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Book Excerpts, Guest Posts

Not A Place On Any Map

February 27, 2017
leaving

By Alexis Paige

Channelling Harriet the Spy, 1983

I figured Dad’s leaving had something to do with all those times Mom locked herself in the bathroom. Once inside, she would blow like a firecracker, and I would get the spins, the whole house twirling off into darkness. One night not long before he left and while watching The Dukes of Hazzard, Mom sat up as if struck by a thought and then dashed toward the bathroom. Dad rose calmly from his chair in the den and went over to the television and turned up the volume dial. “Go to your room,” he said. “Mom’s going to be okay.” From my room, and with the pillow over my head, I heard only a muffled, underwater soundtrack: Mom hollering, Bo Duke hooting, and Dad begging Mom to open the door. From the crashing sounds, I pictured her like a cartoon dust devil of perfume bottles and bar soap and towels. I could never make out the words that mattered, could never translate the crashes and bangs into a story that made sense.

Years later, I heard a Robert Creeley poem in an undergraduate seminar and read the lines as if in a secret plea to Mom: “Love, if you love me,/ lie next to me./ Be for me, like rain,/ the getting out/ of the tiredness, the fatuousness, the semi-/ lust of intentional indifference./ Be wet/ with a decent happiness.” From those early explosions, I learned only that Mom was fragile and Dad remote on the subject. Eventually, I solved the case of the explosions: they were “episodes,” suicidal threats. Still, I thought if I could give her all my smiles and energy and cheer, that somehow Mom would get happy, that she would be drenched in it. Continue Reading…

Book Excerpts, Guest Posts

Book Review: Asana of Malevolence

September 6, 2016
asana

By Kelly J. Riibe

The dark back-stories for the players in Kate Abbott’s thriller, Asana of Malevolence, could all have their own novellas. Each character has a crippling past that continues to haunt them as they try to move forward in life in order to find forgiveness for themselves and the others who have hurt them.

This is Abbott’s second novel, and as an instructor of yoga she introduces and writes about the discipline in a way that makes it almost a character in itself. Through yoga, Sharon, Amy, Evan, and Sean were able to find peace from different traumas and begin a road to recovery. For them the retreat to “The Garden” was meant to be a celebratory excursion in which they could grow in their yoga spirit and find a calming reassurance to life’s dark side. However, upon arrival they soon realize the retreat is being led by a manic leader with cult-like intentions.

Phoebe and Moses are hikers on a backpacking trip along the Appalachian Trail when they encounter Sharon, Amy, Evan, and Sean trying to escape. Phoebe and Moses understand the feeling of loss, and immediately want to help these damaged souls who are fighting their past guilt, while simultaneously trying to come to terms with the hijacking of what was supposed to be a peaceful yoga retreat. It is heartbreaking to read that yoga aided each of these characters in processing their past grief and sadness, but then ultimately led them to a destination that offered only torture and fear.

The retreat leader, Larry, is a power obsessed man with an evil past. He will stop at nothing to control others. He feeds on weakness and vulnerability, which makes all those within Abbott’s story targets for his wicked plans. Larry’s relentless pursuit to make others serve him casts a long dark shadow over “The Garden” and the spirit of yoga.

“The Garden” is a rich backdrop to the story’s plot and Abbott describes it beautifully. The solitude of the area and the long distance of trails and wooded paths, cause the main characters to participate in an involuntary game of hide and seek with deadly consequences for being found. The characters must make tough decisions in their attempts to escape the reach of evil that is extending from what was once a calm and serene place. Very few locals live near the “The Garden”, but those who do prove to be worthy allies.

Unbreakable bonds of friendship are formed quickly in Asana of Malevolence, especially as the characters face acts of violence. The need to escape is urgent from the very start of the book. However, the ability to trust others is tough for many in this story due to their history of struggles and heartache. The characters grapple with seeking help that could ultimately put innocents in danger’s way. Throughout every chapter, a person is being tested, while having very few options in terms of survival.

Inner strength, and a little help from the paranormal, guide all of the characters in this page-turning read. Their quest to flee Larry’s control and also escape their own demons will keep readers engaged until the end.

****

Excerpt from Asana of Malevolence:

Sean had a rumbling in his left ear.  He could feel the ground beneath him and the sun beating down on him.  He tried to open his eyes but the light was blinding.  He wasn’t in any pain.  The last thing he could recall was someone injecting something into his foot.  But he didn’t feel high, or like he was coming down from something.  Maybe he was actually dead and the blinding light was heaven.   But he didn’t believe in God.  Something soft brushed against the left side of his face.  He reached up and something bit his hand ever so gently.

He forced himself to open his left eye.  It wasn’t quite as bright now because something was blocking his vision.   He heard an unmistakable meow and closed his eyes as tightly as he could.  Definitely dead.  That corny Rainbow Bridge poem had turned out to be true.  How else could Titus be there?   Reluctantly he opened both eyes this time.  Titus was still there, staring him in the face and purring.  Sean pulled himself up into a seated position and the cat hopped onto his lap.  He petted him and examined him closely.  White-tip on the tail, one paw missing a toe and that terrible Titus breath.

Sean looked around him.  Somehow, heaven was a dirt road in front of a double wide trailer.  Funny version of Saint Peter’s gate, but who knew?  The double wide appeared abandoned but suddenly the door popped open and an enormous woman with waist length grey hair stepped out, the little porch sagging under her weight.

“Are you God?” Sean asked.

For some reason, God found this extremely amusing.  She threw her head back and laughed uproariously, exposing remarkably white teeth.

“Oh, no, Sugah,” she gasped as she tried to stop laughing.  “Farthest thing from God is old me here.”   Another peal of laughter.

She stepped down onto the ground and waddled over to Sean.

She peered at him closely.  Sean wondered if she needed glasses.

“Mah name is Prudence.  Whatcha got there?  A cat?  Cute looking thang but they makes me sneeze.”  Prudence immediately sneezed twice as if to make a point.

“This is Titus.”  He pointed at the cat.  The entire conversation seemed absurd to him but he kept going.  “And I’m Sean.”

“Nice ta meetcha,” Prudence said, extending her hand and hauling Sean to his feet with surprising strength.

Prudence looked him up and down.

“What happened to your other shoe?  You only wearin one.”

He could only shrug.  He was dead, after all.  Why would he need shoes?  Titus jumped off his lap and darted up the road and into the bushes.  The cat emerged shortly with Sean’s other Nike.

“Well don’t that jest beat all?”  Prudence chortled.  “He a smart one.”

Her face turned serious as she asked him what he had done to piss off that no account who dumped him in front of her house.   Prudence had heard the car but hadn’t ventured outside because she thought it might have been the owner of the double wide, come back to kick her out again.   When she finally peered out the window, Sean was on the ground and a silver car was disappearing in a cloud of dust.

“I though you was dead,” Prudence concluded.  “You wasn’t movin, hardly even breathin.”

“You mean I am not dead?”

“No, Sugah, you right here wit me.  Live as can be.”

“Well, I’m supposed to be dead.  That guy, he shot me up with something that should have killed me.  I’m an addict.”

“Maybe that jest give you more tolerance.  You bring dat cat wit you?”

“No.”  He opened his mouth to explain that the cat had been his some years ago and was probably dead but he realized that information would only add to the confusion.  Instead, he asked how far they were from Charlotte.

“Oh, fity, hunnerd miles or so, I expect.”

