Dawn Pisturino's Blog

My Writing Journey

My Alzheimer’s Nightmare

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Today is Mother’s Day – and I salute all of the Mothers of the world! But, I’m glad that my own mother is dead and not dealing with my father’s Alzheimer’s.

My mother died in 2002. A couple of years before she died, my father began exhibiting signs of dementia: confusion, getting lost, argumentative behavior, etc. He did not handle her death very well. In fact, it sent him into a downward spiral. His behavior became more erratic and irrational. His sister talked him into moving near her so they could spend time together.

A couple of months later, my father met – and married – an elderly woman who had a reputation around town for being crazy. The marriage caused an uproar in the family. As people got to know my new stepmother, they began to realize just how crazy she really was. She threw temper fits when she didn’t get her own way. She swore like a sailor, while pretending to be a devout Christian on Sundays. She refused to contribute any of her own money to the household bills. She harassed my father constantly for money. Eventually, the word DIVORCE came up, and we all prayed it would happen.

It didn’t. My father stayed with this crazy woman, getting quieter, more depressed, and more confused. The police were called on more than one occasion because of her temper fits. Finally, against her better judgment, my aunt got involved.

In 2016, it became increasingly clear that my father needed to be evaluated by a neurologist. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

Alzheimer’s!!!!! Nobody in our family had ever been diagnosed with dementia, let alone Alzheimer’s. The prospects were frightening.

My father refused to take his medications, and my stepmother refused to help him. She refused to let home health into the house to help him. My aunt became ever more involved, checking up on him to make sure he was okay, and coaxing him to take his medications. She got into terrible fights with my stepmother over his lack of care.

Adult Protective Services were called. But they were limited in what they could do. They could not FORCE my stepmother to take care of my Dad or FORCE my father into a nursing home. My aunt and I became more and more frustrated. We knew it was an unsafe situation, and there wasn’t anything we could do.

When my father drove off one day in his van and disappeared for three days, a nation-wide Silver Alert was announced. My stepmother knew he had disappeared and never bothered to call the police. It was my aunt who called them when she discovered he was gone. My Dad saw himself on TV in a convenience store hundreds of miles away, and the cashier called the police. Thank God!

My aunt and I hounded APS after that because my father absolutely refused to go into a nursing home. And my stepmother continued to neglect him and leave him alone for hours at a time, even though she was told not to do that.

Finally, when I was visiting with my father and asking him questions, I began to wonder if my stepmother was even feeding him. He had lost a lot of weight and couldn’t seem to remember when or what he was eating. When I began snooping through the cupboards and refrigerator, I didn’t find much food. I made another report to APS.

By this time, the APS worker had had several run-ins with my stepmother and developed a distinct dislike for her. She decided to act. She spoke to her supervisor, and they made a point of investigating the food situation in the house. After finding little food, and compiling a report on my stepmother’s neglect, they approached a judge, who court-ordered my father into a nursing home. When the case came up for review a few months later, the order was upheld by the judge. The relief we all felt was overwhelming.

Once my father was safe, it became clear that my stepmother could not take care of herself. She refused to pay any bills, and raided as much money as she could from my father’s funds. It took a while, but my aunt finally convinced my stepmother’s children to come and get her and take her home with them to a neighboring state. We were glad to be rid of her!

Alzheimer’s is a terrible disease that robs a person of their identity, their dignity, and their self-respect. It does not kill quickly like cancer. It drags on for years, draining family finances and resolve. My father’s condition has caused a big split in our family over legal and financial matters. And then there’s the guilt – for, no matter how much or how little you do, it will never be enough or the right thing or the thing that satisfies other people.

If you’re struggling with a family member who is suffering from Alzheimer’s, YOU ARE NOT ALONE! We are all in this together.

Dawn Pisturino, RN

May 10, 2020

Copyright 2020 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

 

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A Butterfly Birthday

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Amy leaned over and smelled the sweet, honey-like fragrance of the tiny white flowers on a leafy green bush. It was spring — her most favorite time of year — and the big backyard was alive with blooming flowers, buzzing bees, and orange-and-black butterflies playing among the wild dandelions growing in the grass.

The butterflies were called monarchs, and Amy looked forward to their arrival every spring.

As she peered deeper into the bush, Amy spied a small green object hanging from a slender brown twig. She reached into the bush and broke off the little twig. She held the object gently in her hand, admiring the delicate green color. Near the top was a hard ridge tinted with yellow that seemed to sparkle like gold in the warm spring sunlight.

Amy had found a butterfly chrysalis. Some people call them cocoons. They are also called pupas.

Amy had learned a lot about butterflies from her teacher at school. She knew that female butterflies lay their eggs on the underside of plant leaves. After a few days small caterpillars, called larvae, eat their way out of the eggs. They finish eating the eggshells — their very first meal! After that, they attach themselves to a leaf and eat and eat and eat until they become too big for their skin. They shed their old skin, a process called molting, and then gobble it up to get important nutrients. Mmm — delicious!

Caterpillars continue to eat and grow and shed their skin until they have done this four times. Now, they are about 2 inches long. But they still have a long way to go before they turn into beautiful butterflies.

The caterpillars take long walks in search of the perfect place to rest. When they find it, they weave a sticky, silky attachment called a silk button. This allows the caterpillars to hang upside down and begin a process called metamorphosis.

For the last time, the caterpillars shed their skin and emerge as a small, oval object called a pupa, chrysalis, or cocoon. This is the third stage in the butterfly life cycle.

Amy realized what a precious treasure she held in her hand. She gathered a handful of grass and leaves and covered the bottom of a large glass jar. She carefully laid the little green cocoon to rest in the soft little nest. Then she punched air holes in the lid with a nail and screwed it on top of the jar.

She placed the jar on a table next to her bed, where the warm spring sunshine would shine through the bedroom window and warm the little green cocoon.

Every day, she looked at the little cocoon in the jar, and waited. Amy knew that the caterpillar’s body inside the chrysalis would dissolve into a liquid and the cells of the adult butterfly begin to grow. The little cocoon became more and more transparent as the immature cells developed into a full-fledged butterfly. Pretty soon, she could see the orange-and-black wings of an adult monarch inside the chrysalis.

One morning, Amy woke up and glanced at the big glass jar next to her bed. But something was different. The little cocoon was broken and empty. Sitting next to it was a brand new orange-and-black butterfly with white markings on its wings. It was the most beautiful monarch butterfly she had ever seen.

The butterfly sat on a dry leaf, slowly moving its wings up and down. Amy watched in fascination, amazed by the miracle of nature she had witnessed in the big glass jar.

But the glass jar was no place to keep such a delicate and fragile creature. She took the jar outside, unscrewed the lid, and watched the beautiful butterfly flutter away.

Dawn Pisturino

Spring 2008

Copyright 2008-2020 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

Contact author for sources

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The Hoover Dam – What if it Broke?

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The Hoover Dam – What if it Broke?

I.

At any given time, Lake Mead – which is held back by the Hoover Dam — can supply water to 29 million households in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. Turbines and generators at Hoover Dam turn water energy into electrical energy. A failure at Hoover Dam would cut off both water and power to all of these seven states, and especially, to all the communities located in the Colorado River Basin.

A breach in the Hoover Dam wall would cause 10 trillion gallons of water from Lake Mead to form a tsunami wave that would travel down the Colorado River, destroying Davis Dam, Parker Dam, and several bridges, and wiping out Lake Mead, Lake Mohave, and Lake Havasu. Communities located on the Colorado River would be flooded.

There would be an immediate loss of hydroelectric power, irrigation water, and drinking water that millions of people in all seven states depend on. The economic losses would be devastating.

Bullhead City, Arizona is one of the cities located on the Colorado River. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation would immediately notify Bullhead City and Mohave County [in Arizona] of the impending catastrophe. The Mohave County Disaster Plan for uncontrolled releases from dams would be activated, involving the Mohave County Department of Risk and Emergency Management and multiple other departments in Bullhead City and Mohave County. The Arizona Department of Public Safety, the Arizona State Parks Department, and the Lake Mead National Recreation Area [in Nevada] would also be involved.

