Ritz

In the summer of 1969 my neighborhood was full of lots of kids, kids my age. Two doors down some new neighbors moved in, the Huntons. All the kids had portfolios and agents. There were two twins, Rene And Feline. Feline was my sister’s friend and Rene was mine. One hot day I went outside and there was Rene, coming across the front lawn, with several round, brown crackers in her hands. She was munching one, and talking fast. She always talked fast. She was cool, she had freckles across her nose and cheeks and brown straight hair with bangs. And also mostly because she was going to be famous, because when you were a kid and you had an agent and a portfolio, that was what we thought would happen. She offered me a cracker, and it had Philadelphia cream cheeseon the top. It was so good. I was hungry too.

     Together we walked back across the lawns that seperated our houses. And into her house we went. So she says excitedly, (because that was how she talked), “let’s make Kool-aid!” And I just nodded. Because Rene had a way of making everything seem really exciting, even making Kool-aid and eating Ritz crackers with cream cheese.

     “Let’s go back to your house now!” This was Rene. So we just did that, walked back across the lawns to my house and into the kitchen. “We’re gonna make sandwiches okay mom”? This was me. My mother blew her nose loudly in the other room. Rene jumped and her eyes were wide, “what was that?” she whispered. “it’s my mom blowing her foghorn”, I hissed as I smoothed mayonnaise on Wonder Bread. Rene was holding the bologna. We used some cheese and mustard too. And we bit into our sandwiches while looking out the kitchen window and drank our Kool-aid. My mouth full I said in boredom “what do you wanna do now?”  Her idea came to her, ”Let’s run in the sprinklers out front.” What else could I say to Rene, it seemed that everything she did was fun and exciting.

     I let her borrow one of my stretchy bathing suits, we were the same size. Outside we stalked with our towels, and I stepped into the planter to turn on the water hose. It attached to a metal sprinkler that gushed water from all angles, up into the air. She screamed, the water hit her. I watched as some of the neighbor kids looked out their doors. Soon, one by one each of our friends around us came out too. Some were in their shorts, some were in bathing suits. The front lawn was soon busy with all sizes and ages of kids, running and screaming, through the water.

     “I have a good idea!” I yelled to Rene, over the crowd. “I’ll get the Slip-n-Slide”. This was a long piece of plastic that we played on. At one end you could attach a water hose, and it got completely wet. And then we could run forth onto the plastic and throw ourselves onto it, sliding. I ran fast through the house and into our backyard, grabbing one end of the plastic and dragging it around the side of the house. I threw it down, everyone pulled it onto the lawn, attached the hose to it. My front lawn became a scene of wild flying legs, arms and wet hair and laughing screaming faces. I looked down to the soaking grass, and I saw soggy Ritz crackers smashed, as feet ran over and over them.  

Justina

March 18, 44 B.C.

    

     Early morning hours in the somnolent, serene Cyprian villa, Justina spent her mornings languishing the hours away in her white silk-canopied bed. She yawned, stretched and looked around her sleeping sanctuary, where her most recently purchased, cherished Egyptian cat Goldie was also in repose, sleeping soundly. Her sleek, argent and soft fur all cleaned, moments before she licked her soft pink pads. Her morning hunting ritual consists of daily pouncing on small lizards, mice and various other rodents she found in the fields and meadows behind her master’s villa.

     Justina’s recent liaison with her husband’s political associate had just finished and she was in a languid mood. Feeling satisfied and languorous in the earlier hours of this morning in March. Her lover Julius Caesar had only just exited her lair during the early morning hours, undetected by the slaves and any prying eyes. She perceived a sense, a feeling of anticipation that she was silently but only slightly aware of. But she didn’t care about this, as she was far away from the noise and rabble of Rome, in the Italian countryside.

