The Passenger

The Passenger

I used to commute from Hell’s Kitchen to Connecticut for work. Not so rough only an hour from Grand Central Station my destination in Stamford. But the unforeseen delays coming home were awful. It was not unusual to wait two hours or more for the ‘track to clear,’ or some other idiotic notion. Usually I’d just wear my iPod to avoid all of the complainers, and either read or draw other passengers. I enjoyed doing that, walking that fine line between sneaking peeks and staring that New Yorkers have refined, mastered.

But today, I’d left my iPod at the office, so when the train stopped, I whipped out my latest book, The Financial Lives of the Poets. Sometimes trying to read while traveling makes me a little pukish. And forget about sitting backwards. How do people do that? Not this guy, not on the subway either. Within a couple of minutes of relative stillness, there was a whistle from the train. That was uncommon for Metro North. I wondered if I just hadn’t heard it before, maybe just didn’t pay attention. “D’ja hear that whistle?” a black man asked. He was one seat away, facing me. His skin was caramel, and his eyes glittered. “I did,” I nodded. “Rather unusual for this train?” “Delays are not uncommon, but it’s getting ridiculous,” he said, looking out the window into the early evening dusk. “We’re in the middle of nowhere.” “Probably a glitch with the train,” I said. “They’re old.” “I’m Rodney,” he smiled. Colgate teeth. Big hand held out. We shook. “Marvin.” I nodded. He was hot, but I was not single. The door jerked open at the far end of our cabin. Two men with ski hats covering their faces stood there. They both held sawed-off shotguns. They looked like kids. “Everybody down,” one shouted. “What the f-” Rodney turned toward them. I tackled him, ending up mashed against the same train seat, my heart racing. I was already sweating. In my mind, I kept repeating the phrase not me, not me, not me. A deafening gun blast. Screams. Rodney whispered, “I’m not gonna die.”]]>

Loneliness

Loneliness

The two lovers recline, exhausted, bodies entwined, but distant. He clears his throat, says, “That was great. You’re really something, ya know?” She arches her back, moves her leg off his. Whispers, “You too.” She doesn’t mean it. Now is not the time to get into it. She says, “I’ll be right back.” “I’ll be here,” he says, smiling. Pats her on the butt as she stands up. In the bathroom, she stares into the mirror above the sink. She thinks, my god, how you’ve changed. But how? It’s not the lines or the recent Key West tan. It’s not her marble green eyes which have gotten weaker, and remain unchecked. It’s not the growth pattern of her scant facial hairs. It’s that she’s no longer seeking a method of appeasing her loneliness. It eats at her from the inside out. It has become her.]]>

Personal Jesus

Personal Jesus

A bubble of joy explodes in his belly as he emerges from the car park into the glorious seaside sunshine. “Jesus is coming!” he shouts out his window to the passersby on Vermont Avenue.  “Wake up, everybody! Prepare ye!” he chants, his voice pitched with a frenzy that echoes his earlier incantations at the meeting of Christian Scientists. Where this very morning, he experienced for the first time speaking in tongues, writhing on the floor while the parishioners held him safely. One of the more verbal church-goers, Shandra yelled, “You’s seeing the light, boy!” And he was. He DID. Now, driving on Santa Monica Boulevard, he is so full of Jesus, so full of the almighty God that he misses the red light, feels like he’s on a JOY RIDE, like he’s at Space Mountain. Doesn’t even realize a police officer tails him, the red lights flashing, sirens wailing. “Pull over, son,” the officer’s loudspeaker says. “Dear God!” he says, pulling to the curb in front of Pink’s Hot Dog Stand. “Praise the Lord!” he shouts to the people waiting in line. “Nutcase,” a girl with dreads mumbles to her friend. “Driver’s license and registration?” the policeman asks. He peers into the back seat of the vehicle. Crosses his arms. “Have you seen Jesus lately sir?” the man says. “Are you ready to meet your own personal Jesus?” The policeman pauses. Assesses. “Okay, buddy, out of the car.” “Jesus is coming!” the man says, eyes rapt, glowing. “Halleluiah!” he sings. “That’s nice, buddy, now get out before I help you out.”]]>

