By the sea

He was 40, and she was 30, and they owned a small hotel by the sea where they often rode horses through the surf.

He was blond-haired, dark-eyed with a straight nose, square jaw and broad chest.  She was a redhead with blue eyes and pale skin he loved to touch.

They had met eight years earlier on that same beach.  She was passing through hard times, and he had recently purchased the small hotel on the sand.

Their romance was fast and ferocious, and they wed.  Unlike many marriages that calm with time, theirs only grew wilder and more wonderful.

The hotel had just eight rooms, and he was the sole handyman.  She handled work requiring a feminine touch.  Business was steady, and days were full.

But they always made time to ride horses through the surf, often in moonlight but under the noon sun when possible, when the hotel freed them.

Late nights were spent within cotton sheets and atop pillows illuminated by candlelight and with wine, cheese and grapes.  They kissed and giggled, laughing out loud, wondering what the guests were making of the constant commotion.

Sometimes they cried together, but not from sadness.  They were tears of endless bewilderment, shock and happiness.

He would bring her flowers from the blooming cacti between the dunes.  Sometimes by surprise she would leap upon his back to bite his neck.

They played Backgammon, threw darts and tossed horseshoes in the sand.  There were picnics on the patch of grass behind the hotel.  But there was no television and no car, by choice.

For provisions, they would hitch a wood wagon he bought from a farmer to one of the horses and ride slowly, holding hands, into town ten miles away.

He grew vegetables and berries in a garden, and she served them all on the table with china, silver and cloth napkins.

The weeks became months, and the months became years . . .

* * * *

He was 78 years old and lay upon the cotton sheets and pillows, but it was different now because he was very weak and thin.  His fine hair was white, and he could not walk.  A sickness was upon him, something that would not go away.

There was an oxygen tank, bottles and pans, and dead air hovered in the bedroom.

Their love had not diminished, and she cared for him.  She fed him and washed him and combed back his hair.  She looked into his eyes and mentioned her love like a mantra.

One night near the end — and they both knew it — he whispered something in the darkness.  There was neither wine, nor cheese, nor grapes, no commotion at all, just a soothing calm.

The whisper was too faint, so she leaned near his face as he repeated:

Remember me as I once was.

Stern discipline

Here’s an alternative to prison for bad boys and girls:

Flogging.

A book published in May this year, In Defense of Flogging, was written by Peter Moskos, an assistant professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a former policeman.

He advocates flogging as an alternative to America’s overcrowded and counterproductive prisons, and I think this is a capital idea.

The brief  book is no joke.  The professor is quite serious.  A wide spectrum of publications has reviewed Moskos’  work and found considerable merit within.

These include The Boston Globe, The Economist, Bloomberg News, The Washington Times, Salon and even The Daily Beast.

Moskos maintains that most citizens flinch at the idea of flogging, say it’s just too much, because they don’t know what prison is like, how terrible it actually is.  A flogging option would be an alternative to prison, and it still would really bite.

I have long advocated the stocks or pillory  as an apt punishment for vandalism, especially graffiti  “artists.”  A few days sitting in the stocks on the public plaza would have a calming effect on today’s undisciplined youth.

For more serious crimes, flogging sounds fantastic.

Moskos’  book wins The Unseen Moon Seal of Good Housekeeping.

Night music

Most of the first six years of my life were spent on a red-dirt farm in southwest Georgia, an area named Red Rock.

The farm was owned by my mama’s mama who inherited it from her daddy who was named Dard, a real nice name.

I never knew my great-granddaddy.  He died before my time.

There was just one surviving photo of Dard after a house fire — a previous home out in the sticks — consumed most everything.

The photo was taken about 1900 in the yard of the later house, which still stands today, the place where I lived.

Dard was standing next to a white-speckled horse, but with his face hidden by the horse’s neck, and atop the horse sat a baby, Iverson, who would be an uncle of my mama’s down the road.

When Iverson was a far older man, and I was a kid, he enjoyed stroking my earlobes.  That’s about all I remember of Iverson, getting my earlobes stroked.  A child’s earlobes are very soft and appealing things.

