Thursday, February 25, 2010

Something in the Water

NOTE: While Lost in the Hive contains mostly true experiences and observations, from time to time I try my hand at humorous short fiction. This was the second piece that was rejected because the humor was "too dark". Let me know what you think.

“Well, we can’t just leave him on the patio.”

With the tip of her blood-spattered Harley boot, Maureen nudged the fast-cooling meat that had, moments before, been her kid brother Martin.

"He’ll be sure to attract attention. And flies.”

She batted the air around her auburn-gray tresses (a dreadful failed home dye experiment) as though bestowed with strange powers of foreshadowing. Imagined insects in any quantity struck me as the least of our concerns.

“Tell me, then. Where would you have me put him?”

To my mind, my wife’s choice left her not only as author of this most awkward problem, but accountable for part of any solution. I didn’t open his skull with the rusted poker from the fire pit. Nor was it I who silenced him mid-sentence. In truth, I was hanging on his next words, the ones after his last. He exited on an awkward fragment—“But you don’t…”

Even he deserved better than that.

“It had to be done, and that’s that.”

I could debate this. What irked me was her cavalier tone, as though discarding human remains—of a sibling, no less—was a mere line item on our to-do list, between "fix leaking bathroom faucet" (this with three exclamation points) and "pick up cream cheese at Saul’s." What’s more, she was a wisp of a woman—just enough to her, apparently, to execute a steady swing, but not enough to transport the evidence. My to-do list was burgeoning.

“Why, Maur, why?”

“He would have ruined us. We’d be paupers, if we let things go on.”

“I don’t see how. You could have just asked him to leave.”

Her laugh lacked mirth.

“Oh, sure, I could have asked him. Listen to yourself. He wasn’t leaving. He wasn’t going anywhere.” She nudged again, this time hard enough to convey a soft ripple across the crimson halo surrounding Martin’s imploded skull. “He was moving in.

She was right, of course. None of our subtle entreaties—Don’t you have pressing business in the city? Need a lift to the bus station tomorrow? Thinking about leaving anytime soon?—had borne fruit. His ample bulk was becoming as permanent a home accessory as the deformed fire tool that now rested next to his more-or-less detached right eye.

Now, unless I could devise a sound solution—or one whopper of an alibi—he was sticking around for good. It wasn’t like I could heave him over the fence and feign utter surprise when someone found him there.

“Her brother, you say? In the woods, just there outside our property? Now that is peculiar.”

As was so often the case, something about Maureen’s actions struck me as a tad hasty, a trifle much. For one, she didn’t need to hit him as many times as she did; I lost count at thirteen. Nobody ever accused my Maureen of doing a job half-way.

Sister and brother had nursed an uneasy peace throughout the long summer. He’d lost his job managing Aces High, the upscale gentleman’s club on the north side, when the owner walked in to find Martin auditioning the new talent on a clutch of spreadsheets. The interviewee left without a job offer and with an angry gash across her otherwise pristine right buttock, courtesy of an ill-placed staple remover.

Martin lost the apartment above the club, an approved perk of the job. His last check (reduced by the price of utilities and his new friend’s trip to the walk-in clinic) would make nobody mistake him for one to the manor born. At first, Maureen seemed glad to open our doors to wayward kin. Of course, she made sure everyone in her book circle and lunch club knew she had martyred herself for his well-being. She was his savior, Saint Maureen O’Shea of the Church of Brotherly Love.

The scent dropped away from the rose within a weekend.

The water glasses started the ball rolling. Martin was so thirsty all the time. I suspected type II diabetes. Maureen, who fancied herself an expert on all things, including those medical, said he was fine, and insisted he was merely trying to drive her insane.

“One glass I could live with. Two, even. But he keeps a half-dozen glasses half-full of water on the edge of the sink every day. Who does that? Does anyone?”

To be fair, I found the habit a bit strange. Still, we all have our quirks. I smell the back of my hand whenever I get nervous. My brother Jake has never eaten the last bite of anything. Maureen’s sister Norah, ever the flighty one, vanished without a whisper after the sisters shared a week at the family cottage on Marshall Bay. Maureen offered police two leads: either Norah had run off with the hot new gas attendant at the marina, or she was literally pushing up the Shasta daisies in her newly widowed husband’s backyard. Maureen found sister and husband hard to abide, what with their constant watering of those damned flowers.

“Are you listening to me?”

“Huh? What’d you say?”

“You weren’t listening. I said, why does he need to shower so often? He’s not dirty. You could eat a meal off him, for Christ’s sake.”

“He says it helps with his boredom.”

