Hold the Roses

by

M. Malcomb Moore

Cast of characters:

Julie, played by Ann, played by Yvonne Beacon

Tom, played B. Ryan Hall

Steve, played by Jimmy Beacon

          “Ohhhhhhhhhh, mmmmmmmmm,” Julie squirmed and moaned as Tom massaged her naked back with the cashmere gloves he had sewn for the purpose.

          “So you like that, huh?” Tom whispered.

          “Like it, like it? I’m melting, Tom.” she sighed with a breathless crescendo.

          “I have another surprise for you, love. I’ll be right back. You just keep melting,” he invited as he slid off the satin sheets to find the floor with his feet.

          Without looking Tom’s foot made a perfect landing in the waste basket containing the cut stems from the bouquet of roses he had given her moments before. Thorns attacked his misplaced foot like ants in a sugar bowl.

          “Ahhh,” he screamed, dancing on one foot, attempting to free his well lodged appendage from its pain.  Tripping over his own shoes he lunged for the dresser hitting the fresh vase of roses which flew off the dresser baptizing Julie with cold water and her lovely red roses.  Tom’s balance eluded him as he stumbled backwards falling through the open window taking the mini-blinds with him, rolling down the awning and finally landing belly flop into the pool below.

          Julie’s laughter was beyond control. “Tom?” she finally guffawed, holding her stomach. “What did you do?” she laughed while searching the window for her allusive lover.

          “CUT!” interrupted the director as he entered the set with Julie’s robe. “We’ll do it again in thirty, reset.”

          “Damnit, Steve, why does it have to be so cold in here? How am I supposed to be melting when I have goose bumps for God’s sake? Ann scolded as she yanked her robe from Steve’s hand to cover her exposed torso. “And whatever happened to the closed set? Who the hell are all those people?”

          “We talked about that, Ann, remember? Today is the day for the film class from UCSB and,” he whispered pulling her close, “two producers from FOX. What’s wrong? This isn’t like you to be so reactionary.”

          “Reactionary, huh? You want reactionary? I’ll show you reactionary!” Ann screamed as tears of anger began streaming down her face. Gathering up as many roses as she could find she began whipping Steve across the head with her thorny weapon.

          “Stop it, Ann,” he pleaded, protecting his face as he backed up. “This is about last night, isn’t it? Look, I told you Ann, STOP HITTING ME,” Steve begged, interrupting his own explanation, “I told you when we started seeing each other that I am not a one woman man. You said you could handle that. What’s with all this attitude?”

          “Then why, Mr. Big Ass Director, did you say you loved me?” Ann nagged with all the cynicism she could muster, throwing the roses at his feet.

          Steve looked at Ann’s wet cheeks, swallowed hard and, after a long silence confessed, “because I was afraid.”

          “Afraid? And what the hell were you afraid of, the big commitment monster?” she snapped.

          “It’s hard for me to say, Ann,” he replied softly, “because for the first time, ah, you know what, forget it. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for you to get hurt.”

          Now confused she persisted. “No, you don’t get off that easy. I want to hear this.”

          Steve sighed and took a step to walk away.

          She took his arm holding him in place. “No, c’mon, you can do this. Talk to me. At least give me some closure on this.”

          He looked into her eyes. “I don’t know how you do this, Ann. You are the only woman who has been able to see beyond the games I play and with walls I build. You have like x-ray vision or something and I don’t like feeling this vulnerable.”

          “So you run away and jump in the sack with some other bitch? Is that your defense mechanism?”

          “I guess. I want to run away from you and toward you at the same time. I’ve always been a control freak of my feelings, always able to play the Mr. Cool director macho thing, but that doesn’t work with you. I don’t know, Ann, you have me off balance here. What am I going to do with you?”

          “I don’t know, Steve,” she said with an uncertain confidence, “what are you going to do with me?”

          They looked into each other’s eyes, embraced as their lips became one. Stage and camera crews filled the room with applause and cheering.

          “CUT, PRINT, THAT’S A WRAP!”  the director barked. “Great job, everyone. Five A.M. call for scene five tomorrow. Jimmy, Yvonne, amazing, just amazing, you guys are so good together. No one could play Steve and Ann more passionately.

          “Thanks,” they offered in unison.

          Yvonne rested her head on Jimmy’s shoulder as they walked arm in arm toward their trailer. “I love you, Mrs. Beacon,” he whispered.

          “And I love you right back, Mr. Beacon,” Yvonne said, winking. “Why don’t we try those cashmere gloves tonight, but let’s hold the roses.”  

The Last Quiet Place

By M. Malcomb Moore

          Cassie hated elevators more than city driving, even more than doctors.  Today, the day before her birthday, she would experience all three. She pictured her family and friends standing around her grave, saying how tragic it was, dying the day before her birthday. Rush hour horns, a thousand signs, and trucks bullying the highways pummeled her shattered nerves. “This shrink better be worth it,” she mumbled to herself, tightening her grip on the steering wheel.

          “Sixth street, four more blocks.” Cassie spoke aloud in an effort to revitalize her eroding confidence. She had recited the directions a dozen times since making the appointment with Dr. Richards.  His referral called him the best psychologist in the state.  Even so, Cassie was uneasy about spilling her trauma to a total stranger. “Finally, Emerson Metro Offices.”  Cassie’s car rolled quietly through the concrete maze of the parking garage. Cars sat like coffins in a mausoleum for commuters. The parking arrows seemed to point to a space reserved for her own grave marker in a cemetery. She double checked her car doors and walked alone to the elevators. The click of her cowboy boots echoed off a dozen stone walls like the solo drummer playing for a caisson. She wanted to be home on the ranch riding her horse Freedom and feeling the kiss of the sun through the open sky. Her kids were there, her husband was there, her heart was there. She stood staring at the elevator doors opening to invite her into a quiet little room. Twenty-one floors separated her from the appointment she already loathed. There was no time for stairs. She stepped in and the metal doors closed behind her.

          “I’m here to see Dr. Richards,” Cassie whispered through her cluttered throat. The receptionist reached for a clipboard, responding with professional indifference.

          “Your name, please?”

          “Cassie, Cassie Hawthorn.” The name didn’t belong here. The marble floors, brass fixtures, music and the sterile smile of air conditioning all whispered their contempt for this country intruder.

          “Please take a seat and fill out the highlighted areas. The doctor will be with you in a moment.” Cassie took the furthest chair from the window. She hated heights and didn’t want to look out from twenty stories up. Crossing her legs, she planted the clipboard and began to write.

          Name: Cassie Hawthorn. Address: Route 2, Kingston, Colorado, and on it went asking more details than she had even shared with her horses. Then came the question Cassie dreaded.

Please state the nature of your concern. Her mind sank into her memories, searching for a place to begin.

. . . . .

