One More Weblog in the Blogosphere -- Why?

One More Weblog in the Blogosphere -- Why?

My name is Steven Doyle (although I usually write under the pen name Manuel Royal). For a while, in the late summer of 2011, I got paid to write a fiction column for an online newspaper, the Smyrna-Vinings Patch (owned by AOL).

Essentially it was a loosely-plotted serialized novel, in the great tradition of Charles Dickens and Armistead Maupin (but without the use of talent), set in the area of Vinings, Georgia (just outside Atlanta), where I live.

The column was called "Welcome to Smyrnings" (the name being a combination of the towns of Smyrna and Vinings). It lasted nine brief weeks; eighteen installments. At least half a dozen people I know about read it at some point.

Then I parted ways with AOL. I thought that was it for the column, which seemed a shame, since I'd done some of my better work there (admittedly, it's a low bar). Unfortunately, since AOL owns every word published on its sites, I can't do anything with the 35,000 words of column on the Patch.

However, someone close to me requested more installments (or episodes, or what-have-you) for special occasions; she liked the characters. My ego couldn't resist such a request. So, I've done a few, and as I do more, I'll put them here, starting with Episode 019.

A note on the title: SPLAND of the SPLOST would make sense if one had read, in the old column on the Patch, Episode 12: SPLAND of the SPLOST. It's not terribly significant to the overall story (except insomuch as it reflects the occasionally-used theme of little adventures happening in mundane circumstances).

Anyway -- if you happen to be one of my six loyal readers, and you'd be interested in seeing further misadventures of my hapless characters, please start with 019: Week End. (The blog software automatically puts the most recent post at the top, but you can click on any post in the archive.)

Or start wherever you'd like. It's a free blogosphere, for Pete's sake. Thanks for stopping by.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

021 Valentine Complex

February 14, 2012

Valentine Complex: SB + PM

Shane was feeling a little sick from trying to read his list in the car.

His Aunt Moira Belle pulled into a space and put the Interceptor in Park.  "I won't be a minute."

"Can I come?"  Shane unbuckled his seat belt.

"No, just wait here.  Play with your thing."

"Right here in public?"

"Your phone, Boy.  Play Angry Birds."

"Auntie, that game makes me seasick."

"Oh, for Heaven's sake."

Shane held up his notebook.  "I'll work on my checklist."

While Moira was in the Post Office, Shane looked over his list.

VD Checklist

Sleepshirt— mostly almost done

Card—check with Babcock—done

Flowers—check with Aardvark

Fancy Tsunami Tiramisu desserts—pick up

Candy—check.  I mean, done.

In fact the candy was done twice.  He'd gotten his order from See's by Groundhog Day, eaten the whole box, and had to reorder.

He pulled the sleepshirt from the paper bag between his feet.  The silk-on-silk embroidery was tricky, but he almost had it finished.  He opened his kit and started filling in the colors in the rose he'd embroidered on the front.  Almost done.

This was the easy part, really.  Shapes and colors in representational art came naturally; he liked using a dozen different shades of thread to create texture.

The hard part was the goddamn letters.  They were slippery things that kept jittering around in his mind's eye.  Shane'd had to get Wishes to proofread when he penciled them.  He'd embroidered them first, just to get the hard part out of the way:

I spread the petals

To admire their loveliness,

Searching the calyx

To its inmost depths.

Wishes had come up with that.  Shane wasn't sure what it meant, but it sounded sexy.

Moira was taking her time.  Shane put the finishing touches on the rose, trimmed all the loose ends, and put the sleepshirt in its gift box for Parmie.

This would be their first Valentine's Day together.  He thought back.  In February 2011 they had their first big fight, after Shane slipped and dislocated his shoulder while painting her name on a water tower. 

Police were involved, the judge made him pay to have "PAMRELIA" removed from the tower, and he lost the job Wishes had gotten him at Office Max.  Wishes quit in sympathy.

God, that whole February sucked.  Good thing it's a short month.  Every time he'd tried to talk to Parmie, he only made it worse.  It was like—

That was like running in molasses.  Or like the great molasses flood.  January 15, 1919.  Boston.  Did I get the candy?  He checked the list again.  Check.

God Bless Auntie Moira Belle.  By March of last year, she got fed up with Shane's hang-dog depression, gotten together with Parmie's mom, sparked a fat one, and talked about men.  Somehow that led to Parmie driving Moira to Shane's house.  Parmie stayed the night, and after that things were good, but rocky, until the shameful events of May 6 and 7.  Poor frogs.

He marked through mostly almost done and wrote done.  He looked at the list for a while.  I coulda just marked through the mostly almost and left the done.  Nothing's ever perfect.

