Animals too Have Stories to Tell (Part V)

Welcome to the stunning conclusion of Animals too Have Stories to Tell.

It ends here.

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Indy and Jade – Google Search Image

Like her mother would have done before she too had quieted down, before she took instructions from Carl who was now in the habit of talking to the school’s custodian – doing his best to keep her in check as long as it was time for women to get a handle on things.

For Carl a handle had meant that they had come to some agreement of which family members to invite, while for her it meant deciding to live together without kids and still making the best of it.

Something she hadn’t quite understood before the doctors made the arrangement – either because they hadn’t taken the time to think things through or else because neither of them wanted to disappoint their parents.

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Mr. & Mrs. Drummer – Google Search Image

And to some extent, she had always felt strange about it. As though, although she was a grown woman – she would find herself looking towards her mother and father, hoping that they would give her direction. Or affirmation. As though she didn’t have a brain of her own and couldn’t think for herself.

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Carl – Google Search Image

Sometimes when Carl asked her about it, she would tell him how her father was astute. Or else how her mother had helped to bring up her siblings – each of them now – grown men and women who still had good jobs.

And she had seen him smile, even though they had never really spoken about it. Never told him that with a father on the Board of Education he was one or two steps higher than her on the totem pole even though ever since they met – he had tried to prove that the distance meant nothing to him.

Except she had seen the looks from the other men and women in the village. Looks that meant that she was lucky. That she was getting away with something.

And she had tried to prove those stares untrue because deep down she knew that everyone was worth something. Then she lost her father, and after that she had had a still birth. Little by little she was starting to feel like life wasn’t worth anything.

But she kept those thoughts to herself because if she said anything, a man like Carl would start to look at her more closely. Would start to suspect something. And she didn’t want to give him any reason to start seeing things from a negative perspective – because she had plans for her life – wanted it to mean something.

In the end.

Maybe that was why she had picked up the petition for Indy and Jade – because although they might have been responsible for what had happened to her father – in the end she couldn’t, didn’t want to blame them for everything.

So she took her posters and placards to the streets. Had even gotten shoppers in the grocery store and the mall to back her, until the police had stopped her mutinous group and the papers had started to condemn her as though she was some sixteenth century heretic.

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Google Search Image

Asking what it was that she was teaching their kids. Whether someone like that was fit to be employed at such an illustrious institution.

That was when the head teacher and the principal had gotten on board. Preaching their fire and brimstone ethics as though she was the one who had gotten things wrong.

Each time she had tried to convince them that Indy and Jade were not the bad ones. Not the problem, because they were not the ones who had started to encroach on state land, but then the politicians had had to put in their two cents, because without their suggestions they feared that the people would remain either poised to act or inactive. As if they could not sort out the taxes by themselves, or check to see why the debris on the side of the roads hadn’t been cleared. Or else why the students were not taking advantage of every opportunity that was being presented to them by the government.

And she had only held onto her head – to prevent herself from bawling – because in the end, she had started to feel as though she was back at square one – and just like Chicken Little she looked up and all she could see was that the sky was falling.

The little boy with the crooked teeth held out his hand, and took a hold of hers. “Don’t worry, Mrs. Drummer,” he said, with a weak smile, “I won’t let those unruly politicians take Indy and Jade away from you.”

Then the other children said, “Yes. Neither will we.”

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Google Search Image

And she squeezed his hand, all the while wiping away tears that she didn’t know had fallen, trying to keep her head above water, because that’s what a drummer did. When they saw reason and acknowledged the call. To action.

Even as the world around them changed.

They would open their hearts and minds and then head out.

She did that now, watching them with their bus tickets in their hand and opened the door.

“Let’s go, children,” she said, laying down the newspaper. Glad that they had gotten permission to see Indira and Jadoo before all of this had come to a head. It would be wise to go, she could hear her father whispering, before the world started to spin and everything changed.

She remembered her father then, propped up on pillows in that faint light, right before the doctor had tried to stitch him back together. His hand on her head. “Do you remember when you were little,” he said looking through the window. “And your mother and I would have to read to you, to keep you from fidgeting. Sometimes we would take you to the zoo, and you would prop yourself down in front of the lion’s cage. And you would sit there for hours as though watching them you would find something awe-inspiring.” He wiped his face with his good hand.”We could never tear you away.”

She had nodded then, as though she knew that it meant the world to him. Watching him, she could always see the lions. As they pranced about their cage, eating food and cradling their young. That had always been their special time together. She turned away from that memory now.

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She watched them go… – Google Search Image

Watched the children go.

Imagining that she was their mother. That this was where everything began and ended – and then she saw herself standing up to the school board, and the principal and then eventually winning.

Then she remembered the first thing he had said to when, when he had introduced her to the lions so many years ago, “Never forget darling, that animals too have stories to tell.”

And then everything else began to fade away.

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Fading – Google Search Image

I hope you’ve enjoyed, Animals too Have Stories to Tell. I’ve enjoyed going through the story again and making a couple of edits.

As always, do keep reading and writing. They are like good friends, they always go hand in hand.

Thanks again for stopping by and do come again.

Animals too Have Stories to Tell (Part IV)

Welcome back. Here is part four of Animals too Have Stories to Tell.

The story continues now.

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A hunter – Google Search Image

And each time her father went on a hunt, her mother would cook special food, say a prayer and ask God to protect him. But that last time her mother had been sick, and not being one to think about or follow superstition Mrs. Drummer had just ignored it. Until she saw the severed hand, that looked so lifeless, and heard the men talk about the huge effort it had taken for them to convince the dying man to seek treatment.

That was where she had waited. Where her mother had paced, as though her shoes were made for squashing ants – flattening everything. While Mrs. Drummer had had her head stuck in a book – as though the real world was obsolete to her and she needed to take in everything else slowly rather than open her eyes and look.

Her head turned away from John and the two boys now. Pass the open window that looked out onto the huge savannah where the children often went. That time was closed to her now. Almost forgotten. Forever.

And up until a few years ago, she said, slowly turning, “nothing could/ would change my mind.”

Excited at the prospect of holding the two tigers the children fought among themselves. Next to John, a red-headed girl bowed her head, as though what they all needed to do was be patient. Mrs. Drummer had seen her around the school often enough in the company of other, younger girls. And looking at her she tried to figure out why the girl seemed familiar to her, and then she considered that her facial structure resembled that of one of the nurses who had helped her at the hospital.