“Is there a bus, or a train station around here?  I need to get back there.”   He patted his pockets.  For some reason, Chad had not taken his wallet or ID.  Maybe he wanted Sean identified.  He felt a sudden stab of worry for Mary Alice.  He hoped Betty had gone to find Mary Alice when Sean hadn’t shown up at the agent’s office.

“My nephew, he live up the road aways, past where the blacktop start.  He might could give you a ride.”

“That would be great.”   Sean reached down to put his shoe on and felt a wave of lightheadedness so strong that he had to sit down quickly.

“You ok?   Maybe you needs something to drink or your sugar low.  Dat happen to me a lot.”

Prudence lumbered up the steps of the trailer and came back with a carton of orange juice and a box of powdered donuts.  Sean gulped and chewed and he did feel better, although he was sure he would be crashing in thirty minutes.

“So, how far up to your nephew’s place?” he asked at last.

“Oh it fur nuff.  I ride you up dere.”

She disappeared around the side of the trailer and then he heard the sputter of an engine.   She reappeared around the side of the trailer riding an ancient motorcycle with a side car.

“Now make sure you brings dat cat wid you.  I don’t need anyone else beggin me for food at my door.”

Sean eyed his chauffer.  She appeared remarkably comfortable.  Sean got into the sidecar and Titus hopped up beside him.    Prudence tore down the dirt road, rattling Sean’s teeth.  The engine belched exhaust but it ran fine.   About fifteen minutes later, the dirt turned to blacktop and there were houses visible.    Prudence turned into the driveway of a small white ranch.  The door to the house opened and two kids ran out.

***

Asana of Malevolence is available now through the publisher at: https://mascotbooks.com/mascot-marketplace/buy-books/fiction/asana-of-malevolence/ and on Amazon here.

Kelly J. Riibe is a freelance writer, blogger, and full-time mother to three kids. She has been published in Nebraska Magazine, Heels on a Farm, MockMom, and is the co-writer for the blog:www.familyfootnote.com.

Kate Abbott is a mother, runner, yoga instructor and recovering attorney who delights in writing from the dark and bright sides of the heart. Her first novel is Running Through the Wormhole. Asana of Malevolence is her second novel. Her writing has appeared in Mamalode and Sammiches and Psych Meds.
Email info@jenniferpastiloff.com to book this online experience.

Email info@jenniferpastiloff.com to book this online experience.

 

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Binders, Book Excerpts, Film, Guest Posts

How To Go Crazy: Electroshock, Beautiful Minds, and That Nasty Pit of Snakes.

February 3, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88

By Tara Ison.

an excerpt from Reeling Through Life: How I Learned To Live, Love, and Die at the Movies.

I had my first experience with electroshock therapy when I was eleven.

It was 1975, the year I started seventh grade, and boys my age were strutting their Crazy Jack Nicholson imitations from One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest all over school.[1] I know I saw the R-rated Cuckoo’s Nest it when it opened in a theatre, and I know some adult must have accompanied me – my parents, or an indifferent babysitter, although why would anyone take an eleven-year-old girl to see such a movie? – because I was too timid and well-behaved to sneak into verboten theatres on my own. I didn’t break rules; I was scared Something Bad would happen, that vague threat if you somehow sullied your permanent record by misbehaving, by acting out.

In Cuckoo’s Nest, Randall P. McMurphy, aka Crazy Jack, is a charismatic petty criminal who tries to evade prison by feigning craziness, which he thinks will earn him some easy time in a mental ward. Doesn’t work out to his benefit, in the end. The film was shot in the real Oregon State Mental Hospital in Salem, and looks it – some of the zombie-like extras with deformed craniums seem too creepily real. Lots of metal doors clanging, chains clanking, images of leather restraints installed on cots, and stooped men with shaking hands. At eleven, I feel haunted and creeped even as I watch from the safe distance of my theater seat, even as I tell myself it’s only a movie; when the dazed and confused patients line up to get their little Dixie cups of pills and water, I can almost smell that thin wet-paper smell as they swallow.

Bad-behaving McMurphy comes up against Nurse Ratched, the white-stocking’d, sexually repressed, modulated-voice, emasculating image of the Bitch in Charge; when McMurphy boasts to an orderly that he’ll be getting the hell out soon, and the orderly grinningly tells him “You’re going to stay with us until we let you go,” McMurphy, for the first time, realizes he’s trapped – that Nurse Ratched is truly in control of his destiny, his body, his mind.

What haunts me the hardest, then and now, is the scene where McMurphy, after inciting a near-riot, is given electroshock therapy. He isn’t wheeled into the small white procedure room, strapped to a gurney – no, he strolls in, with that cocky Nicholson bounce and grin teenage boys love to emulate, oblivious to what’s in store. When he’s asked to lie down on a table, he cheerfully complies. My heart starts racing around here – I know what is coming, I believe, but I don’t know how I know, I just know in my belly it is the punishment coming, the Something Bad. I am too old to look away, to seek the comforting glance or hand of an indifferent adult. McMurphy’s shoes are removed; conductive gel is smeared on his temples, and I feel the pasty chill of that on my own face. He obligingly takes into his mouth a rubber guard that looks exactly like the dental plate my orthodontist uses to take impressions of my teeth for braces. Attendants place padded white tongs on either side of his head and grip him under his chin, a flip is switched, and there’s a brief, brief buzz that isn’t the worst of it – it’s the seizing up and sudden clench of McMurphy’s body, the whine from the back of his throat, the convulsive shaking and straining he does for long moments after the shock itself has ceased, the way everyone has to struggle to hold him down. I watch that with my pulse racing, my fingers gripping the armrests hard, my own body in some kind of mimicky, rigid seize.

Continue Reading…

Book Excerpts, Books, Guest Posts

Excerpt of The Novel “Song Of The Golden Scorpion” by Alma Luz Villanueva.

February 18, 2014


9781609403461Excerpt of The Novel Song Of The Golden Scorpion by Alma Luz Villanueva. 

“Gamble everything for love if you’re a true human being.” Rumi

Someone was knocking just as she began to undress, “Shit,” Xochiquetzal muttered (friends called her Xochitzalita, and it wasn’t that hard to say once you got used to it, ‘Shweetzalita’). There was no eye-hole-peep to look through, “Fuck,” she breathed out. Her skin was salty, dry yet luxurious from la mar, and her hair was still wet, coiled on top of her head. Her dreaming, relaxed, exhausted from swimming in la mar head. She didn’t want to deal with a maid. She wanted to stay in this state of ocean dreaming; but the knock became louder.

“Quien es, who is it?” she hissed. Who the fuck is it, almost escaped her thirsty lips. She made a mental note to pour a full glass of bottled water; then the hottest shower, a nap, a dream. Later dinner. A slow walk on the sand to watch the full moon rise; one day after, waning. But still pregnant, full of clear erotic light. Her skin itched with salt, the Mexican sun.

Xochiquetzal thought of the handsome, very young, Mexican doctor she’d escaped, Like an idiota, she couldn’t help thinking. Brilliant, hermoso, but too damned young for me. Her body clenched involuntarily, with the memory of his confident eyes gazing into hers as they spoke of past lives, Kubler-Ross, his work in the ER- and when she told him it was her birthday, that she was old enough to be his mother, he said, “Maybe I’m your gift.” Those beautiful, clear, wise, young/old eyes staring into her. Into her. When he went to get drinks, she ran. She escaped.

There was laughter on the other side of the door- “Who the fregado is it?” she raised her voice.

“Es yo, tu amigo.”