“And that’s another thing. How could he be bored? I’m here. You must understand I find that insulting. Just as I find it unconscionable that he insists on squirting drops in his eyes every half-hour. Aren’t people made of water? I, for one, don’t see how he could be running low.”

I'd kept silent. I’d seen the bills. Inside two months—the longest of weekend visits—both water and electricity had doubled. At first, Maureen just seethed. “The world will run dry before he’s done. We’ll all be swallowing spit to keep us from drying into mummies.” Soon, though, deeper malice crept forward.

“I could just cut him into tiny morsels.”

I’d laughed. I’d even revealed the growing frustration to Martin one night when Maureen turned in early to check out a show on the Science Channel—some documentary about the global water crisis. I swirled the brandy around the edges of the snifter, watching the play of the liquid in the firelight.

“You’re pushing her buttons, friend. You know how she gets about wasting water.”

“You don’t know the half of it. When we were kids, she’d go apeshit if she was the last to claim the bathroom. Sharon ran past her on purpose sometimes, just to fray her nerves.”

He fell quiet for a moment, as did I. Sharon, the oldest and the hands-down favorite, had drowned in that very bathtub. We all missed Sharon.

“Still, you know how Maur gets. Do me a favor. Keep the showers to once a day?”

He’d agreed, but, as was his wont, he didn’t change. I’m not a masochist, so I never offered Maureen my theory: I think Martin wanted to wash the shame of his life away, like Lady Macbeth.

And now here he was, centered in the biggest damned spot ever.

“I could wrap him in the bag we bought for the Christmas tree. As soon as the sun starts to come up, I’ll move him to Barrie Woods. It’s not foolproof, but it’s a better option than leaving him here.”

She waved at her head again, then threw her arms around me. “Now that’s my big strong man.”

“I quite liked him, you know.”

“Of course you liked him. I adored him. But sometimes, loving someone isn’t enough.”

For the next half-hour, I busied myself with moving the Christmas tree sections into a series of garbage bags, and tucking all of Martin into the much larger sack. I dragged him to the side and reached for the hose to clear away the clotting mess.

Maureen’s hand stayed my arm. “Don’t be hasty. They say it may rain.”

I dragged the bag through the house and into the garage. After I lowered the back seats and wrestled the bulk into the truck, I stopped. I ran back into the house, to the kitchen, and grabbed one of the half-filled glasses. Returning to the garage, I unzipped the bag and worked the glass between Martin’s rigid fingers.

“For the trip,” I said, surprising myself with how choked my words sounded. I pulled the glass away and finished the drink. “On second thought, I’ll bet heaven is just full of water.”

When I ventured back inside, I found Maureen on the phone with Jack, the last of her siblings (unless, against all odds, Norah came back.) She was asking if he knew where Martin was. No, he wasn’t with us anymore. He’d left in a huff one day. We’d heard nothing since. She was as cool as a cucumber in a bag of chipped ice.

I turned toward the family room to fix a brandy—in Martin’s memory—when Maureen called for me to wait. She covered the mouthpiece.

“You’re a mess. Don’t sit on that sofa. Get in the shower and clean yourself up.” A chilly smile crept across her face.

“Just be sure to keep it short.”


Monday, February 22, 2010

"Blurb" for Lost in the Hive (the book)

Hi everyone:

Something a little different today. I have another fiction piece for this blog coming soon, but before that, I just wanted to share the "blurb" for my upcoming book, LOST IN THE HIVE, from fellow author Adrian Colesberry, who wrote the spew-food-from-your-mouth-funny book, How to Make Love to Adrian Colesberry.

Adrian said:

"If you've been in a relationship for more than five minutes you'll laugh out loud in recognition at Brian O'Mara-Croft's honest, self-effacing examination of his fatherhood and husbandship."

Thank you, Adrian.

For more information about my upcoming book, or to pre-order a copy, visit Or mark your calendars for the book launch party at Old Towne Books & Tea in Oswego, IL, on June 30 (details to come).

Next blog entry coming soon!


Thursday, February 18, 2010

Which came first? Or together?

As I stood at the kitchen sink this evening, fretting about the line of my nose and peeling a hard-boiled egg, I caught a faint, fleeting whiff of a very familiar and oh-so-pleasant food aroma.

I couldn’t place the source. As you might expect, I started jabbing the air with my nose and snorting a ragged path around the room. I’m sure I looked very inquisitive and thoughtful, which I’m told many consider attractive.

My nose caught nothing. I returned to the sink and continued peeling.

The smell was coming from the egg.

