Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Keep Your Eyes and Ears Open [Chapter 25]

I've started posting the chapters of Resolution 786. I'll post each successive chapter roughly every 3 or 4 days. Here's Chapter 25:

“Gentlemen, thank you for taking time from your mission to be here this afternoon.” Colonel Klick was clipped, pressed, cropped, trim. He stood in a large block of shade in the middle of the Iraqi desert. The rolling tan tarp above him sagged from the beating sun. It stood a story high, held up by a network of thin, leaning aluminum poles. The teenagers of combat infantry Platoon 110 sat in a set of loose rows in the shaded sand before Klick, some hugging their knees in front of them, others cross legged, all with their helmets and weapons within reach. Hueghlomm stood at the opposite end of the shade, behind the soldiers, facing Klick.

“Men, we have a fella in back of us,” said the Colonel, bony, veined hands on his hips, serious eyes tilted down at the young men. “I want you to turn around and take a look.” The soldiers turned their faces to Hueghlomm in a murmur of collective movement, some smiling, some frowning, most blank. Their closely cropped hair exposed all the scars and cuts that their short lives had left on their scalps. They quietly peered at Hueghlomm.

Hueghlomm had on a brand new, ill-fitting combat uniform. His face was soft underneath fragile glasses, his cheeks much fuller than those of the trained, lanky teenagers staring at him. His hair, too, was different, longer than theirs, neatly parted on one side, almost reaching the tops of his small ears. He had no weapon. In its place, he carried a plain, lime-green government-issue journal at his side. And unlike the soldiers of Platoon 110, his face wore a pleasant smile. “That there’s Doc Hueghlomm,” said Colonel Klick, pointing a thin, sharp finger.

Private Lee sat holding his knees in front of himself, down in the sand adjacent to where Hueghlomm stood. Lee glared resentfully at the soft, brown man before him, pondering how his great Army could allow such a pocket of feeble weakness into its midst. He looked down to Hueghlomm’s side, at the lime-green notebook that hung limply where a stiff, ready weapon belonged. Meek, black letters centered in the top half of the notebook cover told everyone “RECORD.” Below, bottom and centered on the cover, Lee read the small print with a denigrating mental sneer — “Federal Supply Service.” Lee huffed to himself, took one last glance at Hueghlomm and quickly turned away, as if avoiding the sight of something offensive. In this, his combat environment, Lee felt that the image of Hueghlomm was wrong, just…wrong.

Colonel Klick continued. “Doc’s with us this week. He’s got some good ideas about how to deal with the roadside bombs that are blowing up our vehicles and guys. Doc’ll be following us around, collecting some G2.” G2 was Klick’s shorthand for tactical intelligence. “He’s looking to see where the bad guys place the bombs, what they make ‘em of, how deep they bury those suckers and what kinds of detonating devices they’ve got. That kind of stuff.” Klick stopped and turned his head all around, looking at as many of the soldiers as possible, making a display that he was checking to see if everyone had listened. Satisfied, he gave the soldiers their orders. “It’s your job this week to escort and protect Doc while he collects G2, G2 that might save your life. But remember, men — the bad guys don’t care if you’re out there taking notes for some science project,” he said “science project” with mocking emphasis and continued. “The bad guys’ll kill ya dead whether you’re petting your dog or praying the rosary. So keep your faith in God, men...which means keep your eyes and ears open and your weapons locked and loaded.”

How Could You? [Chapter 24]

I've started posting the chapters of Resolution 786. I'll post each successive chapter roughly every 3 or 4 days. Here's Chapter 24:

2083 Anno Domini — the World is finally at peace. Every framework of theological belief enjoys equal reverence. Utopia is the gleeful offspring of the twenty-first century’s Omega Wars, a tumultuous time of manmade and natural upheavals that witnessed the violent rise of fundamentalism in each sect of humankind.
Fundamentalist pawns occupied the seats of most major governments by the middle of the century. Democracy proved only as good as its elective results.

Most historians of the time postulated that the emergence of multiple strands of diametrically opposed fundamentalism would create a cataclysmic clash that would consume civilization. They were wrong. In response to the rise of fundamentalism, secularists militarized their rhetoric, their organization, their abilities, and themselves. It was this clash, the clash between fundamentalism and secularism, that begat the Omega Wars.

A series of armed skirmishes erupted between the two rival factions, lasting a bloody one hundred and eight days and culminating in a nuclear exchange. Three sunrises after the nuclear holocaust, the Sanskrit symbol for Om appeared in cloud formations around the world. The symbol continued to appear and reappear for forty days and forty nights. Combatants, distracted, ceased hostilities. Then a large crucifix appeared and reappeared in the clouds for forty days and nights, followed by the sun symbol for Ra, a meditating Buddha, a pentagram, a Star of David, a compass and square, Ganesh, a crescent and star, and, finally, the All Seeing Eye. Humanity laid down its arms and embraced peace. World Government was created to protect and preserve tranquility. Humankind named this period of global reconciliation “the Age of Aquarius.”

Immediately upon the end of the Omega Wars and at the beginning cusp of the Age of Aquarius, humanity was graced with a more personal dialogue with all the faces of the Lord. One face began to take precedence in that dialogue. Gradually, that face grew more antagonistic towards humanity. Humanity reciprocated. The Seventh World Congress passed Resolution 786, global legislation that forbade the Lord from interfering in human affairs. Using the resolution as a founding premise, World Court initiated legal proceedings against the Lord. The Lord, reacting in anger, refused to answer the court’s charges.

In various conversations, the Lord had revealed that he resided “on the other side of Light.” Einstein postulated that the speed of light was the upper speed limit of the universe. However, by the 2050s, physicists had empirically harnessed tachyons, massless particles of pure energy that travel at superluminal speeds. During the course of a particularly antagonistic exchange with the Lord, World Government secretly showered his voice with a focused beam of tachyons, revealing the lightly flickering shadow of a physical form.

The equations were simple. If energy equals mass times the speed of light squared, or E = mc2, then mass equals energy divided by the speed of light squared, or m = E/c2. World Government did not know the Lord’s mass. But c2, or the speed of light squared, is a constant, so World Government varied the energy, or E, of the tachyon beam until the value of energy divided by the speed of light squared, or E/c2, equaled the unknown mass, or m, of the Lord’s physical form. When the value of E/c2 reached 171 lbs, the Lord’s apparent weight in earth’s gravitational field, the Lord materialized in human form.

He was immediately captured and imprisoned.

It was under the direction and the authority of World Court that Adam Hueghlomm had spent the better part of a sullen, introspective year composing, coordinating, staffing and defending an indictment of the Lord. But then, he had had the time. A year ago, fate had suddenly and callously robbed him of his mother, relieving him of any remaining family obligations. Becca, his perennial and sole source of friendship, affection, affirmation and care, had never asked him for anything more than a good laugh. Circumstances had allowed Hueghlomm to immerse himself in scripture, to investigate legal precedent, and to note and document multiple sources to corroborate the Lord’s alleged infractions of Resolution 786. Now, with the Lord’s capture, World Government would move forward with the tribunal and the inquest.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Pie-In-The-Sky [Chapter 23]

I've started posting the chapters of Resolution 786. I'll post each successive chapter roughly every 3 or 4 days. Here's Chapter 23:

The helicopter blades noisily slapped air and dust at the hard roads and the sun-baked fields. The earth and the asphalt pushed back angrily, billowing the dusted air into treetops in big, swirling clouds. “What do you have for us, Doc?” shouted the tired captain over the loud, pulsing thuds of the helicopter engine.

Hueghlomm was sitting across from him in the open cabin. “Neutron beam emitter coupled with a gamma detector,” he shouted.

“About as useful as tits on a boar,” said the tired captain.

Adam realized that he owed this battle hardened infantry commander a better explanation. “We’ll focus a neutron beam onto the roads that your convoys travel. We’ll capture the resulting gamma emissions using a high-purity germanium spectrometer. Based on the gamma signatures, we should be able to tell if it’s plain old road that we’re looking at or if there might be something more dangerous under the surface.”

“So how the hell do we deploy your little phasers?” asked the tired captain, unconvinced, yelling over the engine noise and rushing air.

“We’ll mount the neutron source and the spectrometer on the bottom of a low-flying scout helicopter,” said Hueghlomm.

“It sounds pie-in-the-sky.”

“It beats losing more men and limbs, sir.”

“Fuckin’, aye,” said the tired captain, staring out the dust blown cabin door. He gazed down, watching the white powdered roads passing below. Groups of little brown children ran and waved at the helicopter as it slapped and thumped its way over their homes and villages, falling forward through the cloudless sky.

“Fuckin’, aye,” muttered the tired captain.

Monday, December 12, 2011

I Am Who I Am [Chapter 22]

I've started posting the chapters of Resolution 786. I'll post each successive chapter roughly every 3 or 4 days. Here's Chapter 22:

Adam Hueghlomm passed his time reading during the long flight. The plane cabin was dark with night. A column of light fell from the overhead compartment above him, glanced the front of his light brown face and splashed over the open pages of his books. He was taking turns reading from four texts. He had taken off his glasses and had put them on the empty seat beside him, holding whatever book he was reading at the time just inches from his near-sighted, brown eyes.

He found the Old Testament and the Quran to be churning cauldrons of wisdom and violence with equal parts of each being issued from humanity and from Above — infants murdered while asleep in their cradles; the brutal destruction of two cities because of the sexual orientation of their citizens; an indiscriminate mass drowning of global proportions; and an unending procession of so many more vengeful, fatal interventions in human affairs. “And that’s just the good guys,” Hueghlomm chuckled to himself. As Fatima had taught him, the two scriptures corroborated each other in countless places. Perhaps his parents’ marriage was wholly appropriate, he thought, and not the anomaly that many regarded it.

Along with the Old Testament and the Quran, Hueghlomm had brought along Dostoevski’s Brothers Karamazov and Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham. But he grew tired of reading. He leaned forward, reached underneath the seat in front of him and pulled the maroon backpack that he had borrowed from Becca into his lap. He dragged open its top zipper and took out a small, silver cardboard box. He lifted the lid and smiled happily at the handmade twenty-two carat gold ring inside. The ring’s face formed a circle, a brilliant pink jewel resting at its center. A dozen small diamonds marked the circumference around the center stone, twinkling like bright stars on a lazy summer night. The ring was older than he was, he reminded himself, the handiwork of an Indian jeweler practicing his trade in faraway Africa.

Becca planned to pick him up at the airport when he returned. He was scheduled back at the end of the week, on Easter Sunday. He looked forward to surprising Becca with the ring, to seeing her freckled face break into a bright, translucent smile as she slid the circle of gold onto her thin finger. He smiled again, growing more pleased with the gift and with the anticipation of Becca’s gratified reaction. He closed the little silver box and put it away, sliding the zipped backpack underneath the seat in front of him.

Hueghlomm leaned back into his seat, reached up and turned off the reading light. He shifted his head to look out the window as the plane approached the coast of Africa. Daylight was rushing over the dipped horizon ahead, rushing to meet the plane, finally catching it in its yellow grasp. For hours the desert passed under them, vast, pale, arid, unending. They finally flew over a narrow straight of white, rippled water, then over small villages and big cities.