El cabron, he followed me here, her mind flashed awake, he followed me here. Then, her body flashed awake.

“Go away!”

“No.” She heard the smile in his voice.

“I’ll call security!” She felt her thirsty lips wanting to curl into a smile. She forbade it.

“I’ll show them my medical credentials and tell them you’re my patient,” he said with his charming, way too charming, accent (he made English sound inviting, warm). “Here in Mexico they’ll believe me, el doctor.” Then he laughed again, that sense of confidence he exuded. That magnet. She loved his accent when he spoke English, though he spoke mainly Spanish from their conversation on the beach, switching back and forth. Spanglish.  Right now it was English for her pocha benefit; he wanted her to understand every word.

“Sinverguenza,” the word escaped her mouth, making her smile (one without any shame, nada, zero, zilch…shameless).

“Si, es yo, Javier.” More laughter. She put her face to the coolness of the door (the AC was on at seventy degrees), and she thought she heard him breathing.

“What do you want?”

“Tu sabes, you know.”

“You’re old enough to be mi hijo…”

“Que rica,” he laughed, the ‘r’ rolling in ‘rica,’ conveying pleasure to her ears. Senses. “I am not your son, let me show you, Xochitzalita,” he nearly sang to her.

His voice penetrated her in a stream of clear, erotic, full moon light, or the muy caliente Mexican sun; her body flushed with sudden longing. I’ll probably regret this, she warned herself as she opened the door to find him standing there in his still wet trunks, bare chested, slim like a boy, flared shoulders of a man, and smiling with that unwavering confidence. A doctor, a god, she thought briefly- is there a fucking difference? She wanted to laugh, but firmly refused to.

“I was about to take a shower, Javier, before your rude knock…” Xochiquetzal realized she was smiling, in spite of her inner command to be irritated, to stay in charge.

He stared directly into her eyes- large, dark pools of wonder that have witnessed birth, life, death in the ER. His eyes held no age, only wonder, terror, endless curiosity. He was a small boy of six; he was the eighty-eight-year-old man whose life he’d saved the day before. The infusion of energy that had made him pack a few things, drive directly to Vallarta, swim in la mar at 4am, cradled by the clear, streaming light of the sensual warm waves. Always a woman’s body, her secret salt on his tongue.

“This is my fifty-eighth birthday,” Xochiquetzal almost whispered.

“What magic potion do you take, mamacita, you look in your forties, and you know what they say about older woman, younger man,” Javier paused, smiling como un sinverguenza, shamelessly, into her eyes. “You know I’m your gift, Xochitzalita.”

“It must be the yoga,” she laughed weakly. “My son’s close to your age, he’s thirty, you’re thirty-four, as I remember.”

Que rica, let’s wash this salt off.” Now he spoke Spanish, that beautiful Spanish that entered hidden childhood sections of her brain: trust.

Xochiquetzal turned on the hot water, the way she liked it, almost unbearable. “What do they say about older women, younger men?” Her body flushed open like the ripest, red rose, so suddenly, she almost fell to her knees (red, fleshy petals floated so slowly). She was embarrassed. She was surprised. She was trembling.

“Are you trying to cook me?” he laughed deep in his throat. “Let me show you what they say.” Javier gently took the pins out of her coiled, wet hair, and it fell past her firm shoulders, damp with curls. She held her kimono closed, but her hair was past her small, still girlish breasts, and the tips of the curls on her back reached the deep purple lotus blossom tattoo at the sacrum, the very small of her back (where the kundalini serpents slept). No man, except for the tattoo guy, had ever seen it. She felt ridiculously like a virgin- five years of celibacy- and the yellow/red tongues of fire leaping from the center of the lotus, etched on her flesh, danced.

“Mamacita,” he laughed with joy, “your hair is so beautiful!”

He laughs like a boy, like my son laughs, still laughs, the boy still alive in the man. Xochiquetzal held her breath as the flames danced higher (as the serpents began to stir).

Javier took her hand and led her into the shower. “Make it cooler, por favor.” Then, he did it himself.  He took off his trunks. He was perfectly brown. Beautiful. Erect.

I can’t talk or I’ll weep, I’ll start crying and scare the shit out of him, she thought, staying silent, gazing directly back into his eyes. And he saw the same thing- pools of wonder that have witnessed birth, life, death. No age, only wonder, terror, endless curiosity.

Xochiquetzal let her kimono fall to the tiles, and she walked the one step into his boyish arms. Their strength surprised her as they enclosed her forcefully, gently. As they began to kiss- his thirsty lips on her thirsty lips- it was such a gift, just this long, sweet, deep in her mouth, kiss. She began to weep, but it didn’t matter, as the water encircled them, their joyful, melting bodies.

“This is what they mean, Xochitzalita, this is what they mean.” Javier lifted her body slightly from the tiled floor, and she surrendered to his hands, his arms, his chest, his lips, his tongue that sent jolts of lightning to her tongue. This is the deepest play, she heard- did he say it, did she say it, it didn’t matter.

He lowered her to the cool tile floor, the warm water caressing them. “Fuck me,” she wept, “fuck me.”

“Don’t you want an orgasm first, I know my anatomy,” Javier smiled gently, provocatively.

“No, no, fuck me.”

“This is what they mean.” His soft, commanding mouth found her breasts, left and right, caressing each nipple with his tongue until she reached the edge of orgasm (With my breasts, she wondered, weeping). She wanted to touch, to hold, to stroke his lovely brown penis, but he wouldn’t let her. Then he tasted her secret, salty/sweet place, smiling to himself- the engorged, erect clitoris. This woman has orgasms, he noted with pleasure, and she has pubic hair like a woman, not shaved like a girl, yes… And he heard her, “Please please please fuck me now please Javier please…”

He held himself up on his hands over her, lowering himself so his erect serpent stroked her belly. “Please please please…” she chanted, lifting herself up to meet him.

“Am I your son?” He stared into her eyes, waiting for an answer.

Xochiquetzal stopped undulating, moving, chanting, her eyes flashing anger, and his serpent stroked her again, slowly. “No,” she wept, “no.”

“No what, tell me.”

“You’re not my son, cabron…” As he entered her it felt like a membrane gave way, a boundary she’d created to protect herself against the world- and she heard it again, This is the deepest play. As he entered her to the tip of her tender womb (now pulsing with a life of its own…birth, life, death, birth), she remembered his eyes from a dream. And then she forgot as the dance of the living filled her, convulsing her with ripples of orgasms like birth from her womb. This is the balance of labor, giving birth, multiple orgasms, she thought suddenly, seeing her womb filled with her unspilled monthly blood.

As he began to convulse within her, filling her with so much joy, his orgasm, joy, her rational self wanted to shout, “Do you have AIDS, herpes, I forgot to ask…” Then she remembered he was a doctor, didn’t he pledge to do no harm, him and his beautiful uncircumcised serpent. She let it go, she just let it go- At least I won’t get pregnant, the thought flashed across her mind almost making her laugh out loud. And these womb orgasms, is this new or what. Now she was smiling.

“What’s so funny, I see your smile,” Javier smiled into her eyes.

“I forgot to ask if you have any sexually transmitted diseases, you know like AIDS, herpes,” she murmured.

“Ayy Xochitzalita, soy un doctor, no te preocupes, don’t worry, te quiero otra vez, I want you again, this is what they mean by older woman, younger man, Xochitzalita, after this I’m going to give you an orgasm directly upon your sweet, engorged clitoris…”

“Ohmygoddess it sounds like a fucking prescription,” she murmured, giggling like a teenager.

