Tuesday, April 13, 2010

WE DANCED TO RAY CHARLES: synopsis & prologue

Due to uncertainity over what constitutes "published" in this age of the internet, only the synopsis, prologue, and first two chapters of this novel can be posted on an "open" blog.

Anyone interested in reading more after plowing through this should e-mail me at
bemildered@yahoo.com for the link, username, and password to the "protected" blog.

Bayou Bill



Moral choices are seldom as simple as the one faced by MARK CAHILL in the summer of 1968, but it was the dangerous simplicity of a razor’s edge. On one side were an exotic beauty, the chance for political office, and the approval of most people in his small southern hometown.

On the other side were his beliefs, self-respect, and life-long friends, one of whom he now loved but knew he could never have. Set against the backdrop of racial tension and social change, We Danced to Ray Charles is a story of love, hate, temptation and loss.

Mark’s problems begin at a spring keg party on the levee of the Mississippi River. That night he and AMY MARSHALL, his oldest friend, kiss. Mark falls in love, but is convinced Any didn’t since, “guys like me don’t stand a chance with girl’s like her.”

Then the petite, exotic, BEBE BOUDREAUX, makes a very pragmatic decision to move in on Mark. She’s rejected him for years because, “he’s just too damn nice,” but arranges to accidentally bump into him at a dance in Pinefield. By the time they leave, she’s agreed to what becomes the first in a series of ever more intimate dates.

While Mark is delighted and surprised by this turn of events, there’s more to his wanting her than just hormones. He’s always felt like a perennial runner-up. As he explains to a friend, dating Bebe is like winning a blue ribbon; it says he’s a winner. And he hopes being with Bebe will help him forget how he feels about the unattainable Amy.

What Mark won't admit to anyone is how dating Bebe also helps him deal with a long-standing self-loathing over his fear of DARRELL RAY SIMS, Bebe’s long time, back-street lover. While in junior high, Sims humiliated him during a football game. Since then, Mark has been afraid of Sims and ashamed of his fear. That Bebe would go out with Sims and a lot of other guys while rejecting him just re-enforced this feeling.

However, Bebe’s unexpected change of attitude forces Mark to face some serious complications. For one thing, she’s a racist. So are a lot of other people he knows. But he and his friends are not, and it’s getting harder for him to overlook her type of blatant racism. It’s even tougher to ignore her father, who has taken over the local Klan.

That’s a particularly awkward situation since one of Mark’s other close friends is WILLIE CARTER. His father is Pinefield’s leading black minister and head of the area’s civil rights movement.

Mark, Amy, and Willie were born a few weeks apart and grew up together. Along with laconic latecomer BOB HEMPHILL, who Bebe once publicly insulted, they are a close-knit group. Even for Mark, who can rationalize almost anything, balancing his values and old friendships with dating Bebe is a tricky act.

There are other complications. When Bebe begins dating Mark, Darrell Ray Sims, who has always felt a class-based contempt for the “candy-assed, city kid,” turns to Klan activities in an effort to impress her. Many of these acts relate to a “Peeping Tom” trial the Klan supported sheriff hopes will insure his re-election by embarrassing Willie’s family and impeding the voter’s registration drive.

But for Mark, the worst complication is the physical attraction he continues to feel for Amy, the homecoming queen and campus beauty who he’s sure can never be more than his friend. When he sees and feels her tall, slim, nude body the moonlit night they go skinny-dipping, it leaves him numb, speechless, and feeling hopeless.

Amy is facing her own complication. While unsure how she feels about her life-long best friend, she’s positive Bebe is evil and would be terrible for Mark. Amy wonders if she’s trying to break them up because she cares for Mark, hates Bebe, or is there more to her motives? But as she confides to her sister and cousin, it doesn’t matter how she feels about Mark. He’s so nuts about Bebe he didn’t even react to her body brushing against his the night they went skinny-dipping.

For Bebe, it’s a much less complicated situation. A Cajun, she’s a relative newcomer to the clannish town and wants Mark for financial security and social respectability. If hooking him antagonizes Amy, the long-time rival she despises, so much the better.

Another friend summed up the situation this way for Mark:

After knowing Amy all your life, you go and fall for her just when Bebe drops in on the act. You didn’t ask for advice, but in my opinion you should tell Bebe to hit the road and then take your best shot with Amy. But you won’t do that. You’re too hung up on Bebe and too afraid of losing Amy. Besides, we both know you’re a nice guy who was born to compromise.

The problem is you could end up losing ‘em both, plus a bunch of friends and, what the hell, toss in your self-respect just for good measure. So I feel sorry for you. No shit, I do. ‘Cause unless you change your ways, something tells me you’re in for a very interesting summer.



Headlights off, three large cars glide through the muggy Louisiana night like nocturnal birds of prey. Each front door brandishes an angry, ornate star and the words Kisatche Parish Sheriff’s Department.

From the dark cab of his pick-up truck, Jack Boudreaux and his second-in-command, Delmar Bullock, watch with approval as the cars turn right onto a dead-end road with no lights and no name in a nowhere place called Sandtown.

On one side of the street, abandoned cars, a basketball goal with no net, and a weed-choked baseball field occupy an otherwise vacant lot.

A row of small frame houses, perched as if ready to flee at the slightest noise, face the lot. All are tidy but patched and weatherworn. Short fences outline bare-dirt front yards.

The quiet procession halts in front of the last house. No dogs bark as uniformed white men get out. One circles behind the dark house. The others set up around the front and sides.

A tall, nervous man wearing western boots and a cowboy hat steps up on the porch. After a last glance around, he hitches up his pants and pulls a pearl-handled, .44-caliber revolver from its hand-tooled holster. He yanks the screen door open and begins banging on the wooden, hollow-core front door. With his first blow, red lights start flashing on top of the cars.

“Open up! This is the Sheriff. Come on out, Amos. We know you’re in there.”

From inside comes the sound of frightened whispers and scurrying feet. The tall man hits the door even harder. The sound echoes in the damp night air. “This is Sheriff Tobias. Get on out here. We gotta talk.”

“I’m comin’. Jes let me get my pants on.” There are more loud whispers. Someone peers out from behind the curtains of a front window. Then the door opens a few inches and a middle-aged, black face with old, wary eyes looks out.

“What ya wanna talk about, Sheriff? I ain’t done nothin’.”

“Don’t give me that shit, boy. Get out here or I’m gonna bust in and drag you out.”

“You don’t hafta do that. My Momma’s in here. You already done scared her ‘bout half to death.” The door swings inward and a short, wiry man wearing khaki work pants and a white t-shirt steps out. ”What y’all doing here dis time of night, Sheriff?”

“Shut up, nigger!” The white man holsters his pistol, then reaches behind his lanky frame and produces a set of handcuffs. “You’re coming with me.”

The black man steps back. His face shows surprise and fear. “How come? I told you I ain’t done nothin’.”

“And I told you to shut up. Now turn around and put your hands behind your back. I’m taking you to Pinefield, to jail.”

After a momentary hesitation, the voice of white authority overwhelms any outrage or bewilderment. The man named Amos does as ordered and the cuffs snap into place.

The Sheriff spins him back around, steps away, pulls out his revolver and uses it to motion for another white man to join them. Then he glares at his prisoner. “You’re a goddamn pervert. You know that, boy? We got an eyewitness who saw you looking into the bathroom window of a white, widow-lady named Myrtis Oglesby. Amos Little, you’re under arrest as a Peeping Tom.”

“A what? Sheriff, I ain’t been looking into no white woman’s window.” The prisoner turns from the Sheriff to the deputy, as if searching for support. “Least of all no dried-up, crazy old white woman like Mrs. Myrtis.”

Bathed in the rhythmic, flashing glare of red lights, the sweeping motion of the Sheriff’s right hand resembles something from a flickering silent movie as his fist, and the revolver it holds, smash into the side of the prisoner’s head. A scream comes from inside the house. He staggers in a macabre, jake-leg dance of insensibility, then drops to his knees.

Sheriff Odell Tobias leans close and hisses. “Nigger, you’re talking about my wife’s aunt. Now it looks like we’re gonna have to add a charge of resisting arrest.”

Another deputy joins the first. They pull the prisoner to his feet, drag him off the porch, and shove him into the back of the lead car. There’s a ragged volley of closing doors.

With sirens on and lights still flashing, the three large cars with the words Kisatche Parish Sheriff’s Department and an angry, ornate star on each front door swing around and leave. As they drive past the pick-up truck, everyone but the prisoner waves at the two men sitting inside.

Thin red streaks emerge from the dark cab, arc through the still night and land with small bursts of glowing embers. Headlights come on and the truck moves down the now deserted street. It stops across from the last house, the one with the front door still open. Inside, a black widow-lady named Bernice Little is alone and crying for her son.

The men get out, lift an X-shaped object from the bed of the truck, and carry it into the vacant lot. A small flame soon spreads up from the base of a wooden cross. They wait to make sure the cross is burning properly. Once assured it’s another Klan job well done, they head back towards Pinefield, and home.