It would require expert and efficient coordination and excellent communication capabilities to evacuate 30,000 people (the ones in Bullhead City, Arizona living closest to the river) in 90 minutes, before the water held back by Hoover Dam and then Davis Dam, hit Bullhead City. In spite of all evacuation plans to move people to Golden Valley and Kingman, Arizona, people would greet the news of a Hoover Dam failure with disbelief and then panic. Highway 95 is the only main route through Bullhead City. It would be jammed with traffic. People on higher ground might be safe from flooding, but they would be trapped by lack of alternate roads out of the city. Law enforcement would be essential to keeping the traffic moving.

It is my estimate that if 10,000 people managed to get out of town in 90 minutes, 10,000 residents would be trapped on higher ground, and 20,000 fatalities would result from drowning and injuries. Thirty miles of Highway 95 would be flooded by water. At least 16,000 homes and businesses would be flooded or destroyed. The local hospital, which sits on a hill, could only be accessed by helicopter. The sewer systems would be flooded, contaminating the environment. Remaining residents would be without power and water. They would have to walk through the hills to highway 68 or be flown out by helicopter. The American Red Cross and other volunteer organizations would have to set up emergency shelters in Golden Valley and Kingman, Arizona within two hours to help the survivors.

The Mohave County Board of Supervisors would ask the Governor of Arizona to declare an emergency situation. He, in turn, would ask the President of the United States to declare Bullhead City [and all other cities along the Colorado River] a disaster area. Bullhead City and Mohave County would be overwhelmed. FEMA would be mobilized.

II.

If an unknown terrorist group launched a nuclear device at Hoover Dam and caused a rupture in the concrete wall, the scenario would be the same as described above. In addition to physical and environmental damage and loss of human life, the air and water would be contaminated with radiation and debris. The 10,000 people who managed to stay behind on dry land would have to be rescued and evacuated over 24 hours due to exposure to radiation.

Emergency shelters would need to be set up within two hours by the American Red Cross and other volunteer organizations in Golden Valley and Kingman, Arizona to supply food, water, and other basic needs to survivors. But over the next day, wind currents would bring the radiation over the mountains and into Golden Valley and Kingman. Local law enforcement would pass out gas masks and be on patrol to control panic, looting, and general disorder while State and County emergency workers evacuated the area.

The Mohave County Board of Supervisors would ask the Governor of Arizona to declare an emergency situation. He, in turn, would ask the President of the United States to declare the area a disaster zone. FEMA would be mobilized to the area.

Conclusion: When President Trump talks about our deteriorating infrastructure, We the People need to take it more seriously. There are a number of dams across the country which need much-needed repairs and reinforcement. Waiting for a disaster to occur is unacceptable. When he talks about preventing terrorists from entering the country, he knows what he’s talking about. Our deteriorating infrastructure is vulnerable to attack.

Dawn Pisturino

September 2019 and April 23, 2020

Copyright 2019-2020 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

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My Thoughts on Coronavirus

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By now, everyone has been affected in some way by the coronavirus. People have gotten really sick, with most recovering, and some dying. Some people who tested positive never got sick at all. Most Americans, however, seem to be healthy and well.

Due to the spread of coronavirus around the world, countries began to shut their borders, institute quarantine and isolation procedures, promote education about the virus, social distancing, and economic lock down. Right now, the world is at a standstill.

Millions of people have been temporarily laid off or furloughed from their jobs. Others are working from home. People are anxious, restless, bored, and scared. What will happen next? Will things get better? Will they get worse? Will this virus be defeated? Will it come back again? Nobody can really give us an adequate answer.

Businesses — both large and small — are suffering. Will they be able to reopen? Or, will this shutdown put them out of business? Just yesterday, retailer Neiman-Marcus announced its plans to file bankruptcy. This will likely cost a lot of people their jobs.

The federal government has increased the national debt in its effort to help people weather the storm. And most of us are grateful for the extra money and support that the government is providing. But it’s only temporary. And the money only stretches so far. Rents and mortgages still have to be paid. Food still has to be bought. Life goes on.

Gun and ammunition sales are through the roof. Why? Because of the threat of increased crime and overreach by state and local governments. While convicted criminals are let out of jail, law-abiding citizens are forced to shelter in their homes, wear masks in public, and follow restrictive and unconstitutional mandates. Governor Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, for example, is prohibiting people from buying seeds, planting gardens, and hanging American flags. What do these normal activities have to do with preventing the spread of coronavirus? This kind of out-of-control power grab by politicians is sparking anger, protests, and demands to end the economic shutdown.

The mainstream media has fed into the hysteria by politicizing the crisis, deliberately spreading fear and chaos, and sensationalizing the number of cases and deaths. Politicians are at war with each other, pointing fingers, and deliberately spreading misinformation and lies. It’s an election year, folks! And that matters more than unifying and helping the country.

Then we have Bill Gates and the big tech companies wanting to stop people from working until they acquire a certificate that they test negative, have already recovered from the virus, or have been vaccinated. WTF? I feel sorry for anybody who doesn’t live up to their standards. And what made them the experts anyways? Bill Gates has a financial interest in all of this. And this is the guy who wants to reduce the human population by 15%. No, thank you, Mr. Gates! I’ll take a pass on any vaccine developed by you!

Liberal governors are also refusing to open up their states’ economies until some distant date in the future, out of fear that the coronavirus will reoccur. Come on, guys! People need to get back to work and back to a normal life as soon as possible. Standing in line for toilet paper happens in third world countries, not the good old USA!

On the positive side, people are finding a healthy appreciation for the things they have, the things they are missing, and the things they have lost, such as their love of family and faith in God. People are praying more and spending more time with their loved ones.

So, out of all the chaos, order will come. Out of all the fear, confidence will grow. And out of all the death and destruction, new life and hope will be restored. We are resilient people, after all.

Dawn Pisturino, RN

April 19, 2020

Copyright 2020 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

 

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Remembering the Oklahoma City Bombing 1995

Oklahoma City bombing

Photo by By Staff Sergeant Preston Chasteen – Defense Imagery

The 1995 Oklahoma City bombing is considered “the deadliest and most destructive act of domestic terrorism” in American history. Using a fertilizer bomb which cost around $5,000, Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols partially collapsed the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma and “destroyed or damaged 324 buildings in a 16 block radius.” The glass shattered in another 258 buildings in a radius of 55 miles. Damages were estimated at $650 million. Deaths totaled 168 people, including 19 children in the building’s daycare center, and injured around 700 people.

The event did not affect Oklahoma City alone. The small town of Kingman, Arizona, the Mohave County seat, was suddenly catapulted into the national news when it came out that Timothy McVeigh had been living in Kingman just months before the bombing. His Army friend, Michael Fortier, helped him to plan the bombing. When the FBI raided his mobile home, they found over 100 detonators.

How do I know this? I live outside Kingman, Arizona. And Timothy McVeigh had lived in the Kingman area on and off for several years. He was an occupant at a particular motel in Kingman. He worked at a local True Value hardware store. At one time, he worked at a well-known casino in Laughlin, Nevada. My husband, who was a Pit Boss at the time, knew him as a fellow employee. McVeigh drove an old yellow Buick which I saw drive by our house on more than one occasion.

Timothy McVeigh had become friendly with well-known pro-gun, anti-government activists in the area. A few months before the Oklahoma City, Oklahoma bombings, strange things were happening around Kingman, Arizona.

A large fertilizer explosive device was exploded out in the remote desert near the living ghost town of Oatman, which has never been explained or solved. At least 2 bomb threats were called in to Black Mountain Elementary School in Golden Valley. The perpetrators were never caught.

After the Oklahoma City bombing occurred on April 19, 1995 (the two year anniversary of the end of the Waco, Texas stand-off), the FBI descended onto Kingman to investigate the Kingman connection. Residents responded to this invasion by selling T-shirts which read, “I Survived the FBI.” In spite of their presence and the investigation, I have always believed that some of the conspirators got away. They simply disappeared underground.

Could the Oklahoma City bombing have been prevented? Probably not. There was no way to predict that the strange happenings around Kingman would lead to such a major man-made disaster. They appeared to be random events. But hindsight suggests that they could have been exercises conducted by the conspirators, leading up to the BIG EVENT.