      Downstairs she heard men’s voices, shouting and boots stomping in the foyer. Roman Centurions had just burst into her sanctuary, leaving mud on the green marble. They all wore the signature red capes and heavy helmets, and carried spears. “What is the meaning of this?!” Justina asserted. Her cat Goldie, startled and growling low, headed away from the commotion and into the small alcove near Justina’s bathing area. The head soldier growled, seeing that she was now vulnerable, and shouted that she was now under arrest. “Under whose direction?!” She spat, holding her Patrician chin up, a move which belied her fear,  and pulling the silken sheets around herself. In a quick movement he ordered his soldiers to take her into custody. Moving to her bedside, one of them pulled her by her arm, up and off her feet, out of her warm sheets and bed. She screamed in anger, and struggled. “Do not resist madam, it will be in vain” the larger soldier directed. But she kicked him and slapped him across the cheek. She was being detained, orders of the Roman Senate and it’s advocates they insisted, to be questioned on the murder of Julius Caesar.  She felt her face grow rigid and the blood rushed to her heart. And then she collapsed.

    When Justina awoke, she was in a small but comfortable chamber. She recalled listening to the noise and could not fathom her lover’s death. But that is what she’d been told, that Caesar was dead, murdered by his own friends and associates. She was only slightly concerned the previous night, hearing him speak about his bad omens, thinking his enemies to be drawing closer. She only wanted him to feel safe with her there in her private villa. But now it seemed, there was no longer the concealment they’d created in the past few years of their intrigue. She felt a foreboding no, what would her husband know? And where was her husband Seutonius? Her life as she knew it, was forever altered on this day, she knew.

                Justina knew well of the stories she’d heard whispered about the  beatings and torturing there in Rome. Rome, where she was loathe to find herself again. But without her household slaves and her cat. And as if that weren’t enough, her lover was dead, killed by someone, but by whom? And why was she being blamed for this? It was atrocious. She was cold and shocked, with none of her usual comforts that she was used to in her villa. 

Wild Irish

Wild Irish

     It was during the 1500’s, late that century,that I recall this event happening. I was a young woman then. I lived in a castle in Ireland, that was surrounded by a moat. There was a giant cumbersome drawbridge that the palace servants were supposed to man. Whenever anyone of importance was arriving, the herald would announce their name and title. And the horns would blast loudly. I would hold my hands over my ears, it was so loud.

     We had a visitor one day , who I’ll never forget. His name was Charles. Charlie is the name I now call him. He came riding into our courtyard on a tall white horse. The horse he rode had a majestic name, it was Pride. I later discovered that his horse was named after his own vanity. Nobody would consider vanity to be a sin, but I did.

     He came with his slave, who was a quiet reserved, unassuming young man. Immediately I wondered how he obtained a slave, a beautiful horse and such a fine saddle, with tack that was polished and brilliant. And who’d made his velvet red cape, trimmed in ermine. His slave must have been polishing his boot’s leather for a day.  I noticed that the brown leather literally glinted in the small bit of sunlight that forced it’s way through the leaves overhead. We all stood in the front welcoming area, near the brick wall. We were under our tall majestic trees. Trees that had been rooted there since long before I could remember.

     The kitchen servants had been gossiping for days before his arrival. Charles had come to visit my father on a business venture. He’d traveled from across the Irish seas in a ship he owned, to our fortess here in Ireland. And he would be staying for a short time, until their business negotiations were concluded.

     My name is Ann.  My father is the wealthiest merchant of this county in Ireland. He maintains a wool producing enterprise, which has been our family’s trade since kndgdom come. Our name goes back as far as I think god himself can remember. The Wallaces we are. And I’ve been my father’s sole apprentice from the time I was old enough to hold a spool of thread or a bolt of tweed.

     I had a mother. But I don’t remember her. She  died in childbirth, along with a baby who would’ve been my brother. ‘Twas a sad day, when my mother passed. For God took not only her, but an infant. My father, he was inconsolable for what seemed an eternity. It was I and my ant who took care of the family trade for a while. Those were the sorrowful times. That is how I remember the days following my mother’s death.

     But much has changed since that year, It was thirteen years ago, if I recall the years correctly, that I and my father lost my mother. They say that time heals. But time doesn’t erase certain memories. I still know of her lavender redolence. My father has told me that her hair glowed as red, as a flame.

     I’m going to try to tell you this sotry the best way that I know. Just as I remember it.

