in point: while playing with my cell phone the other day, i came upon a ringtone that was named “asian dream” but sounded vaguely like two chinese cats dying a slow painful death. also, in the movie “mean girls”, which i watched a record three times, thus inducing doubts about my sexuality among my friends, the cliques named “cool asians” and “nerdy asians” both were filled with mongoloids, while the lone indian-american was grouped into the more general “nerds” category.

now, don’t get me wrong. i have no problem with those of mongoloid origin at all. in fact, i know some really nice mongoloid folk, like the japanese guy whose only expressions of emotions are communicated through his eyebrows and forehead, which dance with great vigor when he is angry, or the other guy who i’ve been to approximately 57 meetings with but who has uttered a sum total of 10 words at all those meetings combined.

what i do have a problem with, however, is the categorization of asians to include only these people. in fact, thanks to movies like mean girls, and the many teenage girls and child molesters who watch these movies, i’m concerned that the term “asian” is only being used to refer to a subset of all the diverse peoples of the asian continent.

in my efforts to try and dispel this misperception, here are some facts about some other countries in asia, besides the mongoloid ones:

bangladesh: this country is everybody’s favorite joke, including the natives. having gained independence 34 years ago through a bloody war against pakistan, it seems the people have not lost their lust for blood, thus routinely killing each other for inane reasons. also known as the only country in the world that is under sea level, meaning that by 2010, the entire country may be under water. also home to some of the dumbest people on the planet: on september 11, 2001, i was stopped while driving by a cop because two planes had hit and brought down the world trade center. to this day, i can find no reasonable justification for this cop’s action. oh, and also the most corrupt country in the world, four years running. for more funny facts on bangladesh, talk to a certain mr. michael brockfield.

thailand: although many of the people in this country are mongoloid as well, thailand boasts a rich heritage, composed of dirty old men screwing twelve year old boys on the beaches of chiang mai. also known for cheap pirated software, cheap sunglasses, cheap hookers, and extremely expensive health care when you catch aids from sleeping with cheap hookers.

bhutan: many people have never heard of this country, the only country in the world that does not need a visa to visit, but needs special permission from the king itself. also the only country in the world to ban smoking completely – cigarettes, that is. nobody really knows much about this country, mainly because nobody really cares.

maldives: a group of islands that like to call themselves a country. completely non-committal to everything, they have an army composed of four people, since they can’t even commit to fighting a war.

sri lanka: recently devastated by the tsunami, they’ve began airing ads thanking the world for caring. biggest asset is sri lankan airways, where the air hostesses throw your food tray at your face if they like you, or don’t give you any food otherwise.

myanmar: everyone knows aun sang suu kyii. nobody knows anything else about this country. let’s hope it stays that way.

nepal: home to degenerate hippies of all sizes and colors. consumes more marijuana per capita than all the nations of the world combined. home to what many think is spiritual enlightenment but is actually a glass of old stale everest beer.

india: so many people, so little time. indians give new meaning to the term “fucking like rabbits”. has mountains, rivers, deserts and forests, and information technology skills that cause more and more westerners to lose their jobs. also has the highest percentage of immigrants – if every indian hates it in india and wants to move away, who’s doing all the jobs that are being outsourced? perhaps there’s only one person named ganesh manning a computer terminal, answering your stupid customer support questions while programming the next version of microsoft windows.

so as you can see, there’s a lot more in asia than china, japan and korea. share the wealth and knowledge contained in this post with all your loved ones. you’ll feel automatically smarter for knowing all this crap, i guarantee. or if you don’t, i don’t particularly care anyway.


the other day, two of my colleagues were having a conversation about the weather, which ran sort of like so:

A (coming in to the office from outside): god, it’s so hot out.

B: no, actually, it’s very humid.

A: i can assure you, it’s extremely hot outside.

B: but the BBC said that it was going to be humid on their weather report last night.

A: well, they must have been wrong, because it’s extremely hot outside.

B: are you sure? maybe you are confusing heat and humidity.

at about this point in the conversation, i, for some reason or the other, felt like ripping out each of their livers and shoving it back down their throats. actually, there was a very good reason: i didn’t care whether or not it was hot or humid or blistering – i was more concerned about the fact that my testicles were close to rotting in my scrotum from the intense heat. also, because i was in an extremely productive mood, and could not tolerate two idiots standing around talking about the weather in insanely loud voices.

speaking of my testicles in the heat, later on in the day, i was urinating, and my hand somehow happened to touch my scrotum, upon which i discovered, to my surprise, that my scrotum was actually cool. now that can’t be a good sign, i thought to myself. isn’t the point of the scrotum to be the warmest part of the body so that sperm can be produced? that used to be my understanding; after all, i’ve spent many cold winter nights cupping my balls, for the heat they provide, among other reasons.

concerned about this new cooling phenomenon, i picked up the latest newspaper, which screamed out with a HUGE bold headline “hottest spell in history of the nation”. the article had advice from expert doctors to drink a lot of water to stay hydrated, so i promptly drank about 6.4 liters of water.

the next day, while browsing through the newspaper again, i noticed that yet another doctor had said that the heat spell could mean a high incidence of urinary infections. i was concerned by this, considering that i had been urinating about every 15 minutes, while consuming massive quantities of water. so, to find out whether or not i had an urine infection, i googled the phrase.

one of the more colorful sites that came up with the search was a blog of someone who was suffering from an urinary infection, and claimed that a urine infection felt like “a spear being poked up your urethra”.


i don’t know about you, but the concept of a spear going up my urethra does not sound tremendously appealing. in fact, i’d go as far as to say that i prefer to have things go down my urethra and thus out of my body, instead of the other way around. i figured i didn’t have an urine infection after all, because it didn’t feel like any sort of object, let alone a spear, was going up the urethra. however, in my anxiety to keep things out of my urethra, i became extra cautious: i didn’t let my urethra come anywhere near any object that might have been in contact with the infectious bacteria, and i gave up peeing on the sides of the street.

apparently, i was the only one. in fact, it seemed that the entire city had come out en masse to pee on the side of the street, women and children included. it got to the point where it became necessary to step over someone peeing every fifth step i took during my evening jogs. apparently, everyone in the city had decided to drink quantities of water equal to me, or else they had all come down with urinary infections. i didn’t wait to find out. what if they all had urine infections and i caught it through the air? this gave me good reason to run fast, i must admit. i haven’t jogged this hard in my life, except when i was being chased by the mob. but that’s another story.


the above isn’t all true. my colleagues don’t watch the BBC.

beyond atlantis

when you are seven years old, your world is defined by the distance you can travel on your bike, and your life is influenced by those who travel that distance with you. my world was the small lakeside town of st. anselm’s, and my life was influenced by rick and sophie.

rick was born richard anatoli krushkin, and, under the influence of other kids calling him “anna”, had referred to himself as rick for as long as i’d known him. not ricky, not rich, not richie, and definitely not richard. rick had an annoying habit of not responding to anyone who referred to him as anything other than rick, even if the person was talking directly to him.

rick had a bad reputation in st anselm’s – his father was an alcoholic who used beat him, his mother and his elder sister – and the older folks who sat around the town square on warm afternoons often told each other that he was going to grow up to be “bad news”. this declaration seemed to have no effect whatsoever on rick. he seemed not to care at all, and seemed content to enjoy whatever pleasures remained in his life, mostly outside the home.

sophie, on the other hand, was the definition of pure. her family had lived in st. anselm’s for five generations, and her grandfather, in fact, was the leader of the gang of old men who had passed such a hard verdict on rick. sophie had long blonde hair, and often dressed in a simple white one-piece frock. with a smile permanently plastered to her face, it often seemed like she glowed with some strange and seemingly holy radiance.

rick, sophie and i had been friends since the first day of kindergarten at st. anselm’s elementary. it wasn’t much of a coincidence. the desks at st. anselm’s elementary sat three students each, and by some twist of fate, the three of us had chosen the same desk to sit at. it was a trend that continued through to first and second grades, and we had slowly grown inseparable.

riding our bikes was one activity all three of us enjoyed. sophie had inherited her bike from her elder sister, who had outgrown it, i had been given one as a gift for my sixth birthday, and rick had bought his with his earnings from mowing lawns. we might not have been the richest kids in st. anselm’s – in fact, we weren’t; all the rich kids went to st. anselm’s preparatory, a private school – but the bikes made us feel like we were the only kids on the world. st. anselm’s was separated from the lake by a heavily wooded area, and one of our favorite daily activities that summer was to ride our bikes down to the lake, where’d we laze around all day long, swimming, fishing and lazing around.