He remembered Becca’s trepidation about this trip. She’d never asked him to forego a trip in the seven years that they’d been together, not until now. “Silly girl,” he mumbled, smiling lovingly, and went to sleep.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Crazy Bastards [Chapter 21]

I'm posting the chapters of Resolution 786. I'll post each successive chapter roughly every 3 or 4 days. Chapter 21 is the first chapter of the third act of the novel. Here's Chapter 21:

Act III Cuneiform Tales

“So you all ready for Baghdad, Doc?” The technician in a T-shirt and blue overalls and sneakers folded his thick, hairy forearms across his chest, resting them easily on his enormous belly. He had a large, round skull topped with the thinning remnants of a full head of bright red hair. His face was pasty white, looking as if it would blush to burgundy with the slightest provocation or exertion.

“Yeah, Gabe. I think I’m ready,” replied Adam Hueghlomm. He enjoyed coming to the fabrication shop. He liked working with the technicians, good-humored old-school machinists who could build working prototypes out of the most theoretical equipment designs. In addition to the fascinating lessons in applied engineering and the occasional off-color joke, Hueghlomm could get away with wearing an untucked polo shirt and comfortable jeans while in the long, high-ceilinged cinderblock warehouse.

“Let’s hope this works,” said Gabe, his hoarse voice at once both friendly and gruff. “I hate seeing all those poor kids coming back from Iraq in caskets, missing limbs. Roadside bombs. Umm!” Gabe tilted his head slightly and pulled his mouth open on one side. “I thought I’d seen it all in ‘Nam, but here we go again. Who woulda thunk it?”

“Everything packed in these three cases, Gabe?” asked Hueghlomm.

“Yes siree, Doc.” Gabe stood from his wooden stool and walked his rounded form to the front of the workbench. “Neutron source packed in lead shielding, right here.” He dropped a meaty palm on a hard, gray box. “Germanium spectrometer, here.” He slapped a second box. “Mounting hardware, here.” He tapped the last container twice with a thick, stubby index finger. Gabe turned his head from side to side and furrowed his brow. “Golly gee! You got some crazy bastards over there, Doc.” The old technician smiled and squinted his eyes teasingly at Hueghlomm’s Pakistani complexion and Middle Eastern features. “With your looks, though, you oughta be OK, huh?”

“One would think,” said Hueghlomm.

“Just don’t let ‘em know Daddy was a Jew,” laughed Gabe, his shoulders beginning to bounce up and down like a cartoon character, his face reddening the way it always did before a hard laugh. “Take it from a good ‘ole Baptist boy, don’t let ‘em know Daddy was a Jew,” he snorted.

“Yeah, I heard Jesus got the same advice before his last trip to Jerusalem,” said Hueghlomm.

“Doc, you crazy, mixed-breed bastard!” Gabe snorted again and caught a few quick, sharp breaths, now completely red faced. “I bet you don’t know who to kill and who to kiss.”

“Wrong again, Gabriel. I’ve never been short on ideas about who to kiss,” said Hueghlomm.

Gabe stopped laughing in a series of gradually fading sighs that ended in a moment of silence. He filled the silence with an uncharacteristic slice of seriousness. “I’ll see you when you get back, my friend.”

“That you will, Gabe.”

“And if your little idea works out, you’ll save a lot of lives. That’s big. Maybe you’ll get a medal from God, huh?”

“One can hope,” said Hueghlomm. “One can hope.”

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Shut Up and Live [Chapter 20]

I've started posting the chapters of Resolution 786. I'll post each successive chapter roughly every 3 or 4 days. Here's Chapter 20:

The door on Becca’s side of the bedroom closet was open, revealing a network of well-organized, box-shaped compartments of neatly arranged shoes, gloves, and clothes. A simple bed with a wood headboard stood on the plush, green carpet in the middle of the room, squared against the back wall. An open black prayer scroll with graceful Arabic script hung from a small hook on the wall, centered above the headboard. The scroll was a present from Fatima. Neither Adam nor Becca knew what it said.

A framed print hung on the wall adjacent to Adam’s side of the bed. It showed the image of four melted books scattered about in the forefront, suffering before a plant-less, chocolate-brown desert landscape of stretching arid plains that ended at the foot of a still, reflective sea and a faraway jut of sun swept, rusted mountains. An empty yellow horizon watched over the abandoned scene, arching up into a starless, gray-blue sky. One of the books hung limply on its back, slung over the thin, black horizontal branch of a dead and decaying tree, a hangman’s noose dangling from the outer tip of the lifeless limb. Another of the books had snapped into half in a painful right angle over the sharp edge of an unusually long student desk. The third book draped like a burial shroud over a sexualized image of Mother Mary lying on her side on the barren, brown ground. A fourth book lay open on the top surface of the long desk, one side strewn in a scribbled amalgam of Arabic, Hebrew and hieroglyph script, the other side set ablaze.

“Who’s to say that nothing travels faster than the speed of light?” Adam said. He wasn’t looking at anything in particular, almost talking to himself, hands on his hips, standing barefoot in their bedroom in his T-shirt and pajama pants. “Maybe there’s an entirely different form of existence beyond that boundary.”

Becca felt too tired to reply. She sat cross-legged on her side of their bed, wearing green boxer shorts and a loose, gray T-shirt. She slowly rubbed moisturizing lotion into her palms and around her forearms and elbows. She was exhausted and generally annoyed. She had a headache and her eyes were stinging, feeling burdened to stay open.

It was late. The dark green blinds had been pulled up high earlier to allow in the bright afternoon sun. Now, the blinds stood open on two pitch-black windows. A wispy sheen of silver crept through the top corner of one of the panes. Outside, propped high in the shadows of heaven, the moon hung weightless, an angry crescent in the black sky.

“Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone got a chance to study every religion and then applied their very own personally selected cross-section of lessons and parables to their own lives?” Adam continued to postulate.

Becca didn’t have the strength or patience to conjure an answer. Still, she tried her best to entertain Adam’s persistent need for philosophical conversation. “Why would that be nice?” she allowed.

“Spirituality is a deeply personal journey,” he said, oblivious to her condition, raising one hand to the air, as if lecturing students in a large hall. “Your journey to understand and come to terms with God is your journey to understand and come to terms with yourself. A multidimensional approach personalizes the application of that journey. There are so many powerful theological frameworks from which to choose — Hinduism, Christianity, ancient Egyptian gods, Buddhism, Paganism, Judaism, the teachings of Masonry, Islam, Babylonian gods and everything else going back to the Epic of Gilgamesh.” Adam smiled in abstracted wonderment, relishing the thought of living in a world teeming with so many different ideas to learn, to explore. He walked to his side of the bed, stepping over a pile of scattered books, and sat, facing away from Becca. His mouth continued to move under vacuous, absent eyes. “If we could regard all those systems of belief with equal reverence, the world could enjoy a global Age of Aquarius.”

“Why don’t you just shut the fuck up and live?” Becca’s words cut.

Adam’s countenance grew dark, stiff. He peered silently at the pewter reading lamp that he kept on the small, round nightstand adjacent to his side of the bed. They were preparing for sleep, the wrong time to stoke a debate, he thought, the wrong time for an argument. He considered her question a moment. “Am I boring you?” he asked, insulted, hurt.

“Sometimes,” she said, truthful, short.

He became more upset, feeling rejected. He suddenly heard himself blurt, “Then go find someone else to talk with.”

“I will,” she defended, standing up off the bed in halting, angry stomps as her tube of moisturizing lotion fell to the floor.

He stood and turned to her with a look of abject confusion on his face.

Becca snapped her hands to her hips and spoke sharply. “No one’s going to put up with your weird shit all day long, Adam Hueghlomm!” Her anger began to feed on itself, growing as she glared at him, moving her weight from one leg to the other over and over. Her gray eyes grew in their sockets, squeezed inside her clenched face. She bellowed, “Seven years of wacky shit!”

“I’m sleeping downstairs,” he said, abrupt, angry, leaping towards the door.

“Get out!” She met and raised the stakes, stomping towards him. “Leave! Just leave when I’m trying to say that I need something. It’s always been about you and the wacky, twisted shit that’s always going on in your head.” She formed both her hands into white-knuckled fists and shook them in front of herself in small, jerking motions, beginning to cry.

“What’s got into you?” Adam was genuinely confused.

“I’ll tell you what!” She stormed at him and thrust a finger in his face, tears now smeared across her cheeks, her expression contorted in a steaming cauldron of frustration, exhaustion and anger. “Normal couples are planning shit by now. Not you! You just want to go on playing your jackass graduate school word games, coming and going whenever you please, acting like a total card-carrying asshole!”

He looked at her, dazed, lost, helpless.

She looked in his eyes. She saw no malice. He was a puppy who couldn’t understand what he’d done wrong. Her anger slowly dissipated into more tears and she realized that she couldn’t forgive him because there was nothing to forgive. She quietly conceded, “You don’t get it.”

He continued to watch her, ever helpless.

She peered at him through hurt, frustrated eyes, feeling sorry for herself. “You’re an emotional cripple,” she said. Her voice had open wounds, like an injured child’s voice, coming to a parent for help. She began to cry again, her words cracking into shards and splinters. “I’m sorry, Adi. I’m so sorry. I’ve asked a lame man to go on a long walk with me…and now I’m getting upset because he’s walking so slowly.” She folded her arms across her breast, head bowed, and sobbed, alone.

Adam Hueghlomm watched her, her soft chestnut hair hanging in limp tousles, hiding the sides of her tear streaked face. He wrestled furiously in his head to determine if this problem could be reduced to a four by six matrix or a five by seven.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Mazel Tov [Chapter 19]

I've started posting the chapters of Resolution 786. I'll post each successive chapter roughly every 3 or 4 days. Here's Chapter 19:

Becca smiled radiantly in her tan shorts and beige, sleeveless top. A small maroon backpack rested between her shoulder blades. She and Adam had flown to Utah for vacation, leaving behind their comfortable home in the outskirts of Baltimore. They had been hiking in Arches National Park in the May sun for the last four days and Becca’s normally white complexion glowed in uneven patches of reddish brown around her sunburned shoulders and face. Her dark brown hair occasionally fluttered about in soft tousles in the sun swept canyon breezes, soft curls of chestnut that she brushed away from her eyes with a combing stroke of open fingers. Although it was their last day of long hikes, Becca’s stride was as strong as ever.

Adam struggled to follow behind her, stumbling from time to time, worn and tired. He had read a series of studies on melanoma while an undergraduate and had developed a paranoid attitude regarding sun exposure and so he wore long khaki pants, a long-sleeved light blue cotton shirt and a wide-brimmed safari sun hat.

Becca peered back at Adam from a high ledge, chuckling at the weary, soft man trailing behind her, all bundled against the hot sun. Her characteristic freckles were visible underneath the sheen of pink-brown sunburn around her nose and cheeks. She shouted, her lean muscular arms hanging at her sides. “Come on. Let’s get to the arch.”