          “Cass, Cassie, time to get up, girl. It’s your weddin day and no daughter of mine is gonna be sleeppin late when there’s a bunch to do.” Mom always woke me last, waiting for my three big brothers to clear the bathroom and give me a little privacy.  Today was no different.  Her baby was flying from the nest and she was determined to hang on to that last bit of authority.

          By the time I made it downstairs, empty chairs surrounded the breakfast table stacked with plates smeared with syrup and butter. Dad and my brothers would always race to get the chores done before the sun broke through the night sky. It was a game they invented to fight off the boredom of the morning routine.

          By noon we had packed up all the cars with all the wedding props, dresses, tuxes and presents, all heading to the church to be assembled in a once-in-a-lifetime ritual of saying ‘goodbye’ and ‘hello’ at the same time. Everyone was smiling.

          They all knew since high school that I would marry Neal, even if he was shorter than me. They loved him; I loved him. It was Neal’s step brother from Chicago that no one was prepared to deal with, especially me.

          His name was Alexander, like the conqueror which pretty much describes the way he came across. Neal asked him to be the best man since he was the only relative on his side. There was no doubt in Alex’s mind about the “best man” part. Everything he did shouted ‘look at me,’ and we did, usually with a concealed snicker of amazement how anybody could be so taken with himself.  From the day he came to the wedding rehearsal in a Mercedes convertible with this painted up, blond miniskirt in tow, we knew we were in for some good laughs.

          All through the rehearsal dinner, the wedding and the reception he would make cracks about how country life was boring, smelled of pig shit and the people were stuffy and naïve.

          “I thought maybe you guys would wear overalls instead of tuxes,” he said. “Champagne? Where’s the goat’s milk? The dude praying during the wedding, you guys still believe in that religion stuff?”

          I was glad to be the bride so I could leave the reception early and get away from the ass. Life with Neal was like looking at the first winter’s snow at dawn, simple, sacred and peaceful. We spent our days working the horses and mending fences. Nights would find us in front of the fireplace drinking wine, laughing about our childhoods until Neal would carry me upstairs to lose ourselves in each other’s lovin.

          After four years, Neal Jr. was born, and we kissed the quiet goodbye. Two more years and sweet Rachel Ann joined us and we traded their peaceful loving nights for diapers and two in the morning breast feeding.

          After our ninth anniversary, Alexander came to live with us. I pleaded with Neal to get him a room in town, but he would hear none of it. He was his only brother, and he was obsessed to care for him.  I knew we were in trouble the morning I found dear Alex passed out drunk on the front porch nearly froze.

          “Cass, I know he’s an ass,” Neal would say, “but we gotta help him get through this. He lost his wife, his kids, his job and all his money. He ain’t got nobody but us anymore” His warm heart would always talk me into just another week with this animal in our house.

          My dad died that year, in the winter. I made a point of stopping by his grave on my way home from church to bring new flowers and tell Dad about my problems. Neal didn’t go to services anymore, so the weekly stop at the cemetery was my time to find some peace from the chaos at home. It was my last quiet place. The grave stones were always still and cold, arranged in a silent maze of grey granite. We used to play there as kids, reading the stones, climbing the trees and even wondering what it would be like to be dead. At the top of the hill was a mausoleum, one of those graves like a little house you put the bodies in.  Nobody was ever buried there so we would open the big metal gate and lie in the near dark room on the stone shelf until we would start laughing. Sometimes we would make spooky sounds just to hear the echo. Since Dad died, the cemetery wasn’t fun anymore.

          Three months ago, after having my one way conversation with Dad, I made my way to that still empty granite house at the top of the hill. The metal gate was rusty but I could still force it open. I went in and cried, trying to find some peace in the quiet. Lost in my tears, I was deaf to the steps approaching on the sidewalk outside. The wrought iron swung open with the squeal of rusted hinges.

          “Well, Cassie, girl, I saw your truck down on the road. Paid a visit to your old man, huh? You’re such a nice girl.” The reek of Alex’s drunken breath nearly made me puke. His stumbling body nearly filled the doorway with an ominous silhouette. He was moving toward me. “Say, Cassie girl, we’re like, ya know, kissing cousins or something. Why don’t you give old Alex a kiss?”

          My movement around him was useless. He covered my mouth with one hand and grabbed my hair with the other fist yanking me to the floor. “Don’t be afraid, sweet thing, I’ll be gentle, just don’t fight me or I’ll have to hurt you.” He began ripping my dress open then off.  He was on top of me, inside of me, stealing the last quiet place in my dying world. I never told Neal about that day, or anyone, not even Dad.  I never visited the grave again. I never made love to Neal again.

. . . . . . .

          Mrs. Hawthorn, MRS. HAWTHORN, excuse me.  Dr. Richards will see you now.

Ms. Brooks

by

M. Malcomb Moore

            Well, first I have to tell you about Joanne, you know, the one married to that college teacher. She parades in her every Thursday afternoon after she gets her hair all done up in the hair place across the courtyard, she and her three friends. They fondle all the silk blouses and lace bras like they plan on buying something. Ever since I opened this shop, I’d always watch the money and fashion ladies on the street so I could order the clothes they would buy. Anyway, Joanne is the nicest one, she talks to me on the street sometimes and when her friends ain’t with her she even buys something, not much mind you, maybe just some pantyhose or a scarf.

          Now so you’re not wonderin’ how a plain lady like me got this boutique, as they call it, and right here in Town Center Square, I’ll let you in but don’t be tellin’ nobody ’cause I don’t want folks here to find out.

          My daddy worked over in Dellville at the tractor plant, that is until the accident.  This machine broke and down, cut his leg right off at the knee.  They sewed it back on okay but this lawyer from up north talked to him and woooee; he landed himself in a truckload of money.  I was hopin maybe he’d be nice and get me the new Singer but Daddy always had bigger dreams than most. One mornin on a Saturday he came to my place, made me close my eyes, hold out my hand and in drops the finest set of uptown keys you ever laid your eyes on.  So here I am, Missy Brooks herself, all dressed up fancy and runnin this place. Why, me and sis even gonna make a profit this month.

          “Excuse me, may I try these on?”

          “Why certainly, Ms. Montgomery.”  I learned how to talk like a respectable white lady with an education. It helps the business. “Let me show you to the dressing sweets.”

          Now Ms. M. has been in here before and knows just fine where the try-on rooms are, specially since they are only fifteen feet away with a big sign pointin to em, but I watch on the movies where the fancy places always treat the ladies like queens so that’s what I do. I even had this decorator from Birmingham come down and pick out all the colors and, my land, I thought he grew up with no crayons to play with-dark green carpet with mauve paisleys, stained glass lights with antique dressers to show off the clothes, and if that don’t fancy ya, we even got brass hangers. If Daddy hadn’t set me straight, I would have fired him flat, but everybody listens to Daddy so I figured I best do it too. Now important folks like to stroll in here just to see the place and comment to each other how special it looks.

