Teatime Stories Vol. 1

Teatime:

Romantic Interludes in Exotic Places

by

Sugar Roads

Teatime
Teatime is far more than a location on some distant shore. It is a destiny of the heart, a summons to journey into the unknown, an adventure of the spirit. When you read these short stories you will travel to exotic places and step into the lives of people like you, people with yearning who want desperately to love and to live. When you meet them, learn from them and savor the experiences of distant cultures and lands.

Teatime is best shared with a friend. Meet somebody for lunch and over a cool beverage sit and read with him or her. The shorter the story the more heightened your senses must be. Never read a Teatime story in a hurry. These moments must be entered into with a Southern grace, with a lingering that savors the fragrance of love and fragile relationships. If possible, read the stories out loud, pausing here and there for a sip of tea and a measure of spirited reflection, of anticipation, of good-natured prediction.

But most of all enjoy the moment and may Teatime be your Time.

Sugar Roads


Midnight Train to Athens

Athens, Greece
Midnight Train to Athens
It was a midsummer midnight on a bullet to Athens. The air was sticky. I loosened my tie and sipped slowly from a bottle of ouzo in seat 22 by a double window. Fading lights, like florescent fireflies, flickered past from distant villages as the train whisked through the dark countryside tied to its ribbon of steel.

The conference over, I was heading home, the limelight scattered now, just comet dust on the edge of silence. I could see the barren garden, the empty cottage, my solitary bed. The divorce had sent me spiraling into a maddening chaos that had blinded my heart to life’s joys. I tasted the pending loneliness in the ouzo fumes. I tossed the empty bottle aside lost in a subtle despair. My head spinning, I wished the train would speed on through this nightmare and release me somewhere in a borough of New York City, but I knew better.

It was in the midst of this midnight melodrama, that I saw her. She was moonlight on a Greek barstool. Her ring finger, minus the ring, stirred languorously a pink daiquiri in a shot glass. The Blue Nile three-stone diamond winked a sad tale quarantined beneath a Scotch tumbler 8 inches from her hand. Her eyes, lost in hot contemplation, bore traces of some ancient Greek tragedy yet to be discovered.

She rose and showed the conductor her ticket and then jabbed at the daiquiri with pointless attacks. She saw me staring. She quickly adjusted looking away. A bar clock chided her, the second hand clucking, clucking, clucking.  She looked at me again, this time driving recklessly without brakes, her stare cliff bound.

I trembled, wondering her intentions, then flagged her down and hitched a ride to the barstool beside her. The bartender winked. He slid another daiquiri across the marble top and waved off the cost.

She wore a black lace scoop neck dress that had my number in the lace. She was an actress on her way back to the Odeon where she performed nightly beneath the stare of the Parthenon. She spoke broken English; I spoke broken hearts.

She toyed with her pearl necklace. I leaned in slowly and touched my lips to her cheek. Her hands found me, reading the sorrow in my face I had hidden from the world.

My fingers followed the pearl trail. She sighed in Greek. She leaned forward her knees touching mine. “Se thelo,” she whispered as a tear trickled down her cheek. “I want you.” Pocketing the Blue Nile, she sucked the life out of the daiquiri, took my hand and led me like a lamb down the train’s corridor to her room and into a steamy midnight reverie that was Athens bound.


The Ambulance Driver

Thoothukudi, Southern India
The Ambulance Driver
       Sarala sobbed uncontrollably. She held the old candlestick receiver in one hand and stabbed at the rotary numbers desperately dialing for the ambulance driver. In between frenetic attempts to get the number to go through, she kept running to the door of her small hut by the pond off Salvation Road staring at the calm water.

It was all her fault. She had suspected that something was wrong. She could tell he wasn’t feeling well. Two more numbers. She forced her finger to find the 3.   She pinned it to the metal canvass and dragged it around the face of the phone.

She raced back to the door. Oh, God. It was all her fault. Was it too late? Oh, God, don’t let it be too late!

She had seen Buster floundering in the pond. It was a game, she thought. He’s just playing. He spit up some water. Crazy. She had even smiled at the antics. She had chores.   She couldn’t join him today.

One more number. But she couldn’t find it. Her eyes were full of tears. Where was the 7? She prayed for guidance and after repeated mistakes her finger kissed it.

Oh please. She held her breath and let the 7 go. The phone on the other end was ringing!


The evening sun was gathering momentum at the harbor of Thoothukudi. Known by many as Pearl City, this southern Indian port was a bustling 24-hour industry.

Neelam, a pearl diver, had just trudged home and was preparing for his evening meal of Saag chicken. No luck today. But there was always tomorrow. Tomorrow he would find a pearl and then he would race into town to trade it for cash.

His wife had just set the table when the phone rang. He refused at first. He had a hunch. His ambulance business was picking up. But the tantalizing fragrance of the saag chicken with its garlic, onions, ginger, and cayenne pepper gave him pause. His wife stared at him. He rose and picked up the phone.