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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A BRIEF AFFAIR, Chapter One, The Kiss

This is chapter one of my much-revised first novel, A BRIEF AFFAIR. It's a semi-autobiographical, sort-of-a-memoir, fictionalized version of how a nice, engaged, Jewish nursing student from Queens got mixed up with a backsliding Baptist from Louisiana.

Any comments and/or suggestions would be appreciated.



Chapter One
The Kiss

“In other national news, a Defense Department spokesman said 18,000 of the 31,000 US troops ordered into Cambodia by President Nixon have been withdrawn.”

Gwen Kaplan gave her bangs one last touch. Before this summer, news about Vietnam had been little more than the background noise to her life. She cared—had worked at a student nurse run aide station during the Wall Street riots, and still wept at the weekly list of US fatalities on TV. But the war had never been personal. Now things were different. Now she knew someone who had fought over there, and been wounded.

“Investigations are continuing into the killing of protesters at Kent State and Jackson State universities. Authorities are discounting recent allegations by Mississippi officials that both incidents were started by snipers firing from student dorms.”

Two weeks ago, the south was just a blur to her. Now that was also different. Now she also knew someone from the south. The same patient on her ward at the VA who’d been wounded in Vietnam. Her hair would do, she decided, and put the brush into her purse.

“In local sports the Mets and Yankees both dropped Sunday double-head--.”

She turned off the radio, then got up and gave herself a last check in the long mirror her father had mounted behind the bedroom door. The short white uniform looked okay but, as usual, Gwen didn’t like anything else she saw. Despite visual evidence to the contrary, her self-image was still that of a pudgy schoolgirl with dull brown eyes, drab brown hair, and a sprinkling of freckles across an otherwise nice enough nose.

After dieting all winter, her figure was at the point where she could actually consider buying a bikini for trips to Rockaway and Jones Beach later this summer. Johnny would like that, a lot. She shook her head and glanced at the framed photo of Johnny DeAngelo. The face of her long-time boyfriend was frozen in a self-conscious smirk.

Of course, she’d end up with a more modest two-piece. That still marked a vast improvement over the dowdy, one-piece suits she’d always worn. But no matter how she might really look, what she saw in the mirror never seemed to improve. She sighed, grabbed her purse and suitcase, and headed for the living room.

“So you’re going to miss your cousin Sammy’s party this Wednesday, am I right, and not come home until Friday?” The sound of her mother’s hectoring voice made Gwen cringe.

They had fought all weekend about her decision to skip the bar mitzvah of a particularly unappealing cousin. Gwen felt a little guilty about not going. But staying away from her mother all week was too tempting. “That’s right, Mom. But I’ll call tonight from the dorm.” Not wanting to give her mother a chance to re-start the hostilities, she gave her a quick kiss and then hurried out the apartment.

It was a beautiful, almost balmy Monday morning in the borough of Queens. Birds were singing in leafy oak trees. Spring flowers bloomed in well-kept beds. Clean looking clouds floated in a blue sky lacking the usual load of pollution.

Mrs. Esther Katz and Mrs. Irene Goldman were in their accustomed spots on the front stoop. Deep into one of their non-stop morning dialogues, they appeared oblivious to all these marvels of urban nature. But when Gwen came out the front door, they smiled and interrupted their conversation.

"Morning, doll. Hi ya doing?" asked Mrs. Katz, who had known the newcomer all her life.

"You always look so nice in your pretty nurse's uniform,” gushed Mrs. Goldman. “So tell me, dear, do you still like working at the VA?"

"Yes ma'am," replied Gwen, in a brief, consolidated response to all their questions. Both women had well-deserved reputations for knowing practically everything about everyone who lived in the building. This included Gwen’s summer job as a nurse tech at the Manhattan Veteran’s hospital.

"Those old vets aren't giving you a hard time, are they?" Mrs. Katz gave her a knowing wink.

"You know they are, Esther," teased Mrs. Goldman. "I mean, as cute as she is, especially with those pretty legs of hers and the short skirts all the young girls wear these days."

Gwen felt her skin flush under the appraisal. To cover her embarrassment, she set down the suitcase and began rummaging around in her roomy purse, making sure she had some of the new thirty-cent subway tokens and exact change for the bus.

"Now, Mrs. Goldman, you’ve got to remember, I'm working on an ophthalmology ward. Most of the patients are pretty old and have such bad eyesight they couldn’t tell if I was even wearing a skirt, much less notice its length." A protective instinct told her not to mention the ward’s new patient, the young, wounded Vietnam vet from the south named Mark Cahill.

The ladies laughed and began warning her about dirty old men. The discovery of both tokens and change reprieved Gwen. Giving her tormenters a smile, she said good-bye, picked up her suitcase, then hurried down the steps and across the street to the bus stop.

In Gwen’s opinion, getting on a city bus during rush hour was a form of hand-to-hand combat. People in front and back would be pushing and shoving while you battled to hang onto the handrail and whatever you were carrying plus your tokens or exact change.

Doing all this with a suitcase in one hand and a purse on your shoulder, while trying to keep your white uniform clean and the hem of its short skirt in place, made the experience even more interesting. Sometimes it didn't all work.

Today she was taking the early morning Q65A bus, however, which meant things were easier. To her delight she grabbed an empty window seat near the front. Depositing the small, battered suitcase on the floor, she sat, tugged at the hem of her skirt and strategically positioned her large purse on her lap.

After checking her watch, she pulled out a paperback copy of The French Lieutenant's Woman and prepared to endure another long Monday bus ride from her working-class neighborhood in Flushing to the subway station in upper-crust Forest Hills where she’d transfer to the F train for the even longer ride into Manhattan.

Mondays were busy on the ward. It was after lunch before Gwen had time to begin rubbing a medicated ointment onto Mark's upper torso. The idea was to treat a mild rash, a side effect of the cortisone he took following his recent corneal transplant. For the past two weeks she’s used her best massage techniques to carefully apply the thick, topical medication.

Today’s treatment was to be the last one. To her surprise, she felt some vague, mixed emotions at the prospect of no more back rubs.

“How are you feeling?” she asked, while spreading the creamy ointment over Mark’s back.

“Okay, I guess.” There was a distant, mechanical, almost truculent tone to his voice.

“Is something bothering you?”

The question seemed to annoy him. “No, nothing.”

“Don’t tell me nothing,” she insisted, while still working on his back. “I’ve never seen you this moody. Something must be wrong. Whatever it is, I’d like to know--I really would, but only if you feel like talking.”

After a long pause, Mark began speaking in a low voice. “I met a guy down in the canteen this morning. Turns out, he was with the armored unit working with us the day I got hit. According to him, there was a second KIA. I knew a guy named Tony Doughty got wasted. The last thing I remember seeing was his body being tossed around by the blast. That was bad enough. He was new, a cherry, and in my squad. I felt responsible for him. Now I find out someone else got killed and I’ve got no idea who the hell it was.”

She didn’t interrupt, letting him talk through his emotions. The muscles in his back tensed, then began to ease. A few minutes later, he looked at her and winked. “Thanks. Guess I needed that.”

Something told her the subject of the unknown dead soldier was closed. "Glad I could help.” She smiled and recapped the bottle of ointment. “It looks like that rash is gone.”

"Well, to tell the truth, I kind of hate to see it go.” He rolled over, sat on the edge of his bed, and reached for his pajama top. "I've grown pretty fond of these back rubs."

She washed her hands while trying to think of something to say. "Actually, you can have a back rub anytime you want. It's standard nursing procedure. It, uh, helps prevent bed sores."

Inwardly, she cringed at her lame remark. No patient as active as Mark Cahill was ever going to get bedsores.

"I'll be sure to remember that," he said, while buttoning the short-sleeved top. "Changing the subject from the fascinating world of bed sores and rashes, when you get a chance, could you help me snag a new pair of pajamas? I managed to get that stuff all over these."

“No problem. Let me put all this away and I’ll meet you at the linen room in a couple of minutes.”

In the nurse’s station, Gwen replaced the bottle of ointment, then pulled Mark's chart and dutifully recorded the treatment. After checking with Mrs. Anding, the ward’s head nurse, she got the key and headed for the linen room.

It was located off the main hall in a quiet cul-de-sac which contained several other small rooms used for storing cleaning equipment and other non-medical supplies. When she arrived, Mark was leaning against the door.

She smiled. "Sorry it took so long. Mrs. Anding was on the phone.”

“No problem. I've just been hanging around admiring this scene of old world culture and charm."

She laughed and unlocked the door. Inside, she switched on the overhead light and they began looking for a pair of extra large pajamas.

The VA issued two types of pajamas. Most patients wore the traditional style which came in a choice of either faded or washed-out green. Mark preferred ones called convalescents. They were dark blue and made of heavier material which allowed him to walk around without a robe.

The trouble was virtually every pair they found was old and had no label. They lucked out and quickly came across some bottoms in reasonably good shape with a label saying they were his size. Finding a matching shirt proved much tougher. While Gwen hunted, Mark tried on whatever she handed him.