Dard was a farmer, but a sharp one who became quite rich and owned a sizable share of the county, which was named Worth County, an irony.

My mama’s mama told me she remembered him paying field hands in cash, which he took from a steamer trunk filled with greenbacks.

* * * *

Dard, whose face I have never seen because it was behind the white-speckled horse’s neck, built that house in the late 1800s.  I lived there in the late 1940s.  About six years, as I’ve already mentioned.

The kitchen was at the rear of the house.  It was a good-sized kitchen with a brick fireplace where I got warm on cold winter mornings waiting for breakfast.

There was a screened porch off the kitchen, a window over the sink providing a view of a pasture for the dishwasher, and another window, larger, next to where the big table sat by the fridge, which was the first thing you got to after entering from the dining room.

Around 1960, my mama’s mama began telling us by telephone that she was hearing music through that window some nights, just that kitchen window by the big table.  Nowhere else.

I imagine we thought that living alone in the country was having its effects on the old woman.  Not just music, she said.  It was harp music, the chosen instrument of angels.

My mama’s mama was a widow at that time and lived alone in that big house with a .32-caliber chrome revolver and a pooch named Pepper.  I got that gun after she died because we Crackers like to stay armed.

My parents, sister and I left the farm about a decade earlier and moved to Jacksonville, Florida, but we returned to visit a lot.  My mother was an only child, so you get that picture.

* * * *

A while after her harp reports, I was sitting with her at that table in the kitchen one summer night, and the window was open.  In came the harp music, crystal clear, not soft, not loud, but unmistakable.

We were the only two people there that night half a century ago.  I was visiting solo.  After a minute or two, it stopped.  It took a spell longer for my heart to stop pounding.

A few days later I returned to Florida.  I don’t recall if she ever mentioned the music again.

It wasn’t that the angels were calling her because she did not die for another six years.  And she did it while visiting us in New Orleans where we had moved.  If she heard music there, it would have been Dixieland.

Clarinets, trumpets and tubas.  There are no harps in New Orleans.

The window

There’s a window with frosted glass over the kitchen sink. Open it about dusk, when it’s half dark out, and you’re looking at nothing special.

Just a large, dull, enclosed patio with a cracked, concrete floor.  In that floor is a metal door painted black that covers an underground cistern full of spring water from beneath the mountains.

Abutting that metal door in the cement floor is a large, circular water tank painted a peeling red. That tank rests atop a round, cement-and-stone base about eight inches high.

There is, as I said, nothing special about that patio, but if you open the window at dusk, a gentle breeze enters, passing over the sink.

And sometimes music too.

* * * *

In a few days more, I’ll have another story about windows and music.  It’s a ghost story from decades back, and a true one at that.  A harp is involved.

The man bean

The jury is back, and the vote is unanimous.  Leave the bean in peace.

If  it doesn’t mess with you, don’t mess with it.

After decades of recommending routine PSA tests for men, the entire U.S. medical community has seen the light.

Don’t fool with the bean if you don’t want to wake the Hydra.

The bean lives in a man’s Bermuda Quadrangle, an area midway between the head and the feet.  It is the most cherished, exciting, mysterious and perilous part of a man’s makeup.

Women embrace an area farther north, the pounding heart and singing soul, but for men it’s the Quadrangle.

This area consists of the man bean and three things that dangle:  two round objects and a magic tube that can morph in a heartbeat.

The only things that approach the Quadrangle in importance for a man are beer and Monday Night Football.

I am a bizarre exception, caring neither for beer nor football on any night.

Just last week, a government report made it official:  Leave the bean alone. If a man has no symptoms, it’s nuts to test the bean because it can open the proverbial can of worms, the details of which I’m too squeamish to mention.

This is wonderful news for men because we want nobody near the Quadrangle unless she is lovely, naked and carrying no sharp instruments.

The white hog

He arrived a few days ago in the bed of a pickup, standing but with his back legs strapped wide like the victim of a snuff film.

But he wasn’t going to get snuffed, at least not just yet.  It was simply moving day, his arrival next door.

I knew of his coming because of the commotion he raised.

I reckon he was perfectly content where he lived before, some hog pit somewhere, and this change of address was not his doing.