“Oh please, please, please. You must come at once. I think Buster’s dead.   Oh, God! No. No! Please don’t let him …You must come. Can you come this instant?” Sarala sobbed hysterically barely making sense.

“Yes,” he sighed. “I can come. Where are you? Salvation Road? By the Euphrates Channel near Bethel Street?” Neelam knew where the hut was.

He kissed his wife and gathered his medical bag and walked out the door to the ambulance. It was a well-built tricycle with a small wooden bed enclosed by metal bars on all sides.

Neelam tied a ruby colored scarf about his head, rose to the seat and stood on the pedals gauging the wind, like a pilot about to take off. Then he ordered his legs to begin and slowly he gained momentum, off to the evening emergency on Salvation Road….

(Read the rest in Teatime Vol. 1  Romantic Interludes in Exotic Places)


The Roadster

Dublin, Ireland

Temple Bar
She said it with a slight slur. “Meet me at Temple Bar on Fleet Street in half an hour.”

I got the call at 11:00 pm Dublin time. I was polishing the cylinders on the roadster and thinking of her when she called. “Damn! My lucky night,” I thought as I tossed the rags aside and jumped in.

I remembered her, a cute chick lost in dark musings last night at The Temple Bar pub. I took a chance. “Buy you a Guinness?” I asked. She was sitting in a corner stall with an empty glass and Cleopatra eyes. It was 2:00 am when I finally called her a cab. She leaned on me as I walked her out.

She smelled of Pink Friday, the sultry vanilla mingling with pink floral petals and alcohol. She fell into the dark taxi, her long legs slightly spread at awkward angles taunting me, daring me.

“Call me,” I shouted. I threw my card in the window as she surrendered to a distant Dublin sunrise leaving me choking in the taxi’s fumes and instant regrets.


I cranked up the roadster. The chrome engine rose like a molten pyramid out of a custom blue lagoon. I put my cap on and sped off into the night, musing.  She was standing beneath the Leprechaun Museum sign, a Red Rothman cigarette in her left hand.

The RoadsterThe top was down. I motioned her in, and she sat beside me beneath the The Temple Bar neon sign, preening. Her silver hoop earrings gave her status. I gave her a bucket seat on a Fleet Street stage.

She took the lead part without prodding, nodding to the street gawkers at the Shack Restaurant on the corner. She wore a short brim paper fedora natural tone with a broad black band as wide as the Nile tucked tight around the base. Like a matinee idol on a red carpet, she blew kisses to her fans as they strolled by arm in arm sipping Jameson whiskey.

I gave the roadster a little drink of its own, shoving high octane bourbon down its gullet and making the eight angry pistons jump and dance. She liked that. Oh yea. She liked that!

So I repeated the libation by jamming another round of spirits down my stallion’s throat pumping the pedal with a lover’s vigor. She pecked at my cheek leaving red tire marks steaming.

I wrapped a hot hand around the wheel and the other on the walnut shifter. The white wall Hoosiers torched the cobblestones on Fleet Street while she torched my soul in The Roadster.


The Knuckleballer

Chicago, Illinois

The Knuckleballer
“It’s just baseball. Just quiet yourself, spit some snuff, and throw the damn ball….” (The Knuckleballer).

Jim Mongrel, the manager of the Chicago Cubs, looked dismally down his depleted pitcher’s roster. It was a wasteland of injuries, stupidity, and bad luck.

Edie Cicotte, starting pitcher with a hot arm, had covered first base on a blooper hit and broke his ankle. Wilbur Cooper, ace reliever, caught a line drive to the head and sustained a contusion and a laceration to the left ear. Mel Harder, whose fastball scorched the ozone at 99 mph, tore an elbow ligament and needed UCL surgery.

Mongrel spit his Redman wad in the dirt and grimaced. “How the fuck am I supposed to lead this team to a pennant without any goddamn pitchers?” He paced up and down in front of the empty dugout alone. Wrigley Field was nearly deserted. Tonight’s loss to the Red Sox was hard to take. He had promised Jake Sterling, the esteemed owner and grizzled fanatic of the Cubs, a win. The 9 to 3 dubbing was humiliating.

Mongrel knew he was in trouble. In his second year of a two year contract, he had to find a way to win—or else. He shuddered at the ‘or else’. He knew Sterling’s reputation with losing managers. But damn. Look at the pitching roster. Decimated.

One by one the massive stadium torches went black. Mongrel took a final glance at the scoreboard before it too melted into the Chicago evening breeze. Then, with a dark chuckle, Mongrel turned to leave muttering “the only one wriggling here is me.”


Babe Adams, once ace knuckleballer for the Angels and now last stringer for the AA Tennessee Smokies, sat bleary-eyed and skunk happy on the infield of the Tennessee State Fairgrounds Speedway sampling all 55 Tennessee-brewed beers. Sipping slowly from his 14th selection, a foamy Jackalope beer from Nashville, Babe sensed a Key West calmness settle in upon him.