Although that women had been stern. Rigid. Obstinate while this little girl looked humble. Following the young girl’s eyes, once again, Mrs. Drummer read the headlines: Indira and Jadoo to be shot. Here ends another great dynasty – bringing an end to almost thirty years of cross cultural relations. And then in fine print: Others to be sent home.

And watching the red-headed girl, she wondered why more of them hadn’t been relocated here. Whether it was because they themselves were doing a poor job of raising their kids. Not that cold was a word that she would use with them – what her mother and the principal often said was that they were desensitized; so that something that affected her fully, barely seemed to touch them.

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Nairobi – Google Search Image

That was one of the reasons why when she was younger her mother had decided for them to move to Nairobi, “there is family there,” she had said. “Together we can make something better.” Mrs. Drummer had wondered what they would make there with her father’s people, whether it would all be worth it.

At the time, her father seemed to think so, when he saw her latch onto Carl. “He’ll make a fine woman out of you,” he had said, and she’d always wanted to retort, only if I let him. Let any of you. But she hadn’t said anything and then her father had gone and died. Gone and left them – and she had felt stuck, and she started to doubt whether or not she could accomplish anything.

Without him, she felt detached. Even though Carl always seemed to be there, busy bringing her things. It was as though, he felt together they could weather any storm.

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Mrs. Drummer leaning on Carl – Google Search Image

And wasn’t that why at first she had latched onto him. Carl. With his short head of hair and protective glasses; after all he was a strong, stable, young man. One of the men in the village who her father had spoken highly of, an educated man who could take care of himself and his father, or her and her mother, if he was forced to do it. Although with him, she had to explain almost everything.

Was that why she was pulling away now? Because the two of them didn’t have a chance of producing a viable offspring. “Carl and I are not right for each other,” she said to herself, by way of an explanation. Cautiously, as though it hadn’t been a thought, but a discovery she had made while reading through one of those beauty magazines, which these days seemed to encompass everything – like women making children at a younger and younger age. Overall, it seemed as though everything good diminished with age.
Mrs. Drummer shoved a strand of hair, behind her left ear, and took in the children. Because that last thought always made her fearful. She took a slow, even breath.

Contented to watch them play.

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Kids interacting with one another –    Google Search Image

Thank you for stopping by.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the story thus far. It will continue on Friday.

All the best. Do come again.

Animals too Have Stories to Tell (Part III)

There have been two installments thus far, the third one is written here.

Hope you enjoy it…

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Indira and Jadoo – Google Search Image

At first it had only been a pair of cubs, that some of the wealthier people had taken to calling Indira and Jadoo. Names that would eventually stick because for many of the people in politics they had come to mean something. Some distinguished lineage of politicians if you followed the comments closely. More revered names if you listened to her father and some of the older men in the village. Either way, Mrs. Drummer had not been ensnared with or too conscious of the names, because as the tigers were growing up they had become more and more delightful.

Although over the years some of the younger people had taken to calling them Indy and Jade. She suspected that part of it had been due to the popularity of American movies like Indiana Jones, but since those movies had died out over the years – she could never be certain. But with respect to the latter nickname, what was irrefutable for her was the fact that there had never been anything green about the tigers, unless you considered the huge fig leaves they usually slept on. Or which helped sometimes to keep them out of the heat.

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Who knows where a name really comes from? – Google Search Image

Like most children her own age, Mrs. Drummer had gone with her father to the local zoo, when the cubs had first been acquired, so that she could get a good look at them (so that, just like everyone else, she could say that she had been their to see their arrival.

Before they had been sent out into the world – to the neighbouring villages where other people would also get a good look at them. This of course was also before they formed a strong bond, made a family and moved away to a more remote area. In truth, back then there had been various plans for the two lovable creatures – in one of them they be taken from one country to another so that the people would be able to have their fill of them. In the end though, that plan and many others were scrapped, because Indira, the prettier one – the female – would often become temperamental. The zookeepers dealt with her as best as they could – in some respects at first, they treated her as though she was a human: first, they threw medicine at the problem, then food, and then finally it was established that what she needed was a man. A male tiger to be more precise, even though they had reservations about them at first because the two of them had the same parents.

So the money to earned from their initial trip was used in the end to furnish Indira with a more suitable mate. Then the two of them would be bred, so that eventually they would have cubs. Baby tigers who would then be reared by Indy and Jade.

A fair trade off everyone agreed if in the end it produced a more stable environment for the animals that lived within their ecosystem. Especially since our society was the best model upon which to base this experiment. Where some scientist wondered if it was wise to create a habitat for tigers so close to their human environment. People on both sides of the argument were enthused and impassioned, but for the supporters who refused to back down, they kept saying how lucky the people were to have after ten years, a cohesive animal kingdom that boasted well-over fifty odd tigers.

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A little bit more about ecosystems – Google Search Image

Some of whom were in hiding, and waiting to find a safer place, one where they would be able to construct their own living environment. Periodically, Mrs. Drummer and her father would go out on hunts in search of them. Just so that they could count and make note of them. Over the years, Mrs. Drummer and her father had been two of their strongest supporters. And they were always happy to see them when the size of their community grew, because then people would be able to go out on safaris,

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Out on a safari – Google Search Image

sometimes they would also point weapons at them. Since her father and the other men of the village had teamed up with some scientists, their role was simply like that of a census taker, to tag them so that they knew where they were, how large their family was, and then they would be done with it.

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Tagging Animals – sometimes we just need to know –                      Google Search Image

To be continued…

The story continues next Wednesday.

Hope you like what you read so far, and if this is your first time reading Animals too Have Stories to Tell, do go back and check out part one and part two.

And like always, thanks for reading, and do come again!

Have a fantastic weekend!

Animals too Have Stories to Tell (Part II)

The stories continues here. Do enjoy.

Part 2 starts now…

In either case, she uses her props. Continues her story.

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Baby cubs – Google Search Image

At home, though, her mother had glared at them, asking her if like her father, she wasn’t afraid of courting disaster. But Mrs. Drummer had felt emboldened by her hasty departure from her job and the dismantling of her life with Carl, so to her all this had just seemed like another step in the right direction. So with her mother she simply feigned indifference, because unlike her father, she could tell where one thought ended and another began. She held no vapid illusions. And furthermore had never been someone who would take risks. After all her engagement to Carl had been going on for more than seven years. Even though many times, he had tried to get her to elope. Or to set a date. With her, there was no budging from any one position, until ultimately she was ready for it.

