Marion Smith

Marion Smith — a funny, charismatic, talented and beautiful woman, honest to a fault and a founding member of the Voodoo Vamps — would have been 87 years old May 27.

Marion was the life of the party. Yet she never knew what she had or who she was. How could she? As a lonely young mother stuck at home all day and night, her husband working long hours, doctors wrote her endless prescriptions for tranquilizers, amphetamines, sleeping pills and other drugs — as they did many unhappy working class women back then.

Among many talents Marion was a natural born artist. Pushed by her third husband — an arrogant businessman who felt she lacked sophistication — she took up oil painting. Though she had no experience and little training, Marion created several lovely landscapes.

Presented by her third husband as a trophy wife at a bourgeois cocktail party, an aristocratic woman in firs and pearls approached her, martini in hand, wearing an expression that Marion described this way: “She sneered as if she had a shit mustache.” The aristocrat looked Marion over and then said, “Oh, I understand you paint. What sort of work do you do?” “Bathrooms, living rooms, hallways, mostly,” she replied, much to bourgeois woman’s chagrin. Two years later, husband three left Marion; he took every penny she had and much more.

After one more failed marriage Marion decided she didn’t need a husband. She lived alone the rest of her years, happy to see her friends — Vivian, Marylyn, Ron, and her two adult boys, though they lived five hundred miles away. She dearly loved her two sons, daughter-in-law, María, and her two darling grandchildren.

Marion tried to be happy her entire life. Maybe she tried too hard.

I was at her bedside when she died. It was an agonizing, drawn-out death. After battling to breathe for several hours, Marion took one long difficult breath, opened her eyes wide and gazed skyward with a sublime, radiant expression, as if she was gazing into the grandeur of heaven itself — though I could see nothing there.

I love you, mom, I said. Then Death slipped in beneath the door and took her away.

Paul Smith’s Surprise

Pemberville, Ohio 1910

Emma Smith was a teetotaler. She did not approve of liquor and thought it was God’s most useless creation after Adam. Her husband Allen, in contrast, thought liquor served a useful purpose, primarily medicinal, if only properly dispensed. He would soak a string of rock candy in whiskey and suck on the medication whenever he had a cold, declaring its merits as a home remedy. It did not occur to him that his wife took note of how often he was afflicted with colds and flu, not to mention rheumatism and gout, all diseases which he claimed were easily cured with a little rock candy soaked in the proper medication.

 

Emma and Allen Smith had a son they called Paul. Emma maintained he was named after the Apostle, but Allen, who suggested the name and the pious association, secretly had an old friend in mind the day Paul was born. Though Allen hadn’t seen his buddy in many years, he hoped one day they would meet up again. Just the thought brought a smile to his face. “If I ever do meet that rascal again, I better make damn sure I call him by his nickname in front of Emma,” Allen thought.

 

Paul was an average lad; there was nothing remarkable about him except perhaps his ears, which lent him a certain dignity, giving him the appearance of a trophy. Paul was aware of his mother’s views regarding alcohol having heard them recited in bits and pieces and on a daily basis over the span of his ten years on the planet. He was also aware of his father’s attempts to circumvent such opinions while avoiding a direct confrontation.

 

Though just a child, Paul knew the Smith men–his daddy included–would never dare directly confront their wives. From birth all seemed to instinctively know women were superior to men, which in the case of the Smiths wasn’t saying much. The truth is the Smith men had the character and moral fiber of an old wet dog looking for a bone.

 

Emma Smith used to say “Help me JESUS but the Smith men are living PROOF men descended from the apes!” Despite repeated efforts by women to “purify” the Smith men by attempting to breed the devil out of them, after five generations and thirty-two women, the Smith men remained as useless as ever.

 

Allen and young Paul tested Emma’s faith in a way that made Satan optimistic. Poor Emma was convinced that all of her days of labor and sacrifice would be for nothing and that young Paul would grow up to be just like his papa and his papa’s papa. That’s the way it seemed to her until one day when they had company over for supper…

 

The whole thing started one winter’s day when Paul spent a day in the attic.