“hey, have you guys bought fireworks yet?” asked rick as we pedalled along. he was slightly out of breath – we had calculated early on our bike trips that the lake was about three miles away from our homes. fireworks were our fascination that summer – the fourth of july was coming up, and we were thrilled about the fireworks display that was slated to take place over the lake – the first time ever in st. anselm’s long history. rick was more excited, however, about buying fireworks for his own personal show on july third, and somehow had convinced us to buy our own and join him for our own small celebration.

“no,” i said. “dad doesn’t think he’ll last at the plant, and he doesn’t want to waste our savings on fireworks.” dad’s paranoia about being fired had been enhanced over the past few months, when rumors started floating around that the plant might close down. dad had cut down all unnecessary expenditure until further notice.

“man, you’ve gotta get a job!” exclaimed rick, the entrepreneur of his own lawn-mowing business. it always amused us how the same old folks who called him “bad news” had no problems with forking over cash to rick for mowing their lawns. “how long are you gonna depend on your pops for money?” asked rick.

“i’ve been thinking about getting a paper route,” i confided.

“heck, that’s not gonna pay shit!” exclaimed rick. “shit” was one of the curses we had just learned that summer, and we had no qualms about using the word in any context imaginable. “the only local paper is the st. anselm’s record, and that’s only published every week. you should join me in mowing lawns.

this wasn’t the first time the proposal had been discussed. even my parents kept harping on the same topic, constantly reminding me how enterprising rick was for earning his own pocket money. but even at the tender age of seven, i had become quite a rebel, and joining rick’s business seemed to me like knuckling down to the wishes of my parents, something i wasn’t eager to do. “we’ll see,” was my gruff reply.

sophie came to my rescue by changing the topic. “you boys shouldn’t play with fireworks. mommy says they are dangerous.”

that set off rick and i. we called sophie “momma’s girl”, and she replied with her own insults, until we were all laughing too hard to pedal properly.


when we reached our spot on the beach, we found old man higgins sitting nearby. he didn’t smile when we rode up – in fact, there was no change in his countenance, but we knew that he had acknowledged our presence, and approved of it.

old man higgins was one of the few mysteries st. anselm’s held. no one knew where he lived, but every morning, higgins showed up at the beach and sat there till sunset, when he would trudge back to wherever he had come from. some of the high school kids had tried to follow him once, to figure out where he lived, but had gotten hopelessly lost in the woods, and a search party had to set out to find them. this was nearly four years ago, and since then, no one had tried to follow him ever again.

when we began coming to the beach every day that summer, old man higgins had been sitting quite far away, nearly a speck on the opposite shore. he seemed angry at the beginning, and we guessed that it was because we were robbing him of his solitude and privacy with our whooping and yelling and screaming. but as the summer wore on, he seemed to become more comfortable with our presence. he never smiled or spoke to us or even looked at us, but he began to sit closer and closer to our usual spot. and, in turn, we tried not to be too loud or to disturb him.

rick, being the hero among the three of us, was the first to attempt to build bridges with higgins. we brought sandwiches with us every morning, to serve as our lunch, and one day, rick decided to give him one of his sandwiches. we were all concerned, in fact, because he never seemed to eat during the day. rick set one of his sandwiches down in front of him, but he seemed not to notice. we watched him for over an hour, but he didn’t move a muscle. finally, we got bored and went swimming, and when we returned, the sandwich was gone. since then, each of us had packed an extra sandwich for him every day, and, while he never ate them in front of us, or even thanked us for them, we would come back from swimming to find them gone.

that day, the twenty-fourth of june, was no different. we spread out our blanket, unpacked the sandwiches we had brought for old man higgins, set them out in front of him, and went for our swim. the first swim of the day was usually our longest, with plenty of time spent just fooling around in the water. by the time we got back to our blanket, the sandwiches in front of higgins had disappeared.

we spent a leisurely half an hour eating our lunch, and lay on the blanket side by side to spend the requisite one hour before swimming again. conversation turned to the subject of the lake. the lake was known as lake oberon on most maps, but the locals called it hopper’s lake. ever since we had been coming out to the lake, we had wondered by it had such a strange local name, but no one we knew could ever give us an answer.

“you know what i heard?” asked rick. “mom told me they called this place hopper’s lake because there used to be a beer factory on the edge of the lake, and they poured all their used hops into the lake.”

“what’s hops?” asked sophie. rick didn’t have an answer, and neither did i.

“well,” i ventured, “my dad told me that it was named after the state senator a long time ago to commemorate his fifth term in the senate.”

“you’re both wrong,” said sophie. “my grandma said that the town used to be called hoppersville, and the lake was called hopper’s lake.”

a strange sound, somewhere between a snort and a gurgle, interrupted our debate. we had grown so used to the solitude of old man higgins’ company that we had forgotten that he was capable of making noises. we turned quickly to see him sitting there, staring straight at us. we were quite nervous and scared, because that was the first time that had happened.

“dumb kids,” he said in a gruff and angry deep voice, and that was the first time any one in town had ever heard him speak. this was turning out to be a day of firsts for us. “this here lake,” he began – and as we were too shocked to understand the significance of this great event, we just gawked – “was named after carl hopper, a great historian and researcher. carl’s area of specialization was atlantis, the mythical city beneath the sea. surely you’ve heard of it?” he asked.

none of us had a response, so he continued with a grunt. “hopper spent his life looking for the location of atlantis, and suddenly, late in his career, he realized that atlantis lay below this very lake, the one everyone calls oberon. so hopper came out here, bought a wetsuit, and hired a boat to take him out to the middle of the lake to see if he could find atlantis under the water. he told the fellow who was piloting the boat that if he found anything, he would give two tugs on the rope that connected him to the boat, and the captain was to pull him up immediately. otherwise, he would spend an hour looking for it, and come up himself if he found nothing. and then he went into the water.

“fifteen minutes later,” he continued, “the captain felt two tugs on the rope, so he began pulling up hopper. however, when he got to the very end of the rope, there was no hopper there. he threw the rope back in to the water, in case it had torn, but hopper was never seen again.”

“why not? what happened to hopper?” asked rick.

“it’s said that hopper found atlantis after all. nobody knows. nobody’s been down there since, and his body never floated on to the banks. but the few of us who know about carl hopper believe that he found atlantis, but he didn’t like what he found beyond atlantis.”

“what?” asked sophie. “what’s that supposed to mean?”

“you’ll figure it out someday,” said higgins. and then he got up and left. and, just like carl hopper, no one ever saw him again.

of course we didn’t know that at the time. we just assumed he’d be back the next day. we spent about five minutes trying to decipher what higgins had said, but quickly gave up and talked about other things. we spent the rest of the day swimming in the lake, and headed home late in the afternoon, when the sun was already beginning to hang low in the sky.


the first time we realized that we might never see higgins ever again was eight days later, on the first of july. rick was already very excited about his little personal celebration, and refused to talk about anything else on the ride up to the beach, although he did spare some time to tell sophie and i what fools we were for missing a chance like this. but he knew that both our families, though not always viewing our friendship with rick in a positive light, drew the line at our playing with fireworks with him.

as we rode up to the beach, we noticed the empty spot that, even two weeks before, had been occupied by a solitary man, watching the lake all day. it didn’t feel the same to me, coming to the beach and not seeing higgins sitting there. but though we cast glances towards the spot, none of us said a word. we had yet to stop bringing our extra sandwiches for him, so i guess we did feel a little surge of hope that he might be there. but he never was. we didn’t stop bringing those extra sandwiches until the end of summer.

but on the second of july, sandwiches were the farthest thing from our minds. the entire town seemed electrified by the prospect of the fireworks, and already we could see people working on a barge on the far side of the lake, which was where the fireworks display would originate. everyone in st. anselm’s was eager to express their own excitement at the prospect of the fireworks, and we had been hearing rumors about people from other towns coming in as well for the show. mike at the grocery store was counting on it, and had already set up a table with small american flags for sale to all the thousands of visitors he expected to be coming in to town. aunt rachel, a lady who wasn’t really anybody’s aunt, but was still called aunt rachel by children and adults alike, had set up a table next to mike’s to sell her famous fourth of july apple pies, and was extremely busy baking them by the boatload. the mayor had decided that the town needed to be decorated for the influx of visitors, so the streets were lined with american flags and balloons, and a small parade was being planned in the early afternoon of the fourth.

the three of us were glad to get out of the town that day. all the positive energy flowing from absolutely everyone was getting to us, and we had to escape. we took our regular morning swim, then relaxed with lunch, and then sat around on the beach, watching a solitary gull forage in the waters for its own lunch. we were mostly quiet, as if we were sick of everyone’s non-stop talking, and just needed a break from words for a while.