Almost nothing.  He held up his phone and found the picture he'd taken of Parmie on the night of her birthday.  She was wearing the dark red Baby Doll he'd made for her.  Even on the small screen he could see the flush of excitement on the upper slope of her breasts.

Shane had re-injured his shoulder that night.  Worth it.  Wish she'd call right now.

The phone came to life with "Rebel Rebel".  Yes!

His Caller ID picture for Parmie's number came up.  In this one she wasn't wearing slightly see-through lingerie.  Instead she was modeling her graduation gown and mortarboard cap, holding up her framed D.V.M. diploma.  She'd been naked under the gown, but nobody would know that by the picture.  Unless Shane told them, which he didn't usually do.


"Hey, Shane."

"Baby, I was just looking at your picture."


"Girl, I'm gonna hit that like a tiramisu tonight.  Tsunami, I mean."

She sighed.  "Not tonight, Hon.  I just euthanized a raccoon, and I'm cramping.  I think I passed a clot, and I'm in a bad fucking mood.  I came home early and ate half those cupcakes.  Sorry."

"Parmie, I'm gonna bring home a cheeseburger and some rings."

"Oh, Shane."  He heard her breathing for a moment.  "I'm sorry about Valentine's."

"Screw it, we'll have Valentine's Day any day we feel like it.  You're more important than the stupid calendar."

"You're a sweet man, Hon."

"Guess you're wearing panties, then, because of the clot thing?"

"Yeah, among other things.  Panties and a huge pad, it's gross.  God, Shane."

"Just making sure.  You could never be gross.  Not to me, anyway.  Maybe to a bunch of other people, but you know what, screw those people, right?"

"Thanks.  I feel a lot better."

"You know I love you.  Happy VD."

"You're not right in the head, Boy."
* * *

Valentine Complex: MBC + TG

Most of Moira Belle's correspondence for her Precious Stuffs business was electronic, but she kept a P.O. box as well.  Usually she checked it once a week, but lately it'd been every day.  She found excuses to be on South Cobb; she'd even gone into Big Lots.

She put it out of her mind all through a morning picking out fabric with Shane, but then gave in to temptation and pulled into the Post Office.  She left Shane in the car, and briefly felt an urge to go back and crack the window, as she would for a dog.  Not that Shane was stupid, technically, but he got distracted.  Bless his heart.

There was only one item in the box; but it was the one she'd been waiting for.  There wasn't any return address, but it was postmarked Flin Flon, MB, Canada.

She pressed the button on her switch stiletto and slit the envelope.  Inside was a heart-shaped card.  On the front was a cartoon of a big shaggy dog, his tail a wagging blur, aggressively licking the face of a red-haired woman.  Beneath the picture was the caption "I WUV YOU SO VEWY MUCH!"

She opened it; on the inside page it said, "AND I'M SOWWY FOR DWINKING OUT OF THE TOILET!"

There was a  brief handwritten note.

Queen of my Heart.  I miss you.

I learned two things today: 1) Turns out Canada does extradite to the U.S.A.  BUT — 2) I can't find any indication that anybody's after me.  Not FBI, not GBI, not even Cobb County.  Even though I successfully took part in a criminal conspiracy.

Moira, am I on your Wanted list?  I can come back now, but there's no reason to unless you want me to.  (Except to get to where the temperature gets above freezing sometimes.)  I want to take you out for Thai.  (Seriously, they have none here.)

I got a new email address:

Just one word NO and that's that.  One word YES and I am pestering you again for as long as you want.  I will flutter around you like a moth and drive you crazy.

You told me not to say it, but I love you.

Your Felon


Moira read it three times.  Damn it, damn it.  I'll be 50 before he turns 30.

That summoned up a warm flood of memory.  A few months ago, a night full of wine and music, candles in a dark room.  After hours of free-flowing talk she'd discovered Tyler was born in the same month as her daughter.

The angel on her shoulder saying she should call him a cab got shouted down by the devil in her cleavage telling her to unhook her Merry Widow and live up to its name.  She had whispered to him, "I wonder how many times 28 can go into 49?"

He'd immediately started off, "One and three quarters, they're both multiples—", so she'd stopped his mouth with hers.

She looked at her watch ring.  Ten minutes she'd  been standing in front of her open post office box.  Latent tears prickling behind her eyes, a sweet pain in her center.  Also, a throbbing she couldn't ignore.  Damn that boy.

 * * *

Valentine Complex: RB + CB

Ronnie's phone rang.  "Huh; nobody I know, or else it'd have a signature ringtone."  She lifted herself partway out of the water to reach the phone.   "Number looks familiar.  Anyway it's local.  Hm."

