PROMOTIONAL – Prospect Customers

Article written for an established growing company providing year round emergency service and maintenance for AC, heating repair and other related services

Target Audience: Prospect Customers
Comprehension level : Basic Knowledge.
Target demographic : Adults 25 40, Adults 40 60.
homeowners who live in mesa Arizona who have a central air conditioning

Objective: Motivate to Purchase

Indoor air quality Mesa AZ

Our mission, at Mesa Air, is to provide homeowners and their families with fresh, clean air, at an affordable cost. Your family’s health is dependent on the quality of the air in your home. There are several factors which contribute to the quality of the air your family breathes. These can be weather conditions, outdoor air quality, dust, pollutants and how well your air conditioning or heating unit is performing.

Living in Arizona means dealing with dust. The dust accumulates in the air conditioning ducts and eventually you and your family could be breathing it. These conditions can be hard on children and older family members. When was the last time you had your air conditioning unit checked? AC maintenance is important to guarantee that the air you and your family are breathing is fresh clean air. Poor quality air in your home can translate into health risks. Don’t take any chances, have your units and ducts sealed and sanitized. Our technicians use uv tiles and air scrubbers in order to eliminate germ particles.

Are you a home owner in Mesa, Arizona? Call us at Mesa Air for an Air Quality service check up. Let us help you improve the quality of the air in your home. Is your air conditioning unit older than 5 years and no longer under warranty? At Mesa we can help you find the right solutions to meet your air conditioning needs and budget, in a timely manner, with no overtime costs.

Mesa Air has a reputation for being amongst the best in the tune-up and maintenance of Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning systems. With over 30 years experience in the business, we bring the expertise, reliability and a level of service and competence which speaks to our excellence and to our client commitment. At Mesa Air we pride ourselves in providing low-cost, instant installation, repairing and service solutions in a timely manner.

We are located in Mesa, so we know first hand what scorching hot days at 120 F feel like. We also know it means air conditioning units are running overtime, which can lead to malfunctions, untimely breakdowns and poor air quality. With young children and the elderly at home, a malfunction or breakdown of your air conditioning unit could turn into a health hazard. A quick intervention is necessary. That’s where we come in. At Mesa Air we provide fast, efficient emergency services. Our skilled, experienced technicians and service engineers are able to offer you instant AC solutions.

Are you a home owner in Mesa with an AC or heating unit which is five years or older and no longer under warranty? At Mesa Air we can provide a solution that satisfies your needs and budget. If your air conditioning unit has seen better days, check with us at Mesa Air and let us assist you in replacing your AC Unit with an affordable model suited to your home and budget.

Installation, repairs and 24 hours a day, 7 days a week service, all year round, to help you and your family rest easy. Our commitment to excellence has earned us a reputation at Mesa Air. By constantly and diligently meeting high standards of cleanliness and providing exceptional services in a timely manner, without overtime charges, we have more than lived up to our mission.

Are you a homeowner or a business in Mesa, in need of servicing your air conditioning or heating unit? Is your AC unit worn out, low performing or broken and no longer under warranty? No matter what situation you find yourself in, you are in good hands with Mesa Air. Our team members are EPA certified. Mesa Air is a licensed, bonded and insured air conditioning and heating company, servicing every part of Mesa and its surrounding areas. Let us take care of everything, while you and your family relax, knowing that you are in the hands of one of the most reputable air conditioning experts in all of Arizona.

We recommend having your air conditioning and heating units serviced and cleaned regularly to avoid any unpleasant malfunctions. Don’t wait, call us today and together we will ensure your home and family are getting the clean, fresh air they need and deserve.

BRAND STORY

Company Info: Established/Growing.
Company established in 2007, “MarkNature” brand registered in 2019. Supplies quality products, Plant Nutrients, Natural Extracts, Food Ingredients, Excipients, Lab and Speciality Chemicals. Professional team /Strict quality management system. B2B and B2C

MarkNature

OUR MISSION

Improving agricultural productivity has always been at the heart of our business. MarkNature’s website and online shop may be new, however our experienced team of professionals, quality service and products are not.

MarkNature was conceived in 2019 as a new branch of Reach International Inc., a company which has been looking after the agricultural needs of growers since 2007. Reach International has been on the forefront in its field, since the on-start, with products and B2B services designed to assist growers. At Reach International we are dedicated to the battle against the detrimental effects on agriculture which are derived from the continuous deterioration of the environment, such as acid rain, the decrease of pH in natural bodies of water and nutrient depleted soil.

THE EARLY YEARS

Between 2007 and 2010, Reach International produced agrochemicals, feed additives, natural chemicals, excipients, pharmaceuticals and other specialty chemicals. These were all produced in our lab at Reach International. Our plant production and capacity position us well in the Agrochemicals industry. Demand for food is driven by population growth. It is forecast that by the year 2050 the population will have risen by one third to approximately 9 billion people. Since the 1980’s the demand for field crops has increased by almost 90%. With the increased demand for food and feed, Agrochemicals play an important role. How can we meet growing demands with limited resources such as water, soil and nutrients? By improving productivity. Our products are designed to protect crops, improve productivity and increase yield, all deployed as part of an integrated system.