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Man in Hospital – Google Search Image

With her father in the hospital, everything became perilous. Up in the air. Like a man on stilts or else everyone holding their breath after a figure skater had executed a risky motion, and everyone else was waiting for her to fall back upright on solid ground. Like that figure skater Mrs. Drummer felt certain that she was about to fall. Something she kept hidden from Carl because he was supposed to have been her rock. Her comforter. Her man of the hour.

One or two boys in the back of the room got up and started to throw the small, furry creatures to one another, and Mrs. Drummer got up to stop them, when she was accosted by one of the smaller boys. His hand on her sleeve as though it was common for him to question adults.

“Miss Drummer,” the boy with the crooked teeth said, looking up at her, “Do you like tigers?”

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Tigers are magnificent creatures. – Google Search Image

“Yes, of course John,” she said, trying not to get too distracted by the unsightly shape of his teeth, and as he removed his hand, she wondered if she was lying to him outright or if her response was something more autonomic, the response of a little girl who had once looked just like them.

“Tigers are the most magnificent creatures in the world,” she said, pointing to the two boys in the back, indicating to them, that it was time for their throwing to come to a stop. She saw the guilt ease across their face, while John’s face showed pride, as though he was happy that there was one more person in the room who would stand up for the tigers just like him.

Watching them now, Mrs. Drummer knew that it was a marked improvement, like their behaviour because at the start of the week according to their chart the tigers had been dead last, after the ostriches, who had been given a better rank on account of their long legs, and curiously black plumage. By all accounts Mrs. Drummer would have felt pleased too, knowing that in some small way, she had been a/the cause of all of this.

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African Animals – Google Search Image

How in the space of seven days, the tiger had not only bypassed the giraffe but also the gazelle to make their way straight to the top of the class rankings. These other creatures of course at one point or another had also held her interest. But up until twenty-five years ago, there would never have been a habitat exchange. If it hadn’t been for her father, and the local zookeeper, and some of the other men in the village who realized that because of poaching their once distinguished habitat was no longer thriving. That was when the Bengali tigers had been introduced into the region. The time when getting to know your local and international creatures, was like stepping outside your door, extending a hand to greet your neighbour.

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People greeting each other – Google Search Image

To be continued on Saturday…

Hope you are enjoying the story, do come again.

Animals too Have Stories to Tell

By Melissa Hazelwood

In Ghana, Mrs. Drummer will wash her clothes by the river, like her ancestors had done centuries before, and hang them out on rocks, but not because she is poor, and cannot afford a washer. Instead it is because hers has broken down; and it will take five days for the parts to arrive from Kenya. At night, she placates herself by looking out of windows, fascinated by stars that appear to remain constant. While the nebulas and planets are shifting around them. A primary school teacher, she lives in a small hut with her bedridden mother, whose ailment was never properly diagnosed, even though almost everyone is certain about when her illness had first appeared – twenty four hours after her husband’s body was committed to the ground.

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Map of Africa – Google Search Image

Mrs. Drummer’s father was a hunter, who also liked to tell stories. His favorites always included lions and tigers and bears. A passion he shared with his daughter, who now shares it with her students, who attend All Saints Primary School. Usually, she is called upon to supervise the first years, but today being her last day, she feels privileged to be among those in standard one. Children who come from the neighboring villages, who she has grown accustomed to seeing whenever she is out, buying groceries.

“Today,” she says slowly, trying to make eye contact with each of them, “we will be crafting stories.” She says softly as though her intention is not to frighten them, her eyes searching for unnecessary movement. Something her father never did. Because what she is looking for is something innocuous, that may later prove deadly, like a cobra’s venomous sting. Anything which at this stage of their development may even seem amiss.

In the front of the room, she hands a sharpener to a boy with crooked teeth and makes a turning motion, so that he will know to add a point to a headless pencil. A farmer’s son, she smiles at him, assumes that he has many ideas about the soil and its creatures to fill various books.

“When I was your age,” she says, holding her breath as he does what she has requested, her mind going back to two months earlier and her hospital visit to see her father. “My father used to tell me these strange stories about tigers.” She watches as one or two of them pushes their books aside, and raises their heads eagerly, as though she is some puppet master, their faces attuned to hearing something pleasant. To receiving stories. While she rests her hands on the desk and holds up the latest episode of The Guardian, with its two page spread of a pair of Bengali tigers. The same tigers that have been scheduled to be executed for biting off a part of a man’s hand.

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Bengali Tigers – Google Search Image

Watching them, she ignores the small picture of the man, someone who should have been familiar to her, but now is missed in her foray of words. “In his stories, my father told me how tigers are proud and majestic creatures,” she says, passing the image around for them to stare at it. Because on her desk there are at least five or six copies, a necessary sacrifice, she had told her mother, as though she was the one who needed to come face to face with the things she most feared and once also desired. The woman had only shook her head, as though it was beneath her to be condescending towards her own daughter. As though she had felt that it was time for the past to just remain the past while the two of them continued living.

The younger woman now just sits down and takes a sip of her water, greedily watching the children, envying their rapt attention. And then she passes out the two stuffed tigers, perfect replicas, for them to peer at because at one time her father had also mentioned something about young children needing something like a simulacra to feed their imagination to dream. Or was it to prolong the story?

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Primary School children in Ghana – Google Search Image

The story continues on Friday. Do stop by again…

And thanks for reading.

Subterfuge: The Other Side of the Law (part 2)

Glad you’re back. Now sit down and brace yourself.

The story continues…now.

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Hospice Care – (Google Search Image)

At a hospice centre in Delaware she was battling breast cancer. By then I was seventeen and hadn’t seen her in two years even though my father’s presence had become regular. When I saw her, she was as thin as a sheet and I couldn’t see anywhere for the cancer to take hold or even flourish.

My aunt was scared because the doctors had said that she had only six months to live, but to her credit she lasted two years. Closer to the end, though, the treatments of chemo had weakened her and she looked nothing like the southern belle who had headed north in search of a degree in civil engineering. And in the photographs she left for me, I was introduced to her parents, Deb and Stan, who still wanted nothing to do with her. Or me. Then there was a brother, Terry, who seemed more keen on the ladies and would try his luck in Vegas. But luck is a fool’s game; I had learned that early on when Cindy left me for some bloke who could bench press one-fifty. And as my father had shown me in the past, guys like us would always have to make our own luck.