     The afternoon Charlie arrived in our midst, I wasn’t prepared. I say this because I was quite taken aback by his self-confident way of being. He had a deep Irish brogue, much like my kin. Except that his own was of a different clan than ours. His purpose was to unite our two clans together so that we may flourish and prosper. He was from the McInerney family. They too were of an ancient kindred. We Irish were thought of as wild and savage. That is what I heard said of us. But whenever someone needed somebody to do some fightin’ for them, they’d be callin’ on us for help. That was because we Irish are fighters. But on this day, there would be no fightin’.

     Charles wsas given a chamber of his own that was for important guests. And his horse taken to our stable to be fed, watered and rested for several days. For after disembarking from his galley, they’d ridden this entire day across the rough unforgiving countryside. Through bogs and meadows and through a rushing stream where our neighbors sometimes would invite me for a day outing. But those days were rare, as most of my ilfe was busy working here at the wool farm, and then sleeping. I knew very little of life outside of our land and castle walls. Our meadows stretched far and wide. So far I coud not see the end of it. This has been our land since the beginning of time I thought, because it just felt that way.

     For the time being, Charles’ ship would drop anchor some distance off shore, a ways out from the rocky cliffs that seemed to completely surround our entire island called Ireland. Our entire household was cheerful and abuzz on this day we welcomed our new guest. The cooks and bakers had been busy since sunup preparing the dinner. I could savor the smoke and racket coming from the back of the castle. I knew that the meal that night was a supremely delicious one. Duck, potatoes, beef and cabbage, along with several choices of egg and rice dishes. We employed a pastry chef who knew how to create cheese and berry tarts which he drizzled sugary cream upon. And of course my father would be having the imported wine brought out, the deep red Burgundy from Italy that he’d purchased on his many journeys there. I think there were so many dishes serfed that night that Charles came, I couldn’t eat everyting that was placed in front of me. I did enjoy a soup too, that had chicken dumplings! If  I’d only eaten that, I think I would have been quite full. But I stayed at the dinner table on that night. I stayed so that  I may listen to every word being said. For it was a rare occasion indeed, to have the dark, handsome and almost brooding guest at our sumptuous table.

St. Claire

Dear St. Claire, I still go there, do drive by’s. Sometimes my brother Jay and I drive all the way out to Hollywood to look at that old neighborhood area and our house. We drive by our grandparent’s house on Wilkinson Street too. It’s sad, even pisses me off to see how the house and yard has been kept up, or not kept up in this case. The house there on St. Claire Street is a Taco Bell. That’s what my mother named it after we moved out of there in nineteen seventy-one. The family that moved into our old house had the outer façade completely renovated, it now looks like the outside of a Taco Bell fast food restaurant.

Okay, now that that’s out of the way, I don’t recall liking you very much, North Hollywood neighborhood. In realism, I hated it there. So the only reason that I’m writing this is that it’s a class assignment. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have to even think about you.

Moving out of there was the best thing. It seems like the people who are (believe it or not) still living in their same houses that they were living in when I was there as a child, are like “the walking dead”. That’s another phrase that my mother uses about that old neighborhood, “the walking dead”. Like our old next-door-neighbor Peggy Doherty. She’s a shriveled up, old, bitter, mean, alcoholic. She was like that too when I was a small child, except that now she’s one hundred years older, and uglier. And her house smells like stale cigarette smoke.

I make no apologies in this letter. I hated it there.

I hated that place so much that I ran away on a pretty regular schedule. I walked (sometime walked fast), four blocks to my grandparent’s house. Yeah, I was lucky that I had another place to go. I think I actually lived there at my grandparent’s. My parents fought so much back then, it was like a fucking war zone.

Why did my parents fight, you may ask. I can only tell you the experience from my point of view. I think it was due to several reasons; they were children, children raising children. Yea, it’s a cliché’, but it’s true in this case. My mother was sixteen when I was born. And then my father had numerous affairs. I recall one of his mistresses, her name was Anita. She was a nurse at the hospital where he was the doctor on call. When I use the verb “was”, I mean she isn’t even alive any more. She was murdered. Many many years later someone found her murdered. But I don’t know who did it. I only know that my father said that she was so beautiful and that she looked like Marlo Thomas, he bragged. My sister Teresa said she looked like Cher. As a child she thought that all dad’s had movie star girlfriends, and that our dad’s girlfriend was Cher. I thought she was a witch, plain and simple.

