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.