I travelled west to Utah that day, after the treatment, with my mom to see some of her college buddies. People she no longer hung out with; but with whom she had joined the Free Indian Reserve. A group who prided themselves on the stoppage of government encroachment on reservation land. In fact, one or two of the women said that they were still members and that those days had been exhilarating. How they had managed to steal a smoke here and there between trips to the chief’s tepee to do conference. How even though the elders had held reservations they were ecstatic about my mother’s plan to embrace a tree that lay on a border.

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Google Search Image

How the day after her water broke, the land had managed to absorb her nutrients. How having me there in spirit had been a real turning point in brokering the deal that helped them keep 90% of their land because nobody wanted to encroach on anything sacred that was also seeped with amniotic fluid.

That night when we celebrated together was one of the happiest moments of my life, because even in her weakened state, my mother embraced me and I knew she was looking at me and seeing someone worthy of love. Something I had waited for, for so long. But we didn’t stay together for too long. One week later when my aunt and I left she was writhing in pain from medication that was too strong and would later cause her to go on dialysis.

I never asked my father if he had visited her although I knew that she had kept in touch with him almost as much as she had with me. That was something we had promised each other growing up: to keep the lines of communication open and the discussion going. Although with my father there was never really anything to talk about.

I remember one summer when I was getting ready to visit my father, I had taken up the habit of talking to rocks. I mean, other people skipped stones but I communicated with them in a way I couldn’t with my father. It’s not as weird as you would think, after all many people in my old neighbourhood skipped rocks. Here, I usually considered it as an unavailability of water thing. Besides, I could say more to those rocks than I could with my father, the Quiet Shaman.

One night though, I caught him writing in a journal and when I asked him about it, he challenged me to a game of arm wrestling, which I lost and was sent to bed. But I watched him, with his straggly beard and deep welts, wondering what great stories he was keeping for posterity, to share perhaps sometime when I was older and could appreciate the fabric of the yarn.


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The Fabric of the Yarn (Google Search Image)

I would have liked to say that that changed everything about how I saw him. How I searched for that journal on every outing we took and tried to get stories out of him about his relationship with my mother. But like with everything else in his life, he remained silent. I knew nothing about the degree he possessed or how he had hoped to help his people. Nothing about his side of things and that tree-hugging incident in which my uncle swore he had refused to take part. In fact, after my mother passed away, we hardly ever saw each other again. And then I moved away from the area.

I would have forgotten about my people and my heritage if it hadn’t been for my daughter, Ki (pronounced as key), whose resemblance to her mother was more pronounced than mine. Except I saw glimpses of him everywhere, especially on the streets we had once travelled together, his six shooter still glued to his hip.

I met Chi at a petrochemicals rally in Caracas, the winter my summer abroad program took effect. She was the daughter of a Japanese banker from the Tohoku region who had fallen in love with Spanish. Her roommate, Maria was the one holding a large placard that read, Venga. ¡Venga la revolución! And at the behest of her friend and the excitement of the city, Chi had rushed out of the university, forgetting her phone. Something I remember now in hindsight as the organizers of another rally instruct us to join hands and we circled another building and sing songs of freedom.

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!Venga la revolución! (Google Search Image)

In the end, after the other rally, nobody was arrested, because we were mostly international students who were for the greater good, helping the country’s economy. We were glad about our impassioned stance and the fortuitous end, and as a result exchanged telephone numbers while sipping on colas and munching on plataños. Chi and I communicating through broken Spanish and English, and crazy hand gestures, until we learned enough about how to be comfortable with one another.

I remember her hands holding mine as I had held my mother’s on the day she died, in my aunt’s basement, finally at peace with the choices she had made, hopefully grateful for what she had been given. Nobody outside our immediate circle came to the funeral, except a few of my friends who acted as pallbearers. Not her parents who had flown in for a christening or her friends from FIR, who had sworn that her quick-thinking had helped the organization. Or any other member of the Chippewa Indians. So in the end, I donned the official headdress of a chief that I borrowed from my uncle and gave counsel with the spirit elders, telling them to be as gentle with her as she had been with me. I hoisted her body up and helped position it in its grave; because she had borne me up and deserved better.

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One of the lights of my life    (Google Search Image)

Now, when I talk to my daughter, I try to tell her what I know about life on the reservation. Things I had probably never fully understood. How the Native Americans had lost so many of their people before the country was fully formed. And how now even though some of them still subsisted on the land, they maintained old practices which were somewhat safer. And when she is five I will probably take her back there to meet her great uncle, Six Shooter, so that she can explore parts of her roots as my father had tried to do with me.

Only I promise not to remain silent. To not let the world take everything that I have away from me. And I promise to let every moment count, as it does when I am digging into the ground, on my search for artifacts.

And she will know with every beat of my heart, that she was wanted and planned for. That she and her mother are the keys of my life. That we can subsist together, even if we are in the South American jungles searching for natives in a strange land. Or fighting against big oil companies in Canada and Norway. That the race to go green has not outrun its course and that we will always have a purpose; even if sometimes we are on the other side of the law, engaged in subterfuge.

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Go Green (Google Search Image)

I hope you have enjoyed Subterfuge, come back next Wednesday for another story!

Subterfuge: The Other Side of the Law

By Melissa Hazelwood


I should tell you that my parents were protestors, that I became one too even before I emerged from the womb. How my mother placed a blanket around my shoulders after they chained her to a tree, and workmen threatened to cut the chains with a power saw. How in the end both sides agreed to call the paramedics and re-negotiate the distribution of land to the Chippewa Indians. How my mother hadn’t been crazy, only passionate about civics and the law. And how when they rushed her to the emergency room for a C-section, after her water broke, she considered only one name: Geronimo; before her professor changed her mind and she accepted Luke. Like the name of one of the apostles, someone to right the wrongs of the world. But back then I wasn’t even a freedom fighter – because I didn’t carry a gun as a principle and had no extraneous flight plans. Anyone who knew me back then would have sworn that I hated to fly because I did. Men like me didn’t go to Harvard or Princeton to get MBA’s and law degrees because on principle we were too busy wondering where the next meal was coming from and how to clothe our kids. Because even though I might have admired her tree-hugging days; my mother was too sporadic even to be considered a mother. She shipped me off across state lines to live with an aunt, her sister, another woman who had no idea about what it took to raise a man. Because I was the half-breed everyone whispered about at thanksgiving. Everyone except my father, of course; he loved me the only way a good father could love his son.