It had been another phantom year on the mound: 1 win, 8 losses, 3 disasters including the game with the Chattanooga Lookouts when he got beaned with a Schlitz can hurled from the second deck, and one majestic meltdown when he took over with a 10-0 lead in the bottom of the 8th at Birmingham and miraculously managed to lose 14-10. In all fairness, Babe had started drinking early in the shadows of the outfield dugout figuring he would never go in anyway. Shit. Plus he noticed while sitting in the dugout sipping that he had a slight nail tear on his index finger, the one that controlled the release of the knuckleball.

The speedway spun before him like a mystical playground. It was on his 18th beer, the dramatic Black Magic from the Ghost River Brewers that he remembered his wife briefly. Brenda Lee had finally left him somewhere on the road in Birmingham after the loss to the Barons. When he got back to the fleabag hotel room, she was gone. Nothing but a short note with a few tear drops on it.  “Can’t do it anymore, Babe. Gotta find a life. You know this dream died long ago. Love ya but…”

She didn’t finish the sentence. She didn’t have to. He didn’t hold it against it her. Babe swirled the Black Magic with his pitching finger and burped loudly. No, he didn’t blame her. 24 years of broken dreams and a future as black as this brew left Brenda no air to breathe.

It was on his 32nd sample, brought to him graciously by the voluptuous company girls who hawked the sudsy brews up and down the fairground lawn, that he heard the familiar call. His fan base, small but vociferous, spotted him lying surrounded by 32 crumpled beer cups singing the national anthem to the floating cumulus clouds that wafted graciously overhead.

“Hey! It’s Babe!” Seven John Deere mechanics, all die-hard Babe fans, came loping en masse to their icon of sport heroism, and gathering round the hurler began the stadium chant—“Ba—Ba—Baaaabe.” They repeated this with a rising vigor that usually accompanied him on his long walk to the mound from the pitcher’s dugout.

Babe sat up startled, finished his 32nd draught and fell back in a stupor. Jim Dorp, boss on the second shift at Deere, knelt down in the grass and began praying with his hands raised toward heaven. “Oh Ba—Ba—Baaaabe, god of the knuckleball, save us all. Amen.” The tiny congregation seconded the motion.

Jim Dorp got a little more serious. “Hey, Babe. How bout showing us your stuff?” A great hooray rose from the ranks. Babe sat up and belched, his eyes swollen and bleached. “Look, Babe. There’s a dunkin’ booth over by the country music stage. Lulu is sitting in it and whoever throws a ball and hits the trigger dumping Lulu wins a dinner with her. What d’ya say?”

Babe finally caught his breath. “Gee, fellas, I don’t know…” Before the Babe could finish his protest, Dorp and the factory boys had hoisted him on their shoulders and transported him like Egyptian royalty to the dunkin’ booth.

Lulu, former playmate model with a degree in paper mache from the community college in Nashville, sat high and lifted up on her watery perch about 70 feet away. No one had gotten close to dunking her. She mocked all comers, her thin threadbare white cotton blouse a heavy incentive for the delirious throwers.

“What’s the matter boys? Didn’t your mommas teach you how to throw?” Lulu was merciless in her ribbing of the sissy men who couldn’t throw strikes and take advantage of her generous offer to dine out at her expense.

Watching warily the new warrior approaching on the shoulders of the workingmen, she sensed trouble. “Lulu, meet Babe, the best knuckleballer in the minor leagues,” shouted Dorp. “He’s hungry and wants a steak dinner.” The boys hooted over this challenge and gently set their champion down on the throwing line.

Lulu laughed. “He’s drunk. Tell him to go home to momma.”

Zeke Rafter handed Babe the three balls. “Show her, Babe. Show her.” A crowd began to gather. Dorp capitalized by whipping up the familiar Babe call. Babe tottered on the throwing line, his cheeks a fire engine red, steaming from the 32 brews that coursed through his baseball veins. He stared at Lulu like she was about to steal second. He wound up slowly kicking his leg out and then with a brief pause to adjust his knuckleball grip, he let it rip. The crowd was stunned to watch the ball smash into a snow cone concession stand 40 degrees east of Lulu.

“Damn!” was all Babe said.

Lulu, on the other hand, had plenty more descriptive words. “What the fuck was that? That’s my niece’s stand, you jerk.”

The boys quickly huddled surrounding Babe. Jake Durbin, 14% owner of an illegal tattoo shop on Merritt Street in Nashville, spoke up. “What’s up, Babe? It’s just baseball. Just quiet yourself, spit some snuff, and throw the damn ball. Now, c’mon. Lulu’s laughing at you.” He patted the hustler on his butt and shoved the ball back in his hand. The boys gave a cheer and backed away, the Catholics in the group rubbing the shit out of their rosaries.

“You piece of dirt!” shouted Lulu. “You owe me for that concession stand. And by the way, boy, you ain’t got a shot in hell at seeing these wet.” With that, she yanked her cotton tee-shirt up for a lingering second, her magazine charms on full display. The tractor boys all hooted except Jake Durbin who fainted. The insult was an instant sobriety check for Babe.