It took two men quite a spell to get him off the truck because he’s one heavy hog, and he was unhappy to boot, not cooperative at all.

But get him down they did, and now he lives under a shed with no walls, my new neighbor.  A horse occupied that shed for many months, and I liked his occasional neigh.

A big white hog sings a different tune.  But it won’t last forever because I imagine that getting snuffed is in his future.

Just a matter of time till there’s a roasted apple in his mouth.

Meanwhile, children enjoy standing on the shed’s makeshift fence of boards, and tormenting him.  Hogs have been known to eat children, you know.

Postwar Paris, 1921

Prince Gebhard von Lederhosen nibbled a triangle of brie, sipped Patoit Noof 1899 and admired a Delage coupé cruising the Avenue des Champs Élysées.

He was sitting aside a sidewalk table of iron fleurs-de-lis at Le Fouquet’s, holding hands with his handsome Émil.  Prince Gebhard admired the passing French. We Germans are like oxen in comparison, he said to himself.

The prince wore a tailored Italian suit, dark canvas spats and a pink ascot.

Émil was similarly decked out, sans ascot of any hue, dressed on the prince’s dime, of course.

Germany had lost the war, but Prince Gebhard von Lederhosen was living in Paris anyway.  He had a way of landing on top, even though he was hardly averse to being on bottom, particularly after an evening of  absinthe.

Things grew chaotic in Germany after the Armistice, so the prince came to Paris.  Most of his money, after all, had been stashed in Switzerland.

From the corner of his aging eye, Prince Gebhard noticed another handsome young man, huskier than Émil, walking unsteadily among the nearby tables.

On passing, this new fellow — clearly an American — lurched against Prince Gebhard’s chair, paused and plopped into the table’s third seat with a sigh.

Focusing with difficulty, he offered his hand and said,  Name’s Ernie, Ernie Hemingway.  Glad to meetcha.  He was quite drunk.  He had a mustache, thick, black hair, and there were two pencils in the pocket of his flannel shirt.

His fly was unzipped.

Prince Gebhard von Lederhosen was repelled and drawn in equal measure.  However, Ernie threw a long and lascivious look at Émil who smiled back.

Years later, scores of African wildlife perished by gunfire as Ernie tried to hide this side of himself.  And his wives could have told you a thing or two.

Pair held in crime of passion

DARK  CITY (Reuters) — A businessman and his foster daughter were arrested yesterday in the poison deaths of three family members.

DCPD officers say that Myron Blade, 44, and Kristanabel Wasoo, 17,  were in custody after the bodies of Blade’s wife, Hermione, 42, son Blake, 7, and daughter Janicia, 10, were found in the Blades’  tastefully furnished home in the bedroom community of  Residential Hills.

Police report that Blade phoned them early yesterday in a state of hysteria, saying that he and the girl Kristanabel had killed the three with cyanide.

On arriving at the residence, officers found Blade wandering the front yard in soiled jockey shorts, babbling incoherently.

The Wasoo girl was pulled from beneath a bed.  She fought furiously, police said, and three officers were required to hogtie her.

The three victims were lying face up on the living room floor mysteriously arranged like spokes of a wagon wheel.

A large bottle of cyanide was on the coffee table.

Police have yet to determine a motive, but one of the neighbors interviewed by The Daily Voice said,  I always thought something fishy was going on.

Another neighbor said the Blades were just a normal family till two years ago when “that Kris”  arrived.

She watered the lawn in the skimpiest swimsuit you’ve ever seen. She had trouble written all over her, way too mature for her age, said the neighbor.

And she cursed like a Bulgarian sailor, the neighbor added.  Yet another neighbor, who requested complete anonymity, responded, oh, mama mia!  when asked for a description of the girl.

Last night police gave this updated information:  Blade and the Wasoo girl were in separate cells, unable to communicate.

Blade was in a strait-jacket restraint, and the girl had leered at a male guard while demanding a rare roast beef sandwich and dark ale.

A preliminary hearing was scheduled for this morning.  And funeral arrangements for the three victims are pending.

* * * *

(One of a series titled The Marbol Hotel.)