Blast from the Past: My Mother’s Tree-Hugging Days (Google Search Images)

He would come around at Christmas and birthdays bearing gifts that seemed too industrious for the likes of me. An astronomy kit at nine, a doctor’s bag with utensils at twelve – that only he could explain – and a lawyer’s briefcase a few years later. Each time, my aunt would ooh and ahh as though she was really impressed because this wasn’t anything like the cheap shit they sold in stores. No. They were tools of the trade that regular practitioners used. In fact, I remember how Cindy from two doors down let me cup a feel of her A cups after listening to her heartbeat. My father’s tricks had their moments of soothing the uncertainty that others saw when they looked at me. Sure my uncle, the cop referred to me as just another bastard Indian, but people like him only observed surface texture. Him and people like my mother’s parents who refused to take her back after college so eventually we ended up in a shelter.

That was probably why she got the idea to send me to my aunt’s. I mean, when you have to sleep on a cot with ten or twenty other people looking on and then wake up and find that your shoes and jackets have been stolen, it does little to appease someone whose notion of the greater good spreads from collecting empty bottles to speaking out against domestic violence. I remember some nights when my mother joined the Mormons and went door to door to spread the word.

Pick a person, pick a cause, they used to say in one of the halfway-houses where a group of nuns used to come every Saturday, trying to make the less fortunate feel good about themselves and helping others because when you had skills, all you had to do was seek out new opportunities. My mother ended up learning to sew and after one of her creative bursts, I looked like a cross between Rambo and a cabbage patch doll. Luckily when the matches arose, I could give as well as I got.


Giving More than You Get (Google Search Image)

All because of my father, who had thrown in a pair of boxing gloves one Christmas and gone one on one with me in the ring behind my uncle’s house where my uncle played poker every other Wednesday after work. My aunt would sit by his side, warming a bowl of chips and nursing a beer as if some sort of magic was about to happen. Me, I knew better. My uncle wasn’t worth much, his good luck often outran his bad. I could see that even though my grey eyes didn’t match my broad face or fit in with the straight black hair I had inherited from my father. Because I’d convinced myself that I was part Shaman and a spirit walk would cleanse me; and also because I could see things.

The week I turned sixteen my dad came back and carried me to see his mother. An old woman whose face, I suspected, was older than Father Time, and whom I would have called beautiful but then I would have been lying. When my father came, he appeared like an apparition. Carrying a bag that resembled an army duffle and when I asked him what he did for a living, he slapped me across the face and told me to mind my own damn business.

In the end, we hitchhiked half the way to the reservation because my uncle was being generous and had dropped us off by a bus depot. But my dad was one of those old-school Indians so we rode when we got a chance and walked when we didn’t.

There was this mysterious aura about him, when he talked, people listened. Observing his steel tipped boots and the antique gun on his hostler, I couldn’t help but be amazed. The permit for which he’d shown my uncle once, still in his wallet. It was made from genuine leather that matched his belt. Something I hoped he would give me in time.

When I was growing up, I always imagined the kind of man my father would be. My mother had said that he was good with his hands and that when they’d roomed together in college, he’d wooed her by strumming open chords on his guitar. She said how he’d always gone home for the holidays and that his parents were the head of a tribe. Said, she’d only gone there once before the tree-hugging incident and that they’d made her feel welcomed, even though she had to sleep with his sisters. How, on the reservation, his parents weren’t comfortable with the idea of them frolicking under the stars in a makeshift tepee. That some of the elders had said that he was dishonoring the tribe but he had insisted, because he wanted them to meet his future wife. How others had laughed and called him foolish, but still my father persisted because by their senior year things had indeed gotten serious.


The Quiet Shaman (Google Search Image)

Or so my uncle, Six Shooter had said, that one time I’d managed to get him alone for a game of cards. He was younger than my father and like him, he had gone to the city to be educated. But, unlike my father, he hadn’t mixed with the locals. He said that that was the reason why most tribes had gotten into trouble. For the most part, he seemed rational, called me ‘sport,’ told me I wasn’t so different from them, and that he could see traces of my father in me although he hadn’t been specific. He told me to go out into the world and live my own life.

When I met la vieja though she was less than gracious; she told me to go back to my own kind because here I’d be nothing but trouble. I tried to tell her about the old Indians I had studied in school and show her medals that I had collected from winning small prizes at the science fair and boxing. But she refused to acknowledge them. Me. She said real men listened to the land. Used their heads instead of their fists and that I’d be a disgrace just like my father.

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La Vieja                          (Google Search Image)

But I refused to listen to anything else that she had to say. Told her that she was too old to be in charge of the nation and that someday soon, my father would replace her. In the end, we were gone that same night. My father begging reprieve but I remained adamant. Refused to apologize when she was being hostile. And in school, I pummeled anybody who looked at me funny so that my aunt ended up having to home school me for two whole semesters before the news of my mother’s illness reached us.

To be continued…

I hope you like what you’ve read so far.

Tune in on Friday for the conclusion of this short story.

Faces in the Crowd (Part 2)

The story continues now:

In Philadelphia, three years earlier, for a joint venture she had found a similar kinship. The event had been entitled, ‘How we fit together.’ Its focus had been on couples ranging from two or three years together, to forty and fifty. Many of the spectators had found the mix of flash photography and visual media engaging. Yet, for Mrs. Petrovich a newlywed who had never spent more than a few days apart from her husband, Michael a month had been draining.


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Their union seemed to require constant attention. Phone calls and emails did little to erode the space that was mounting between them, and in the end Mrs. Petrovich felt responsible for the way things were turning out. Her two packs a day habit – after a week – had escalated to three and she began to fiddle with her wedding band.

Forgetting the ring, Mrs. Petrovich snapped Yanni, a fifty year old water polo instructor who trained at least six days a week. Then she turned and captured Ian, a stay at home dad whose only daughter had gone to the Middle East as a peace keeper. Ryan and Quincy were next. Veterinary graduates from Sheffield, they had ventured to Rome to avoid meeting livestock.