          “Good morning, Missy. I need to find a party dress to go with my new hair color, do you like it? Dr. Anderson and myself…” I could never figure out why she called her own husband, Dr. Anderson, “are invited to the President’s dinner on the twentieth at the university and I have to look just right. I was thinking maybe something in red, no, that’s too showy, blue, dark blue, strapless with a plunging neckline would be perfect, don’t you think Missy?”

            “Our New York shipment came in yesterday, Ms. Anderson, I know we’ll find a dress that will make you look beautiful and amazing.”

          I never call Joanne by her first name anymore. It works best if I raise my chin, lower my voice, hold my left hand up to my shoulder and call her Ms. Anderson. All the ladies from the university like to be called Ms. These days, what with all the women’s movement and all. Sometimes I practice for myself, Ms. Brooks, Ms. Missy, no, Ms. Millicent Brooks.

          We look through some dresses and she picks one out to try on. “Well, Missy, tell me, does this pick up my eye color enough, is the back to low, does it make my hips look big?”

          One thing I notice about the ladies, even the stuck up ones, is that they will do the silliest darn things when tryin on clothes. Now here’s Joanne, squirmin and jiggling around my store in this painted on whore’s dress with her chest fallin out askin me if she should wear it to the President’s dinner.  My mamma used to be a maid at those dinners and I remember her tellin me all about the ladies, all tryin to steal the eyes of the men who never got around to lookin at the ladies faces, what with all the boobs and legs a showin.  Joanne was goin to buy something, so I let her in on a secret.

          “Oh, Ms. Anderson, come here. This is just between you and me but the new President’s wife, Ms. Wannager, was in here last week and she is planning on wearing that same color. I hear she is very religious and hates too much skin showing and, Ms. Anderson, if I could say so, you’re are more out of that dress than in it.  Could I recommend something with shoulders and past the knee?

          From there I take Joanne by the hand and lead her over the dress like the pastor’s wife wore to her daughter’s weddin’. It covered up all her God given special places and still sparkled with rows of black sequins.  There was an argument brewin’ but finally she tried it on and, oh my, she looked as pretty as my Chrissy on Easter Sunday mornin’. She stood in front of the mirror turnin’ left then right, left then right, again and again until I thought she was dancing. I thought sure she was in trouble when she started to cry.

            “Missy, do you remember when I was in third grade and you would come over and babysit for me and my sister?”

          “That was a long time ago, Ms. Anderson.”

          “Do you remember?”

          “Yes, I remember.”

          “Remember the day we got into my mother’s wardrobe and tried on her party dresses.”

          “Oh yes, your mother came home and found me in one of her favorite dresses.  She was so angry at me.”

          “I remember you trying on a dress like this, Missy, and I thought you were the most beautiful girl in Cedarville, and even though you were, well, you know, I wanted to be like you, so tall and smart and fancy. What happened to those days, Missy?

          What Joanne couldn’t see cause her back was to the door was her two lady friends comin find her. Without a word, I snatched one of my lace trimmed hankies and stuffed it in her hand.  No need for them to see their Joanne with a memory runnin down her face.

          “Missy, is Joanne here?”

          “She is just finished trying on some things. She will be out in a jiff.”

          Soon Ms. Anderson skitters her way across the store to her friends with all three talkin at once bout who’s wearin what to the dinner. They all laugh and look at the watches like they had to be somewhere.

          “Thanks, Missy,” Joanne called from the door with her regular voice back again. “Remember, I’ll take that dark blue strapless.”

          “I remember, Ms. Anderson, I remember.”

Good Writing

Good Writing

          Good writing is invisible.  Good art is invisible, like a spotless lens through which we see the macro and micro nuances of human souls.  Good writing is like great sex, leaving us ravaged in heart, mind and body, sated, with a hunger for more. Good writing is like riding a glider carried on the winds of words, like a drug that manipulates our senses and betrays our realities. Good writing makes us gods of a thousand worlds. We look down and into every secret, omniscient, transcendent, watching as lives and nations rise and fall with the twist of a paragraph. Good writing is a humble light, illuminating without exposing itself.

Words, the midwife of our dreams and tragedies, are free to all who dare to own them.

We search a half million words in our language, infinite combinations. Some walk on the page and find themselves quite at home. They fit, they work, they invite their friends to join them. Others are arrogant and stubborn, even nasty and mean. They hide in our synapses and run when they are discovered. Words disguise themselves, wrong ones for right, and right for wrong. They lie, they cheat, they taunt and refuse to be chiseled into a sentence without the due sacrifice of time and skill.

It is the artist who befriends these renegades, these undisciplined rebels. It is the artist who has bled through enough pages to earn respect among these sacred and illusive logoi from which good writing must flow. It is the artist who learns to liberate words rather than to incarcerate them.

Middle Voices

Middle Voices

by

M. Malcomb Moore

            Mark Gibson stood motionless, pressing his receding blond hair against the window of Feinberg’s Jewelry, praying.  “So, God, where are you? It’s not like I’m asking for a burning bush or stone tablets here. Would it upset some great cosmic scheme to get a word from you? How do you expect me to make a decision like this? Are you there? Hey, are you listening to me?”

          Beyond his desperate reflection lay the well-manicured display of engagement and wedding rings nestled on circles of burgundy velvet. They had talked of marriage before twenty years ago, but everyone is crazy in college. How could two people from different ilks blend their lives together without self-destructing? “Mature people season their passions with reason and self-control,” Mark lied to himself. Questions without answers filled his mind.  His heart was torn between his two loves; the church and Sara. It exhausted his mind from weighing the risks of commitment to either.  His will mired itself in his frustrating lack of confidence which had plagued him since high school. So, there Mark stood at the window, replaying the past in his mind, searching for an elusive clue to guide him.

          It had been just over three years since his wife was killed.  He was preparing his choir for an evening service at the Evanston Bible Church when the police came with the news: a drunk driver-hit and run-struck down while walking to meet him for the service. They caught the guy four days later, gave him nine months in jail and a three-year probation.  Mark was left with a lonely bed, bleeding ulcers, and raising two teenage daughters by himself.

          But in time his life was mending. His girls had both won scholarships to Northwestern. In six months he would receive his doctorate in musicology and his position as music director at the church allowed him to keep his performance skills well-tuned. His greatest joy was directing the North Shore Community Choir, one hundred people singing for no other reason than the euphoric passion of four-part harmony.  Then came Sara.

          During the auditions for the community choir the still zany, hot headed and beautiful Sara had stumbled back into his life like some cosmic slip up, throwing two souls together without weighing the consequences. After her divorce, Sara moved to Evanston to begin her teaching assignment as associate professor of business law at Northwestern. The ad in the Evanston Chronicle regarding the auditions rekindled her interest in singing.

          Mark was packing up his music thinking he had finished with his last audition when a voice greeted him from behind. “Could you use another alto?” Sara asked.

