Saturday, February 27, 2016

Readings from the February 27, 2016 Writers' Showcase (plus bonus material!)

These are the pieces I presented at the Winter edition of the Writers' Showcase on February 27, 2016. Most of them have been slightly revised and edited from previous versions. I have also included some bonus material that I had to cut for reasons of time. Enjoy!

Poem: Love Anyway 

It was pieces like this that gave me a reputation as a love poet. When I originally presented it, it was sandwiched between two poems presented by other poets of the "waaah, somebody broke my heart, life sucks, all is despair" variety. The host of the reading actually pointed out the contrast.

This poem was written for me, and addressed to me. I quote it to myself often. I need to be reminded of the things I said here.

You stand there like a clown in a spotlight without a broom
because you love her
more than you can say,
more than you have ever loved anyone else,
more than anyone has ever loved anyone else,
and she does not love you

She loves him
and he has no poetry in his soul

Love her anyway
even if she will never love you

Because the opposite of love is not hate
the opposite of love is not indifference
the opposite of love is resentment
bitterness and anger at being denied that which you know you deserve
that which is given freely to one so undeserving

Love becomes you in a way resentment does not
love is not the answer
love isn't even the question
love simply is

Love her anyway
because you love her
and whether she loves you or not
or continues to love him
him, the one with no poetry in his soul.
you will have loved greatly and grandly and without hope of reward
and the universe will have become a better place for it

So take off the greasepaint
and the shabby hat
forget the broom
step out of the spotlight
put aside the resentment
and love her anyway.

Poem: blossom

That poem and a few others like it gave me a reputation as a love poet. I tried to break out of this stereotype and escape the pigeonhole by focusing on some other themes. Nature, for example.

The following is a true story.

I saw a black blossom floating in a bird bath once
it had red and pink petals spreading out in the water
and a long pink stem behind
and, on closer inspection, little feet attached to little legs
and I realized it wasn't a blossom at all
but the back half of a rodent
a mouse, or rat, or (as I would later determine)
a vole, a cute chubby little creature with a fondness for the cocoa hulls
I was using to mulch my blueberries.

It had been going about its vole-ish business one day
when some keen-eyed bird spotted it
a hawk, most likely
and snatched it up to have it for lunch
But the rodent struggled mightily, fighting for its life,
forcing the bird to expend energy just to hold onto this bit of food
and in the end it decided that half a vole was better than none
and it bit the vole in two, flying off with the still-struggling front
and leaving the back to fall into a birdbath
where its guts spread out like red and pink petals in the water
and its tail stretched out like a stem
and it floated there, waiting for me to find it

Story: Sunset and Shadow

This story was first written down longhand in a small blue notebook in July 2013. It was based on what would have been actual events, a planned date from back in 2010. I never actually met the person this story was written about in person until late 2011. She disappeared in late 2012, and I spent quite a bit of time trying to find her again. I finally did, toward the end of 2013, by which time I had written and rewritten this story several times. 

We get together early on a Saturday afternoon in late January in a bookstore.  Seeing Lori in person after all our conversations online is something of a shock, finally realizing just how far apart we are in age. She is small and pixie-ish, with bleached white hair and eyes so dark they might be black. Her skin is pale and her face is alive and shining.  She is dressed in a sort of Salvation Army chic, in a green prairie skirt and frilly cream blouse that hide her tiny figure, wrapped in a black wool jacket with shoulder pads that would look preposterous on anyone else. A black beret, a scarf that might be a keffiyeh, and chunky black boots.  I know she is a brilliant writer just from what she had put in her ad, and the stories I've found on her blog confirm this. She looks like a giddy little girl, but her writing has a darkness and maturity that say there is much more to her.

I wonder how I look to her. I think I look close enough to the photos I posted on my site, as she does to hers. But I really don't know what she sees with those big, dark eyes.

We drink hot chai and talk about writing, and our favorite authors, and our biggest influences. I ask her about school but she doesn't want to talk about it much. She pries a few stories from me about my days in college, a quarter of a century ago.