He came down from the mountain sober and with 10 stone-cut reasons to get Lulu. “I got this, fellas. Back away now. I got this filly dead in my sights.”

Babe point one arm at Lulu’s chest and the other at heaven and then moved with the grace of a night ninja through his windup. His fingers bit the cotton seam on the hardball and sent if flying.

Fluttering like a Mexican monarch butterfly, the ball jitterbugged in slow motion down the runway until it smacked dead center on the metal bull’s eye holding up Lulu. She went flailing into the water popping up spitting, sputtering, and cursing….

(Read the rest in Teatime Vol. 1  Romantic Interludes in Exotic Places).


Rhapsody of Brooklyn

Casablanca, Morocco

Casablanca
Mustapho smelled of mackerel and tobacco. He wore the perfume of the sea with the somber dignity of a dreamer who longed for more. His long hours in the fishing boat had turned his hands rough but Mustapho’s heart was that of a child.

He snuggled down in the feather bed and pulled Houda close. “Close your eyes, my love. It was long, long ago when my great grandmother, Maimouna, walked alone on the Casablanca beach hours after a great Atlantic storm. She came across a helm sticking out of the sand. She was so excited. She dropped to her knees and began to dig. And when she finally pulled the great helm from the clutches of the sand, she almost shrieked. For hiding beneath the ship’s wheel was this dragon.

“It is a sign!” Maimouna whispered to herself. I must show my husband and make it a gift to him for his birthday.”

Houda sighed and touched the dragon’s wings. She knew his saying repeated a thousand times: “Only the one who loves you most will ever wear this dragon amulet, my darling.”  A moment passed as Mustapho waited for her eyes to close before he left. But Houda lingered in the twilight of love and asked for a song—a song from Brooklyn. “Please, daddy one Brooklyn song and then I will sleep.”

Mustapho spoke often of running off to Brooklyn to seek his fortune. And so Mustapho plucked his Ukulele from the wall where it hung. He strummed the latest Brooklyn Paramount hit as she drifted off lost in the rhapsody of Brooklyn:

I found my thrill on Blueberry Hill
On Blueberry Hill when I found you.
The moon stood still on Blueberry Hill
And lingered until my dream came true.

Ten Years Later

Houda hid the bruises on her shoulder and back easily when she sang on stage. The lead singer at Club la Marachal off of Avenue Tan Tan, near the coast, she hid her unhappiness and anger well. Yassine was always near. His cruel eyes owned her. He hid beneath his crimson djellaba, the hood smothering his gaunt cheeks and greying beard.

Yassine lurked in the club’s shadow, a lean tiger with a hunger for young women. Just last night during a break in a set, he had cornered Houda in her small dressing room. “You owe me, woman,” he growled. “Who else would pay you as I do?” He pressed her against the wall, his left hand cupping her mouth while his right hand tore off her blouse. She was no match for his strength. He groped her breasts and lifted her skirt.

The stage manager knocked on the door. “It’s time, Houda. Hurry now.”  Yassine relented, his eyes desperate. “Later,” he scowled. “You owe me.”

She sang the love songs—‘She’s gone (Rahila) and ‘Cold and Hot, O love’. Houda gripped the mike with pale intensity, her fingers laden with bejeweled rings that sparkled beneath the stage lights. She sang the love songs of Casablanca, but her heart longed for Brooklyn. Mustapho’s lullabies still haunted her. Though he had gone to Brooklyn to find a new life for them and never returned, she still had faith. After these ten years had past without a word, she still believed in his dream—in him. There must be a reason, she told herself each night as she cried herself to sleep.

Her mother was not well and it was all Houda could do to keep bread on the table and pay the rent. Now it was all she could do to satisfy Yassine and sing in the club. But each night at Club La Marachal she got her revenge. For each night she always closed her set with a song from Brooklyn. She sang in English. She sang with her eyes closed. She sang for Mustapho.

Houda hid the bruises. The lights always dimmed on this number. She swayed before the drunken patrons who knew nothing of Brooklyn. She sang Mustapho’s lullaby and found him in the smoky air his silver dragon flying in pendulum arches summoning her. She touched the wings and smelled the mackerel musk on his hands and knew he was still near her.

“Only the one who loves you most will ever wear this dragon amulet, my darling.”

“I love you father.” She sang in English. She sang her Brooklyn song.

The wind in the willow played love’s sweet melody
But all of those vows we made were never to be
Though we’re apart you’re part of me still
For you were my thrill on Blueberry Hill.

Ten Years Ago

    The dragon smiled. This old nightclub on Flatbush Ave and Fulton Street in downtown Brooklyn smelled of stale beer and sweet dreams. It needed work but the dragon was smiling and so was Mustapho. He wasn’t too far from the Brooklyn Paramount and the stomping nightlife it bred. All he had to do now was clean it up, gather his talent, buy the booze and start swinging.