After more searching, she came across one which she was sure would fit. From her kneeling position she looked up and laughed. "You're not an easy man to satisfy, you know.” She stood and pressed the garment against his bare chest. "But maybe I've got just what you need."

It was a very brief triumph. "As the granddaughter of a tailor, I’m certain it would fit. But now I notice it’s missing a button.” With a sigh, she lowered her hands and began folding the shirt.

When Mark said nothing, she continued, “But remember I told you about my friend, Ann? Well, she’s working on another ward. I'll take this one over there and see if they have one like it, but with buttons."

"Oh, don't worry about it," he said. There was an odd expression on his face.

"I don’t mind. It's about time for my break anyway."

With the help of her friend, Gwen’s mission accomplished. She returned to her ward, checked back in at the nursing station, and then headed for Mark’s room. After handing over her prize, she said, "I'd offer to close the curtains so you could change. But you've already put on the bottoms, so if it's all right, I'll wait to see if this fits."

"No problem," said Mark, who was standing in the middle of the room, putting on the top. To her surprise, he began struggling with the simple task of buttoning the shirt. Trembling fingers gave mute testimony to his growing frustration.

At first, Gwen hesitated to offer any help, afraid the gesture might hurt his feelings. But she was unable to just stand by and do nothing. "Can I help?"

He answered without looking at her. "Man and boy, I've been dressing myself for over twenty years. But, yes ma'am, if you don't mind, it looks like I could use a helping hand."

She came over and took the offending button from his fingers. His voice had been relatively calm. But standing next to him, she could feel his entire body shaking in frustration.

"It's these damn cataract glasses," he said. “They make doing some things pretty tough.” When she finished, he mumbled a thank you, then flopped back onto his bed.

It wasn't uncommon for her to spend a few minutes on slow afternoons talking to Mark. She liked him and liked hearing his smooth, southern accent. Not that he didn’t listen. Under his gentle questioning, she’d told him about herself, including Johnny. Her long-time boyfriend and now fiancé’ had dropped out of high school, washed out of the Navy, and was having trouble keeping a decent job. It could be very frustrating, she admitted, but she assured Mark she still loved Johnny and that once his situation was resolved, they’d get married.

Now, something told her Mark was the one who needed to talk. He’d just finished another long weekend alone on the ward, learned of yet another buddy’s death, and now the limitations of his vision had just been brought home to him.

She turned his bedside chair around and sat down facing him. "Mind if I stay for a minute and rest my feet?"

He seemed startled by the request. Looking in her direction, he responded, "If I ever start to mind that, then I really will be in trouble.” While he’d replied with a joke and a grin, to her, the humor sounded strained and the smile looked forced.

"Things like what just happened, do they bother you a lot?” Normally, she wouldn’t have been so direct. But she sensed that if she didn’t move quickly, he might try to rationalize away the incident and once again hide his emotions with humor.

"Just two times," Mark said, sitting up in bed, "daytime and nighttime.” As their conversation deepened, he told her what it was like to be totally blind for nearly a year and how he struggled to cope with his limitations and frustrations.

“The way I figure it, life is kind of like a poker game. You can’t control the cards you’re dealt, but you can control how you play your hand. In other words, you can either make the best of a situation or crawl away and wait to die.”

After a moment of indecision, she decided to risk asking the question that had always bothered her. “Do you mind telling me why you joined the Army? You had to know it meant going to Viet Nam.”

“Well, the war was out-of-style, very uncool, and I was in kind of a slump, so what else was I supposed to do? Besides, it was the only war around and I wanted to do my Ernest Hemingway thing. You know, check out what war was like.”

Gwen sensed they were circling a much bigger issue. Hoping she wasn’t making things worse, she said, “Mark, it’s okay if you don’t want to tell me, but I’d really like to know what happened when you got hurt.”

“No problem. It was last summer. The guy in front of me stepped on a booby trap. I caught the blast from the waist up and couldn’t see a thing. About a month later, I was flown to an Army hospital in Texas. The doctors there removed one eye and said I’d never see out of the other. And if it hadn’t been for a lot of luck, they might have been right,” he said in conclusion.

The brief story was almost too much for Gwen to handle. Hoping to change the mood, she asked, “Does the government pay for all this?”

“They didn’t at first. The Army said I’d never see again and so the VA had me ticketed for a blind rehab center. But now they’re paying and letting me stay here while I heal up.”

“So how long have you been up here?”

“Since January. I’ve gotten home a couple of times. Short visits. In fact, that’s where I was when a certain nursing student named Gwen Kaplan began her summer job.”

Mark was sitting on the edge of his bed, feet propped on the lowered railing, elbows resting on knees. His voice was so low and soothing, Gwen had to scoot closer and lean forward to hear.

He paused in the middle of a sentence, apparently having noticed something around her eyebrows. In a casual tone, he said, "Close your eyes a second.”

Assuming he wanted to remove whatever he’d just spotted, she obeyed—and was stunned to feel Mark's lips press gently against hers. An intoxicating erotic energy took possession of her body. No hands touched her, but she couldn’t move. As if in a dream, she responded to the unexpected kiss.

The tip of his tongue met no resistance as it slipped between her lips. Once inside, it made slow sensuous love to her mouth, caressing and coaxing her into returning its touch. She felt powerless to resist. All she could do, all she wanted to do, was savor the feel of Mark Cahill's mouth against hers.

Seconds, minutes, hours, days later, she couldn't be sure, he broke the kiss and leaned back. Gwen opened her eyes and saw him looking straight at her. What he’d done wasn’t right, she was certain of that. But what was she supposed to do now? After all, she didn’t want to hurt his feelings, and she’d loved the kiss.

From somewhere deep inside her jumbled brain came a memory of instructors saying to reject the act, not the patient. Now all she could think to say was, "I like you, Mr. Cahill."

He responded in his trademark soft southern voice. "I like you, too, Miss Kaplan."

Unable to think of anything else to do, she struggled to her feet and somehow managed to reach the foot of Mark's bed on legs which threatened to collapse. "And Miss Kaplan,” she paused at the sound of Mark’s voice and looked back, “someday I'm going to kiss every inch of your body."

Still shaken by the kiss, she couldn’t believe this guy had just told her something so blatantly sexual. Things like that weren’t supposed to happen to nice Jewish girls from Queens, especially when they were engaged.

With her head spinning, she mumbled good-bye and made her way out of room 24. In the empty, neon-lighted corridor, she sagged against the wall. Her addled mind raced with unanswered questions triggered by that unexpected kiss.

How had it happened? She wasn't sure.

Had she, somehow, encouraged him? No way.

Should she tell her head nurse, Mrs. Anding, or Johnny? Definitely not. Mrs. Anding was too professional to approve and Johnny too insecure to ever understand.

What should she do the next time? She didn't know.

Would there be a next time? Possibly? Probably?

She glanced back at the door to Mark’s room. Hopefully?


"You're not an easy man to satisfy, you know," she'd said, with her soft, inviting, brown eyes gazing up at him from under those long, dark lashes. “But maybe I’ve got just what you need.”

With that, she’d stood and pressed a pajama top against his chest. When her fingertips touched his bare skin, it’d been a struggle to keep standing.

Sitting on the edge of his bed, Mark kept replaying that scene, hearing those words. He went over and looked at himself in the mirror above the room's sink. With the thick, milk-bottle glasses he had to wear, the sprinkling of tiny powder burns around his eyes and the small scar on his left cheek, his face just wasn't the sort to tempt an engaged girl to flirt, especially a nice one like Gwen Kaplan.

And yet, back in the linen room, even before she touched his chest, he'd felt something happening between them. He stepped over to the window and stared across the street at the Bellevue nurses dorm and wondered which room was hers. Had she been standing a step closer than necessary? Had she been giving him a sexy look? Was it possible that she'd been flirting? Or was he just wanting to believe a cute girl like her could be attracted to him?

It’d been two years since he’d last felt anything like the emotions which swept over him, first then and later in his room as she buttoned the pajama top, fussed with the collar, and smoothed out the non-existent wrinkles. Looking into her eyes, feeling that touch, remembering those words, his palms had begun to sweat.

Of course, she probably hadn't been flirting. After all, she was studying to be a nurse. Assisting patients was part of her job. That included everything from coming to the rescue when they couldn't even button their damn pajamas to getting them talking about past traumas.

On the other hand, when he kissed her, she didn't jerk away or protest. That's what he'd expected. That’s why he’d hesitated too long in the linen room. They were, after all, practically strangers, and she was engaged, and what he’d said hadn’t just been a line, he really did like her. After a last, thoughtful look at the dorm, he turned and headed back to his bed.

But it had been a good kiss. And when she responded, it became a very good kiss. Very good, hell, it’d been outstanding. There’d been no mistaking the invitation in her moist, pliant lips, an invitation he'd gladly accepted. Nor was there any mistake about his wanting a chance to do it again.