          Mark responded as he turned. “Yes, of course. I was just finishing auditions but there is always time to hear another voice.”  By that time he had turned to see her standing and laughing.

            “Mark Gibson, I cannot believe this. God, it’s been so long. How are you?”

          “Sara? What, what are you doing here? I heard you were running some big law firm in New York.” They hugged and continued.

          “I did, and I was but I didn’t really have my own life there, could never have time to be me. I accepted a faculty position at Northwestern and saw the ad for the choir.  I miss singing and here I am.”

          “Well, yes, here you are. Okay, great. It is wonderful to see you again. So, uhm, I guess, stand by the piano and let me hear that alto voice of yours.”

          “I have been practicing a little so I hope I can live up to your standards.”

          “This is a rather accomplished choir, but I know you can make it happen.”

          Mark ran her through some scales to check her tone and range and had her read some music. “Well, Sara, I can see it’s there. With some work I’m sure you can regain that amazing voice from our college days.”

          She grinned. “So I’m in, I can sing with you?”

          “Yes, Sara, welcome to the choir. We rehearse on Tuesday evenings and Saturday mornings here at the church. Will that be a problem?”

          “With you directing, I’ll find a way to make it work.”

          “Great, I’ll see you Tuesday then. It really is good to see you again, Sara.”

          “See you then. Oh, does your wife sing in the choir as well? I’d love to meet her.”

          “My oldest daughter does, but I lost my wife three years ago.”

          “Oh Mark, I am so sorry. That must have been terrible for you.”

            “It was a dark place for sure, but my daughters, my church and the music has brought back some light. We’re doing okay now.”

          Sara gave him a consoling embrace. “I’ll see you Tuesday. Do you have some music you would like me to learn?”

          “Of course, here is a folder with our repertoire for the coming season. I do hope you remember your French and Italian.”

          “Uhm, I’ll practice. You won’t be disappointed.”

          And with that she turned and left. Now they were together again after decades with still unfinished business between them.

. . . . .

          It all began when he was twenty in the fall of his senior year at Northwestern. Mark made his way across campus to Lutkin Hall.  The recital stage was barely lit by a single spot.  There alone and almost sacred sat a twelve foot Steinway waiting its moment to redeem aesthetic souls from their technical and mundane prisons, lifting them to a paradise reserved only for those who had offered at least a decade of sacrificial penance before the altar of the god of music.  Mark was one who had paid his dues at this altar and now was trying to push beyond his safe boundaries and try for the impossible. His blond hair, blue eyes and better-than-average looks gave him an air of confidence, but inside he felt apologetic for taking up space on earth and needed constant prodding to keep his self-esteem from eroding farther than it already had.

          “Who are all these people? Is something else going on here tonight? “Mark asked anxiously as Brenda, his musical soul mate, accompanist and sometimes date found a seat toward the front. “I hope to god they aren’t here for the auditions.”

          It always bothered him when they let non-music majors audition for the university chorale.  This group of twelve vocalists had risen to regional fame and to be accepted was the highest honor in the music department. The rare and cherished openings in the Chorale were reserved for upper-classmen and only given by invitation. Mark had labored for nine weeks to perfect his breathing, pitch, and articulation just to earn a faculty recommendation. The growing assortment of musical infidels pissed him off.  This was his dream they were trying to steal.

          Mark’s introduction to vocal performance started in high school. His parents always made him attend a small Community Church down their street in his hometown of Quincy, Illinois.  Directing this tenor starved choir was a hyperactive layman the kids called Pastor Bob. He had just enough enthusiasm and experience with music to move this little band of sixteen to a level of respectability. It was Pastor Bob who, having heard him sing a few hymns, asked Mark to consider singing tenor for a Christmas Cantata.  Standing next to the tenors were the altos and standing next to the tenors was a seventeen-year-old beauty named Karen. For less than musical reasons, Mark agreed to sing.

            By January of his sixteenth year, he had become helplessly seduced by the sensuous interplay of four-part harmony. The music evolved from black dots on the lines to a passionate, tightly woven interplay of beauty. With the soaring sopranos, the resonant basses and the middle voices, alto and tenor, his ears had been born again to hear the language of the heart.

          “Stay cool, Mark. You’ve got this,” Brenda encouraged. “When they hear this Hindemith, they’ll probably leave without even auditioning.”

          “Do you think the Hindemith is too tough, does it really sound okay?” Mark probed with his all too often tone of self-doubt. “Maybe I’m the one who should leave.”

          “Damnit, Mark, we’ve been through this. Quit this I’m-no-good crap.  Go up there and let your voice do its thing. The Hindemith is tough, we picked it for that reason and you are going to make it happen, okay?”

          He sat quietly, overpowered by Brenda’s forcefulness, intimidated, yet thankful.  After a moment he searched once more, “but do you really think…”

          “MARK!”

          “All right, all right, I’m great, I’m wonderful,” he complied with a hint of introspective cynicism.

          At 6:59 the house lights came up and Professor Langley, Mark’s voice teacher for the last two years and director of the Chorale, took the center stage and spoke into the mic. “I will read a list of those who have confirmed recommendations to auditions.  Please indicate your presence.”

          As Langley read through the list of twenty men and women who would try out for the open tenor and alto positions, Mark’s faith strengthened. He knew Langley. Langley knew him. No student would ever be so foolish as to call him a friend, but Mark felt something from him. Through the cracks in his uncompromising expectations, Mark could see one who believed in him, probably more than he believed in himself.

          On that Tuesday night in October, Mark not only won a place in the Chorale but received a standing ovation from all the other students. It was also the night his life collided head on with Sara Rosen.

            Sara’s audition was like no one else. Even at five-three she took control of the stage and belted out a Puccini aria as if he had written it for her.  Her voice made love with every phrase.  Her perfectly groomed black hair, short skirt and blazing red lips stole the attention of every guy in the room.  Her eye contact with Langley and the audience announced unapologetically, “I’m here, pay attention.” And they did, and Mark did. Langley chose Sara to sing alto and by Thursday that same week Sara and Mark were blending their middle voices together.

          It took only a week for Mark to discover that everything was wrong with Sara. She was a pre-law student, a contemptible breed for Mark.  Her pushy, upper class, New England, Jewish attitude assaulted his Bible belt middle class shyness like a Janice Joplin concert. Mark could hardly finish a sentence without Sara running over him. Even his eight-inch height advantage was of no avail. Sara owned every conversation and every room she entered. Mark’s vocal abilities were being pushed well beyond his self-imposed boundaries, but this aggressive outsider amplified his shyness.

          One night in January, it became complicated.

          “Mark, Mark.” The voice came from behind as he walked back to his apartment after rehearsal. He was hoping to God it wasn’t the voice he recognized. Quickened footsteps were accompanied by the timbre of that one female on campus he found most aggravating. It was Sara.

          “Mark, wait up. I need to talk to you.”  With that she had matched his pace joining him at his side, clouding the night air with her winter panting.