“Coming,” said Adam, pausing a moment to catch his breath, one hiking boot up on a rock, a listless brown hand resting above bended knee. They had hiked all morning, stopped for lunch and a rest, and were now completing their final trek of the trip. An hour into the early evening hike, Adam was growing tired. He gulped a series of forced, deep breaths, gazing about from underneath the shade of his wide-brimmed hat. The quiet coffee and russet landscape was flooded in daylight, at rest and peaceful. He took one last gasp and turned towards Becca, peeping up from under his safari hat. She was standing on a shelf of rocks above him, under the shadow and backdrop of tall protrusions of jutting brownish-red formations. She had both hands resting patiently on her hips, her bare arms and legs smooth and taut, smiling down at him like a child enjoying the clumsy antics of her new puppy.

“Come on, Mr. Limpy Dingy,” she teased.

“You not happy with our love life?” he shouted back across the dusted pebbles, joking, buying himself another moment of rest before he had to start moving again.

“Did I sound happy last night?” she said, never outdone in sarcasm or humor.

“You better be careful,” he said, half serious, walking towards her, feet aching with each labored step. “The walls in that cheap little hotel are pretty thin.”

“Who cares?” She turned and walked forward, laughing off his concern.

He finally reached her on the ledge, standing behind her with a silly look on his face. “Who cares?” he mocked in a contrived female voice.

“You gonna make it?” she asked, ignoring his humor, concerned for his endurance.

“We haven’t eaten in a while. Do you have anything in your backpack?” he said.

“No,” she replied, looking back over her shoulder. “Food isn’t all you need to get you through life.” She turned and moved forward.

He stood in place.

She stopped and looked back, sensing his stillness. She smirked and held her palm out to him. Her smirk turned to a smile that was at once both loving and teasing. “Come on.”

He trotted forward, grasping her strong hand and they moved forward together through the beautiful desert terrain, the sun throwing longer and longer shadows across the dusted trail and landscape as they trekked through the late afternoon light.

“I liked the rock art near the trail head,” he said at her from behind. Their hiking boots softly crunched at the pebbles and parched dust strewn all along the wide trail. He watched the muscles in her calves quietly flex and rest with each strong step. He wondered if she’d respond to his statement. She didn’t.

“How do you think those people viewed God?” he asked, persistent, beginning to pant as he strove to keep up with her.

“What people?” she shouted, not looking back.

“The ones who created the art that we saw. Those etchings. The gazelles and hunters and…” he paused, reassembling the images in his mind. “And were those horses?”

“Adi,” she said. A few steps later she finished her sentence. “Stop overthinking everything.”

They wandered the desert, through a procession of muted, scenic moments as the sun’s chariot dipped lower in the painted sky. Becca’s vigorous stride had opened a chasm of distance between her and Adam. Time to time, she would glance back to make sure that he was OK, that he was coming along. She smiled to herself each time she caught a glimpse of him struggling to keep up, plodding through the desert.

The trail faded into itself, conceding boundary and form to the larger landscape. The earth turned to brown powdered dust, tall, still cacti bearing witness to a cascade of lighted and shadowed images twinkling in dusk’s silent grace. A small lizard scurried across the sun baked soil, darting out from under a sanctuary of dry, rustling shrubs, vanishing into the caves and shadows of a scattered pile of crimson rock. Shade began its slow climb over the expanse of rolling desert plains, splashing a rippling current of fissured texture across the stern, old faces of the surrounding rocks and canyons. And the short wheat colored shrubs, relegated and invisible in the heavy glare of day, acquired personalities in the blossoming patches of soft, gray shade, the cooling desert breeze kneading through and about them in lulled, whispered whistles.

Adam’s legs became heavy and he stopped, stooped forward, his hands on his hips. He watched Becca’s silhouette ahead, a lithe spring bouncing within a still panorama of cacti and jutting rock formations. The soft, sideways sunlight cast a pleasant yellow hue on one side of everything and the air had cooled. Adam took off his hat. His sight expanded up and back and he felt connected to the blue-gray sky. He ran open fingers through his hair, brushing it back, letting the sweat on his scalp cool and dry. He stood in place and cleared his throat.

Becca heard him from far ahead. She stopped and turned, looking back at his still form across the expanse of desert. Although Adam couldn’t see her face at that distance, her carriage and stance showed concern. “I’m fine,” he shouted to her, waving his hand in her direction. “Just taking a rest.”

“Do you want me to walk back?” Her hardy voice skipped along the powdered path and bounced through the shaded hollows of rock.

“No, just give me a minute.”

“I’ve given you seven years. You can have another minute,” she said.

He moved ahead in gradual, languid steps, watching her form grow larger as he approached. Her sunburned arms and legs reflected the falling sun in a glow of long golden lines. A sudden breeze brushed a tousle of brown curl over one of her eyes and she tossed it back with a smooth swirl of her neck.

“What do you think about planting a weeping willow in the backyard next spring?” she shouted to him.

“I think that’s a great idea,” he said in between heavy breaths.

“Come on, Baby Cakes,” she said. “We get there in time, we can watch the sunset through the eye of the arch.”

He stopped, leaning forward, hands on his hips.

“It’s downhill all the way back,” she reminded.

He trudged ahead, dragging his hiking boots across the powdery terrain, leaving behind long, strewn footprints.

She waited, smiling, watching him.

“I think I’ll throw myself off the next ledge,” he joked, making a series of clumsy gestures to dramatize his exhaustion.

“Don’t tempt fate,” she said. “Come on, Mr. Girly-Man,” she teased. “I’ll draw a hot bath for you when we get back to the room. But don’t make too much noise in the tub,” she added in a goofy, contrived voice, now she mocking him. “Remember, the walls are awful thin.”

“Very funny,” he said, finally reaching her.

They stood alone in the desert, facing each other in silence.

“What?” she said softly, an awkward smile on her freckled face.

He didn’t answer, watching her gray eyes. Her face fell into a comfortable repose. A dry, gentle breeze curled cat-like through the still space between their standing forms. He gave her a kiss, not a very good one at all, but she didn’t seem to care.
“Come out and play, Adi,” she whispered. “There’s a whole world outside your head.”

He watched her gray eyes.

“Come,” she breathed the softly rasped syllable while tilting her thin torso forward, holding a muscled, sunburned arm towards him, palm open in invitation. “Come. We’ll walk together the rest of the way.”

He grasped her firm hand and they trudged forward. He walked faster, not wanting to slow her down. She walked slower, not wanting to leave him behind. The sun continued to plunge lower in the horizon as they made their way to the lovely arch. They moved quietly, in peace, as the sun threw cinnamon-laced honey here and there across the distant hilltops.

They followed the trail as it swung behind a ridge and carved itself into a steep cliff of pinkish crème sandstone. Steps had been cut into the sandstone at points where the slope became steep. The hard path continued to curl up and around the waist of the large rock formation. They followed its steep slopes in the gray shade of twilight, Adam now on his hands and knees, afraid of the large drop growing at the fenceless edge.

“Come on. You’re doing great,” Becca encouraged him, not far ahead.

They finally reached the top and stood side by side, gazing ahead at the broad, flat plane of reddish gray sandstone that lay before them in a slightly downhill slope. A deep, black fissure cut across the stone plane, splitting one slab of rock from the next. Ahead, across the fissure, stood the lovely delicate arch that they had come to see. They walked towards it, their legs appreciative of the descending slope after having walked uphill for so long.

Adam peered at the arch. One of its legs stood much thicker and broader than the other. An arm curled up and around, connecting the legs, creating a large, framed arch atop a broad expanse of lovely reddish gray sandstone.

“I bet the striations mark the ages,” said Adam, pointing at the horizontally layered texture of the arch.

“Forget the ages,” said Becca. “It’s beautiful to look at here and now.”

They peered over and through the arch, to where the distant slopes and hills reached up and touched the thinly clouded twilight sky.

“The Lord’s one hell of a painter, huh,” Adam exclaimed, stunned. “How would you like to have all of that to yourself?”

“I’d rather just have a good life,” said Becca.

Adam looked about, soaking in the wonder that was the world. He suddenly felt someone watching him. He turned and noticed a silly smile on Becca’s face.

“What?” he said.

“I got you something in that little gift shop we ducked into yesterday,” she said.

He looked confused.

“The one we went into so you could use the bathroom,” she reminded. She pulled off her maroon backpack and slung it down in front of her, yanking open its top zipper. She reached in and pulled out a small plastic carousel and held it towards him, resting it in the middle of her palm. Her face broke into a toothy, dimpled grin as she watched him. Adam stood still as she moved her free hand to a butterfly-shaped key on the side of the carousel and wound it, sending a ratcheting burr into the placid twilight with each sharp wind. She let go of the key and the carousel began to turn, playing “Silent Night” in a surprisingly melodious series of chimes. She giggled at him. The carousel began a second chorus and she sang along with it. Her voice was lovely, floating across the desert air in delicate, affectionate tones. The carousel had begun to wind down and its chimes slowed. She slowed her singing to fit its pace, finishing.

She moved her palm towards him, offering him the gift.

He picked it off her palm with a smile. “Thank you,” he said.

“You like it?” she asked.

“Yes,” he said.

They strolled across the hard sandstone and sat at a vantage point where the arch stood off to one side and from where they could gaze over the broad expanse of rock at the faraway hilltops, the clouds, the unending skies and the orange horizon. Becca reached again into her backpack and pulled out two small ceramic teacups and a thermos. She threw Adam a smile as she opened the thermos and poured hot chocolate into each teacup. She handed the sugary concoction to Adam. “I know you’ll like this.”

Adam took a small first sip, smiled, and took another bigger one. “You’re right,” he said. “I love it.”

They finished their warm drinks in silence as the sun set across the quiet horizon, throwing reddish gold rays of last light on the distant, tree studded hills. A few minutes later the sky started to darken and the stars began to show. Adam looked over at Becca, his knees up in front of him. She smiled at him, sitting cross-legged. They sat in silence in the enveloping twilight, resting under a canopy of star-splashed heavens.

The night suddenly became more silent, cooling in a quick plunge. A rustle of air gathered and moved behind them, mixing spicy tones of musk into the arid desert scents. Becca turned hastily, her brow furrowed in curiosity and surprise, looking about. Nothing. She turned back around and glanced at Adam. His head was bowed in a dour reminiscence. The gathered air brushed its graceful fingertips over Becca’s bare, sunburned shoulders in paternal gratitude, leaving behind goose bumps as it curved towards and around Adam. The gentle breath came around again and then again, until it had completed seven circles around them, and then floated off into the ageless desert, its ashen palm fading, a pale smile turning away into darkness.

Becca faced Adam. “Do you want to get married?”

Adam choked on his hot chocolate. He moved his hand quickly to cover his mouth, dropping his teacup. It fell to the hard sandstone in a tiny, shattered crash. “Damn it,” he muttered in hushed exclamation.

“Relax,” she said, stretching forward to pick up the pieces. “Let me get this cleaned up and we’ll move to another spot. I don’t want you getting a piece of glass in your butt.” Becca policed the broken shards into a plastic baggy and they stood to move. She watched Adam’s face intently as she slung her backpack over one shoulder and onto her back, pulling the straps secure under each armpit.