And this surprised me. I’m not one who takes a sniff of something and then suggests that, as great as it now, it would be even better if just a touch more “eggy”. When I smell a hard-boiled egg, I expect a very specific odor. In the egg world, this scent may well pass as intoxicating; in the human world, it reminds one of a fair-to-middling (but hardly room-clearing) fart. Generally, the only farts I’ll happily endure are my own.

This egg was no ordinary egg. This egg smelled heavenly! This egg didn’t make me think of flatulence.

This egg made me think of roast chicken.

So, as is my wont, I started to worry. Questions flooded a mind already lulled by the empty promise of a juicy, egg-shaped chicken breast.
  • If an egg smells of something one really enjoys and craves—be it chicken, bacon or blueberry pancakes—would eating it be a bad thing? Isn’t this like ignoring gold falling into your lap?

  • How much does it really matter that eggs aren’t supposed to smell like anything but eggs?
And then I started to think outside the box:
  • Would it be such a turnoff if a leftover piece of cod offered the bonus of a subtle hint of steak? Surf-then-turf, if you will? Or if radishes smelled like cheese?

As I pondered these questions, which seemed important and something I should share (no need to thank me formally), a new query that seemed even more pressing forced its way in. This one gave me pause:

  • Just suppose an egg contains a chicken embryo, rather than your standard yolk and white. Is it logical to suppose a cooked chicken embryo might smell like roast chicken?

At first, it failed to occur to me that the mere presence of any egg white under the shell—which I had not only seen but pushed my nose against while chasing that good ol’ chicken smell—would suggest no embryo was present.

When this logic came to me, I felt no better. Instead, I came up with another question (you can understand that my mind was racing at this point, from so much raw science):

  • If an egg contained half a chicken embryo, would one reasonably expect to also find half an egg? Is it possible that, by some good fortune, the portion of the egg I had already peeled was the lucky other half—the “egg” half of the egg/embryo mix?

For just a moment, I felt ill. That wonderful essence, the one that had teased my senses with thoughts of roast chicken, may have been nothing more than a freakish and redolent hybrid of egg-baby. Would I ever be able to enjoy chicken again? Or eat an egg?

I ate the egg. I arrived at this decision when I bore down and peeled the rest of the shell—all white. Drawing on my earlier insights, I reasoned that if a hard-boiled egg in no way resembled an embryo, it should be fine (or, at worst, not that dangerous). The fact it smells like something else entirely should be of little importance.

Sadly, the egg tasted just as it should.

Author's note: The previous is a true story. A few months ago, I was reading another blog I enjoy, Hyperbole and a Half. One night, Allie wrote a blog entry when she was drunk. At the time, I remember thinking: "What a great idea. I should try that sometime." So, tonight, after five cocktails and one shot (enough for a gentle buzz but not enough for a Canuck to ever admit he's drunk), I wrote tonight's blog entry.

Here's your challenge. You've read tonight's entry; read at least one other. Then tell me: should I write only when sober, or only when impaired? I trust your judgment; right now, I don't entirely trust my own.


Friday, February 12, 2010

Eulogy for a Lost Cowboy

Please note: The following piece is my first-ever attempt at writing humorous short fiction. I submitted it to my agent for consideration for a collection of humorous short stories, but she felt it was "too dark". I welcome your gentle.

What can I share about our dear Harry, here? Well, it goes without saying he didn’t make it, or we wouldn’t all be here this morning. Heaven knows we’d never risk such close proximity unless Grim Death drew up the guest list. Not after the last family reunion, anyway. Speaking of which, is Uncle Norm with us today? Where? Oh, there you are. Funny thing—just the other day, I bet my Mary you were dead as Harry.

I have to tell you, Norm, those skin grafts stuck like a charm. Reminds me of how one edge of the cling wrap insists on marrying the other. We all learned a valuable lesson about silly string and Zippos that day, though, didn’t we? You more than most. Still, aside from a stray crevice here and there—oh, and that big lump next to your ear—it seems the worst of Black Saturday’s behind you.

Oh, that’s Aunt Lucy? Well, of course it is—there’s Norm right next to her. Welcome. Well, you both look just super. A heck of a lot better than Harry, am I right? Thank goodness for sturdy casket lids.

I suppose the silver lining for Harry, no pun intended, is that he shipped off to eternity with all his teeth and most of his hair. Well, certainly more hair than Norm. And a great deal more than Grandpa. Now that’s silly—Gramps had to be at least forty years older. The Harry I knew… Ma’am, there’s a space right there on the end, next to that energetic young man. Son, could you stop swinging the Good Book for just a moment, or at least flap it in another direction, so our late arrival won’t leave with elbib yloh stamped into her forehead? Good lad. Our friend Harry never liked to be kept waiting, you know. He sure as heck showed up early today.

