Two Bits

By John-Paul Marciano

    It took Sgt. Jim Hanson the better part of an hour to make it back to his original hole.  He lay on his back collecting his thoughts.  He really craved a cigarette but decided to resist the urge.  He had things he needed to get done before daybreak.  An hour crawling on his belly gave him time to think about how to bag that sniper and, if possible, the German Maxim machine gun too.

    “Chicago?” Jim called softy.

    “Yeah, Sarge,” Chicago replied.

    “I’m coming over for a visit.  I’ll be there in a few minutes.  Don’t shoot me.”

    “I’ll be waitin’.

    Jim grew up in the Yorkville section of Manhattan on East 81st Street between Madison and Park Avenues.  He stood 6-feet-1-inch with brown hair and thoughtful brown eyes.  Although he was sharp he was aimless.  So with no idea what he wanted to do with his life, he joined the army after graduating from Xavier High School to give himself some time to think about it.

    Just before he came to France with the American Expeditionary Force, Jim was given his first stripe.  He earned a second stripe at Cantigny a week after his 20th birthday.  From all outward appearances it seemed as though he made the right decision.  But after the last few days he was starting to have his doubts.

    After gathering his thoughts, Jim slung his rifle over his shoulder and rolled onto his belly.  Making the sign of the cross he slid out the left side of his hole and began the crawl over to Mordecai.

    Because Mordecai dug his hole deeper than usual, Jim awkwardly fell in head first on top of Mordecai; the business end of his rifle jabbing Mordecai hard in the ribs.  Mordecai grunted and then he and Jim arranged themselves side by side on their backs.

    Jim composed himself and said, “Nice place you got here.”

    “Hey, Sarge, thanks fer stoppin’ by,” Mordecai quipped.  “What’s on yer mind?”

    “You got any ammo left for that French machine gun?” Jim asked.

    “Ya mean the Chauchat?  Yeah, I got a couple full mags.  Whatcha got in mind?”

    “I want to draw that sniper out.  See if we can’t shut him up permanently.”

    “I dunno, Sarge,” Mordecai said sounding dubious.  “The sights on the damn thing are crap, all out of whack.  If I hit him it’d be pure luck.”

    “Yeah I know.  I was actually hoping H.B. or Sam would be up for some plinking.”

    Sam would be Sam (Bird Dog) Littleton from Arkansas.  Sam was a lanky individual standing 6-feet-3-inches who always seemed to have a chaw of tobacco and looked like his pants needed to be taken in at the waist.  But the reason H.B. tagged him with the moniker “Bird Dog” was because Sam’s oversized ears, droopy jowls and a keen sense of smell reminded him of his spaniel back home.

    “Them boys is always up for a little shootin’; kind of a sickness with them two.  One of them two should be able to nail him,” said Mordecai.  “But why ya askin’ ‘bout the Chauchat?”

    “I’m going to get the sniper’s attention.  See if I can’t get him to give up his hide,” Jim answered.  “But I need you to keep that Maxim gunner occupied.”

    “That’s a dangerous game yer playin’ at.”

    “It’s a dangerous world we live in,” Jim replied.  “So what do you say?  You game?”

    Mordecai thought it over for a moment.  “Oh what the hell, I sure got nothin’ better to do.  I’ll play.”

    “Good man,” Jim said patting Mordecai on the shoulder.  “Look, it’s going to be daylight soon.  I need you to get H.B. up to speed on this while I tell Sam what we’re planning.  Tell H.B. the sniper’s about 300 yards directly in front of your hole.  The air is dead so that should make it a little easier.  The Maxim’s a bit to his left.  I just need you to pin him down for a couple minutes.  Taking him off the board is a bonus.”

    “Got it,” Mordecai said.

    Jim got to his knees to climb out of the hole.  Over his shoulder he said, “See you when this is done.”

    As Jim turned back to leave Mordecai said, “Hey, Sarge.”

    “Yeah?”

    “For the record, my money’s on H.B.”

    “I like Sam for this one.”

    Mordecai smiled and said, “Two bits?”

    “You’re on,” Jim said and crawled out of the hole.

Torn

By John-Paul Marciano

    Kriminalinspektor Gerhard Engel was searching for an empty trash can in the refuse storage shed when he detected movement out of the corner of his eye.  He looked in the direction of the movement but didn’t see anything.

    Maybe a feral cat in search of scraps, he thought.

    Gerhard resumed his search, going down the line of trash cans one by one.  Again he detected movement and again he saw nothing.  It had been a long day and he was tired and he was beginning to wonder if his mind was playing tricks on him.  But, as he leaned forward to put his bag of trash in a half-empty trash can, he saw the faint glow of an eyeball in the back corner of the shed.  He closed the lid of the shed gently and hesitated for a moment.  He shook his head and returned to his third floor apartment.