Hartwell Hall

Hartwell Hall

The light wafted through the windows near the ceiling of Hartwell Hall. It was a chilly February morning, then again, typical for upstate New York. I knew the cold wouldn’t last, once we started rehearsing. I continued to stretch, the tightness familiar in my quads and abductors. David arrived, long dark hair pulled back in a ponytail. “Hey Ned, sorry I’m a little late. Where’s Marybeth?” He placed the boom box on front of the stage. “I thought we’re working without her until 8.” He turned on the music. “Oh yeah.” He smiled, a rarity, and I smiled back. “Keep stretching, warming up. I know it’s cold in here, but we’ll get moving in a minute.” The lush guitar strums of Alex DeGrassi stirred me out of stupor. I sank into my stretching routine: butterfly, hurdler’s, toe touches. Don’t bounce! Remember to breathe! There was so much to learn. I’d auditioned for David on a whim. I’m a business major, have no clue what I‘m going to do with that. I took a dance class spring semester thinking it would be fun. The instructor, Santos, asked me to stay after one day. “How’s it going?” he said. I nodded. “Considering I feel way out of my league, fine.” Lame attempt at a joke. He grinned. “You’re doing great. I was wondering if you want to take a look at this.” He handed me a flyer announcing the auditions for the Spring Student Dance Concert. My heart started beating a little faster. There was a list of choreographers. “But, I don’t know any of these students.” “Might be good for you to work with David West? He’s patient, and like you, he didn’t come here for dance. Found his way to Hartwell, too.” Santos smiled. I folded the flyer and stuffed it into my sweatpants pocket. “Thanks, Santos. “ The day we’d auditioned, I wasn’t feeling my best. I thought I would hurl when I found out that we’d be auditioning in tights. I wore them under my sweats, just in case. A friend, Marybeth, who I’d met in Santo’s class was also auditioning for David’s piece and she told me: wear tights. But my legs looked extra scrawny, and I was already self-conscious, like a fish out of water. About halfway to Hartwell, I nearly turned around, head back toward Main Street. I’d sit at Connor’s Corners and lament to Wally, the owner. But something made me plod on. After a quick warm-up, David had us form odd shapes, again, then again. He’d stand back from the group (there were about twenty of us auditioning, and I was happy that only six of them were male, including me) assessing us.  Folded arms, his deep-set eyes scrutinizing every move . His piece, he told us, was for one man, one woman. I thought they called it a duet, but I wasn’t sure if the same rules applied for modern dance. Were there any rules? I marked my way through the movement, hoping that my feigned enthusiasm might score points. I tried to imitate Marybeth, who’d advised me well. “During warm-up, choose the best dancer, and place yourself behind him or her. I heard that Jamie Bell is auditioning. He gets cast for everything, so watch him, follow his cues.” I grunted, groaned, sweat like a mule. I gave it my best effort. I’d watched the Sarajevo Olympics the evening prior, and some athlete said, after winning gold, “I just wanted to leave it all out there, on the ice. No regrets.” That had inspired me, and I thought if I could, just give it everything I had, even if I wasn’t the “right dancer” for David’s work, I’d feel okay about myself afterwards. Easier said than done. I was good, maybe even slightly better than good, when we were twenty strong. Then David pared us down, first to ten, then six. Three guys, three girls. So far, Marybeth and I made the cuts, we were still in. But so was Jamie Bell, the 5’11, sandy blond senior with his wavy hair tied high on his head, wearing a peacock blue unitard, a slim leather necklace tied elegantly around his neck. I wanted to get this now more than ever. David paired us in every combination possible, we worked singly and doubly. Dizzyingly, over, and over. Suddenly we were done. “I’ll post the results in three days, with the rest of the choreographers. Thanks for a great audition,” David said. He didn’t look at me. Not once. Marybeth moseyed over while I was pulling my sweats on. “You surprised me, Ned.” She wiped a bead of sweat from her forehead. “You kicked some serious butt for a business major.” I chuckled. “Thanks, you were fantastic. And I appreciate all your help before and during this. You’ll get cast.” She shrugged. “It’s a crapshoot. Always is. I’m not gonna obsess about it, that’s for sure. Hey, what are you doing now? Want to get some coffee at the Union?” I pulled on my boots, stood up.  “That sounds great,” I said.]]>