 

Paul played there many an afternoon in the dead of winter when it was too cold outside to ride a sled or throw a snowball at some hapless clerk who happened by. A vast assortment of gadgets and gizmos awaited him up there in the attic; there were chests of clothes and hats and coats, busted lamps and pots and pans, big dusty bottles and broken mirrors. Young Paul and his brother Harry would play for hours on end making forts, inventing fanciful machines and discovering buried treasure.

 

On one such winter’s day, Paul and Harry played just a little longer than they should have. Both felt the unmistakable need to relieve themselves but just did not have the time to run downstairs, across the living room and out the back door through the snow to the outhouse. Paul noticed a big dusty bottle next to a broken mirror and suddenly had the inspiration to fill it up to the brim, seeing as how it was about a cup shy. So he did what he could to right what seemed to be a wrong, filling a void so to speak. Harry, being the younger of the two, did his best to make a contribution. Then Paul carefully stuffed the cork back into the bottle. And just in the nick of time, too, since the two brothers were unexpectedly attacked by a pirate ship.

 

Paul didn’t think much about the bottle after that: It just kinda sat up there in the attic with memories and moths, gathering dust for the longest time like some sort of an Egyptian artifact.

 

TIME PASSED SLOWLY as it used to back then. Summer came with its long warm days spent fishing in the lake, swimming in the river, chasing dogs and playing baseball. Another winter passed as well. A blizzard rocked Ohio that year, and Paul’s Aunt Nell froze to death when her carriage broke down on the way home from church. Still, for the most part, except for school, Paul was pretty much content; he played with his brother and his friends and ate his mother’s cookin’ and listened to his father’s stories. And though from time to time he had to put up with some quarreling–mostly about the Bible and drinkin’–Paul Smith lived a damn good life. He was probably too happy to even realize it. He had enough food in his belly, a warm bed at night and lots of time on his hands.

 

Then one day Paul’s father had an unexpected visitor–an old army buddy he hadn’t seen for twenty-some odd years. Allen Smith’s long lost pal wore a big furry overcoat, a waxed moustache and a sly grin which seemed to spell trouble to Emma, who looked him up and down like he was a traveling salesman. The reunion called for a celebration, and Allen knew just how to welcome his long lost friend. He scampered up the stairs to the attic and reemerged with a smile and a big bottle of a very special wine he had been saving for just such an occasion.

 

Young Paul’s heart dropped and he felt the temperature in the room soar. He glanced at his brother Harry and right away noticed he was having trouble breathing. They did not know what to do: if they confessed their crimes, most certainly the would get a whippin’ from a stick of their pickin’, if they remained silent, their dear old dad and his friend would surely discover their mischief and their punishment would be all the greater.

 

Being Smiths, Paul and his brother were not so much troubled by the moral ramifications of their situation as they were disturbed by the likely practical implications of their predicament. Moreover, they knew if they didn’t act quickly, in all likelihood they would be sent to bed, their father telling them the only supper they would receive that night would be the “food for thought” he etched into their backsides.

 

They did the only thing they could under the circumstances, being Smith men in training: They sheepishly begged a woman for help.

 

“Ma!” the boys cried, tugging at their mother’s apron. Emma watched her husband and his long lost friend wipe the dust off the big old bottle of wine. She shook her head in disgust.

 

“Ma, please! Don’t let Pa drink that wine!” Paul pleaded, still tugging at his mother’s apron.

 

“I can’t help it if you’re father is weak,” Emma said as she tended to some errand which in her mind was far more important than the foolishness of her husband and his “long lost” friend.

 

“No, Momma, please!” Paul insisted, gripped as he was by fear and trepidation and the prospect of no supper.