    When Gerhard reached his apartment he went into the kitchen.  He took the loaf of sunflower seed bread from the bread box and cut off a chunk.  He opened the refrigerator, extracted a sausage and placed it on the counter next to the bread.  Next he went into the sitting room, grabbed his copy of Das Schwarze Korps (the weekly paper of the Schutzstaffel) and tossed it on the counter next to the bread and sausage.

    Gerhard stood with both hands palm down on the counter looking at the tops of his shoes in thought.  He was torn.  Why should it matter to him what happens to a litle Jewess he doesn’t even know?  It was his sworn duty as a Kripo officer to turn the child over to the Gestapo and let them deal with the problem.  But on the other hand, what the hell has this kid ever done to warrant being sent to a German concentration camp known as a KZ?  If the wrong person found out he could be sent to a KZ himself if he was unlucky enough to live that long.

    His hands shook as he lit a cigarette.  He took a deep drag on the cigarette and held the smoke in his lungs before he exhaled.  He smoked the entire cigarette and then stubbed it out in the sink.  Taking a deep breath, he wrapped the bread and sausage with the front page of the paper.  Who knows?  If the kid can read she’ll take the hint and find another hiding place.

    Gerhard took the package out to the refuse storage shed and pretended to look for space in one of the trash cans.  When he saw the glint of an eye he took the package and dropped it behind the closest trash can.  After closing the lid of the shed he sighed and shook his head.  He looked up at the stars, then went back upstairs.

                                                          #

The River of Life

By Ed Baranosky

     I have no memory of being held upside down by my bare feet while a sharp slap was
  applied to my bare bottom. Whether I wanted to or not I was shoved into the  current of the river of life in a small boat. If you don’t quickly learn to paddle  the boat the current will sweep you downstream to take you over a  waterfall.


     You have to learn to read the river as Mark Twain did. The river has all sorts of  rocks and underwater snags that will to punch holes in your boat and sink  you.


     As you struggle upstream you may find a quiet little cove where you can tie up  to watch a beautiful sunset and reflect on your journey. Along the way you will meet other people who are going your way. If you’re lucky they may befriend you.


     I was in an eddy of water at the base of roaring water flowing over boulders. The  area was called the Korean Cascade. It was the scene of two events that changed the  course of my boat. The first was my boat being commandeered by the army. The second was I married my life’s partner. As we portaged around the Cascade I was ordered to a place upriver called Germany. I had to leave my partner behind.


     When I came back my partner was there to greet me. She had a baby girl in her arms. The years went by and there were two more baby girls in our boat. The river of life flows on. The girls grew up and found men and they left our boat to make families of their own.


     A terrible storm came up and when it had passed my life’s partner was gone.


     My boat is now anchored in one of those quiet coves. The fantail is facing south so  I can sit in a chair with the warming sun on my body. I put my hat over my eyes and doze off.  I am awakened by the boat rocking. I can hear the flapping of little feet in flip-flops and the shouts of “Papa we’re here.”

                                                           #

Screech

By JR Jurzynski

    Screech, tweedle. Little hands and arms pushed hard against the tattered edges of drab vinyl. Screech. Tweedle. Little legs and feet pushed hard against the cracked surface of Highland Avenue. Screech, tweedle, tweedle. Scrush. A flat on one of the acrylic casters interrupted the rhythm. Screech, tweedle, tweedle, tweedle, scrush. Old enough to walk and the determination to help. Screech. Tweedle.

     From the ten-tenement to the house at Circle South. First memories of childhood. Tree-lined streets of arcs or tangents blocked off by design. House lots configured pie-shaped or rectangular. Dependent blocs where one would find mostly democratic sentiment amongst the factory workers. Jack was the talk—”Richard will never stand a chance.”

    With the enthusiasm of a three-year-old, a trajectory from the old side to the U.S. Postal Service box located at the new was selected. Screech. Tweedle. Tweedle. Scrush. Tweedle.

   Destination attained, next, a curve along Circle South was negotiated and “home.” Screech, screech, screech . . .

   The vinyl was considered drab, the carpet ancient drab. Brown and all its earthy hues, a full blossom festival from the forties, covered surfaces from top to bottom and bottom to top. The toy box and toys had made the journey without injury? Screech. Tweedle. Scrush.

    Toys and a toy box. Mothers, fathers, sons and daughters. Neighbors and neighborhoods. Towns and cities. Counties and states. Nations and continents. Worlds and galaxies. Universe. Toys and a toy box. 

Ω

Saying Goodbye

By Carol Banner

Ruth Marshall Benton slowly stroked Galahad’s huge head resting in her lap. Sedated his eyes were half-closed and he lay there content, unknowing.

 His body took up the whole rest of the leather couch in the small white room. She had tried to prepare for this moment. But it was hard and she struggled against the tears pushing up inside her from the tightness in her chest. She had cried enough behind closed doors over the past year as her companion’s muzzle grayed, his gait slowed and he struggled to climb the stairs to their bedroom.