The Chase

Phillip Meets Chase

Phillip wanted to celebrate his promotion to National Creative Director of New Accounts. He’d decided to invest in a completely new downhill ski package: Rossignol skis, Nordica boots, poles, gloves, goggles, and the Roffe warm ups and jacket. He asked around and discovered that R.E.I, on Yale Street, was having an autumn sale. He’d wandered into the store, shocked by the enormous space, the buzz, the caffeinated salespeople, several of whom acknowledged him with a “Been helped?” or “Know what you’re looking for?” which he politely declined. And suddenly, there he was- exactly what Phillip was looking for, though he hadn’t known it. “Hello,” the man said, directly, openly. Phillip was disarmed by his unwavering stare, immediately self-conscious, as when one wonders, is there food in the corner of my mouth? Sleepiness in my eyes? Did I brush my teeth before I left the house? “Hello,” Phillip managed. He felt his heart accelerate, and grabbed the closest rack of women’s leggings to steady himself. “Do you, you work here?” What a stupid question. Of course he did, why else wear a name tag? “Name’s Chase,” he said, holding out his hand. Phillip noticed the calluses and tan, smooth skin, taut fingers. He was scared to shake, his palms were sweaty and he was sure he would stammer more. “Ph- Phillip,” he said with a nod. Did Chase wink, or did he imagine it? “Very nice to meet you, Phillip. And what brings you to R.E.I. today?” Oh, he was smooth and his teeth were perfect and god he hoped he was older than 18, was he? Yes, he had to be! “I’m looking, thinking about-” Get it together. Phillip had to look away, at the rack of hiking boots adjacent. “Uh, any skiing packages on sale?” “Great.” That smile again. “We’ve got some super promotions right now.” Did he say super? Phillip nodded. “Are you interested in downhill or cross-country?” Chase turned to walk toward the ski department, then turned back. Phillip wondered if he’d been caught staring at his rump. “Or both?” Once again, Phillip felt tongue-tied. Was it him, or did Chase have the most seductive smile he’d ever seen? “Downhill.” “Me too.” Chase lifted his hand to high five him, but Phillip had no idea what he was doing. Chase turned and walked away once again. Nearly an hour later, Phillip was outfitted with fifteen hundred dollars worth of new gear. He’d overspent his budget, but had no control once his need to impress Chase was unleashed. At the register, Chase was ringing him up when he’d asked, “Ever do any climbing?” “You mean, like rock climbing?” Phillip asked. “Yeah, I wondered because I have a friend who built a climbing gym in her garage. Just wanted to know if you’d be into checking it out?” Chase handed him his Visa and receipt, grinning. Was this a date? Phillip began to breathe a little heavier. “That sounds fun, but I have to warn you, I’m a virgin.” He blushed. “I mean, I’ve never climbed, indoors or outdoors.” He tucked his receipt into his wallet. “Piece of cake,” Chase said. He walked around to Phillip’s side of the register. “You look fit,” Chase said. “It’s like climbing a tree. Ever done that?” Phillip nodded, deciding this was not the time to talk about his fear of heights. He was in a trance, and at some point he was going to wake up. Then Chase said, “C’mon, I’ll help carry these bags.” The sun was high in the sky. The light of a lovely day danced off Chase’s sandy- blonde curls and turned the downy hair on his arms almost reddish-blonde. Phillip, although intrigued, was still confused. Was he blowing this out of proportion? He would rather know in advance, instead of getting his hopes up. Already at 25, he’d racked up his share of unavailable men: married, partnered, addicted, closeted. He was still tossing around the options in his head. Chase placed the extra bags in Phillip’s trunk, turned to him and handed him a slip of paper that simply said: Chase 342-7107. “Call me?” “Okay! Yes, I sure will,” Phillip said. “And thanks for all your help this morning,” he mumbled. “Hey, my pleasure. Thanks for starting my morning right. I gotta head back in. Enjoy your weekend in the Emerald City.” He held out his hand again and Phillip shook it, firmly this time. And, at last, Phillip relaxed slightly, sharing a lopsided smile that turned into a full, beaming, goofy grin. Their eyes locked. Phillip would never forget that initial contact. He turned to get into the car watching Chase walk back toward REI. Suddenly Chase stopped. Made a motion for Phillip to roll down his passenger window. He said, “Oh crap, Phillip, I forgot! Happy Valentine’s day!”]]>