There was a lot of alcohol being consumed back then too. My dad and alcohol was like throwing gasoline onto a lit fire. There, another cliché’.

Oh and the Sylmar earthquake! We lived there up until that great earthquake. That was scary, but great. It’s a good thing that happened, because for some reason our parent’s decided to move there, to Sylmar, after the earthquake hit. I remember waking up at about six a.m. to the sound of a lot of dogs barking, for quite a while. And then a deep, far away rumbling sound. And then there was a horrendous shaking. And then a rocking and shaking while I heard a deafening roar. And all of a sudden I could hear my mother screaming from her bedroom. I lay there on my bed, as it rolled back and forth on the floor. Yea my bed back then had wheels. I can clearly remember looking up at the ceiling, where the light swung back and forth. After my mother ran into our bedroom, flicked on the light and then jumped up onto my bed, screaming and peeing all over my bed. She was screaming “an earthquake, and earthquake!” I also still clearly remember looking over at my sister’s bed (because we shared a room back then), to see what she was doing, she was asleep! She slept through most of the earthquake. The only reason she woke up was due to my mother’s screaming.

To this day, that has been my mother’s reaction to most scary incidents. She screams, then she proclaims what she’s screaming about, (i.e. an earthquake, a peeping tom), and then she pees.

Aurelia

Aurelia stood naked on the cool marble floor, with her up stretched arms over her head, as her slave slid the silk stola over her body and let it fall, slithering like a cobra. “Are the cheese and figs ready for the guests?” Aurelia said to her slave Lila. “Yes domina”, was her shy reply. “Good, there will be many of my husband’s important political friends tonight, I want to make a good impression.”  Lila murmured, “you will be domina, everything will be perfect tonight.” She turned around to gaze at herself in the mirror along the wall, at her upturned Patrician nose, down to her painted toes, she was the epitome of Roman virtue. “Does domina like the new hair style?” Adorned with tiny white flowers and iridescent sparkling gold, her deep brown locks were falling in a halo around her heart-shaped face and down her back. At the center of her forehead where the tiny widow’s peak was, there was a ruby held, connected to a gold band that went around her crown and attached to the back of her full head of hair, and then toppled down in tiny gold threads into her curving back.

                Aurelia’s husband was Seutonius, a very powerful Roman politician. This was the last night he would be in their Roman villa in Capri. He would be leaving for Rome the next day, allowing his wife her free days in Capri, along with her two slaves. She had many outings planned, anticipating her days of freedom from the demanding life she lead in Rome, where she resided.

                In the two short years of her new marriage, Aurelia had become a virtuous wife and mother, while she lived in Rome. Their home was the quintessential luxury citadel, complete with private balconies, lush fragrant gardens and slaves to help her with the most mundane household chores. Yet her most loved sanctuary was her villa in Capri, a hideaway near the Mediterranean Sea. During the stifling heated summer months she escaped to her residence, near her vineyards. There she could have her life back. Rome, during this time was tumultuous.

                There on the balcony she strode across the tiles remembering the most recent events being discussed by her husband and his associates. It was Cleopatra, the Queen from the East. Aurelia eavesdropped during these meetings. Only hearing Cleopatra’s name spoken aloud caused her to feel a nonnative stir. For Cleopatra was both feared and hated by Rome. Aurelia and her closest friends believed that Cleopatra would be the certain ruin of Rome, and all it’s uprightness. These Roman matrons were all convinced that Cleopatra was an immoral threat to the very lives they lived.

                Yet, at the same time Aurelia believed that Cleopatra lived her life the way that she herself would have chosen to, had she the immense wealth to do so. Cleopatra’s life was both envious and a thing to fear, as Aurelia was bound by roman laws, as a wife and mother. Men created the patriarchal system she lived under.