The kiss startled her, he could tell. Of course, that line of his just before she left had probably been a total turn-off. Still, wasn’t there just a hint of a smile on her lips as she said goodbye and left? With his lousy vision, he couldn't be sure.

For all he knew, she might consider this sort of thing just another hazard of the job. Maybe she'd tolerated the kiss because she didn't want to hurt the feelings of a half-blind vet a long way from home.

Maybe. But something in her lips said that wasn't the case. Lying back on his bed, he could still smell her perfume and feel the sweet pressure of her mouth on his. It was a nice memory.

Gwen Kaplan had triggered a feeling he once doubted he’d ever have again. In a way, that was scary. Feeling nothing didn’t hurt. So her being engaged was a good thing, probably. He wondered if this might be the start of something interesting. That seemed very doubtful, but it was a nice thought.

Mark reached over to the nightstand and turned on his small radio. “In other national news, critics of the war in Vietnam are calling for renewed demonstrations over the government’s failure to immediately pull all US troops out of Cambo….”

The radio went silent. Mark released the on/off switch and stared out the window. Lights were still on in several dorm rooms across the street. It’d been a long time coming, he thought. But thanks to Gwen Kaplan, he now had something else to think about, and to sleep on.

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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

THE OTHER BOWL GAME - a short, short story

'Tis the season to be jolly, and watch football games, especially college bowl games. Every year more of them appear on our screens. With the media talent pool stretched thin, two seldom used TV sportscasters are given the assignment of covering the newest, least important, most obscure bowl game.

Bayou Bill


by Bill Fullerton

“Hello sports fans. This is Greg Gumball coming to you from fabled Waterproof Stadium in the heart of beautiful Dry Prong, Louisiana. This hallowed old structure is the picturesque setting for this year’s first annual No Hope Enterprises Motivational Bowl.

“Today’s football game will pit the always tough Fighting Snipes from the Sam Houston Institute of Technology, led by head coach Jimmy Bob White, against coach Thomas ‘Gimmie’ Moore and his formidable Jackalopes from Southern Oklahoma Baptist.

“Both teams come into the game with impressive records. Sam Houston was 6-5-1, including three wins against community junior colleges, while Southern Oklahoma went 7-5 against the point spread.

“We’ll be getting insightful analysis of today’s eagerly anticipated football game from our color commentator, the one-time special teams specialist and all-district honorable mention from Middlebrow High School, Allan Michael.”

“Thank you, Greg Gumball, and hello to football fans everywhere. This should be a real battle between teams with contrasting styles. The Jackalopes of Southern Oklahoma feature a ball-control offense built around the talents of team’s 5’4”, 145 pound, senior running back, Cedrick ‘Say What?’ Sullivan.

“Operating out of coach Gimmie Moore's famed Broken Bone formation, the diminutive Sullivan has pounded out almost six-hundred yards in four seasons with the Jackalopes. No doubt Say What? would have racked up even better stats had he not been wracked up by a series of painful, crippling injuries while running up the middle in his first three seasons.

“This year, he’s begun to improvise, running a lot of end sweeps. But these sweeps are so wide he goes out of bounds on almost every carry. Sometimes a really quick defensive back can catch him first, but Say What? has been running with a real sense of urgency this season.

“While the Jackalopes run, the Snipes fly. The offense is lead by quarterback Rod ‘The Reel Thing’ Coker, who passed for over 1200 yards this season. Unfortunately, about half of those yards came on interception returns. But when he's hot, he's hot.

“You know, Greg Gumball, everybody’s talking about Reel Thing's favorite target, split-end Tyrone, ‘Spear Catcher’ Jones. Although Jones isn’t blessed with blazing speed, he makes up for it by running erratic, broken pass routes, leaving defensive backs bewildered and out of position.”

“That's great, Allan Michael. It sounds like this football game's got all the makings for a great offensive shoot-out.”

“You could be right, Greg Gumball. But both teams have defensive units which could play significant roles in the outcome.

“The Sam Houston Institute of Technology Snipes have one of the biggest defensive lines I've ever seen. Anchored by 5'7" 353 pound nose tackle, Buford ‘The Blob’ Grossman, the Snipes' defensive linemen are simply awesome. But despite that incredible size, they're unusually slow.

“That combination should make it hard for the undersized Jackalope offensive linemen to execute any of their favorite weapons, such as: traps, influence blocks, and holding. And since the Snipes use either five or seven down linemen with outside linebackers who often act like defensive ends, the Jackalope's elusive running back Cedrick ‘Say What?’ Sullivan may spend a lot of time heading for the sidelines.

“Southern Oklahoma Baptist counters with a defensive unit that features some of the wildest linebackers in the business. The leader of the group is 6'2" 167 pound senior, Anthony ‘Nasty’ Nasturtium.

“I tell you, Greg Gumball, those guys are just plain mean. According to defensive coordinator Sam ‘The Body’ Breaker, they don't rely on any traditional defensive schemes. Instead, they just hang around and clobber anyone who happens to come nearby. In a recent game, they managed to cripple three members of the school’s marching band who hung around a bit too long after half-time, a couple near-sighted game officials, and a little old lady who’d made a wrong turn while trying to find the restroom.”

“Sounds to me, Allan Michael, like that could spell trouble for the Snipes' great pass receiver, Spear Catcher Jones.”

“That's right, Greg Gumball. Despite rumors to the contrary, Jackalope defenders aren't stupid. They do know the difference between playing tough defense, roughing the passer, personal fouls, and manslaughter. Now whether they care about those differences, well, who knows?”

“How's the kicking game, Allan Michael?”

“You know how it is, Greg Gumball, all kickers are a little strange. Well, so is the kicking game for both teams.”

“That's great, Allan Michael. Fans, we'll be right back for the kickoff after this pause for commercials, public-service announcements, station breaks, and dead air.”

~~ "We're off." ~~

“This dump’s falling apart, Gumball. Somebody fix that draft--I'm freezing my buns.”

“Me, too. Hey, what about some coffee over here?”

“Who picked these teams anyway, the humane society?”

“Nah, the bowl committee. They’re all former International Olympic Committee members. For them it was an easy choice. These were the only schools willing to pay the price needed to get an invitation. By the way, Cedrick Sullivan pronounces his first name SEED-rick, not SAID-rick.”

“Who gives a flying buffalo chip?”

“You do, if you don't want to go back to calling Middlebrow Junior High games. Hang loose, we're going back on the air.

~~ "Back on in three, two, one." ~~

“This is Greg Gumball along with, Allan Michaels. Welcome back to Waterproof Stadium and the first annual No Hope Enterprises Motivational Bowl. Any last second comments before the kickoff, Allan Michael?”

“Just this Greg Gumball. Fans should pay close attention to my main man, Southern Oklahoma Baptist running back SEED-rick ‘Say What’ Sullivan. If he starts turning up-field before running out of bounds, SEED-rick could have a real impact….“

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Saturday, November 21, 2009

A SPECIAL PRESENT: for your special someone


Bill Fullerton

I was halfway between Sears and flat broke, sitting alone in the mall’s noisy food-court, eating a tasteless salad, and wondering why I let my mother con me into getting dressed and driving into town with her to go shopping the day after Thanksgiving, the busiest shopping day of the year.

She was right, of course. My mother is always right. And to prove the point, I had somehow managed to finish all my Christmas shopping. That’s good, because I could be a little busy in a few weeks.

Today’s shopping cost me more than just max’ed out credit cards. My feet hurt, my back ached, I felt tired, bloated and miserable. Of course, I felt that way long before hitting the mall. Being eight months pregnant can do that to a girl.

Make that an unmarried, pregnant girl. Of course, I’m no girl either, although it does seem like I stopped growing a lot sooner than the owner’s manual told my parent’s to expect. In her infinite wisdom, Mother Nature decided five-foot nothing was more than enough for Becky Miller to handle. So there’s not a whole lot of me to pack around a baby that keeps getting bigger by the hour and seems anxious to get out and look around.

It’s not like I didn’t know better. This will be my second baby. My first, Kylie, is two going on twenty and can’t wait to play with her baby brother. But my knowing better and doing what’s smart isn’t the same thing. At least it isn’t for me, not after falling in love with someone I may never see again.

The new baby’s daddy, Matt Hampton, never knew I was in love with him. And I wasn’t, not at first. We’d known each other forever. Of course, everybody knows everybody else out where we live. In high school, we fooled around a little, but didn’t date. A couple years after graduation, I got married instead of going back to college while he dropped out and joined the service.

Last December, I showed up at my parents’ house with Kylie, and a black eye. Stuart, my rich, good-looking, socio-path husband, gave me both.

A few days later, Matt came limping home with his left leg in a cast. Something very bad happened wherever he’d been doing whatever it was he did. Kylie and I went over to visit him the next day.

A lot of girls have had a crush on Matt. He was an all-everything jock with a boyish smile and a teasing attitude that was just a little cocky. The Matt I saw that day was still blonde and good-looking, but he was no boy. His skin wasn’t tan so much as a hard, weathered brown. There were tiny creases around the corners of his eyes. And sometimes those familiar blue-eyes had this funny, distant look. Most of all, the cockiness was gone, replaced by a quiet self-confidence.