The Curse

The Curse

When they finally tell you what it is, you call and say, “I’ve got the curse.” I’m unsure what you mean, whether this is a reference to an ancient way you referred to your monthly flow. But then you add, “It’s attacked my lymph nodes,” and I stop everything. Sit down. What you mean is there’s little time left, even though that isn’t part of our discussion that day. I tell you I’ll fly to Naples this Friday, that I need a couple of days to ensure that there is order at work, and at home. I feel grateful I am freelance, a rare, impulsive feeling. More often than not, the freelancing has felt more burdensome; groveling for bookings, at director’s beck and call, haggling costs, fees and expense reports. But now, with the writer’s strike, I feel fortunate. And then, I feel selfish that I’m even considering these trivial things in addition to what you’ve just told me. The next two days blur, I focus on tasks. Make necessary calls to most of my business connections, and take a hold for a job in August, a month away. Get my unruly hair cut. Weed the garden. Rarely do I let myself feel the magnitude of what is occurring: my only sister is dying. In fact, those two days are filled with an eerie, almost blissful state. My partner, Rodney, is naturally sweet, but he kicks it up a notch, subtly, so he won’t make me feel too awkward, too suspicious. A perfect pink peony from our garden, placed in a crystal vase I gave to him on our first anniversary. He opens the doors to our screened-in porch so I can hear the birds while we enjoy coffee. Even offers to take me to the airport, knowing it might inconvenience his courtroom schedule. I rescind, then book a driver we’d used on rare occasions. It isn’t until I’m in the back of the limo, the airport looms ahead. Suddenly, I can’t swallow. My throat closes off. I open the window but still, I can’t swallow. I feel the tears splash my face and I know this is going to be unlike any trip I’ve taken.]]>

Brownies

Brownies

By the end of our first day at Camp Crescendo, the girls in my Brownie troop had decided to kick the asses of some girls in Brownie troop 909. Especially Stephanie, the leader of their lily white group. She was a condescending punk, and even treated her own brownie buddies like they were second- class. I am a leader of Brownie troop 808, but I wasn’t sure about attending Camp Crescendo this year. In fact, I almost didn’t. Just too much crap going on at home. My fifteen year old, Danielle is three months pregnant. Yeah, nice going, huh? And Avery, my “sweet” sixteen son, was sent to a correctional facility after his umpteenth breaking and entering offense. He assures us that he never stole anything, nothing was ever reported missing. He just enjoyed the lame-brain idea of sitting around some rich person’s living room, drinking their booze and watching cable shows on their flat screen TV.  When I asked him what in hell’s name he watched, he said mostly cooking shows. So, go to cooking school, I told him. I blame my husband. Cam wanted to raise them more liberally, without any consequences when they’d mess up. I tell him this is his fault. “Gee, thanks,” he says. “What’d I do?” “You wanted a family,” I remind him. “I would have been fine without them.” So maybe I choose Camp Crescendo as an escape, or my penance for feeling guilty about a lack of mothering instincts. It sure is lovely here: the ancient woods and freshwater Fox Lake. We bunk in log cabins, the cool air seeps in through the cracks at night, which I love. The hoot owls sound eerie, magnificent. And the girls are really nice. Polite. I usually catch up on the latest Steven King novel. Mostly I can get away from the shenanigans at home. An entire week with mostly strangers. But the second morning, by the end of our first group exercise, even I wanted to poke Stephanie’s eyes out. I wondered how long before one of our girls took the first step.]]>