                Unconsciously she shook off her thoughts of the eastern queen. She could ponder these unwanted thoughts later, she mused. Because tonight was the beginning of her country sabbatical away from the stinking city of Rome and all of it’s inhabitants. She’d brought her newest and most favored slave to her villa this time. Lila was Jewish, given to Aurelia by her husband as a wedding gift, one of many gifts. Lila’s unsurpassed beauty was much sought after by wealthy buyers In Rome. She knew that her husband Seutonius had paid a handsome fee for her purchase. And she was more than grateful for her. For this, Aurelia treated Lila as she would a member of her family. Not so for slaves in other households. Aurelia abhorred those who she knew, who abused their slaves. Lila knew how to bake for Aurelia and her guests. Her meal tonight was going to be a surprise for all to savor at tonight’s dinner. Aurelia knew of Lila’s delicious tarts stuffed with cheese and almonds, with a sticky sweet syrup drizzled over the top of golden brown pastry. Would she be created something else? Lila knew of other rare delicacies from her homeland.

                The terrace on the ocean side of the villa had the bluest ocean view. Blue as azure she imagined. And the Mediterranean sparkle and breeze beckoned to her even now. She had been spending her happiest days yet, sunbathing on her balcony, snacking on figs, cheese and watered wine. Tonight the terrace was decorated with garlands of lotus flowers strung with green vines. And along with tiny purple flowers that winked at those who would take the time to look. But her most treasured garden item was her white roses. Everywhere there were bushes, white cabbage-sized roses tinged with a pale flesh color on their edges. Some were climbing up the Corinthian columns, reaching their stems the blue sky with their thorns and green leaves. Her gardener let ladybugs live in their midst, on order to kill the pests that threatened to wreak havoc in her beautiful space. There were even roses planted in spaces evenly, every five feet, that were a deep red. She called these her “blood roses”. Guests would see these red roses as they arrived to their dinner tonight. She’d heard that Cleopatra spread fragrant rose petals, five feet thick on her floor, just to walk on. The flowers in Aurelia’s garden though, weren’t exotic; they were fresh and pure, as the goodness of her own life was.

                She glanced at her image presently, walking through the kitchen and then the welcoming area in the front of the villa. She took in the image of her diaphanous silver silk stola. It hung close to her body, grazing her hips lightly as she strode with long steps. It clung just close enough for her to feel the last of her inch she’d not been able to shed after childbirth. When she looked into the glass, what caught her gaze was the deep green emerald clasped at her shoulder. It was another wedding present from Seutonius, and then the slightly smaller, but no less brilliant one at her throat. That stone hung on a silver thread almost invisible to the eye.  She wore here emeralds only on special occasions.  Tonight was one of those nights. As it was both the first night of Aurelia’s summer leisure, and the first time that the Emperor Caesar would dine with them at their villa there in Capri.

                There were few citizens, if any, who weren’t aware of Caesar’s exploits in Egypt. It was almost common knowledge that he’d sired a son who was rumored to be Cleopatra’s. That name again! It was the audacity of that queen that frayed Aurelia’s nerves. And she wasn’t even Egyptian; she was of Macedonian blood, a Greek! Nevertheless, she would be tipping her cup and breaking bread with the notorious womanizer on this night. No doubt he’d be bringing along his posse’ with him, and that Marc Antony too.

Snipe-Hunting

“Gimme’ some sugah’” he drawled, as he jumped on top of me. This isn’t happening I thought, but it was. His breath smelled like a still. I could feel his scratchy beard all over my face, he was kissing me. He was heavy and hard, his body. My little brother was sleeping on the bed on the other side of the room. This man was laying on top of me like a whale. But what did I know? What would I tell my cousin, his wife? How could I tell my mother? Why did my dad let this man into our lives?

“Have you eva’ felt a dead man’s body”? he said, as he put his arm around my shoulders. “No” I said shyly. “I have” he brags. “He was a nigga I killed”. “What”? I was no longer surprised at the comments Rock made. That was his name, Rock. In the south they gave everyone nicknames. He was from the south. He was my cousin’s husband. He’d escaped from a chain gang in Georgia, lived in the mountain forest for months, before finding his way to California and moving there, into our home. My father allowed this. “I buried his body in the sticks” said he. “Oh” was all I could reply.

“I’m gonna call you Brandy – for the drink you lak’”. She was lying in the top bed in the motor home while it moved. Her cousin Robbie was there too, as he grabbed her and sucked on her neck. There would be red welts she knew, she’d have to walk around with them at school. It was another one of those weeks she’d have to feel guilty. But she didn’t know it wasn’t her fault.