One thing is certain: “the Oklahoma City bombing in April 1995 . . . raised the issue of America’s preparedness for terrorism events.” Since emergency management as a discipline deals with risks, the avoidance of risks, and the consequences of risks, it made sense to include terrorism under the big umbrella.

FEMA was an independent agency then which had grown in status and importance under President Bill Clinton. As a result, the agency was able to respond to the bombing within 45 minutes of notification of the event. Section 501(b) of the Stafford Act gives FEMA primary authority to respond to a domestic disaster, and this authority was exercised for the first time with the Oklahoma City bombing. FEMA coordinated with the FBI to preserve and control the crime site. This experience helped to clarify responsibilities and authority in future disasters.

Oklahoma was well-prepared for the disaster. The immediate response was to publicly request the assistance of all medical personnel in the area. Volunteers and volunteer organizations, such as the American Red Cross, arrived to help. Hospitals set up triage stations. Local law enforcement and EMS personnel utilized their excellent training. The state of Oklahoma had already worked hard to perfect coordination between the Public Works Department, the National Weather Service, and the National Guard. The Department of Public Safety had already developed a strong disaster plan. The entire state was involved in responding to the disaster. This has been dubbed the Oklahoma Standard.

In the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing, FEMA created Project Impact: Building Disaster-Resistant Communities which asked communities “to identify risks and establish a plan to reduce those risks.” This kind of community-based action is exactly what is needed to mitigate (prevent) events from happening and to keep communities prepared to respond effectively after the event has happened.

Source: Haddow, G.D., Bullock, J.A., & Coppola, D.P. (2017). Introduction to emergency

       management. Cambridge, MA: Elsevier Inc.

Dawn Pisturino

August 13, 2019

Copyright 2019-2020 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

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Remembering the Laughlin River Run Riot 2002

 

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Laughlin is a small township in Clark County, Nevada which lies along the Colorado River, across from Bullhead City, Arizona. It takes about 25 minutes to drive from Laughlin to Needles, California. Laughlin boasts a constable and a handful of police officers. For intensive law enforcement needs, it relies on the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department – located 90 miles away in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Laughlin is known for its nine casinos and annual Laughlin River Run, a motorcycle gathering which began in 1983. On April 27, 2002, Laughlin made the national news when a deadly brawl broke out between two rival outlaw motorcycle gangs: the Hells Angels and the Mongols.

The Flamingo Hotel (now called the Aquarius) was host to the Hells Angels, while Harrah’s was filled with Mongols. Around 2:15 am on Saturday, April 27th, approximately 35 Hells Angels entered Harrah’s and verbally engaged with about 40 Mongols hanging out in Rosa’s Cantina bar. The brawl began when Hells Angels member Raymond Foakes attacked a member of the Mongols. Two Hells Angels died by shooting, and one Mongols member died by stabbing. Dozens of people were injured, including sixteen who were transported by EMS to Western Arizona Regional Medical Center in Bullhead City, Arizona and University Medical Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. Police confiscated 50 knives and numerous guns.

There were about 140 police officers on patrol in Laughlin for the event. Police immediately shut down the town, closing off all exit routes. Hundreds of law enforcement officers and SWAT members arrived from Kingman and Bullhead City, Arizona; Needles, California; and Las Vegas, Nevada. The casinos shut down, stranding people wherever they were.

My husband was the Pit Boss on graveyard at the Golden Nugget, where tensions between the Hells Angels and the Mongols first flared. According to him, customers who were stranded there were given pillows and blankets and allowed to sleep around the pool.

Police interviewed more than 500 people, and surveillance tapes clearly showed what happened. They arrested several people. Harrah’s made counselors available to guests and employees and opened an information hotline. Then they re-opened the casino on Saturday afternoon. In fear of retaliation, the town was kept on tight security and police watch. Bikers who were free to leave left en masse on Sunday morning.

Harrah’s later lost a lawsuit which claimed that the casino knew about tensions between the two outlaw motorcycle gangs and did not do enough to beef up security. Harrah’s denied all responsibility.

The motives for the brawl were based on years of gang rivalry between the Hells Angels and the Mongols. A vendor selling Hells Angels gear was harassed by Mongols members at the event. A Hells Angels biker was found dead by police along Interstate 40 near Ludlow, CA. He was on his way home from Laughlin to San Diego. Police determined that he was killed about an hour before the riot.

The River Run Riot, as it is now called, spurred the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department to increase police presence, information sharing, and surveillance for future Laughlin River Runs. Officers from the Department of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms manned checkpoints with special firearm-sniffing dogs to disclose hidden firearms. The curfew for juveniles from 6 pm to 5 am was continued, and glass and metal drink containers were prohibited.

The Laughlin casinos, which chip in to pay for security and law enforcement presence, increased their hotel prices and made the River Run much less friendly to outlaw biker clubs. The River Run began to draw fewer crowds, and some anti-Laughlin biker gatherings emerged. The costs became greater than the benefits, and the last Laughlin River Run was held in April, 2019.

The remarkable response by law enforcement to the incident minimized the deaths and injuries that could have occurred. The multi-jurisdictional cooperation between Arizona, Nevada, and California brought a number of people to justice and helped make towns and highways safer, during and after the event.

Dawn Pisturino

September 9, 2019

Copyright 2019-2020 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

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The List by Dawn Pisturino

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“If I could get away with it, I’d fire you. But there’s nobody to take your place.”

Henry looks at his boss in dull silence then gives a short laugh.

“Don’t laugh, Henry, I’m dead serious. Johnson over there is the only one who does any real work around here.”

Henry stares at Johnson, who is busy directing the arrangement of blackjack tables in the Pit. A small flame of resentment ignites in his gut.

So all my work is for nothing.

Henry recalls all the extra hours he has worked over the last two weeks, even sacrificing his days off, to take care of all the little details involved in setting up a blackjack tournament. He has barely slept at night because all the annoying little details keep tap dancing around in his head. As a result, his migraines have returned with a vengeance, and his wife nags him for not taking a day off.

“There’s nobody else on day shift who can do it,” Henry wearily explains.

The phone rings early in the morning, waking Henry from a troubled sleep. The phone rings late at night, preventing him from getting to bed. Johnson, the evening Pit Boss, and Girard, the graveyard Pit Boss, are always calling him for advice or direction. Henry takes his job as day shift Pit Boss seriously and gives them good, solid answers.

As he watches Johnson waving his arms and barking orders, Henry feels himself slowly deflating like a worn out tire. He sinks down into his chair. The awful words cling to him like plastic wrap, suffocating him into silence. He has a wife and five children to support. He needs the medical insurance.

When his boss leaves, Henry’s wife Lottie gets an earful over the telephone.

“Why do you let him do this to you? Why don’t you stick up for yourself?” Her words are an accusation fired through the phone line.

“What good would it do,” Henry says. “He would probably just fire me.”

“At least, if the bastard fires you, he has to give you severance pay and unemployment. Why are you such a wimp, Henry? I feel like calling up that little twerp and giving him a piece of my mind.”

“Don’t do that,” Henry pleads. “It would just make things worse.”

“Then grow a backbone, for Christ’s sake! Why I ever married you, I just don’t know.”

I wonder, Henry thinks to himself. But he says out loud: “What I really wanna do is look that jerk right in the eye and say, ‘I quit! You can find someone else to run your stupid old tournament!”

“You can’t do that!” Lottie sputters. “You have a wife and five children to support! We need the medical insurance.”

But Henry wonders: could I really do it?

* * *

On Monday morning, the Big Honcho arrives from Las Vegas.

“We need to cut back on personnel,” he orders. “I want nine dealers fired from the Pit. And don’t worry about the legalities. We have a team of lawyers who will handle all of that.”

Henry is upset. He knows that the corporation made a healthy profit last year. He sees no reason to fire anybody. The dealers on his shift have been loyal employees. He does not want to choose which innocents will be sacrificed on the altar of corporate greed. He demurs. But the Big Honcho, pounding the desk for emphasis, pressures him to choose four day shift dealers to fire.

“I don’t know what to do,” Henry complains to his wife. “There’s nobody on my shift who deserves to be fired.”

“You can’t just fire somebody without a good reason. You need documentation to back it up. Did you talk to someone in Human Resources?”