By 2015, Reach International was a solid, well established company and still growing. With an eye towards the future, we expanded our production and our offer via a Joint venture and began producing a series of bio-stimulants and organic fertilizers. We have since been committed to the development of quality bio-stimulants for agriculture. Bio-stimulants are microorganisms whose function is to stimulate natural processes and benefit nutrient uptake, nutrient efficiency, improve the plant’s tolerance to abiotic stress and improve crop quality and yield. Because we are professional bio-stimulant manufacturers, we are able to supply bio-stimulants directly from our production plant to you or. your company, at competitive prices.

We are diligent about quality management. Our quality management is the result of a clear and authentic company mission, fundamental beliefs and values, which strictly abide by. Our technical team and service team work together to provide our clients a one-stop seamless experience. Our team will guide you through the entire process, from consulting, design and planning to manufacturing, shipment and installation. For more in depth information on Reach International Inc. visit our website: http://www.reachemical.com

WHAT’S NEXT?

The good news is that MarkNature is an online shop. A platform where we make our expertise in the business, quality services, products and shipment available to smaller businesses and the private sector as well. Behind MarkNature’s brand you will find a team of dedicated professionals, ready to answer your questions and assist you in finding the most suitable solutions for your growing needs. Our range of products are suitable for organic farming, home gardening, horticulture, orchards, grasslands or greenhouse farming.

OUR SERVICES

Our team of experts at MarkNature are committed to providing quality service. We offer what every grower needs to maintain a healthy soil environment, robust plants and generate increased yields. The soil is too dry, too wet? You have pests, fungus, mold, or nutrient depleted soil? Whatever difficulties you are faced with, at MarkNature we have a solution for you. We take care of everything so you can be serene.

OUR PRODUCTS

We produce and sell plant nutrients, natural extracts and ingredients for plants. Our extensive line of quality products for agricultural, farming and gardening are now available for purchase online.

Some of our featured products are;

  • Humic Acid
  • Fulvic Acid
  • Seaweed Extracts
  • Chitosan
  • Organic Nitrogen Fertilizer
  • Microbial Fertilizers
  • Microelement Fertilizer

If you are new to growing and have no idea how or why these products are used, MarkNature will make your online shopping experience stress free. On our company website we provide detailed product specifications and instructions on. use. These are featured in a short, clear and concise form, or you can contact our of our experts for advice. We are always here to help you make the right choices and pick the right products, designed to help you succeed. with your growing projects, no matter how big or small.

Our website also provides a series of in depth, well written, clear and concise articles of interest to anyone who is a grower, whether you have a backyard vegetable garden or acres of crops to tend to.

Much time, effort and investment go into growing plants, whether you are growing vegetables and fruit to be enjoyed by your family and friends or growing home grown flowers to add color and life to your home. The products and services we provide at MarkNature are essential to any successful growing project, no matter how big or small.

Plants need to get fertilized because most soil does not provide the nutrients required for optimal growth. Plants need a little extra help to combat otherwise detrimental growing conditions. MarkNature’s products are committed to getting results. Our products and our team at MarkNature will help you overcome from the most common to the least common adversities which growers are faced with.

OUR TEAM

MarkNature is more than an extensive line of quality products for agricultural, farming or gardening needs. Behind the MarkNature brand you will find specialists in crop and soil science. At MarkNature, a professional team awaits you, with the skills, knowhow and products to support you in your quest to maintain a healthy soil environment and generate increased, healthy yields.

At MarkNature we bring the expertise of a solid established company in its field, the reliability and know how of a professional team and a level of service and competence, which perfectly reflects our commitment to excellence and to our clients.

Please visit our company website and our online shop.

CHIMERA -CHAPTER I

A ray of light spills through a slight gap in the curtains, a slash across Anna’s face, like a glowing blindfold. The quality and color of the light suggests it is artificial light and still dark out. 

Anna is heaving, as another wave of nausea washes over her.  She will never get used to the state in which she wakes up, almost every day, lately.  The void in her head, the sickness in her gut.  

She fumbles for the light switch on the wall and the room is instantly bathed in bright incandescent light, which momentarily soothes Anna.  This momentary respite is cut short the moment she spots a man’s suit, on the armchair, across the room.  It is a pearl grey,  sharkskin suit.  She hurriedly hurls the covers off the bed.  It is clear from the indentation in the mattress and pillow, next to her, that someone else had been in bed with her. 

She leaps out of bed, naked, except for her flaming red ponytail and a pair of leather panties constructed entirely of intertwined leather laces.  Her arms and legs are exceptionally long.  Although she has a slender build, her breasts are round and full.  She looks around the room, it’s a hotel room, nowhere to hide really.  Did the mystery man leave without his clothes?  She can’t remember a thing.  She stumbles towards the washroom where she vomits violently.  She rinses her face, then takes a hard look at herself in the mirror. She rips off her red mane, to reveal a bleached blonde.  Next she rips off the false eyelashes and removes her contact lenses to expose steely, sharp, blue eyes which had been masked by the lush green lenses. The transformation is notable. 

As Anna heads back into the bedroom she spots a pair of feet protruding from underneath the bed.  Her initial reflex is to jump back.  She takes a deep breath, then haltingly approaches the bed and crouches.  She gently touches the left foot, there is no movement, then she shakes the entire foot, still no movement.  The palms of her hands are sweating.  She is uncontrollably shaking as she wipes her hands on the bed covers, then latches on to both feet and starts to pull with all her might.  