Harry also arrived early the first summer he spent with us. We didn’t expect him for weeks, but there he was, in my bedroom, two weeks before school let out. Once I got over hating him for slobbering off the bottom bunk while I trudged off to Mrs. Hanrahan’s chamber of horrors—my God, the stench of lavender on that ghoul—I actually grew rather fond of Harry. A good thing, too. Harry stuck around for four straight years, not enough to be a real brother but enough to be the best sort of friend.

As I recall, Mom said Harry’s parents were having “differences”. We were too little then to understand the sticking point was the ten-spots Uncle Mark liked to tuck into g-strings at the Twin Nuggets, especially since it’s no secret among this group that Auntie Marcia was a bit of a cold fish. Groan if you must, but you’ll fool nobody. Hell, I bit my lip until it bled the time I overheard Dad chuckle about how Mark watched angels dance before kneeling before the Almighty Cod. Dad almost never joked about fishing, so that was something. Uncle Mark was humorless, I guess, and that’s why we found ourselves at Marcia’s wake and Mark’s sendoff to Pine Ridge Correctional in the space of a single week.

The Harry I knew loved to live on the edge. I remember when we were no taller than this. We practically lived in that ancient willow in my parent’s yard. Roots so ample you couldn’t get a lawnmower close without sealing the deal on a rush trip to Doctor Bedard’s. We imagined that old tree as a huge beanstalk with a giant and a spry cartoon mouse doing battle above us. Uneasy, we stayed closer to earth. Harry was no coward, but he was no fan of mice.

“Light the alcohol burner, Dan,” he’d said to me, and I did. I flicked the lighter over and over before I realized the flame was invisible. We danced around our signal fire, and around the tree, until the gods demanded a sacrifice of root beer and Slim Jims. And we’d dance again, with cautious steps.

Harry loved Cowboys and Indians. I despised the game. Harry always insisted I play the Indian, because I tanned darker. In those days, the Indians always died in a hail of lead and a “You’ve bested me, kemo sabe.” Today, if you’re one of those bleeding-heart types, you’d insist the cowboy lose at least half the time. Nonsense. Harry would tell you that, too, if he could.

So I was more than a little surprised this particular afternoon. I was ready to don my gull’s feather when Harry whooped and yelled, danced and hopped, just as you’d expect of bloodthirsty savages scouting fresh scalps. More surprise followed as I watched a lick of blue flame sweep up his leg. Still, Harry knew how to put on a show, so I waited for the fire to die down before I stepped in. Skin dripped off his kneecap like syrup from a flapjack. I was sure that was about as bad as it could get for a lucky guy like Harry. That ice cream truck sure made a liar of me.

Until last week, Harry really was a fortunate sort. His first love became my first love unrequited, and that didn’t sit well with me, because Harry knew how to attract the prettiest girls. Even the dogs—I count both homely girls and Miss Collin’s lhasa aspo—cut me a wide berth. I did all the things boys did to win a girl’s affections—I penned love notes on gum wrappers, I carved a whole damned forest, and I didn’t cry when Annie (the Angel) dug her thumbnail deep into the flesh inside my elbow. Love works in mysterious ways, I thought. These ways differed for Harry. He took Annie to see Star Wars in Trenton, smuggled in the bottle of cherry brandy she asked for, and came back smiling. He looked like a man.

I can still hear just what he said, in that mellow voice of his; he said, “Dan, smell my fingers.” And I'll tell you, there are porterhouse steaks that don't smell as nice as...

I’m sorry? Oh, dear, I forgot kids came to these things. Let’s just say envy consumed me, and we’ll leave it at that. I loved Harry too much not to forgive him.

Harry never went to college, and he never left Calder’s Mill. His Daddy died up in Pine Ridge the very day Harry turned eighteen. The papers claimed “suspicious circumstances”. The handcrafted ice pick in his ribcage agreed, I’d say. I’d never seen Harry cry, and he held it in then, a roughshod cowboy through and through.

To honor his father’s legacy, Harry sold his Dad’s double-wide and bought the Twin Nuggets for a few notes less than a song. I’d drop in from time to time—just to catch up on current events, you understand—and I have to say Harry ran a clean operation. You’ve never seen a nicer shower, I promise. Harry always knew how to make a girl feel special.

Harry’s first wife Juggs—I only recall her stage name—didn’t last long, and Harry was okay with that. She ran off with the first guy to peddle a vacuum on her front porch. When Harry asked, “Didn’t I tell you she was a hosebag”, I didn’t know whether to laugh or just nod. He fared little better with Tammy Tots, Jane of the Apes or Molly McGee—let me just say that girl was a contortionist. As Harry warned, “Never fall for a showgirl, no matter how you can bend her. They lack stick-to-it-tiveness.” Since I see no latex in the room, I presume none have come to pay respects. As he was so often, Harry was right.