Mustapho stood silently in the cool foyer of the old club watching the sunlight play tag with the streetcar tracks in front of his place. It was easy for him to hear the traditional Arabic ensemble with the oud and the violin carrying the melody of his motherland and the riq beating out a Moroccan rhythm. “I’ll call it the Casablanca!” he said out loud hoping someone would hear. He knew Houda would be proud. Mustapho felt a tear slide down his cheek. His dream had come true. Finally.

As the evening sun drooped over the Brooklyn Bridge, Mustapho headed toward the subway line. He would hustle home to his Manhattan apartment, tell his neighbors the good news and share a drink. Skipping along the sidewalk to the subway line, he whistled the tune he had taught Houda.

I found my thrill on Blueberry hill,
on Blueberry Hill
where I found you.


A lone flashbulb crackled and popped. The strobe smeared the dark subway walls and then vanished. Joe Herring mumbled in between cigar puffs as he jotted down location notes for the photo. He knelt down and focused on the bleeding face. “Looks foreign. Poor slob,” he said to no one. He heard the sirens up on Flatbush Ave. Finally! he thought.

It was strange to see gang activity on the # 3 red line at Flatbush and Franklin. This area was usually pretty safe. A trickle of blood dripped off the edge of the subway ledge dropping to the tracks below, a little Niagara of silent horror. A few Colt gun shells lay hot and still about the body. An amulet chain was still tangled in the man’s hand. “Must have yanked it off the guy’s neck. Shame,” muttered Joe. “Damn thief. Damn shame!”

The photo ran the next day in the New York Daily News. No story followed. Only a brief caption: Moroccan man shot by local thugs on the red line at 2:00 am at the Flatbush station. One witness claimed his last words were some kind of garbled Arabic—“Houda.” No known family members.

Ten Years Later

Bereavement

The white tent fluttered with activity. The mourners came bearing their 8-pound sugar cones as was the local custom. Everyone knew not to stay too long. But neighborly concern was highly valued and rewarded by talk in the tent corners….

(Read the rest in Teatime Vol. 1  Romantic Interludes in Exotic Places).


The Blacksmith’s Shop

New Orleans, Louisiana
Supreme Court, New Orleans
  Celestine sashayed with Mardi Gras grace sucking honeysuckle stems and tossing the dregs into the gutter at the corner of Royal Street beside the Supreme Court Building. The honeyed garland hung in pastel driblets from her brow, sweet tentacles swaying this way and that camouflaging dusky eyes that exuded confident danger.

We strolled past One-Eyed Jacks on Toulouse Street remembering our hot dalliances in the Shim Sham Club before it burned to ashes. I was in her wake drifting perilously in a purple haze, feeding on visions of pralines and sweet seduction, when she turned to me and whispered something in Cajun about being famished.

I swallowed my tongue (catching her drift), and shook my head vigorously in agreement. I suggested the Famous Door on Bourbon Street thinking a hot Muffuletta might stoke her mood.

Like a big league hurler, she shook off the sign and pointed with a lavender fingernail toward Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop six blocks the other way on Bourbon Street.

Never one to argue with sensuous nails or Cajun whisperings, I succumbed to her panting and set sail for the blacksmith shop where all pirates go laden with desire.

LaFitte's Blacksmith Shop

We sallied past the Bourbon Street Blues Company stopping in briefly at the Preservation Hall where she triumphantly dropped anchor on the knee of Slik Jones, the trombone player, placing a virgin suckle behind his ear and playing with his horn.

With the old Ursaline Convent haunting the skyline, we drifted toward St. Peter’s Street, she showing little interest in Hail Marys or stained glass. A naughty moon stared at us over Lafitte’s disheveled house. She sat with me restlessly at a table by the pirate’s bar sipping a Sazerac, her painted nails clipping the table in secret code seeking my buried treasure.

Sucking the volcanic residue from the shot glass, her eyes dilated but soft, she pointed a hook toward the second floor and whispered one last word in scratchy Cajun about a bed and coucher avec moi.

I said my Hail Mary giving credit where I could for my fortune and followed her. Celestine sashayed up the stairs with Mardi Gras grace her buttocks playing xylophone tunes beneath a silk dress as I clung to each note beneath her sway.

She shoved me on the bed and opened the curtains. Picking up a red candle she lit three Tibetan incense sticks and flipped off the light. The last sounds I heard were her sucking the last of the honeysuckle stems and tossing the dregs and the night ahead into the gutter.


Lady Luck

Las Vegas, Nevada

Craps table
“You’re a loser. Nothing but a goddamn loser!”

Jason played the putrid lines over and over again as he tossed on his Las Vegas bed. The last twenty-four hours had been brutal. Just yesterday alone he had lost $15,000 on the Bellagio craps table. She was right, he thought, as he sat up and checked the clock on the wall. 2:34 am. He rubbed the stubble on his face and then poured himself the last drops of Brandy from the spent Hennessy whiskey bottle.

He could not erase the glare in Margery’s eyes when she had flung that curse at him. Those were her last words before she had stormed out of their Massachusetts two-bedroom rancher with the broken front door. “You’re a goddamn loser!”