The fight

Ramsey Twibbly-Spencer pulled back on the Nieuport 23′ s stick and watched the toasted fields of France fall behind.

Handles pretty good for a Frog fighter, he told himself.  He banked east, toward the German trenches.

The Le Rhône 9-J engine roared satisfyingly for Lt. Twibbly-Spencer who was 27 years old and quite good-looking.

He had just written another letter to his wife,  Maisie, telling her how much he loved her and sending kisses to little Florence and baby Reggie.

Ramsey and Maisie married six years ago, and Maisie was now 25, a British beauty with fair skin, a bit of freckle, and long, light-brown hair that Ramsey so loved to twirl.

She was his last thought each night and his first every morning.  God, let this war end, he said out loud as a rifle shell from below pierced the fabric of the Nieuport 23’s right wing.  The damage was minor. Twibbly-Spencer reached up and caressed the .303 Vickers machine gun above his head.

It soothed him.

Last month, during a harrowing dogfight, the engine of Twibbly-Spencer’s  Nieuport 23 had just stopped.  The aircraft spiraled to a rough landing near a stand of twisted trees on the good side of the trenches, and the German pilot had simply watched.  There was honor in those days.

Twibbly-Spencer did not know it, but that pilot was Prince Gebhard von Lederhosen, but we’ll get to the good prince down the way here.

He was a dissolute pretty boy.

The Nieuport 23 was over Hun-held territory now, and Twibbly-Spencer scanned the skies. This was a mighty dangerous game, the killing of Krauts.

* * * *

On that same sunny morning not all that far away, a Fokker triplane also took off with the same Prince Gebhard von Lederhosen at the stick.

Prince Gebhard wore thick drill pants, a wool shirt, a leather jacket and helmet, and wrapped about his muscular neck was a pink silk scarf.

This was quite a switch from the azure linen dress, pinched tight at the waist, and peacocked chapeau he had worn the previous evening to a party of his “special friends”  down a dark alley off Rue Côté in the little French village of Pervers.

Prince Gebhard von Lederhosen smiled as he banked toward the French trenches to the west, his Fokker’s Oberursel rotary gunned at full throttle.

Ach!  We’re going to win this war, and I’ll move to Paris, thought the cocky prince.  He looked at the barren landscape below, the shell holes, the fires, the smoke.  Épouvantable, he muttered, enjoying the taste of French on his tongue.

A burst of bullets from a .303 Vickers machine gun brought Prince Gebhard back into the present moment. It had missed, and he yanked hard left on the Fokker’s stick and climbed.

Drat!  Ramsey Twibbly-Spencer said to himself, pulling back the Nieuport 23′ s stick as hard as he could manage.  He looked around, this way and that.

Where was the Hun?

Too late, he heard the rattle of a Fokker triplane’s Spandau IMG 08 machine guns.  Also too late, he realized he would never see his stunning Maisie or little Florence or gurgling baby Reggie again.

In seconds that seemed as hours, Ramsey Twibby-Spencer saw the fabric of  the Nieuport 23′ s wings disintegrate, he felt the flesh of his back, his arms, his hands fly about the cramped cockpit.

Drat, drat, drat! came to his mind, but there was no time to enunciate it.

* * * *

Prince Gebhard von Lederhosen looked swiftly around for other Nieuport 23s, but he saw only clear blue skies over the war-torn fields of France.

He was quite alone.

He reached into his jacket pocket for a pack of Gauloises.  Sticking one between his lips, he returned to the pocket for a lighter.

Torching a Gauloise in an open Fokker cockpit at full throttle was a special skill, and Prince Gebhard had learned it well.

He was 48 years of age, the oldest pilot in the Imperial German Army Air Service.  He anticipated his return that night to the dark alley off Rue Côté in the little French village of Pervers.

He thought of his new boy Émil who would be waiting because he had been paid  to wait, and paid well.

The prince mentally inspected his wardrobe trunk, and smiled.  Perhaps just a simple cotton frock tonight, something easy for Émil to flip way up.

We’ll be in Paris next year.  He could already smell the cheeses.

* * * *

Three weeks later, Maisie opened the government letter and gasped.

Fact, Fiction and Opinion Stirred in an Odd Pot

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