Monday, May 29, 2006

Fiction Short Shorties 1 & 2
I was away from the computer for the weekend and could't put any of the fiction stories up but here they are.

The first one is, 'The Mourning After' and the second one is 'That Was Crazy.'
The Mourning After

The pale-faced Pastor raised his eyes from the ground, nodding slightly to himself. He quietly ascended from the bench and began to walk towards the pulpit. Every death is a catastrophe and the Pastor must make the peace between grievers and the angel of death. On this particular hour, the faint beams of light flowing through the window panels made the pastor an apparition in the mourners’ reality. His customary black apparel enveloped his frail frame except for a protruding head that hovered above them all. Slowly folding his hands together while surveying the room, he said, “From ashes to ashes, dust to dust…”

After the utterance of the word dust, the Pastor’s speech became floating sentences that dissolved into molecules fading right before Jake’s eyes. Even so, Jake continued to stare at the the Pastor but heard nothing - the silence within the room began to grow until it seemed as if the room was a moment suspended within time. The silence was magnified by his short-quick breathing, struggling to inhale and exhale at the same time.. He lifted his eyes off the pastor and browsed the room with his gaze. He saw his daughter next to him, seeking refuge in warmth of her mother’s bosom. Their faces contained the sorrow, which pressed itself upon the people in the room. The weight of their sorrow increased as the Pastor continued with the eulogy. Beyond the Pastor, lay the unspoken; the soulless body of Jake’s son. A low voice whispered inside him, “my son…”

The blood began to swell within his fingers but he continued to tighten the grip the moment. The two pictures of Ishmael had been placed in the corner of the room to serve as memorial to those of short lived life. They paid homage to the one thing Jake had been unable to bring himself look at, let alone acknowledge; Ishmael’s coffin. His body became etherized before the coffin but his eyes squirmed around it like a man pleading for mercy before the barrel of a cocked gun. His groin tightened as he felt his stomach free fall into an abyss.
Jake brought his attention to the pictures of Ishmael on the sides of the casket. They distracted his mind from the coffin and its reality. The pictures, selected as memories of happiness were not his. The right picture was Ishmael in his horseback riding outfit standing next to the horse he was too used to ride. The other picture was close up picture Mary Elle had recently had taken of him with his younger sister. She was planning on having it sent to family and relatives for the holiday seasons. When he came to think of it, he hadn’t shared many memories with Ishmael. Most of them involved Ishmael leaving for one activity or another and when he wasn’t busy with them, he was away at boarding school. Jake and Mary Elle had planned much of his life away.

Ishmael began boarding school after the third grade and only came home on weekends or vocations. Jake was always a moment behind Ishmael. Mary Elle, Elle as Jake called her, often spoke about Ishmael studying at the Sorbonne. Jake had whole heartedly agreed to the idea but never imagined it would be possible. His son’s recent acceptance into the Worcester Academy of Massachusetts made it a real possibility since the Headmaster had mentioned the many successful Worcester graduates who were now studying at the Sorbonne.

A feeling of loss emerged within Jake as he contemplated a distant future that was surreal as the drifting past. Jake had always considered himself one of God’s lonely strangers wandering through unknown lands. Yet there was something more about the situation that evoked a question within his heart: “why was he in a Church?” The answer was obvious but he continued to ask since he wasn’t raised a Christian nor was his wife particularly religious.

He thought about his parents. To him, they were Turkish laborers who immigrated to America with nothing more than a will to do hard work. They had raised him with a strict work ethic and a sense that they considered themselves Muslims, although they didn’t know much about their religion. At his birth, they had named him Yacoub; the Qur’anic name for Jacob. Shortly after his nineteenth birthday, he had gone to the local courthouse and changed it to “Jake”. A name like Yacoub didn’t stand a chance in a business world where there is little difference between you, your name, and the stocks or bonds. They were all marketable commodities. He wondered why Elle had selected the name of her grandfather, a distinguished politician, for their son. Somewhere between the years of college, his MBA degree, and working in the corporate America, he had lost his Islamic sensibility. Sitting in the Church, he felt a larger emptiness within his life than the loss of Ishmael. Like a gothic statute, his face had relinquished any sign of life except for the sullen brown eyes that searched for answers in vain.

The preacher was silent now. Elle’s family began to quietly get up – most of the people were from Elle’s family. Two of Jake’s work colleagues had come to give their respects and stayed longer. Edward and Michael, along with two other cousins of Elle hoisted the coffin and carried it towards the hearse. Jake stood to the side as the coffin was carried through the aisle. The noise of quick drumbeats sounded every step they took down the stairs towards the car. Jake emerged from the Church to a grey sky that hung over funeral procession. Edward and Michael were organizing the drive funeral efforts to help Elle take her mind off Ishmael.