We have been talking for well over an hour and haven't made any plans for the rest of the day. When she excuses herself to use the bathroom I order a strawberry parfait, something that looks like one of the things she has posted on her blog. Lori returns to our table and one of the staff brings it over in a tall glass with two long spoons.  After dessert we wander the bookstore for a while, pointing out books and authors to each other. I find an annotated edition of one of her favorite books and offer to buy it for her, but she takes it from me and insists she will pay for it herself. Fine, I say, taking the other copy from the shelf, laughing. Now we will both have one.

We exit the bookstore holding our identical purchases and step into the icy late-afternoon air.  I suggest we could drive around and continue our conversation. A glance at the clouds smeared across the western sky gives me an idea. The sun will be setting in an hour or so, and I know a spot where it will put on a beautiful display. For a moment I think she might not want to go, or might want to take her own car, wherever her car is. But she agrees and we both get into mine.

The sun is dipping behind the clouds as we drive. We are heading west, so the sun is mostly in front of us. Even through my sunglasses I can see the sun-dogs forming, mock suns positioned on either side of the real one, produced by the sort of ice crystals present in certain clouds. I point them out to Lori, and she pulls out her phone - wrapped in a Hello Kitty case - and takes a picture. Her thumbs fly as she types something on to the screen in a way I can't even begin to emulate. And then she does something else - posts the picture online, to her blog or Facebook or somewhere. I feel the generation gap yawning between us.

I have to maneuver a bit to get where I want us to be, but finally we get there. It is a steel truss bridge, more than seventy years old but still safe and sturdy enough to bear the traffic that crosses it. I had made it collapse once, in one of my stories, plunging dozens of cars and their drivers into the river below. We writers wield such power.

"Here?" she asks, as we park in a dirt lot at one end of the bridge. Her tone says she isn't afraid, just curious.

"Not here," I reply. "On the bridge. About halfway across we'll have a great view of the sunset."

She gets out of the car, pushing her beret down with one hand and clutching her book with the other. The bag crackles like it is threatening to shatter. I am glad we are both dressed for the weather. It gets cold on the bridge in winter. Cold, and windy.

As we step onto the walkway Lori looks up, then around. "You've taken pictures here," she says. "The ice on the river, and the shadows on the ice."

"Yep," I say. I posted those photos half a year before I met her online. She has done her homework, reading my old blogs.

We walk out two hundred and fifty feet, or so - I've always been bad at estimating distances. Cars pass by once in a while, clattering and banging over the deck plates of the bridge, but the drivers don't even notice us.

The sun hasn't started its show yet.

"Here is good," I say. Across the deck and through the girders and cables we can see downriver . The Susquehanna flows from east to west along this stretch, so we have a relatively clear view of the sunset. The sun is sinking behind an old, disused railroad bridge and over the trees and rolling hills that edge one bank. The scene is reflected in the river below, where water flows between great broken sheets of ice.

But none of that is what I want to show her.

"There," I say, looking but not pointing. "Above the sun. Do you see that patch of light pointing straight up, almost like a candle flame? Unless I'm reading the clouds wrong, that's going to stretch out into a sun pillar."

She looks at the bright white blur on the western horizon. The sun moves lower and lower behind the clouds. As the minutes pass the column of light above the sun stretches up, and up, looking like a biblical pillar of fire. It gradually deepens to orange and then red as the sun sinks lower on the horizon.

Lori slides the handle of the bag from the bookstore over her wrist, raises her Hello Kitty camera and snaps a few more pictures. "I've never seen that before," she says.

"Most people haven't," I reply, and immediately realize I have relegated her to the realm of "most people." "Sun pillars aren't that common, so they don't happen with every sunset. And we're all so busy, how often do you get to watch a sunset?" I say, trying to recover.

"'How many more times will you watch the full moon rise?'" she says, quoting The Sheltering Sky. "'Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless.'" Or maybe she is quoting Brandon Lee's quote of The Sheltering Sky. He was dead shortly after that interview.

"There's something else," I say. "Turn around. Look east."

A beautiful soft pink glow stretches across the eastern sky, just above the horizon. Above it, the sky is only a little darker than it had been a few minutes ago. Below it, the sky is a dark blue-gray above the cold Susquehanna.

"What is that?" Lori asks, raising her phone to take another picture.