“i love this lake,” sophie ventured, breaking the silence. rick and i said nothing. sophie had expressed her love for the lake every day, since the first day we had come up here.

“i’m serious,” she continued. “in fact, i’ve been thinking about it, and i want my first kiss to be right here on the banks of this lake. i know that the person i kiss first will be the love of my life,” she said with a small smile. rick and i groaned. sophie’s elder sister had recently become addicted to soap operas and the love stories of imaginary people featured prominently in romance novels, and sophie, in her attempts to emulate her elder sister as much as possible, had become engrossed in the concepts of love and the ever-important first kiss. while rick and i had at first teased her about it as much as possible, we had given up when we realized our teasing had no effect on her obsession. instead, in reply, rick picked up a handful of sand, and saying, “well, kiss this,” poured it all over sophie. she chased him into the lake and i quickly followed.

rick and i dropped off sophie at home, and then sat on my front porch, eating ice creams. i had noticed the newest bruise on rick’s back, and although macho men like us didn’t mention things like this, i couldn’t help but ask him about it.

“it’s the latest gift from dad,” he replied matter-of-factly. “i got it for forgetting to turn off the light in the kitchen after i was done getting a drink of water.” rick refused to hide his wounds. once, after he had broken a rib and gotten a black eye at the hands of his father, he showed off his wounds with pride, telling everyone who would listen that they were for trying to intervene when his mother was getting beaten up by his father.

we sat on the porch silently for a while, concentrating on our ice creams, even though there was lots that we could have said. “look, man,” he said finally, “i don’t know how long i can take this anymore. it’s gotten to the point where either i leave or he does. but every time i tell this to mom, she tells me not to be dumb and sends me to my room. but i’m sick and tired of seeing this happen, of getting beaten up and shit, and taking it without a word, just because my dad earns the money in the family.”

“what are you gonna do?” i asked, not sure how to react to something like this. in fact, i’m sure not many seven year olds know how to deal with a situation like this.

“i don’t know, man. i might have to run. i want to go down to the city and get a job. live my own life.”

and then he got up and left. i had no clue what he meant, and i didn’t want to ask.


the next day, we made our usual trip to the beach, and rick seemed completely normal, as if our conversation the previous night had never happened. he was very excited about the fireworks he had bought for the next evening, and was only sad that the two of us would not be able to join him.

we returned to the town in the evening, and realized that we wouldn’t be able to make it to the beach the next day. our families had caught the patriotic fever that had swept the town, and there was simply too much for the three of us to do to make it feasible to make a trip to the beach. we said our goodbyes, and promised to meet early on the afternoon of the fourth so we could get a good spot from where we could watch the fireworks.

my parents kept me on the run the next day, with frequent trips to the store to get stuff for the party they were planning on the lawn of our house for friends and neighbors. i didn’t mind. it felt much better to wander around town than to be cooped up in the house all day long. i ran into both sophie and rick, but she was shopping with her mom, and he was running around, trying to find some more last-minute fireworks. so we didn’t get to talk much. after dinner that night, i was too tired from the full day of errands and chores to do much else, so i went to bed.

on the morning of the fourth, i was sent back to the store to buy some milk. my mom had used all the milk i had bought the previous day in her cookies, and we needed some for breakfast. i returned to the house to find a police car parked outside, and my parents standing anxiously on the porch with a police officer. when i walked up to the porch, the police officer was the first to speak. “son, we need to talk,” he said, and the four of us trooped into the living room, where my parents sat me in between them on the couch, and the cop pulled up a chair. i was very confused. why would the police want to talk to me? i hadn’t done anything wrong. and then it hit me. maybe something had happened to old man higgins, and he had mentioned my name!

“son, last night, richard anatoli krushkin…” those three words sent a chill down my spine. “…ran away from home. we think that it happened shortly after a…umm…disagreement with his father. did he ever say anything to you about wanting to run away?”

i was too shocked to answer. rick? ran away? so was that what he meant two nights ago? i stumbled around for words to say. a tear fell down my cheek. rick can’t be gone, can he? “he…he said something a few nights ago about wanting to run, but i didn’t think he meant it,” i stuttered.

“son, i’m sure this is very difficult for you. but we have to be sure that he ran away, and that nothing else happened to him.” the cop let the ominous meaning of his words hang in the air. he took out a piece of paper. “does this mean anything to you?” he said, as gently as possible.

i stared at the piece of paper. it was a simple message. just five words, but five words that held so much meaning, so much pain, so much anger, that it was difficult for my seven year old brain to fully comprehend.

told you so.

and that was all it said. i started to cry then. i don’t know why i chose that specific moment, but maybe it was because the whole thing struck me right then with its full impact. i couldn’t get any more words out, and the cop sat there for a long time, waiting for me to say something. when the tears finally stopped and i had sufficiently recovered myself, i said, “i guess he wanted to tell me that he had done what he said he would – that he said he would run.”

“did he ever say where he was planning to go?”

“no,” i lied. i don’t know why i lied, but i felt that it was the thing to do. “no, he never did.”


the rest of the day passed in a blur. the cop had some more questions, none of which i was able to answer completely, and then he left. i went up to my room, and my parents, unsure of what to do, prepared for their lawn party that afternoon. i smelled the charcoal as my dad fired up the grille, and i heard my mom bustling around downstairs, but mostly i lay in bed, just staring at the ceiling, trying to figure out why rick would do something like that.

my parents made me come downstairs to the lawn when the guests started arriving, and i moped around for about three hours. when, near dusk, i asked if i could for a ride on my bike, my parents were more than happy to let me go, because my long face was throwing a damper on their party.

i rode down the path towards the beach, thinking about rick all the way. i convinced myself that i had lied to the police about rick’s intended destination because i didn’t want them to find him in the city and bring him back to live with the same family that he had tried his best to escape. somehow it didn’t seem fair to rick, or to our friendship.

as i approached the beach, i was surprised to see a familiar bike resting on the fence at the end of the path. i arrived on the beach to find sophie sitting there, all alone. she sat there, staring out at the lake, watching the dying sun burn out its last few rays on its slow descent beyond the horizon. she didn’t look up at me as i sat down beside her. we sat there quietly for a long time, watching the stars slowly spring up hungrily in the sky, swallowing up the darkness left in the wake of the sun. the moon was large and silver, and the night was completely clear – not a cloud in the sky.

sophie was the first to break the silence. “is this what he wanted?” she asked.

“yes,” i replied truthfully. “this is what he wanted more than anything. just so he could be happy.”

we were silent for a long time as well. i saw people hustling around on the barge, and realized that the fireworks would start soon.

after another long silence, she turned to look at me. “will we make it without him?”