Adam avoided her eyes. He knew that she wanted him to answer her question, but he was afraid. She noticed his awkwardness, sensed his hesitation, and decided to let it drop…for now.

They strolled together a few feet across the sandstone, swimming next to one another in a darkening pond of twilight. Her still silence was uncharacteristic. It made Adam uncomfortable.

“I love you, Becca,” he blurted.

She smiled. “I know,” she said. She moved her palm behind Adam’s head, cupping the back of his scalp firmly, and turned his face towards her. She craned her neck forward, moving her mouth onto his. Her lips were firm, her kisses always strong and forceful. She pulled back from him, her eyes on his mouth a moment, a lost look on her face. Her eyelashes fluttered and her eyes lifted to meet his. He watched the sun’s retreating rays behind him, reflected in her pupils. The characteristic smile that was her public signature slowly formed over her mouth and a teasing spring burrowed its way back into her voice. “Now suppose you could reduce that sensation to ‘X equals negative B plus or minus the square root of B squared minus four times A times C divided by two times A?’”

“Suppose you could?” he wondered.

“It wouldn’t mean shit,” she teased. “It wouldn’t make one hill o’ beans of difference to how much I love kissing you.”

She turned to watch the sunset, standing next to him. He felt her shoulder against his and realized how much he liked that feeling. The drying sweat on the back of his shirt felt refreshing in the cool air. They stood noiselessly, side by side, as the noble desert night joined them, a quiet, imperial stranger with a soft, gray beard, wearing a flowing robe of purple felt.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Itsy Bitsy Spider [Chapter 18]

I've started posting the chapters of Resolution 786. I'll post each successive chapter roughly every 3 or 4 days. Here's Chapter 18:

Adam and Becca sat on a wide stone fence on the Mt. of Olives overlooking the Kidron Valley, across from Jerusalem’s Old City. The minarets, synagogues and churches looked serene and still in the setting sun, a gold dome topping boxes and towers of beige and gray.

“Can you believe we’re here?” Becca flashed her toothy, dimpled smile at Adam.

Adam closed his eyes a moment and frowned. His words were laced with sorrow. “I wish Mom could have joined us.”

“Me, too,” said Becca.

She waited, giving Adam time to untangle himself from the thicket of melancholy.

“God’s a shit,” he said, head down, an angry tone.

“Adam,” she said and stopped. She had heard the rant before and didn’t want to have it ruin their time away from home. “Please try to let it go.” She watched him, anxious.

They sat in silence as the evening grew darker and the faraway cars vanished into moving headlights.

“I really liked that church,” Adam said, changing the subject.

“Which one, Einstein?” she teased.

“The one where Jesus taught the Lord’s Prayer to his disciples. It was peaceful. I liked the plants…the open sky roof…and how all those tablets looked on the wall, written in all those beautiful scripts and languages.”

Becca gazed at him lovingly, reminded of how attractive she found his appreciation of beauty. “I thought the tablets were the Ten Commandments,” she said. “I’m surprised that the weeble-wobble nun there didn’t crack my knuckles with a ruler when I said that. Did you see the look on her face? Man! Wouldn’t ‘a been the first time I got the ruler.”

“No, Silly Rabbit, it’s not the Ten Commandments,” Adam teased in a mocking voice.

“Shut up!” she protested, half annoyed, half in jest.

“Yeah, you shut me up,” he provoked in a playground tone.

“I will,” she said.

“Yeah, you and what army?

“Becca’s Brigade,” eyes squinted in feigned anger.

“And exactly who are they?” shrugging off the threat.

She suddenly thrust her head forward and pressed a smacking kiss on his mouth and then pulled back sharply, staring at him with a half smile on her face, her lips stretched thin from side to side.

Adam’s eyes twinkled as he chuckled at her in the evening light. He became quiet and still in soft, slow increments. His head tilted down gently and he confided, “I felt bad.”

“Adi, what’s wrong?” Becca put an open palm on his hunched shoulder.

“I felt bad when you guys all said the prayer together and I didn’t know the words.”

“You mean the Lord’s Prayer?”


“I can teach you. Mum-mum taught me,” she said eagerly.

He looked up at her, wanting to thank her but before he could, she excitedly pursued her idea. “Listen, ‘cause here goes,” she blurted, animated. “I’ll say the whole thing through, then we’ll do the smaller pieces over with you following along.” She brought her hands together in front of her chest, each in a lazy OK sign. “Remember,” she told him, “It’s even easier than ‘Itsy Bitsy Spider.’ OK?”




Becca took a breath, falling quiet for a moment. Her gray eyes moved up to the right briefly, then came back down, resting on Adam’s face. A soft, blurred smile floated across her mouth as her lips moved to excavate antique words from layered strata of childhood memories. “Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” He watched her recite the prayer, admiring the shifting planes and curves of her face as they caught and caressed shadow after shadow in the surrendering daylight. “Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” Her voice skipped through the evening air in lovely, tender hops. “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power and the glory, for ever. Amen.”

The smile on her face grew wide when she finished reciting the prayer. She quietly peered at him. Curls of brown made a tousled, flowing frame around her luminous face, her freckles playing like fading ghosts underneath her eyes. A crisping stream of air suddenly lifted a mist of perfume from underneath her ear and sprinkled it onto Adam’s face like wedding rice.

“So you want to learn, Baby Cakes?” she asked.

“Yes,” he said. “I do.”

Sunday, December 4, 2011

So Be It, Part II [Chapter 17]

I've started posting the chapters of Resolution 786. I'll post each successive chapter roughly every 3 or 4 days. Here's Chapter 17:

Two days later, Fatima smiled from her hospital bed. Her dark eyes beamed. Rosiness had caravanned back into her cheeks. “How was the dinner, Adam?” she asked, a lively tone.

“OK. We missed you. I wish you hadn’t asked us to have the dinner while you’re in the hospital. I wasn’t comfortable. Becca did some great cooking. We really missed you.”

“Our losses hurt more than our gains please,” Fatima laughed, cheerful. “Choose to be happy,” she counseled, adding in her native Punjabi, “You should get married.”

Adam deflected, replying in English. “You need to get better and back home.”

“I want to hold your baby. I want to hear his silly questions,” said Fatima, eyes twinkling. “I want to see him talk back to you and push his mind against the world and against God, like you do.” She put her hand on top of Adam’s, lovingly. “I want to see him make you crazy like you made me.”

“They’re running a set of follow-up tests, Mom. I think they got the infection.”

“Becca is a good girl.” Fatima began to sound weak again.

“I’m going to go check on those test results,” said Adam.

“When you come back, bring me my hairbrush. I want to brush my hair,” she said, speaking Punjabi again.

“I will.”

Adam left, walking about the wide, bright halls, lost, one ear listening to the disembodied voices over the hospital intercom, the other catching snippets of this or that conversation as he moved past room after room. He stopped, looking down a moment, wondering whether the doctor’s office was on this floor or on the one above. He couldn’t remember and decided to go back to the room and ask his mother.

The hospital room was different when Adam returned. Fatima was convulsing in pain, a nurse by her side.

“Where does it hurt?” shouted the nurse.

“Everywhere!” Fatima said, writhing. “Pain is here, here, here,” she said as she placed her inwardly curved fingers above her breast, on her sternum, on her stomach, noting each locus of suffering.

“I’m going to give you something for the pain,” the nurse shouted to Fatima. “Tell me when it stops.”

Fatima winced, crying without tears while Adam watched through terrified eyes, frozen. A doctor burst into the room, rushed to Fatima and began moving her arms about feverishly, her back to Adam.

“Less pain?” the nurse yelled.

“No,” said Fatima, a small, scared voice.

Adam heard his mother gasp. The women over her shouted amid a heightened shuffle of unseen motions. A sorrowed scent of musk and sandalwood moved through the air, mixing tenderly into the unobservable blue radiance that had begun parting from the world in yielding sighs of echoed pulses. Adam watched everything in the room suddenly tighten into a crisp, hard focus. The floor gave way abruptly, tilting under Adam’s feet and the razor-sharp images of the hospital room dulled into a tear-soaked blur.

Fatima was no longer in the room.

All the King's Horses and All the King's Men [Chapter 16]

I've started posting the chapters of Resolution 786. I'll post each successive chapter roughly every 3 or 4 days. Here's Chapter 16:

Fatima Hueghlomm had been admitted to the hospital unexpectedly. The night before she was excitedly picking out an outfit to wear to Adam and Becca’s weekend dinner party. Her lower back hurt the next morning. By noon, a screaming ambulance whisked her to a local emergency room.

Becca and Adam spent most of the evening at the hospital, difficult hours receiving a flurry of status reports, test results and evolving prognoses. They sat in the uncomfortable hospital chairs, watching Fatima rest. Tilted back in her hospital bed, needles and tubes running into the top of one hand, haggard and worn, Fatima insisted, “Have your dinner party. Don’t disappoint all those people.”

“Mom, that’s ridiculous,” snapped Adam, his voice weighted with worry.

“Mom, rest,” said Becca. She turned to Adam and muttered, “You too.”

Adam’s eyes dropped to the floor as he retreated into himself.

“We spoke to Dr. Patel,” Becca told Fatima. “He says they’re running some pretty strong antibiotics through your system. They want to make sure that they get the kidney infection. They’ll keep an eye on you for a couple of days. You should be home soon.”

“Ummm,” said Fatima. She slowly added, “Take Adam home. He should eat.”

“I will, Mom,” said Becca. “I’ll take care of him.”

What Are You Thinking? [Chapter 15]

I've started posting the chapters of Resolution 786. I'll post each successive chapter roughly every 3 or 4 days. Here's Chapter 15. For those of you not familiar with literary cubism, I chose to make Chapter 15 a poem:

What Are You Thinking?

There are no headlines on the newspapers today
And the clock's second hand won't move
And I, I've become humanity's whore
Plunging back into my iris
Collecting every tear since Eve,
Tasting every spite since Adam
Vomiting the twisted panorama into my heart

Hurting, I've burst back through my pupils
Into now, the living day
I watch sunlight dance in prisms
Around your brown, island nipples
Your eyes flutter, open-mouthed
Clutching for my image

I've become a traveler again
No longer falling forward at sixty seconds
Per minute;
Still, frozen, aching, alone
Parents' trinkets of affection, so needed
Lay vaulted in iron-barred jail cells
Someone, please...
Tell me you love me
Tell me I'm good

Your sudden collapse jars me to now
And there’s moist panting on my neck
Your lips taste like oceans, as I fade
And find myself sweating on the corpse of a lie
Wishing I had Marilyn Monroe's legs
So I could open them
And let everyone love me, just to feel close
But I don't have her legs
So I string words into gaudy necklaces
And offer them to circumcised minds
For introspection
Some call it art, but it's drained puss
Aspirated from the ballpoint of an ink pen
Tangential sentences in an oblique suicide note
Written by an apocalyptic asymptote
Approaching an axis called intimacy
Closer, infinitesimally closer
But never...touching

I belong to the present again
As you gently trace a fingertip along
The outside curve of my ear
In a gesture as honest as a backwoods stream
You softly ask, "What are you thinking?"
And I whisper, "Nothing."