Anna’s sympathetic nervous system has been activated by the sight of the dead body under the bed. She is experiencing accelerated emotional, psychological and physical changes.  Emotionally, she feels intense fear.  Psychologically, her senses are heightened enabling her to make fast decisions.  Her heart rate has increased and blood flow diverted to essential parts of her body, furnishing Anna with increased strength and stamina.

She has dragged out most of the body from under the bed and can see it is a white older male in his late fifties, privy of clothing.  The corpse’s head is still hidden under the bed.  Anna gives the body one last pull.  Nothing. It appears the dead man’s chin is lodged against the lower edge of the bed frame.  Anna leans in and attempts to turn the man’s head on its side, so as to clear the bed frame.  The body has stiffened.  No matter how hard she tries, the head is not budging.  Rigor mortis begins with the eyelids, neck, and jaw.  

Anna is resolute as she stands up and positions herself with one foot on either side of the body. She then leans over and with gargantuan strength, lifts the front end of the bed just enough for her to use her feet to push the body outwards and clear of the bed. She is careful not to make any noise as she slowly places the bed back down.

Who is this man?  He seems familiar to her.  She feels his pulse, no sign of life. There is no blood.  Did he have a cardiac arrest?  She then spots the angry red markings on his throat.  Strangulation?   

She fetches the suit jacket and rummages through the pockets where she finds the dead man’s ID.  A dark realization wipes across her face.  Of course when you’ve never seen a person naked, it’s possible not to recognize them immediately, should you find them dead and naked under your bed. 

Anna turns back towards the naked corpse, “Judge Czerny, now how the fuck did you end up dead under a bed in a hotel room and what am I doing here?”  

Judge Czerny had presided over one of the cases Anna had interpreted, on behalf of a plaintiff and the plaintiff had lost.  Anna had secretly disagreed with Judge Czerny’s deliberation and final judgement, that still did not explain what he was he doing dead under the bed in a hotel room, with her.  She had quit legal interpreting once she started modeling. Almost two years had gone by since.

A calmness has descended upon Anna, the initial fear has been replaced with alienation. She throws on a bathrobe and hurriedly steps out of the room, carefully and quietly shutting the door behind her.  Her emotions have flattened, she has gone into automatic mode.  When someone finds themselves faced with an unavoidable task, as in Anna’s case, a certain mechanical involuntary reflex kicks in. 

She may have had sex with the Judge, either way her DNA was certain to be on him.  She would have to shower and scrub him to make sure no trace of her could be found on his body.  She would need to clean the room just as meticulously and leave Vancouver at once.  

It is 5 AM, the hotel is deserted as she silently creeps down the hall in her bare feet, she checks and is relieved to see there are no security cameras in the hallway.  She quietly makes her way to the end of the corridor where there is a storage room.  She finds an empty laundry cart and hurriedly fills it with towels and bed sheets that are all neatly folded on shelves.  She grabs rubber gloves, industrial strength cleaners and a scrub brush, tossing everything into the cart.

Once she is back in the room Anna proceeds to drag the judge into the washroom.  She struggles to set the body into a sitting position which is proving to be impossible. She would need to break his back to bend him.  She gets an idea.  

She runs out of the washroom and into the bedroom, where she grabs four decorative, weave rope, curtain holders and runs back to the washroom.  

She struggles as she pulls the body up from the armpits and into the shower stall. In order to stop the body from sliding down, she leans into it hard with her own body, keeping it in place, as she proceeds to tie the judge’s wrists to the safety bars, with the curtain holders.  A tub would have made the entire process so much simpler, she thinks to herself.

She puts on a pair of rubber gloves, grabs the cleaners and a brush from the cart then steps back into the shower.  She begins fiercely scrubbing down the judge, using a brush which is normally used for scraping stubborn stains from floors and floorboards.  She instinctively turns away when she reaches the judge’s genital area.  She is relieved there is no blood, just a dead body.  

Once she’s done scrubbing him from head to toe, being careful not to break his skin, she dries him.  Although she had used force, the skin had not changed color, it hadn’t turned red as it would have, had he been alive.  What strange thoughts are these, Anna asks herself as she hurriedly wraps the dead man’s body in the sheets. 

Once he is all rolled up, she ponders how to get his dead weight into the laundry basket. He is too tall to fit unless she can manage to fold part of him over. 

She rolls the dead body out of the sheets again and rolls him over on his stomach.  She grabs onto the left leg. If she can manage to get the knees in a praying position, it would work.  Luckily for Anna, in most rigor mortis cases, the manually perceptible resistance is not only related to the intensity of rigor mortis but also to total muscle mass. The judge’s legs were thin and lacking any real muscle mass.  

Once Anna has successfully bent both legs at the knees, she proceeds to use the curtain holders to tie his legs in this position.  She then wraps the body up, sets the cart on its side and rolls the stiffened corpse in. She tosses in sheets and towels to conceal the corpse.  The Judge’s clothes and wallet she would dispose of elsewhere along with the sheets that were on the bed.