“yeah, i think so.”

as the first fireworks began exploding in the sky, turning the night blue, red, green and purple, sophie and i shared our first kiss.


that was the end of the last innocent summer of our lives. for some reason, sophie and i weren’t too comfortable around each other anymore. we had kissed, sure, but that didn’t mean that we were boyfriend and girlfriend, a concept that i thoroughly detested. i started avoiding her, and instead fell in love with books. i spent more time in the library that summer than at home, which concerned my parents to no end. but, as i said, i fell in love with books, and spent an awfully long time trying to write my own stories, but to no avail.

sophie hunted me down in the library after a while, and we had an uncomfortable talk, when we realized that things weren’t going to be the same between us. school started soon, and, on the first day, sophie sat at a different table, and i realized that by not fulfilling her dreams about her first kiss being the love of her life, i had also condemned our friendship. as time passed, we grew more and more distant, until high school, when she got drunk, slept with some random guy, and ended up getting married to him when she found out she was pregnant with his child. i wasn’t surprised to see that i wasn’t invited to the wedding.

the krushkin family, meanwhile, had its own share of problems. the whole town suspected that rick had not run away, but instead had been killed by his father, who buried his body in the yard. the rumors had their effect on rick’s mom, who, almost four months after rick’s absence, suddenly packed up and left with his elder sister. no one ever heard from her again. rick’s father, unable to deal with the suddenly empty house and the increasing suspicion that he had killed his whole family and buried them in the backyard, silently hung himself one night shortly after.

now to me. i quickly grew sick and tired of my parents’ attitude towards me. they had never made much of a secret of the fact that they had always wanted a daughter, but due to complications during my birth, were unable to conceive again. so instead of smothering their only child with affection, they did the complete opposite: they smothered me with indifference. by the time i got to high school and started applying to colleges, i was so eager to leave home that i intentionally chose colleges as far away as possible.

i got on the train to go to college alone, swearing i would never return to st. anselm’s.

i got decent grades in school – nothing to write home about, which is something i seldom did. somehow i got enough credits to graduate, and somehow i got into grad school, which i graduated with a doctorate in english. my old college was glad to offer me a tenured professorship, which i took gratefully, because it would give me time to work on my novel. my first novel was published two years later. i didn’t even mention my parents in the acknowledgements, although i thanked rick and sophie, wherever they were. i don’t think i even sent them a copy, even though they must have known about it, since it hit the top of the bestseller list.

four years and two more novels later, i got a letter in the mail one day, with a postmark from st. anselm’s. not certain what it would be, and suspecting that it was fan mail, i opened it eagerly – fan mail is always such a boost for the ego. it was a short letter, less than a page.

dear ben,

i don’t know if you remember me, but i lived next door to your parents for years. i hate
to be the one to have to tell you this, but i think you should come home soon. your mother
has not been well – not since your father’s death two years ago. we all think that you
should see her one last time. please try to come.

yours lovingly,
angelique scott

i took the next plane home to st. anselm’s.


she certainly was not well. the doctors didn’t know what was wrong with her, but since my father’s death – which i had not known about – she had been getting worse by the day. i arrived on friday afternoon, but she was dead by saturday morning.

the funeral was short and filled with emotion. i did not feel able to deliver the eulogy, but the responsibility was taken up by a host of teary-eyed townspeople, all gushing with stories about how wonderful she had been. i felt slightly guilty that i did not have such stories of my own, especially since she was my mother. she was buried next to my father in the graveyard adjoining the st. anselm’s church.

as the sole heir, i had a lot of work to do, packing up all the belongings and determining the exact value of the estate. i arranged for the house to be sold, along with most of the stuff, and kept only some of my own stuff from my youth to take back with me. i spent a week longer in st. anselm’s than i had originally planned.

the day before i was supposed to leave, i suddenly thought about the beach. i hadn’t been there in more than twenty-five years, and i was curious to see what it looked like now. i drove up the path in my car, and parked near the fence where we had always left our bikes, i walked out on to the beach.

i got the biggest shock of my life.

at first, i was certain that the man sitting on the beach was old man higgins. in fact, he was sitting in the exact same spot that higgins had sat at the last time i saw him, 25 years ago. but then i did a quick mental calculation – higgins had to be over 100 years old then, and that wasn’t possible. then the person looked at me, and a distant memory fired up in my brain. “heard you were back in town. oh, thanks for the acknowledgement in your first book,” he said, and that’s when i knew: it was rick.

we had a very awkward moment, when i tried to figure out how to greet him, and whether a hug would be appropriate, but that question was answered by the fact that he didn’t move an inch. not sure what to do, i sat down beside him. in my search for words to say, all i could come up with was, “how have you been?”

rick laughed loudly. “that the best you can do?”

i relaxed. “where were you?” i asked.

“lost,” he answered.

twenty-five years ago he had said something i had not understood, and i had spent the last twenty-five years hating myself for not asking him to explain what he had meant. i wasn’t about to make the same mistake again. “what do you mean?”

“i took a train from here to the city. lived on the streets because i had no other place to live. couldn’t find a single job. out of desperation, i started doing heroin. nearly overdosed three times, but were saved by paramedics. then, six years ago, after my last near-death experience, i realized that where i should be is right here. and so i came back. sorry to hear about your mom.”

“thanks,” i mumbled. i hadn’t yet figured out what to say when people told me they were sorry about my mom’s death. “i’m glad i got here in time, though.”

“yeah, i heard on the grapevine that you hadn’t come back in years. was that intentional?”

“i guess. i was just so eager to get away from them, and when i did, i did my best not to come back. i realize now how much more it would have hurt if i had missed the funeral. did you know that i didn’t even know that my dad had died?”

“yeah, but from what i hear, it was a conscious decision on your mom’s part. your writing career was going so well – your second novel was on top of the bestseller list, and you were working on your third – and she didn’t want to have to ruin it by having you come back. she gave me these.” he pulled a thick sheaf of sealed letters from his pocket, and handed it to me. “after you left for college, they realized how lucky they were to have you as their son, and how unfair they had been to you by treating you like you didn’t exist. they wrote you a letter every week, but never mailed them. here they are”

i took the proffered letters with a shaking hand. of all the wonderful things i had learnt that week from the townspeople, this hurt the most. maybe i should have come home more often, i thought. maybe i should have spent some more time with them. maybe i should have been more understanding. maybe i shouldn’t have been so damn selfish.

we sat in silence for a while. “so did you hear about sophie?” he asked, finally.

“no, what happened? last i heard, she married some guy from high school and had two kids.”

“oh, that was ages ago. she’s had two more marriages since then, and the latest one is falling apart. she comes back to town quite often to visit family, and she told me this last time she was here. she doesn’t blame the husbands, though. she says she blames her first kiss for not turning out to be the love of her life.”

“oh,” i said. i wasn’t sure catching up with rick was turning out to be such a good idea – every thing he said seemed to hurt more and more. i wondered if rick knew who that first kiss was, the culprit behind sophie’s three failed marriages. he didn’t seem to know, or even if he did, he was pretending not to care. we sat in silence for some more time.

just as i was about to get up and leave, rick said, “you know, i finally understand what old man higgins meant.”

this i had to hear, so i stayed put. “i haven’t thought about that in years,” i lied. in fact, i had done a lot of research on atlantis in general and carl hopper in particular, but had been unable to find anything about him. i had been considering using higgins’ line in a book, but hadn’t yet figured out what context to use it in. “so what do you think he meant?” i asked, curious.

“see, i don’t think there really was a carl hopper. i think that was a figment of higgins’ imagination. instead, he wanted to teach us a valuable lesson.”

“which was?”

“atlantis isn’t what matters, it’s what’s beyond atlantis that matters more. only atlantis was a metaphor, for something you want really badly. for me, atlantis was running away to the city, for sophie it was kissing the love of her life on these banks, and for you, it was leaving home and your parents. but none of that provided more than a small amount of satisfaction. the three of us found our own private atlantis, but beyond it was a world of infinite pain and grief and sadness that crept in while we were enjoying the finite satisfaction of getting what we really wanted.”

“ha,” i laughed. “your theory is compelling, my friend, but it’s crap. utter crap. i did some research, and the carl hopper story is well-documented,” i lied. “besides, we later found out higgins had escaped from a mental asylum, so he was nuts. therefore, you can come up with all the philosophy you want, but the truth is that higgins probably had no idea what he was saying.” i saw anger flash across rick’s face. i didn’t want to be nearby if he got angry. i got up quickly. “i’ll see you soon, my friend. i’ll be back in a couple of months.” and then i left.

as i drove back to the house, i kept telling myself that rick was wrong. but i knew he was right. i knew deep down inside that what he had said was the truth, and that, having found the relative shelter of my own atlantis for fifteen years, i was now dwelling in the pain beyond, and, from what rick had said, the same was true for both him and sophie. but it was a frightening admission, one i didn’t want to make. i didn’t want to admit that the pain i felt – the grief of losing both parents simultaneously, the anguish of knowing they really did love me, and that i had been harboring an unfair hatred of them ever since – was all the result of my own desire to get as far away as possible. instead, it was easier to blame it on something else.

i left st. anselm’s the following morning. i have never gone back since.



dear reader,

if you made it this far, congratulations. it turned out much longer than i thought it would.

okay, i have several confessions to make.

