Saturday, October 16, 2010
Just Another Day in Paradise--now on Kindle!
If you've gone through the process of posting a book on amazon.com, you know it can be...an ordeal. Thanks to my awesome publisher G. Wells Taylor, though, Just Another Day in Paradise is available in a Kindle edition less than a week after it was published. To celebrate, I'm offering another free sample story below. I hope you enjoy it. The illustration is by Joanne Renaud, my friend and colleague at Dark Valentine Maqazine.
The old woman who’d lived in 206 had been a happy person, not sour and bitter like so many of the people who lived in the apartment building Marisol managed. She’d never trapped anyone in the elevator with a rambling self-absorbed monologue. She’d never scolded the children who ran back and forth in the hallways because they had nowhere else to play. She’d always been nice to Marisol, not like some of the tenants, who saw her as the enemy because she was the one who had to post the three-day pay-or-quit notices when they were late with their rent.
The old woman had always paid her rent on time. Although she was on a fixed income, she had no problem living within her means. She was a vegan who ate soups and pasta and salads. She didn’t drink coffee, didn’t smoke cigarettes, didn’t touch alcohol.
She had a computer but not a television set. The only telephone she used was a cheap princess phone she’d picked up at a yard sale some time in the 80s. She wrote a lot of letters in an elegant script she’d learned at a fancy private school. Her parents had been wealthy and thought educating their only child was money well spent. She had loved her parents very much.
She read voraciously, borrowing books from the library—five or ten at a time. She never went to the movies. She told Marisol once that the last time she’d seen a film, Kennedy had been president. She didn’t remember what the movie was but did remember she hadn’t thought it was worth the money, even then.
The old woman had known she was ill, but unlike every other sick person Marisol had ever known, she was not eager to waste anyone’s time with a recitation of her troubles or an accounting of her aches and pains. It was only near the end that her body betrayed her, and Marisol would sometimes see her hunching over in the hallway, defeated by her pain.
Knowing her death was near; the old woman had made preparations. There had been discreet deliveries of envelopes filled with cash to people the old woman had cared about. In addition to the cash, the envelopes had contained lovely handwritten notes that spoke of her gratitude for their friendship and her hope that the gifts would be welcome.
Marisol had gotten one of the envelopes. There had been ten thousand dollars in it. The note had made her cry.
The old woman had left behind few possessions. She had never been someone who needed “stuff” in her life. She had been a teacher on the Yavapai-Apache reservation in Arizona, but had left when the tribe began building casinos. She disapproved of gambling. She’d joined the Peace Corps at 50 and spent time among the inhabitants of the Brazilian shanty towns known as favelas. Once, in a rare moment of melancholy, she had told Marisol that in some parts of Brazil, infant mortality was so high that people sometimes brought a tiny coffin as a gift to a child’s christening. That was the saddest thing Marisol had ever heard.
The old woman had not wanted to rot. The Neptune Society took care of everything. Her ashes were scattered at sea while one of her young actress friends sobbed her way through lines from The Tempest, the verses about suffering a sea-change into something rich and strange. The old woman had wanted a party afterward and had paid for it in advance.
There’d been a lot of booze, even though the old lady wasn’t a drinker herself. There was more than a little pot (all her old hippie friends came baked). And there were lots and lots of pastries from the Moroccan bakery around the corner. The Muslim owner of the bakery had come with his shy wife, who wore the headscarf and was skittish among all the strangers. The baker and his wife had gotten envelopes too and put the money away for the education of their unborn child. Both the money and the child were blessings from Allah they believed, and they included the old woman in their prayers.
Marisol’s boyfriend Lee had gotten drunk at the party and then he’d gotten mean. Lee hadn’t liked the old lady. He ran into her sometimes when he was rolling in from a gig, coming to Marisol for food or sex. He told Marisol that the old lady looked at him like she was judging him, like she knew everything there was to know about him and wasn’t impressed.
That wasn’t the old lady’s way, Marisol knew, but she also knew the old lady was no fool. When the envelope of cash was delivered to Marisol, the note inside had included a postscript suggesting, in the nicest way possible, that she not mention the financial windfall to Lee. Marisol had taken the advice and hidden the money in the one place she knew for sure he would never look—under the kitchen sink where she stored cleaning supplies.
The old woman had died in the hospital after collapsing near the pool on her way to post a letter. Marisol saw her fall and called 911. Two days after she died the apartment owners called Marisol and told her to clear out 206 and get it ready to show to new tenants.