She remembered the night he ran to jump up on their bed and only made it half-way. He froze, confused that his hind feet were still on the floor. And Ruth had climbed back out of bed and tried to lift his sorrel rump up onto his blanket.

“It’s okay boy,” she said running a freckled hand over his body.

She wasn’t strong enough at first. He was nearly 90 pounds. But they had worked it out together one leg at a time. That was when she knew she was going to lose him and her pillow was wet that night. 

Ruth had tried to prepare for this day. She wouldn’t leave him until it was over. He deserved that. The needle had been inserted. The bag was hung. It was her call now — when she was ready. She was willing her body to hold back the inevitable tears, not to let go. She needed to keep calm for Galahad. But she was almost shaking and he knew. He raised his head to comfort her and. for a brief second the light returned to his eyes as his pink tongue washed across her hand.

“It’s okay,” he was saying. “I’m here.”

”Good old dog,” she whispered. He had been a faithful friend, the reason she rose every morning. It was his persistent time-to-put-the-coffee-on-bark that made her swing her legs off the bed and push her sagging body upright. They had grown old together. She ran her hand down his padded ribs and clutched the soft white fur on his belly. The veins on the back of her hand stood out like ugly roots.

She pushed the call button. And her vet entered to administer phase two.

“This will painlessly put him to sleep so you can say goodbye,” she said. Ruth watched her turn the IV’s valve off and inject clear liquid into the small chamber before turning it back to open.

“He’ll be comfortable. Call me when you’re ready.”

“How long will he have after the final injection?” Ruth whispered.

“Less than a minute. It’s a powerful drug and quick. He won’t suffer.”

“Galahad . . . he’s big. Please. Give him a lot so he doesn’t feel anything.”  She looked down unable to stop the tears any longer.   

“I will. Are you all right?” Ruth nodded.

“He’s just a dog. A good old dog,” she said wiping her cheeks and attempting a smile.

“Take as long as you need. Call me when you’re ready.”

For the next 18 minutes Ruth loved her dog. She remembered every adventure they ever had together after finding each other at the local pound. He was already 35 in dog years back then. Now he was pushing 90 and she was close to that. He had filled her last alone years with unconditional love. Ruth was terrified of what her life was going be like without him. She petted him with her old hands willing them to remember the feel of his fur, every contour of his body and the rise and fall with each breath.

Finally when she had no more tears within her to mask the weight in the pit of her stomach, she pushed the call button. When the vet came in to administer phase three she said, “I want to be alone with him when he dies.”

“Of course, I understand.”

Ruth watched her inject the powerful drug that would stop Galahad’s heart into the IV. Finally she opened the valve and left closing the door behind her.

With one hand on Galahad’s chest Ruth watched death snake down through the tubing and into the needle taped to his leg. She felt his last breath.

Then quickly and calmly she reached up and closed off the valve. Peeling off the bandage on Galahad’s leg she gently pulled out the needle. Burying her face in his fur she uttered a single final command.

“Wait.”

And in one fluid motion she opened the valve and drove the needle into the largest vein in her left hand.

Admire is a Funny Word

By Cool Dog

    Sometimes what you think you admire is all hype. It ain’t the dope.

    First you got your beat-box boys, on stage like a drum firin out the cool heat but then you realize those dogs double recorded their tracks. They ain’t playin’ it real.

    Then you admire someone’s stack, cause they got so much cash they think that they the King. Then you find out he stole it from his momma and he’s in so much debt he gotta pay the piper.

     Then you see your best boy and he thinks he got the girl all wrapped up under his skin. And you know he don’t, cause she your bitch.

Admire is a Funny Word

By Jodi’s Mom

    Sometimes what you think you admire in someone is all hype. It’s not real.

    It’s like those women in the PTA. The ones that always seem so put together like they have it all. They pretend like their lives are perfect. Then you find out their kids are the ones that got suspended for selling drugs at the school. 

   Then there are the people that you think have all the money in the world. They live in their big houses and drive around in their fancy cars. They act like they have it all but then they get arrested for embezzlement. 

     Then you see your best friend bragging about how great her husband is after you saw him out with someone else’s wife.

Admire is a funny word

By Stevie 

    Admire means when you look up to someone. We learned about that in class today. But sometimes I think that’s all pretend.

    It’s like that popular kid that says he’s your friend. Then he goes behind your back and makes fun of you to the other kids.

    Then there’s Bobbie and his new toys. He always bragging that his dad buys him anything he wants. Then I heard one of the other kids in my class say that Bobbie’s parents just got divorced and Bobbie only sees his dad every other weekend.

    It’s also like Joey. He always says he is the smartest one in the class and that he knows everything. Then he got caught cheating off of Sarah’s test.