"It's called the Belt of Venus," I tell her. "The pink glow is the light of every sunset that's happening just beyond the horizon. The sunlight reddens as it passes through the thickest part of the atmosphere. We're seeing that red sunlight reflected back at us."

"And the dark part?"

"That's the shadow of the Earth. The Earth is casting a shadow through its own atmosphere. It'll rise, higher and higher, and become night."

She taps some more information into her phone. I find that habit almost annoying. I want her to be here now, but she is busy sharing each moment with the world.

I've been standing beside her, on her left as we watched the sunset, on her right when we turned to watch the light show in the east. But as we watch and talk, I move behind her.

Lori is short, nearly a  foot shorter than me. I place my hands on her shoulders, on those ridiculous shoulder pads, Then I gradually slide them across so I am hugging her from behind, each hand on her opposite shoulder.

We stand like that in silence for a few minutes. A car drives past.  I barely notice it.  The wind blows a bit from behind us, but I shield Lori from the chill. We watch the colors in the eastern sky rise and begin to darken and fade.

"So what would you like to do next?" I ask.

She turns to face me, breaking my hold. She puts her phone back in her coat pocket, but the book in its crinkly beige bag still hangs from her wrist. She looks up at me, her nearly-black eyes looking into mine.

Lori reaches up and clutches the lapels of my black longcoat. She tugs me down gently, stands on the toes of her boots, and kisses me on the cheek.

"You're very sweet," she says. Continuing to stare at me, she adds "Thank you for the sunset, and the shadow. But I have to go now."

I am dumbstruck. Crestfallen. And a million other words that only apply in such a situation. Finally I speak. "I'll drive you back to the bookstore, if that's what you want."

She smiles and shakes her head. "I have a ride."

The car that drove past us is stopped at the end of the bridge, next to mine.

"Goodbye," she says. She releases her grip on my coat and slides her hands slowly down my chest, stopping briefly to take my hands in hers. Then she lets go, turns, and walks briskly to the waiting vehicle.

Lori gets to the end of the bridge, opens the door to the waiting car, and gets in. I can't tell if she looks back at me. Maybe she waves.

The car drives off and I am left alone on the bridge, as the last traces of sunset fade from the sky.

We never did watch the sun set from the Nanticoke-West Nanticoke bridge, which is where the climax of this story is set, but we drove across it many times. She's moved on with her life now. A part of me is still on that bridge, watching the tail lights fade.

Last year I stood on this bridge in late January, which is when this story is set, and I thought to myself: Goddamn, it's cold up here. Those two would have frozen to death pretty quickly.

Poem: dancer

When one muse leaves, sometimes you spend years looking for another. Sometimes you latch onto the nearest candidate who fits the bill to serve as your new muse. And sometimes surprising things happen as a result. 

Don't look at her.

OK, look, but don't touch
those are the rules
just give her a dollar and let her go

She dances
in a schoolgirl's outfit
plaid skirt, white blouse, necktie
high heels
and a garter

and when she dances
does she remember twirling in front of a mirror
a hairbrush for a microphone
lip-syncing to the radio?

Now she dances on a smoky stage
smiling down on perverts and skeeves and hungry-eyed men
men who wonder what she tastes like
men who wonder how much she costs

She's not for sale.  You can't buy her.
That smile isn't for you.
This isn't her. This is just something she does for money.
It doesn't define her. Don't think
you can sum her up in a single word.

She's not for sale
but twenty-five dollars buys you a private dance
five minutes alone with her
Look, but don't touch,
she can touch you, but you can't touch her
those are the rules
And don't think it means anything. It doesn't.
That smile isn't for you.

When she counts her tips in-between sets
does she remember sitting on the floor in her communion dress
counting the dollars from all her cards
dreaming about the things she would buy with that money?

Don't judge her. You have no right.
You don't know her. You know nothing about her.
This isn't her. This is just something she does for money.

Back on the stage
she struts to the beat
for the perverts and skeeves and hungry-eyed men
she twirls around the pole
wearing nothing but high heels
and a garter
and a smile

That smile isn't for you. She's not for sale.
Look, but don't touch.
You have no right to judge.
This isn't her.
This doesn't define her.
You don't know her.
You know nothing about her.