          He mumbled so not to show interest, “Hi, Sara.”

          “Hi, Mark. Hey, you sound great on that Brahms.”

          “Thanks,” he muttered in sterile politeness.

          “I want to ask you something,” she asked, grabbing his arm so he would stop and look at her.  “Look, I know this is kinda pushy,” Mark couldn’t imagine how she could ever come to that conclusion, “but when are you going to ask me out?”

            Mark finally let his eyes meet hers, looking for some sign of mockery in her expression.

          “What?”

          “Well, we sing together all the time and I know your shy and everything and I’ve always got my mouth open and interrupting but I think we ought to get to know each other, you know, because we could learn from each other and besides that I really don’t know many people here and, are you hungry?”

          He didn’t know to which part of this verbal barrage to respond.  Even though he lacked confidence, he wasn’t into self-abuse and spending time with Sara would be masochistic.

          Mark grabbed for the only excuse he could find, “I’m Protestant,” he stated with a tone of finality.

          “That’s okay, we don’t have to talk religion or anything, it doesn’t even have to be a date date, maybe we could just hang out together, besides I don’t do temple that much anyway. Could we get a burger or something?”

          As they walked on, Sara kept his pace.  Mark never really thought of Sara as a person, only that loud mouth non-music major nuisance of an alto he had to sing with four times a week.  Her hint of well-concealed loneliness was disarming.  He remembered as a child picking up lost kittens and wounded birds and caring for them.  Now here was Sara clouding the evening air with an avalanche of feelings, exposing her need for a little companionship. A little companionship, Mark thought, seemed safe enough for now.

          “Hey, Mark, is anybody home in there? Are you listening to me?”

          “Mark stammered, “Yes, uhm, Sara,” regaining his focus on the moment, “a burger, uhm, of course, yes, that’s sounds good.”

          They continued to walk to the Huddle, a little pub next to campus noted for great fries and cheap beer. Frustrated with his stupid, compliant attitude, he was sure he had been trapped into befriending this cute but verbose alto.

          Sara filled the next two hours with a long uninvited autobiography. Her grandparents were emigrants, she an only child, her parents owned a chain of bakeries in Brooklyn and Manhattan, they wanted her to be a star on Broadway and forced her to take voice lessons from age five; she wanted to become a judge so, she rebelled and was now majoring in pre-law, and on it went.

          Mark relinquished his portion of her soliloquy only to add an occasional, “really?” and, “interesting,” accompanied by raised eyebrows and a semi-manufactured smile of agreement.

            As her verbal tsunami continued, Mark began to see glimpses of innocence, shades of sincerity and even a little pain.  For Sara, his ears were like a feast to someone so starved for one who would listen. Though the thought frightened him he began to see someone tolerable, maybe even likeable. Somewhere hidden behind this fountain of words lived a real person and Mark resigned himself to find her.

          Over the next several weeks, the scenario repeated itself nightly. Their laughter became louder and spontaneous as Sara’s free unbridled spirit rendered her interpretations of life into a hilarious dance of humanity. Rehearsals became seasoned with intermittent snickers over some hidden nuance of speech or movement which only the two of them understood.  Then, one night quite by accident and certainly against every bit of sound judgment, their friendship became a romance.

          They had made their way to Mark’s apartment to rehearse the music for an upcoming tour.

          “Okay, what’s next?” Mark queried as he shuffled through their repertoire.

          “I think we need to work on the French madrigal,” Sara offered, “I am still struggling with some of those French vowels.”

          Mon Coeur Se Recommande a Vous by Orlando De Lassus was an incendiary choice for their vulnerable friendship. Mark had taken four years of French in high school and knew what the words meant; I Give to You All of My Heart.

          It started safe enough, working through the notes, breathing and pronunciation, watching each other’s lips, perfecting entrances and cut-offs. They moved closer until they were standing toe to toe, breath meeting breath, eyes lost in eyes, losing themselves in the harmony and finding each other. The final cadence came and went as their passion ignited.  Their hearts moved into vivace as their bodies blended together into a night long cadenza for two.

            Mark had never seen Sara in the morning, yet there she stood in his pajamas sobbing and looking as if some wonderful tragedy had befallen her.  He had never seen her look so vulnerable, yet there she stood, speechless and in desperate need of acceptance. Rising from his bed, Mark put his arms around her and gently rested her disheveled black hair onto his consoling shoulder. Neither of them spoke for a long time. Finally, they sat together on his unmade bed.

          “Sara, look at me.” Sara’s tear-filled eyes found their way to his as she listened. “You and I are so different.  You’re like a, I don’t know, a fanfare, a Sousa march.  Everyone watches and cheers when you’re around. Me, I’m an oboe playing a requiem.  I don’t know how we will orchestrate this relationship, but there must be some way, someplace in the middle for us to love each other. I need you, Sara, I want you. I’ve never felt so good about myself, so alive as when I’m with you. God, Sara Rosen, I’ve fallen in love with you.”

          And with those words began the sweetest most tempestuous relationship the music department had ever seen. Living together amplified their extremes. Sara would seldom let him hide behind his nauseating shyness, and Mark learned to out talk Sara until she shut up long enough to listen. Both were changing. Langley was impressed with the increased strength and passion in Mark’s voice. Often he praised Sara for her new depth and sensitivity.

          The blending of their middle voices was near angelic, but the discord in their relationship deafened them to the growing sophistication in their music. A month before graduation, Sara moved out. They would see each other occasionally after rehearsal, talking about concerts and their divergent plans after graduation. Never would they talk about the unfinished business between them, the pursuit for the allusive middle ground they both needed so desperately to find. After commencement, Mark found her in the crowd, gave her a kiss goodbye, and silently prayed that God would erase her from his thoughts.

. . . . .

          God never answered that prayer. With typical indecision, Mark turned away from the jewelry store window, fumbling for his keys.

          “Well, sweetheart, are you going to stand there and look at those rings all day or do I get to take one home?” Fate had struck again. Sara had driven by, seen Mark at the window and barged into his private debate without an invitation.

          “Sara, uhm, uhm, what are you doing here? I thought you were…”

            “I finished early and went to the drugstore across the street. The real question is, what are you doing HERE?”

          Looking into her searching eyes, Mark fumbled for words. “I don’t know Sara. I guess I’m afraid to know. What are we going to do? We’re still as different as we ever were, only nicer about it. How can I explain to my church that I am marrying a Jewish woman?”

          “No problem,” Sara teased, “we could just live together first.”

          “Sara, get serious. They would have another crucifixion if we did that.”

          “Relax, I’m kidding,” she consoled, taking his hands in hers. “Mark, do you remember what happened to our music when we were together in college?”