Subdued, laying glistening and spent
We reach to suckle nocturnal breasts
So kiss my closed eyelids
And douse me in slumber
And let the sunset scrawl its cherry epitaph
On this, our special afternoon

Saturday, December 3, 2011

An Insect [Chapter 14]

I've started posting the chapters of Resolution 786. I'll post each successive chapter roughly every 3 or 4 days. Here's Chapter 14:

“I’ve read Kafka. I really don’t think he’s all that Kafkaesque. What do you think?”

“I think you’re funny,” replied Becca.

They were lying side by side and face up on their bed. Adam wore loose blue jeans and a flannel shirt with a black and white checkerboard pattern. The sides of his face and chin carried soft shadows of Saturday stubble. His eyes, so often absent, rested in faraway contemplations.

Becca had on her favorite gray sweats, the ones that matched her eyes almost perfectly. She was slightly shorter than Adam, with a thin, muscular runner’s build. Her thick, brown hair reached a palm’s length below her shoulders and was naturally wavy, which is how she kept it most times. She almost never wore makeup. Her face was smooth, cheeks lightly freckled around a small nose. Although teenage boys and middle-aged men glanced at her often when she went places, she behaved in ways unaware of her physical attractiveness. She had carefree and large expressions, becoming happy or angry or sad in enormous degrees, choosing to taste life in big, lusty gulps. Her words formed and moved like her moods and passions — sweeping, obvious and blunt.

Adam looked at her and remembered how he loved the way her gray eyes reflected green when they went hiking in the woods every summer. “So how many layers of meaning can be in one piece of writing?” he asked.

“As many as the reader puts there,” she said.

“No, really. Like when that guy, Samsa, turned into an insect. Wasn’t that powerful?”

“Yeah, that’s realistic — an insect,” she said, her voice drenched in sarcasm.

“I don’t think The Metamorphosis really happened. Samsa didn’t turn into an insect.” Adam’s words and thoughts were as nimble as ever. “If he had become an insect, he would have stopped considering his own consciousness. No, Samsa became a human being who was trapped inside an insect, which is fundamentally different than becoming an insect. And as far as being realistic, if a work of artistic expression doesn’t have a traditional structure, that doesn’t mean that, taken as a whole, it doesn’t still have some valuable or otherwise instructive form or substance.”

Becca had always given Adam a kind ear. She knew he had many relationships and that each one served some functional purpose in his life, but he had no real friends. His emotions seemed in a permanent retreat, bunkered somewhere deep, hiding in wounded fear. She knew that if she stopped listening, he would have no one. And she had made a promise to herself after years of courtship, a promise that she would never abandon him. So she listened, responded.

“Kafka’s Samsa…what kind of egomaniac puts himself in his own writing?” she teased.

Adam remained quiet, waiting, knowing well the acuity with which she chided, the painful truth of her bladed sarcasm.

Becca grinned, realizing that Adam was sizing her impending onslaught. She quietly issued a provocative challenge. “Who even reads that shit?”

“No. That’s not the question,” Adam said. “The question is, ‘What does that mean?’”

“No, the question is, ‘Who writes that shit?’”

“Great writers,” said Adam.

His seriousness made Becca rock with laugher, her head tilting back like it always did, her knees pulled slightly off the mattress, mouth thrown wide open, bellowing loud and riotous. Cackling, she stammered, “I can’t believe you ever got laid.”

“You lay me,” he said, composed, staring forward at the ceiling fan’s still, wooden blades.

She turned to him, done laughing. “Yeah, those are sympathy lays.” She scrunched her small nose and tapped his lightly with her index finger, her way of telling him that she’d just outwitted him.

“Well, are you feeling sympathetic?” Adam raised and lowered his eyebrows like Groucho Marx.

“Hardly.” The jest in Becca’s voice was at a rolling boil.

Adam continued his grotesquely poor Groucho Marx impersonation. “You know, Karl was the fourth Marx brother. Yeah, Groucho, Harpo, Chico and Karl. Karl wanted to join the comedy team, but the other guys always told him, ‘You know, Karl, you’re just not funny.’ So he went and invented Communism. See what happens when you’re not nice to someone?”

Becca closed her eyes and nodded her head gently from side to side, speaking to Adam in a lover’s knowing and muted gestures, telling him how inept she considered his attempt at humor. “You know, Adi, if you keep trying, maybe one day you’ll have a near-life experience.”

They rested, hushed and peaceful for many soft moments, smiling.
Adam nestled in place on their pillow, palm under his head. “Becca, do you like me?”

“Errrrrrrrrr,” she growled in feigned exasperation. “I like you, I like you, for the bazillioneth time, I like you.”

“Do you think I’m funny?”

“You’re funny,” she said.

Noiseless moments passed. Becca sniffled, gently brushing the back of her hand under her nose.

“Promise me in the end you’ll only remember the good stuff,” she said suddenly.

“Life’s a magic show,” said Adam. “And you’ll always be a virgin.” He dropped his head to the side, putting them face-to-face, noses touching.

She giggled. “You look like Cyclops.”

“Thank you,” he whispered.

Bone of My Bones, Anno Domini 1999 [Chapter 13]

I've started posting the chapters of Resolution 786. I'll post each successive chapter roughly every 3 or 4 days. Here's Chapter 13. Chapter 13 is the first chapter of Act II of the novel:

Act II Incidents of Heart

“I liked your poems.” Rebecca Gowetski’s words rang through the phone line like playful school bells. “I’m surprised to see interesting poetry come out of the Engineering Department.”

“Thanks,” said Adam Hueghlomm.

She waited for more. Nothing. She wondered if she might have somehow insulted him with her comment about the Engineering Department. She cleared her throat. “Yeah…I’d like to run both of them in the Spring issue of Focus. Can I get your permission?”


More silence.

“OK.” She waited a few moments to let him speak. He didn’t. “Thank you,” she said. Realizing that it was all business, her words lost some of their playfulness. “Your last name’s unique. Let’s confirm the spelling: h-u-e-g-h-l-o-m-m. Yes?”


“What kind of name is that?”


“Well, I’m a Po-Wop,” she said.

“What’s that?”

“Half Polish, half Italian. That’s what my Mum-mum used to call me…her little Po-Wop.”



“Oh,” he said.

“Do you really wish you had Marilyn Monroe’s legs?” she asked suddenly.

He hesitated a moment, caught off guard, then realized that she had recited a line in one of his poems. “Eh…no…no, it was just an image,” he replied.

“Well, why? I mean, do you think it’d make you look sexy?” Her voice had recaptured its pogo stick bounce, teasing him.

“Um…no…eh…loveable,” he said.

Her riotous laugh reverberated through the phone line. “To each his own,” she said, still chuckling.

“Thank you for paying attention…to the words,” he said.

“I’d be one lousy editor if I didn’t, huh?” she ribbed.

Both fell quiet.

She pulled them out of silence. “What year are you?”

“I’m finishing up my doctorate. I work for the Army, a civilian research engineer. They sent me back for my third degree. Third and last.”

“I bet that’s exciting,” she said, suddenly matter-of-fact. Unlike many other college students, she sounded wholly unimpressed with the prospect of a Ph.D.
Adam became curious. “How about you?”

“Masters student. Education. Minor in literature.”

More quiet.

Again, she led. “I felt a lot moving underneath your words. Your poems are like cooling lava. Interesting stuff, but you wonder what else might be churning in the volcano.” She paused. “Something eating at you?”

For the second time in their first conversation, she had caught him off guard. “What do you mean?” he asked.

“The second poem. Blame, blame, blame.”


She filled the silence, backtracking, trying to create a comfortable escape for him. “I mean, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it. I like it and all…” She stumbled about, trying to find the right words. “It’s powerful and you really make some thought-provoking points. I was just wondering — what kind of answer do you really expect from your Alpha, your Omega?”

“I don’t think it’s a question that can be answered.” His voice softened, becoming introspective. “But that doesn’t mean that it’s a question that shouldn’t be asked,” he added, a far-away tone. His mind left and wandered the cold stars. His eyes blinked and he suddenly remembered that she existed.

“Thank you for paying attention,” he said. His words had lost their machined edges.

She smiled, surprised by his softening tone, his dropping guard. “Do you like coffee, Mr.…” she groped for the proper pronunciation of his last name. “Huge-loam? Hug-lum?”

“Hue-lum,” he said. “Silent g, silent h. Do you go by ‘Po-Wop’?”

“No.” Her laugh was hearty and full of mischief. “I like ‘Becca.’”

They both stopped talking, stillness soaked in a silk, pulsing hum.

She led them softly, out of the silence. “Well, Mr. Silent G, Silent H, would you like to have coffee sometime?”

“Umm...sure…I mean, yes.”

“OK. You have something to write with?” She could hear him over the telephone. He was rustling around ineptly for a pen or a pencil. She chuckled, covering her mouth with her hand, tilting the phone away.

“OK.” He was back on the line, slightly flustered and a little out of breath. “Got it.”

“Take this number down,” she said. “Call me when you’re ready.”

Friday, December 2, 2011

But He Doesn't Tell Me What the Sounds Mean [Chapter 12]

I've started posting the chapters of Resolution 786. I'll post each successive chapter roughly every 3 or 4 days. Here's Chapter 12:

“Adam!” Fatima yelled from the kitchen to the rear of the house, toward the bedrooms, as she dried her hands on a dishtowel.

“Adam!” she repeated, louder, her eyebrows moving closer together with the effort.

No reply.

“Adam, Mr. Ishmael is here for your lessons. Come here!” her hands on her hips, head down.

Still no answer.

Fatima came into the family room, gave Ishmael an embarrassed, forced smile. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I’ll go get Adam.”

“Yes.” Ishmael smiled, nodding politely, rising ever so slightly off the comfortable sofa.

Fatima darted through the corridor that connected the entry and the kitchen, her long, loose skirt flapping floral patterns into the gray shadows. She moved quickly toward the bedrooms, her soft nurse’s shoes making no noise as they glided over the hard floor. She reached the door to Adam’s room, clutched the disc-shaped metal knob and stopped abruptly. The door was locked. Fatima rolled her eyes, placed a soft, open palm on the wooden door and called to her son, a concerned tone. “Adam? Adam?”

“Go away,” she heard his young voice on the other side.

“No, you come out right now.”

She waited.

“Open this door right now, Adam,” she insisted.

The hall became quiet, the door held its ground. Then she heard the key slowly turn, dry metal parts dragging across each other bit by bit, a rigid bolt moving out of its dark slot and back into the body of the door. She exhaled lightly, turning the knob, bracing, pushing away the stiff, wooden barrier that stood between them. Adam had backed away from the door, sitting on the edge of his small bed, across the room, angled away from her, looking out the window. He was barefoot, wearing his favorite gray shorts and a yellow T-shirt.

“Adam, I told you to come out and do your lessons with Mr. Ishmael.” She moved towards him gently and sat down next to him on the edge of his bed, placing a tender, open palm on his small shoulder.

“I don’t like him,” said Adam, staring at trees and sky.

“You don’t have to like him. You have to learn from him.”

“There’s nothing to learn.”

“Stop being difficult, Adam. Go to the family room.”