That smile isn't for me.
I don't know her.
I know nothing about her.


Here's the brief biography I submitted to host Brian Fanelli:

Harold Jenkins double-majored in Physics and Philosophy at the University of Scranton, where his poetic efforts were thwarted by a professor who struck through every line of his submission for the literary quarterly and then admitted she had no idea what a "Mayfly" was, anyway. He spent twenty years in industry before taking up writing again. In late 2011 he accidentally encountered the Northeastern Pennsylvania Writers' Collective  at the Vintage Theater - twice - and decided to join them. With their encouragement and feedback he refined his skills as a short story writer and began writing poetry again, presenting his work at open mics throughout Northeastern Pennsylvania. Many of his poems and short stories can be found on his blog, Another Monkey (

Poem: the Mayflies

This is the poem alluded to in my bio. It was written in 1987 or so, for the Esprit, the University of Scranton's literary quarterly. It was inspired by times I would spend waiting on the top floor of St. Thomas Hall for an early-afternoon class to start. The class started at an odd time, so when I stood there I could look down on the Commons below and across to the now-demolished-and-replaced Student Center. As the hour approached, I could see students scurrying from the dining halls and across the Commons to get to their classes. Every day I noticed the same pattern: A trickle of early students who had distant classes or wanted to get to class early, gradually increasing to the main crush of students all trying to get from here to there at the same time. The crush tailed off, and then - every time - a few stragglers would rush out of the Student Center, frantically trying to get to class on time. Not always the same students, but usually the same number of students running as the time before.

It made me think about how human behavior could be statistically described. Sure, we like to imagine we have free will, and as individuals we don't necessarily perform the same actions in predictable ways. But when viewed as a whole, a group of people operating under certain conditions will tend to repeat the same patterns to within a certain level of predictability, even if the individuals doing the specific actions change from run to run.

to the floodlight of statistical probability We are drawn
to singe Our wings and worry not
and We live but for a day
doing much and learning little
and those that come after Us
will remember Us
as We recall the hollow husks that were Us yesterday

The adviser for the quarterly called me into her office to review my submission. She had crossed out and "corrected" all of my e.e. cummings-esque nonstandard capitalization. (Apparently she had not noticed that the only capitalized words outside of the title - which started with an uncapitalized "the" - were self-referential pronouns.) She also changed the words in every line, crossing out the last one completely and replacing it with "We remember the dead." After going over these changes she looked at me and said "And what the heck is a Mayfly, anyway?" Realizing what I was up against, I withdrew my submission.

Poem: What I want

Another love poem. Fairly popular. I never knew what to say in the first line, though.

You ask me what I want to do
So I tell you:
I want to make love to you until the last stars burn out
I want to dance with you in the snow under flickering auroras
I want to sing Leonard Cohen with you while we stand on a bridge
and watch the sun set
I want to eat you up, body and soul,
make every part of you a part of me.
And I want to go bowling
and play miniature golf,
Love, honor, obey
protect and serve
live happily ever after
from this day forward
'til death do us part
and then for a few eternities more

And maybe you're just asking me where I'd like to go for lunch
but you asked me what I want to do
So I'm telling you.

Story: One Friday Evening in a Parking Lot

A true story. This actually happened, mostly, on the night of April 19, 2013. Some bits have been slightly punched-up. I'll let you figure out what those are.

As I pulled into the supermarket parking lot a bedraggled orange cat dashed through my headlight beams. It looked wet - it had been pouring just an hour before, and the asphalt glistened in the darkness.. I parked my car and headed for the entrance. Ice cream, I thought. Belgian Waffle mix.

Hey, could you get me something while you're in there? a voice said.

I stopped, looked around. There was no one else in the lot. Nothing but some cars and the wet cat now sheltering in a cart corral.

I'm hungry, came the voice again. Couldja get me a can of something?

The cat was staring at me.

I hadn't had much to drink that night. Two beers, part of a third. Not enough to get me drunk. I turned to continue into the store.

Something nice, the voice said, fainter now. Not that store brand crap.