“Pues it is, it is,” he laughed with her, picking her up in his strong, boyish, man arms, turning her around to face the cool tile, the waterfall of lukewarm water that enveloped them, steam rising from their bodies. “Que hermosa tattoo, un lotus muy caliente,” Javier laughed softly, lowering himself to his knees. “I’m licking your lotus, your fire, Xochitzalita..” And he did until he nearly drove her loca.

This is the deepest play.

She clutched the cool tiles as he entered her from behind so deeply, so suddenly, so perfectly, she wanted to scream at the top of her lungs like a wild animal, a tiger, a lion, no, a female jaguar. The sheer pleasure, the sheerest of pleasures- This is why we live, this moment, this moment, now, her silent scream. She photographed this moment in her mind, the tiny blue butterflies floating in the tile at her fingertips.

“I’m so glad I found you, Xochitzalita, I’m so glad I found you,” and he meant it, in that moment, every atom of his body, his mind, his soul, meant it. Javier remembered her eyes from a dream, and then he denied it.

“I feel like screaming, I want to let you know, but I’ll rouse the dead.” She tried to laugh but instead she began to weep again, with joy, this moment, this is why we live, now, this joy.

“Rouse the dead, let me hear it, I’m your gift, you’re my gift, que los chingan,” and he thrust deeper, if that were possible.

Deep, inhuman, or truly human, the first human sounds escaped her mouth, and he joined her in that song.

“Quiero ver tu cara, tu cara hermosa…I want to see your face, your beautiful face,” Javier sang to her, turning her around to face him.

“I’m not perfect, I’m not twenty-five, I don’t think I was ever perfect but now I’m fifty-eight.” Xochiquetzal couldn’t bear to meet his perfect eyes, not a wrinkle. She looked down at his lovely serpent and missed it, him, inside of her, that sweet dance of the living.

“Look at me, hermosa, look at me.” Javier waited until she met his eyes, and it made him want her more because she was weeping. He entered her blindly as though he’d die, that moment, if he couldn’t feel the tender tip of her womb. He entered her fevered, pulsing, pushing, pulling birth canal, and he saw the fine lines of living in her face, and a rush of tenderness filled him.

“I’ve held the still born, Xochitzalita, I’ve seen death in the faces of teenagers, the very young, and what I see in you is life, perfect life, give birth to me, Xochitzalita,” Javier wept openly, sobbing in that hoarse masculine way, clutching her to him, kissing her eyes, her cheeks, filling her open mouth with his tongue.

And they gave birth to each other- his moans, her moans, his tears, her tears, his death, her death, his life, her life, that moment of birth.

This is the deepest play.

They fell asleep in each other’s still wet arms, the AC blowing its cool wind across their naked, damp bodies. Just birthed. He was thirty-four. She was fifty-eight. Just birthed. Timeless. His mouth sought her flesh, her trusting neck, as he dreamed, as she dreamed. They dreamt of miracles which they would forget the moment they opened their eyes. Yet the miracle would remain. Alive. Just birthed.

This is the deepest play.

Xochiquetzal woke up first. It was almost dark but she could see Javier’s face. “Diosa, eres tan hermoso, Goddess, you’re so beautiful,” she whispered. She carefully disengaged herself from his strong, sweet limbs. “I’m so fucking hungry,” she murmured, wondering if she should wake him, but he looked like a trusting boy sleeping (reminding her of her son, Justin). She didn’t have the heart to wake him. His eyelids trembled as he dreamt. She wanted to enter his dreams.

“Who is this boy/man who’s a doctor?” Xochiquetzal asked the violet twilight. And then she remembered El Nino Doctorcito, the little boy doll saint, in her favorite church in San Miguel de Allende. Surrounded by his toys, a stethoscope around his neck, a small black doctor bag in his right hand (with the tiny, sensual angel milagro, miracle, pinned to it). The healer. She thought of the candle she’d lit before her journey, placing it in front of El Nino Doctorcito. As she’d stared at him, the little boy doll saint, for a moment she saw his tiny, pink lips smiling. And now, she remembered what she’d whispered to him as her candle burned in front of him, with all the other lit candles, and the photos of the healed at his doll feet wrapped in black cloth shoes.

“Heal me, Nino Doctorcito, heal my hidden, almost fifty-eight-year-old, beat-up, bitter, wounded, untrusting heart that I may love again, heal me.”

This is the deepest play..

As she dressed in the bathroom, putting on the last of her make-up, she decided to leave him a note telling him to meet her at dinner.

“A donde vas…Where are you going, Xochitzalita?” Javier’s voice was husky with sleep and satisfaction, making her womb contract involuntarily.

“El Nino Doctorcito,” she murmured, smiling. “I’m starving so I was going to leave you a note to meet me…”

“Oh no you don’t, you can’t leave this room without your physician, mujer,” he laughed languidly.

“Okay then, quick, get up, where are your clothes anyway?”

“In my truck, and how are you able to walk around after what we just did, I’m still in paradise, Xochitzalita, ayyy… Come here, dame un besito, no mas uno… give me a kiss, just one.”

She laughed, “I’m not falling for that trick, Javier, so I’m going to the far end dining place, where we met at the end of the resort’s beach.” Just met, she reminded herself, her body still glowing.. “Meet me there when you get dressed.”

“How can you walk, I can barely lift my head, estas Amazon. See you there, Xochitzalita, but you’re mine after we replenish our bodies.” His voice was soft, satisfied.

“It’s a deal, see you there.”

“Un beso, mamacita, no mas una.”

“I don’t trust you, estas malo,” she laughed.

“Es la verdad, Xochitzalita.”

This is the deepest play.

She made a delicious salad with every vegetable in the buffet and ordered a vino tinto, waiting for him to join her. Did I make him up, this Nino Doctorcito, this beautiful man who tells me he’s my birth day gift, younger man, older woman, maybe I did make him up. Except her humming body kept singing its new song, yes this was a new song.

    This is the deepest play.

She’d never had multiple orgasms like this- from her breasts, from her nipples, from her no longer bleeding womb (there was a new depth, song). He hasn’t gotten to my clitoris yet, she realized, sipping her vino tinto, el prescripcion. This made her smile like an idiota, but she didn’t care. Maybe I made el doctorcito up…

“Did you miss me?” Javier was in jeans, a soccer t-shirt, sandals, and his boy eyes were fastened on her, laughing.

“Do you really work in Emergency?”

“Do you have something that needs fixing, Xochitzalita?”

She blushed in the darkness as he sat down opposite her. They both turned simultaneously to face la mar, her undulating waves making love to the sand in the darkness. From the northern tip of Alaska to the southern tip of Brazil, each endless wave making love to the willing, thirsty land mass.

“I think you already did that, doctorcito,” she said loud enough, only for his ears.

“Como no,” he laughed, “and there’s more to come, mamacita, let’s eat, I need fuel for the healing.”

She put the salad between them, laughing with him. Ayyy Diosa, he’s read my mind, the healing, and I’m healing him, something in him, el nino doctorcito. “Why do you call me mamacita, I used to call mi abuela, my grandmother, mamacita…”

“I certainly don’t mean it in the way you meant con tu abuelita. Here in Mexico, there’s mama, and then there’s mamacita.” He smiled into her eyes so intimately she became instantly wet, ready for him. Now.

What is he doing to me? she asked herself, enjoying every single moment. Something’s burning up in me, something’s melting away, something’s becoming so soft, soft, soft…

“What are you doing to me, Xochitzalita?” he murmured, taking her hands in his. People turned to stare for a moment, then looked away, smiling at their palpable intimacy.