first of all, i began this story as a screenplay, but after writing about the equivalent of the first paragraph, i got tired of typing FADE IN and ZOOM OUT and all that fun crap. so i just made a story out of it. it turned out a bit long, and for that i apologize.

second, in a previous post, i lied when i said that i begin all my stories with the first line and see where it goes from there. after about half an hour of writing this story, i sat down and thought about what the title could mean and imply, and then, within fifteen minutes, i had the entire story in my head. unfortunately, i then went and played pool for two hours, which resulted in the story losing a lot of the elements and flavor i had originally conceived.

third, i realize this story may be quite bland, and lacking in atmosphere. i’ll try and make some edits along the way. right now, it’s 2 am and i’m exhausted and have tennis at dawn, so i will go to bed.

fourth, i would really like some critical feedback and comments on this story, so please post your thoughts, and ask any bored friends you have to read the story and do the same.

fifth, i must admit that all the creativity required to write the story did not come from me alone. i would like to acknowledge the other people who contributed to this story.
a. for the concept of two young boys and a young girl who are best friends, i would like to thank mr. stephen king for his book “hearts in atlantis”. although the titles may sound similar, the story isn’t, except for the coming back to the town part. but it’s still a great story anyway. i highly recommend you read the book as soon as possible. or at least watch the movie.
b. for the title, i would like to thank a obscure game publisher who came up with an adventure game of the same name. but if they want to sue me for copyright infringement, they can go right ahead – i’m just an amateur writer who posts stories infrequently on his xanga. however, if you work for a major publication or a major movie studio and would like to pay me millions to publish this story or make a movie out of it, let me know and i’ll change the name to something more generic, like “ben’s journey” or something.
c. for the name of the town, i would like to thank p.d. james’ book “death in holy orders”. this is the book i am currently reading, and i must admit, it is the longest book i have ever read, simply because it is so boring. i have been reading it for almost a month now, and it does NOT seem to end. i hope none of you felt the same way about this story though.

sixth, as i said at the beginning, this story is in no way autobiographical. none of this crap ever happened to me in my life (except maybe the three marriages part. i’m kidding, of course). thank god. anyway, if you know me well enough, feel free to engage in some discussion on how this story might possibly reflect my inner psyche. i tremendously enjoy such discussions.

seventh, thanks to all of you for reading all these stories that i post and giving me some sort of feedback. i appreciate it sincerely. it helps me refine my writing style.

finally, i promise to try and keep the stories short from now on, especially when i call them short stories.

thanks again. oh, and once again, congratulations for making it through all the way.

till later.


“so what do you see?” asked marie.

they had been in the art gallery for about an hour at that point. marie had dragged jason to see the latest painting she had fallen in love with, and, to be honest, he didn’t really think much of this latest passion of hers. “i don’t know,” he answered. “impressionism never really made much of an impression on me.”

jason’s attempt at humor was rewarded with a swift punch to the arm. “jason, these paintings are so highly priced for a reason. the artist is renowned for his ability to capture human emotions precisely. i’m sure you see something.”

“i’m sorry,” i replied. “i’m trying really hard, but i can’t really see anything. why don’t you tell me what you see, and i’ll try and figure if i see the same?”

“well, i see a vast loneliness, a desire to be free of this loneliness, and an anger at the emptiness. note the bold brush strokes,” marie concluded.

“uh huh,” jason concurred, “i do see that.” it was a lie. he stole a glance at the brochure that he had picked up on the way in, and saw that the painting was named happiness. so much for marie being an art critic.

“so, honey,” asked jason. “how much does it cost?”


“so what do you see?” asked dr. williams, holding up the ink blot.

“hmm. that’s an interesting one.” replied carl. “i see an egg smashed against the ground, with the yolk running out all over.”

“and now?” dr williams changed to a different picture.

“well, on that one i see the splatter of a bug against the windshield.” he interrupted the doctor as he was about to change the slide. “honestly, doc, how long do we have to keep this up?”

“well, carl, you came to see me because you had been repressing issues for a long time, and you felt that you were on the verge of exploding. i’m trying to get an idea of what form this explosion might take.”

“you’ve shown me about a thousand ink blots in the past forty minutes, doc. you must have some idea by now,” pleaded carl.

“you’re right, carl,” said dr. williams, putting down the ink blots. “and to be honest, i’m trying to be completely sure, because the picture i’m getting is not a merry one, to say the least.” he took off his glasses. “now let’s go over some history. you’re parents got a divorce when you were 12, correct?” carl nodded. “and, as you told me earlier, you never forgave your father for having an affair and breaking up your family. and then your mother married a man who used to abuse you physically. and ever since then, you’ve been stressed out most of the time, correct?”

“yeah, doc. you know all this, and you also know that i’ve never really opened up to anyone about any of this – before you, that is.”

“i understand. unfortunately, while your coming to see me was a good idea, it may have come a little late. you should have come to see me sooner.”

“why, doc? what’s wrong,” asked carl, concerned.

“well, i see vestiges of aggression hidden inside you. there’s an anger in you, an anger born of all this repression, and while it hasn’t manifested itself yet, i don’t know how much longer that will be the case.”

carl was resigned. he had been feeling this anger boiling inside himself for a while. “so what now?” he asked.

“we continue our sessions. as i said, this anger is born of repression, so the best thing for you would be to open up as completely as possible to me. we need to work through all the issues and pain you’ve been repressing. i’m afraid that’s the only way to deal with this. of course, you understand that there is no simple and quick solution to this.”

“yeah, i understand,” said carl, rising from the chair. “same time next week, then?”

“see you then,” said dr. williams as carl walked out of the office.


“so what do you see?” asked the voice on the radio.

“i see the fulfillment of all my desires, all my needs, and the only path to my happiness,” replied another voice.

richard’s one secret was his love for soap operas. when he was home, he watched them all afternoon on tv, and when he was out driving his cab, he loved to listen to the radio versions as well. for good measure, he had several CDs filled with audio of soap operas lying on the seat next to him all the time, in case the choices offered on the air waves were limited or not to his liking. he generally did not care what his passengers thought about his sole obsession. it helped him focus on his driving, and it helped him keep his indifferent cool most of the time.

this afternoon, however, he was slowly losing his cool, and the soap operas were not helping. he had been on the beat since eight in the morning, but since the inauguration of the subway, he had been having trouble finding passengers. today had been tremendously bad. he had only had two passengers since the morning, and both of them had only needed short rides. he was due back at the garage in just under four hours, and he hadn’t made enough to pay off his daily rent. on top of that, he had been stuck in dense traffic for almost an hour, managing only to move a couple of inches.

“22,” squawked the walkie talkie lying next to him. “come in 22.”

richard turned down the volume on the soap opera, annoyed at the interruption. however, the dispatcher would only call him in an emergency, or if she had a fare for him. “go ahead, dispatch,” he replied.

“are you still in the downtown area, 22?” came the answer.

“that’s an affirmative.” richard liked using police lingo over the radio, because it made him feel like he was doing something significantly more important than driving a cab.

“head to 22nd and 8th,” came the reply. “fare’s waiting for a ride to cranton.”

richard did a quick mental calculation. cranton was about 40 miles out, a suburb lying on the edge of the city. with this traffic, it would take about an hour or, if he was lucky, an hour and a half. that would more than make up for his daily rent for the cab, and he would have enough left over for dinner and beers at the bar that he frequented. then he cursed to himself. getting to 22nd and 8th meant taking a right turn at the next light, but he was in the left lane. but he could do it. in ten years of driving cabs, he had learned a trick or two. luckily, he was at the front of his lane.

when the light turned green, he was ready, speeding out of his lane and making a quick right, ahead of honking cars that were in the correct lane. he was going too fast to see the man attempting to cross the street. by the time richard managed to stop, a crowd had already gathered, and a policeman was hurrying towards his stationary cab with a determined look on his face.


“so what do you see?” asked carl.

they were at his favorite spot in the universe. he had discovered it on one of his long drives, and since dr. williams’ diagnosis, he had been coming here more and more often, because of the beautiful view, and because it helped him relax.

they were parked on top of a cliff, with the sea stretching out in every direction below them. they sat in his car, watching the sun set on the horizon. the sea gulls were in a flurry of last minute activity, cawing at each other futilely. more importantly, the entire scene was devoid of any other human existence – no traffic, no noise, and no pollution.