Simo Freeshow

Simo Freeshow

I was having a Dos Equis at Life Café. It was summer, and New York City was blazing. I sat under the restaurant patio’s awning, watching the hazy movements of mothers’ pushing strollers into Tompkins Square Park, skateboarders blurring by, squirrels nesting in the huge trees that line 10th street. My androgynous waiter delivered my nachos and chips. “A nice spicy dish on a hot day,” he said. I detected a faint accent. British? “It’s addictive,” I said, meaning the food, but it might have been vague. “I’m Seymour,” he said, tucking a long strand of thick hair behind his ear. “Evan,” I said.  “I’ve seen you here before.” The café was one of my regular watering holes. Summer was my slow season. I was a freelance hair/makeup artist/poet/musician. Seymour was all those and even more, so many that I nick-named him “Slash.” I popped into the Life Café because it was close to home, coming or going. I lived in Stuy Town with my best pal, Trudy. It was temporary digs, I’d been booted from my lower east side illegal sublet. She was sweet to take me in, but she already had a room-mate, so I slept temporarily on the foldout living room couch. Turns out he was English. Seymour was just exotic enough, lived way west on 14th street. When he told me his last name was Freeshow, I couldn’t stop laughing. “Don’t you get it?” I finally got out. “I just don’t think it’s that funny. It’s my name.” I tried, I really did, to stop. That was the first time we kissed. We were out walking his two humungous mastiffs. Folks walking toward us on the West Side Promenade parted like the Red Sea on either side. We stopped to look out across the mighty Hudson, churning a rubbish gray. Jersey loomed in the distance, a mirage of tall buildings, beige breathing outlines. I looked at Seymour, staring into the expansive view. He wore a pale blue tank top, and camouflage shorts. I got lost admiring the way the wind blew his shiny hair, he had smelled of peaches and bicycle grease. I felt like I was seeing him for the first time. Then he turned to face me. And it was like one of those slow close-up movie shots. I forget who kissed who, but there were fireworks. And that’s one of the many things I love about New York. We just let loose, right there on the West Side Highway. And no one gave a rat’s ass except us. Okay, his dogs were a little jealous. And I didn’t want to get Marmaduke 1 and 2 any reason to wreak havoc. They both outweighed me. I drove a Ford F-250 that I’d stored at my sister’s house in Bronxville. The next weekend, Seymour (now “Simo,” as his English friends called him) and I took Metro North to Janet’s house. I drove upstate to Woodstock. We hiked in the remarkable Catskills. I took him to the Omega Institute outside of charming Rhineback. We shared a hammock by their lake and took a romantic nap. We ate a delicious vegetarian dinner. That night, returning back to Manhattan, I asked him to stay overnight. He said yes before I’d barely asked. It’s always strange to sleep with a new boyfriend. Well, I’m not a great sleeper to begin with. But add to that mix: Trudy’s living room foldout couch, her room-mate Mary, whose boyfriend Larry was also visiting from Pennsylvania. (Trudy and I dubbed them the Mary & Larry Show). And Trudy also had two cats that became a little nutty around 4 in the morning. Needless to say, lots of tossing, turning, until sometime in the early morning, maybe nine or so, finally I was dreaming. But no, Simo was going to town under the sheets. Morning wood. It felt amazing being woken like that, despite the exposed room. I used my pillow to keep the moaning muffled. I was swept away, didn’t hear Trudy open her door and walk past us on her way to the kitchen. We were busted: it was too late to stop. “Wish it was me,” Trudy said.]]>

Looking for Clues

Looking for Clues

We sat in the dark waiting for the first actors to take the stage. As soon as he entered, I leaned over to my best friend, Giselle and whispered, “He’s dreamy.” I scanned my program like she did. Stewart Harriman; transferred from Syracuse U, theater major,  semester abroad at London’s Old Vic. I leaned close to Giselle again. “Bet he’s gay.” Okay, I’d hoped he was. “No way,” she whispered. “He’s straight.” So, the bet was on. For the rest of  Charley’s Aunt, I scrutinized for lisps or limps, capes tossed with too much flourish, any other theatrical gesticulation that might suggest possibilities. Instead his performance was exquisite, nuanced with tinges of sensitivity, balanced by bravado. Not even an ounce of gay hope. Giselle and I sprinted to the green room afterwards, throngs of underclassmen surrounded him. But it was Giselle who caught his eye. She was right, straight Stewart was, and straight into her bed he dove. It was likely for the best, as I was transitioning through yet another fallout with Tom, Dick or Harry. At the ripe age of 21, I felt washed up, a senior who’d been ready to graduate as a freshman. Giselle met me at the Letchworth Diner for brunch. “Why so glum?” she asked. Ordered an iced tea. “Where do you want me to start?” “You’ll be okay, Buzz.” She patted my arm.  “Are you still seeing Timmy?” “You mean Tommy?” I shook my head no, sighed. “He wanted to see other people.” A plate of steaming french fries arrived. We always shared. “Maybe you ought to try someone our age? What about Gary?” “Nope.” I made a face. “Closet case.” “Fair enough. Donald?” “Get serious. He’s about twice my size.” “Sorry, I didn’t know that mattered. Damn, these fries are good today.” I huffed but I wasn’t really offended. Giselle was just trying to help. “How’s Stewart?” I tried to hide my jealousy. “He’s fantastic. He drives me absolutely wild. ‘Course, I don’t see enough of him. He’s rehearsing for Gemini, so he leaves at some insane hour. It’s still dark out.” I pretended to be happy. “That’s nice, I’m glad things are working out.” “Me too,” Giselle said. She smiled at me. A little piece of french fry stuck in her gums and it made me feel slightly better. Our senior year progressed, Giselle’s time divided by school and Stewart. They nearly moved in together for spring semester, but he got cold feet. Hmm. Turns out, Giselle told me, it was after he’d moved in with English girlfriend, Evelyn, that things took a drastic, irreparable turn. He didn’t want to repeat that with Giselle. Okay, so add smart to his resume. I’d begun to hate them by the time spring finally rolled around. Not to mention that we’d done more than just a few theater projects together- all three in Dr. Cho’s Theater History class, as well as Scene Design 2. When Giselle’s lead actor bowed out of her senior project, Why Hanna’s Skirt Won’t Stay Down, I was shocked she asked me to take the lead role. We met that Sunday at the diner. “Why didn’t you ask Stewart?” “I did. He’s too busy with his own senior project,” she said. Of course. “What play did he choose?” “He doesn’t know yet.” “When does he have to choose?” “This weekend. But there’s something else I have to tell you.” I was all ears. “What’s up?” Her face changed and she looked as if she might cry. “Giselle, what is it?” “I’m fairly certain…” She looked down at her hands, then back into my eyes. “I’m pregnant.” “Stewart’s?” I blurted, didn’t mean to. Of course it was him. I took her hand. A tear slid down her face. “What am I gonna do?” They’d placed us at a corner booth, so I slid closer to her. “How did this happen? You had a diaphragm, right? Did it break?” Truth was, I hadn’t even seen one before. “No, it was about a month ago. Stewart was supposed to come over after the cast party for A Christmas Carol. He’d designed the lights, so he felt he had to go. It got late and I crashed. When I woke up around midnight, I was a little miffed because he’d said he would stop over by ten. The next thing I remember, there was pounding on my front door. He was drunk, apologized, then barged into my room. We barely discussed protection before he was…before it was too late.” I didn’t know what to say. I could feel how upset she was, and for good reason. “I’ll help however I can.” Our waitress dropped off our fries. “What did Stewart say?” “I haven’t told him yet.”]]>