 

Emma, who watched her husband with great attention to detail as he sat at the table and poured two glasses of wine, suddenly sensed that her son–despite his Smithness–might actually have something significant to say.

 

“What’s wrong, son?”

 

Paul swallowed hard. “It’s just that . . .”

 

Emma’s eyes began to glow with anticipation.

 

“Yes Paul, what IS it?”

 

Paul clasped his hands behind his back and bowed his head. “It’s just that–it’s just…” Emma began to tap her right foot as if she was markin’ time to a march, and Paul KNEW he had to face the music. “Well…it’s just that…well, me and Harry, we peed in that bottle…”

 

Emma raised her eyebrows, turned and watched as her husband and his friend raised their glasses in the air. “I’d like to propose a toast to my old army buddy Pa… I mean STONEwall,” Allen said. Emma stood up straight as if the Lord had called her. “Yes that’s right… a toast to my buddy STONEwall. What a guy! It’s great to see you again after all these years!”

 

The two old friends smiled and clinked their glasses together. They looked into each other’s eyes and laughed, sharing some secret memory. This aggravated Emma all the more since she KNEW it had to be something EVIL they were remembering. Emma watched as her husband and his long lost friend tilted their glasses back against their lips. Her eyes were burning, though young Paul thought he sensed some pleasure in his mother’s otherwise grim expression.

 

Paul waited for his mother to say something. But she just stood there and nodded her head with satisfaction as her husband and his long lost friend gulped their wine down. Young Paul was properly mortified, which brought his mother untold gratification.

 

“But Mama!”

 

“Hush, child!” Emma said, her eyes aglow, bathed in the light of glory. “It serves em right…” And that night it seemed to young Paul that his mother enjoyed the wine more than the menfolk…

 

Paul could do little else but watch his old man and his long lost friend as they finished off that big old bottle of wine. After they had a couple of drinks, Paul figured his old man was getting kinda confused and possibly even intoxicated since he kept calling Stonewall Paul. But he didn’t attach too much importance to such things, though it did seem to agitate his mother.

 

Well the two men told stories and drank and slapped each other on the back, their discussions lasting late into the night. It seemed to young Paul that on most things, though both men had supposedly been at the same place at the same time, one would have never known it: they didn’t agree as to the facts of the stories, the time of day nor even the years that certain events transpired. But there was one subject upon which they happily reached a consensus: both Paul’s daddy and his long lost friend Stonewall agreed the bottle of wine they drank that night was the finest either had ever consumed.

 

Copyright © J.P. Bone

all rights reserved

Temple Street

They gather

as the sun sets

The moon rises

and it beckons them

But they pay it no mind

knowing nothing of the sky

the stars nor the sun

 

Seasons come and go

but their earth is sealed

by concrete

For them

the nights are hot or cold

 

The sea rises

sultry gusts rush

and their bodies ache

They rub against one another

a ritual without shaman

and struggle to free themselves

from skin they have outgrown

 

Males strut and posture

chests heaving

eyes glaring

They butt heads

The competitions is fierce

Dominance is temporarily asserted

territory established

marked by urine and blood

 

Males and females pair

They breathe in the sky

Hearts pound

carnal madness in their eyes

The moonlight is hot and wet

 

Before sunrise

skulls will crack

teeth will shatter

hair will burn

 

As the ritual concludes

a million stars race across the sky

like sperm in a womb

Their earth will move

dust and gas and molten rock

And for a moment

just a breath

they will feel alive

 

copyright © 2016 J. P. Bone

 

The Second Time I was Executed

By J. P. Bone

One dark winter night I stood alone in the vestibule of a vast cathedral. Columns of marble lined the aisle like sentries, towering toward the heavens until they vanished in the darkness.

A brilliant ray of light beamed down from the night sky, illuminating a gold-handled broadsword that hovered in mid-air at the crossing. The sword thrummed, alive and angry.