Yes oh yes this is the deepest play.

She watched him load two plates full of chicken mole, tortillas, sliced fruit and more, handing her one when he returned. “Clean your plate, pochita,” Javier teased as he ate with obvious joy. She was aware of people stealing looks at them from time to time, curious.

“Are you embarrassed because I’m twenty-four years older, tell me the truth, Javier.” Xochiquetzal faced la mar as she asked. She couldn’t bear to look at him, yet she had to know. The truth.

“Look at me, Xochitzalita, look at me right now.” The softness of his voice held an edge of command. She heard the steel in his voice, and it soothed her. The man rose to meet her. Equal.

She met his eyes. He x-rayed her soul. Where have I seen those eyes? she asked herself, I’ve seen them before.

Javier stood up so suddenly, she almost knocked her wine glass over in surprise. “I’ve missed this,” he murmured, kneeling next to her. He kissed her deeply, sucking her breath away, his soft, full lips, his hands firmly around her back, holding her to him, refusing her efforts to pull away.

So she surrendered. To his sweet, caliente, unrelenting kiss. His unyielding, tender  hands on her back, holding her to him. In public. And she didn’t care that people were staring.

Slowly he pulled away, keeping his eyes on her, still kneeling. “Does that answer your question, mi locita?” He smiled shamelessly into her eyes, her ripening womb, as soft applause reached their ears, and people went back to their dinners.

“Mamacita,” she laughed, tears filling her eyes. “You’re the first man, in my life, to meet my gaze,” she whispered.

“Quieres mas vino?” a waiter asked, smiling down at them. He filled their glasses to the brim.

“As I was telling you on the beach when we met, when I forced you to talk to me,” Javier smiled mischievously, making her wet, making her want him this moment, now, again, now. “I feel I’ve known you before, another life. I wasn’t just saying that as a, tu sabes, a pick-up line. Something about your eyes, Xochitzalita.”

She thought of the flash of dream she was trying to remember- I’ll find it in my dream journals, almost as old as him, she reminded herself. “I think I’ve dreamt you, so I know the feeling, yes something about your eyes, tu hermoso, tan malo ojos…your beautiful, very wicked eyes.” Xochiquetzal looked directly into them (Most men turn away, most men…), and saw they held the candle’s flame right in their dark centers. “And don’t you dare leap up and kiss me again,” she laughed.

“I’ll try not to, Xochitzalita,” Javier smiled threateningly.

Three young, handsome waiters appeared with a large piece of chocolate cake with one candle burning. Am I in fregado paradise? she wondered. Am I on the same fregado planet, Earth? And where do they find all this eye candy ayyy… They began to sing, “Happy birthday to you…” in their lovely Spanglish, and Javier joined them, laughing at her surprise. “Blow it out, senorita, blow it out, make a wish, esta momento,” the waiters urged her.

Xochiquetzal was momentarily frozen to the spot, each young, handsome face laughing, urging her to blow out the candle- and Javier’s face was the most handsome of all, his. The knowledge it held. The play. She looked into his young/ancient eyes and blew out the single flame. In that flame, she knew him centuries ago; if only she could remember the dream. You will, she told herself, in your dream journals, maybe in the last one, yes.

“Que bien, feliz cumpleanos, happy birthday,” the waiters said in unison (in their beautiful, sexy Spanglish voices), as one took the dinner plates away, the second poured them coffee with a full shot of kahlua, and the third sliced the cake in half, serving them both. Javier gave the third waiter some pesos, “Por todos, gracias.”

“How do you know I love kahlua in my coffee? How do you know I love chocolate cake? And how did you tell them to do this wonderful thing…” she began to weep, with joy/sorrow/joy.

“I know pues todo, everything, Xochitzalita, and if you start crying I’m going to have to kiss you again.” He threatened to stand, placing his palms on the table to push himself up. Smiling.

“Don’t you dare, Javier, no more applause from my fellow diners…”

Instead, he stood up, leaned over to reach her lips with his, licking her slowly, softly, making her wet, making her want him. Now.

“Vaya el cuarto!…Go to your room!” someone yelled to much laughter, and then another, louder round of applause. Then someone gave a grito (a loud, Mexican cry of joy and sorrow that sends shivers up a human’s spine), and Javier gave one in return to more laughter. “Cuarto cuarto cuarto cuarto,” they sang in unsion.

This is the deepest play.

Finally, as they stood up to leave- after another coffee and kahlua, some creamy flan, two more vino tintos for Javier- a round of gritos pierced the air. A man shouted, “El regalo de cumpleanos para la senorita…The birthday gift for the young woman!” to loud laughter. (Young woman, Xochiquetzal smiled…maybe I do look in my forties, Javier in his mid-late thirties, young woman, she kept smiling.) “Regalo regalo regalo regalo…” voices echoed with play. Before Javier could join in with his grito, come-back, Xochiquetzal ran away, down the steps toward la mar. Loud male whoops followed her, laughter.

“How do they know he’s my gift?” she began to laugh.

“Correle, hombre, se fue…Run, man, she’s gone!” Everyone laughing, echoing, “Correle, correle, correle, correle…” Then she heard a piercing grito- “Javier, I bet, oh my Goddess,” Xochiquetzal couldn’t help giggling like a senorita. “Senorita,” she sighed, walking into the warm, erotic, moon-filled waves. They reached her ankles, her knees, finally her blissful fifty-eight-year-old thighs, as she pulled the already short bandeau-style, black with fuchsia, beach dress, higher (made in Bali, her favorite place on Earth). The wet warmth of la mar soothed her; cooler than the day but still warm, and a sudden night breeze licked her flesh, lovely.

Suddenly she wanted to give a grito to la mar, to the night sky, the stars raining down their ancient light, the erotic, full moon that bathed her, everyone, in her translucent, glowing, pregnant path.

Javier grabbed her from behind so forcefully she cried out. He put his lips on her neck, kissing her hard, then softly like small butterflies landing one by one. “Don’t run away from me, Xochitzalita, you know I’ll always find you.” His voice was soft, firm, playful. She felt his swelling, his man’s warmth. His gift, el regalo.

“But I want to run away…”

“Porque, mi Xochitzalita, tan mala…”

“So you can find me, Javier.”

He slowly turned her around to face him, grinding himself into her, her mouth finding his, his tongue finding hers. “I’ll always find you, Xochitzalita,” he murmured, and then a large, moon-filled wave covered them. Laughing, spitting la mar, she opened her mouth wide and gave a grito to the Mexican night.   “Mamacita, que pasa?” Javier laughed, picking her up in his strong, boyish arms. El doctorcito. The healer.

Yes oh yes this is the deepest play, el regalo.

A bottle of chilled champagne waited in a sweating, metal bucket, surrounded by sliced mangoes, papayas, pineapples. And a plate of chocolate truffles, hand-made in the hotel kitchen. Someone had turned on the lamp that Xochiquetzal’s deep purple, fringed, traveling shawl was wrapped around. It glowed its soft, purple light that made her feel at home anywhere she traveled in the world.

“How did you get them to do this, how?” she laughed with delight.

“I’m an upper class Mexican doctor at home in his own country,” he smiled so confidently. That unwavering confidence that wouldn’t let her ignore him as she tried to on the beach, at first. She was taken aback by his response, for a moment- her innate aversion to any class system (the ‘all men are created equal’ theory she’d heard all her life in the USA, but rarely saw in daily living, politics, the news). Here was this man, this thirty-four-year-old Mexican doctor, simply saying the truth… upper class and at home in his own country.