In other words, he was a man—and I wanted him.

The next afternoon, I went back, without Kylie. We were alone, and soon making love.

"Becky Miller, you have the most delectable boobies.” He interrupted a very thorough job of nuzzling my breasts to say that, and was now smiling at me. My sweater and bra were off; my jeans and panties were about to follow. We were on the carpet in the living room. A few small logs burned in the nearby fireplace. The lights on the big Christmas tree were turned on. Just like me.

I stroked his short, blonde hair and grinned. "Don’t give me that, crap. I'm an original member of the Itty Bitty Titty Club.”

"Size don't mean diddly. I’ve always told you that." Matt used the tip of his tongue to emphasize the point. "Quality means a lot more that quantity. Believe me, lady, yours are first-rate. In fact, while these prime samples of female flesh may not be the biggest, they are, without doubt, still the finest pair I've ever had the pleasure of enjoying."

I don’t mind having small breasts. In fact, I prefer mine to the big udders most guys seem to go nuts over. That’s just as well. Even after having Kylie, there was little change in mine. At most, they went from hard-fried eggs to a couple sunny-side up. Matt’s gentle teasing and compliments reminded me how sweet he could be, and how much I wanted him.

"If that’s what you think, then there’s more than just your leg that needs attention. Lay back and let’s see if I can give you an early Christmas present."

When it ended, I was content, tingling all over, and stretched out on his chest. It was a good place to be. I could feel his heartbeat slowing while my body moved to the rhythm of his breathing.

Matt broke the silence. “To me you look a lot more like a cute elf than old Santa Claus. But I sure do like your Christmas presents and the way you deliver ‘em.”

After that we were together almost every day. Since his parents both worked, most of the time at his home, although we go out on dates. I’m sure everybody in town figured they knew what was going on between us. After all, everyone in our town knows everyone else and what their fellow citizens are doing. But I never heard of anyone so much as raising an eyebrow, much less objecting. That included our parents. In fact, I think that, like everyone else, they approved.

Still, Matt and I knew it was just a brief affair, nothing more. He would return to the service, I’d go back to college. No strings attached. That’s the way it always had been between us.

Then I fell in love with him. It’d been coming on for some time, but I wouldn’t admit what I was feeling. Sure Matt and I had changed. But we hadn’t changed that much, had we? There’d been no chemistry between us back in high school, so why now? I kept telling myself that what I felt was a combination of friendship, sympathy, and sex, not love.

All that ended the night he beat-up Stuart, my husband who had beaten me up—twice. It happened the week after the divorce papers were filed. We were at a club with some friends. Matt still had his cast on, so we were just listening to the band.

Stuart came over to our booth and started carrying on. Matt never moved, just told Stuart, who was almost leaning on him to get closer to me, that he should leave. When Stuart ignored him and kept yelling at me, Matt hit him several times, real fast, just how and where I’m not sure. Stuart let out this funny, gurgling noise and sank to his knees beside our table.

Matt put a hand on Stuart’s shoulder and must have done something, because I saw Stuart grimace. Then Matt pulled him close and asked, in this dead-calm voice, if he was ever going to bother me again. Stuart’s a big guy, and believe me, he’s strong. But I could see fear in his eyes as he mumbled, no.

From then on, I was hooked. All my life, I’d felt in total control around men. It’s not my looks. I’m short, flat-chested, and no great beauty. But guys seldom seem to notice. I like to think it’s my eyes, and smile, and personality. Maybe those do play a part, but most of it is my being a total flirt, and having a nice butt.

Everything changed when Stuart beat me up. After the second time, when he started for Kylie’s room before I got him to turn back on me, I would feel this twinge of fear and uncertainty around men I didn’t know. But the fear vanished whenever I was with Matt. Then I was my old self, feeling in control, safe, complete. I’d always liked Matt, now I loved him. My problem was how to convince him he loved me.

Then he told me he wasn’t just going back to the service, but back to wherever he was when he got wounded. He felt responsible for the deaths of two friends. “I trusted someone who betrayed us. My friends are dead. He’s still there.”

I thought I was going to have a breakdown. This wasn’t fair. What scared me most was the absolute certainty he didn’t give a damn whether he lived or died, just so long as he killed that other person first. The only thing that gave him any second thoughts was my reminder that he was an only child. I begged him to think of what his death would mean to his family.

But I knew he wouldn’t budge.

After Christmas, he went back to the service to spend a few months getting his leg in shape and preparing to return to his old assignment. Meanwhile, I re-entered college and considered my very limited options.

In April, he came home on leave prior to going back to wherever that other guy was. I met him with a big smile, and a body that was all his and free of any trace of birth control pills. If the next few weeks were the last I would ever have with him, maybe I would have his child. If his parents, who I dearly loved, lost their son, they might at least have his grandchild. Maybe that would ease their grief, our grief.

Now, eight months later, Matt may be dead or alive, I don’t know. But I’ve got his child, his son. “Matt Hampton, Jr.,” I whispered the name, smiling at the sound. Then I heard myself continuing, “…only child of the late Matt Hampton,” and began to cry.

“This seat taken?” I didn’t look up, just shook my head and kept searching for a napkin.

Someone pulled out the chair next to me and sat down. “Is the food here that bad, or are you just sad to see me?”

Who the hell was this idiot? I turned, and was staring at someone who looked just like, Matt Hampton. For maybe the first time in my life, I was speechless. Just breathing was hard enough. Before I could think of something to say, he leaned over and kissed me. It was soft and gentle, and seemed to last forever, which was way too short for me.

Nothing made sense. “What are you doing here?”

He smiled. “Glad to see you, too, Miss Miller.”

Then it registered. “You’re alive!” I threw my arms around his neck, buried my face against his chest, and really began crying.

I didn’t want to look up. The face I saw might not be Matt’s. This could all be a dream. But I recognized his hard body, his special smell, and his gentle touch as he stroked my hair.

When I worked up the courage to look, all I could say was, “Really, what happened?”

“I quit.”

“You can’t just quit—can you?”

“My mission was accomplished. My time was about up. I told the bosses I had personal business to attend to, and quit.”

“Am I that personal business?”

“Damn straight. I got a message a few weeks ago from old Dad. Don’t ask how. Anyway, he filled me in on what you did and how things have been, well, developing since I left. He said you were way too good for me, and that while there may have been a few bastards in our family, they were all self-made men, not accidents of birth.”

“He shouldn’t have done that. This was no accident,” I touched my belly. “I don’t want you here because you feel sorry for me.”

“I don’t. I’m just—“ The smile left his face. To my amazement, Matt looked away, but not before I saw a tear roll down his cheek. After a moment, he wiped a hand down his face, turned back, and gestured toward my protruding middle. “You love me, that much?”

I nodded.

He swallowed. “Becky, before leaving, I fought falling in love with you. It wasn’t easy, but I wasn’t sure I’d make it back. Nearly didn’t.” He almost looked embarrassed. “Anyway, Dad didn’t let me know about you and the baby until after I finished. He was right to wait. Because since then, I swear, you and the baby, and Kylie, and just life itself, that’s all I can think about. So I had to get out. I want life now, not more death. And it’s because of you, because I love you. Oh, God, how I love you. Becky, will you please marry me?”

I nodded and we were hugging and I was crying again all the while grinning like I’d won the lottery. In a way, I had. We kissed. It made the first one seem like a chaste peck on the cheek. When we came up for air, I patted my very big belly. “I’m afraid it won’t be much of a honeymoon.”

“That’s okay. I’m counting on having a long life to make up for lost time. When’s the baby due?”

“Well, if your son will wait that long, around Christmas.”

“A boy baby, at Christmas.” He seemed pleased with the prospect. “And we’re not even Jewish.”

“You’re an idiot. But I do love you.”

“And I love you, too. Remember last year, when we first made love and I said I liked your presents and the way you delivered them? Well, I still do.” He reached out and laid the palm of his hand on my belly. “It’s just that I never counted on such a special Christmas present.”

I began to cry again, and pressed his hand against my belly. The baby picked that moment to kick. Matt grinned, stood up, and began helping me out of my chair. “I think that was a not-too-subtle hint from our son that we better get moving on this marrying business. Where’s the nearest jewelry store? We need to buy some rings.”


Bill Fullerton has been a newspaper columnist, government paper-pusher, oilfield roustabout, and served in Vietnam.

His short stories have appeared in: Rose and Thorn, New Works, Review, DeadMule, Chick Flicks, Nibbler, and Muscadine Lines. Long Story Short named one of his short stories, Story of the Month.

LSS also ran an excerpt of his second novel, We Danced to Ray Charles, a coming-of-age love story that was a semi-finalist (work-in-progress) for the Faulkner Award, and a finalist in the Santa Fe Writer’s Project contest.

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009


For the last few weeks I’ve been enmeshed in the re-writing of my second novel, We Danced to Ray Charles. The night the story’s two life-long friends, Amy and Mark, first kiss is a key moment. In the book’s current version. The scene occurs about half-way through as a flashback/dream told from Amy’s perspective.