The last time I saw my dear friend, he was as vibrant as ever, radiant sunshine in size 11 loafers. Nothing in this world—not even losing the Nugget for unpaid liquor taxes, or those rumors about the girls doing more than dance—could rattle him. I was pretty sure he was immortal, and not in a vampire or zombie sort of way. We planned lunch for just next week, at Bosoms’.

As I’ve said, Harry lived on the edge. It’s almost ironic, then, that Tuesday found my best friend standing at the rim of Nelson’s Quarry, the best vantage point to map his next great adventure. I wonder what great dream took shape as Jimmy—you know, from Jimmy’s Treats—took the corner too tight and lost control of his truck. As Jimmy nudged poor Harry into a whole new journey, did that scream of tires sound to our Harry like the screech of a great eagle? I like to think at the last second Harry knew he won yet again. Thanks for being here, Jim—it can’t be easy. Watch your back on the way out. I kid you, of course.

Dear friends, I ask you now to bow your heads in a moment of prayer. Pray not with sadness, because frowns ran headlong from Harry. Somewhere, he’s still that precocious lad he always was. Not unlike you, son, but now’s not the time to fling the sacramental wafers around the chapel. Sit down.

So, Harry, my friend and almost-brother, safe journeys. I, for one, will miss you always.


Monday, February 8, 2010

Not a phone person

You know you’ve achieved middle-aged insignificance when reviewing the day’s collected voice mail qualifies as cheap entertainment. In this economy, what are our options?

First are the calls from my sister-in-law, who has a real name but to me is just “Kiddo”. I call her this even though she’s ancient compared to me. The nickname stemmed from the fact she’s roughly the height of your average coffee table. It stuck because her husband hates it.

Kiddo calls our home phone between one and four hundred times each day. I don’t answer most personal calls during the day, since to do so would provide me a handy excuse to say I’m exhausted from talking and then do anything but work. As a result, Kiddo’s call often ends up as a voice message.

“Hi, it’s Kiddo. I’m just calling to say hello. It’s nothing important. Call me when you can.”

This “unimportant” attempt to reach us is then followed by a call to my cell phone, a call to my wife’s cell phone, another call to our home phone and, on occasion, a second round of calls to all phones. If none of this works, our cell phones vibrate with a text-based variation on the voice message—“What r u doing pls call me.”

I suppose I shouldn’t be so cavalier about Kiddo’s calls—she is, after all, being ravaged by metastatic cancer and in near-constant pain. But answering the phone is painful to me, even if the calls are placed by the critically ill. By the time I get around to telling Patty that she needs to call back, Kiddo’s usually asleep, and the cycle begins anew the next morning.

My brother-in-law calls a few times each week. I call him a few times each week. He’s also not a phone person, and he’s not riddled with an incurable disease (that we’re aware of), so we wait until we both feel like talking at the same time before we ever connect. Hence, more than a dozen messages (“Call if you want”) translate into roughly three minutes of conversation each month. This is enough.

A friend in Canada loves to reach me when he’s drunk. As a non-phone-person, I don’t like talking even to the non-altered. He enjoys drinking as much as he enjoys having a phone, so he calls at least three times a month; I, in turn, return his calls once every three months. He doesn’t mind, because with few exceptions he doesn’t remember calling.

My Mom calls. If she doesn’t reach us, she says, “Oh, you’re out? I thought you had no money.”

Our favorite, though, is a close friend of ours. We will try to call her, and she rarely answers. She doesn’t answer her home phone; she doesn’t answer her cell phone. If she does answer, she usually says, "Let me call you right back," and then our phone sits silent for the rest of the night (unless Kiddo calls).

Our friend has her cell with her at all times—we’ve seen and heard it when she’s sitting in the room with us and it rings and she doesn’t answer. When we call, we’re not in the room with her, so we don’t hear her phone ring and ring before she doesn’t answer. We just know.

What makes the experience all the more joyous, especially for a non-phone-person, is getting a message that says, “Mailbox full” at the end of all the ringing you know is being ignored. Good times. So, when this close friend finally decides to call us, and doesn’t reach us because we’re out, she gets to leave this message:

“Hehhhh-looooo there, strangers. Are you even alive? Have you forgotten me? I guess you don’t want to talk to me, since you never call me anymore. If you ever feel like talking, and I guess you don’t, give me a cahhh-ulllll.”

When we come home and call back fifteen minutes later, the phone rings and rings.

Mailbox full.

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