Next she sets to the task of wiping down the room and furniture, she would leave no trace of ever having been here. Once she is done, she removes the rubber gloves and places them in the bag she will dispose of.  She dresses, makes the bed up with a set of clean sheets so as not to awaken any suspicion when the room is being cleaned.  She grabs the overnight bag which she had brought along and quietly exits the room.  It’s  now 6.30 AM, she is able to safely dispose of the body and leave the hotel unseen.  

What delineates good people from bad people? It is not always clear who is the aggressor and who is the victim.  

IF  YOU ENJOYED THE FIRST CHAPTER OF THIS SHORT STORY YOU CAN PURCHASE IT ON AMAZON, ebook and paperback available  BUY NOW

THE GIFT THAT LASTS FOREVER

I was a small inconsequential man, yet my actions, or lack thereof, have had their consequences.  Stripped of love, self respect and a future, even an insignificant man, such as myself, becomes capable of doing the impossible. Only once I’d lost everything and everyone that mattered to me, only then, did I find myself and my life mission revealed to me.

It was in this manner that I discovered my true mission in life to be death.  

I have embarked on a path of solitude, although my solitude is not entirely self imposed. 

When I look ahead there is only fog, thick and cold, promising more emptiness. With nothing to lose I have nothing to fear. My shadow and I are inseparable.  

Once, I was no one, now I am everyone’s nightmare.  I have found my place in the dark recesses of your mediocre minds.  Any who dares walk away from my shadow will not be spared, of this I am certain.  

You read about me in the morning paper as you sip your fresh brewed coffee in your favorite mug, that reads, “The World’s Best Dad.”  

You serenely send your children off to school. Absently kiss your wife goodbye without even a glance, just another empty gesture.

You are so distracted by the seemingly important chores of your mundane life, not knowing that today will be the day that will break you, reshape you, twist your insides out, cut your breath short and slowly, silently, contort you into an unrecognizable version of who you’ve been until this moment.  All your dreams will be crushed in an instant. Your reality, altered forever and they say nothing lasts forever. I bring you the gift that lasts forever. 

You may not appreciate this sacrifice of life, that frees you from your stupor, from the Xanax blindfold you willingly wear, which smothers the outlines of your life with an iridescent blurry glow, softening the edges of your constructed reality, making you feel safe. No one is safe in life or in death.  

Once you awaken to the reality that you are alone, your deepest dreaded fear, the fear of being alone will be replaced with something new. A numbness which will brew and turn into a deep spiral of dark and torturous thoughts. Regret and guilt are perfect partners in crime and are always by my side. 

Rebirth often feels like death. Do not hate me or try to avoid me for I am your destiny. I am true to my nature which is more than you can say for yourself.  I am not your chance at redemption, do not mistake death with life.  I am the doorway through which your volatile splintered self can be released. In my company you will die many times, before you die. As I reveal my dark and punishing eyes to you, I will lead you towards a more authentic experience of yourself. Truth will rise and set you free of your greatest fears.

MATING RITUALS

“I don’t like the way I acted towards Barbara last night. I was experiencing her as a very attractive woman, yet the whole time I acted like a single-celled, lower-level asexual organism. When I feel like a man, I want to act like one and not like a polite eunuch.”

“When you say you didn’t act like a man, do you mean to say you were not comfortable being yourself?”

“No, what I mean to say is she makes it impossible. This is our third date and I’m starting to believe she does it intentionally. She emanates superfluous amounts of sexual energy, but it’s as though she has a shield and I’ll get electrocuted if I as much as touch a finger of hers or even lean in too close as I speak. I mean I can actually feel this sort of energy shield – I can’t see it but it’s there and it’s scary.”

“We both know that is unlikely Benjamin.  I do register a high level of anxiety on your part. Do you know what it is you are afraid of? Rejection?”

“That’s the least of it, rejection ha, if only it were so simple. When was the last time you dated Doctor Thompson?

“What about the other woman you are seeing, Emma?”

“She’s getting married soon and that won’t be with me. It’s just great sex between us. We don’t even like each other, I mean she dislikes me a whole lot more than I do her. She hates absolutely everything about me, the way I look, especially my ears, she told me, my drinking, smoking, the music I listen to, everything. But the sex is, was great. I imagine it will be over soon, at least I think so, we never really discussed it.”

“I see. How do you feel about it?

“How am I supposed to feel? Feels like summer is over, you know. Time to buckle down again. Women, so much work really and for what? I mean it’s as though I have to clean up all of Disneyland for 1 free ride.”

“So you’re saying that the women you meet are not inclined to invest any real-time or energy, leaving you to do all the work for just a bit of fleeting joy, why do you think that is Benjamin ?”

“How am I supposed to know that? You would have to ask them.”

“Have you thought that perhaps it is you who chooses these women, for exactly those reasons? I want you to reflect on that Benjamin and I want you to try something.  With women, try not to have any expectations, especially of a sexual nature. Try to get to know the other person and be yourself. Try doing simple things together like going for a walk in the park.”

“What? You mean instead of doing shooters at Hooters?”

“I’ll see you next week Benjamin .”

Benjamin leaves the doctor’s office and heads outside where his friend Tony is waiting for him in a convertible lemon yellow Mustang. He hops in.