Cherie took advantage of the opportunity to kiss Ronnie between her breasts.  "Let's see who it is."

Should have turned it off.  Ronnie didn't want to talk to anyone now.  She wanted to concentrate on her slippery wet naked Kiwi girlfriend, and forget about everything outside the huge tub they were soaking in, and the hotel room she'd spent a week's pay on.

She settled back down onto Cherie's lap and took the call.  "Hello?"


It took her half a second to place the voice, then it all came flooding back.  What the Hell?  "Lamar Carmichael?"

Cherie's eyes widened; her mouth gaped.  Ronnie held a finger up to her lips and put the phone on speaker.

"Hey, Ronnie, how've you been?"  Lamar sounded a little drunk.  "How's it, ah, how's it going?  Did you go to Dragon*Con?  I looked for you."

Ronnie pointed at the phone, mouthing What the Hell?  Cherie shrugged.

"Yeah, I was at the con, Lamar.  So, did you hook up with some chick and make her go on a scavenger hunt?"

"You know there's nobody but you, Baby."  He was definitely drunk.

How to respond to that?  "Lamar, you shouldn't call girls when you're drunk, it's a terrible cliché."

"Oh!  Right!  I'm sorry, Ronnie.  Hey!  Happy Valentine's Day!"

"You too, Lamar—no, look.  There's nothing between us!  That was seven months ago, and we parted ways, you understand?"

"Yeah.  Sorry."  He sounded about ten years old.  And drunk.

"Just, ah, take care of yourself, okay?  Don't call me anymore."

"Okay.  Oh, hey!  Ronnie?"

Cherie mouthed, Hang up.

Damn it, she couldn't do it.  Mom's phone etiquette training.  She held one finger up, giving Cherie what felt like a sheepish smile.  "What, Lamar?"

"If I come see you, can I get you to kick me again in the testicles?"  He pronounced it like Hercules.

"Look, I'm sorry about that, Lamar.  But you understand why I was upset."

"'S'okay!  That means we have a connection, like a soul thing.  We share a soul thing, Ronnie, I knew it when I first saw you in your Mrs. Peel leather."

"We don't have a soul thing, Lamar."

"You can boot me in the nads every year, Ronnie.  We'll call it Violence-Time Day."

Cherie was holding her hands over her mouth, trying not to laugh.  She was tilting backwards; Ronnie tightened her legs around Cherie and held her upright.

"Lamar, take care of yourself.  Gotta go."

"We got a soul thing, Ronnie!"  He sounded close to crying.

She hung up and turned off the phone.  "My God!  I never hung up on anybody before!"  She tossed the phone out the open door onto the King bed.

Cherie let it go and laughed out loud.  "Poor Lamar!"

"Poor Lamar nothing.  Just be glad he isn't calling you.  C'mere!"  She squeezed Cherie with arms and legs.  "Forget about him.  I've got you where I want you."

Cherie wriggled around, trying to get her knees under her.  "Oh, is that it, then?  You're doing your judo on me, Mrs. Peel?"

"Yeah ...."  Ronnie looked down at her, their faces almost touching.  Cherie's dark eyes filled her vision.  She wanted to say, I love you.  She wanted to say, You're mine.

They kissed for a long time.  48 seconds, said the clock in Ronnie's head.

A thought.  "Let's turn your phone off too."

Cherie smiled.  "It's off."

Her phone started playing "Jennifer Juniper".  Both girls looked at.

"'Kay, maybe not."  Cherie untangled herself from Ronnie, leaned out of the tub and grabbed her phone from the floor.

Ronnie spotted the number on the screen.  "Oh, my God."  She reached over and tapped the screen on Cherie's phone twice, accepting the call and putting it on speaker.

"Cherie?  Baby?"  Lamar was sniffling a little.  "Cherie, you are a full fathom of cinnamon-brown Heaven!  Take me back, Baby!  I'm sorry!"

Cherie addressed the phone.  "Sleep it off, Mate!"

"We got a soul thing, Baby!"

Ronnie turned off the phone and tossed it over on the bed with the other one.  "Jesus Christ."

Cherie leaned back, submerging completely except for her breasts, and came back up, spitting water, still laughing.

Ronnie shook her head.  "I can't even be mad at the idiot.  If he hadn't tricked me into coming to Georgia, I wouldn't have you."

It got quiet then, finally.  Ronnie looked at Cherie and let the clock in her mind fade away into background noise.  She looked at Cherie; Cherie looked back, until it had been quiet long enough.