Going around the room, Mrs. Petrovich searched for expressive single shots. She signaled DeeDee to have them move. On the periphery of a rectangular stage, Mrs. Petrovich spied Kenta, a manga artist from Okinawa who owned his own bookstore. There, he drew caricatures reminiscent of the Meiji era which also included prince Hirohito. Impressed with the scope of his portfolio, Mrs. Petrovich had viewed every NHK dvd she could find. Her conversational Japanese skills, however, remained fixed at introductions.


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Wiping her brow, she remembered the extent of last night’s sauna and hoped that a cold shower would relieve residual tension. Forced to sleep in her underwear, she had bummed two cigarettes off a waiter before DeeDee had intervened. There would be no waiting tonight, no easy hoop to jump through to save her from signing and returning the papers.

Mrs. Petrovich took a minute to catch her breath as she peered at Christie, a slim Caucasian woman, who reminded her of a high school friend she’d often travel with and although Mrs. Petrovich hadn’t seen her in years she still recalled her features. Descending a medium-sized ladder, she watched the pattern of lights on the ground that resembled her mother’s floral apron.

Holding onto the sides of the ladder, Mrs. Petrovich braced herself as the ground wavered and her mother’s stern countenance appeared.


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Ten years had passed since they had last spoken. Yet, she remembered the firm upper lip and brooding eyes. Her mother was one of ten children to survive childbirth and she prided herself on raising four children who had all gone to college. But Mrs. Petrovich didn’t feel accomplished.

She wiped sweat from her face and recalled brown pupils that seemed to see into her soul. With unknown accuracy her mother, the seamstress would uncover delinquents. She had caught Mrs. Petrovich’s twin, Mina syphoning alcohol from her father’s secret stash and Mrs. Petrovich (Mona) necking on the swings. Shaken by these revelations, Mrs. Petrovich tried to focus. But her mother’s doubts about her continued to trouble her as she imagined her younger sister pushing out her fifth child.


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Easing out of it, Mrs. Petrovich snapped Paul, a rebel who had failed to mention a similar trip taken two years earlier with his dying partner, Eugene who now slept in an urn on his bureau. Behind polite smiles, he hid insurmountable defeat, as that morning he had shredded the failed adoption papers. Although they had waited almost seven years, crossed excessive hurdles and bypassed mounds of red tape, the baby in China would never be theirs. Smiling, he tried to suppress the hurt and remember better days because in California all that remained for him was a quiet house and an empty bed.

Next, she snapped Joshua, an insecure designer whose self-doubts plagued his work. This trip was a much needed reprieve from his girlfriend who had recently revealed that she was pregnant. Now Joshua struggled to suppress memories of a father, whose penchant for sharing licks matched his propensity for collecting sea shells. And as she snapped Mrs. Petrovich tried to get a better picture of the people she was seeing.

But when Mrs. Petrovich stood, she was like a deer trapped in headlights as her sister’s crumpled body returned. “Take five,” she said, seeing it in front of them.

“You’re doing great,” DeeDee said, giving her shoulder a light squeeze. Mrs. Petrovich nodded, her body tense.

She followed the retreating figure with her eyes. It was three and she desperately needed something to take off the edge. Ejecting the full memory card, she inserted another, and wondered how things had gotten so bad between her and Michael when they had hoped for babies in the beginning. But Michael’s job as a hand model and part time actor wasn’t lucrative enough, even though he spent nights at the agency and schmoozed with prospective clients.

She pulled a water bottle from her bag and took a sip, envying DeeDee her less complicated life. She admired how DeeDee took care of herself. The few times they had gone out together DeeDee had paid for everything: a bottle of wine, an entree with lobster and dessert. Mrs. Petrovich had tried to refuse but DeeDee was obstinate. It was the only time they had disagreed and Mrs. Petrovich wondered if her current change was inconvenient and selfish.


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On the night of her sister’s death, she had wanted something to happen because Mina had stolen her prom date. Looking back now, she wondered if she would have done anything differently to save her. She remembered brushing back strands as guilt riddled her body. Minutes earlier she had said, “I hate you,” and rushed across the guard rail, leaving her inebriated sister to fend for herself. But the real shock had come when the ambulance doors opened and the paramedics told her parents that her sister was DOA, dead on arrival.


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The camera spun around and around in her hand. These lives also hung in the balance; lives that only she could direct.

Sitting on the ground, she remembered her nephew, Jordan being weighed. She had taken pictures at his bat mitzvah, a week earlier and visited Mina’s grave. Reaching into her pocket for a pack of cigarettes that weren’t there, she wondered what had confused her most about churches. Whether it was the silence after the people had gone or the solemn hymns. She had dropped dirt on Mina’s casket. But the event had left her hollow.

In her life, Michael had been the only sure thing. Michael and photography.

“Are we going to start?” DeeDee asked, looking at her disheveled appearance.

“Yes,” Mrs. Petrovich said, fastening a clip to her hair. She watched as a thin gold chain dropped onto DeeDee’s neck and her breath caught as she observed a flower pendant identical to the one her sister had worn on that night.

“Do you need to get some air?” DeeDee asked, fingering the pendant Mrs. Petrovich had given her in Marseilles where they had roomed together.

Mrs. Petrovich smiled and shook her head, wondering if she had been too forward in their discussions about marriage and Michael.

Before college there had only been two guys: Bobby, the asthmatic who picked flowers and Darryl, the drag racer who collected tickets. Neither relationship had amounted to anything and Mrs. Petrovich had lost hope until she’d discovered Michael in the men’s room at a wedding.


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But the thing that had amazed her about those earlier relationships was the fortitude with which her mother had conducted her interrogations. Her proddings were hostile and distinct. And yet her, ‘What’s your intention with my daughter?’ was delivered with the same sincerity as ‘Would like some milk with your cookies?’

Mrs. Petrovich always stood back, amazed at the way her mother had been able to control her men. Her father’s erratic spending was brought under control with two visits to the butcher’s. Her brother’s infidelity cured after five visits to the confessional and six to a bordello. It seemed as if there was nothing that her mother couldn’t do.

And from her position near the wall, Mrs. Petrovich watched DeeDee use the same halting precision as she got the participants to line up for the next round of shots. Mrs. Petrovich could forget the hand me down sweaters and pants because her mother’s intricate style had transformed them. But there was nothing she could do about Michael.

And in fact this was why she liked DeeDee. Everything was straight, she never minced words. Throwing water on Michael in the restaurant was something her mother would have done, had she been given the chance. But Mrs. Petrovich had never invited her to the wedding and Michael’s uncle had stood in for her father.

