Tuesday, March 31, 2020

The Gulf

Oh, well, the smell of that expanse of water ...
the warmth of it, its salinity, the lay of the light from December skies, intense yet waning.
It's hard to describe, the distances benign.

 the Christmas catch
dumped on the deck -
they writhe in it's heat


by corinne delmonico

jojo and beebee were best friends.

even though jojo was one of the saved and beebee was one of the damned.

members of the saved tribe had blue circles painted on their foreheads and members of the damned tribe had red crosses painted on theirs.

one day jojo and beebee decided to go to the big department store downtown and shop for handkerchiefs.

jojo wanted wanted a buy a lace handkerchief and beebee wanted to buy a cambric handkerchief.

when they entered the store , one of the assistant managers , colonel rochester-st james, immediately began following beebee.

jojo saw this and protested.

i am sorry, sir, jojo told colonel rochester-st james, but i insist that if you follow my friend, that you follow me also.

is that so? in that case i will let you speak to the store’s manager, ms syracuse. colonel rochester-st james took out his phone, punched a digit and a neatly uniformed member of the store’s security force appeared and escorted jojo and beebee to the manager’s office in the basement of the building.

beebee was told to take a seat in a small waiting area while jojo was interviewed by ms syracuse.

ms syracuse heard jojo’s tale.

i am afraid, she said, when jojo was finished, that such an attitude can not be countenanced. she pressed a button on her desk and a door opened behind her and another member of the security force, much larger than the first one, appeared.

the burly security person beckoned to jojo, and jojo followed him through the door he had appeared from, and down a long corridor to an elevator.

where are you taking me? jojo asked as the elevator descended.

you have been sentenced to work in the laundry department, until the term of your sentence has expired.

but how long is that? jojo persisted.

your sentence is indefinite.

but how long is that? days? weeks? decades?

what part of the word indefinite do you not understand? the security person replied with the beginning of a menacing frown.

jojo lapsed into silence and the elevator continued to descend.

up in the basement, a member of the maintenance force escorted beebee to a processing room.

beebee was placed in a machine which, when switched on, reduced the inhabitant or inhabitants to their molecules. the molecules were then reassembled into useful items, which filled the shelves and counters of the stores.

the incident caused colonel rochester-st james a few moments of mlld unease, but that evening, when he dined with ms syracuse at their favorite restaurant, he refrained from mentioning it.

the endless rain - 5. reilly

by nick nelson

part five of twenty-eight

for previous episode, click here

to begin at the beginning, click here

“just help this bum out of here, you can handle that?”

“i can handle it,” johnny answered.

estelle went down to the other end of the bar, past reilly without speaking to him, and disappeared.

johnny drank more of the hot sludgey coffee. he decided to take his time drinking it before helping reilly off his stool and going back out into the cold and snow, unless estelle or somebody else came and hustled him along.

he was hungry. he looked on the bar for some peanuts or something to eat, but there was nothing. estelle must have put them away.

johnny considered.

he had remembered estelle. he had remembered reilly.

and packy had been real. even though packy wouldn’t give him his money, packy really existed.

he wasn’t just a figure of johnny’s imagination like doctor winthrop back in the booby hatch tried to tell him.

so he wasn’t completely crazy.

he was making progress.

all he needed was to get some money - the money packy owed him or some other money - and get out of town.

to go far far away - to the south sea islands or oregon or madagascar or someplace where nobody knew him and he could start over.

out of the corner of his eye he saw estelle reappear with a coat and hat on. he took one more sip of the hot coffee and put the mug on the counter even though there was a little left in it and got up.

reilly looked up at johnny with sad eyes.

but johnny had seen a lot of sad eyes in his time, and he grabbed reilly by his heavy patched overcoat and tried to haul him off his stool.

he was heavy.

“no need to get violent, young man, no need to get violent. i know it’s closing time as well as you do. i can see estelle standing there, staring at me like a basilisk. i can’t get up if i turn to stone, can i, estelle?”

estelle, standing in the shadows by the foot door, did not answer.

when johnny tugged at reilly’s elbow again, the old man got up and headed for the door so quickly johnny had to run to keep up with him.

johnny found himself out in the street again, in the cold and snow, hanging on to reilly’s overcoat.

“where were we?” he asked reilly. he wondered if reilly had any money on him, even just a few cents.

“who’s we?” reilly answered.

“do you remember me?” johnny asked.

reilly shook johnny’s hand off his arm. “what? you mean from two minutes ago?”

“no, from six years ago.”