Perhaps the saying that the greatest friendship is that created of opposites, might explain Benjamin and Tony’s friendship. Two men made of entirely different cloth and weave. Benjamin is a tight weave, like expensive Egyptian cotton compared to Tony’s weave, which is as loose as a fishnet made for catching big fish.

“How did it go with the shrink?

“There are no immediate solutions.”

Listen to me, Benjamin. What is your objective? Getting chicks?

“It’s not like that.”

“Ok maybe I’m not a gymnast with words  like your shrink, but if you want to score with women you need a dog.”

“Are you kidding me? What would I do with a dog?

“ It’s the easiest way to meet women.”

“While I’m picking up my dog’s excrement. Huge dollops of stink,  that is how I’m going to meet women?”

“Trust me, a cute little puppy will open a lot of doors for you. A shrink can’t do that for you but a little furry puppy, with floppy ears and big doe eyes, can make miracles happen. Besides, if you get a small dog, one that won’t grow too big, they poop like rabbits, small stuff, easy to handle.”

The Mustang pulls up in front of a store window with a large sign that reads, ‘Adopt don’t Shop’.

“ Let’s go in and get you a miracle worker.”

“ An Animal Shelter, Tony? Are you sure? I mean aren’t these all abandoned, mistreated, traumatized, dying, or dysfunctional?

“They have puppies, come on let’s have a look.”

They enter the animal shelter. “See, what did I tell you, there’s a cute pup.”

Benjamin leans down to take a closer look at the dog Tony is pointing out.

“How much do you actually know about dogs, Tony? Just because a dog is small does not make it a puppy. Look at it. It’s so old its eyes look like soft boiled eggs.”

“How about that little guy over there?” Tony is looking at a cage where a perky Jack Russell Terrier is housed.

“See what did I tell you, floppy ears, furry and small, chick magnet.”

Tony is referring to the red-haired young woman standing next to the cage housing the Jack Terrier.

“At least this one is still standing. I’m referring to the puppy,” says Benjamin.

The puppy is wagging its tail, executing little jumps while circling the cage.

“Hello and welcome to our shelter, I’m Wendy, This is Jackie Chan. We named him after the actor, Jackie Chan for his agility. How can I help you today?

“Hello, Wendy. Hello Jackie. My friend Benjamin here is looking to adopt. He wants a dog that won’t grow too big.”

“This breed tends to reach their full-sized framework between six and eight months old, and they typically fill out to their full weight by 12 months old.  Jackie is almost two years old.”

“Right, well I would need to give it some thought. I’m not very good at keeping things alive like plants and so on.”  Benjamin turns on his heels heading for the door when Tony grabs him by the forearm.

“Always kidding around, he can’t help it, he’s a natural-born comedian. Excuse us just a moment.” Tony leads Benjamin away from Wendy’s earshot.

“This one is perfect, think about it. Women won’t be able to resist the colossal amount of cuteness that little furry fella can generate. You won’t regret it.”

3 DAYS LATER:

“There you are, what took you so long.” Benjamin almost pounces on Tony entering his apartment.

“Whoa, take it, easy buddy.” Tony shuts the door behind him with his foot. He is holding a box.

“In this box is everything you’ll need to get a handle on your situation.”

“My situation is your doing Tony. Why did I listen to you? My home can be officially classified as a disaster area. Look, just look around. There is nothing that the dog hasn’t chewed on. That’s not the least of it. I have  been scooping up dog feces and urine off of my floors for 3 days now.”

“Don’t you take him out to do his business?”

“How am I supposed to know when he needs to do his business? It’s not as though he says “Hey Benjamin, I’ve really got to go to the loo!”

“You’re doing that funny voice, Benjamin .” Benjamin’s voice rises 3 octaves when he’s stressed.

“Fuck that Tony. You take the dog, I can’t deal with it, him, whatever. I’ll have you know that I did take him to the park, once. He was dragging me the whole way, pulling on the leash like some big Ox.”

“You just need to let him know who’s boss Benjamin. Dogs can be trained to be obedient.”

“Tony, this dog is possessed. I actually think he is the reincarnation of an old pervert. He pissed on a woman who was napping on a blanket in the park. It was horrific! She was furious at me. I was not the one who urinated on her!”

“He’s your dog, your responsibility.”

3 WEEKS LATER:

Benjamin is in the park attempting to walk his puppy, Jackie Chan. To anyone walking past, it appears Jackie is walking Benjamin.

“What a beautiful puppy.” says a young woman walking past. She stops and crouches as Jackie takes a flying leap towards her. Benjamin loses his balance and trips as the leash violently tugs at him unexpectedly.

“Spirited puppy as well, what’s you’re name? She asks Jackie as she rubs his ears.

“Jackie Chan, on account of his superior agility. He is, you know, more of a monkey than a dog. In that sense. If that makes any sense.” Benjamin is recovering from his fall, dusting himself off.

“The name suits him. I am Chloe, nice to meet you, Jackie.” Jackie jumps up placing his two front paws on her thighs and Chloe leans over to kiss him.

Benjamin can see Jackie is getting aroused. He tugs at the leash and jerks the dog back.

“We really need to get going. Nice meeting you Chloe.”

“Maybe I’ll see you around Jackie. Well goodbye then.”