“i see eternity,” replied marie. “i see a vast sadness, yet i also see a semblance of hope, as if the sun will rise again, and everything will be all right.”

“so what next?” asked carl. “you’ve won five million dollars in damages from the cab driver for causing your boyfriend’s death.”

“i wouldn’t have won it without you. you were brilliant, especially in your closing arguments to the jury.” she looked at him, and he thought he saw something in her eyes that he had never seen before. he looked away, embarassed.

“well, you know, that is my job,” he admitted. “so are you going to leave the city now?”

“no,” she replied. “i still work here, and i can’t afford to leave.” there was a long pause. “so, what do you think?” she finally asked.

“about what?” he asked, confused.

“when the sun rises tomorrow, is there hope for you and me?” she asked, looking into his eyes again. he was sure now – in the past ten months that he had represented her, beginning with the criminal case and through the entire civil trial, he had sensed something blossoming inside her, something more than just professional respect.

“that may not be such a good idea,” he replied.

“why not?” her eyes were pleading now, and he thought he could see a hint of tears.

“don’t get me wrong, marie. i would jump at the chance to be with you, because i’ve slowly fallen under your spell the past few months. but it wouldn’t be fair to you. i have problems – i can’t really explain, but they need to be solved.”

she reached out and took his hand in hers. “what ever it is, i’m sure we can work through it together.” she leaned over and kissed him. he kissed her back, eagerly, and pulled her close to him. neither of them wanted to be the first to let go.

they pulled apart after a while, reluctantly.

“so,” said marie, snuggling up to him, “what do you see?”


author’s note: i’m pretty sure that sucked ass. oh well. had to get something out of my system to make sure i didn’t have only three stories in me for the rest of my life. the next ones will be better, i promise. leave your thoughts.

club rio

…i’ve forgotten you
i never think of you
the way you walked
the way you talked
the things you used to say
i’ve forgotten you
i never think of you
i couldn’t say
for sure today
whether your eyes were blue and grey
i’ve forgotten you
i never think of you.

i’m through
thinking of you
i tell you i’m through
thinking of you

i’ve forgotten you
i never think of you

oh, what a lie
i shall think of you, think of you, think of you
till i die…

her voice cut through the haze of cigar smoke and the dim lightning like the sound of thunder on a clear summer’s day. i sat up straight in my chair, entranced by the sound of the voice boring towards my ears through the mist that surrounded me. i looked around – others had been equally affected by the singer’s voice, and were paying attention to her, instead of to their hastily abandoned conversations.

the year was 1987. i had been coming to the jazz club regularly for about ten years now, and this was the first time i ever heard someone of her caliber perform there. the usual fare of semi-talented musicians had passed through the doors, and had never stayed too long on stage. with her, i could tell that this time it was going to be different. the club would not let her go until her talent had taken her to the lofty heights that she was destined to reach.

her name was rachel armstrong, and she was new in town. she had grown up on a farm outside the city, and had travelled to the city to earn her keep through singing when the farm had closed down due to massive losses caused by the recent drought. i thanked nature for its mercy, as without the droughts she would never have had cause to leave the farm and would never have wandered up on stage at the club to delight us with her voice.

at the end of her performance, the applause was deafening. the crowd, mostly regular attendees, stood together and applauded her till she finally walked off stage. lubricated by the alcohol they had consumed en masse and fuelled by the soulful performance, the audience could not show enough appreciation for the music. i agreed wholeheartedly – i only wish my claps were more audible over every one else’s applause, because i had spent years searching for someone like her.

when she finally proceeded backstage, i left my table and walked towards the dressing rooms. i had to find out all about her, and how often she would be performing, because i planned to be there every night that she sang, just so i could soak up the radiance of her voice. i wound my way through the corridors that made up the backstage area until i found myself near the dressing rooms. the area was in a state of apopleptic chaos – everyone was talking in excited whispers and hushes about the performance, some genuinely appreciative of her talent, while most were more worried about their future with the club. i couldn’t care less about these selfish “musicians” who claimed to have talent that was never revealed when they were onstage.

i walked into her dressing room to find her seated with the manager of the club, who was having difficulty finding words to express his admiration. “my god, that was amazing,” i heard him say as i walked in. “i’m so glad i decided to hire you.” dear old mike. couldn’t stop praising himself for a second. no matter. rachel was a star that was soon going to outshine this crummy little joint, and there was nothing he could do about it. “i’m prepared to offer you a permanent job here at club rio. twice a week, an hour-long set, full publicity, the works. i’ll pay you twelve hundred bucks a month.” i cursed under my breath. mike was offering her much less than she deserved. i was shocked when she agreed, but then i realized that twelve hundred bucks must seem like a lot to someone who just arrived in the city from the brink of destitution. no matter. mike would have his hands full trying to keep other jazz clubs from poaching her from him, and in a few months, when news about her spread, he would be paying her much more than that, just to keep her on board.

mike left, and i sat in my chair, watching her remove her make up. she didn’t seem to mind my presence, which i appreciated. so many other performers felt annoyed when i came to speak to them, brushing me away like a mosquito. rachel, however, did not have a problem with my sitting there, just watching her. i was glad for that. besides, i couldn’t think of anything to say, because her performance had left me speechless. not too many other singers had ever done that before.

she got up and left shortly after, but not before i had found out where she lived – a rundown section of the city, famous for its crime and vagrants. i didn’t feel worthy enough to walk her home, so i watched her leave through the back door, followed by the envious stares of the other performers. i returned to my table, to watch the rest of the performers, all of whom i doubted could measure up to her performance. i was right. i left about an hour later, walking out the main entrance, the walls of the corridors lined with pictures of distinguished members and musicians who had played at the club and reached some sort of fame elsewhere.

rachel was back twice the next week, and twice a week after that for about three months, seducing everyone with the sound of her voice. i was surprised to see that every day the cigar smoke seemed to be thicker – it seemed that news of her talent had already spread, and she was drawing larger and larger crowds with every performance. i still had no difficulty getting my regular table, but there were many more new faces at the club every time. i tried to express my annoyance, but to no avail. mike was too happy with quantity, and didn’t particularly care about quality. i couldn’t blame him. rachel was a gold mine that he had just begun to tap, and he could therefore be excused for his behavior.

i didn’t see much of rachel outside of her performances for quite a while. mike, already worried about his competitors, had hired two large body guards who drove her to the club right before she went onstage, and then hurried her out of the club at the end of her performance. therefore, i was pleasantly surprised to find her sitting in the audience one day, watching the performers. it was a wednesday, and she wasn’t scheduled to go onstage, but her love for jazz had drawn her to watch these mediocre fools who were not even half as talented as she was. i thought i would mention that to her, but before i could sit at her table, she was joined by mike and her bodyguards, who took up all the empty chairs. dejected, i seated myself at a table near her, instead of taking my regular seat near the stage. no big loss. i was too focused on rachel to care about what was going on on stage anyway.

mike was his usual happy self, displaying the bright smile that had not faded from his face since rachel’s first performance. he was commending her on her skill, and her talent, and her voice, but i knew mike well enough to know that he was commending her on bringing in all the money he had made since her debut. selfish bastard, i thought to myself. i wondered if he was still paying her twelve hundred a month, or whether he had given her a raise yet.

rachel smiled at mike benignly, and i could tell from the look on her face that she was paying more attention to the music than to what he was saying. she seemed much happier now, and was still amazingly beautiful, even without the make up or the sleek red dress she wore on stage.

mike, suddenly devoid of any more praise, tried his best to seduce rachel. it was a disgusting sight – an overweight, bald man trying his chances with what was certainly a siren from the gods. rachel seemed not to notice, and i felt my heart leap at the thought. surely i wasn’t falling in love with her?

after several minutes of pathetic lines from mike, rachel decided to change the subject. “i’ve noticed,” she began, “that the table nearest the stage is always empty. why is that, michael?”

mike snorted. “well, you see rachel, one of the chief reasons this club stands here today is because, a few years ago, this slightly…er…eccentric jazz bassist named colter smith left his entire life savings – over 3 million dollars – to the club when he died, on the condition that that table should always remain unoccupied, in case he ever cares to visit. and since the money is in an account overseen by his lawyers, we have to accomodate his wishes. lord knows that that money has come in handy for repairs, maintenance and on the several occasions that this club nearly shut down for lack of profits. plus, the story is a fun one to tell new members, and adds to the atmosphere of the place.”