“He specifically told us not to go to Human Resources. He says they have lawyers who will handle everything.”

“Sounds fishy to me. They’re trying to pull a fast one, Henry.”

“I know that! But if I don’t do what he says, he’ll fire me. He’ll get me for insubordination.”

“Well then, do what he says. Don’t you have any employees who are always calling in sick or punching in late? Don’t you have any new people on probation?”

“What he really wants,” Henry confides, “is to get rid of all the old people and the ugly women. He wants to hire skinny young girls with big breasts like they have in Las Vegas.”

“But that’s discrimination! He can’t do that!”

“He thinks he can. He doesn’t like anybody over the age of thirty. He only wants pretty young girls who won’t object to wearing skimpy outfits and working long hours for low pay.”

“Where’s he going to find that around here? Good workers are hard to find. This isn’t Las Vegas.”

“I know that, and you know that, but he doesn’t understand.”

“Go through your list of personnel and choose the ones with the most points against them.”

“I have, but none of them really have any points currently against them. I have good people on my shift, and most of them have been here for years. There’s no reason to fire them.”

“Explore your options. Is business slow right now? Can you cut back on hours? That would help cut labor costs without having to fire anybody. The people who can’t afford it will look for another job.”

Henry considers the idea. “You know, I think that might work. I’ll take another look at the schedule.”

***

“What’s going on, Henry? Are some of us gonna be laid off?” Margie Benson looks at him with a Big Question Mark in her heavily-shadowed dark eyes. Henry forces himself to smile. He has been instructed by his boss to say nothing about future lay-offs.

“Everything’s okay,” Henry says. “Don’t worry.” But Henry is aware that Margie is a single  mother with two young children and plenty to worry about. He has just added her name to his list of potential lay-offs because a customer filed a written complaint against her five years ago. It was all he could find in her personnel file.

“If you say it,” Margie says, “I’ll believe it. You wouldn’t lie.”

I would if the stakes were high enough.

“Margie, just try to be flexible and plan ahead, just in case things change in the future, okay?” Henry looks at her long and hard, and he knows that she understands the hidden message behind his words.

“Thanks, Henry,” she says quietly. “You’re a good man.”

Henry turns away, feeling sick to his stomach. For the rest of the say, he is haunted by the look on Margie’s face.

***

The Big Honcho calls from Las Vegas.

“This list is no good,” he shouts into the phone. “You’re being too soft on these people. Our lawyers say there are at least twenty people on that personnel list who can be fired!”

“Where are they?” Henry says, feeling his hackles rise. “I’ve gone over that list again and again. I’ve researched the personnel files. Those four people are the only ones who even remotely qualify.”

“Go over that list again! If our lawyers can spot them, so can you!”

“I’m not a lawyer,” Henry shouts back. “I’ve never had to do this before.”

“You’re supposed to do what I want!” the Big Honcho screams.

“Fuck,” Henry says under his breath.

“What did you say to me? Did you say what I think you said?”

“Yeah, I said exactly what you think I said,” Henry says proudly.

“You haven’t heard the last of this,” the Big Honcho says. “Get me that list!” And hangs up the phone.

Henry’s heart is pounding in his chest, and his hands are clammy and cold. He wipes the sweat from his forehead with an old wad of tissue he finds in his pocket. He picks up the personnel list lying on his desk and tears it in two. Then he tosses the pieces into the waste basket.

***

Henry has submitted five versions of the personnel hit list to the Big Honcho in Las Vegas. The Big Honcho has found reasons to reject all five. Henry calls him with version number six.

“Thank you,” the Big Honcho says gruffly. “And Henry — I haven’t forgotten what you said to me.”

Henry does not respond. He hangs up the phone, struggling to keep his composure.

Late in the afternoon, the Big Honcho calls back. “This list is no good. We don’t have enough documentation to fire these people.”

Henry explodes. “You said not to worry about that! You said you had a team of lawyers who would take care of the legalities!”

“Stop shouting at me.”

“I’m going to shout at you! I told you we didn’t have enough documentation to fire these people! I told you it couldn’t be done!”

“As a matter of fact, we’ve decided to put the whole thing on hold until after the blackjack tournament.”

“Good!” Henry shouts. “That’s the smartest thing you’ve said to me yet!” He slams down the receiver, not caring anymore what the Big Honcho thinks.

***

“We had considered you for the position, Henry, but your attitude just doesn’t fit in with our corporate goals.”

Henry’s boss frowns, shaking his head disapprovingly. “We’ve appointed Johnson Top Dog, and everybody — including you — will now answer to him. Johnson, in turn, will answer to the Big Honcho in Las Vegas. I hope you’re happy, Henry. If it were up to me, I’d fire your sorry ass.”

In his mind, Henry hears his wife yelling at him. “What do you mean, you didn’t get the promotion! Don’t you care about your family? Henry, we need that extra money!”

He begins to laugh.

“Don’t laugh, Henry, I’m dead serious.”

“I know you are. And you know what? I — don’t — care!”

The look of shock on his boss’ thin, colorless face turns to horror as Henry pulls a small pistol from his pocket and points it squarely at the spot between his boss’ terrified eyes.

“Now, now, Henry, no need to go postal on me.”

Henry continues to laugh as he swings the gun around and points it at his own throbbing temple. His head disappears in a cloud of smoke.

***

When Henry’s boss calls the Big Honcho in Las Vegas to deliver the news, he hears a satisfied grunt on the other end of the telephone.

“Good! Henry Jenkins was at the top of my list.”

Dawn Pisturino

Copyright 2011-2020 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

 

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The Best Gift

Christmas present

 

After nine years of marriage, Mary knew that the holidays were not a good time to ask her husband for a favor. Money was tight. The children were out of school. Her husband’s large, extended family had decided – at the last minute, of course – to honor them with their considerable presence at Christmas dinner. Christmas Day was only a week away, and Mary felt frazzled, overwhelmed, and out of sorts. She lay down on the small double bed in the master bedroom to take a nap.

It was Sunday afternoon. Betsy, 6, and Lauren, 8, were busy decorating sugar cookies in the kitchen. Their childish laughter rang through the house, a happy reminder of Christmas. Mary’s 12-year-old nephew, Jordan, lay on the carpeted living room floor playing video games. An occasional triumphant shout blended with the sound of video gunfire. Earlier in the day, he had announced his decision not to participate in any of his cousins’ childish activities. He was too old to decorate Christmas cookies, he declared; although Mary noted with a smile that he was not too old to consume half a dozen with a tall glass of milk. But he was a good boy, and Mary was happy to have the extra baby-sitting money. She had agreed to take him for the entire week while her sister was in the hospital having gallbladder surgery.

Mary wasn’t quite sure where her husband Todd had gone. He had left early in the morning before everyone was awake, leaving a note on the kitchen counter that he would be back later. She figured he was doing last minute Christmas shopping at the mall and would come home soon laden with packages. The children would greet him at the door, demanding to feel, prod, shake, rattle, and listen to each gaily wrapped gift. Then they would carefully lay them under the decorated artificial pine tree in the living room and continue to feel, prod, shake, rattle, and listen to them every day until Christmas.

Mary prayed as hard as she could that he would not go overboard spending their hard-earned money on Christmas gifts. They simply could not afford it, especially when they were expecting their third child in a couple of months.

Mary ran her hands over her swollen belly and sighed. She was not prepared to face another round of baby bottles and diapers — even if this one was a boy. She was tired and disappointed with her life. The constant pressure to pay bills, the ever-present fear of Todd being laid off, the nagging worry over providing an adequate future for the girls — the stress was tearing her apart and wearing her down. And soon there would be one more responsibility to face. She just didn’t feel up to it.

When Todd came home, she would beg him for this one favor: one of them needed to get sterilized. She didn’t care which one, but somehow, they had to come to some agreement. She didn’t want more children. They couldn’t afford anymore. She wanted to provide for the ones they had already.

Outside, the wind began to howl, and the softly falling snow grew thicker. She could no longer see the trees through the bedroom window. She shivered and drew the blanket tighter around her swollen body. Please drive carefully, she silently prayed.

* * *

“Mommy, mommy, we’re hungry!” cried the girls, jumping onto the bed.