“Jake, follow us to the burial site,” said Michael as he moved got in the car with Elle. “Elle is going with mom, we’ll meet up there,” Edward added while escorting his mother into Elle’s Volkswagen. A sense of separation from Elle and his daughter bothered Jake who wanted to share the drive with them. “Sure, its probably best Elle go with them,” said Jake. “I’ll tag along with you Jake … to keep you company,” said Edward as he moved towards the Escalade. “Mind if I drive, I think you need the break.” Jake reached into his coat pocket and handed his keys over.

“Thanks, it’ll help me take my mind off things,” Jake said as he looked at the grey sky again. “You think it’ll rain again? I usually don’t get to check the weather since I’m at work most of day.” Edward briefly glanced at him and said, “Yea, this is typical New England weather. You’ve got to get out of Midtown Manhattan more often and spend time up here.” Jake thought about his work offices and how they occupied most of his last few years. He stepped up into the Escalade and closed the door behind him. Looking out of the window, Jake reached into his pocket to pull out his palm organizer, which showed missed a call from a 212 number. Jake glanced out of the window as Edward drove behind the procession. Last night’s rain still lay heavily in the autumn air, engulfing the surroundings in its mist and fog. The trees and bushes appeared and disappeared as layers of fog drifted before them to create shadows of their existence.

“Mind if I turn on the radio. I know a station that plays some smooth relaxing music,” said Edward as he turned his head towards Jake while placing his hand on the dial. Jake gave a light nod of approval and turned his head back towards the window. The Escalade was gift for the extra time Jake put in to help launch his firm’s financial services office in Tokyo. Jake remembered that the night before Ishmael’s last birthday, he was stuck in LA waiting for a connecting flight home from Japan.

“I think we’re about ten minutes away from the burial site. Shouldn’t be much longer,” said Edward as squinted his eyes in and tried to read the cross-streets names. Jake tuned into the song for a moment and heard, “And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon, little blue and the man on moon.” He was unfamiliar with song and wasn’t pay attention to lyrics but its soothing melody slowly made Jake unconscious of his atmosphere.

Jake awakened to find Edward outside of car and knocking on the window. “We’re here. I thought you were resting your head but I didn’t know you fell asleep,” said Edward as he opened Jake’s passenger side door with surprised look upon his face. Jake slid out of the car and found himself weak legged and stumbling. He felt embarrassed that he had let himself get caught sleeping and was afraid it might send a message of indifference to the severity of the situation.

“Come on, follow me. I saw Elle and the others head that way,” said Edward as he put his arms around Jake to help him. The walked for a few minutes until Jake could see a crowd assembled around a coffin. The fog made it difficult to discern if it was his family from a distance. Edward began walking towards the crowd and joined them. Jake arrived and tried stand as close to Elle as possible. The Pastor acknowledged their presence and began to mention a few prayers and words of endearment towards his family. After his words, the Ishmael’s coffin was lowered down into the ground. Some wet mud stuck to sides of coffin’s marble encasing and Jake felt the urge to reach in and wipe it clean.

Slowly, Jake saw it descend into the grave until nothing but darkness was visible. A sudden silence came across the procession members who all stared into the grave’s darkness. Ishmael was a star who collapsed upon itself and become a black hole. And like a black hole, his coffin swallowed all existence of time and space. It emanated force of gravity that pulled the bodies, vision, and feelings of all those who stood near the center of the grave.

That Was Crazy

“A time to scatter stones, and a time to gather them;
A time to embrace, and a time to be far from embraces.”
Ecclesiastes 3:5

“Mom – Yea, how’s it going? Leah called me just now and said there was some good news.” Daniel said, as he stood holding the phone pressed against his right ear, trying to block out the noise from trucks rumbling by.

“Uhuh… you mean to say they have a donor for Rachel? That’s not good news - that’s great news! I only have a week left of mandatory service and once I’m done with that I’ll have a lot more time to spend with her.” He yelled enthusiastically into the phone hoping to drown out noisy distractions on the military base.