“I guess you know, from your travels to my country, el otro lado (the other side), that I have a hard time with any class system.”

“Xochitzalita, in Mexico you are automatically upper class.” Javier popped the cork smoothly. “But I know estas una pochita del otro lado, you can’t help it,” he laughed.

“A Yaqui Indian pochita,” she shot back.

“Ayy, estas una India tambien, que bien, you’re my pochita Yaqui.” He gave an intimate version of his more public grito, pouring her a glass of champagne. “Dame la boca…Give me your mouth,” Javier commanded, kissing her. “El regalo,” he murmured into her open mouth.

“And how do all those Mexicans know you, regalo regalo regalo?” Her voice was jagged, her breath catching on his soft lips, his words, “El regalo.”

Another intimate grito; it went right up her spine, the kundalini, from her lotus on fire. This guy makes me wet, want him, with a grito, his soft mouth, tongue, the words, el regalo- I’m road kill, she sighed inwardly. Foreboding and delight in equal measure, and she knew…You can’t pick your gift, your gift picks you, el regalo.

“We’re all Mexicans at home in our own country, Xochitzalita, this is how we play, it was in our honor, this new love.” Javier paused, looking into her eyes. “In this moment, right now, I’m so happy, I love you,” he said in English. He waited, then said, “Tell me you love me, Xochitzalita.”

She was shocked, she wasn’t ready to say those words…I love you.

“Tell me you love me, Xochitzalita.” His gaze was unwavering. He waited. And what she saw at the center of his dark pools of endless curiosity, wonder: faith. The kind she’d had at thirty-four; to believe. In the impossible.

“In this moment, this very moment, right now, I love you,” she whispered, tears filling her fifty-eight-year-old eyes of new wonder.

“Ayy Xochitzalita, besa me, un besito, un regalo,” he laughed softly. “Did you see those pobrecito, confused gringos, yet I think they enjoyed it, the Natives enacting some strange ritual, now for el prescripcion…”

“I want more champagne, some mangoes, those truffles, por favor,” she giggled.

“You want champagne more than this?” He softly, so slowly, grazed his wet tongue over the inside of her lips. “A woman’s labia, her lips, so similar, let me lick tu mango, mi amor,” he smiled playfully, intimately.

“You’d better stop that…”

“Que…What?”

“Your words make me want you, what in el fregado are you doing to me, el regalo, gritos, mangoes y mas…”

“Primero el prescripcion, then el regalo, and yes I can make you want me with my words, just with my words, Xochitzalita, y mi lengua…my tongue.” Javier gently lowered her black bandeau top with the fuchsia flowers, and slowly kissed her breasts, each one, butterflies landing, covering her, making her wild. New.

This is the deepest play, el regalo, the gift.

She lit the large, cinnamon scented candle she’d bought in the hotel shop with two, huge bottles of water, chocolate bars, cartons of juice, for in-room-emergencies. They didn’t offer room service as the resort was all-inclusive, but they had the store. How did he get them to deliver the champagne feast? she wondered, with fresh pleasure, as she watched him sleep. “Hermoso hombre sonando en mi cama…beautiful man dreaming in my bed,” she whispered. How does he know how to make love to my clitoris, like an old lover, an experienced lover, an upper class Mexican doctor at home in his own country, yes… Xochiquetzal smiled at the peace in his open, dreaming face.

She’d begged him to stop, she wasn’t capable of one more orgasm, she’d fly apart, she’d cease to exist as flesh and blood, she’d become random pleasure bliss molecules merging with sea air moon light star light his breath, he’d breathe her in… Is this how it is when you leave your body, when you die, does everyone simply breathe you in? she wondered, deeply wondered, as her body pulsed with its own strange and private joy, separate from her persistent rational self, yet claiming her for its own. The body, spirit, soul. One blissful human being. That moment. That very moment. As she gazed at his open, dreaming face- his lips wet, parted, as though he wanted to tell her his dreams.

They dreamt in separate bodies, separate dreams, but they dreamt suspended in the same sky, the same timeless sky, where their souls simply knew each other. Timeless. They laughed as shooting stars pierced their dreaming bodies, as they remembered their endless preparation for death, for birth, always death, birth. Endless curiosity. Endless wonder. They dreamt. Side by side. His leg wrapped around her hip. Her arm flung over his chest, his heart. That pulsed. With life. Her heart. That pulsed. With life. El regalo, the gift. Endless wonder. They laughed. Suspended in the same timeless sky. Where their souls simply knew. Each other. Timeless.

Was this the deepest play? Yes

XochiquetzalI speak to a beautiful man with no words, only a stream of light flows from my mouth and he understands. He opens his mouth, a stream of light,  and I understand. Joy.

JavierI fly across the impossible ocean to meet my love, I can’t reach her, her long blonde hair hides her from me. I return to my own country. To dark haired women. Or I will. Die. Again. To the light. I see the light. A wise woman. Give birth to me, I’ve held so much death.

She woke up to him inside her, so gently, from behind, stroking her gently, his arms, his hands, holding her to him as though she might try to escape, but she had no desire to escape. No Desire. To escape. They made love without words, only sounds of joy, ecstasy, searing pain/pleasure, as though in a dream.

“Let’s go to town, I don’t think I can bear to face our fan club,” Xochiquetzal laughed from somewhere so deep inside her body, her still pulsing womb- a place she’d forgotten to remember, until now.

Javier frowned with disapproval, and for a moment she thought he was serious until he smiled at her.  The smile of the boy in the man, beautiful. As he watched sunlight fill the room, her eyes, he felt happy like a boy on a summer morning with a day of play in his wide open hands. “I have to warn you, my truck is a disaster, I clean it out once a month maybe. My car I save for formal occasions, my truck es para jugar…for play.”

El Nino Doctorcito and his toy cars and trucks, of course, she smiled at him. “I don’t care if we go by burro, I just want to go to a strange place for desayuno… breakfast, walk around like tourists…”

“My truck is a burro,” he laughed softly. “And you can be the pochita tourist, I’ll be your Mexican guide,” he murmured, kissing her, making her wet in spite of herself.

“No, I mean it, no, you’ll have to roll me around in a fucking wheel chair, Javier, I’m not kidding, no, no, I mean it…”

They walked to the end of the resort’s beach where his burro waited, and she laughed when she saw his teenage burro full of dents, scratches. Proof of many joyful, and probably muy loco, adventures. When he opened the door for her, a machete fell to the ground, as well as beer, juice and water containers. She leapt backwards, laughing. “What in el fregado is a machete doing in your burro, Javier, ayyy Diosa y Dios tambien!”

“I told you it was a disaster,” he smiled happily. “Every Mexican travels with one, just like the gabachos travel with their pistolas. At least ours is hand to hand combat, mi pochita Yaqui.”

“Woman hacked to death in Vallarta by insane physician!” Xochiquetzal stood, watching him pick up all the cans and bottles, placing them in a large plastic bag in the back of his burro. He slid the large machete under her seat, smoothly.

“Here, it’s your weapon in case your lips drive me absolutely insane,” Javier said in a serious tone, his eyes conveying concern for her safety. There didn’t seem to be any shocks in his burro, which made her laugh out loud with irrational joy. And he laughed with her.

“I have one more day, Xochitzalita, then I’m expected back in the Emergency.”

“Only tomorrow?”