          Mark looked beyond Sara into his memories. “We were so good for each other then. I never felt so alive, so together. I loved how we would stand face to face. I’d lose myself in your eyes and we’d sing until two in the morning.”  Mark dropped his hands and retreated to his familiar collection of doubts. “But we would end up screaming at each other after a month. I’m afraid of that, Sara, what if that happens again?”

          “If, IF?” Sara crescendoed, “it will happen again, but this time we won’t quit. There is a place for us to love each other but we have to look for it, fight for it. Maybe it’s with your God, maybe mine. I don’t know, maybe neither.”

          “I can’t leave my faith behind, you know that, Sara.” Mark retreated, entrenching himself in the last place he felt safe.

          “Neither can I.”

          “SO?”

          “SO?”

          They stood facing each other like two alley dogs ready to fight. Mark’s arms folded tightly across his chest. Sara’s hands planted themselves uncompromisingly on her hips.

Grabbing his shirt, she broke the silence with the same angered edge on her voice. “So, are you going to buy me that ring or not?”

          “But what about…”

            Sara moved close enough for Mark to feel the spit from her persistent words. “What about us, Mark? For God’s sake, for once in your life will you listen to your heart? You love me, damnit. I love you. We’ve got each other. We’ve got our music. That is our middle ground, can’t you see it? We can make the other stuff fit.”

          Again Mark felt overpowered.  His glance fell to the sidewalk searching desperately for a response from his still silent God. Panic broke out in his mind. He felt deserted, afraid and vulnerable, left alone with nothing but his own feelings to move the moment. A moment passed.

          “Well Mark, it’s your decision to make. What will it be?” Her now gentle voice revealed her own sense of vulnerability.

          A rare and euphoric wave of decision swept through his being. He grabbed Sara almost knocking her to the ground. “Yes, yes, I can see it, I can do this, I can make my own decision.”

          Mark turned again toward the window, his reflection revealing his silly, smiling, and very confident self.  With a voice sounding as if he had finally convinced Sara to marry him he asked, “So, Mrs. Gibson, which one of these rings would you like to wear for the rest of your life?”

          “Oh, that’s easy,” she said pulling the door open to the store. “I put it on layaway a week ago.”

<><><><><><><><> 

Saints of the Elkhorn Pub

By M. Malcomb Moore

            “One more time and I’m done,” Liz proclaimed, pushing her empty beer toward the waitress. “Three beers and its lights out when my head hits the pillow.”

          The corner table in the Elkhorn Pub had become her drinking office.  Doers and wannabes, mostly younger, packed the place from wall to wall during the games. Standing around in threes and fours, dressed in matching team outfits, they would swap stories in a dozen languages trying to relive past races won and lost.  Liz was not impressed that some wore their medals around their neck. Occasionally someone would spot her red hair or hear her big laugh.  Whispers and pointing often preceded a walk to her table to ask for her autograph in a language she didn’t know. They would point to a notepad or napkin and hand her a pen.

          “Ms. Russell,” a blond kid asked with a thick Slavic accent, “sign please?”

          She would always offer a generous smile and invite them to sit down while she signed: “Your skis are only as fast as your heart. Make it happen. Elizabeth Russell.” It was a cliché she knew, but after twelve years in the circuit people would often ask her, “How fast is your heart today, Liz?” It has become her logo.

          Paul, her most recent interest, sat across the table sipping quietly on his brew while Liz guzzled her fame. After three Olympic golds, four silvers and numerous world trophies for speed skating, he had become the head coach of the French skating team. Looking for a gap on her stardom he interrupted. “Liz, Liz, when are you going to tell me?” He had asked to move in with her, but she was indifferent to the idea.

          “God, Paul, look, there’s Erik. I didn’t think he made it this year.”

          “Liz?” Paul persisted.

          “Excuse me, I’ll be back in a bit.” Again, her eyes avoided him as she left him with a “you-understand” squeeze on his shoulder before leaving to weave her way through the room.

          The EHP had itself become an icon, abandoned by the few members of the Free Will Methodist Church in 1927, owned by a local farmer for twenty years to store hay, and finally, Norm and Greta paid the back taxes and picked it up in the late sixties two weeks before its scheduled demolition. They put a bar in the choir loft and christened it the Elkhorn Pub.

          Wooden pegs held together the hand-cut beams which intersected to form the hundred triangles of the cathedral ceiling so high as to vanish in the near dark of the candle-lit tables. Crowded squeaking pews lined the stone walls bearing witness to this new gospel of speed and gold. Stained glass windows arched into the smoke-filled darkness reflecting the multicolored mosaic of sights and sounds within.

                   They were all there, like saints in the pictures above the bar. The long-bearded Pastor Norquist and his band of scruffy of woodland parishioners, farmer Nils and his wife Ebba standing stone faced in front of their well-worn Farmall tractor, and an unavoidable photo of Norm, Greta and their little girl posed and grinning in front of the opening day of the Elkhorn Pub. Around the room were celebrity pictures.  Lured by the ski resorts and the out-of-the-way mystic of the EHP, all the tribes had come; Washington big shots, business tycoons, Hollywooders and every brand of athlete had come to see and been seen. A single picture, five by seven, hanging in the EHP meant acceptance into the inner circles, to be saved and immortal.

          “Erik, I heard you were hurt and couldn’t make it. Damn, you look good.”

          “Liz, there you are. I thought I would find you here.” Erik took her in his arms and thought of days gone by. He smiled and asked, “How fast in your heart today?

          “Fast enough for gold.  What about this injury stuff I heard?”

          “I made it as an alternate.  They didn’t trust my ankle.  Total bummer, but Liz, you have to tell me what is going on with you and Paul.  The rags have you guys getting married.”

          Liz turned to see Paul at the table surrounded by skaters. “I try to avoid the topic.  You know how it is, things change.  Tomorrow is my last race. One more than I’m done. I’ll ski fast, win my sixth gold, then maybe I can finally get my picture up in this place.”

          “No picture? Liz, you’re famous. Why haven’t your folks put your picture up?”

          Liz looked for her dad standing behind the bar. “Long story, let’s just say they’re busy. After tomorrow, maybe they will reconsider.”

          “Too bad it this place couldn’t stay up longer.”

          “What do you mean?”

          “You haven’t heard? This place is history. After the games, the south-bound lanes of the four-o-five will run right where we’re standing. Your folks didn’t tell you?”

          “WHAT?” Liz stood frozen then threw a menacing look across the room at her dad.

          “Damn! I won’t be distracted, Erik. We’ll talk about this after the race.”

          “Tunnel vision, God, Liz, I forgot that about you, no wonder you’re still a champion. Who are you up against?”

          “Renee Blono from France.  That’s her in the blue and white sitting with Paul.  She’s at one minute twenty-four in competition but has done one twenty-three in practice.”

          “Is that a problem,” Erik asked concerned.

          The big smile on Liz’s face was the only answer she offered. “I better get back to Paul. We can swap gold stories tomorrow.”

          Again, Erik pulled her close. “Good luck tomorrow, Liz.”