“six years ago? ha, ha!”

“yeah, from before the war.”

“war? what war? there hasn’t been a war for - i don’t know - twenty years, sixty years. and i don’r remember what happened six minutes ago.” and reilly looked down the street, giving johnny the classic signal for go away see you later.

the snow continued to fall.

“you have to help me,” johnny said.

6. in the kettle

Monday, March 30, 2020

Power Corrupts

Oh, no, you first, I'm right behind you - power corrupts.

And then BAM! a weight like a massive stone descending on its sunken chest, disrupting the FA Cup semi on the biggest screen available in this awkward sanctity, it's gauche decor with some really shoddy lighting ensconced in a musty old basement, with cobwebs hanging in every corner heavy with dust.

It's the space preserved for the winner's history. A lonely place, one adorned with all the self perpetuated trophies and thoughtless certificates of award to and from it's own image given away like toothpicks at one of those tawdry, low-buck functions, virtues described in a fiction by Louis L'amour, ineffectual and moot. All in all, and one after another, they demarcate the unintended consequences born of a self congratulatory, good old boy board of directors.

A republic, like any other that stood before it, it hasn't spoken to its insufferable spouse for days on end.

As it falls, in slow motion impossibly ridiculous for its sheer, dead weight and fathomless hubris, an arrested scream remains unresolved, stifled in its throat. But for the epiphany of knowing it's too late - there it hangs suspended for what seems an eon, then head first into its plate of beans and sausage, dead dead dead.

the full moon declines
and then
the next morning of spring

the endless rain - 4. estelle

by nick nelson

part four of twenty-eight

for previous episode, click here

to begin at the beginning, click here

johnny stood on the sidewalk outside ruby’s.

the neon sign advertising dixie beer was still winking over the 458 club across the street.

johnny would have liked to enter the 458 club, just to get warm, but he had no money. enough for another cup of coffee maybe, but he did not want to spend it.

it had been a long time since johnny had been in a bar. he tried to remember what they were like.

there was always a barmaid.

her name was estelle.

she had a face like a bulldog and talked tough but if you got to know her she was soft inside.

and there was always reilly.

reilly was a barfly, who always stayed until the place closed.

johnny thought he had it straight. he decided to ask estelle, or the manager if there was one, for a job. that would be a good excuse to go inside.

johnny crossed the street and entered the 458 club.

it was dark inside the club. but sure enough, estelle was behind the bar, leaning on it with crossed arms.

and reilly was alone at the end of the bar, slumped over it like an octopus.

“we’re closed,” estelle told johnny. “last call was four minutes ago.”

“um - i didn’t want a drink,” johnny mumbled.

“then what do you want?” estelle looked at johnny with her little alligator eyes. “kitchen is closed, an hour ago.”

johnny lost his nerve about asking for a job. “how about a cup of coffee?” he asked.

“you want coffee? hey, hank!” estelle shouted to some invisible figure in the shadows.

“what?” a husky voice replied. johnny remembered hank. there was always a guy named hank.

and there was always a fat man, but that was another story…

“any coffee left?” estelle asked the voice.

“there always is,” the voice answered.

“let me check that i got enough for it,” said johnny.

“it’s free. just help this bum out the door, so i don’t have to.” estelle nodded at reilly slouched at the end of the bar. “i’m in a hurry. i got a hot date, what do you think of that?”

johnny didn’t know what to say so he just nodded. estelle took a mug of coffee from a slot in the wall behind her and shoved it at johnny. “what do you think of that?” she repeated.

“sounds good,” said johnny. “a hot date on a cold night.”

“ha, ha, ha, that’s right1” estelle laughed like a wolf. johnny couldn’t figure if she really had a “hot date” or if it was a joke.

emboldened by her friendly tone, johnny asked, “you doing any hiring?”

“hiring? for what?’

“i don’t know, anything.” johnny took a sip of the coffee. it was sludge, but very hot and burned his tongue.

“no, we’re not doing any hiring. just help this bum out of here, you can handle that?”

“i can handle it,” johnny answered.

5. reilly

Sunday, March 29, 2020

the endless rain - 3. packy

by nick nelson

part three of twenty-eight

for previous episode, click here

to begin at the beginning, click here

johnny did not turn around, but he saw packy out of the corner of his eye when packy came through the door and headed for his old booth in the corner.

same old packy, thought johnny. he was wearing the same old heavy gray coat and brown hat, and he had a newspaper in his hand, to do the crossword in.

johnny thought packy looked like he was in a halfway good mood, but how could he know for sure?

ralph brought packy a cup of coffee.