Benjamin is pulling at the leash and it’s a tug of war.  Jackie barks and cries at the same time, he wants to follow Chloe.

“Well, this is embarrassing.” Benjamin takes a step back as Jackie growls at him.

“Is it your first?” Chloe is amused, Benjamin seems out of his element.

“Is it that obvious?” I had no idea what I was getting myself into. My friend Tony convinced me. But I’m not so sure anymore. It’s as though we speak different languages.” Benjamin is still pulling tight on the leash.

“Just give it some time and you’ll be best friends.”

“You really think so?”

“Having a puppy is like having a toddler, I had 2 dogs growing up. Why don’t I walk with you and Jackie, that is if you don’t mind.”

Benjamin loosens his grip on the leash, his jaw drops by 4cm as he tries to believe his good fortune. Jackie practically jumps into Chloe’s arms.

“Well, that settles it then. Jackie is seriously smitten by you Chloe  and he’s made it quite clear he won’t move unless you come along.”

GOOD THINGS COME IN SMALL PACKAGES

Annie is single, has no siblings and does not own any pets. She works at Glitters, a Nightclub featuring Burlesque acts. You might refer to Annie as a petite woman, due to her childlike stature and features. She has youthful features, heart shaped face and cupid lips. Her eyes as big and soft as a doe’s, a cascade of red hair curls framing her face. Annie is not a dancer at the club where she works, at least not yet.  She spends hours choreographing, in her mind, the most delicious moves, wearing spectacular costumes to mesmerize her audience.

The stage lights are off, Fleetwood Mac’s Gold Dust Woman starts playing on the massive speaker stacks on either side of the stage. The house lights are dimmed.  A single spot light slowly fades up to reveal a woman dressed in a thin layer of tiny gold sparkles. She greets her audience and leaps onto a Trapeze where she performs an aerial dance. The act concludes itself with her picking up a small gold colored pitcher with a long spout, for watering small potted house plants. She lifts it up high above her head, leans back and slowly pours water down her chest. With her hands she proceeds to wipe away the shimmering gold covering her body, sending clouds of gold dust into different directions. 

“Very original strip tease.” says Annie, turning her head towards John, the bartender.  

“Indeed, first time for everything I guess. In my times, Burlesque performers wore elaborate costumes and actually needed to know how to perform, make people laugh, it wasn’t all about nudity, it was about seduction and well now they come on stage naked, not much left for the imagination, if you ask me.”

John has seen more sunrises than sunsets in his life and has grown old mixing cocktails behind a bar.  He is from the old school of bartending and the old school of gallantry. Tall, thin, high ckeekbones so chiseled his skin is stretched tight and smooth.  In the right light he looks 20 years younger than his actual age. His full head of hair is snow white, his eyes are crystal clear and a vibrant blue. 

It is now time for the Champagne act and Annie’s attention turns back towards the stage. ”Thank you John.” John had been thoughtful, as always, and had sent a waitress to deposit the tray with champagne glass on a small table next to the stage. 

The act has started and the song playing is Big Spender.  Lights spill onto center stage, revealing a giant champagne glass made of plexiglass, filled with bubbles. A step ladder painted pink, leads to the rim of the giant champagne glass, where a girl is reclining with her right leg beckoning attention her way, as she points her toes towards the ceiling.  Her back is arched, with her breasts floating up above the bubbles.  Annie heads over to the ladder, tray in her left hand, her right hand guiding her up the ladder, she moves slowly, as she places her feet on the steps one at a time, careful not to spill any champagne. Once she reaches the top, she extends her arm holding the tray towards the dancer, who is not doing any dancing. Although the dancer could meet Annie halfway, by simply sitting up slightly and extending her right arm towards the glass, but she doesn’t.  Instead she watches as Annie is clearly not able to reach far enough with her arm and keep a steady hold at the same time. 

The dancer makes a brusque move as she reaches for the champagne glass in a sweeping motion, water splashes onto the ladder, catching Annie to lose her footing. One of her shoes lands on the stage a second before she does. Annie notices the heel is broken. These are her favorite shoes.  

To Annie’s horror and dismay, there is laughter coming from the audience, as John the bartender comes to her rescue, whisking her off stage.

“How can I ever show my face again?” Annie is beyond distress, as her lifetime dream is rapidly being drained into a vortex powered by negative forces. “All I want to do is bury my head in a pillow and cry.”

“Let’s make sure nothing is broken first and then it’s either the hospital or straight to bed for you.” Once John is certain that Annie has not broken any of her tiny bones, he drives her home.

“Thank you John, you saved me tonight.” They’ve reached Annie’s apartment, John turns off the engine and turns towards Annie.

“Don’t give it any thought, it’s the least I could do for a pretty maiden who lost her shoe.  I’ll get the other shoe back for you Annie.”  

Annie is touched by John’s kind heart, as she breaks into tears. 

John hands her a tissue. “Annie, Annie, believe in yourself, you are special, unique, talented and beautiful beyond words, so don’t let anyone tell you different.  When God created angels you were amongst his masterpieces on earth” 

“Oh John, what would I ever do without you.” Annie and John say goodnight. John waits till Annie is safely in the building before driving off. 