“interesting,” said rachel, and for a while she kept silent, listening to the music, while subtly evading mike’s attempts at seduction.

half an hour later, she rose. “i have to leave now, mike. i’ll see you on friday. oh, and can you save a table near the front for my husband? he just got back from the war, and he’ll be here to see the show.”

i was shocked, as mike probably was also. a husband? she was married? i had never even considered the possibility, probably because of her spouse’s conspicuous absence for so long. but then, of course he was off fighting for our country in the war. i was dejected, i have to admit. i had been feeling the first pangs of love for rachel, and it was difficult to come to terms with the fact that she could never be mine.

i sat in the club for about fifteen minutes after rachel and her entourage left, followed by a very eager to please mike. i felt i needed a walk and a breath of fresh air – stale cigar smoke, dark lights and jazz was suddenly not the kind of atmosphere i wanted to be in. i would, of course, be back on friday to watch rachel perform, so there was that comfort at least.

i walked out the main entrance, past my picture hanging on the wall. i noticed the plaque below it needed cleaning – one could hardly read the words: colter smith, 1923-1977.


Lyrics to song borrowed from Agatha Christie’s Yellow Iris.


“Don’t look up.” The words still reverberated in my head as I woke up in the morning.

What was that dream about? I couldn’t remember, no matter how hard I tried. It was getting increasingly difficult to remember the dreams I had since I had started drinking. I was convinced I wasn’t an alcoholic, even though the nightcaps I took before heading to bed became more frequent. For the past month or so I had been waking up with a hangover, but I felt I was getting used to it. Nothing a couple of Tylenol and two shots of whiskey couldn’t fix.

But what was that dream all about? For an instant, I felt I remembered the entire dream, but then it was gone from my mind, as if that part of my brain had tripped some invisible switch and turned off right away.

I shook off the thoughts and walked into the bathroom to look at my face in the mirror. For the past six weeks, since I’d been diagnosed, I did this every day. This morning, it seemed the worst. The disease was eating me alive. My eyes were sunken and my cheeks were hollow. My chin, usually inconspicuous, jutted out like the Rock of Gibraltar. I wondered whether anyone would notice at work. I didn’t think so. I had heard everyone talking behind my back about my “alcoholism” and how I needed help, even Gina, who had never said an unkind word about anyone behind their back. Well, fuck them all. If they didn’t have the decency to come and ask me what was wrong, I had no reason to tell them.

I brushed my teeth and decided to shave. Halfway through what had become a conditioned reflex over the years, I cut myself. Immediately I was gripped by this paranoia that I wouldn’t stop bleeding. I gripped the side of the sink to keep myself from falling over and fainting at the thought. Slowly I watched in the mirror as the blood trickled to a stop. My hands wouldn’t come near my face after that. No matter; I’d go to the office half-shaven.

In retrospect I guess the fear of dying had been with me since I walked out of the doctor’s office, stunned and in shock. But I didn’t want to die in such a pitiful manner – I didn’t want to find my half-decomposed body lying in the bathroom, naked and bleeding from the face. I wanted to die in a peaceful, glorious manner – so that I would be buried with the beginnings of a smile on my face. Going to bed one night and not waking up would be much more graceful than dying there and then in the bathroom. Trying to push the thoughts of my death out of my mind, I went back into the bedroom and downed four shots of whiskey in quick succession. To hell with it.

I went to work as usual, and spent the next nine hours listening to whispered conversations outside my cubicle about my health. I headed home and hit the bottles right away.

I died that night in my sleep.


For a while I didn’t realize I had died. I walked into the bathroom the next morning when the alarm went off and tried to look at my reflection in the mirror. Instead of my pale, haggard face, I saw my body lying lifeless in the room behind me.

I couldn’t comprehend what exactly was going on. I looked back into my bedroom, and saw that the mirror wasn’t lying – I was lying in bed. I tried to touch the sleeping form, but my fingers just couldn’t make contact with the body. In an instant, I saw that I wasn’t alone in the room – there were hundreds, maybe thousands, of other people around me, all of whom I could see. All of them seemed to be quite distant, but still gave me expectant looks, as if they were waiting for me to do something. There were people of all ages – a woman carrying a baby, a child holding a toy, an old man with a cane, a man in a suit with a briefcase. They were stuck in some sort of instant, unable to move forward or backward, all staring at me as if I was supposed to do something. Then I heard the voice.

“Go on, follow them.”

I turned around, and behind me stood a man, robed in white. “Walk with them,” the man urged.

“Who are they?” I asked, still very confused and slowly growing nervous.

“They are the ones who died the moment you did. Their souls cannot reach their final destination unless you join them.”

So I was dead? So my wish had come true, and I had died in my sleep? I turned to look at my body, and the face had the beginnings of a smile on it. Just the way I wanted it to be.

“Go on,” the man repeated behind me.

“Just one more minute,” I insisted. I couldn’t take my eyes off my dead, lifeless body.

“I know it’s hard to tear your soul away from the body that has housed it for so long. But you must proceed. Your soul, and the soul of all these others, must get where they need to go.”

Fuck all the other souls, I thought to myself. I was dead. My body was now just an empty shell, soon to be overrun by insects and disintegrated. I wanted one last look at the body that I had taken for granted all my life. Fuck the man, too, whoever he was. Who did he think he was to give me orders?

As if he had read my mind, the man sighed. “Look, you’re my last one. Don’t make this anymore difficult than it has to be. I’ve had to drag all these people away from their bodies and get them here, and now you’re holding all of us up. So do me a favor and hurry up and walk.”

“Who the fuck are you?”

“I’m the one responsible for getting all of you to your final destinations. So please, turn around and start walking!”

His voice made it obvious that he was losing his patience with me. I took one last long look at my body and turned around and started walking.

“Good,” he said. “It’s not long. And remember, don’t look up.”

The phrase sent shivers down my spine. The dream seemed to leap back into my consciousness, but then jumped out again. I started walking.


I don’t know what happened after that. I walked in the direction the other people were facing. Immediately they all started moving as well. The people in front of me seemed to walk into my wall, and so it seemed to be the reasonable thing to do. I walked through the wall, and immediately I was in a huge dark tunnel.

I followed the people in front of me blindly for a while until my eyes adjusted to the light. The man who had spoken to me was in front of the line. I looked around me. I realized that the walls of the tunnel were covered with rubies, diamonds and emeralds, arranged into intricate designs throughout. Light bounced off the gems and formed patterns on the wall. Suddenly I heard the whispers.

“If you think that’s something, just look up at the ceiling.”

“The ceiling’s even more beautiful – beyond your wildest imagination.”

“Check out the ceiling – it’s more beautiful than the freshest flower or the best painting.”

Every step I took, the whispers increased in number and in volume. Soon my head was filled with the reverberations of a million voices, all imploring me to look at the ceiling. I tried to keep my head down, but everytime I looked at the floor, the voices increased in volume even more, until my head was filled with shrieking voices. Unable to bear it any more, I looked up at the ceiling.

The ceiling was nothing beautiful. I felt a tremendous flash of heat on my face, and the brightest light blinded me. My neck was stuck – I couldn’t look in any other direction anymore. I was transfixed by the light.

Several moments later, I felt something running down my cheek. I put my hand on my cheek to wipe it off, and with the hand came a chunk of the flesh on my cheek. I stared at my hand in horror for a split second.

I began to scream.


At the front of the line, the man heard the scream, paused for a second, and then kept walking. The man in the suit and with a briefcase asked, “What was that?”

“Don’t worry about it. The last soul we salvaged was just extinguished,” said the man, and kept on walking.

“And you aren’t going to do anything about it?” asked the incredulous woman with the baby.


“Why not?”

“Because that’s the way it’s meant to be. One soul is destined to be extinguished before we reach your final destination. Only by sacrificing one of the souls can we open the gates to your final destination.”

“What will happen to him?” asked the man in the suit.



“No. His soul will dissipate and will be added to the energy of the universe.”

“And no one knows about this?”

“Only the ones who’ve walked this way before you. On Earth, they think it’s just a routine voltage fluctuation.”

And with that the man kept walking.


“i’m lost without you,” i told her, looking deep into her eyes.

we had been meeting in the cafe every day for a late morning coffee and sandwich. the muted notes of the jazz cd floated through the haze of coffee vapors and cigarette smoke.