I was a little unnerved as I grabbed a cart. I didn't need a full-sized cart, but I didn't feel like carrying around containers of ice cream in my hands. I got two cartons of Rocky Road, still on sale, the one and a half quart size. I began to search for the aisle with pancake syrup. Find the syrup, and the waffle mix might be nearby.

I stopped at the pet food aisle.

That cat did look hungry. Maybe it would still be outside.

I found a can of the stuff my cats like. Just one can. If the cat was still out there, I'd give it to him. If not, my cats would eat it.

A few minutes later I headed to the checkout. Two containers of Rocky Road ice cream. One box of Belgian Waffle mix. One can of cat food. Nearly ten o'clock on a Friday night. I wondered what the high school girl behind the register thought.

As I walked to my car I looked over at the cart corral. The orange cat was still there, staring at me.

Didja get it? a voice asked.

I reached into my bag and pulled out the can of cat food. I began to open it as I walked past my car towards the cat.

Just leave it and go, the voice said. The cat backed away as I approached.

I pulled the lid off the can, set can and lid on the pavement, and took a few steps back.

The cat scrambled over to the can and took a few tentative nibbles, then began to gobble away.

Oh, damn, this is good, I heard, muffled.

The cat stopped and looked up at me.

Well, whaddya want? Go away. I'm eating.

I kept watching. The cat arched its back slightly.

Seriously. Go away. I'll hurt you if you stay.

I took another step back. The cat continued to stare at me, then began eating again, more warily.

We were done here. I headed back to my car. I wanted to go home, maybe have some ice cream.

Hey, came a voice as I got back into my car. Thanks. Thank you for the food.

I tossed my bag on the passenger seat, started the car and pulled out of the lot. As I drove away I looked at the cart corral one last time. I could see the cat still there, eating.

I went home and had some ice cream.

Story: Performance Review

Besides a soul, what does the devil get out of making a deal with someone? I decided to explore that question in this story. It was actually based on two very toxic people I knew, both of whom were in a writing group with me. One was someone who, despite being a) married and b) a total asshole, made it a point to try to sleep with every young, attractive woman who joined our group  - and usually left shortly after being subjected to his attentions. The sad part is, he was occasionally successful. The other was another total asshole, this one a vile narcissist - imagine Donald Trump minus the hair and the money. His behavior during a post-reading double-date of sorts with him and his then-girlfriend, during which he pried incessantly into the personal details of the friend I had just brought back into our group after a long absence, and was tediously annoying to the waitress at the Waffle House, inspired some of the dialogue and characteristics of the handler in this story. (After repeated warnings, my friend eventually lashed out at him, rendering him speechless, which is quite an accomplishment.)

This story was requested by a friend at the last Writers' Showcase, but it alone would use up my allotted time, so I had to shelve it.

I dress by the dim gray light of dawn coming through the closed drapes of the hotel room. Sara is still asleep. I don't bother to kiss her goodbye. I have no intention of seeing her again. I pull out my wallet and toss a few twenties onto the nightstand near her head. She doesn't need the money, but neither do I. Maybe I just want to make her feel like a whore.

I pull on my jacket and notice a vibration from my phone. I take it out and read the message:


My grandfather has been dead for over twenty years. Algolagnus has a sick sense of humor.

I recognize him as soon as I enter the crowded diner. I barely knew him as a boy, but have vivid memories of his laugh, and his voice, and the crushing grip of his handshake. He looks up at me - the thing wearing his face looks up at me - and smiles broadly. "Jimmy, my boy, it's been too long!" he roars, loud enough to be heard across the room. "Come join me for some breakfast!"

I slip into the booth across from my handler. He doesn't have any food in front of him, not yet, but he has a newspaper and a huge mug of coffee. The empty sugar packets scattered on the sticky table show it wasn't his first.

"What do you want?" I ask the demon.

My grandfather's face smiles, but the flesh ripples slightly, as though being seen through water. "Jimmy, is that any way to talk to your dear departed grandfather in public? Let's not make a scene. As far as these good people know, we're just having a friendly breakfast together." He pushes a menu toward me. "So how was the little slut you had last night?"

"That's none of your damned business," I say, even though I know that that is exactly wrong.