“Well, what do you mean? Of course we should accept it – mom, do you know how difficult it is to find a liver donor compatible with Rachel?” A look of puzzlement came upon his face as he fidgeted with the phone cord, twirling it around his fingers. “Look ma, we can’t wait forever – they kept Rachel on the list for 4 years already… What is it already – just say it already.” Daniel had now turned face towards the wall to gain privacy in a place that was constantly under surveillance.
“Who are the donors? … Oh, I see…” His face offered an expressionless look. “Does pa know about this? … I understand it’s complicated to explain it to him and we’re sure he’ll object but given the circumstances … It’s difficult, I know its difficult – I don’t know where I stand on it either but its like we planned this – it just came up now. The important thing is that there is a liver donor that it compatible with Rachel’s – even if it was a Palestinians. Listen ma –I’ll give you a call back later tonight when I return from patrol.” Said Daniel as he hung the phone up and walked away rubbing his eyes with his thumb and forefinger.

He continued walking not considering which direction he was headed nor caring for that moment. His body pushed him to keep moving as it tried to keep up with thoughts and faces running through his mind. He kept walking until he came to the edge of the base that was fenced off with barbwire – in the distance lay clustered houses scattered amongst the barren dune hills that stretched deep into valley of Nablus. Daniel lifted his index finger and placed it on the barbwire. He pressed down upon the wire with the weight of the choice on his mind.

“Hey Danny, you been standing there long enough. How about we transfer you back from solitary confinement to the gulags,” said Sergeant Kuznets with smirk across his face. “Come on, we got patrol in less than an hour and your standing day dreaming like Socrates.” His gruff voice awakened Daniel to his senses. “ I got you figured out kid – its less than a week till you’re a free man and now you want more – the Army has become a part of you.” Daniel thought that. He thought about what he had become a part of.


“That was crazy… I didn’t expect that kid to come out of now where… I did what anyone of us would have done.” said Eli, as he looked into the distance hills behind Daniel. Daniel paused for a moment in front of Eli, slowly loosening the grip on his Galil assault rifle. Eli expected some words of condolences, perhaps even an “I understand, it could have been me in your place,” but he said nothing. The Sergeant asked Eli his account of the incident and asked Daniel, if he had anything to add to the official report. He didn’t. He stood in the moment he paused before Eli, thinking of his sister Rachel.

He still couldn’t make sense of what happened. It was suppose to be a standard patrol through Nablus. Nothing was planned – no operation or mission – just a regular patrol through the outer lying houses. Then the patrol truck was struck by random gunfire and placed everyone on alert. The Sergeant ordered Eli and Daniel and two other members of our team to pursue the target who scurried across rooftops under the noon heat. One of the boy’s shoes had fallen off as he jumped fervently from one house to the next, often landing clumsily and injuring himself in the process. Eli informed the two to keep him in sight as he and Daniel would run ahead into one of the houses and try to get onto the rooftop to circle him. Eli was older and more experienced but not in the best of shape and he tried to keep up with Daniel. After running a few dozen yards ahead of where the boy was, Daniel banged the butt of his rifle on the door and told them to immediately open it. After three seconds he kicked the wooden door open and yelled out amidst a screaming family that he was not here to hurt them.
“Listen, I’m here to get to the roof – that’s all,” he remembers shouting to the family, as he looked for the staircase to the roof. By then Eli had hustled his way to house and was trying to calm the children and woman yelling at the intruders. “I’m not here to do any harm to you all. Calm the kids down lady; we’ll be through in a minute or so… Danny, hurry up there so we can get out of this place.” Eli said, as he stood in the middle of the room trying to focus on the stairs Daniel had dashed up.

Daniel scanned the shanty housetops that reflected the burning sun off their metal coverings. He couldn’t find the kid anywhere in sight. “I’m getting tired of chasing after kids who get fun out of afternoon firefights.” A loud burst of gunfire roared from behind him stiffened his spine and jaws locked. Daniel sprinted down the rooftop opening as he tried not to slip on the poorly constructed dirt steps, the screaming had accentuated to a point where it siren going off in his head. A lady knelt over a body tried to cover the blood spewing out, she obstructed his view to who exactly had been shot. A question sparked in his head: where was Eli?

“Eli, where are you?!” Daniel ran from one corner of the house to the other, only to realize the other room contained an exit to the outhouse. He glanced down on the children clinging to the woman, who was face was wet from tears and blood marks and said, “We’ll rush him to a doctor. Hold on.” With that he opened the entrance door and saw Eli sitting down on the floor with his hand.

“You hit! Are you hit?” Daniel yelled at Eli, who let out a whimper and said, “I shot him.” From the corner of his left eye, Daniel could see Sergeants’ truck speeding towards them. Again Eli said, “I shot the kid.”