"I love you."  She'd never said it.  She drew closer, pressed her face against her girlfriend's, cheek to cheek.  She whispered.  "I love you."  She pulled Cherie's body to her, using all her strength.  "You're mine, you're mine, you're mine."
* * *

Valentine Complex: PW + TS

Paulo fed the last bite of French toast to Mounted Patrol Officer Tricia Steeple.  "Oh, I like a woman who likes her French toast.  Officer Steeple, Baby, meu coração. "

"I like it the way you make it, Con."  Steeple, curled up on her bed, was completely out of uniform.

"More juice, my love?"

"No, you little misdemeanor factory, we have to get out of bed."

"Mas por que, meu querida?"

"'Cause the judge expects you at nine, that's por que.  Move your ass.  No, I mean get up.  Crying out loud!"
* * *

Valentine Complex: DW + BC

Aardvark Willitt came home, as always on Valentine's Day, without companionship but with a bottle of Frangelico and a carton of cream.

There was a package on the front porch.  He picked it up; shoebox size.  The return address was in Toronto.  "The Cornell Family".

He sat down on the bench and looked at the package for a while.  He pulled the lockback off his belt and slit the paper covering the box.  Started to open it, then stopped and took it inside.

He took his time blending the Frangelico and the cream.  He sprinkled in some cinnamon and nutmeg, poured it over the rocks and topped it off with Coke.  Not his favorite cocktail, but it had been Brian's; he'd called it Angel on My Shoulder.

He opened the box.  On top was a note from Marion Cornell, Brian's mother.

Please believe me, until today I didn't know about these.  I finally emptied out the storage unit and came across this box.  I hope this mailing address in Georgia is still good.

Brian's father and I should have been there when he died.  I'm so grateful you were there for him.

Please forgive me.

Beneath was a stack of square envelopes, tied up with ribbons, each one bearing a Valentine heart, the name Darryl, and a date.  14 February 1994.  14 February 1990.  He counted twenty, going up to 14 February 2013.

Aardvark took a deep drink, and thought about it.  August, 1993.  At the hospice, Brian had been out of his head for days before finally drifting away for good.  If he'd been saving all these post-dated Valentines for a surprise, he'd waited too long to say anything about it.  Their last lucid conversation was some damn trivial nonsense, and he'd always felt cheated since.

He opened up 1994.  There was a Polaroid from years earlier; the two of them in some Toronto bar on New Years.  With an internal lurch, he realized it was the night they met.

Name's Darryl.  They call me Aardvark.

Who does?


Everybody else, mon ami.  I call you Darryl.

The rest of the night, and all the liqueur, he spent going through the first nineteen envelopes.  Every envelope held a snapshot and a handwritten card.  Every card was headlined, What you mean to me.

He changed out the stack of LPs on the stereo a couple of times.  He read the first three cards in three minutes, then stretched it out between envelopes, waiting longer and longer, letting the memories carry him back like an ocean current.  Every picture, every word in Brian's sprawling, looping handwriting, brought it all back.

Not only memories; the words were new.  After so many years, he heard Brian's voice again.  His silly rhymes, his stupid puns, the French he always threw in to show off.  The more Aardvark read, the more he felt Brian next to him, curled up on the sofa, talking in his smooth tenor, emphasizing his points by drawing out the words until he was almost singing.

Finally there was only the last envelope, 2013.  Under the date was written, Last Words, Mon Ami.

Aardvark put it all back in the shoebox, the unopened envelope on top, and stuck it in his fireproof document safe.  He turned and put his back to the wall, hands in his pockets, and stayed that way while the last of Quincy Jones' The Quintessence  played out on the old RCA Victor.

It was paling toward dawn outside; about time he hit the rack.  Aardvark closed his eyes and waited until he felt like moving.  He drew in breath; his chest rose and expanded until it felt like it could burst.  He let it out in a long sigh.  "Jesus Christ, Brian, you wasn't even 30."

020 Birthday Wishes


December 31, 2011

A black Vespa GTS 300 called Death Princess tore down Smyrna's Windy-Mac connector.  Darryl "Aardvark" Willitt glanced down at the dashboard clock.  11:43.

He pushed the scooter up to its top souped-up speed, something over eighty.  Behind him, Martian Fighting Machine stuck his snout out of an opening in his plastic crate.  He let his tongue flap in the wind.

* * *

Ronnie grabbed Parmelia Mobley's wrist to look at her My Little Pony wristwatch.  She shouted to raise her voice above the Shriekback booming out of Shane's stereo.  "Synchronize your watch to mine!"  She held up her own watch.

"Oh, I don't think so."  Parmelia tapped her watch's face.  "This watch keeps perfect time."

"Sure it does, Honey.  Here, set it to 11:50 exactly and wait for my mark."

"You wait for your own mark, Toots."