He gulped down the liquor and laughed pathetically. She was right. I am a goddamn loser. She got the house worth $153,000. I got the bank balance: $47,000 total. And now I’ve only got $28,000 left. He stumbled to his feet and stood staring at the Fountains of Bellagio dancing in the Vegas moonlight just outside his 20th floor perch in the south wing. Waves of sadness pummeled him and he felt the solemn crush of loneliness drape his soul like an Egyptian shroud.  He turned from the window and laid back down, the mantra of the curse echoing in his mind: “You’re a loser. Nothing but a goddamn loser!”


Jason sat at the bar ruminating. He saw a small crowd around the craps table, but he didn’t bite. He wasn’t feeling it yet. The Hennessy he sipped felt good.  He had shaved, combed his hair and he looked the part of a leading man. Still young at 34, he knew he could turn things around. He had to. It was too late for Margery. That was history. But he was ready for a new love, a new start. All he had to do was win. But he wasn’t feeling it yet.

The place was busy tonight. New suckers rolling in all the time, he thought. That was me a few nights a go. Pockets full of chips and dreams. Ha! Nobody beats the house. He turned back to the bartender who was always ready to listen. “Hope your luck changes,” said Bob wiping the counter. Jason grunted.  It wasn’t a topic he cared to discuss. Bad luck. The chips in his pocket were hot.  It had to be tonight. Tonight he would show everybody. Tonight he would be a winner.

The casino was hopping now. Suckers, he thought, as he watched them rush to the tables eager to throw their fresh cash down. What he desperately needed was a good luck charm. Jason let his index finger slowly crawl around the mouth of the whiskey tumbler.

tumbler

“Damn it! There I go again!” He hated slumping into silly superstition. “You make your own luck,” his dad used to tell him. “Lot of good that did him,” muttered Jason. “Old man jumped off a bridge before he hit 40.”

It was now 10:30 pm and Jason noticed a slight thinning of the crowd around the craps table. He was restless and afraid, fragile. He couldn’t get up, couldn’t approach the boxman. He toyed with the chips in his pocket. Pumping up his confidence he talked quietly to the tumbler. “I’ll just play it safe for awhile. Put my stuff on the pass line. Play the free odds bets. Wait for lady luck.”

He breathed deeply and kissed his high school ring like he always did before taking the plunge. It was then that he first saw her. She sat at the far end of the bar, her long blond hair flowing like lava down silken arms. She was a natural beauty, young with heavy makeup on her eyes. Her complexion was Mediterranean sand, primitive, untouched. Lips, deluged in tangerine, matched a red rose she caressed next to her cheek. A tiny gold ring clipped one nostril and matched dangling earrings. A dangerous tattoo, faint and eerie, graced her right shoulder.

Jason stared. Lady luck? he wondered. She stared back but neither moved….

(Read the rest in Teatime Vol. 1  Romantic Interludes in Exotic Places)


Teatime in Old Havana

Havana, Cuba

Teatime in Old Havana

          It was teatime in Old Havana and the sun was dripping off the umbrella. The shadow of the Cathedral of San Cristobal crawled along the cobblestones that surrounded their outdoor café bathed in baroque enticements. Icicle drops glided down the skin of the glass she toyed with.  Analena sipped slowly, her hands like ivory caressing a dream.  They stared at each other wondering as they had each evening this week.

Her life at the cigar factory was killing her. Day after day, tethered to a tiny station, in a smothering room with other soulless workers, she bundled Havana cigars, finished and sashed with a white ribbon, a reflection of the white chain that held her fast.

David had met her by chance the first day after his arrival in Havana. He was unwinding after an uneventful flight into the city.  He had stepped casually into the sacred air of the Cathedral of San Cristobal. She was sitting alone in the second row surrounded by the sculptures and procelains of Bianchini and Perovani, her quiet tears echoing off the vaulted ceiling. He waited for her outside. Awkwardly he invited her to join him at a table.

San Cristobal Cathedral Havana
San Cristobal Cathedral Havana

They sat beneath a white umbrella in front of the cathedral sipping tea. Her long auburn hair was tucked behind her ears whispering seductively over slender shoulders. She wore sunglasses atop her head and had a green amulet dangling modestly over a bosom that made him weak.

“Why do you cry, Analena?” he asked her. “You are too beautiful to cry.” She smiled embarrassed her teeth matching the white porcelain hoop earrings dangling freely from her ears. David touched her hand. She blushed. “You should not cry. I see sunshine in your smile.”

Analena looked away the darkness returning to her eyes.

“Can you tell me?” he asked.

She stared dreamily at the cross atop the cathedral tower.

“Tell me. I will help you.”

She looked back at him, her eyes imploring, lost. “My dreams are …” She dropped her head, ashamed.

David rose, circled the table, and sat beside her. Pulling Analena close he sheltered her from a perfect storm of failed ambition and loneliness. “Then, without lifting her head, she whispered in Spanish, “Estoy solo, estoy solo.” Each word was thin ice splintering beneath her. She was slipping beneath the weight of the cigar cell, a mother just buried, submerged dreams.