“I’ll come to see you in San Miguel at the end of the month, te juro…I promise… if I can stand it to the end of the month that is. You’d better get the machete to protect yourself, I think I’m going insane right now.”

She gazed at his face, his mouth, as he said this, and her joy didn’t leave her. Then she kissed him, meeting his tongue with her own, quickly. “Maybe you need your machete, doctorcito, maybe I’m going insane,” Xochiquetzal laughed. Like she used to laugh so long ago.

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www.almaluzvillanueva.com

Alma Luz Villanueva’s fourth, newest novel is Song of the Golden Scorpion. Eighth book of poetry, Gracias, to be published in 2014. Teaches at Antioch University’s MFA in creative writing program, Los Angeles. Lives in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, the past eight years.

Jennifer Pastiloff is a writer based in Los Angeles. She is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Jen will be leading a Retreat in Costa Rica at the end of March and her annual retreat to Tuscany is in July 2014. All retreats are a combo of yoga/writing and for ALL levels. Read this post to understand what a Manifestation retreat is. Check out her site jenniferpastiloff.com for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Jen and bestselling author Emily Rapp will be leading another writing retreat to Vermont in October.

Book Excerpts, Guest Posts

Excerpt of “A Life In Men.” A New Novel By The Incomparable Gina Frangello.

January 28, 2014

Excerpt of A Life in Men By Gina Frangello.

Three Honeymoons

(CANARY ISLANDS: GEOFF)

What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open. —Muriel Rukeyser, “Käthe Kollwitz”

On New Year’s Eve, 1994, she didn’t think she’d make it to ’95, but here it is almost spring, and she is not only still kicking but feeling inconceivably fresh off another overseas plane ride and holding a fruity welcome drink in the main house of the most luxurious resort she’s ever seen. Its architecture resembles that of a turn–of–the–century village, as envisioned by a partnership of Travel and Leisure and Gaudí. Instead of one big hotel, approximately twenty “villas” dot the elaborately landscaped gardens like mini fairy–tale castles, all squat turrets and shiny tiles and pastel shutters. Instead of outhouses or vermin carrying bubonic plague, the place is so clean that Mary would feel perfectly comfortable licking the floors.

“This looks like someplace Snow White would hang out if she had a price on her head,” she whispers, and she and Geoff laugh into their drinks, intoxicated by their shared delight at the absolute lack of authenticity. They will be on Tenerife for a week, and their covert plan is to never leave the premises of the resort. In their first few days, they stroll the gardens, eat gourmet meals or quick snacks at their choice of restaurants, read novels and drink on the private beach, and then go back to their villa to make love until they are exhausted enough to sleep, only to wake and do it all again.

Geoff calls this a “no stress” vacation. No backpacks, no flooding bathrooms, no hitchhiking. “I don’t want to see you while I’m at work,” he tells Mary, meaning at the hospital. Over their first shared paella he informs her, “I’m going to fatten you up.”

Imagine a man saying he wants his woman fat! Envisioning a fuller swell in her breasts, her thighs brushing one another when she walks, Mary orders a third margarita — plus crème brûlée.

“No more slumming in the third world for you,” Geoff says later, as they float aimlessly in their personal Jacuzzi, sprinkled with fuchsia flower petals, the aroma deepened by steam, so that the air is thick and perfumed like an opium den. “I’m going to make you take it easy if it kills you.”

Then he grimaces.

Places to make love at the resort abound. The hammock on the hill, late at night when no one is around. Their Jacuzzi, Mary lying on her back outside the tub, droplets chilling on her body, while Geoff, standing inside the water like a statue of a Greek god, thrusts his hips, her legs slung over his shoulders. The crevices of the garden, on all fours behind bushes, peacocks gazing on. Mary and Geoff sneak around like children, looking for new places to copulate. A deserted chaise longue at sunset, while the rest of the guests are at the dinner seating. “This is what I wanted to do to you on that chair in Plati Yialos,” Geoff says, diving between her legs. For a moment the ghost of Plati Yialos — of Nix’s nude body hurling itself into the surf — hovers, but then Geoff’s tongue sets to work, sun looming above the water before dropping under, a giant yolk falling into a bowl, and Mary’s back arches and her thighs grip Geoff’s head and muffled voices in the distance only spur them on.

If happy families are all alike, the only thing more homogeneous still is a happy couple. See Mary and Geoff lying poolside with the other young men and women, all paired off like animals marching onto Noah’s ark. Pretty, tanned twentysomethings chatting around the bar, swapping meet–cute stories (Mary and Geoff’s always wins) in their various German, English, American accents. If Mary coughs now and then, even pulls out an inhaler, nobody seems to notice. If she disappears into the villa for a stretch of time to do her PT, surely everyone only assumes she and Geoff are in there swinging from the proverbial coital rafters.

Or maybe that is too simple. Mary’s lungs are still suffering the aftershocks of her Mexican infection; her daily life continues to revolve around time–consuming physiotherapies; now that she lives with a pulmonary specialist, she is less able than ever to forget about her illness. Geoff even does bizarre things like invite his supervisor, her longtime physician Dr. Narayan, over to their house for dinner, and insists on calling him by his first name, Laxmi, though Mary blushes every time, and lives in perpetual fear that the elderly man who has handled her lungs since she was seventeen will now accidentally encounter a pair of her thong underpants or, say, her vibrator while visiting.

She knows that her current bliss cannot be explained away as her feeling “exactly like everybody else” suddenly, but precisely the reverse. To be in such normal love, while simultaneously cognizant of her own difference, makes it seem that the bond she and Geoff share must be deeper, more profound or extraordinary, than bonds shared by the other, regular couples at the resort. Yes, for the first time since high school, Mary has been granted entry to the Normalcy Club, but this time undercover. She and Geoff are complicit in their pretense, so that the average itself has become exotic: every ordinary moment carries an electrical thrill.

Is this finally “happiness”? she wonders. Is this what she always craved? And if so, how long will it last?

On the fifth day, guilt–tripped by the other couples who rave about the casinos and discos in the touristy Playa de las Américas section of the island, Mary and Geoff venture outside the walls of their resort and head for the beachy boardwalk. But despite a dearth of American tourists in the Canary Islands (mainly because most Americans have never heard of them), it turns out that Germans and Brits are just as adept as any ugly American at co–opting a place until it becomes a Fort Lauderdale – like strip mall, complete with fish–and–chips joints, bratwursts, and endless pints of beer, with neon signs and fat senior citizens in sensible shoes. Bombarded by gaudiness, Mary and Geoff scurry past the casino, the dance clubs with wildly pulsating 1980s tunes shaking the sidewalk, the bars in the big, glitzy chain hotels, bypassing the crowds. They amble along the rocks
that line the beachfront, until they once again reach seclusion. Mary takes off her clothes and Geoff looks around nervously but then removes his, too, and they do it up against some rocks that poke and scrape their skin but provide good foot leverage for Mary, since usually she is too short for them to have sex successfully standing up.

Mission accomplished, they hurry back to the idyllic world of their resort.

This, then, is love. That elusive bird that managed to fly forever out of Mary’s reach even in the great cities of Europe and the African bush. That state of being or beast or concept, impossible to pin down, that had started to seem to her a great, mythic hoax — or if not that, then some salve for the simpleminded, not worth its hype. But how underrated, joy. How incompatible with everything she thought she knew of life. In real life your boyfriend ditches you the moment you get sick; in real life planes explode in the sky; in real life your long–lost father is a polygamist shaman. Now, only two months in, Mary is a zealous convert to love and its attendant happiness: an optimism junkie.