Cherie Beamish hugged them both from behind, her face a head above Parmie's and on level with Ronnie's.  She spoke into Ronnie's ear.  "I trust your watch, Luv.  You're always on time."

Ronnie stuck to her guns.  "Parmie, this watch has a robot on the dial, so obviously it's more accurate."

"So what, you've got a robot on your tit."

Cherie said, "And the robot itself has tits."

Ronnie laughed.  "My tits never lose time!"  The instant she began shouting this, the music cut off.  Somewhere between My and tits.

Shane Bledsoe, sitting with his aunt at the kitchen table twenty feet away, had turned away from his conversation and used his iPhone to turn off the music.  He stood up and stared at the trio of girls.  "I heard 'tits'."

His aunt, Moira Belle Chesley, said, "What did they sound like?"

Wishes Tanager, coming in from the backyard, said, "I heard they sound like motorboats."  He plopped down in the middle of the sofa.

Ronnie went over and put her arm around Shane's neck.  She pulled his round head down and  noogied it.  "You like that?"  She was a little drunk.

"Yes'm."  Shane's voice was muffled, his face against her left breast.

"Oh, for God's sake."  Moira put her drink down and separated the two.  "Stop breast-feeding."

Parmie came over, holding up her wrist.  "She wanted me to set my watch to hers!"  She was way louder than necessary, now that the music was off; Parmie was more than a little drunk.

Moira hooked a thumb at the clock over the sink.  "I paid thirty bucks for that atomic clock.  Just set your watch to that."

Cherie sat down next to Wishes in the living room.  She pointed at the clock and asked him, "That thing's not really atomic, is it?"  She rested her head back against Caliban, the enormous orange cat, whose body weight was compressing the top of the sofa cushion.  He made a good pillow.

"No."  Wishes shook his head.  "I've told Moira a hundred times, it's not an atomic clock.  It receives a radio signal from the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Boulder, where they do have an atomic clock.  It uses that to keep on the right time."

"Clever, that.  Did you get your girlfriend on the phone?"

"Yes, but just for a minute.  She said she was making rice pudding."

"Is she a good cook, then?"

"No.  Rice pudding means she thinks the call is bugged."

Shane wandered over.  "Hey, Bro, you get to talk to that crazy bitch of yours?"

Cherie said, "She's making the rice pudding."

"Oh!"  Shane's forehead wrinkled up like a bulldog's.  "Whattya think, Wishes, the Federales, or maybe the DEA?"

"Maybe her cousin's in trouble again."

Shane took a long pull on his long neck.  "Or maybe it's your cousin Paulo.   You sure she wasn't up on top of him when she was on the phone, like that time, with the conference call?"  He turned to Cherie.  "Crazy day at work."

Wishes said, "No, Paulo's up in Lexington, or at least his car is.  Aunt Viviane put a GPS tracker in it."

Shane dropped into the sofa next to Wishes, opposite Cherie.  "Look, Man, forget Michelle, for Christ's sake.  'S not like you owe her anything."

"Yeah, yeah, I know."

"You shoulda invited that little Bethany chick tonight.  What's the point of having a hot coworker if you don't even try?  You should call her up right now."

Wishes shrugged.  "We might not even be coworkers anymore.  BPM is closed for repairs after that thing ... Maybe I won't even go back."

"Bullshit!  Call her anyway.  The more the merrier.  Hell, your evil bitch girlfriend is probably up on top of Paulo, or bangin' some drug lord, or smuggling endangered reptile eggs inside human cadavers.  Hey, where the hell's Aardvark, anyway?"  Shane scratched Caliban's head; the cat groaned and silently passed gas.  "Pew, cat!"  He stood up.  "I'll get you a drink, my Man, you call Bethany.  Don't tell me you don't know her number."

Cherie asked Wishes, "Do you know her number?"

"Yeah, I always learn everybody's numbers when I take a job."

"Well, do what feels right.  D'you reckon she's at another party, though?"

"Probably.  We're just friends, anyway.  I'm not going to interrupt her evening."

"Jesus H., look at the time!"  Shane pointed at the clock.  11:57.  He dragged two bottles of sparkling wine out of the fridge.  "Turn on the tv, I wanna see the peach drop!"  He trotted back to the sofa, holding the bottles out to Wishes.  "Get ready to open these things, Wishes.  Real Champagne from California."  He grabbed the remote and turned the tv on to Channel 2.  "Got more in the fridge."

Wishes looked at the label.  "This must be Napa Valley's finest sparkling wine for under five dollars."  He started on the twisted wire cages holding the plastic corks in place.

Ronnie, Parmie and Moira broke off their three-way conversation.  Ronnie started pulling wine glasses down and lining them up on the table.  Parmie leaned close to Moira and said, "Can I talk to you some time about the Precious Stuffs business?"