Mary groaned sand rolled over. The bedroom was dark. She glanced at the neon orange face of the alarm clock on the nightstand. Six o’clock. Todd should have come home by now.

Reluctantly, she got up and followed the girls into the kitchen. She grabbed a box of macaroni and cheese and a can of green peas out of the cupboard and began to prepare dinner. While she waited for the water in the pan to boil, she grabbed her cell phone and called Todd. She heard a few distant rings, then nothing. She tried again with the same result. Damn this snow, she cursed under her breath. She reached for the portable phone on the kitchen counter. No dial tone. Damn! She slammed down the receiver. There was no way to get hold of her husband.

“Mommy, when’s daddy coming home?” whined six-year-old Betsy, clinging to her shirt.

“I don’t know, sweetheart. We just have to be patient. Go into the living room with Lauren and Jordan. Dinner will be ready soon.” But inside, Mary did not want to be patient. She wanted to scream, Where is he? A feeling of dread came over her. Todd would have called if something was wrong — if he was able to call. And that’s what was worrying her. He had no way to communicate with her.

She poured the dry macaroni into boiling water, then placed the peas into a bowl and set it in the microwave. She set the dial for three minutes and waited. In the living room, she heard the familiar voice of Burl Ives singing cheery Christmas songs on TV. If only Todd were here . . .

When dinner was ready, she poked her head through the living room door to call the children to the table. The room was dark, and one of them – Jordan, probably – had plugged in the Christmas tree lights. Their soft glow filled the room with radiant colors. Mary smiled, allowing the gentle peace of Christmas to fill her heart. A small delay, that’s all. He’ll be here soon.

“Dinner, everyone! Put the video on pause and come to the table.”

The two girls ran to the table and scrambled into their chairs. Jordan pushed the pause button, then walked slowly into the kitchen and sat down. “When’s Uncle Todd coming home,” he asked glumly. “I want to play video games with him!”

“Any time now,” Mary responded cheerfully, dishing up a plateful of macaroni and cheese. “So, Jordan, it sounded like you were winning this afternoon!”

He took the plate from her hands. “Aw, I do okay.”

Outside the wind howled, and Mary thought she heard a faint knocking sound. Could it be . . .

“Hey! Somebody’s at the front door!” Jordan shouted. “Maybe it’s Uncle Todd!” And he was off and running before Mary could stop him.

“I wanna go see!” shouted Lauren.

“Me, too!”chimed in Betsy; and both girls raced into the living room.

“Wait!” Mary cried. “It could be a stranger!”

She hurried after the children. Jordan flipped on the outside light and opened the front door. In the doorway stood a State Trooper wearing a heavy jacket, thick boots, and gloves dusted with snow.

“Mrs. Abbott?” he inquired gravely.

Mary’s heart sank. “I’m Mrs. Abbott.”

“Ma’am, I’m sorry to bother you like this, but I’ve got some bad news for you.”

Tears welled up in Mary’s eyes, but she held her voice steady. “Won’t you come in, officer?”

“Thank you, ma’am. It’s mighty cold out here.” He stomped the snow off his boots and entered the foyer.

“Ma’am, I’m awfully sorry to tell you this –”

“The children, officer –”

“Yes, ma’am. Maybe we can send them into another room for a few minutes.”

“Children, you heard the officer. Go back into the kitchen and eat your supper.”

“Aw, I want to stay here!” Jordan grumbled.

“No, I need you to go into the kitchen. Now!”

Jordan mumbled something under his breath but turned and walked away. The girls reluctantly followed.

“As I was saying, ma’am, I have some awfully bad news for you. Your husband, Todd Abbott, was killed in a car crash an hour ago. He missed the turn down on Miles Creek Road and slammed right into that old oak tree in the bend. He died instantly from the looks of it. An ambulance took him to Mercy Hospital. He’s laying in the morgue there. You’ll need to come identify the body as soon as you can.”

Mary stared at him in horror. “No! It can’t be! she cried. “It can’t be . . .”

* * *

In the days that followed, Mary stopped living. She refused to get out of bed. Taking the sedative prescribed by Dr. Lawrence, she kept herself sedated, locked in her room, lost to the world, oblivious to her own existence. All she wanted was to sleep – long, deep, and hard – until all the agonizing pain and suffering deep inside had shriveled up and disappeared. She wanted to blot out all the memories of her life, every thought and feeling, and to never think or feel again.

* * *

“He’s dead,” Jordan said quietly, bursting into tears. “I’m never going to see him again.” The two girls, not fully understanding, began to wail.

“I want my daddy! I want my daddy!” they screamed in unison. “Mommy! Mommy!”

“Shhh . . . Hush now, my darlings. Grandma’s here.” With a heavy heart, she drew the little ones close to her breast and held them tight. They sobbed hysterically, wetting her sweater, until sleep overcame them and offered a temporary shelter from their grief.

* * *

After three days, Mary emerged from the darkness of her bedroom. Stumbling down the hallway in her old flannel bathrobe, she made her way to the kitchen and poured herself a cup of black coffee. Her hands shook slightly, and her mother stared at her in shock.

“Mary, you look terrible! Come sit down. Do you want some eggs?”

“No, I’m not hungry.”

“Then come sit down and talk.”

“I don’t think I can do that yet.”

She stood over the kitchen sink and stared out the window. The day was crystal clear with a cloudless, vivid blue sky. Bright sunshine made the clean white snow sparkle with millions of tiny diamonds. It was a perfect winter day, just right for making snowmen and snow angels and drinking hot chocolate; sledding down Jackson Hill; ice skating on Fisher’s pond; building snow forts and throwing snowballs.

“He’s gone, mother, and I don’t know what to do. How can I go on? He was my whole life. And the kids — good Lord, what kind of god takes a wonderful daddy like Todd away from his children? I don’t understand it. It’s too cruel. Those kids are never going to be the same again.”

“They’ll get through it, Mary — and so will you. You’ll do it because you have to — for the sake of those little girls — and the new one that’s coming.”

Mary turned around angrily. “I don’t even want this child! Do you know what I wanted to do? I wanted one of us to get sterilized. I don’t want anymore children! I can’t even provide for the ones I have. How am I going to support three children working part-time at the video store? Todd’s life insurance will help, but there’s the house payment, and now we need another car, and the utilities, and food — and how am I going to pay for medical insurance? I don’t even know if Todd’s medical insurance is going to cover the delivery, now that he’s gone!”

“Careful, Mary, or that baby will grow up knowing you resent it. It’s not fair to blame the child for what’s happened.”

“I’m sorry, mother, but I do resent it! I didn’t want it in the first place — and now, with all this — I just can’t handle it!”

“It’s still Todd’s baby, Mary. Doesn’t that mean anything to you?”

* * *

The small bronze box on display at the front of the memorial chapel was engraved with these words: “Together Forever.” Two hearts intertwined, and Todd’s name, birth date, and date of death were engraved inside one of them. Mary gazed tearfully at the 8 x 10 color photo of her husband displayed next to the urn and fingered the thin gold wedding band hanging on a gold chain around her neck. Someday, she promised, my ashes will be added to yours, and we will be together forever.

She lit a small votive candle and placed it before the framed photograph. Then silently, reverently, she reached out and touched the smooth glass inside the frame, mentally stroking the familiar features of her husband’s face. Together forever . . .

She hugged her swollen belly and felt the child inside her move. If it’s a boy, I’ll name him after you. Todd Douglas Abbott. He might even look like you! I hope he looks like you, she prayed. She closed her eyes and wept.

She remembered the day when the doctor called to tell her the good news. Congratulations, Mrs. Abbott, you’re pregnant! She had been angry at the doctor and angry at Todd. The doctor tried to reassure her that everything would be okay, but she refused to listen and hung up the phone. She crawled into bed and stayed there all afternoon, crying about her condition. When Todd came home from work, she lashed into him with angry words, blaming him, and calling him names. Instead of fighting back, he merely looked at her with a deep sympathy and understanding that calmed her down, then took her in his arms and reassured her, like the doctor, that everything would be okay. He promised her that everything would be okay . . . and now he was dead. How could she ever forgive him for lying to her? Most importantly, how could she ever forgive herself for despising him and hating this child?

Somebody touched her gently on the shoulder. “I’m so sorry, Mary.”