There wasn’t much to clean up. The old woman had been tidy. There was hardly any food in the fridge, and just the usual clutter of bathroom stuff. She had used Jergens hand lotion, Marisol noticed. Her mother had used Jergens, and the cherry almond scent always took her back to her childhood. Marisol had loved her mother and still missed her.
In the bedroom, Marisol stripped the mattress and decided to keep the sheets for herself. They were well worn but pure cotton and felt comfy and clean in her hands. Over the bed was a dream catcher, an authentic one made of sinew and willow hoop, decorated with rough-carved totem animals of stone.
The thing caught her fancy, so she took it and hung it up over her own bed. She slept alone, as she often did, and her dreams were sweet.
Lee was in a bad mood when he got back from his gig at some club in Fresno or Modesto or Bakersfield—some dusty town that wasn’t L.A. Marisol couldn’t keep them straight.
The gig hadn’t gone well. Lee’s band had opened for a band people had actually heard of and the audience was vocal about wanting Lee and the others to get out of the way so real musicians could take the stage. The girl he’d had his eye on hooked up with the drummer instead of him and wasn’t interested in a three-some. Lee had spent most of his share of their pay-day buying junk food and booze to fuel him up for the return trip.
Marisol was bone tired when Lee showed up. She’d tried to get some food into him but he’d said he wasn’t hungry. At least not for food. When she told him she was too exhausted to have sex with him, he called her names and stomped out of her apartment.
She was already in bed when he returned and she regretted—not for the first time—that Lee had his own key to her place. He was so blind drunk that even before he stumbled into her bedroom and flopped down next to her she could smell the alcohol stink on him. And then he moaned and vomited. She managed to roll him over so he spewed on the floor instead of her bed but the stench made her gag.
“You’re cleaning that up Lee,” she warned as she fled to the bathroom, so disgusted she was afraid she might puke too. Cursing, Lee stumbled off to the kitchen for some paper towels and spray cleaner. Marisol was just rinsing out her mouth when she heard a roar from the kitchen, and remembered too late that she had stashed the old woman’s money under the sink with the SOS pads and the Bon Ami powder and the spray-bottle of Clorox Clean-up.
Lee came back into the bedroom brandishing the envelope of money in one hand and the Clorox bottle in the other. “What the hell is this?” he demanded, whipping her face with the envelope, giving her a paper cut. She tried to think of some excuse, some placating lie she could tell him but nothing came to her, so she just stood there mutely as he began spraying the Clorox at her in blinding bursts. She begged him to stop and he did, only to attack her with his fists, punctuating each blow with an incoherent grunt of rage.
Marisol made a desperate break for the door as he paused for breath. He lunged at her and because he was drunk, misjudged the distance and hit his head on the wall. Dazed, he reflexively grabbed for something to steady himself. His fingers caught in a strand of the dream catcher, breaking it. He slid onto the bed face down and laid there, unmoving, a carved bead of turquoise caught in his hand.
Without stopping to collect her purse or shoes, Marisol ran out of the apartment, wearing only the t-shirt and shorts she slept in. She spent the night in her car, which she never locked because it was such a piece of junk that anyone who stole it would be doing her a favor.
Upstairs, in Marisol’s bedroom, Lee’s drunken stupor passed into natural sleep and he snored. And he dreamed. And one by one, every nightmare the broken dream catcher had ever captured dripped out of it and into Lee’s sleeping mind.
Like most bullies, Lee was a coward to the core and when he became conscious of the horrors attacking him in his sleep and realized he couldn’t wake up, his mind snapped and his heart stopped and he … died of fear.
When Marisol ventured back into her apartment the next day, she found Lee stone dead, a look of terror frozen on his face. She found the broken dream catcher still clutched in his fingers. Just the one strand had come loose, but it had been enough.
Lee had been a big fan of the movie Pulp Fiction, but he’d never heard of a pulp writer named Cornell Woolrich who once wrote, “First you dream and then you die.” Marisol had read a couple of Woolrich’s books in an English class she took at junior college. She was thinking she might take the old lady’s money and spend it to finish her associate degree. She’d gotten good grades in school. And she thought maybe she’d like to be a paralegal. Or a CSI tech, like the ones on TV. That sounded like a job that would be recession-proof. People never stop dying.
Lee had had a bad heart she told the paramedics when they came to pick up the body. She knew they would find drugs in his system if they did an autopsy and no one would question his cause of death.
She repaired the dream catcher and hung it back up over her bed.
She slept alone and her dreams were sweet.