Algolagnus laughs hollowly, not at all like my grandfather's deep, barking laugh. "Of course it is," he says. "Everything you do is my business, until the day you die and we collect on your contract. She looked pretty. She's well-connected, you know. Her husband is a very important man." He daubs at his mouth with a napkin. "Very involved in social circles, charitable work. Sit up straight, here comes the waitress. Make a good impression."

The waitress is young, pretty. Nice tits, big eyes, blonde hair disheveled in the cutest way. Her hips say she might have had a kid. No ring on her finger, thank God, or whoever.

"Hello again, Meghan-with-an-H," the horror sitting across from me says jovially. He turns to me. "Spells it in the authentic Irish way, dontcha know. Isn't that something!" He turns back to her. "This fine young gentleman is my nephew Jimmy I was telling you about. He's decided to join me for breakfast. Would you be so kind as to take his order?"

"Sure. What would you like?" she asks, in a voice that is sweetness and innocence and sunshine. She is possibly falling in love with me already.

"Bacon and eggs, over easy," I say, not looking up from my menu. "White toast, light, with butter."


Yes, I think, coffee would be good right now. I glance at the demon's feast across from me. He doesn't care much for food, but goes mad for coffee. He once confided to me that the goatherd who discovered coffee had made a deal of his own, one that had resulted in centuries of misery for his descendants. Everything has a price.

"No," I reply. "Grapefruit juice, please."

"I'm so sorry, we're fresh out. Is orange juice OK?"

Of course you are, I think. "Yes, that will be fine," I tell her.

"Be right out," she says. Looking at my "grandfather" - well, I guess he's my "uncle" now - she asks "Are you sure I can't get you anything, honey?"

"Just some more coffee, and maybe a slice of that cherry pie. No point in watching my figure at my age!" He laughs a counterfeit of my grandfather's laugh. She takes down his order and slips away.

"She likes you," he hisses at me. "Play your cards right and you'll be banging Meghan-with-an-H as soon as her shift's over."

"Maybe I don't feel like it," I say. "Maybe I'm tired of this game."

"You can quit any time you like," he says through a tight grin. "We'll just collect immediately."

The world behind Algolagnus falls away like a dropped curtain. My grandfather's face fades, replaced by something that is shaped all wrong, with lopsided tusks and horns and eyes out of a nightmare, half-seen through a greasy smear. I smell the sweet odor of maggots. I taste rotten potatoes. I hear babies tossed on bonfires. I feel the embrace of a dinosaur's teeth on my chest.

And then...nothing. Nothing at all. No sight, no sound, no smell, no taste, no touch. Nothing. Utter nothingness..

Nothing but an endless longing for something that will never come.

The vision fades. My grandfather smiles at me from across the booth.

"You ready for that, boy?" he asks. "Or do you want to keep screwing whores who find you irresistible?"

I shake my head. This isn't what I had bargained for. I had no idea what I was getting into. I was drunk when I made my deal with the devil, and while that may get you out of a marriage, it doesn't apply in this situation.

"What's the point?" I ask. "What's the goddamned point? How do you benefit from me getting laid?"

Allgolagnus grinned, took a deep sip of coffee. "Jimmy, my boy. You don't get it. It's not about the screwing. It's not even about you. You're an agent of misery. You're helping to maximize the overall suffering in this godforsaken world."

"By getting laid?" I ask. "By screwing a different woman every night if I want?"

"You just see them as things that you fuck. You don't get it that they're people too, with their own lives and hopes and dreams. And relationships, don't forget that. Look sharp, here comes Meghan-with-an-H again."

We both sit up straight as Meghan lays out our breakfast in front of us, and refills my demonic handler's coffee mug. She gives me a little smile as she leaves us to our meal. Dammit.

Once she's out of earshot, Algolagnus continues. "Like that one that you nailed last night. What was that, your third time with her? She's married, don't you give a shit?"

"She's married to a total bastard. A lawyer. A shark. She's just a trophy wife to him. What, are you lecturing me on morality?"