She turned around and looked into the deeply lined, tear-stained face of Todd’s mother. “It’s all so horrible,” Mary sobbed, throwing her arms around her.

“Yes, it is.” Todd’s mother hugged her warmly. “He was my baby, Mary. I couldn’t have anymore children after he was born. It made him more special, somehow. Just like your little one. He’s Todd’s last gift to you — the best gift! Love him, Mary; really love him. Just like you loved Todd. Because there’ll never be anymore of him in this world.” Her voice broke, and she wiped the tears from her eyes with a handkerchief.

The best gift. The words echoed in Mary’s heart. Suddenly, she understood. Looking down at her swollen belly, the agonizing pain and anger melted away, and a deep love filled her: love for her husband, her family, and this beautiful child who would carry on Todd’s legacy. A bright spark of hope lifted her up, releasing her from her fears. She grabbed her mother-in-law’s hands and placed them over her belly, tears streaming down her face.

“We’ll love him together,” she said softly.

Dawn Pisturino

Copyright 2007-2020 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

The first line of this story was provided by The First Line as a writing prompt.

 

 

 

 

 

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God is Great

allahu-akbar

The sand was blowing so hard against the windshield, he could barely see where he was going. Catching a glimpse of white at the side of the road, he cautiously turned the SUV onto the rough, sand-blown driveway of a small combination gas station and convenience store. He parked in front of the store, uncomfortably aware of the bright neon beer signs in the window. Turning off the engine, he leaned back in the seat, listening to the howling wind as the vehicle rocked gently back and forth.

“Well, that’s it,” he said quietly, looking anxiously at his wife. “We’ll have to wait out the storm. Insh’allah – God willing – it will pass quickly.” He reached over and squeezed her hand reassuringly.

She gave him a forced smile, her beautiful dark eyes marred with worry. The baby stirred in the infant seat behind her and began to cry.

“He’s hungry,” she said, unbuckled her seat belt, and turned around to check on the fussy infant. “He needs to be changed.”

The other child in the back seat, a boy of five with sleepy black eyes and a mop of thick black hair, leaned dully against the window, thumb in mouth, unmindful of the blowing hot sand. The woman placed a hand on his forehead.

“He’s still hot,” she said to her husband.

“He needs medicine,” he answered, looking at his watch. “Let’s go inside. We’ll take care of the children in there. It’s already 1:00. We can spread our prayer rugs on the floor and give thanks to Allah for guiding us to this place.”

His wife nodded obediently and pulled her black dupatta closer around her face.

* * *

“Hey, Roy, look at that!”

Blanche Carter suddenly perked up behind the cash register and nodded her permed gray head in the direction of the front door. The beer-belly cowboy leaning lazily against the counter lifted the brim of his black cowboy hat and turned to look.

“What the heck!” he exclaimed, rising to his full six feet.

“Roy,” the cashier said in a low voice. “Do you still have that gun on ya?”

He peeled back the left side of his black leather vest to show her a stiff leather gun holster nestled under his armpit. With his right hand, he unsnapped the top, giving him free access to the small handgun, if the need arose.

“Don’t worry, Blanche,” he grinned. “You’e safe with me.”

“Thank God,” she said gratefully.

They watched intently as a little man with dark skin and hair wrestled with the heavy glass door, making the cowbells hanging from the handle clang furiously. Behind him, the wind tore fiercely at a small woman draped head-to-toe in black. The man held the door open against the wind, and the woman stumbled inside, her black robes flapping, her face nearly invisible in the black folds. A loud wailing competed with the howling wind, and the woman threw back her complicated drapery to reveal an infant carrier heavily swathed with blankets, a blue diaper bag slung over one shoulder, and a small boy clinging desperately to her skirts.

Blanche narrowed her eyes at the spectacle, clenching her jaw and fists. Resisting the urge to spit on the floor, she glared at the woman angrily, feeling a thick wall of resistance rise between them.

As the dark little man cautiously approached the counter, she saw that he carried what looked like a bundle of rugs under one arm and a wicker picnic basket under the other.

“Good day, ma’am . . . sir . . .” he said politely, bowing his head, fear betrayed in his large dark eyes. “If you please, I need some liquid medicine for my son.”

Blanche waited silently for Roy to respond. She was aware that he shifted his weight slightly to create a solid barrier between her and the timid little man. A large American flag was embroidered on the back of his vest, the familiar image giving her hope and comfort. Roy was a proud American, even if he did whore around and drink too much, and he would handle the situation the way he saw fit.

“Over there,” Roy said gruffly, waving his hand to the right.

“Thank you, sir,” the little man said. “I am most grateful. Alhamdu lillah – praise be to God – for your kindness.”

Roy said nothing. But Blanche saw his body stiffen and the whiteness of his big, flabby hands as they curled tightly into fists.

Blanche wanted to scream, Get your stuff and get out! But she was afraid they would complain to the owner of the store, and she would lose her job. It was the only job available for miles around, and she couldn’t afford to lose it. Most of the desert rats around there who bothered to work a steady job commuted to Phoenix. But Blanche was too old and tired to make that long, hot journey every day. She bit her lip and glared, feeling hostile and afraid.

But it don’t make it right, she fumed bitterly. These furriners come to this here country takin’ good jobs away from law-abidin’ Americans — and we jes’ have to put up with it! The government don’t do nothin’. The country’s goin’ down the tubes anyway. That money-grubbin’ TV evangelist, Graham Robertson, is right — the end times are here, and Jesus is comin’! Won’t that be a blast! He’ll give these heathens a run fer their money. Praise be to God! Ain’t He great?

A picture of global disaster — vividly described in the Book of Revelations — filled her limited imagination. She clearly saw the destruction of the world, the cries of the damned, the end of Israel and the Middle East. But what did she care? She attended services every Sunday at Reverend Boyd’s home (there wasn’t enough money in the collection plate to build a church), fervently believed in Jesus as the true Savior of the world, and diligently read her Bible every day. She was one of The Saved!

When the Rapture comes, she thought with satisfaction, I’ll be carried up to Heaven on the wings of a dove with all the rest of The Elect. I won’t even be here when Armageddon comes! Lord Jesus, do your stuff!

She cackled suddenly with glee. “Hey, Roy, lighten up a little and show the man where the medicine is.”

Roy turned and glared at her. What the heck? his eyes said.

Blanche smiled and shrugged her shoulders. “It’s good customer service.”

  • * * *

Ayesha looked at the big fat man with the black cowboy hat, faded blue jeans, and pointed cowboy boots and trembled with fear. This man is dangerous, she thought. Please, Allah, protect us from harm!

She felt the intense hostility emanating like a deadly radiation from the wrinkled up, gray-haired old woman behind the cash register, but she had felt that before from similar women in other parts of Arizona. She knew it originated from fear, and she expected it.

But the man was something different. He looked at her husband with hard, dark eyes — pig eyes, she thought — and he was so big! He dwarfed her husband, making Mahmood appear small and helpless. A terrible sense of foreboding seized her. They were so alone and vulnerable in this desolate pig-sty of a town. Was there even a town? Or was this all?

She wished they had never come on this trip. They could’ve spent the weekend at home, safe, sound, and secure. But Mahmood was feeling restless after being on call all week at the hospital and wanted to get away for the weekend. Let’s do something fun, he had pleaded, convincing her with boyish black eyes lit up with excitement. He worked so hard and was such a good provider, she couldn’t turn him down. So they had booked a room at a fancy hotel and spa in Phoenix and started out early in the morning.

The wind was blowing even then, but not like now! The last few miles had been torture, Mahmood driving at a snail’s pace, trying desperately to follow the broken yellow lines in the center of the road and the solid white line at the edge. They had stopped several times along the way and waited for the hot, sandy wind to abate. But it only seemed to grow worse.

Ayesha was afraid, but she kept her feelings to herself. The baby had slept most of the way, and five-year-old Akbar, who was usually so energetic, seemed to droop in the back seat. She finally realized that he was sick. He looked at her with glazed eyes, oblivious to the fearful wind, and finally fell asleep with his chin hanging down on his chest. When she touched his forehead with her hand, it felt hot and damp. The poor boy was sweating despite the air conditioning inside the SUV. Ayesha was worried.