What I’m thinking about doing is adding Mark’s version of the same scene to the opening chapter. That’s what I’ll be posted today. In a few days, I’ll post the scene in which Amy recalls that evening. A third and final post related to the event, will detail what happens when they chance to return to that spot.

For those faint of heart and/or weak of stomach, they don't go, "All the way." Maybe they should. Maybe it's too detailed or not detailed enough. Maybe the whole idea is weak. Your feedback, whether it be brickbats or bouquets, hallelujahs or hand-grenades, posted here or sent by email, is needed and will be appreciated.

Bayou Bill


You Must Remember This
An excerpt from Chapter One of, We Danced to Ray Charles
by Bill Fullerton

Bebe fluttered her fingers in a goodbye gesture as she pulled away. There was a brief squeal when her tires hit the asphalt road. Mark watched the taillights vanish into the sultry night while touching the spot she’d kissed.

A warm breeze drifted past. With it came a faint scent of spring flowers and the succulent eroticism of approaching rain. It reminded him of another night and another girl. His hand droped, his smile faded, and he whispered, “Ain’t life a bitch?”

It was like a bad joke. The once unobtainable Bebe Boudreaux, the girl he always wanted, seemed interested in him. That would be great, except he’d just fallen in love with Amy, someone he could never have, someone he loved so much it hurt to even think her name.

Even the possibility of a well-financed shot at becoming a state representative couldn’t get Amy off his mind. Once, they both loved politics. He still did, and had always wanted to run for office. But after today’s meeting with local big shots, all he could think about was how, after what Vietnam did to her brother, she no longer cared.

Thank God he’d run into Bebe. What politics couldn’t do, she could, almost. With Bebe around, it was hard for thoughts of anyone else to slip in, hard, but not impossible. The moment she drove away, memories of that night with Amy came flooding back along with a familiar, sick, hopeless, soul-shriveling sensation.

A swarm of hungry mosquitoes began intruding on his thoughts. An absentminded attempt to wave them away failed and he headed for his car. He wanted to think, to try and figure things out, not feed mosquitoes.

The tree-lined streets of Pinefield featured more gentle hills than traffic signs. Even in the downtown area there were few other cars passing the lighted storefronts. Mark ignored these icons of his youth as he tried to focus on Bebe and what happened at the dance. But his mind kept going back to Amy and that night on the levee.

The party had been his dumb idea. To be dumped by a guy you’ve dated for over a year is tough. To have him do it for another guy—devastating. That’s what happened to Amy, and Mark had never seen her so confused and depressed.

So the idea, the hope, was that after a couple weeks of mourning and talking his ear off on the phone, a casual beer-bust with friends would kick-start her back to life. And while everyone else seemed to be having a great time, he could tell she was miserable.

That’s why he kept checking on her and noticed when she drifted away from the center of the party and then vanished into the late evening shadows. At first he thought it best to let her be alone. But he changed his mind when a tall, arrogant jerk with a long-standing case of the hots for Amy seemed ready to follow.

In the breeze off the river, he heard a faint, whimpering noise like an injured animal might make. He followed it to her hide-away behind a driftwood log.

They’d talked and talked about what happened and why she felt so damn depressed. There was more to her mood than just breaking up with a boyfriend, much more. But by now he didn’t know what else to say. So he just sat beside her and said nothing.

A fresh breeze came off the river and she shivered. He put an arm around her shoulders and pulled her close. With a low, anguished wail, she buried her face against his chest and began soaking the front of his shirt with what seemed like an endless stream of tears.

When her sobs began to taper off, she didn’t pull away and try to apologize. Instead, she continued to lie against him, silently sliding a fingertip across his soaked shirt. It felt good, very good, and he smiled

That’s when she lifted her head and looked at him. Even with all the crying, she was still beautiful. He’d never been “turned on” by Amy’s looks—neither had Amy. Maybe it was a trick of the mind to protect their friendship. Still, he understood why guys--.

His evaluation of Amy’s beauty came to a sudden stop when she slipped her hands behind his neck, pulled his face to hers, and began to kiss him, and kiss him, and kiss him.

Later, he wondered if that was when he fell in love with her. Did that first touch of her lips, her tongue, and the warmth of her mouth against his melt whatever barrier had stood between their friendship and love? He’d never know. What he did know was that by the time their lips parted, something in him had changed, forever.

There was a look of serenity, or something like that, on her tear-streaked face. But he sensed another, more subtle emotion. With a jolt of disbelief, he realized she was waiting for him to do something. The problem was he had no idea what that should be.

He tried to think, tried to be rational and decide what was best. Amy was wasted, hurt, vulnerable. He’d never taken advantage of a girl, and didn’t want to start with his best friend. But the memory of that kiss, and the way she kept staring into his eyes, made thinking about anything other than kissing her again, and again, and again, impossible.

This time she didn’t have to pull his face to hers. At some point it occurred to him that Amy was one helluva good kisser. He envied the guys she’d dated.

The next time they parted, he started to say something about stopping. Maybe joke that he wasn’t sure how much more of this he could stand. Only it wasn’t really a joke.

Before he could get started, Amy snuggled closer and pulled him back down onto her mouth. Though unsure if he’d fallen in love with Amy during their first kiss, what now followed made that a very moot point.

As if on autopilot, his hand slipped under her sweatshirt. Amy shivered and tried to pull him closer. He took possession of her breast, savoring its firm, silky smoothness. The nipple was already hard, as if waiting for him. As he gently rolled it between finger and thumb, Amy broke their kiss and moaned.

He took his time kissing her eyes, her cheek, her chin, letting his lips trail down to her neck. There was no resistance when he pushed the sweatshirt higher, exposing her small, perfect breasts to the pale moonlight. A moment later his lips encircled one of her nipples. Amy gasped and tried to press herself deeper into his mouth.

Once again he told himself he should stop, but his hand seemed to move of its own accord down her slim torso. When he began fumbling with her zipper, Amy made no move to stop him.

More than anything in his life, he wanted to make love with Amy Marshall. And he knew if he didn’t stop now, that would happen. Only it wouldn’t be love, it’d be screwing. And though aching with desire and need, he didn’t want to do that to his best friend. And he didn’t want to risk losing his best friend over what, considering his present condition, would probably be a two-second burst of ecstasy.

With a resigned sigh, he gave up on the zipper. His lips released her breast and returned to her mouth.

Their tongues performed a lazy dance from one mouth to another. He pulled her sweatshirt down, covering breasts he’d probably seen for the last time. For a moment, he allowed his fingers to caress first one, then the other. He wanted to remember their texture, shape, and warmth.

The kissing became less intense but didn’t stop. He hated to break that last contact with her. Besides, they both needed to cool down before returning to the--.

The irate blare of a car horn brought Mark back from the Mississippi levee to one of the few Pinefield intersections with a traffic light. A light he’d just run. He waved in apology at the offended driver, and headed out of town. If he was going to let himself think about that night with Amy, he better get off the road.

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Sunday, July 19, 2009

WHAT SUMMER MEANS TO ME - flash fiction

What Summer Means To Me
by Bill Fullerton

Summer means no school.

Summer means having to mow your yard instead of going fishing or swimming. And to make matters worse, my tightwad father don't hardly pay me a thing for all that work. He claims riding around on a John Deere for a couple of hours isn't some kind of cruel and unusual punishment. And he also says he won't pay me time-and-a-half for hazardous duty. Someday I’m going to turn him in to the Federal Wage and Hour people like that ad I saw on TV said to do.

Summer means fishing with the other guys, whenever I can sneak off that danged John Deere. Most of the time I go fishing with just Freddie and Mike, but sometimes Mike's kid brother Jerry tags along. He's a real pest, if you know what I mean.

Jerry is an okay kid I guess, but like I said, he can be a real pest. Like when he scares all the fish by kicking the bait bucket or when he falls into the pond, accidentally on purpose. To tell you the truth, his falling in the pond is not that bad a deal. You see then we all have a good excuse to jump in, clothes and all, to save him.

Then when we get home and our Mom's start yelling about getting our clothes wet, we can tell them the gospel truth, that we were just trying to save poor little Jerry from drowning to death in the pond. Boy if they ever find out Jerry swims like a fish, they'll kill us all.

Summer means swimming. Sometimes we swim in the pool in Bob's backyard. That's okay except Bob's folks never want you to play King of the Hill on top of the diving board, or Bull-a-Gator tag in the pool. It also mean's having to be careful whenever you go into Bob's house so his Mom won't get mad at you for tracking in water or making some other mess.

Swimming in the pond is more fun. There's a rope swing and the bottom's not really that muddy. The only problem is nobody's parents wants them swimming in the pond on account of how they're afraid we'll all drown or something. So we always have to stop at the filling station and rinse all the mud off before we go home.

Summer means playing baseball, and playing baseball, and then playing some more baseball. Most of us don't really care for it that much, what with all the rules and coaches and umpires and all. But for some reason, our parents seem to get a kick out of the whole thing.