“He never tells me what the sounds mean!” Adam shouted.

“Shhhhhh.” She moved a hand towards his mouth quickly, her index finger pressed vertically across both his lips. “He’ll hear you,” she whispered, her face suddenly tense.

“So what!” yelled Adam.

“Adam, be quiet.” She glared at him and added, “Right now!” in a sharp, intent whisper.

They stared at each other, battling wills.

“Adam, what’s going on with you? You want to argue about everything these days — what you eat, what you wear, about praying...”

“I don’t want to pray anymore,” he quipped.

“Adam, you were a five-timer, you never missed a daily prayer. What happened? I was so proud of you. But ever since we got back from California…”

“Don’t talk about Dad!” he shouted.

“I didn’t say anything about Daddy,” Fatima said, adding angrily, “And what if I did? You don’t tell me what to talk about.”

“And you don’t tell me!”

“Adam, what’s wrong with you?”

“God took away Dad because Dad believed in him,” he said.

“Adam, that doesn’t make sense.”

“You don’t make sense. You don’t like me,” he said through small, clenched teeth. “You don’t pay attention.”

“You need to learn your prayers, Adam! We’re moving to America soon. And there’s no one there who can teach you prayers. I need you to learn here, before we go and there’s no one.” A profound sadness swept through her being and she hung her head, pleading in a whisper, “No one.”

Adam peered at his mother, perplexed, lost, helpless.

“Mom, I’ll go out,” he acquiesced, suddenly worried about his mother’s changed demeanor.

Fatima didn’t speak or move. Her head suddenly bowed in rippling waves of melancholy.

She broke the silence, a tone of realized finality. “No, Adam. Don’t go out there.”

“What?” he muttered, confused.

“Don’t do anything you don’t want to,” she said, not looking at him.

“Mom, are you OK?”

“I’ll pay Mr. Ishmael and tell him not to come back.”

“Mom, I’ll go out,” he said, a troubled submission. He fumbled through a long series of half-syllables and halted words, finally composing an unasked explanation. “He’s strange, Mom…it’s just...he never answers my questions…and he won’t tell me what the sounds mean, he just forces me to learn a bunch of sounds. But he doesn’t tell me what they mean. There’s a lot more to what words can mean…and sometimes a lot less.”

“There’s no need for this, Adam,” she said, not looking at him, holding an open palm in his direction, cutting short his unnecessary annotations. “Stay in here as long as you want.” Fatima stood, pointing to the floor adjacent to her son’s bed, wanting to make a symbolic assertion of her maternal authority. “And pick all these books up off the floor.”

She left in peace, slowly shutting the door to his room as he watched.

Adam was moved to voice one final disagreement at the closing door. “There is someone in America, Mom. Someone who’ll teach me to pray.”

The door closed.

Fatima moved back through the quiet corridor in a surrendered grace, passing the entry and the kitchen. She came into the large family room where Ishmael was waiting patiently.

“Mr. Ishmael,” she said, a polite professional.

Ishmael stood from the sofa, the creases in his long, white robe falling straight, a wide, greeting smile on his black-bearded brown face. “Yes, Mrs. Fatima?” he said pleasantly.

“Adam won’t be coming for lessons today.”

“Is he ill, Madam? Should I go to the drug store for medicines, maybe?” His Arabic accent commingled with a tinge of British.

“No,” Fatima replied, a slightly embarrassed mother with a proper smile on her face. She added in genuine gratitude, “But thank you for being kind.” The polite, matter-of-fact professional tone returned. “Mr. Ishmael, we’re moving to America. Adam will no longer need your lessons. Thank you for teaching him everything that you have. Here’s your fee for today’s lesson.” She put her hand forward, bills folded between her fingers. A second later the bills were gone.

“Perhaps the future will provide an opportunity for me to give Adam more lessons,” said Ishmael, being polite.

“Perhaps,” Fatima replied.

“America?” Ishmael said, head tilted, eyes wide, nodding slowly, his mouth pulled down at each end in reflection. “I once knew a lady from America — Amber,” he said in a fleeting, peculiar reminiscence.

“Will America allow you to raise little Adam a Muslim?” he asked, returning to the present.

“I’ve been there twice. You can raise yourself whatever you want. There aren’t any rules,” Fatima said.

“No written rules,” Ishmael agreed, persistent, his eyes squinted, pushed together by the forced, enormous smile decorating his long brown face. “But all the unwritten rules.”

Fatima said nothing.

The volley had flown out of bounds, lost, and Ishmael took one last swing at the air. “Will America make little Adam a Muslim or a Jew?”

“Is there really a difference,” said Fatima. In tone, delivery and intent, it was a statement rather than a question.

Monday, November 28, 2011

For What? [Chapter 11]

I've started posting the chapters of Resolution 786. I'll post each successive chapter roughly every 3 or 4 days. Here's Chapter 11:

Fatima Hueghlomm held the heavy receiver of the black rotary phone to her ear, dutifully listening to the determined voice at the other end of the world.

“Fatima, why?” Dora Hueghlomm paused a moment, hoping that her logic would take hold in her daughter-in-law’s mind. “Fatima, why, I say?” her old voice demanded.

“Mom, a lot of my family is still here.”

“A lot of your family is here,” said Dora Hueghlomm.

“Mom, it’s a big change. I don’t want to do this without thinking.” Fatima frowned and brought an open palm against her chest, gently resting it below her throat. “It was difficult when Idi Amin threw us out of Uganda in ’72. With nothing, only our clothes, our lives, Albert drove us across the border to Kenya in his old Mini Minor. Adam was only seven, so scared, so small.” Fatima’s weak, sad words soaked in remorse and loss. “Idi Amin claimed to be a Muslim. A Muslim isn’t supposed to harm another Muslim.”

“So that’s the rule, is it?” Dora Hueghlomm enunciated in hard stone.

“Rules,” Fatima said, a mix of disappointment and anger. “Things were finally settling in Nairobi. And now,” she paused, pressing back tears. “And now,” she stopped again, forcing her way out of self-pity, mustering resolve. “I have to think,” she said sharply.

“What’s to think?” Dora Hueghlomm asked in stern sympathy. “It’ll be better for you.” She waited, letting the correctness of her stance soak in, and then her voice softened, as if the subject had moved to its core. “And think of the boy…the boy…I see Albert’s eyes in the photos you sent.”


“It’ll be better for him,” Dora Hueghlomm argued with the silence.

“America’s so far away, Mom. And I’m alone. What will I do? There’s no one.”

“There’s everyone!” Her admonishment was riddled with tender concerns. And then Dora Hueghlomm sucked in a long, drawn breath in California.

Fatima heard the breath in Africa. She braced.

Dora Hueghlomm released the air in her lungs in a rattled series of jagged syllables. “You listen to me, young lady. I lost my Uncle Leo to those criminals in Austria!” Her voice suddenly verged on shrillness. “I lost my little boy to those criminals in Africa.”

A pause.

“For what!” Dora Hueghlomm shouted. “For what?” she said, quieter, sadder, plumbing so many deep sorrows. “May you never have to bury your child,” her voice cracked. “How many more times?”

Dora Hueghlomm cleared her throat. Her voice came back into the present with a quite dignity, demanding compliance. “Bring the boy to America. I’m here. Everyone’s here.”

“Mom…” Fatima’s sentence swerved in indecision.

“What, Fatima? What!”

“Mom…I’ll start talking to people about getting an American nursing license.”

“Good girl!” Dora Hueghlomm was elated that an elder’s good sense had been accepted. Her honed words now formed a bold, determined statement. “And I will help with this nursing license bit.”

Fatima Hueghlomm pictured her mother-in-law saying those words, her five foot frame standing like an iron bolt in her perfectly clean, perfectly ordered kitchen in West Hills, California. In her mind, Fatima saw Dora Hueghlomm’s face and eyes harden in resolute purpose as she made the statement and moved a small, strong hand to her waist, grasping her cream colored open sweater on one end and pulling it closed in one sharp, taut movement, a gesture that stamped a seal of finality on the decision that had just been made.

The picture in Fatima’s mind was wrong. Dora Hueghlomm’s sweater was not cream colored. It was light blue.

How Dare She! [Chapter 10]

I've started posting the chapters of Resolution 786. I'll post each successive chapter roughly every 3 or 4 days. Here's Chapter 10:

The tall, wiry man with a long black beard and a stained prayer cap knitted from red and white yarn came to their Nairobi home once a week to teach Adam Islamic prayers. Ishmael was from Saudi Arabia, in his mid-twenties, the privileged and lazy son of an oil sheik, a son who had parlayed his father’s position, name and wealth into a leisurely lifestyle built around amateurish and inconsequential dabblings in theology. He had begun creating this lifestyle in Saudi Arabia, bored, but had gotten caught driving drunk in Riyadh with a busty, incoherent blonde slouched across his lap. His embarrassed family asked him to leave for a few years, giving him parting gifts consisting of a large trust fund and a choice of family real estate scattered around the world. Ishmael picked Kenya for the climate and the safaris. He had recently begun teaching Islamic prayers to local Muslim children for a modest fee, a way to earn some extra pocket money, create a potentially useful social network and perhaps, he thought, meet his first wife.

Ishmael had a long brown face with dark, lazy eyes. His nose was broad and flat. He had a hard, curling beard that started at both ears, covered the sides of his face and wrapped itself above and below his thick, wide lips. Its heavy, black mass hung down to his clavicles. Although his face and eyes had an unyielding harshness, when he spoke, his voice carried through the air in a lilting, soft dignity.

Ishmael’s loose white robe had grown light from wear, flapping helplessly in the placid breeze as he walked to the wrought iron gate of the Hueghlomm home. Although he could well afford many new robes, he clung to this one, having always been stingy in alms and spending that did not involve instantly gratifying physical pleasures for himself.

Ishmael called from outside the gate, “Mrs. Fatima! Mrs. Fatima! I am here.” His heavy Arabic accent was laced with British inflections, leftovers from a childhood of private schooling.

A thin, feminine figure appeared in the second story window. Fatima peered past the gate. “One moment, Mr. Ishmael!” Moments later, she was moving down the gray, cement steps, a proper and welcoming smile on her face.

“I seem to have lost Adam,” she said, a motherly tone.

“Ah, boys,” said Ishmael walking through the opened gate, a smile on this thick lips, nodding knowingly at the antics and ploys of young men. He followed Fatima up the stairs, carrying a Quran wrapped in green cloth at his side.

They turned into the entry and walked a short corridor, into the large family room.
“Please sit.” Fatima motioned at the chairs and sofas, inviting Ishmael to make himself comfortable. “I’ll go find Adam.”