Moira beamed at her. "You want to model?  You'd look fantastic in some of the soft leather."

"Really?  Wow, I never really -- no, I meant something different."

"But you're thinkin' about it."

"Well, I'm a little drunk."

"Come out and spark one with me later."

"Moira, you know I don't toke.  You can spark one with anybody else in my family."


From outside came the husky growl of a Vespa 278cc four-stroke engine.  Ronnie called, "It's Aardvark!" and went out the kitchen door.

Shane followed, saying, "He'd better have Marty with him."

In the driveway, Aardvark was lifting the Death Princess up onto its kickstand and taking off his helmet.  Ronnie went up and flung her arms around him.  "'Vark, 'Vark, 'Vark.  We love you so much."

Aardvark patted her back.  "'Course you do, Dollface, you're drunk."

Shane opened up the crate strapped to the cargo rack behind the seat and lifted out Martian Fighting Machine, the household three-legged terrier.  "Marty!  I love you, you little freak, I love you so much!  Who's a good freak?  Who's a good little freak?"

Cherie had come out.  "Hey!  How'd our little tripod do on the photoshoot?"

Aardvark grinned, pulling an unlit Lucky Strike from behind his ear (it was a little mashed from being under the helmet) and taking it between his lips.  "Dog's a star.  Wait'll you see the shots."


Parmie and Moira came out and joined the group standing in the driveway.  Moira asked, "Did they use the Merry Widow?"

Aardvark opened up the scooter's underseat storage and pulled out a paper bag.  He handed it to Moira.  "Sorry, Darlin', for some reason nobody wanted to see a handicapped dog wearing sexy lingerie.  Man, they had a deaf Great Dane, a two-legged Dalmation in a little cart, they had a standard poodle pulling an oxygen tank on wheels -- tell you what, they even had a blind Labrador that had his own seeing-eye dog, this little weiner dog he was tied to."

Shane was cradling Marty like an infant.  "Do we get a free copy of the magazine when it comes out?"  He rubbed the dog's belly.

Wishes came out, still holding both bottles of wine.  "Hey, guys, almost time!"

With Wishes holding the door open, they could hear the chanting from the tv.  Nine!  Eight!

 Somehow, no one felt like going in.  They stood in the driveway and counted down together.

Midnight; 2012

Wishes popped both corks off at once with his thumbs.  As foam gushed out of the cold bottles, the two pops were answered by scattered gunshots, as Smyrna's rednecks celebrated their heritage by firing pistols into the air.

Shane and Parmie, holding Marty between them, had a good long kiss, a little drunk and sloppy.  Shane kept one eye open to watch Ronnie and Cherie.  Ronnie was still shy about kissing in public, but Cherie grabbed her and pulled her in for a good hard one.

Aardvark and Moira leaned together against Moira's Crown Vic Interceptor.  Aardvark shook his head.  "Young love.  Kinda gross."

Moira sighed.  "Kinda nice when you're in it."

Shane broke away from Parmie's mouth to yell, "Happy Birthday, Wishes!  Wishes!  Hey, Wishes!  Hey, acknowledge me, you selfish prick!"

"I'm busy."  Wishes was holding up both bottles, carefully pouring wine into the gaping mouths of Ronnie and Cherie, who stood with their heads thrown back.

Moira laughed.  "Guess you're the only one tall enough to do that."

Shane snapped a picture.  He said, "Not if they hunker down!  Hunker, Gals!"

This made Ronnie erupt into laughter, wine spraying from her nose and mouth.  "Gah!"

Ronnie punched Shane on the nipple.  They passed the bottles around; Moira and Aardvark shared a slender reefer.  Eventually they were all inside again, to Caliban's annoyance.

Shane went upstairs and came back down wearing only a diaper, a top hat, and a sash embroidered with the legend NEW YAER 2012.  Then he insisted on sitting in Wishes' lap and singing him the birthday song, trying to sound like Marilyn Monroe.

He gave Wishes a coffee-table book: a massive one-volume 30-year retrospective of Bad Gerry comics.

Cherie and Ronnie gave Wishes a collection of Twilight Zone on Blu-Ray.  The two girls kissed his cheeks until he visibly blushed through his mocha latte complexion.

More wine was opened.  Cherie flashed everyone her "Monster from the Id" breast tattoo; Shane, with gunfighter-like speed, pulled his phone out of his diaper and snapped a picture.

Wishes' cousin, Paulo Woodley, called from Lexington.  He was riding a police horse, again, and ordering a chili dog at a drive-through window.  Wishes put the call on speaker; they could all hear Paulo eating.  He wished Wishes a happy birthday, then started crying.  Paulo said he was in love with Patrol Officer Tricia Steeple.  He described his love for her as "overpowering, like encephalitis".