All summer long they keep coming to game after game after game. And about all they do is sit in lawn chairs and talk to one another while swatting at mosquitoes and sweating like a bunch of rushing racehorses. Maybe they keep coming because they enjoy yelling at the coaches and umpires. They also do a lot of that.

Summer means there's nothing to watch on TV except for reruns. There's also the Atlanta Braves and the Chicago Cubs, or even worse (if that's possible), golf. But personally, I'd rather watch the reruns.

My father took me with him one time when he went to play golf. There's only one word for that game, BORING! I mean, all that happens is a bunch of grown-ups hit a ball, ride after it a long ways, and then hit it again. It was fun getting to drive the golf cart, but when it comes to the game, who cares?

As for the Braves and the Cubs, well as the girls say, gag me with a spoon. The Cubs are all losers, except for Sammy Sosa, and the Braves are even worse.

Sometimes my father gets me to watch a real baseball game with him, like say the Dodgers against the Giants. That's not too bad. Dad's no pro, but he seems to know a thing or two about baseball. And it's kinda fun sitting with him, drinking Cokes and talking baseball, even if he does keep kidding around and calling the teams the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants.

But usually before the game is over, Mike or Freddie have come over, maybe with Bob and Jerry, and I tell Dad I want to go with them. Dad always says it's okay to leave, but sometimes it seems like he gets this funny, kinda sad look on his face.

Summer means no school.

The End

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009


A few months after their wedding, two good friends of mine went fishing. They anchored in a shady spot for lunch and, being young and in love, one thing led to another. I've no idea about the fishing that day, but nine months later there was indisputable proof something was caught. The location for this amorous activity was Fool's Bayou. And no, I'm not making that up.

After hearing that story, I wondered how the bayou's various native life forms might have reacted to what was going on in the fishing rig. Here's one, not so likely, possibility.

Bayou Bill


by Bill Fullerton

Bronson the Big Mouth Bass stuck his head above the bayou surface and looked around. What the hell was going on? It was mid-day and too damn hot for any respectable fish to be feeding. Even the dumbest human must realize that. So why had those two in that fancy fishing rig slipped past the screen of willow branches and tied up against the trunk?

The event was so surprising, even Freddie the Frog and Pasquale the Possum had stopped bitching about how humans were the only animals not required to have alliterative names. From their usual spot on the limb of a nearby cypress, they silently studied this phenomenon.

No one ever said humans were smart. But Bronson hadn’t gotten where he was by taking them for granted. Maybe the humans were going to fish for crappie. But that didn’t seem likely. Even the dumb, if passionate, Paula the Perch, wouldn’t be nibbling in this heat, at least not on food.

Bronson was certain there could be no greater calling in life than to be a bass, especially a big bull bass. However, except for an occasional brief, and exhausting, leap out of water, being a bass meant your air-world viewing angles were limited. So he decided to slip over to the cypress and let Freddie and Pasquale fill in any action he might miss.

From his new vantage point among the cypress roots, he looked up at his two friends and asked for a report. “They’re like, you know, feeding,” said Pasquale. He’d spent time on a hippie commune and found the subject of human food very interesting.

“And drinking something in cans,” added Freddie. “It looks like beer. The big guy’s on his third. The little one with the floppy hat is still on number two.”

Even from his low angle, Bronson had seen all that and was not impressed. In his opinion, watching mold grow would have been more exciting. “Is that all? You two long-winded, worthless excuses for friends are supposed to--.”

His diatribe was interrupted by new activity on the boat. The smaller of the two humans had just removed the big floppy hat. With a shake of the head, a whole bunch of long dark hair came tumbling down. The longhaired human then turned and gave the big one a smile that, to Bronson, seemed to make the water even hotter.

There was no doubt, the one with longhair was most definitely a female-type human. And what a female. Even Bronson, who looked upon all air-breathers with a certain disdain, was impressed.

The female’s smile got even bigger when the big male moved up and sat beside her in the middle of the boat. No one at the cypress could believe what happened next. The humans began making like sucker fish, going mouth-to-mouth while the male messed with her top.

When their mouths finally parted, the female gave the male a look that made Bronson’s tail curl, and removed the top. The male seemed to like what came into view, especially two odd-looking bumps. At first he had his hands all over them. Then he leaned down and did something like the mouth-to-mouth thing, but on first one of them and then the other. Judging by the look on her face, the female seemed to enjoy all this.

“Psst. Hey, Bronson.” It was Pasquale.

“Yeah, what is it?” Not wanting to miss any of this odd behavior by humans, he hated to look away.

“You won’t believe what else that dude’s up to.”

“Wadda you mean?” This time Bronson’s curiosity got the better of him and he looked up. Pasquale was hanging by his tail. That wasn’t so unusual considering his specie. But on his face was a grin unlike any ever seen on a possum. His forepaws were busy doing something Bronson felt certain he didn’t want to know about.

“Pasquale, what in the name of Moby Dick are you talking about?”

The possum continued watching for a moment, then he glanced down. “Man, that dude is like some kid unwrapping a birthday present. Check it out.”

Bronson looked back. The female was standing while the male shucked off her pants. The boat rocked a bit. But she put her hands on his shoulders and they did more of that mouth-to-mouth action until things settled down.

There wasn’t a whole lot of the female, but what there was seemed to please the male. And Bronson had to admit, she did have a certain slender, symmetrical appeal.

It came as another surprise when she lowered herself in front of the male. After some more mouth-to-mouth, her head vanished from Bronson’s view. “What’s going on, you two? I can’t see a damn thing but that shit-eating grin on his face.”

“Well,” Freddie paused to clear his throat, a nervous habit endemic to his species, then started again. “Well, not much, really, she’s just doing something with her hands. No, wait. Now she’s holding this thing. I swear, it looks like an albino snake.”

Bronson sensed he was being given the business. “Bullshit.”

“No shit,” insisted Freddie. “She’s doing something to it with her hands and it’s gotten bigger. What the…? Okay, I’m not making this up, I promise. But she bent over just now, and that snake-looking thing, it seemed to slid right into her head.”

He looked down at Bronson. “You think this is like some Praying Mantis deal? You know, the female eating the male? Damn, I hope not. That’s one bug that creeps me out.”

“How the hell should I know? One less fisherman is fine by me—cuts pollution and the number of hooks. But what’s happening now?”

“Well, it doesn’t look like she’s having him for lunch, after all. I mean, she’s bobbing, her head up-and-down. And when she’s up, you can still see whatever it is, only now it looks all wet and shiny.”

None of this made any sense to Bronson, who prided himself on his knowledge of human behavior. In the bayou, it could make the difference between living another day and becoming a fillet. “Pasquale, is Freddie making this shit up?”

There was no answer. Bronson steeled himself and looked upward once more. Freddie was sprawled across the limb with his eyes bulging and his tongue hanging out. It would have been a pitiful sight under any circumstance, but it was especially so when the tongue in question belonged to a frog.

Bronson felt a bit embarrassed and looked over at Pasquale. The possum’s paws were moving even faster and his grin was, if possible, even bigger. “Pasquale, you pervert! What’s going on in the boat? I can’t see a thing except the male, and I’m tired of looking at his stupid grin.”

“Easy there, Brother Bass. It’s just like old Freddie told you. Mellow out and go with stroke, so to speak. Oh, yes.”

“Hey, you guys,” Freddie croaked. “Look, now.”

There was no question where they should look. Bronson turned toward the boat. The female was standing with her hands on the male’s shoulders. With slow, careful movements, she straddled him and then eased down over the snake, which by now was more pink than white. It soon vanished from sight and they were sitting face-to-face.

At first, all the humans did was more of the mouth-to-mouth stuff. When the boat became still, the female began making small, up-and-down movements. The boat again started rocking, but soon the female’s motions and those of the boat were in a sort of harmony.

“I don’t know what they’re doing,” said Freddie, “but I do like the show.”

Pasquale groaned his agreement.

Bronson had to admit the two in the boat looked like the happiest humans he’d ever seen out fishing. The female was leaning back and seemed to be looking for something up in the limbs of the willow tree. Her long hair swayed in rhythm with the other movements. Meanwhile, the male was doing a mouth-to-mouth type thing on one of her bumps.

“Hey there, you big bass. What’s happening?” The unexpected greeting startled Bronson. It was Paula the Perch, and she was looking great.

“Uh, hi, Paula, just trying to figure out what those humans on the boat are doing. Thought it might be important. I mean, you can’t learn too much about them.” Why did he feel like a fingerling watching all the action during spawning season?

A loud groan and a louder screech came from the boat. The male and female were holding each other close and shaking. But they didn’t seem to be in pain. In fact, they looked very happy.

Paula brushed up against him. “Oh, I know all about that. I was spawned in a lake near a college campus, remember? It’s the way humans, you know, do it.”

“Do, it?”

“Sure,” she languidly stroked his side with a pliant fin, “you know…it.”

“Oh, IT. Of course. So, what do you say about a little demonstration?”