“No estas solo!” He raised her head and looked into dreamy eyes, swollen with sadness. “You are not alone, Analena. I am here.”  He touched a tear as it slipped down her cheek and pulled her face close to his. His lips touched hers.

She closed sorrowful eyes and leaned into him her arms searching for the lover she had desperately prayed for in the cathedral. David held her long and felt the foggy whispered words of Jose Marti slip ashen faced and sundried from her lips:

Day and night
I always dream with open eyes
And on top of the foaming waves
Of the wide turbulent sea,…

She could not finish. Her sobbing drowned the poet and with him her hope for tomorrow.


          Jim Bernstein glared over his pince-nez glasses at David’s Havana proposal and saw red. His face was pinched with headline wrinkles and a slurry of deep deadline trenches, the result of forty years in the newspaper business. In short, he was blood-shot weary and ready to walk out the Heartbeat door for good.

David Thorn paced restlessly in front of Bernstein’s desk. This Havana trip would buy him time, help him clear his mind and find a little solace from his breakup with Petula.

“Can’t afford to have you galavanting all over Cuba on my dime,” sputtered Bernstein. “Why can’t you report on vice right here in New Orleans? Shit. Do a story about hookers in the French Quarter or graft in the New Orleans Police Department and I’ll slap it on the front page of Heartbeat in a Bourbon Street minute.”

Silence. Thorn said nothing. Just rubbed his eyes. Bernstein liked Thorn. The tall, thin reporter had been the heart of the magazine since it’s inception. Thorn had something. He could smell a story. He sold magazines.

“Look, Jim. It’s just a week. Havana cigars are hot on the streets here, but nobody knows their provenance. Nobody knows the hands that roll them. I’ll dig up that angle, make it more than a story about leaves and smoke. Make it more personal.”

Bernstein, in slow motion, pushed his chair back from a desk cluttered with files, photos, ashtrays and red-lined articles in need of revision. He tugged at the bottom drawer and pulled out a half empty bottle of Jim Beam. “Drink?” He held out a dirty glass.

“Sure, Boss.” The men drank in silence each feeling the quicksand beneath them.

Thorn spoke first. “Jim, I know you’re worried about the cost.  But don’t be. I’ll stay in that cheap Havana Heaven dive. Be in and out in a week. And I guarantee you a hot story. What d’ya say?”

Jim poured them another round followed by another round of thick silence. Then with a burdened resignation, he surrendered.

“David Thorn, this better be the best mother fuckin’ story you ever wrote. Don’t come back with less than a Pulitzer. You got that?” Jim slowly swiveled the old railroad chair around, turned his back on Havana, put his cowboy boots on the window ledge, and smiled….

(Read the rest in Teatime Vol. 1  Romantic Interludes in Exotic Places)


Memories

Dubri,India

Indian jewelry
       Esha’s hands enveloped me like a sunrise on Laguna Beach. I lay speechless on the table as she sprinkled incense on my forehead. She seemed to be a mirage rising from a lover’s fog, her olive skin adorned by a myriad of bracelets, necklaces, baubles, and tiny bells.

As she adjusted the thin sheet that draped me, her movements sparked tiny orchestral symphonies of sound. Little bells sang and tinkling silver from layered necklaces played unknown exotic melodies that summoned me places I had never been. It seemed as if I had entered some dark and forbidden Indian temple just as the sacred rituals were beginning to unfold.

Esha ignored my apprehensions, tapping a knob on the wall that released some flickering lights, long caged, that now crawled sensuously across her face and down the bejeweled medallion that draped just above her tight leather bodice. Her voice, soft as whippoorwill wings, floated just beyond my reach. “Relax. Let go. Forget.”

Dreamweaver melodies heavy with mellifluous wanderings, bubbled up from beneath the table drawing me inexorably into her sad glances. Her bracelets forged from Old Delhi silver, tinkled a Sangam love poem as they wove their tragic tale across my chest. She moved across me her fingers searching for signs of woe, her eyes reading the ceiling.

Nagara drums
Nagara drums

I sensed she was somewhere distant even as her fingers explored my skin unraveling the sheet, making me shiver. She hummed softly as she attended me travelling back to Dhubri, a little village on the banks of the Brahmaputra River. At mysterious intervals, she turned and tapped lightly on some nagara drums on a table near a small fountain.

It was midway into the session when the first tear fell. It hit my cheek. I looked up into her dark eyes filled with tantric sorrow and seduction. I said nothing at first not daring to disturb. She loomed over my face, kneading my temples, her long black hair enveloping us in an intimate cocoon.

When the second tear fell, I took her hand pulling her gently to my side.  She came willingly. I moved to the side of the table and helped her up. She lay beside me her head collapsed upon my shoulder. Her skin was as soft as down and the fragrance of her hair was bound in Indian incense. “Are you okay?” I asked touching her cheek. My finger tracked the trail of the last tear that ended at her lips.

After a pause as long as the Ganges, she whispered, “Memories.”

——-

[1]                 Esha: Hindi name meaning “desire.”