Now, camera in hand, Mrs. Petrovich continued to snap, as she had done many times on the streets of New York. Starting to feel a singularity of purpose, she remembered her first paying gig at her cousin Eve’s christening, where her uncle, Akim had promised her an easy two hundred and free drinks for the night.


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Now, she realized the advantage of having backlights because back then there had been none. The absence of her parents had been another bonus. But she was thankful for those first few shots because without them nothing else would have mattered. And Akim’s smile after she presented him with the album had given her the courage to continue, even when landlords came knocking in search of overdue rent. Because the struggle of the migrant worker or pregnant woman and teacher mirrored those of her parents.

With photography, Mrs. Petrovich had discovered a new calling. Throughout college she subsisted on ramen and cheap take out. But at night, the darkroom was her muse. There she used stop baths and she learned the art of dodge and burn before software like Photoshop made her skills obsolete. She even remembered the face of the female professor who had given her charge over her first Pentax and Nikon. Her first assignment had been black and white shots she had taken of a cathedral in Canarsie. At first they had seemed ‘hopeful’ before becoming ‘more promising’ and then much later there was Photography II.

And thanks to Fine Arts 101, she could name the important parts of a church: the nave, apse and transept. Mrs. Petrovich remembered the small church in lower Manhattan where Mina’s final service had been conducted. It was her second home, the only place she had allowed herself to be married in. Looking up at the light falling through the ceiling she felt that it was indeed over. She would give Michael his wish because after so many false starts it was time to start over.


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And one by one the images of her assistants flashed before her eyes. There was Petra, the girl who lived on her parents’ street in Canarsie. They had only lasted three months before the young woman decided to have a kid. Then there was Sandra, who had stayed about a year and a half before moving to the Midwest. Or Josh, the only guy who shared her passion for cigarettes and film. They had been together for six months before his son was slain in the East village after a brawl. Two months of therapy would help him straighten out his life but he was never the same. They had parted as friends and then the following night she had met DeeDee.

In the end, it would take a movie, dinner and a discussion of their mothers to get them going. DeeDee’s mother was a shut in who accepted monthly visits and deliveries. While Mrs. Petrovich’s mother continued to sew and raise a dozen grandkids. With the backlight fading, Mrs. Petrovich wondered if Michelangelo had ever felt intimidated with his task as his contemporaries jostled for position. She knew that after the following night the divorce would be final. Eventually, she would close up the studio and get on with her life.

Silencing the camera, Mrs. Petrovich watched as nations of people collided in a room that had accommodated billions.

She wondered how her parents had been so lucky to have travelled from the city of Omsk in Russia to American and found each other. And if maybe some time in the future she would be able to get another chance.

Then she remembered meeting Michael at a wedding and being too drink to think about making all the right moves. And how they had just gone with the flow. How a month later in college, she had been able to pick out his face in a crowd during a football game on the quad. Now looking at DeeDee, she felt that same familiar pull as she changed the f-stop and manually focused. Maybe now like then, she was only seeing the possibilities that were available to her. Maybe like these brave experimenters, who had come to Rome on something that resembled a whim, she was hoping for these decisions to matter. Even if, like them, she was only just another face in the crowd.

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I hope you’ve enjoyed the story, and do come again.

Thank you.

Faces in the Crowd (Part 1)

Hello everyone! Melissa, here. Welcome, welcome! I’m so glad that you’ve stuck around this long. Do accept my apologies for not writing sooner, but I’ve been somewhat busy with work, family life and some medical issues. All things considered though, I am always happy to read your work, and share whatever inspiration I can.

So today I am offering you a treat. As many of you who have read Austin Kleon would know, it is always good to Show (in this case I would say share) your work. Today I will share with you a short story I wrote, say about three years ago, that I wasn’t able to publish in a literary magazine.

This of course is part one and on Friday I will upload part 2.

Anyway it is time for me to fade into the background, and leave you with just one thing, as all writers, poets, authors will know, I leave behind the work. I hope you like it, and thanks for hanging in there. I wish you all, all the best with your work.

Here’s to a fruitful and productive 2018!

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Without much ado, here’s Faces in the Crowd (Part 1)

Faces in the Crowd

At the front of a narrow hallway Mrs. Petrovich adjusted a pair of bulky spectacles and waited for the last participant to file in. Rocked by allegations of scandal and impropriety, the Vatican had hired her, an impartial New York photographer, to bolster their image. From where she stood, Mrs. Petrovich observed her assistant, DeeDee as she sauntered into the room. Then, Mrs. Petrovich went to her gear bag and retrieved a Nikon.

It was a warm May morning and heat poured into the room through the ceiling. The participants were citizens from various parts of the globe who had agreed to come to Venice as part of an experiment. Ordinarily, Mrs. Petrovich would not have chosen a church for such an ambitious endeavor, but ten minutes after hearing the Cardinal’s offer, DeeDee had smiled. Now Mrs. Petrovich surveyed the room and wondered why no one from the city had entered. However, after a little while, the thought dissipated and she allowed the Basilica’s ambiance to fill her.

In the front she focused on Gene, a tall dark man from America who reminded her of her ex, Michael, and that memory carried her back five years to the start of her relationship with DeeDee. At the time, Mrs. Petrovich had been on a lunch date with friends while DeeDee, an incensed waitress, had doused a customer for grabbing her ass. Grateful, nevertheless for prompt service, Mrs. Petrovich had paid extra and left her business card.

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Now, five years later, she searched for the right place to set up a tripod as the men positioned themselves. After all, these photos would be made available to everyone so proper positioning was important.

“Free downloads,” the Cardinal had called them, as if it was a customary thing like uploading a youtube video. She balked at how easily these people had signed away their right on something she considered a financial whim. Mrs. Petrovich stopped. Then she opened the tripod and fastened the plate to the camera.

“They’re all yours,” DeeDee said, moving to the side of the room.
Removing the lens cap Mrs. Petrovich snapped two shots of DeeDee for posterity, before fastening the camera to the tripod. At five foot seven with a slim figure, DeeDee was lithe. At a young age she had shown a proficiency for ballet but due to her mother’s unsound financial investments they were often strapped. In other ways though DeeDee remained efficient.