“So why are you always hiding in my closet” she said, as Rock jumped out and grabbed her upon walking into her bedroom. “Cuz yur’ sexy” he growled. Her bedroom was no longer her own, not her’s any more, as long as he could stand hiding in her closet waiting for her.

“Wing-wang, wing-wang”! He laughed “you wanna see how ta’ smoke? I’ll show ya’” He scraped a match and drew up a flame, then put it to the end of a cigarette, then puffed it once, twice, handed it to her. He lit another one, putting it between his lips and taking a few puffs. “You inhale it, you breathe it, lak’ this.” Then he lets the two streams of white smoke sail out of his two nostrils. Then she tries it too. She doesn’t cough, but feels adult for the effort, for him being there. She looks into his black piercing eyes, looking back at her.

Rock smokes Marlboro red box, she doesn’t know it now, but she will remember him by that red box of cigarettes outlined in his shirt pocket, forever imprinted in her fourteen year- old mind. “The other girls at school laugh at me when I smoke, I don’t know how to inhale”. He looks at her and says, “they won’ laugh at you no mo’”.

When Rock first came to their home to stay in it with her family, he spends time drinking in the wetbar in their home. On a weekend evening he’s there with her father, and asks her “Christine ya wanna’ go snipe huntin’”? He’s smiling at her. “okay I guess”, she says. He tells her to go and get a paper bag and she does it. They both go outside. They begin walking out into the field behind the corrals, where she learned out to smoke. It’s late, it’s dusk. The sun is going down. It’ll be dark soon.

They arrive at the top of a small hill, within a field of avocado orchards. He stops in front of her and tells her to sit down with the bag, open it, point it to the little trail where the rabbits hop. “The snipe’ll run right into the bag see!” “What do they look like?” she says in wonder, she’s curious. “like little brown birds”, he stutters a little, like he’s lyin’.  “Now jus’ hold that bag there an’ I’ll go chase ’em outa’ the bushes.” He leaves. She sits there until dark, after dark.

She trusts that the snipe will come.  It never comes. She walks back down the hill with the empty bag.

Oats

On the bluest of days it was like the rain was greeting us. We all knew of the sweet relief. Smelling the pavement after the downpour, we walked to the end of the block, where Champ was stabled.  “What do you feed your horse, he’s so spirited” I asked Jill. “Oats” was her reply. “That’s why he’s so spirited?”, said I. Champ was the name of the horse my best friend and newest riding companion owned. I’d only just moved to this serene neighborhood in a rural area. Heaven, that’s what it was to me. What else could I ask for, for a girl of ten? Champ was short for Royal Champaign, her horse’s registered name.

     Champ was a young horse, younger than mine. My first and only horse was named King. King was older, ten years old. He was tall, 16 hands high. King was a sorrel gelding. Champ too was a sorrel gelding. But to compare the two horses, they were, had to be of a different breed. Champ pranced and ran like he was running from the storm. King plodded along as if he never had to worry about storms, or anything for that matter. I made it an item on my things-to-do list, buy oats for my horse.

     As we walked we could feel the light shower of rain on our heads, and around us on the ground in the dirt. On top of our suede riding boots we could see the tiny drops. The smell of the stables grew more cloying as we walked closer, down the street. It was a smell that I loved. It was the fragrance of something that was new to me. I’d lived and grew up in the city until very recently.

      Jill was two years my senior, and one hundred times more wise and knowing than I. She, as far as I was concerned, knew everything. She could swing up on her horse with one lunge. Only holding onto the mane of hair on his withers, with one swoop she was up. To me that was more than awesome. To me, she was super woman in Dittos and cowboy boots. We both wore our blue cotton Dittos hip huggers, with halter tops. We were both with long straight hair, her’s dark brown, and mine dirty blonde.  I was a naïve city girl needing a leg up into my horse. Needing a leg up to me meant that I was a rookie at the language of horses. She would teach me though, I knew this much.

       We were quiet as we walked, past the houses of our closest neighbors. Up the dirt road and onto the right side there was the trail, opening out into a clearing with two corrals and sheds. Champ was peering out over the rails of his corral. He let out a low nicker as he saw Jill and I. But I knew his greeting was for her, not me.

       I never was a horse as beautiful has Champ, I never will I thought. Jill told me that her dad bought Champ for her.