In the still darkness of the cathedral’s nave, the blade began to pitch, whetting its edge on a glowing Möbius strip; it began to flip and rotate as if wielded by a swordsman approaching an adversary, whirling and thrusting forward, light flashing, the frigid night air sliced into perfect pieces that fell silently.

I watched, mesmerized, as the sword made its way down the nave until it confronted me, alone in the vestibule. A fierce celestial light flashed from the blade, which resounded with a blood thirst.

From high above a voice asked: “Do you want to live or do you want to die?”

I was beside myself, glancing from side to side, gazing skyward, astonished and without words.

Again a mighty voice boomed down from the heavens: “Do you want to live or do you want to die?”

The whole thing seemed ludicrous to me.

“I don’t care,” I said.

The sword sliced through the cold night air, moving so fast I could not follow its path, returning to the place it occupied in less than a heartbeat, as if it hadn’t moved, thrumming still, a brilliant light glistening through a delicate rose-colored film.

A bitter chill gripped me, and I reached out my hands to be sure they were still there. At that moment my severed head tipped off my neck, and fell into my open hands.

Looking up, I could see my headless body still standing, though unsteady. Gazing into the darkness of night, I asked: “Why did you do that?”

For a moment there was no sound, just the silent cold stillness of death. Then an answer: “You said you did not care.”

 

copyright © 2016 J. P. Bone

 

An Autumn Day

A young couple held hands as they strolled into the open arms of an outdoor cafe, one bordered with flowers that clung to brick walls and dangled from wrought iron gates.

The sun was a bright yellow star in the wide blue sky. It was warm in the light of the sun, cool in the shade.

A playful autumn breeze snatched paper napkins from the tops of bistro tables and ran through the loose hair of the couple as they settled into a spot in the sun and in the shade.

They glanced at other couples there that Sunday in the outdoor cafe. Then they studied the menu carefully, consulting with each other about salads and salmon and wood-fired pizza. A young waiter came and took their order, entering the items into a handheld computer. The couple was delighted by the sight of the technology, with its special bistro application. They laughed softly, leaning forward to speak to each other briefly before settling into their seats.

They both pulled out an i-phone, and both began touching the screens with earnest.

Half-an-hour later they spoke to each other again, as they calculated the tip and gathered their things.

 

copyright © 2016 J. P. Bone

The first time I was executed

I remember being tied to a makeshift seat in a wooden ox cart that sat atop a dry and dusty hill in the parched desert beside the Gulf of California. Three Mexican Federales yanked leather and hemp straps tight and secured them to the cart. As they prepared me for execution they said nothing at all: No crime was described, no sentence proclaimed. The immense silence was disturbed only by the cry of an eagle high above and the wind that carried it.

Nearby a handful of officers kept watch while the soldiers tended to their assignment, lining up the cart’s wooden wheels in two deep parallel ruts that ran in a rolling yet nearly straight line down the dusty desert hill.

Sweat ran down the faces of the men as they nervously inspected each part of the wooden cart to make certain it was in good repair–a safety check of sorts, though not one that would benefit the passenger. They leaned on the most peculiar feature of the cart: two long smooth wooden poles that jutted straight out about three feet from the wheel hubs.  The soldiers took hold of the poles, made certain they were sturdy, then ran their fingers over scars in the wood, grooves that appeared to have been cleaved into both at exactly the same spot.

After my executioners tightened the straps restraining me one final time, they paused, their eyes following the deep ancient ruts in the hillside as they rolled downhill, narrowing until reaching a most bizarre structure of wood standing alone in the barren desert. Wooden poles and ribs joined together forming what looked, at first, like a massive cage, though even from a distance I could see an apparatus inside – a system of wood gears and ropes. Towering above the whole colossal structure was a massive wooden pole as tall as a Jeffrey pine, its bark planed-off until smooth. A huge triangular-shaped stone was lashed to the end of it, creating what appeared to be a tremendous hammer.