Mrs. Petrovich took a group shot before focusing on Lily, the second woman from the left. She was a junior high school teacher from Japan and although her smile did not extend to the corners of her lips, Mrs. Petrovich continued to snap. Extra shots always came in handy. Panning right she snapped Martha, a Jamaican medical student who had completing her residency in New Jersey. At twenty eight, she yearned to return home to her family.

Mrs. Petrovich was thirty five, with peppered black hair. Currently single, she refused to reproduce even though her mother had assured her that she still possessed childbearing hips. At six feet two, she stood out in crowds but frequented sushi bars that brought in all kinds. Today, she wore black pants and a cream blouse. Both accentuated by a string of pearls DeeDee had picked out.

“Pretend you’re on the beach and you’re having fun,” Mrs. Petrovich said as she settled on a short Slovenian man she had pegged as Atlas. He smiled. Stopped. And then smiled again. Mrs. Petrovich exhaled and imagined herself rising to the surface.

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Atlas – Holding up the World,               Google Search Image

“Do you want me to dim the overhead lights?” DeeDee asked from the doorway, her fingers hovering above the switch. “To create more atmosphere.”

Mrs. Petrovich shook her head. “No,” she said, slowly. “Move them around.” After four days of trying to get things right, she had memorized most of their names. She watched Nefertiti in a dashiki change places with Sita in a shalwar. The colors were vibrant: radiant yellows merged with burnt orange, browns and greens. They moved like earthen vessels. DeeDee watched as her features softened and Mrs. Petrovich said, “That’s better.”

DeeDee smiled, removed a bolero jacket and waited for the breeze. Some days she envied buildings their ability to retain heat. Today though, she glared at fresnels and observed shoes. Mrs. Petrovich’s combat boots seemed dated. A replacement would be needed shortly, she thought, watching Jamie, a chef from Brussels recoil. Perhaps tomorrow, before they left the city.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Petrovich watched Dominique, a travel writer execute a flawless turn. The woman was a product of a union between France and Germany, who enjoyed cooking and hiking. Looking at her supple figure, the photographer wondered if she had omitted having a Spanish lineage from her consent form.

Mrs. Petrovich glanced at her watch and noticed that it was already noon. “Take five,” she said, watching them go. Scanning the shots, she wondered, where all the time had gone. This was their final shoot. Mrs. Petrovich wiped sweaty palms on her pants and recalled various excursions: a detour that had led her to the Spanish steps, a rendezvous at the catacombs and a party near the Piazza Navona. Rome was indeed breathtaking, she thought. She only wished that Michael could have been there.

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She watched Wendi, a Korean-American dentist scamper towards the door surrounded by admirers. Unlike them, Mrs. Petrovich questioned her easy-going smile.

DeeDee reached for her purse and headed towards the door. “Do you need anything?”

“A coffee. Some smokes.” Mrs. Petrovich put away the camera and reached for her arm.

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“Just coffee,” she said, thrusting a few bills into DeeDee’s open palm.

“Sure.” DeeDee pocketed the money and waited, wondering how to breech the topic of last night. She was almost certain that the habit would be broken with time. But she was concerned about today.

“I’ll be fine,” Mrs. Petrovich assured her, smoothening the collar of her shirt. When she was gone, Mrs. Petrovich did a few stretches. In another life, she thought, we could have been sisters. Sita pointed out biblical scenes to Gene, in the other room, while others trailed behind them. Mrs. Petrovich turned off the overhead lights and watched as Sita returned alone a few minutes later. She appraised the scene as only another artist could, and removed a small note pad from her pocket that she filled with sketches.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Petrovich tried to remember what had appealed to her about Sita’s consent form. But nothing surfaced.

A hand brushed against her arm and she opened her fingers to receive the cup DeeDee offered; her thin lips suspended in greeting. DeeDee wore a fashionable navy skirt and white shirt. She was a petite woman whose penchant for water rivaled Mrs. Petrovich’s taste for cigarettes. The few times they had drank together, Mrs. Petrovich had been amazed at her ability to retain liquor.

“After this,” DeeDee asked, “Are you going back to the States?”

Mrs. Petrovich sipped her coffee and nodded. “There’s an opening at the Met.”

DeeDee cringed. “But, don’t you hate art?”

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Mrs. Petrovich laughed and gulped down the rest of the warm liquid. “Like you,” she said, “I do what I must.” she said. Meeting the young woman’s frown, she averted her eyes. “Do you like it here?”

“Yes, it has its charms.” DeeDee exhaled. “I was thinking of buying a camera and taking some shots.”

Mrs. Petrovich embraced her. “Like my mother always used to say, it’s never too late to start.”

Hearing footsteps, DeeDee eased out of the embrace and feigned a smile. “How’s the coffee?”

“Great,” Mrs. Petrovich lied, smoothening a rumpled sleeve, already missing her.

DeeDee focused on the tripod and pushed back a lock of hair. Taking good pictures, she had always assumed, was about finding moments of control and exploiting them. DeeDee watched Mrs. Petrovich already knowing before she did that she was about to move.

“Places everyone.” Mrs. Petrovich handed DeeDee the empty cup and extracted another camera, tethered to her neck by a chord. Removing the tripod, Mrs. Petrovich pointed where she wanted them to go and they made shapes. First she experimented with a crescent and then a pyramid.

By the door DeeDee adjusted the lights as Mrs. Petrovich locked eyes with Trevor, a plumber from the UK with an appetite for chewing gum. Stifling a reprimand, Mrs. Petrovich bit her lower lip.

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The experiment was supposed to promote multiculturalism and diversity. Words the Cardinal had insisted upon as he stressed its pro bono appeal. But Mrs. Petrovich wasn’t like their regular photographers who possessed deep pockets and often worked with more upscale designers. In the end, her mediocre savings could barely cover the cost of transporting her equipment, so other arrangements had to be made for DeeDee. Thank goodness for her prodigious portfolio which had been enough to convince them, even if it couldn’t assuage the feud with her mother.

As she continued Mrs. Petrovich felt the space between them diminish until she caught sight of an open palm, a tilted head and a jilted lover. That abstraction of bodies reminded her of a Rothke painting she had seen at the Four Seasons restaurant of the Seagram Building. Now standing on a ladder, she observed layers of texture. For the first time since her arrival in Italy, she could see beyond the ordinary exterior so that when arching hands embraced taunt shoulders, she discovered a community.

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Check back on Friday, for part 2 of Faces in the Crowd.

And like always, thanks for reading and supporting!