          “Erik!”

          “That’s right, don’t tell me, ah, what is it? Oh, I remember. There is no luck, only guts, speed and gold.”

          “You’ve got it. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

          Paul was standing at the table downing his last one.

          “Are we leaving already, Paul? It’s early.”

          “Well, Liz, how’s Erik, the asshole?”

          Liz offered a disgusted look on her face. “Does that really deserve an answer?”

          “Yea, whatever. Stay if you want, I’m going with the team.”

          “I’ll be here awhile, there’s one more person I need to see. Paul, can you maybe bunk somewhere else tonight? I need to do my routine.”

          “Hm, I guess I have my answer,” Paul said with a caustic edge on his voice, trying to make his words cut as deeply as possible. Liz took his hand. Paul pulled away and went to join his teammates.

          “Paul?” Liz called with apology.  She watched as they vanished through the front door. “Out of mind, Liz, don’t get distracted, focus, focus.” She muttered only loud enough for her own ears to hear. She closed her eyes to the crowd, her ears to the laughter and deafening beat of the music, her heart to the loneliness.

          White.  Her mind filled with fields of white broken only by the dark lacy pines which surrounded her like guardian angels. They were calling her, guiding her.  From the top, this dream was a panorama of her life, a thousand slopes she had conquered.  Her long neon skis were her friends, poised beneath her begging, panting and eager to own the hill. Planting her poles in the mountain she pushed forward cutting a virgin path into the powder like a master surgeon with a scalpel. The snow whispered beneath her as she carved wide s’s on the ever-steeper slope. Sudden drops would leave her airborne, flying off the earth into paradise. Rises would press against her muscular legs as she autographed the snow with her courageous heart. Sun, wind, snow, cold, sky, speed, power, grace, and finally peace consumed her consciousness. She was home.

          “Ms. Russel? MS. RUSSEL?”

          The young voice yanked her back the mortal world as she opened her eyes to another empty book and pen.  Pounding music, choking smoke, near darkness, drunken laughter, and the crowded room insulted her senses. A black-haired speedling stood before her with gold in her eyes.  Taking the book she scribbled, Liz Russel, on an empty page and handed it back without a word or smile. She sat staring at her full glass of flat beer, feeling the need for a good sleep. She glanced once more at the bar to wave goodnight. There was no response.

          “You can’t leave, Liz,” Gerhardt ordered blocking her way, “Rolph will be here later and he wants to see you.”

          “Hey, Ger, how the hell are you? I’m sorry. Tell him…ah…tell him I’ll see him tomorrow.  I need to rest up for tomorrow.”

          Liz made her way to the door and stopped.  She turned and drank in the EHP, her home for the last twenty years. Across the room under the Miller sign was an empty piece of wall reserved for the next picture.  The gods of the Elkhorn were never gracious. They gave nothing to the weak. Only those who had sacrificed their own humanity to speed and gold were considered pious enough for sainthood. Her eyes lifted to the smoky shadows of the ceiling. “You owe me, goddamnit,” she spoke to herself.  Closing the door behind her, she zipped her jacket against the night air.

          Acknowledgements came from several groups gathered outside as she made her way across the lot to her Rover.  She raised a tolerant gloved hand to them without speaking. Her log house was near the slopes twelve miles away. Some sponsor had bought it for her six years ago after her third gold.  Her shelves were filled with dust-laden tokens and trophies she had earned doing little more than going downhill faster than anyone else.

          The winter night sky always made her smile.  It was clean and quiet as it stood watch over the sleepy hills touched only by the soft light of a three-quarter moon.  Her routine had begun. Liz rolled down her window to feel the embrace of winter air and to hear the funny grudging sound of the tires pressing against the snow-packed road.  The green numbers on her clock read twelve-forty-two as she slid her favorite CD into the slot. Soon the intoxicating lilt of Gregorian chant floated into her ears, washing her mind of all things unholy. Thoughts of self-doubt dissolved. Fears of injury and failure were confessed and forgiven. Memories of pain and loneliness were dismissed in the darkness.  Soon her heart was naked, stripped of all resistance to the golden gods.

          With her garage in sight she turned off the engine and rolled to a quiet stop. She left her keys dangling in the unlocked doors leaving her earthly possessions to the profane world around her. Her gloves, jacket and boots were shed inside the door. Sweater and socks tumbled down the stairs as she ascended. Slacks, jewelry, head band and underwear left their trail in the upstairs hall. French doors opened in her room onto a balcony facing the mountain. She pushed them open and stepped into the fresh-fallen snow. Now naked under the moon she scooped the cold whiteness from the railing holding this holy element high above her head. Melting snow mixed with the tears on her face as they fell onto her shoulders and breasts, baptizing her with this sacrament of surrender and petition. Rivulets of water flowed downward across her body like her skis carving their way down an early morning virgin snow on the cathedral of her mountain. She stood in cold meditation until her skin was numb from the night air.

            Morning came with no sign of Paul… a relief.  Hot lines of water massaged her flesh until she finally gained her full consciousness.  Her mirror looked back at her, alone again, eyes looking at eyes, searching for that place in her soul where that fearless champion lived. She chanted, “guts, speed, gold,” moving through a long crescendo until the unavoidable decibels owned her mind.

          The red, white, and blue spandex felt like her own skin sensing every breeze, touch, and temperature. She laughed as she remembered when she skied naked for Playboy and how much she embraced the feeling of oneness with her mountain and the snow. The morning, the mountain, the snow, it all belonged to her.  They were her servants, she their master.

          “Beethoven, my friend, shall we conquer another hill?” Her words moved through a confident smile as she placed the CD in its place. Beethoven’s fifth, first movement, one minute twenty-two seconds to the repeat from gate to finish. She had memorized every note of this hymn of speed and turned the notes and phrases into every turn, drop, straightaway of the hill she would soon ski. While others had thoughts of strategy and fears, Liz would lose herself in this euphoric liturgy of power, speed, and passion.

          “Once more, then I’m done.” She opened the doors in her bedroom revealing the mountain before her, latched on her skis, grabbed her poles and hit play. Crouched in her start posture she paused until her eager reflexes heard the first notes. Pushing forward, down, acceleration, wind, muscles, white, passing blurs, flags, sky, and Beethoven all played in her mind as every high-speed foot the mental slope raced through her being.  F-I-N-I-S-H vanished behind her as the master’s music returned for a second run. “Damn, Liz, you have so got this,” she yelled, enjoying her cerebral victory. Again her finger touched her system.  The CD changed this time playing the National Anthem.  She leaned forward to receive her last gold. Tears flowed down her cheeks as pride filled her veins.

. . . . .

Skiers and teammates filled the training room with her teammates. They had learned to leave her alone except for her trainer.

          “Good morning, Liz.”

          “Coach.”

          “You are ninth out of twelve.  Turn four will have some exposed ice by then.”