The big fat cowboy moved now, scowling as he showed Mahmood the display of cold medicines, allergy tablets, boxes of generic headache pills, and bottles of liquid medicine. Mahmood chose the appropriate bottle, thanked the big fat man, and headed for the counter.

Ayesha relaxed a little when the old woman smiled at Mahmood and cheerfully rang up the purchase. She spied the restroom sign on the wall and carried the infant into the women’s bathroom, her older son trailing close behind.

  • * * *

Roy stroked the rough stubble on his chin and shook his head in disbelief. What the heck has gotten into Blanche? He knew she resented these foreign intruders as much as he did. But suddenly, she had decided to be POLITE and SERVE them! Was she just afraid? Hadn’t he reassured her that he would handle any trouble that came up? Obviously, she didn’t believe him. Did she think he was just another ordinary American kow-towing to these vermin who were infesting his beloved country while the government stood by and did nothing? He would show her, alright! He might be the last of a dying breed, but he would go down fighting — just like his brother did in Desert Storm.

He had been mighty proud of his brother Eddie for joining the Army and going off to the Gulf to kick Saddam Hussein’s rotten behind. He had even been proud when his brother came home in a body bag. After all, he had died bravely in battle and would receive a Purple Heart. Roy’s heart had nearly bust wide open in his chest, he was so proud. But when President Bush Senior had pulled back the troops and ended the war before finishing their God-given job to destroy that monster Saddam Hussein, he had raged with fury, going so far as to beat his wife Gladys black and blue. She had left him not long after that, fearing for her life, and he had raged even more, going on a drunken spree that lasted two weeks.

When he woke up finally in a detox unit in Phoenix, he had vowed not only to straighten himself out, temporarily, but to hate the American government that had betrayed his brother and all the other soldiers who had given their lives in the Gulf War.

After his release from the detox unit, Roy contacted all his neighbors and formed The People’s Militia. They erected a rustic shooting range in the isolated wash way back in the hills, where they met every Saturday morning for target practice. Beneath the floorboards of an abandoned barn, they constructed an underground bunker, where they were slowly gathering quite a stockpile of water, food, explosives, firearms, and ammunition. He had learned how to do this from some Mormons down in Showlow, who were preparing for the end of the world. But Roy and his gang had already agreed to begin their own reign of terror if the government didn’t get its act together. They would call themselves the Warriors of Allah and blame their crimes on the large Arab population in Phoenix. The whole idea had belonged to Jed Turlock. Now who would have thought that a grizzly old man like Jed could come up with such a brilliant idea?

  • * * *

Mahmood spread the small woolen prayer rugs, bearing woven images of the Ka’ba in Mecca, onto the hard linoleum floor in front of the cooler containing gallon jugs of milk, quart bottles of orange juice, boxes of butter, and packages of cheese. He hurried to the men’s restroom to perform the ritual ablutions, which involved purifying various parts of the body with water, then returned to wait for his wife to finish breast-feeding the baby and toileting the eldest boy, Akbar. He removed his shoes and knelt down on a prayer rug to give thanks to God.

His wife Ayesha presently returned with the children. The baby was quiet now, and she placed the infant carrier on the floor in front of a prayer rug, where she could keep a watchful eye. She measured out a dose of liquid medicine into the small plastic cup attached to the top of the medicine bottle, managed to get it into the elder boy, removed his shoes, and encouraged him to lie down on one of the rugs to take a nap. Then she removed her own simple shoes and stood quietly, waiting for her husband to begin the prayers.

He stood up and cupped both hands behind his ears, crying, “Allahu Akbar!” (God is Great!) Then, crossing his arms across his chest, he proceeded to chant, the sacred Arabic words rolling with melodic harmony out of his mouth. His wife mimicked his motions but remained silent.

Bismillah-i-Rahman-ir-Raheem.” (In the name of God, the Benevolent, the Merciful.)

Alhamdu-lillah-i-Rabbil’aalameen-ar-Rahman-ir-Rahim . . .” (Praise be to God, Lord of the Universe, the Benevolent, the Merciful . . .)

  • * * *

Blanche couldn’t believe her ears. Horrified by the sounds of heathens performing pagan prayers on Christian territory, she motioned to Roy to sneak around to the back of the store and stand guard at the end of the aisle. Fascinated by this strange turn of events, she adjusted the security camera so that it pointed directly down on the devout couple. She wanted to act as witness against their treacherous performance and capture them on tape.

Qul hu-Allahu Ahad, Allahu-Samad . . .” (Say: He is Allah, the One — Allah, the eternal . . .) The dark little man chanted loudly and earnestly with poetic rhythm, pouring his heart out to heaven.

Blanche was about to spew out her indignation when the musical chanting seemed to capture her soul, calming her turbulent spirits. She kept her eyes glued to the video monitor, listening intently, not understanding the ancient Arabic words, but responding to their holy sound, mesmerized by the rhythmic chant.

  • * * *

What kind of voodoo is this, Roy muttered silently to himself as he followed Blanche’s prompting and strode quietly to the rear of the store. He mentally stuffed his ears with cotton, refusing to listen to the foreign mumbo jumbo. After all, who knew what hexes and curses these people could place on him and Blanche? Everybody knew they had spread their religion across Asia and parts of Europe with the sword. Maybe now, with Saddam Hussein dead and Osama bin Laden on the run, they were resorting to witchcraft. Anything was possible, right?

He planted himself in the center of the aisle and watched from behind as the man and woman bent forward at the waist, placing their hands on their knees.

Subhana Rabbiyal-Azeem!” (How glorious is God, the Great!)

Roy sucked in his breath as reverently, deliberately, the man and woman continued their prayers, then fell humbly to their knees and prostrated themselves across their prayer rugs, their heads touching the ground.

Subhana Rabbiyal-a’la.” (All glory be to God, the Most High.)

Roy’s muscles tensed, and his stomach twisted, making him want to puke. He felt the waves of bitter anger rise up into his throat. He covered his ears with his hands, squeezed his eyes shut, and silently pleaded, Please, God, make it stop!

Then he turned to Blanche and hissed, “Make them stop, Blanche, make them stop!” But she only ignored him, spellbound, her eyes glued to the video monitor, her face shining, her eyes serene and far away.

They’ve got Blanche, he thought frantically. He took a step forward and shouted, “Stop!” But they only ignored him and began the sequence of prayer all over again.

Allahu Akbar!

Once more, Roy covered his ears with his hands, the fear and anxiety growing steadily inside him, making his heart race and his head pound. He saw his brother’s face in his mind, heard his voice in his ears, remembered the casket draped with an American flag lowered into the ground.

He died for his country, his mother said softly, wiping away the tears from her eyes. He was so brave!

He died for nothing! Roy shouted inside. Here’s the proof!

Qul a’oothoo bi rabbin nas . . .” (Say: I seek refuge in the Sustainer of Mankind . . .)

Roy thought of his brother rotting in the grave, a formless mass of flesh and bones, gone forever — and the family he had left behind. His beautiful, faithful wife, who had cried on Roy’s shoulder at the funeral. The pretty little girl with blonde pigtails who had grown up bitter and destroyed herself with drugs. The baby boy raised without a father who had run off to San Francisco at the age of sixteen, declaring himself gay.

Allahu Akbar!

More bowing at the waist. Roy slipped his right hand inside his vest and fingered the smooth end of the handgun under his arm. This is my country, he silently declared. And my God is the only god.

The man and his wife were kneeling again, ready to fall forward on the ground. Slowly, ever so slowly, Roy drew the shiny handgun from its holster and pointed it at the dark-skinned little man lying prostrate on the ground. As the man raised himself again to a kneeling position, Roy aimed the pistol at the back of the little man’s head.

Allahu Akbar!”

With a steady hand, Roy concentrated hard and slowly began to squeeze the trigger. But suddenly, clang! The cowbells hanging on the front door began to loudly ring as the heavy glass door burst open and the local sheriff came through the door.

“Thank God that wind has stopped,” he exclaimed, brushing the sand from his uniform. “Blanche! Where the heck are you?”

Assalamu ‘alaikum wa rahmatu’ allah.” (The peace and mercy of Allah be upon you.)