The cartwheels fit perfectly into deep ruts that ran down the hill and into an entrance to the edifice and an enclosure, each side framed by sturdy V-shaped wooden slots, opening outward, narrowing toward the back.

As they fidgeted, soldiers waited for word from their superiors, who huddled together and whispered in muffed tones, hands over their mouths, as though afraid their words may be overheard. A gust of wind, in breezy contempt of the desert and the conspiracy, carried the faint cool scent of the sea.

The conference ended and an officer nodded his head. The soldiers gave the cart a mighty push and off it went, bounding down the dusty hill toward the structure, the wheels bouncing up and down frantically, rocks and dirt spat out behind it as it gained speed.

The cart careened madly down the mountain, wheels smashing against the ancient hillside. Amid the pounding — wood buckling and groaning, the wind whirling in my ears — I glanced at the restraints that bound my hands and feet to the cart and at the great puffs of dirt that blew up around them, covering my arms and legs in a crystal-like powder. At any moment it seemed the cart would break loose from the rutted tracks and crash into the hillside, bursting apart into iron nails and ten thousand splintered pieces, a loose bundle tumbling down hill in a dense and chaotic cloud.

After one particularly violent jolt, the cart was launched into mid-air, clear of the tracks and the mountainside and everything, it seemed…

It was then, in one of those pauses that insert themselves into absolute chaos, that everything moving nearly stopped: Clouds of dirt that, until that moment, appeared then vanished in an instant, now expanded as slowly as a nebula in deep space. And in the space within those clouds, in between the granules of granite and specks of crystal, there was an opening: I could see an immense mountain range burst skyward, breaking upward through a desert plane, while volcanoes erupted, red and glowing yellow lava flowing, the earth itself breached.

I closed my eyes, wishing I could return to the frenzy of the cart as it bounded down the mountainside. When again I opened my eyes, sunlight calmly refracted against the dirt cloud: There was a rainbow and a hail of glitter; objects became sharper and all things slowed as waves do when seen from the heavens, surf calmly rolling toward the shore.

In that moment I looked down the hillside at the structure, now visible in great detail. It was then that I saw it expand, poles bound together moving outward, a dome stretching despite the resistance of leather-and-hemp binds. As it slowly ballooned, the dome groaning under pressure, there was a most horrendous rattling, ten thousand dry bones shifting, disturbed after eons of repose.

When the structure swelled until I thought it might burst, it suddenly stopped moving, rivulets of dirt sputtering toward the earth, dust settling…

In that place where the laws of motion had no force, I could once again see a massive pole towering above the whole apparatus, like a giant mast, a huge gray stone lashed to its end. The surface of the pole was perfectly smooth except for a series of evenly-spaced scars, shaped like claws, as though a dragon had fought its way to the top of the pole and back.

Then with a mighty heave, the entire structure began to contract as binds tightened and pine poles drew together, the dome collapsing inward.

At that moment, the full reality of motion reintroduced itself. Everything flew into action, the wheels of the cart slamming against rock and pounded dirt, once again following ruts on the hillside as it crashed back to earth, bounding toward the structure at the end of the road. The cart slammed into the wooden structure, the extended axis of its wheels finding the V-shaped groove and following the sloping sides as they narrowed, then ended in a device seemed designed to engage.

Timber cracked as the motion of the cart’s extended axis both struck blocks of wood, absorbed by the mechanism and structure itself, designed to receive it. Cogs were engaged, wheels and winches turned, ropes tightened, slackened then tightened again. Though I could not see anything but the cogs of a wooden apparatus before me — dust flying, rope spooling, loose then taunt — I could feel the swift and powerful movement of something high above, like a pteranodon turning and rolling into a dive in pursuit of prey…

I knew all along that it was the great rock hammer that wheeled toward me. Following an arc, it slammed into the back of my head, killing me instantly, the energy that was my soul following a trajectory created by the movement of the giant hammer, a curving strobe that jutted across the universe for eternity …