Officer Steeple herself apparently showed up about then, reclaimed her horse, handcuffed Paulo and commandeered his phone.  Aardvark got on the phone; he sweet-talked her into letting Paulo off with a ticket.

Caliban and Marty rough-housed non-stop for five minutes.  Marty got a good grip on the cat's tail and dragged him across the floor.

So it was a good evening.  Around 1:00, Moira produced the mint chip ice cream cake Wishes had requested, and held it while Wishes lit the candle from across the room with the 1.0-Watt blue laser Parmie had given him.

Shane grabbed the cake and held it in front of Wishes.  "Now make a wish!  And do it right this time, wish something for yourself!"  To Parmie, who was sitting in Wishes' lap, he said, "Boy always wishes stuff for other people.  That's cheating."

Wishes looked up, a little cross-eyed.  "I already got your woman, Redneck.  What else do I need?"  He closed his eyes.  "Hold on.  Got something.  Let me think."

"Do you got it or not?"  Shane was still holding the cake still.  "This cake's heavy, Son."

"Okay.  I got something."

Parmie said, "Don't tell anyone what it is."

Shane asked her, "You comfortable?"

"Of course I am.  Don't I look comfortable?"

"Wishes, she's not too heavy, is she?"

Wishes grinned, showing his missing tooth.  "What do you think?"

"I think I want some ice cream cake.  Blow out the dang candle already!"

019 Week End

October 2011

October is late summer, in the latitude of Smyrnings.  It was midday, the last Saturday of the month, two days before Hallowe'en.

Martian Fighting Machine, aka Marty, had burrowed deep into the pile of mingled oak, maple, apple and birch leaves.  It was warm down in there.  Marty's stomach was full of lasagna; he was actually too full to curl up.  He stretched out, groaning deeply and farting a little, and was snoring within a minute.

Caliban was crouched down among the leaves under the hammock that hung between the apple tree and the birch.  His eyes were glued to a spot below the apple tree, where his prey had appeared before.  He'd stay there until it came back.

Above him, the hammock swung lazily, weighted down with Shane Bledsoe and Parmelia Mobley. 

"He's getting his winter coat."

Shane wedged his hand between his belly and Parmelia's, and thence under the elastic waistband of  her jeans.  "Are you getting your winter coat?  Ha!  No undies."

"You always seem surprised."

"I love that you don't wear them."

"Happy to be of service."

Is she really?  It was hard to tell, with Parmie.  But -- "Yeah, you feel happy.  Feels like you're getting real happy."

"Is that what it feels like?"

"I think you like this a little, Baby."

Parmie sighed; something between a sigh and a groan, really.  "Absolutely ... not.  I'm a nice girl."

"You want me to stop?"

"No, I ... didn't say that."  She wiggled around in the hammock until she was on her back and could open her legs.

She was lying on top of Shane, and kind of squishing him, but he wasn't going to ask her to move.  And she was getting that breathy hesitation in her voice; he loved that.

Twenty feet away, under the oak, a field mouse was wrestling acorns into its burrow.  Born in the spring, it was grown now and could compete with the chipmunk that had eaten two of its siblings.

The chipmunk, busy with its own winter storage chores, popped its head up out of its burrow among the apple tree roots.

Caliban leapt up with the abruptness of a furry orange Jack-in-the-box.  His head rammed into the hammock at its lowest point; Shane felt the impact on his tailbone.

"Dang it, cat!"  Shane watched Caliban race off around the corner of the house.  He whispered in Parmelia's ear, "Cat hit me in the ass."

"Whatever!  Shut up and don't stop."  She had both feet hanging off the sides of the hammock.  "Wait!  Stop a second."

"You're the boss." 

Parmelia looked up through the branches, at the upstairs windows.  "You're sure the house is empty?"

"Yeah, Wishes is out with his auntie, and the girls went to the movies.  You want to go in the house?"

"No, I just want to get these off."  Parmie drew her legs up -- Wow, she is really squishing me -- and worked her jeans down over her hips and over her sneakers.

"There!"  She dropped the jeans on the ground.

"You want me to take off my pants too?"

"Not yet.  Just get back to work."  She drew her feet up, bending her knees and letting gravity open her thighs.

"I don't know if I want to now.  Forgot what I was doing."

"You forgot, huh?"

"I lost my train of thought."  Shane put his hands behind his head.

"Doesn't bother me, I'll just use you for furniture and get myself off."

"Good, I want you to."

"Good, I will."

"Good, I'll watch."