Annie’s home, is like being backstage at a theater. Racks of costumes, hats, feather boas and sequined dresses.  Everything about Annie, her demeanor, her tastes, her choice of words, are right out of a vintage film.  She places her single red pump down and slips out of her dress to reveal bruises starting to form on her left arm, shoulder and hips, from the fall.  She is wearing a stunning handmade lace bustier with garters, pink and white. She removes this and slips on a loose fitting shimmery silk poncho, with a deep v plunge in front and back.  It is sewn together with hundreds of long teardrops layered one upon the other.

Framed photographs hang on the walls, we see Bettsie Bon Bon & Gypsy Rose Lee, 2 famous Burlesque stars in their time. There are some turn of the century sepia toned pictures that feature a troupe of midget performers from a 1920’s Burlesque act.

Annie slips a tape into a player, she switches off the main light and turns on a Tiffany floor lamp, which gives the room a warm and cozy feel. She slowly begins to sway to a classic 40’s tune. Transported by music, she transforms into a sinuous vixen, swaying one hip at a time, striking poses and playfully, tauntingly, smiling at her invisible audience. She has all the moves down, every glance, every breath and single batting of her eyes, strategically timed. She is limber and willowy as she closes her act in a tourbillon, swallowed in the whirlwind of transparent shimmering silk, practically defying gravity.

The sun would be rising soon. Annie heads towards her bedroom. Her style and grace are ever present even though she hobbles slightly, only when she walks, not when she dances. It is fairly common in people of extremely short stature, to limp a little, especially if the legs are unusually short, as is the case with many Midgets such as Annie. 

Water and Blood

Living on the Prairies can be a challenge, not only for people but also for trees.  

The extreme cold, blistering heat, withering droughts, and overpowering winds can be detrimental to life in general.  Luckily most Conifers can manage to survive even such extremes.  Nancy’s Farmhouse is nestled in a forest populated with Firs, Spruces, Pines and Larches which drop walnut sized cones. On windy days the air is permeated with the fragrant citrusy scent, which distinguishes conifers from other trees.

Nancy relocated to the prairies, in Canada, as a young woman with her husband who has since passed away. She has been living a life of solitude, in a place that had fallen between the cracks.  In a sense, Nancy has also fallen between the cracks.  The nearest neighbors are 65 km away, the closest town 120 km and Nancy never learnt to drive, not even a bicycle. Gary had taken care of everything. There had been no need for Nancy to drive. Over 20  years have passed since her husband died of cardiac arrest.

Nancy gets up out of bed and inserts her fleshy arms in the sleeves of her sad faded pink flannel robe, as she does every morning.  For a woman her age she is sprite and moves with vigor and determination.  Her posture suggests she is on a mission, with her double chin jutting, and her neck bent forward as she walks. 

She heads down the stairs, into the kitchen, where she turns on the radio, already tuned to her favorite Country music station. Listening to country music, with a hot cup of coffee, is Nancy’s morning ritual. She enjoys the hot sun, spilling through the windows, the steam rising from the hot cup she holds between her palms.   

Little Richard called country  music ‘White Man’s Blues’. Nancy has her reasons to feel blue. She also feels as misunderstood as country music is. Willie Nelson is the last man standing from Nancy’s favorite stars of Country musicians. 

Soon her favorite talk show would be on air. The commercial for an early retirement plan always played right before the show was about to start.

“Welcome to today’s show on CML radio where we play country music you love. Our guest today, Doctor of Psychology Wellesley will be answering your questions but first let’s hear from the Doctor.”

Doctor Wellesley, please tell us about stress and how it makes people’s lives more complicated and can lead to illness.”

“Many turn of events can lead to stress, such as losing a spouse or a your job. Much of this stress is self-imposed and is the direct result of confusing your wants with your needs. Many people believe they need things when in reality these things are merely wants. 

“Another major contributor to stress, is that some people tend to be controlling or perfectionists. It’s tempting for some to fill in every waking second, checking off tasks from their to do list.  It isn’t simple to sum up in so many words, since there are various contributing factors, for example disclosure and addressing uncomfortable topics is also very important in avoiding complications in one’s life, that will otherwise lead to stress.”

“Well you heard it from the Doctor, our lines are open so please call us  at 5551212 with your questions and comments for Dr. Wellesley.”

“ We have our first caller, hello what is your name and your question for the doctor?”

“Hello, I’m Michelle, single mother of 3 and I am totally stressed.  I’d like to ask Doctor Wellesley what is wrong with wanting things, why would that complicate my life, I mean sure the kids need new shoes this year, again, but I want a weekend at the spa even though I can’t afford it. So now you tell me Doctor, what exactly is complicating my life, the fact I want it or that I can’t afford it? “

“Hell of a question for the Doctor, Michele .”

“Oh and another thing, wouldn’t a weekend at a spa be what the doctor would order for stress reduction?” 

 “Sounds like you want it and need it as well Michelle, now let’s hear the Doctor.”

“Okay, you have a point Michelle, nothing is ever 100% proof, not even the birth control pill.”

Nancy decides she’s heard enough nonsense about wanting and needing. She’d had to take care of her own wants and needs for as long as she can remember. Even her husband had never cared to understand her needs, let alone her wants. Her young girls dreams of romance and glowing love, had a short lifespan. These were extinguished on the day she walked down the aisle with a man old enough to be her father.