Whiskey

Linville, North Carolina

linville falls
  Sorrel slipped off her tight jeans and tossed them onto a low hanging willow branch that kissed the riverbank. It was a full moon and the orb’s reflection fell languidly across her bare shoulders. Rabbit Hollow was beautiful in the early fall. The ocher leaves fluttered from the oaks with a gentle resignation.

Sorrel relished these private moments and loved the cold spring water that mingled with the Fox River, a tributary lost in the imagination of the Appalachian Mountains. She slipped off her remaining garments and tested the chilly current with her painted toe. Delicious!, she thought.

Raised in the holler, she loved the call of the hounds on a trail, a campfire in the woods, the haunting cry of a hoot owl, and the loving touch of Elroy her mountain man. Her mid-twenties figure was full and sensual. She knew her power over men and relished it. She waded out to her waist and gently fell backwards letting the Fox baptize her in the name of the father she hated, and the son she adored, and the moonshine she ran.

The water ran in black and crimson rivulets down her streaked cheeks tumbling upon her breasts and then submitting to the cold river. She always smeared war paint on her cheeks before she masked and it was a joyous relief to wash it from her face in the river at midnight.


Tom Scat 30-year revenuer out of Little Rock had sworn publicly that he would catch, hog tie, and castrate the fugitive moonshine runner known as Whiskey or die trying. Cashing in on a hot tip from a hooker outside Linville NC, Scat and his three federal agents, Homer Loose, Josh Bedwell, and Patch Doyle were flat on their stomachs deep in the tendrils of Rabbit Hollow. “Shh! I hear something.” Scat parted the thick brush with his left hand and peered ahead in the darkness.

The holler was lit with moonlight and a few moonbeams were bouncing off a figure in a distant river. “Somebody’s in the water,” said Scat using sharp gestures stabbing the night in the direction of the Fox. He could hear the gurgle of the river and he could also hear somebody singing, the sound sort of like musical cicadas.

Patch Doyle scooted up to the boss. He turned on his side and took out a black pistol, spinning the cylinder. “Loaded and ready for bear, boss,” grunted Patch. The other two agents spread out, forming a net that was about to make them all famous.

revenuers

The headlines would surely read in the Morning Gazette:

 Whiskey in the River!
Federal agent Tom Scats and his revenuer gang catch the notorious moonshine runner Whiskey, down at the Fox River. The daring midnight raid proves the mettle of these tough Federal G-men.

With his hand jabbing at the river, Tom Scat winked at Patch Doyle. Then both half stood in a Geronimo crouch and slithered through the underbrush until they hovered just ten feet from the river’s edge, behind a giant oak.  On a predetermined signal, Scat, Doyle and the boys erupted from the brush firing their weapons in the air and yelping like Lee’s confederates on a Cold Harbor charge.

They stopped inches short of the river’s edge letting the echoes of the six shooters slip into the shadows of distant maples.  Peering into the watery mist, Tom Scat saw nothing at first. Sorrel had slipped beneath the surface stunned and angry at this violation of her sanctuary. But rather than slither away on the sandy bottom, she opted for confrontation. With a steely determination, she surfaced slowly stopping when the water hit her neck.

“There it is!” screamed Homer his eyes bugged out in alarm. The other agents followed his finger and looked in shocked disbelief upon the face of Sorrel who stared them down with a flinty scowl. “It’s a girl!” squawked Homer.

“No shit,” mocked Scat. “Hey you. Lady. Federal agents here. Out of the water. Now!”  Scat cocked his shotgun.

Sorrel studied Scat’s face. She recognized him. She had been looking for the bastard for months. He was biting into her profits and she aimed to nail his ass. But for now he had the advantage. She slowly exited the river water pouring from her breasts and rushing down long legs used to pleasure.

“Damn!” said Homer his greedy eyes locked on flesh.

Sorrel moved stealthily toward the black willow branch where her clothes still hung. The men parted watching the goddess parade by with the moonlight kissing her rippling ass. Sorrel had a half moon tattoo on her left breast that moved hypnotically.

Scat stopped her before she reached the willow. “Nice moon, there ma’am. Mind if I touch?”  Scat grinned at the boys and felt a thud to his jaw. Sorrel walloped him and was about to hit him again when Josh Bedwell and Homer Loose held her arms.

“You filthy federal swine! Wait till my man Elroy hears about this.” Sorrel spit in Scat’s face as he fondled her breast, feeling the flesh of the tantalizing moon. “Damn! That’s sweet. What I wouldn’t give to have a filly like you,” cackled Scat.

Tom Scat, a sensible man with a wife and five children at home and a government pension a month away, came to his senses. “Let her go, boys. We’ve got work to do.” Scat stepped back and the agents, hooting and whistling, released Sorrel who quickly put on her clothes, seething with anger. As she ran into the brush, Scat hollered after her. “You tell Whiskey we’ll catch him one day.  You tell him. You tell him, lady!”

(Read the rest in Teatime Vol. 1  Romantic Interludes in Exotic Places)

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