“anything else?” ralph asked packy.

“how about a nice jelly doughnut?” packy took his pencil out of his coat pocket and folded the paper over to do the crossword.

ralph went back behind the counter.

johnny decided it was time to act. he got up from his stool and approached packy.

“remember me?” he asked.

packy looked up for about a tenth of a second. “i can’t say that i do, pal.”

“is this guy bothering you, packy?” ralph asked.

“nah, it’s okay. what can i do for you, my friend?” packy asked johnny.

but before johnny could answer, packy tapped the paper with his pencil asked him, “what’s a four letter word, ending in e, for ‘situation of misery and frustration’?

“life,” johnny answered.

“that’s right, that’s good. what’s a seven letter word, second letter ‘e’, sixth letter ‘i’, for ‘the common condition of mankind’?”


“very good! you’re a real sharp fellow, like a college professor or something. so what can i do for you?”

“don’t you remember me?” johnny asked again.

packy looked directly at johnny for the first time. “i already told you i didn’t.”

“you owe me money.”

“i owe you money? i don’t think so. i don’t even know you.”

ralph came over with packy’s jelly doughnut on a blue plate. it was the biggest jelly doughnut johnny had ever seen.

the door opened and packy’s driver finally came in. he had a few snowflakes on his hat and on his mean face.

that was another thing that made packy packy - he always had a driver to drive him around, just like the president or the mayor.

“you sure this character isn’t bothering you?” ralph asked packy.

“i don’t think so. not yet.”

“you owe me money,” johnny repeated. “i did a job for you and you never paid me.”

“who is this clown?” the driver asked. he seated himself at the end of the counter, across from packy’s booth.

packy ignored him. “a job?” he asked johnny. “and when did you do this job?”

“about six years ago.”

“six years ago?” packy repeated. packy, ralph, and the driver all laughed.

“six years ago, before the war.”

“what war?” asked the driver. “there ain’t been no war lately.”

“the war between the cornflakes and the grapenuts,” ralph put in.

packy laughed, looking straight at johnny. “all right, my friend, how much money am i supposed to owe you?”

“sixty dollars.”

“sixty dollars? six-ty dollars? not six hundred dollars? not six thousand?”

“sixty dollars. that’s all. i just want what’s rightfully mine.”

packy hesitated. “no, no. you almost had me there, my friend.” he laughed “i would almost give you your sixty bucks just because you’re a smart fellow who can do the crossword good. but no. i can’t be giving money to every schmo who comes along now, can i? so be on your way.”

“i only want what’s rightfully mine,” johnny insisted.

packy turned his eyes down to his crossword. “get going. go do a crossword. or make yourself a snownan.”

ralph and the driver were staring at johnny.

“i’m going to finish my coffee,” said johnny.

“you paid for it,” said ralph. “but stop bothering people.”

johnny finished his coffee and found himself back out in the street. the cold air and snow whirled around him.

4. estelle

Saturday, March 28, 2020

the endless rain - 2. ruby's

by nick nelson

part two of twenty-eight

for previous episode, click here

a dark and cloudy night down by the docks, with a threat of rain.

a long black oldsmobile came down the street.

johnny stepped back deeper into the doorway.

the driver's eyes flickered briefly under the brim of his chauffeurs hat, then the olds was around the corner.

packy was doing the crossword puzzle in the back seat.

johnny stepped from the shadows, pulled his hat over his eyes and the collar of his cheap coat over his face, and walked across the street to ruby's cafe.

the neon dixie beer sign over the 458 club winked slowly at him.

ruby’s hadn’t changed.

ralph was still behind the counter, reading the same racing form.

maybe the horses had changed, it didn’t look like anything else had.

“help you?” ralph finally asked, after johnny had sat down at the counter and taken his hat off and put it on the stool beside him.


“ten cents.”

johnny took a dime out of his pocket and put it on the counter.

ralph brought him the coffee, black. there were cream and sugar on the counter.

johnny drank half the cup of black coffee, then filled it up with cream. he didn’t touch the sugar.

ralph ignored johnny, and kept reading the racing form, with his forearms on the counter and the paper spread out in front of him.

that was ralph’s way. the way it had been six years ago, before the war, before johnny was put away in the nuthouse.

“i’ve been here before,” johnny announced.

“oh yeah?” ralph responded.

“i remember you,” johnny said.

“i don’t remember you.”

“i guess you don’t remember a lot of people.”