The Frog

The Frog

Marina Vista dropped by to visit her sister, Benecia Martinez. “I never get to see you anymore,” she said. “Where is Chilpanchango?” “You know where he is.” “In the woods?” Benecia nodded, setting the fresh guacamole bowl on the dining room table. “If I knew you were coming, I’d have baked you a cake.” She grabbed the tortilla chips, already in a colorful ceramic bowl. Marina sat down. “This is more than enough. You didn’t have to fix lunch, honey.” “No problemo, my sister.” Benecia kissed her cheek. “We need to do a little hair removal.” She pointed to a few straggly hairs near Marina’s lip. “Oh please. Let’s not turn this into a spa day.” She crammed a chip into the guacomole and stuffed it into her mouth. “You look good, been jogging?” “When I can.” Benecia chugged some Fresca. “Able to hang for a few hours?” She adjusted her bra underneath the fitting black tank top. Marina nodded, scratching a mosquito bite on her back. “Mmm, these avocados are muy…” She searched for the word as she dipped a lavish amount on another chip. The back door creaked open. “Honey?” Benecia called. “Chilpanchango?” “How can you even tell he’s in here? He’s like the wind, that one.” Benecia placed her hand over Marina’s. “Shhh, he’ll hear you.” The boy came to the doorway. Marina Vista turned around, eyes narrowed. “Chilpanchango, where have you been?” His huge eyes looked at his feet. “In the woods,” he whispered, his soprano voice wavered. “And what do you do in those woods, honey?” Marina asked. He shrugged. “I don’t know. Just play.” She held her arms out. “Come over here and give your Auntie some sugar.” He walked slowly toward her. Benecia let out a scream. “Aye yi yi, Chilpanchango. What’s in your pocket?” His shorts were stained a strange purplish- red color. Marina Vista shrunk back horrified. “In the name of Christ Almighty-” “Sis, shut it.” Benecia moved quickly toward Chilpanchango, escorting him out of the room. “Be right back,” she said over her shoulder. Marina Vista had almost polished the entire batch of guacamole when Benecia returned. “What happened?” Marina asked. “What was it?” “Nothing. Just a frog he collected.” Benecia drank more Fresca. “A frog he collected? You mean a frog he mangled? There was blood.” “Don’t pick on him, Marina. He’s just a boy.” Marina shook her head. “That boy of yours, he’s a piece of work.”]]>