"Can you see what I'm doing?"

He couldn't.  "Not from this angle.  I just see that big dragon on your tee shirt."

"Yeah, Ronnie got me that shirt at Dragon*Con."

"Super."  Shane scootched up on the hammock, until Parmie's head was on his chest.  "Ah, now I see what you're doing there.  Very nice."

"Glad you approve."

"Yeah, Baby.  Yeah.  I could give you a couple of pointers, though."

"Oh, shut up."

"Talk about Ronnie some more."

Parmelia swung herself off the hammock, and smacked Shane on the forehead.  "Off with your pants!"

* * *

The movie wasn't great, but Ronnie would have been happy to spend two hours looking at a blank screen, as long as she was holding Cherie's hand.

As usual, they sat in the back row.  That was convenient, in case Ronnie was overcome by one of her frequent urges to confirm that Cherie wasn't wearing a bra.  She knew for a fact Cherie owned at least one bra, because she'd given it to her on their one-month anniversary.  A month was two weeks longer than any relationship she'd had before.

She leaned over and whispered in Cherie's ear.  "I'm actually finding the furniture in that house more interesting than the dialogue."

Cherie whispered back, "I know, right?"  She'd fallen in love with that Americanism and was using it a lot lately.  "That's a trestle table.  My mum had one like that, back home."

Ronnie had a thought.  "Beamish, I've a thought."

"Tell it to me, Babcock."

"Later, okay?"  Ronnie hated when people made noise at the movies.  For most of her life she'd had no trouble keeping quiet, because she went by herself.

She forgot her thought until they were driving home.  They'd been talking about one of the movie trailers they'd seen, for a psychological suspense thriller called Slugbug.  Cherie said, "When it comes out, we should ring up Scrappy the Squirrel and ask him to take us!"

"Scrappy's afraid of Volkswagens."

"Right-o, that's the idea.  He'll arrive with visions of orgiastic sexual goings-on in his head, but he'll go home in tears."

"Cry himself to sleep and have bad dreams."

"Wracked by bad dreams, all night long."

"Oh, I don't know, Beamish.  No need to be cruel."

"You got to kick him in the danglies."

Scrappy the Squirrel was their name for Lamar Carmichael.  Lamar wasn't the most admirable human being, but in an odd way he'd brought Ronnie and Cherie together, and Ronnie didn't have the heart to wish him ill.

She remembered her thought then, and got Cherie to turn her ancient Tercel (Loretta) around and head for Home Depot.

In the power tool section, they spent a while trying to guess which of the other female customers were gay or bisexual, or any variation thereon.

The morning after her first night with Cherie, she'd looked in the mirror and said, "Guess I'm a big ol' lesbian now."  She sounded like an idiot to herself.  Cherie told her not to worry about labels, but Ronnie'd gotten her teeth into the subject and started researching.

She'd printed out pages of specialized nomenclature and descriptions of all sorts of sexual orientations and preferences.  And Shane had rattled off literally dozens of terms she'd never heard before.  He was like an idiot savant of vulgarity.

Cherie wasn't great with tools; she let Ronnie take the lead in the Home Depot.  (Ronnie rather enjoyed the reversal of the roles they tended to take in bed.)

"This is what we need."  Ronnie picked out a Rotozip; she'd been thinking of getting one for months, and was glad to have a project that called for such a tool.

But -- "Damn, we'll have to wait on the wood."

"No worries, I'll put the back seat down and we can take it in Loretta."

"I don't think Loretta can handle that much wood.  I'll borrow Aardvark's truck."

Out in the parking lot, Ronnie pointed out a very tall, stick thin older man in a long coat.  He was a few rows past where Loretta was parked, his back to them.  She could see he was agitated, waving his arms like a spastic mime.  He reminded her of a scarecrow.

"Man, that guy flaps his arms around like a scarecrow."

"So, scarecrows flap their arms around then?"

"They do in America, Babe.  They dance and sing, too."

"I saw that movie.  That Wicked Witch, Margaret Hamilton, do you reckon she had that green makeup on all over?"

"I don't know, but that's just the sort of thing Shane would say.  Oh, look!  It's Aardvark!"

As they approached him from behind, the flapping scarecrow had moved, revealing the much shorter Darryl "Aardvark" Willitt, leaning back, his arms folded, calmly looking up at him.

Aardvark was leaning against a panel truck emblazoned with a pattern of diagonal lines and the words SHAKES GUTTERAGE.  To Ronnie's eye, it looked like a stencil with Krylon fluorescent spray paint.  Red-orange?  No; Cerise.

They could hear the scarecrow now.  He sounded like he'd just had dental work.

"Keep your goddamn mitts outta m'gutters!"