          “Blono?”

          “Sixth. She did a one-twenty-three yesterday.”

          She looked into her coach’s eyes. “Well, damn, maybe one of these days she could win herself a gold, ya’ think?”

          His smile replaced the look of concern from moments earlier as he caught a wink in Liz’s eye. “Time to go,” he laughed, throwing his arms around her one last time before the race.

          Liz and Coach rode the lift to the top without speaking. “Guts, speed, gold,” echoed in her mind. It was her time to worship, like ascending Olympus into the hands of the gods.

          Blono was next to ski. Liz walked close enough for their eyes to meet. Desire was oozing from Blono’s face, a desire sprinkled with a hint of fear. Liz tried to remember when she last felt fear before a race. She had learned to replace it with joy and peace.

          The announcer called, “Blono, Renee Blono.”  With that she placed the goggles on her face and moved to the gate. With three beeps and a buzz she was out of sight.

          Coach watched the big timer. Liz smelled the pine trees and threw a snowball at a teammate. One minute passed, one-twelve, one-fourteen and finally the numbers froze at one-twenty-two point eight five. Close and distant cheers broke the quiet. Coach stood silent knowing not to break the champion’s thoughts.

          Skiers seven and eight left the gate and disappeared.

          “One more, then I’m done,” she spoke just loud enough for Coach to hear.

          “Russel, Elizabeth Russell.” Liz pushed her poles against her snow and took her place. Beep, beep, beep, but there was no buzz. The gate flew open as her soul filled with the double meter of the master. Like a gazelle at play Liz bounded forward, playing with her mountain, sating her senses with all the sounds, smells and sight of her religion of speed. Beethoven raced through her consciousness. One minute, one-twelve, thirteen, fifteen, twenty, twenty-one, twenty-two even, then F-I-N-I-S-H. Liz glided through a big arch as she slowed, passing the blur of cheering voices for their hometown girl. She panned the crowd hoping to find those two faces most important. Finally she spotted them, not cheering but there stood her dad with a smile and nod giving her all she needed to ensure her picture on the wall of the EHP. She gave off an excited scream, took off her hat and threw it to the nearest child. She turned to see Paul cheering.  She skied over to him offering a big hug and kiss.

          “You are magnificent, Liz,” he yelled over the roar.

          The medal ceremony was a joyous benediction for Liz. The leaning over, the weight of the gold, the National Anthem, the cheering crowd, the media, the sponsors, the autographs, the envy of other skiers, she loved it all. Finally she had achieved sainthood. The day wore into evening as Liz found her way from one bar to another, soaking up the kudos from friends and the wannabes.

She pulled Paul aside and stumbled out some drunken words, “Paul, my Rover, in the alley, could you get my ski bag?” Twenty minutes later he returned to find Liz sloppy drunk, dancing on a table with a drink in hand.

          “Liz, LIZ,” Paul screamed above the music. “I’ve got your bag.”

          “Paul, you ol’ lizard, you…hey, get him a drink for god’s sake.”

          Liz moved to put her hands on Paul’s shoulders but missed. Falling on the floor she slurred, “damn, I didn’t see that mogul coming.” Trying to get up she drooled, “Paul, in my bag, a Polaroid, take my picture.” Several helped her to her feet, straightened her clothes and hair. “This hunk of gold oughtta get this fuckin’ picture on the wall, huh, Paul, you think? Okay, take my picture.”

          Paul knew the picture would be more of an embarrassment to her than a tribute, but click, flash, and sixty-seconds later there it was, a picture of a red-haired drunk with beer spilled on her team suit wearing a shit-faced grin with her gold medal around her neck.

          Liz looked at the picture and squealed. “Great, perfect. Okay, I gotta pee.” She picked up her bag and stumbled down a narrow corridor toward the bathroom. Her drunk didn’t rob her of the plan she had devised weeks before. She opened the back door to the alley and found her Rover where she had left it. She took out the extra set of keys kept in her bag and, after several failed attempts to unlock the door, finally found her way behind the wheel. She propped her Polaroid picture on the dash and made her way down several back streets to the highway.

“Okay, Elkhorn, Fub Dub,” she laughed, “Elkhorny flubadub, here’s your damn picture.”

          Once out of town she pulled off the road and shed her clothes, reliving her bedroom ritual of speed and gold. She rolled down her windows to soak up the night sky and slid the Beethoven CD in the slot. “Hey, there, Bugthoven, good buddy, let’s hear it, baby, one fucking last time, then you’re done.” Liz sang along, “Bum, bum…bum, bum…bum, bum, bum, bum.” The voiceless music rekindled her mental routine, left, squat, jump, right. She skied the mountain in her mind following the impulses of her well-rehearsed duet with the maestro. The road left her consciousness as she bathed her senses in the vision of her outdoor cathedral. The wheel tracks on the road morphed in her mind to become her two neon skis beneath her, eager, calling her, faster, steeper, left, right.

          It was four days before they found her car in a deep ravine under the new blanket of snow. She was there, her naked body frozen, her hands holding a small Polaroid picture. She had turned the wrong direction off a curve and rolled into the wooded mountainside.

          It was a funeral for a whole town, a whole era. Champions from around the world came and cried. Norm, Greta, and Paul sat in silence. Their champion lay motionless in a white coffin pillowed by white satin, the gold medal laying on her chest. Papers, local and national ran stories and pictures of the unconquerable woman. Her grave stone read, “Your skis are only as fast as your heart. Make it happen.”

. . . . . .

          Summer sunlight filtered through the windows of the EHP turning the empty room into a kaleidoscope of geometric colors.  Bull dozers sat poised outside ready to demolish the room full of memories into a pile of stones and splinters.

“Norm, wait, please wait,” Greta pleaded as he started the car. “Just one last look inside, then we can go.” She made her way through the front door. The bar, the rafters, the stone walls, the pews all echoing the memories of a thousand nights brought a lump to her throat and tears to her eyes.  There on the far wall under the silhouette of where the Miller sign once hung was one last picture stapled to the wall, a newspaper clipping of Elizabeth Russell. The headline read, “DRUKEN SKIER TAKES ONE LAST SLOPE.” Greta sighed, turned and walked out.

Breathing in, Breathing out…

…is certainly better than the alternative, but the title is not about air, at least in the molecular sense. It is about art and music and stories. It is about landscaping your creative world with your colors, your textures, your songs, your stories. Creativity is all about breathing in, opening heart, soul, eyes and ears to the sounds and the silence, to the darkness and the light, to the joys and the sorrows which find there way onto the pages written in the stories we write, the canvases we paint, the songs we compose. We cannot breathe out until we have taken the time to breathe in so deeply it almost hurts.

Those who fully breathe in are compelled to breathe out. Their words and brush strokes and melodies are seeds that germinate in the fertile soil of their soul and cannot be contained, the naked earth becomes a garden, a tree of life, truth, and beauty.