She never wants to go back.

On their last night at the fairy–tale resort, they dine in its five–star restaurant. There is only one seating per each evening’s three–hour affair, and you have to dress for dinner. Mary and Geoff wait in the cigar lounge for the seating, sipping cognacs. Geoff has put on what Mary’s father would call a sports coat, and he looks so handsome her brain hurts. At twenty–eight, he is less muscular than the boy she met years ago in Greece (he says he was on crew back then), but his new spindliness becomes him, has taken the macho edge she distrusted in Mykonos off his appearance. He looks kinder now, more vulnerable in his beauty. Sometimes Mary thinks Geoff looks like an actor cast to play the role of himself in a film; his face is too pretty to make sense in the context of a Cincinnati hospital and seems more Hollywood’s idea of what a “good–catch doctor” would look like. His dark hair falls softly in a curve over his eye, making him look like a boy in a 1980s band, sans the eyeliner and with his square jaw for a dose of masculinity. Mary is pretty sure every woman he encounters would like to fuck him, though Geoff says this is ridiculous; he has slept with fewer than ten women, her included. Still, she sits in her strappy black dress next to him, euphoric. This is my boyfriend. This is my life.

At dinner, they order the catch of the day, filleted tableside. They drink a sauvignon blanc from South Africa, which Mary is relieved is dry. She doesn’t know much about wine but recalls having had a sauvignon blanc with Geoff before and its being distastefully sweet. Geoff explained that this has to do with where the grapes come from and in what region the wine is made, but sauvignon blancs seem to come from all over the place, and she cannot keep it straight. He claims it’s his favorite white wine, although Mary finds this perplexing, since it never tastes the same. However, she likes that Geoff knows about wine. It seems a grown–up thing to know about. It makes him seem the antithesis of Joshua or of Mary’s parents. It seems an obscene, glorious luxury to be genuinely invested in the idiosyncratic taste of a grape and to have protracted discussions on this topic without the slightest tinge of irony.

“Look.” Geoff points toward the entrance of the restaurant. “There’s Olivier.”

Mary turns her head. Olivier is what they call the Frenchman who wears a skimpy black Speedo at the pool, his penis coiled like an enormous snake inside. They do not know his actual name, the penis being too terrifying to permit small talk, but Mary, Geoff, and all the other couples have been laughing about him for days. What is he doing here all alone? What is his story? Is his penile bulge fake? Mary watches him enter the restaurant in a loose–cut suit, no woman on his arm. It seems entirely reasonable to suppose that perhaps Olivier exists only for their amusement.

“We should have toasted,” Geoff says, and Mary has to turn away from Olivier’s grand entrance to look at him again. “To our last night in Tenerife.” He raises his glass.

She picks up her own to clink and drink. And there it is.

The reasonable conclusion to all her happiness.

When Mary sees the ring, she does not feel shock. She and Geoff have been together only since the New Year, but still Mary finds she expected this, not only in general but tonight. She thinks maybe she should gasp and clap her hands to her mouth or offer another dramatic gesture of surprise, but all she can do is smile.

“I should have gotten your number at home before you got on that ferry,” Geoff says, not for the first time. “I knew I’d never forget you — I was already in love with you.”

“I want to have a baby,” Mary blurts out. She knows she should be worried that this admission, or at least her timing, will make her sound some combination of unhinged, pushy, and desperate. But she is not worried. It feels perfectly reasonable to conclude that worry has been banished now, too, along with shock and loneliness.

Geoff beams. “Of course! I want that, too!”

“But,” she begins, unsure why she is suddenly compelled to play devil’s advocate to her own desire, “pregnancy could make my health decline. What if I were to leave you with a young child? You’d be saddled for the rest of your life, and I wouldn’t be there to help. It might make it harder to have a full career and to, like, find another
wife.”

Geoff gapes at her. “Another wife? Are you nuts?”

“Well,” she stammers, “I mean . . .”

The ring is at the bottom of the glass. Geoff glances at it nervously, as if he has suddenly realized that maybe it wasn’t the best idea, chucking it in there while she was scoping out Olivier. All at once he picks up the glass and drains it in one gulp, sticking his man -fingers into the delicate bowl of it and fishing out the ring, thrusting it forward at Mary. “I want you to listen to me,” he says, sliding the wet diamond onto her finger. “Your FEV values are amazing for your age, you have a milder gene mutation — I think you’re going to live for a long, long time, Mary. And as far as a baby goes, I’d never want you to do anything you weren’t comfortable with, but studies are showing that women with good pulmonary function don’t usually decline from pregnancy — some show that women who have children actually live longer. Plus, when the pancreas isn’t affected, as in your case, a transplant could someday offer an entirely new lease on life, where you’re not sick anymore at all.” He gets out of his chair and comes over to her side of the table. For a moment Mary thinks he will get down on one knee, but he is too dignified for that, too full of midwestern reserve, and merely crouches next to her chair. “Look, I’m not kidding myself — I know there are no guarantees. But if I were ever to lose you, the only thing that could make it even slightly bearable would be if I were raising our child and still had a part of you in my life.”

If they were in a movie, this is the part where Mary would begin to cry — where she would fling her arms around him and shout, Yes! to the cheers of the other restaurant patrons. But she is too numb with relief to even speak. She cannot cry. She cannot even feel, precisely, except for an enormous wave of letting go, of surrender. She looks down at her ringed finger and nods, unable to meet Geoff’s eyes. He hugs her tightly, and she wraps her arms around him and hangs on, thinking of the first day he brought her back from the hospital to his condo, and the way she wondered at her lack of nervousness or even, precisely, lust, when they fell together onto his bed. She felt, in contrast, as though they had already been making love for years and had returned to each other after an involuntary absence. For the first time, nakedness seemed neither a costume nor an escape route. Above Geoff’s bed was a framed Nagel print, and abruptly Mary cackled and said, I didn’t realize we were back in 1986, so Geoff, naked with his hard–on bobbing up and down, had stood on the bed, taken the picture from the wall, and put it inside his closet. “I guess since my decorating skills are so awful, you’re just going to have to move in and save me from myself,” he said, and although he had not even been inside her yet, the deal was done. She had already resigned from her job in Columbus and was unlikely to find a new teaching job before the fall, but the very next day Mary took the art she’d acquired in France, Japan, Kenya, and Mexico and, clutching the emptied travel tubes to her chest, spent five hundred dollars having it all framed.

“Hey,” Geoff says, standing quickly, discreetly, before the other restaurant patrons start to stare, “maybe we should come here again on our honeymoon.”

“I can’t believe it,” Mary whispers. “I was just thinking that.”

Click picture of book to purchase.

Click picture of book to purchase.

Gina Frangello is the author of three books of fiction: A Life in Men (Algonquin 2014), Slut Lullabies (Emergency Press 2010) and My Sister’s Continent (Chiasmus 2006).  She is the Sunday editor for The Rumpus and the fiction editor for The Nervous Breakdown, and is on faculty at the University of CA-Riverside’s low residency MFA program.  The longtime Executive Editor of Other Voices magazine and Other Voices Books, she now runs Other Voices Queretaro (www.othervoicesqueretaro.com), an international writing program.  She can be found at www.ginafrangello.com.

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Jennifer Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Jen is a writer and retreat leader based in Los Angeles. Check out her site jenniferpastiloff.com for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Jen and author Emily Rapp will be leading another writing & yoga retreat to Vermont in October.