“that may be so,” she said, smiling, “but you know me for three months only. so are you saying you were lost for the other 27 years before that?”

she was right, of course. i had met her one windy night three months ago, a night marred with rain and sleet, a night when she had walked into her house and found her boyfriend lying dead on the floor, a .44 bullet through his head. i was the investigating officer on the case at the time. it was ruled a routine break-in that went wrong when he walked in. there was a substantial amount of cash missing from the wall safe, along with some other trinkets of assorted value that had been scattered through the two storey townhouse. we promptly arrested a burglar who had been known to be operating in the area, and found some of the loot in his house, and the dead man’s wallet hidden underneath the floorboards. the trial had been swift, and he was sentenced to life in prison for first degree murder.

“i’ve always been lost, marie,” i told her, refusing to take my eyes off of hers. “now i find i can’t stop thinking about you, no matter how hard i try. i can’t even seem to focus on a routine case like a break-in without thinking about you all the time. is that wrong?”

“maybe not for you, steve. the more important question now is, are you right for me?”

“even if i’m not right now, i’m sure i can be, if you tell me what i have to do.”

“it’s not for me to tell you, steve. i guess it’s something you have to find out for yourself.” she got up and walked out of the cafe, off to her office in walter towers. i headed back to the precinct, angry at myself for laying my feelings out in the open like that. but she must have known how i felt about her. i’d been having these feelings for her for a long time, and she must have picked up on it at some point. i remembered reading an article in some magazine or the other that clearly stated that women had an inherent instinct for things like this.


“where the hell have you been, whithouse?” asked my partner mark the minute i walked in the door.

“just getting a cup of coffee, durrain. why the hell are your panties in a bunch?”

“because i’ve got fucking internal affairs walking around the precinct, asking me about the de vries case!” he yelled at me.

the words sent a chill up my spine. “the de vries case?” i stammered. “you mean marie de vries?”

“no, i mean santa fucking claus de vries, you asshole,” he yelled. “i thought we had cleared that shit up months ago.”

“so did i,” i volunteered. “did you happen to tell them about where i was?”

“oh, you mean did i tell them that you were now screwing the grieving widow? no i didn’t, asshole, even though they asked if we had been in touch with her since the investigation was closed.”

“durrain, you’re on the fast track to a heart attack,” i told him, trying to keep my cool despite his insinuations about my relationship – or rather, lack of one – with marie. “so what did internal affairs want?”

“the case files, the evidence, the whole shitload. they seem to have found a new suspect in the case, and they wanted to find out how solid our investigation really was.”

“those self-important sons of bitches,” i growled. “did they say who this new suspect was?”

“no, just that they were close enough to an indictment, and they needed more proof…”

the ringing phone interrupted us. a homicide had occured downtown, and we were to look into it. on our way out the door to the car, durrain stopped and apologized. “look, i’m sorry about screaming at you, but I thought that that case was an open-and-shut one, and now internal affairs is pissing all over our investigation with this new suspect of theirs. i’m really close to making inspector, and if they find our investigation was flawed, my chances of a promotion are screwed.” i tried to interrupt, but he kept going. “all i ask is that you cool it with your little romance, so that they don’t start screaming about conflict of interest, or anything like that.”

i was incredulous. “conflict of interest? that would mean…they don’t really think she did it, do they?”

“i don’t know, steve. they seemed quite interested in her, especially her behavior after the murder and shit like that.”

i couldn’t find anything to say to that. the thought that they might suspect marie of the murder hadn’t even crossed my mind.


for a week, i took mark’s advice and didn’t keep our daily coffee date. i lied to her and told her they were sending me on assignment to another state to cover up for my absences. as usual, durrain didn’t seem to have any reaction to it whatsoever, whether positive or negative.

we were quite busy for that one week. it seemed to me that the whole city had gone nuts. murders were piling up one after another, faster than we could solve the previous ones. the entire homicide division were tense and stressed out. three policemen had been killed during a stakeout of a suspect’s house, and the entire precinct, along with the mayor’s office, were on our backs to solve the case as fast as possible. thankfully the case wasn’t assigned to durrain and i, but to lowell and ray, and we could see that it was taking its toll on them. lowell had started drinking heavily again, and had been leaving the bars after midnight every night since the murders.

saturday, the end of the week, found me at home getting some much needed r and r. i had the football game on and was working my way through a case of bud light, when the door bell rang. i got up cursing to myself, and opened the door, to find lowell and ray standing on the doorstep.

“hey guys,” i said, surprised at the intrusion. “what’s going on? no vacation for you?”

“unfortunately not, whithouse,” said ray. “can we come in?”

“sure,” i said. “what’s up, boys?” i asked once they were settled on the couch

“we’re investigating the murder of the policemen, and we’re kind of stuck. and then we thought, maybe we’re not seeing the whole picture, you know? maybe we’re too close to the investigation, and we need a third set of eyes to look over the evidence and tell us what we’re missing. so we tried to get hold of durrain, but he’s off fishing somewhere, so we came to you.”

i wasn’t insulted by what might be construed by some as an insult. durrain was a senior officer, having been in the department for years, and would obviously be the first choice for such a request, especially from new officers like lowell and ray, who had joined recently. “we were wondering,” picked up lowell, “if you could come down to the precinct with us and take a look at the evidence as well. we’d really appreciate it.”

i cursed under my breath. so much for getting some rest, but then i’d obviously be paid overtime. “sure, guys,” i said. “give me a chance to get dressed, and i’ll be with you right away.” i went upstairs to put on some clothes, and then the three of us headed out of the door together.


the precinct was mostly deserted, which wasn’t strange for a saturday. we walked up to the homicide division, and into one of the interview rooms. “this is a confidential investigation, whithouse,” said lowell. “we can’t risk anyone seeing and contaminating the evidence.”

i took a seat as lowell went to get the box of evidence. he returned shortly with a box of stuff from the crime scene, and proceeded to spread it across the table. ray explained it all to me, piece by piece.

“okay, so here are the bullets we got out of the cops after the autopsies. as you can see, they are all .44s.”

“where were they shot?” i asked.

“the left side of the head,” answered lowell.

“hmm…execution style, eh? seems to me that it yells gangland connections,” i surmised.

“that’s what we thought as well, especially because they were on surveillance of a suspected gang leader when it happened.”

“then what’s the problem?”

“well, what we can’t figure out, whithouse, is why you would do something like this.”


i sat there stunned, rooted to my chair, unable to move. “what did you say?” i managed to stammer.

“look, whithouse,” said lowell, “we’re both internal affairs. we’ve been investigating you since the de vries case, because we all felt there was something wrong with the case you presented. most notably, the fact that the person you sent to jail still claims that he’s innocent.”

“also,” continued ray, “we thought it was kind of funny that you knew exactly who to arrest after you discovered the murder, and that you found all the evidence that was used against him in the trial, even though durrain was on the scene as well at the same time, and searched the place as well.”

“but we weren’t sure about anything until we spotted you cozying up to the widow after the investigation. then it hit us – maybe she hired you to do it.”

“so we talked to her, and looked at the evidence, and her alibi for the murder checked out, and she kept telling us that she hadn’t known you before the murder. so we were left with you as the only suspect.”

“and then you killed the three internal affairs men we sent in to get the evidence for us. that really wasn’t clever was it, since we matched the ballistics of the bullets to the bullet used in the de vries murder.”

i hadn’t had a chance to speak yet. now i spoke up, in what i thought was a calm, composed voice. “if you’re accusing me of something, i demand to have my lawyer here with me.”

“oh, i’m sorry steve, but the law says that we can interrogate you with no lawyer present, seeing as this is an internal investigation of something as severe as quadruple first-degree murders.”

“i didn’t do it,” i exclaimed. “i had nothing to do with any of these murders!”

“oh, really? then how do you explain this?” said lowell, throwing the gun on the table. the bastards must have dug it up from under the floorboards in the kitchen while i was changing upstairs.

“see, i’m sure that if we test the gun for fingerprints, we’ll find yours all over it. we’ve already talked to the black market dealer who sold it to you, and he will testify, under oath, that you bought it the week before the de vries murder.”

“but what we still don’t understand,” said lowell, “is why you would do something like this in the first place.”

i broke down. i couldn’t take it anymore. the strain of being found out was too much to bear.

through my tears, all i could say was, “i’m so lost without her.”