He chuckles as he takes a forkful of pie. "So what? Just because she's a trophy, you think he doesn't care? Sure he does. He cared enough to have her followed. He'll be getting the report in a little bit. In an hour and twelve minutes he'll take a shotgun to that faithless whore's guts. She won't die, not right away. She'll suffer for a while. Long enough for him to regret what he did. Long enough for him to get caught - red-handed, as they say. Caught and arrested and put on trial. But don't worry, somehow your identity will remain a mystery. You'll get to go on with the next one, and the next one, and the next one."

I put down my fork. "Why?" I say. "Why her?"

He laughs again, a derisive, mocking laugh. "You dumb shit, you think this is about her? She's nothing. It's like I told you. Her husband may be a bastard, a shark, but he's involved in the community. He's behind a lot of charity work, social services, crap like that. When he takes that shotgun to his wife, he'll be blasting away all that stuff, too. The net misery in the world will increase by a whole lot as that network of charities falls apart. It's all already in motion. No way of stopping it. All thanks to you."

I sit and watch my bacon and eggs get cold.

"So what about this next one?" I ask. "I presume you're setting me up with the waitress next."

"Heh, that's up to you, boyo. I don't give a shit whose life you destroy next. But destroy you will. Meghan-with-an-H one has a kid, eighteen months old. She lives with her grandmother, an honest-to-god-for-reals grandmother. Maybe you'll give her the clap, like that high school chick a few months ago - wrecked her reputation, you know. Maybe you'll just knock her up. Maybe she'll decide she wants to go back to her party life, ditch the kid and her grandmother. Whatever. It won't end well."

He sits back and pulls out a pocket watch, just like the one my grandfather used to have. "Well, I'd love to stay and chat, but you aren't my only account. Better be moving on. Pay the pretty lady, will you? You'll find your wallet is fat again. Try not to spend it all in one place."

He stands up, pulls out a hat of a style that hadn't been worn since Kennedy's time. "Give sweet little Meghan-with-an-H my love. Repeatedly." He smiles at his little joke. "You'll be hearing from me in a week or two. Maybe we'll hit a club some Saturday night." He winks, turns, and walks out of the diner. I wonder how much longer he'll keep wearing my grandfather's body.

Meghan comes to check on us, sees that my "uncle" is gone, sees that I have barely touched my food. I ask her for the check, as coldly and impolitely as I could.

I wonder about Sara. How long does she have? Can I save her? Algolagnus said there's nothing I can do to stop her husband from shooting her. Did he lie? I know where she lives, know what her husband looks like. Is there time?

Meghan comes back with the check, and another slip of paper. Her number, maybe. I take the check, stuff the other paper into my pocket without looking at it.

Meghan is raising a kid on less than minimum wage supplemented with tips. Probably taking care of her grandmother, too. I pull out my wallet. It is stuffed with twenties, tens, and fives. Algolagnus makes sure I am well-funded.

I pull out a couple of twenties and tuck them under my plate. She can use the money.


I take back the twenties and reach into another pocket for change. I find what I am looking for. Pennies. Two of them. An ancient insult. I put them prominently on the table, where anyone can see. Meghan will be crushed. She gave us good service. She deserves a tip. Needs a tip. She will hate me for this.

No again.

I scoop up the pennies, empty my wallet onto the table, take back enough to pay for the meal and cab fare to Sara's home. I discreetly hide the bills under a plate. I don't need the money, but Meghan does.

I pay the bill and head out the door without looking back for her reaction.

Maybe it really is too late to do anything about Sara's husband. Maybe her fate is sealed, and his as well. Maybe she will be killed regardless of what happens next. Maybe nothing I can do will change any of that.

But maybe I haven't screwed up Meghan's life yet. And maybe, if I can convince Sara's husband to shoot me, too, maybe I'll never get the chance.

Fun fact: Shortly after I presented this story for the first time, I saw a man in Sam's Club who looked exactly like my grandfather, and was even wearing a suit that would have been stylish in Kennedy's day. He was walking by as I was exiting the checkouts, and didn't look at me or acknowledge me in any way. So I guess it wasn't a supernatural entity sent to warn me off writing these stories. Maybe.

Oh, the devil in the story is named after the practice of algolagnia, a sexual paraphilia in which pleasure is derived from the application of painful stimulus to the erogenous zones. See, I saved you from having to look that up. You're welcome. 

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