Startled, Roy lowered the gun and shoved it quickly back into its holster. He saw Blanche shake her head, wake up from her reverie, and tear herself away from the video monitor.

“Did you say the storm was over?” she asked blankly.

“See for yourself,” the sheriff said. “How about filling up my thermos with hot coffee?”

“Right away.”

Roy headed for the men’s restroom, his hands shaking, his legs weak and wobbly. My God, he thought in horror, nearly wetting his pants. My God, my God, what was I about to do?

  • * * *

Insh’allah, the storm is over,” Mahmood said with relief, rolling up his prayer rug.

“I’m so happy!” Ayesha said, giving him a big grin. She roused the older boy from his nap and felt his forehead. It was cool and dry. “Everything will be okay now. Allahu Akbar!

Dawn Pisturino

October 31, 2007

Copyright 2007-2019 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

NOTE: Fear and misunderstanding occur any time two cultures come together and clash. I tried to show that in this short story. No offense was intended to any culture.

 

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The Egyptian

egyptian-cat-goddess-statue-

The Egyptian

Four large black cats rushed to greet him when he opened the apartment door. Four pairs of gleaming yellow eyes watched him curiously. Four shiny, custom-made rhinestone collars flashed at him. Four soft, furry bodies rubbed themselves affectionately against his grey flannel-clad legs, purring loudly. He stood still in the doorway, afraid of tripping over one of the sleek black bodies or stepping on a long black tail.

“Cleopatra . . . Hathor . . . Horus . . . Anubis!” cried a familiar voice. “Leave the poor man alone!”

The cats meowed loudly as a tall woman with honey-colored skin entered the room. She was dressed in a long-sleeved, full-length black silk caftan embroidered with shiny gold thread. Her thick black hair was piled high on top of her regal head. Her heavy gold earrings, necklace, and bracelets shone brilliantly in the bright sunlight streaming through the open windows. She clapped her hands together, commanding the attention of her feline pets, and waved them toward the open kitchen door. The cats scampered off, eager to please their mistress.

He entered the apartment cautiously, closing the door behind him.

“Emanuel!” She greeted him with a warm hug, and he inhaled the sweet, heavy Arabic perfume which she always wore. “Light a cigarette for me, won’t you, darling?”

He pulled a pack of expensive Turkish cigarettes from his pocket and held one in his mouth while lighting it for her with a slim silver lighter from Rome. Remaining silent, he handed it to her, and she took a long, slow drag.

“It’s been so long,” she said, after exhaling a small white cloud of smoke. “I’ve been trying to quit, you know. But today calls for a special celebration. Thank you for responding to my call.”

She looked at him intently with large dark eyes which turned up slightly at the corners. The effect was accentuated by the heavy black eyeliner she always wore. Then, smiling with pleasure, she suddenly grabbed his hands and pulled him down next to her onto the elegant gold brocade sofa. “Kiss me, you fool!”

He turned away from her. “That’s not a good idea, Fatima. Please, just tell me why you called.”

She leaned over and turned his face toward her with long, slender fingers, looking deeply into his eyes. Her soft lips brushed against his neck, then opened up eagerly to his own, and they embraced with a familiar passion. When she had gotten her fill, she pushed him gently away, laughing.

“Ah, my talented Emanuel – no man has ever kissed me the way you do. How I shall miss it!”

“The divorce was your idea,” he quietly reminded her. “I would have endured any agony to be with you, if only you felt the same!”

Her face darkened. “Such pain,” she said bitterly. “But there was no choice. I could not allow you to be hurt by my foolish folly.”

“But you have never explained that to me! You owe me an explanation,” he pleaded. “To throw away twelve months of bliss is also folly!”

She tapped the cigarette with her right forefinger over the ashtray, letting the ashes fall, then took another drag. “It’s quite simple,” she said, avoiding his probing eyes. “I’m leaving for San Francisco with another man.”

A cloud slipped over the sun, darkening the room. He stood up and abruptly turned his back to her, afraid of the tide of emotion rising up inside of him. He walked over to the fireplace and leaned against the mantel. The mirror hanging on the wall could not conceal his flushed face, smoldering dark eyes, and tight, white lips. Suddenly, the truth seared through his brain like an exploding lightning bolt. He was a fool alright, a stupid, ignorant fool who had run after this magnificent harlot like a pathetic little boy, promising her the whole world.

In spite of her passionate declarations of love and exotic love-making, she had never really loved him. But she had played him brilliantly, taking him on the most exciting ride of his life. The marriage certificate obtained in New York City had paved the way to her U.S. citizenship. Then there was the brand new Mercedes-Benz (gold, naturally) which she had proudly picked out one Sunday afternoon; gifts of solid gold jewelry; and trips to expensive seaside resorts. She had used him, body and soul, then booted him out like a worn out old shoe when she was done. Even his pledge to give her a liberal monthly alimony had turned on him. She was going to share it with another man!

His jaw tightened, and he picked up a small plaster statuette of Bastet, the Egyptian cat goddess portrayed in the form of a black cat with gold earrings in the ears, a gold ring piercing the nose, and a jeweled collar inlaid with rainbow-colored stones. There were four of them lined up along the mantelpiece – souvenirs brought home from their trip to Cairo, her birthplace. He threw it angrily against the mirror, smashing both into a thousand pieces.

Clenching his fists, he turned to look at her. A wave of fear rippled across her lovely face – a face he had treasured and adored. She squashed the cigarette into the ashtray and began to rise from the sofa, but he rushed over and pushed her down hard against the cushions.

“Emanuel, no!” she cried, throwing her arms defensively over her face.

Consumed with rage, he raised his right fist and brought it crashing down against her arms. He kicked her delicate legs with his heavy Italian leather shoes and punched her in the belly with a furious, driving force. She screamed in agony, doubling over with pain, and the sound of her torture was music to his ears.

Suddenly, an ear-splitting yowling sound filled the room. A hundred tiny sharp needles seemed to claw into the flesh of his back, ripping the soft fabric of his grey flannel jacket. Tiny, needle-like fangs sank into his muscular shoulder. He screamed in pain and reached backward, trying to pull the angry ball of black fur from his back. But the enraged cat sank its fangs into his right hand. He screamed again.

Frantically, he jumped around the room, falling over tables and lamps, trying desperately to dislodge the hissing, spitting demon from his back. In the background, he was dimly aware of his beautiful, unfaithful wife dialing 911.

Three pairs of large yellow eyes watched him angrily from the kitchen doorway. Three long black tails twitched furiously. And when the hissing started, his heart seemed to stop in his chest. Three slinky black bodies padded silently toward him. And when they sprang on him, claws piercing his skin through his fine designer clothing, a terrifying shriek echoed through the apartment, and blackness closed over him.

* * *

Police sergeant James Watts had never encountered such a scene in his thirty years on the Hollywood police force. Nor could he explain to his satisfaction why four large black cats had so viciously attacked and killed their owner’s husband. The beautiful, grieving wife with the large dark eyes and foreign accent had wrung her hands nervously, tears streaming down her face.

Yes, it was true, they were going through a divorce. No, it was not what you would call a bitter divorce. They had both agreed to call it quits while they were ahead and to part amicably. No, she had no idea why the cats had turned on poor Emanuel. He had always treated them with such affection. Yes, of course, she understood that she was sole beneficiary to his estate. What was the nice police sergeant trying to imply?

The four large black cats were hauled off to the pound, where they were later executed for their crime.

The elegant Egyptian widow, dressed in filmy black robes, left for San Francisco with an up-and-coming architect, who left her two days later without leaving a forwarding address.

A week later, police broke into the San Francisco apartment of a mysterious black-haired woman after neighbors complained of a sickly smell permeating the halls. They gagged, covering their noses and mouths with gloved hands, as they surveyed the scene before them.

A corpse lay on the sofa, the bloated body of a dark-haired woman with purple-blue skin, who had evidently been mauled to death and then partially eaten by her feline pets. Four large black cats scampered into the kitchen when the officers appeared. They were never seen again.

  • * * *

Police sergeant James Watts of the Hollywood Police Department closed his newspaper, rubbed his stubbly chin, and leaned back in his swivel chair to think. Very strange, he thought, pondering this information. Very strange, indeed.

Dawn Pisturino

August 6, 2007

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

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