“Shukran.” Ishmael thanked her in Arabic and reclined easily into the comfortable sofa as she left the room. He sat quietly, staring about the room, at the lovely large leafed plants, the coffee table littered with books and magazines, the tasteful and functional furniture. “Middle class,” he muttered to himself, a denigrating smirk on this face. His gaze turned to a metal wall shelf. He stood, walking towards the shelf, running his dark eyes over the items on it. He frowned at the centerpiece, a menorah. He had never seen one, and he studied it, eyes squinted in curious disdain. A wedding photo stood to the side of the menorah. A slightly younger Fatima beamed in her bright red Pakistani wedding outfit, her shoulder gently nestled against the side of Albert Hueghlomm’s black tuxedo. Her lovely bride’s outfit was emblazoned with soft, glittering patterns of gold embroidery. Ishmael looked closer and noticed Fatima’s fingers resting tenderly on Hueghlomm’s opposite shoulder. The new wife had one arm behind and around her husband in a pose that was at once both protective and possessive. Hueghlomm smiled broadly in the photograph, his teeth showing, his pasty white complexion standing out against his dark tuxedo and the burst of red next to him. Ishmael moved to look at the photo standing on the other side of the menorah. Fatima, tired and jubilant, stood cradling a newborn baby wrapped in a downy pink blanket. Albert Hueghlomm, in blue jeans, wearing a proud, happy grin underneath exhausted eyes, stood next to Fatima. He held a suitcase in one hand, a large tote bag slung around his opposite shoulder.

Fatima was suddenly back in the family room. “I can’t find Adam,” she said quietly. “Which is strange.” She put a softly closed fist to her chin, absent eyes, and said in a perplexed, questioning tone, “He knew you were coming.”

“Maybe he forgot,” Ishmael allowed.

“No, he’s very exacting,” replied Fatima. “He doesn’t forget.”

“Shall I help you find him?” offered Ishmael.

“No,” she said. “But thank you.” She crossed her arms and nodded her head down slightly. “I’m sure he’s OK. He’s just…hasn’t been himself the last few months.”

“I’ll come back at your convenience.” Ishmael smiled.

“Let me pay you for the lesson. I’m sorry my son didn’t come as agreed.”


Fatima left and brought back her pocketbook. She opened it, pulled out a billfold and counted out Ishmael’s weekly tutoring fee. She held her hand forward, the money between her thumb and forefinger.

Ishmael snapped the folded bills out of Fatima’s hands in an unobtrusive, quick blink, dropping the money safely into his breast pocket in one fluid movement. He gave Fatima a tilted nod and a thankful smile.

“Next week?” he asked.

“Next week,” she replied.

“I see your lovely photos.” He gestured toward the shelf on the wall behind him, sweeping his broad, open palm in its direction.

“Thank you,” she said.

“Why the candles?” he asked.

“It’s a menorah, a wedding gift from my mother-in-law.”

“Ah,” he said, eyes wide in acknowledgement.

They stood in ginger silence.

“You are Muslim?” he asked, finally.

“Yes,” she said.

“Your son?”

“Muslim and Jewish.”

His face fell into repose, his eyes dropped to the floor. A moment later he pursed his lips. Both eyebrows hopped higher on his forehead.

Fatima chuckled out loud.

He looked at her, no expression. “Next week,” he said, nodding his head slightly to one side.

“A Syrian Imam married us, my husband and me,” Fatima said as she slowly moved her hands to her hips. “He told us a story before the ceremony. He reminded us of the Prophet Muhammad’s Jewish wife, Safiyah, about how a few people around the Prophet ridiculed her because of her faith. Safiyah went to our Prophet with her concerns. The Prophet told her to never mind those people and that if they continued to pester her, she should remind them that as a Jew, she is a daughter of the Prophet Aaron, a niece of the Prophet Moses and the wife of the Prophet Muhammad. Being surrounded by prophets, the people who live to ridicule others had best leave her alone.”

“Of course,” conceded Ishmael. He flashed an angry glare at Fatima’s stiff form, a glare quickly hidden behind a wide smile. “So you understand our faith?” he asked, subtle tones of sarcasm laced through his words.

Fatima didn’t reply.

“I’m surprised since the ancestors of Pakistanis are said to have been idol worshippers,” said Ishmael.

“Didn’t Arabs worship the moon god Hubal and three hundred and sixty other idols in Mecca at the time of the Prophet?” said Fatima, eyes fixed on Ishmael’s.

He stared back at her, silent. “I look forward to seeing Adam next week, madam,” he said finally. “Next week?” Ishmael confirmed, smiling pleasantly.

“Next week,” replied Fatima.

So Be It [Chapter 9]

I've started posting the chapters of Resolution 786. I'll post each successive chapter roughly every 3 or 4 days. Here's Chapter 9:

The shining black miniature Mercedes sat parked on a cement step, twinkling in the brilliant Nairobi sun. Adam raised a large rock over his head, grasping it viciously on either side with his small, determined hands. He swung the rock down hard onto the car, the impact vibrating through his wrists, into his forearms. He pushed the rock aside and glared at the remains — shattered plastic windows with both tires on one side bent out sideways, flattened at a grotesque angle underneath the car’s mangled body. Adam was disappointed that the car wasn’t more broken. He brushed its corpse into a pile with other crushed, fractured toys, reached into his cloth carrying case and pulled out a small Land Rover. He placed it onto the cement killing field, measured and set just so, his lips pursed, intent.

His mother suddenly shouted at him, staring down from the top of the steps, “Adam!”

He looked up, turned away and ran, crashing hastily into the closed wrought iron gate.

“Adam!” he heard her shout again from behind. Her slippers snapped against the hard steps as she moved in his direction. He fumbled at the gate’s stubborn handle, hitting it with closed fists, shoved it open and ran across the road, darting into the hidden alley. Adam kept running, gulping labored breaths, his face contorted in anxious escape. He ran until he was sure she wouldn’t follow, until the brilliant tall weeds on either side of him changed colors and became short, until the curves abandoned the red-soiled path, allowing it to flow in sloping straight lines that led away from roads and homes and voices, lines that emptied into an expanse of rolling, wheat brown fields.

Adam stopped, his head nodded to the earth, his hands on his hips, panting. He swallowed, looked up. The world was behind a curtain somewhere back there, behind him, he knew, but not here. Here, the sky’s gentle, azure hands held soft puffs of cotton in the far distance, at a line where rolling tan fields reached up on barefoot toes to softly kiss lazy blue eyes.

There were no witnesses.

Adam caught his breath. He refused to look back, preferring abandoned fields and infinite blue. He stumbled to the path’s edge and dropped down, hugging his knees in front of him, staring at the gravel aimlessly, at the V-shape of the red rubber straps of his flip-flops, starting in a fork at his big toe and stretching over and around his small brown feet. The fields suddenly basked in a subtle scent of sandalwood. Adam felt a rustle of air gather and move behind him. It brushed its delicate fingertips against the back of his neck in paternal faith and then trotted off into the fields, its ashen palm fading.

Adam closed his eyes and sobbed.

We Pray Your Assistance [Chapter 8]

I've started posting the chapters of Resolution 786. I'll post each successive chapter roughly every 3 or 4 days. Here's Chapter 8:

To: United Nations Human Rights Commission, New York

We pray your assistance.

The white mans body found at Jinja Dam past week could now have a solved death. A Nile Hotel servant lady in Kampala was promised her name to be secret to explain of the many dangerous happenings at the hotel.

During first days of November this scarred lady speaks that a lorry brought many extra prisoners to Nile Hotel, one being white. She remembers him as to she was ordered to clean all things around him urgently as to leave completely no signs.

When arrived, Army officer called Kireka directed the white man to a lift which took them to room 311. They went together. There Kireka said in a very long way that President Amin was to investigate the Israel event at Entebbe Airport, especially as to Kenya’s help. Kireka said to the white man he was a Israel spy. The man said no. Kireka said to the man he was a Jew, at which he said yes. Kireka said to the man he lived in Nairobi, at which again he said yes. Kireka said the man help Israel people in a aeroplane when it escape from Entebbe. Quiet was the white man. Kireka said what happened at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi? Then he hit the white man very hard. Kireka said what is your work in Kampala. The white man said to buy sugar. His whole work was to buy sugar. Three hours they talked sugar, aeroplanes, Entebbe, Israel, with Kireka hitting the poor man when the talk was wrong. Two hours alone, Kireka questioned the papers in the fellows pockets, his money belt and his shirt. The poor lady servant sweeped around his chair and picked all papers before the man was taken to room 326 for evening sleep.

Next day Kireka and one more big officer had the white man in room 305, a room very hard to clean for its many devices on the floor. The white man was told to remove his pants and shoes and shirt and was beaten very much by the new big officer, all the while Kireka was talking again for aeroplanes and sugar and Entebbe. His blood was too much difficult to clean from that room, room 305. Then Kireka said he would kill him if he did not confess to helping enemies at Entebbe. He showed the white man a telex he said the man sent to Israel embassy at London that admitted his spying. Kireka then laughed and dropped the telex on the floor which added to the poor ladys cleaning time.

The poor white man was next whipped until bleeding again. A electric thing was turn to on and became redhot which was put on his legs and privates. The man was then saying things the servant lady learned from Sister Mary when she was little, the Lord is my Shepard, he said. Kireka himself, not the big officer, put salt and red spice on the white mans whipping cuts at which he again spoke as Sister Mary. Kireka told the man a suggestion that if he got Shs 750,000 he would be released. But the white man and all his mess was all cleaned completely and again at Nile Hotel or even Kampala his face she did not see.

The good peoples here request all readers to see with open eyes. The voice of thy brothers blood crys to you from the soil. This mans voice is only sound to your ears from the mouth of a hotel servant lady who is herself afraid and living very dangerous. But this one was a white man and since a white man maybe you will now listen.

We pray that the good people will see.

Milton Otanga

Kampala, November 1976

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Bone of My Bones [Chapter 7]

I've started posting the chapters of Resolution 786. I'll post each successive chapter roughly every 3 or 4 days. Here's Chapter 7:

Thirteen years ago, Albert Hueghlomm had limped into the spotless and new emergency admissions room at Mulago Hospital in Kampala. The hospital had been built only a year ago, in 1962.

“Can I help you?” asked the admissions nurse. Her English labored under a heavy African accent.

“Yes. I’ve hurt my knee.” Hueghlomm came around the desk to show her his injury. He placed a delicate palm over his knee. His heavy pants were tattered and bloody. The skin around his knee was torn, raw, soaked red. He grimaced slightly when he looked down at the wound.

“How?” the nurse asked.

“I fell off my motorcycle,” he said, adding in triumph, “The motorcycle’s OK.”

“Please sit,” she told him. “I’ll get someone for you.”

Albert Hueghlomm sat and waited, looking over the bare white walls. Across the room, a woman gently rocked and breastfed a baby, her back to Hueghlomm, her heavy, rounded shoulders hunched forward, cradling the infant. Her soft cooing soothed the air. A bare chested old man slouched asleep at the furthest end of the room, snoring lightly. He had contorted his wiry frame so that his whole body fit into the chair, his feet and legs folded up in front of him. A brand new burlap bag lay beside him, his thinly muscled purple-black arm threaded through its looped handles.

“Sir, please come back with me.”

Hueghlomm looked up from his chair. The woman in front of him wore a white nurse’s uniform. She had a light brown complexion and straight black hair that gently tipped the top of her soft, thin shoulders. Hueghlomm stood gingerly. The woman’s eyes were darker than he’d ever seen, the brown around each pupil almost as dark as the pupil itself.

“Can you walk or should I get a wheelchair?” she asked.

