057. Bear. Leroy B. Vaughn

I didn’t know him very well and he wasn’t what I would call a buddy, just an acquaintance. I met him about three months before he bought the new Harley Davidson. His dad died of a heart attack and left him a good chunk of money. He told me he bought the new Harley as a legacy or tribute to his dead dad. He had an older BSA before the Harley.

His real name was Barry, but all of his wannabe outlaw biker buddies called him Bear. He was a squatty little dude, standing about five feet six inches tall, and weighing just over two hundred pounds. He had all the gear, a cut-off vest covered with patches and pins, dirty jeans, engineer boots, buckskin gloves and the short black helmet worn by most outlaw bikers. On his left shoulder he sported a tattoo of a big blue bear paw.

He had a crew that wore their outlaw biker clothes on weekends, and worked mostly office jobs during the week. The Bear was their de-facto leader, or road captain when they went on runs to Bakersfield, and once to Laughlin Nevada. They went halfway on the Yuma Territorial Prison run the year before, but turned back when the boys started complaining about the hot weather.

I had a house that overlooked the highway in our little mountain town on the grapevine. The road leading to the highway was about fifty yards from the deck of my two-story house, and the turnout for the highway was another fifty yards from that point.

I was sitting on my deck drinking a beer when Bear rode by, giving me a gloved power salute. He turned left in front of a dually pick-up truck and was dead before I ran down to the crash scene.

The female driver was shaking and crying as she looked at Bear’s broken body on the asphalt. The legacy bike was destroyed and lying on the side of the road, and I could hear a siren coming up the hill.

056. Montage of Memories. Thomas Elson

He, at six foot-three inches, remembered she was slightly taller. And, on that first evening, in high heels, she was towering.

He could not remember being asked to be her escort for her birthday dinner at the country club. Clouded in his memory was the birthday gift he must have given her. Nor could he remember picking her up or even driving her back to her parents’ six-acre country estate.

But he did remember being introduced to her parents at the country club, and the maître de greeting her by name.

He remembered her basement with the two-lane bowling alley he never used, the soft drink fountain with every Pepsi product at the ready, the stereo system with soft music, and the easy feel of the leather divan on his skin.

He also remembered the way she inched closer, brought her long legs under her hips, smiled, partially unbuttoned her blouse, then leaned back, removed her shoes, and extended her legs toward him.

He remembered two more things: her legs were bare, and her feet were bigger than his.

055. Buzz Ballad of Summer. Zebulon Huset

We sat under the bug zapper for what we knew would be the last time. Cicadas hummed the summer sun’s departure all around the foreclosed lot. Inside, the 1960’s tank of a fridge rattled in concordance. The world wanted to either give us tinnitus or lull us to one final sleep.

“You know, I used to think that was the noise that heat made,” Jim broke the steady buzz.

I don’t know what I expected to break the silence, one of us cursing the bank or dad for his gambling, maybe for him to show me an upside calculator with the number 58008 on it or to crack another PBR and pour it out on the ground for both the past and the future.

“The bug zapper?”

“The cicadas. They only make noise when it’s hot, and whenever you get near them it sounds farther off cuz the ones near you get quiet.”

“They think you’re going to eat them.”

“I thought it was like, I don’t know, like how heat makes you see things that ain’t there.”

“A mirage.”

He nodded. There are worse beliefs to maintain.

A Sheriff SUV slowly drove by. The driver nodded. We nodded.

he cicadas didn’t care if there was glass or boards in the windows. They just wanted to eat and mate. When the weeds grew long they’d amp up their catcalls, wings slapping together in fits that, were the gestures made by a human, might seem desperate.

054. The Cellar. Paul Iasevoli

The stairs to the cellar of our farmhouse are crooked and uneven. They lead to the  bowels of water pipes, gas lines, and sewer traps expelling nauseating fumes. Nothing good could emerge from those depths underground.

Underground is a place my mother calls Hell. A place our priest says burns hot. But our cellar is cool on summer afternoons. So cool, in fact, I go there to pick at salt crystals oozing through the cinder blocks and imagine they’re ice.

So cool, I sit there on winter days and let my breath congeal into a fog and visualize a sleigh ride through the snow, or a Polar bear, or the Christ child asleep on a mound of lamb’s wool—such are my boyhood dreams.

Dreams of joy, next to nightmares of beatings with a belt—swearing I didn’t intentionally break the bean stalks so I wouldn’t have to climb a ladder to pick them through July.

Swearing I didn’t play with my mother’s sewing machine to try my hand at a girl’s craft.

Giving an oath, between cracks of leather across my back, that I would never again try on my sister’s lipstick, but act like the man I was intended to be.

But all my promises make no difference to the man striking the strap across my back. And my anguished pleas for mercy make no difference as the cellar door locks.


Sunrise. Is it sunrise? In the cellar there’s no day, no night—only twilight.

There must be a way out.

Then, from the corner of my eye, I spy a pile of twigs and recall a school experiment. A day our science teacher brought our class outside to collect sticks to build a fire.

Yes, sticks to rub together to make fire.

I select the two driest of the twigs and rub them together fast and hard…faster…harder—until a puff of smoke wiggles out between them. A spark, then an orange glint in the wood. I puff. The smoke nearly chokes me, but soon a flame shoots up red and glowing. I hold it to the floor beam above my head. Scents of burning creosote and belt leather fill my nostrils. Heat singes my face and eyes, and I let myself drift into deoxygenated space.

053. The Ghost. Marie Anderson

The ghost waves goodbye as I back down my driveway. She is standing on my front porch, her long curly hair dancing in the wind. Her hair looks freshly washed, so yellow, yellow and curly and clean as my girl’s hair was when she was 10.

The gravel complains under my tires as I back crookedly down my too-long driveway. (A bitch to shovel.) I’d rather not be driving anywhere today. Snow is predicted. My driveway is a bitch for a 66-year-old woman with grouchy knees to shovel.

But I’ve got to visit my girl. Her birthday is today. She’s 33, the age of Jesus dying on the cross. She’s waiting for me.

At the end of the driveway, I brake and wait for traffic to clear. I live on a busy highway. Cars and trucks all day, all night. I’d move, but this is the only house my girl knows. Plus who’d buy my old house, visited too often by drafts and mold and bugs and mice. And one ghost.

The ghost is giggling. I can’t hear her through the closed car windows, but I can see her dimples, her teeth white under gleaming braces, her crinkling eyes fresh as blue soap. Like my girl’s when I bought her red sparkle shoes and sang Happy Birthday to her when she was 10.

I roll down the window and toss the ghost a kiss, which she catches, and then she tosses her own kiss, stretching her ghost arms marked only with freckles, no punctures, only freckles, arms freckled clean like my girl’s when she was 10.

The kiss tossed by the ghost cracks, splat, on the windshield.

The ghost laughs. I laugh and wave one final wave before rolling up my window and driving off.

The highway whines under my tires, but I must visit my girl, caged in rehab, who will promise again and again and again to stay as clean as she was. When she was 10.