“i guess i don’t.” ralph turned a page of the racing form.

“some people probably come in here more than others,” johnny observed.

“that’s a fact,” ralph agreed. he had not looked at johnny throughout the whole conversation. “some people come in one time, just passing through, others come in every day. “ he finally looked up at johnny. “that’s just the way it is.”

johnny started to wonder if packy was going to show up.

“does packy still come in here?” johnny asked ralph.


“packy. a guy named packy used to come in here.”

“could be. it’s a common name.”

“it’s not that common,” johnny insisted.

“still, there could be more than one guy with that name.”

“this packy always sat in that last booth over there. and he always did the crossword puzzle.”

ralph looked up and stared at johnny. really looked at him for the first time since he came in.

johnny heard the door open behind him and some cold air hit him in the back.

3. packy

Friday, March 27, 2020

the endless rain - 1. back in town

by nick nelson

part one of twenty-eight

johnny came up out of the subway.

it was christmas time.

christmas was in the air. shoppers filled the street. santa was standing beside his big black kettle, talking to a couple of fast talking floozies.

johnny took the gun out of his pocket and dropped it in the kettle. the floozies kept talking and santa kept listening. johnny crossed in the middle of the street. a cab just missed him and the driver let out a stream of profanities that would have made atilla the hun blush.

a guy in a panama hat was walking down the middle of the street. johnny started to walk around him and the guy grabbed his arm.

"hey pal, how do i get to 53rd and broadway?"

"i don't know", said johnny, "keep walking down broadway. i guess. but i'm a stranger here."

the man in the panama roared with fake laughter. "same old johnny! johnny smith! always something to hide. where you been hiding, johnny? gee, i haven't seen you in months. what's the problem, don't you recognize an old pal?"

johnny looked up and looked the guy in the eye. "months? i been away six years, pete. didn't anyone tell you there’s a war on?"

"ha ha, so you do know me! is there a war on, johnny? i thought it was over but what do i know? i used to see the sailors and soldiers around but they never came into my shop, you know? they had their own hats, what did they need me for? say, you could use a nice hat yourself, come on over sometime. i'll give you a heck of a deal." pete clapped johnny on the shoulder.

just then there was a commotion across the street around santa's kettle.

pete took his hand off johnny’s shoulder. “i wonder what’s going on,” he said.

“why don’t you go over and see?” johnny asked him.

“i think i just will. that’s the way i am, always wanting to see what’s going on. how about you, you want to see what’s going on?”

“i already know what’s going on.”

“ha,ha! same old johnny! hasn’t changed a bit. well, take care of yourself, johnny, it was nice talking to you.”

“it was nice talking to you too, pete.” johnny said.

pete went over to see what was going on.

johnny moved on down the street. he heard shouting behind him, but he didn’t look back.

2. ruby's

Sunday, March 1, 2020

two guys and a girl

by nick nelson

jonathon was a nobody
jeremy was a churl
both were tortured by mona
because she was a girl

jonathon drove a city bus
jeremy drove a truck
they wished for mona’s bright eyed smiles
but neither had much luck

mona had other prospects
on which she set her sights
she dreamed of a perfect gentleman
rich, handsome, young, and bright

why do i tell this story?
why should anyone care?
does a maiden not deserve a prince?
do the brave not deserve the fair?

how many times can a song be sung?
or a story be told?
it would seem to be forever
without ever getting old

jonathon thought of mona
with every turn of his wheel
jeremy thought of many things
but only mona was real

then one snowy winter eve
on a highway slick with ice
jeremy was thinking of mona
and how she was so nice

he lost his concentration
and kept his foot on the gas
as a bus approached from around the bend
with not enough room to pass

every year in the u s alone
thirty thousand souls are claimed
in crashes on roads and highways
many others are injured and maimed

it chanced to be poor jeremy’s turn
on this fateful night
when the highway patrol responded
they beheld a terrible sight

jonathon heard of jeremy’s fate
and exulted in his brain
fate had spoken
and its message could not be more plain

the way was now clear
for mona to be jonathon’s own
but when he tried to call her
she was not at home

nobody helped poor jonathon
when he tried to track mona down
was she broken hearted about jeremy
or just moved to another town?

was it just a coincidence she was gone?
jonathon thought not
everything in life had a purpose
this wisdom jonathon bought

he never knew the answer
as he dragged his life away
dreaming of a person he never knew
who would not give him the time of day

think of a billion stories
then think of a billion more
everybody plays the game
but nobody knows the score