“I can make it…a few yards, at least.” He wanted to be brave.

“What happened?” She was making conversation, putting her patient at ease.

“Fell off my motorcycle.”

She gestured into a side room. He turned in and sat on the examining table.

“I didn’t tell you to do that.” Her look was stoic, all business.

"Sorry.” He slipped off the table, grimacing as he put weight back onto his injured leg.

“Please remove your pants. I’ll be able to check and treat your injury better.”

She turned and began to pull gauze and sponges and antiseptic bottles and forceps and plastic gloves and many other items and devices from a white cabinet drawer. Each of the objects made its own tap as she placed them onto a metal tray. She turned to Hueghlomm, metal tray before her, and examined his bared, bloodied knee.

“You can bend it?” she asked.


“I’m going to wash it. This will sting.” She was right.

Grimacing, Hueghlomm finally noticed her Indian accent. He made clenched conversation to keep his mind off the antiseptic bite. “You from India?”

“Pakistan. Raised in Uganda. How about you?”

“Israel. Raised in California.”

“Hmmm,” she was thinking. “Pakistan and Israel — countries created to accommodate religions.” Her sponge washed a stream of water and blood off his pasty, white knee and into a metal pan below. She looked over the cleaned wound, leaning close. “More blood, less cut,” she concluded. “I’ll put you together, Humpty Dumpty.” She looked up at him and smiled. He hadn’t guessed that she could.

“Can a serious person have a sense of humor?” he teased, being careful not to tease too hard. After all, she was filling an anesthetic injection and threading a needle for stitches.

“Our fall from the Garden of Eden wasn’t a complete one,” she explained, moving the anesthetic needle towards his knee. He watched her delicate hands guide the tools skillfully. She inserted the needle into the flesh around his wound. He grunted softly, teeth clenched. She spoke while slowly pushing anesthetic into him. “A merciful God let us take two gifts with us — the ability to laugh and the ability to fall in love. Whenever we do either of those things, we’re closer to the Garden.”

She removed the needle from his knee and placed it on the tray — “Click,” it said. She smiled at him. “So I laugh every chance I get. Now let’s wait for the injection to do its job.” She noticed his embarrassment, sitting before her with his pants off, injured, helpless. She found his vulnerability endearing, attractive.

“You don’t like jewelry?” he asked out of nowhere.

“Why?” She was surprised by the question.

“Whenever I see Pakistani women around the bazaars, they’re always wearing so much jewelry…lovely gold jewelry. But you aren’t wearing any,” he said.

“Just because they like it, it doesn’t mean I do.”

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I hope I didn’t offend you. I wasn’t generalizing, just wondering.” He looked down, quietly awkward.

Noticing his discomfort, she obliged an answer. “The most I’d ever wear would be a ring, a small one, with bright, pretty stones.” She ducked her head slightly to peer at his face, to see if her answer had relieved his awkwardness.

Hueghlomm shook his head in a politely restrained, stilted acknowledgement.

The anesthetic began to take effect.

“My brothers drive motorcycles,” she shared, watching his face.


“One of them races at Nakivubu Stadium.”

“So do I!” he blurted, suddenly animated. “I never win…but I love to race.”

“I thought I’d seen you somewhere before. You’re the European chap who walks around the stadium smiling before the races. I wish you’d be more careful on your motorbike.” She smiled at him.

He noticed her small forehead and high cheekbones. “There’s a small scar underneath your eye,” he said, feeling bad for her. “What happened?”

“We had roosters behind our house in Karachi when I was a little girl, maybe seven or eight years old. I got too close one day and one of them tried to pluck my eye out.” She moved her index finger underneath her eye with a slashing motion and squinted in disapproval. “I don’t like angry things, things that need to show dominance.”

The anesthetic had fanned away his pain. Albert Hueghlomm’s muscles and tendons relaxed. He suddenly felt that the day’s chase and toil had ended, that he was at home, resting. He tilted his head back and allowed himself to see her whole face at once. She was beautiful.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Yours, Fatima [Chapter 6]

I've started posting the chapters of Resolution 786. I'll post each successive chapter roughly every 3 or 4 days. Here's Chapter 6:

Deeply hurt, navigating through a twisting whirlwind of grief and loss, Fatima Hueghlomm strove to do what she believed was right. She contacted Albert Hueghlomm’s family in California to notify them of his passing. At first there was anger, anger at Fatima’s tasteless practical joke. Anger morphed into abject disbelief, incoherent questions, demands for official confirmation. A flurry of frenzied phone calls ensued, giving distressed voice to fury, rage, accusing incredulity. All the divergent passions that accompany loss, the many branches of loving relations that had been broken, that had perished — all burned together in crackling embers, leaving behind an ash heap of dull regrets and suffering remorse.

Fatima’s beloved husband was no more — yet she realized that Albert Hueghlomm was much more than her husband. He was a son, a father, a brother, an uncle, a friend. She wanted to honor those many relationships and her husband’s family, people whom she knew only through occasional telephone calls and one brief visit to America. She asked them their wishes.

Albert Hueghlomm’s family wanted him buried in a Jewish cemetery outside of Los Angeles. Fatima agreed, asking that the plot next to her husband be reserved for her. She and Adam would attend the funeral.

Dora Hueghlomm, Albert Hueghlomm’s mother, told Fatima to select the inscription for her husband’s headstone. Fatima complied, quoting the inscription in a short, tear-soaked note —

Dear Mother,

“It is from Allah that we all come and it is to Allah that we all return.” No one can ever love Albert as much as you. I am a very close second.


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

He is Gone, Chapter 5

I've started posting the chapters of Resolution 786. I'll post each successive chapter roughly every 3 or 4 days. Here's Chapter 5:

“Adam.” Fatima always pronounced her son’s name in its Arabic form, with an “Ah” sound at the beginning. She held back sobs as he drew close. They were together, alone, in the echoing family room of their large Nairobi home.


“Your Daddy is gone,” she said in her characteristic Pakistani accent, tears streaked down her face.

“I know. Kampala. For work.”

“No, Adam. He is gone,” she repeated, whispering, more insistent.


No answer.


“I’m sorry.” She held him, cupping his head against her chest, sobbing.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Judaism and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Chapter 4

I've started posting the chapters of Resolution 786. I'll post each successive chapter roughly every 3 or 4 days. Here's Chapter 4:

Albert Hueghlomm was flat on his back in jeans and a tee shirt, lying in the African sun on the cement floor of his garage. He was pushing the black rubber top of a wire onto a brand new spark plug. He spoke to his son while finishing. “You want to be sure that,” he stopped and strained underneath the motorcycle, “you’re properly seated so that,” more strain, “you catch the spark.” He finished and looked up at the wire, gently wiggling it to make sure that the connection was good.

Albert Hueghlomm had a round face with a prominent nose that held up a pair of black-framed glasses. His dark brown hair, parted on the side and barely touching his small ears, stood out against his pasty white complexion. He was of medium height and build. He spoke to Adam without looking at the boy, “Did you see the spark plug that we took out?”

“Yeah, Dad.”

“It was worn and corroded,” he said. “Did you see the old plug’s tooth compared to the new one that we just put in?”

“Yeah, Dad.”

“That’s why I had to kick the pedal so hard and so many times before the motorbike started last week. It wasn’t getting a good spark…to make the petrol fumes explode…and start the engine.” He looked over at Adam, “See? Everything’s connected. If you just look and think, in the end it all makes sense.”

Adam continued to watch his father work in the morning light. He wore a light blue football shirt, a new pair of red flip-flops and his favorite gray shorts. He had his father’s facial features and his mother’s light brown complexion. Adam enjoyed helping his father by handing him the tools that he needed to make the repairs and he had always been fond of his father’s impromptu lessons on internal combustion engines. He was a child full of curiosity, intrigued with learning. His mother often boasted to the other wives in the neighborhood — her son had started to speak before he was a year old, communicating in three languages in broken but full sentences. By the time he was six, Adam spoke fluent Punjabi with his mother, English with his father, and colloquial Swahili with the servants and locals.

Fatima seldom discussed her biggest concern about her son, and then only with her husband. Even at a young age, Adam had never used his language skills to create human relationships. Instead, he used language as a tool for data collection and analysis. She knew well his inner warmth and care. She had seen it often in how he took a tender interest in the habits and welfare of the local wildlife that frequently visited the perimeter of their home. But she had never seen him express or demonstrate that kind of overt warmth with humans, not even with his father or with her.

“Dad, I don’t want to be alone tomorrow,” Adam said.

“You won’t be. Santina will be with you.” Santina was his babysitter. His father continued, “And Mom will be back the day after I leave.” His mother was completing Umra, the smaller Haj or Muslim pilgrimage, that year, away at Mecca. “I hadn’t planned on leaving, but there’s a chance for a big sugar buy in Kampala at a good price. I should make this trip.”

Albert Hueghlomm looked at his son, realizing that his explanations hadn’t assuaged the boy’s concern. He tried another approach. “I’ll tell you what. I’ll bring back an Action Man from Kampala.” Action Man was a toy that Adam had asked for a couple of weeks ago, a plastic soldier with moveable limbs.

“OK.” Adam accepted the consolation. “How did Action Man get that cut on his face?”
he asked his father.

“Being in the wrong place at the wrong time,” said Albert Hueghlomm.

“Why didn’t you go to Mecca with Mom?”

His father didn’t reply right away. “I’m not allowed,” he finally said, and then stopped and wondered if there was any way to explain why to a child. He gave up and stammered, “It might not be safe.”

“If it’s not safe, why did you let Mommy go?”

“It’s safe for her.”

“But you’re bigger than her so it should be even safer for you?”

“I didn’t mean that kind of safe.”

“Isn’t there only one kind of ‘safe’?”

“There’s a lot more to what words can mean…and sometimes a lot less.”

“Then what good are words?”

“Adam,” he said and then stopped, his frustration growing.

Adam pressed, “You’re leaving. Mommy’s gone. Words don’t mean anything. And all I have is Action Man.”

“Adam,” Albert Hueghlomm’s tone was starting to become angry. He felt flustered by his son’s characteristic inquisitions and he had a lot to do on short notice to prepare for tomorrow’s trip to Kampala. “I’m sorry, Adam.” His tone softened as he caught and controlled his paternal frustration. “I’m sorry.”

Sensing his father’s annoyance, Adam let the issue drop.

Albert Hueghlomm knelt and placed his tools back into their box, wiping his hands on a shop rag, now smiling over at his son. “Hey, I know something you can do for me one day.” He stood and walked to Adam, continuing to wipe his hands on the rag, a wistful smile on his face. He leaned down to Adam lovingly. His cologne was a mixture of sandalwood and spicy tones of musk. His eyes sparkled like Christmas lights as he spoke. “One day I want you to go to Jerusalem and say a prayer for me. I’ve never been. I’ve always wanted to.” He stood straight and tossed the rag on top of the closed toolbox, smiling broadly, becoming more and more pleased with the thought of his son making a pilgrimage to the Holy City on his behalf.

“We have Jerusalem now, you know,” he beamed proudly.

“Who had it before us?” asked Adam happily.

The circumstantial irony froze Albert Hueghlomm in place.