“Since we’re not air-breathers, that’d be a real challenge, silly. But come with me and I’ll try to give you the idea.”

As they began to swim away, Freddie managed to ask, “Where you two going?”

“Off to do a little research on how humans do it,” said Bronson, before slipping beneath the surface and following Paula toward an especially cool, secluded nook.

“Fin-tastic,” said Pasquale. His paws now hung limply at his side. The grin on his face bore a surprising resemblance to that of the male on the boat. “That’s fin-tastic.”

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Monday, May 25, 2009

ALIVE AND GOING HOME - short story

Memorial Day is a time set aside for Americans to honor those members of the armed forces who lost their lives while serving our country. The following story is loosely based on some of the things that happened around me while I was in Vietnam. It's dedicated to Sandy, and Hassle, and Tony, and to all the others who won't be enjoying the day off with their families.

The painting is titled, Dustoff: Angels of Mercy by William Phillips. The name of the model in the photo is unknown. Heck, the car isn't even a Chevy. But then, I bet you didn't care either.

Bayou Bill


Alive and Going Home
by Bill Fullerton

The explosion sent twenty-four soldiers sprawling. Dust and acrid smoke filled the air along with the sound of men cursing and scrambling for better cover. There were no screams of pain.

As he hugged the ground, Sergeant Mike Floyd told himself there were better places to be and things to do. His first choice being in the back seat of his car with Mary Beth Riser.

He was tired of death; tired of trying to kill unknown men who were doing their best to kill him. He wanted peace, and life, and Mary Beth.

Today’s plan called for his recon platoon to leave the shelter of a jungle-like wood line and cross a large expanse of dry rice paddies to a village. The word was it might be a staging area for the Viet Cong or the North Vietnamese Army, maybe both. If everything went right, the infantry company and the troop of armored personnel carriers left back in the wood line would then move out and join them.

For the officer in charge of the operation, the plan had the advantage of protecting the men in his own company while risking a handful of troops. Vietnam was a numbers war. Should recon get shot up, the casualties wouldn’t be figured against his unit’s body count.

It was a scheme Mike and the other men of recon knew all too well. They were the eyes and ears of the battalion, experts at operating alone on intelligence gathering operations. Ambushes, snatches, tracking, manning listening posts at night and observation posts during the day were all considered good missions.

No one thought today's assignment, serving as scouts for a regular infantry company, was a good mission. They were now under the direct control of another unit's commanding officer. Whenever that happened, they became expendable.

Halfway to the village, everything started going wrong. A sudden, high-pitched shriek ended in a sickening explosion and a geyser of dirt, smoke, and death. Unable to tell where the fire was coming from, they dove for the only available cover. After that, it was a matter of praying they had put rice paddy dikes between themselves and a body bag.

The platoon began checking in. "What the hell was that? Where's the son-of-bitch? Is everybody all right?"

"Hardcore" Harding, the unit's platoon sergeant, yelled over from a nearby rice paddy. "That thing's gotta be a goddamn recoilless rifle, Lieutenant."

"Roger that, shit. You got any idea where the hell it's firing from?" Lieutenant Lester never stopped scanning the surrounding terrain.

"Can't be sure, sir. But they've probably got it set up on that hill over there on our right flank."

Mike forced himself to lift his head and look at the hill. There was a second explosion followed by an eruption of small arms fire from the village. But he’d seen a flash.

“I think Hardcore’s right, Lieutenant. I spotted something looked like a small back-blast. Probably about two-thirds the way up the hill, just left of that dead tree.”

Dale Lester studied the hill and then the surrounding terrain. His platoon, a group he and Hardcore had molded into a first class recon unit, was pinned down in the open. Meanwhile, Delta Company and the supporting armored personnel carriers were back in the safety of the wood line and didn't seem anxious to risk exposing themselves by providing fire support. "Looks like it’s command decision time, Bear.” Mike, whose size had earned him the nickname, wiped sweat and dirt off his face and nodded.

"If we stay put and call for help that recoilless rifle will pick us off," said Lester. “Heading towards that automatic weapons fire is out of the question. Going back’s not much better. So that leaves….

His words were cut off by another incoming round. Mike had an idea, but wished he hadn’t. “Lieutenant, my squad’s closest to the hill. What if the platoon lays down covering fire long enough for us to shag ass over there? If it’s just the weapons crew, odds are they’ll ‘di di’ when they see us coming.” What he didn’t need to say, what both he and the Lieutenant knew, was that if the crew didn’t leave and the position was defended, the squad could be in a world of hurt.

Lieutenant Lester glanced at Mike, then surveyed the situation. “Okay. Go get your squad moving. We’ll do our part here.” He looked away and began yelling orders to Hardcore.

Mike rose into a crouch and started running in a zigzag pattern toward first squad, his unit. The sound of another incoming round sent him diving back for cover. It exploded along the base of the dike being used by second squad, the squad of Sergeant Andy Andrews.

Redheaded, freckle-faced Anderson Andrews, Mike's friend and fellow squad leader, son of Mr. and Mrs. Carl P. Andrews, brother of Paul and Joyce, Kim Irving Andrew's husband, and father of their three month old daughter Kacey, was killed instantly when members of the North Vietnamese Army manning a recoilless rifle on Hill 87 scored a direct hit on his position.

Before Mike could get back to his feet “Hassle” Castle was rushing to Andy’s motionless form. The expert grenadier and Andy had joined the unit the same day. They were very tight.

Everyone knew to avoid the junctions of rice paddy dikes. They were prime spots for booby traps. Hassle knew better. But maybe all he could focus on was his friend’s body.

There was a small bang and a can filled with tiny steel pellets shot into the air, then exploded at chest height. It was hard to believe how many holes that "Bouncing Betty" drilled into Hassle's dark, wiry, young body.

The recoilless rifle fired one more round while Mike’s squad was racing to the base of the hill. After catching their breath, they formed a skirmish line and began moving up the steep hillside toward the unseen gun position. The heavy brush and small, low trees made it impossible to see more that a few feet ahead. It was a very hairy climb.

That may be why they got careless. The well camouflaged firing site was undefended and deserted. For the squad, the danger seemed over. They relaxed and instinctively moved closer to talk and check out the scene.

Mike was on the radio with Lieutenant Lester when he noticed what the men were doing. With an impatient gesture, he motioned for them to move away. “Don’t cluster fuck. Spread out and watch for….” He never finished his last command. There was an explosion. Tony Doughty a big, pug-nosed, good-natured guy from Tennessee—so new to the unit he still didn’t have a nickname had stepped on a booby-trap. His large body was now dancing in mid-air as a sheet of flame, laced with white streaks, raced toward Mike. It was the last thing he'd see clearly for months.

When the force of the explosion slammed into him, Mike struggled to stay on his feet. He’d heard other explosions and didn’t want to risk falling onto another booby-trap. Then his knees gave out and he crumpled to the ground.

After spitting out a mouthful of something, he made a quick, unsuccessful search for his rifle. Reaching for his canteen, he discovered his pistol still in its holster. Knowing he had the .38 Special made him feel better. It was common knowledge the VC seldom took prisoners and when they did, the captives were tortured to death.

He remembered to check his body for wounds. There was something warm and wet around his groin. The growing sense of panic passed when he discovered it was only urine, not blood.

The blast had caught him from the waist up. There were tiny pieces of metal and gravel in his arms, chest, and face. Raw powder burns covered his face and he couldn't see. But even with all those injuries, Mike knew he'd been lucky. He was alive.

The cries of wounded soldiers replaced the sound of exploding booby traps. In front of him, someone was moaning, "Crotch, crotch, crotch." Grabbing his canteen, Mike rinsed out his mouth and then started crawling toward the moans.

The casualties soon turned into statistics. Tony was dead. Three more, including Mike, would require a medevac. The immediate danger of an ambush was over. Now the wounded needed moving to a flat, open spot for quick loading onto the “dustoff” helicopters.

Somebody linked Mike up with "Cowboy" Thompson. The low-key, reliable fire team leader had gotten his right leg messed up. "Cowboy" could see, but couldn't walk. Mike could walk, but not see. The lame soldier and the blind soldier linked arms and prepared to help one another down the hill.

"Helluva way to spend the day ain't it, Bear?"

Mike’s mind flashed on an image of Mary Beth Riser stretched out nude and luscious on the back seat of his old Chevy. In his pocket was the letter she'd just sent—the one with the photo of her leaning against the side of his car and looking at the camera with that little smile she reserved for him.

He was blind, had lost two buddies and the new guy. But for the moment, shock, and being a survivor, overwhelmed feelings of remorse and loss. Those would come later. Now, he struggled to handle the reality that he was alive and going home, back to peace, and life, and Mary Beth.

"Damn straight, Cowboy. Guess we’ve both had better days. But it could be worse. We’re beat-up, but still standing. What you say we catch the next dustoff out of here and head for home?"

As the two men began walking away from their war, a ragged version of "Homeward Bound" floated over the scrub brush, dirt, and newly filled body bags.