Nancy heads out into her yard, it’s cooler in the mornings, before the sun reaches around to the back yard, the best for watering plants. She grabs the hose and as she waters the Clematis and the Peonies she thinks how in just a little over three months they would all be under a blanket of icy snow again. Come spring they would be back, exploding with life and color. If only people could do the same.

Once she’s done watering the plants, she moves over to a white plastic table, with matching white plastic chairs. She grabs a pail and cleaners nearby, then begins to meticulously scrub the surface of the table. She is very thorough, exaggeratedly so.  The furniture had not been in need of washing. Nancy had given it a good scrub the previous day and she remembers perfectly well.  Her favorite part is pointing the water jet, set for maximum pressure, watching as the soapy foam slides off the surface, leaving a glossy white finish. A thin layer of water reflecting the cumulus clouds that are gathering in the sky, promising relief from the heat.

Life is but a disappointment for Nancy.  She married exceedingly young to her father’s wishes. Her family was poor, and the best they could do was marry her off while she was still very young to a man 22 years older than her.  

Her husband Fred, had been a second father to her, except for her wifely duties.  When he would lay on top of her in the dark, panting and sweating from his brow, she became disconnected from her body. Her husband was not an accomplished lover, not that Nancy would have known what one looked like or cared for one. For Nancy, those 90 seconds lasted an eternity, until her husband rolled off her and promptly fell asleep, as he did every time. She would then make her way to the washroom where she would bathe herself scrupulously, sucking in all the pain while removing any trace of her husband from her body. 

Luckily, her wifely duties had stopped with the onset of premature menopause at barely 32 years of age. Nancy had welcomed the change.  

On her honeymoon night, once her husband had fallen fast asleep, Nancy had almost burnt her skin off, submerged in a tub with running boiling water. It had been an act of violence, not remotely close to any story she had read. No one could have prepared her for what awaited her on her wedding night. The passion which flowed in her husband’s veins was tainted with irritation and antagonism.  Submerged in the hot boiling water she watched the blood that flowed from her loins blend with the water in swirls.  

OUT OF PLACE

He is a man of small stature. His demeanor, by contrast, is that of a King. I am a hired hand and have been ushered into the private quarters of his highness.

The king roars and a woman clad in a long colourless robe enters the quarters with a tray bearing the traditional lebanese coffee set. She silently hovers the tray over to the table and exits without a sound, her head bowed down from start to finish.

“Have you ever seen such a beauty?” 

I look back at the woman as she exits the room,“yes she is stunning.”

“Yes, a real beauty she is. This is a Kalashnikov, do you know it?”

The king is cradling a machine gun.

“I knew you could appreciate it, even as a woman. See just like you, I point and shoot.” 

The king is pointing the rifle straight at me from across the room.”

“Don’t worry, I’m not going to shoot you, at least not till you’ve done your job. Then we’ll see.” The king is roaring at his own joke. I am not exactly laughing.He swiftly moves across the room with his rifle in hand. I jump back a little. 

“Come here, what is wrong with you?” He grabs my upper arm and ushers me towards one of several armchairs.

“Today you shoot me and not the other way around. Now sit down and have the coffee before it gets cold.”

The man doesn’t know how to speak unless he is gloating or ordering people around.

“I’ll pass, thank you. I’d rather get started. I’ll set up the equipment. Where would you like me to shoot you sir?”

“I think I would like to use the spiral stairway. Me coming down the stairs or up the stairs? Which is best? I want this to be perfect. Yes, you can shoot me as I am moving down the stairs.” 

“Good. You set yourself up and I will be right back.” 

He leaves the room. I hear him barking at someone in the giant marble hallway where the stairwell leads to the upper floors.

I head out to the front hall and grab the equipment I need to set up. I cross paths with the silent dark robed woman. I’m moving very rapidly.  I have no intention of staying any longer than necessary. The dark robed lady is on her knees, wiping the individual steps with a lint cloth,  in preparation for his highness’ descent.  

Fresh cut flowers have been placed in 2 large gilded porcelain vases which sit proudly on either side of the staircase. The walls are lined with white and gold fine pinstripe wallpaper. A larger than life oil painting of the king, encased in a lavish Rococo gilded frame, adorns the main wall of the foyer. 

“He looks much taller in the painting than in real life, don’t you find?” 

The woman on the stairs actually cracks a smile. To me it feels like a conquest.

The king can be heard as he makes his way down the stairs. The dark robed woman takes it as her cue to leave. The king appears to me clad from head to toe in military uniform and regalia. 

“I want you to shoot me with this beauty”

He is holding another rifle. This one has an unusually large scope on it.

“This is AS Val, designed for russian special operation forces. You know what the added value to this model is?”

“No sir, I don’t”

“It has an integrated silencer. I like my weapons and my women better when they are quiet.”

If I were a guy I guess I  would be laughing and going along with the joke. I Just can’t find it in me. 

“I’m ready if you are sir. Shall we?”

“Shall we?” what kind of talk is that, this is not a Shakespeare play. Where did you learn to speak like that?” 

When I get nervous, I step out of my usual crass and confident style of communication. I throw on a cloak of politeness, which transports me back to some turn of the century period in time. My manner of speech alters. I’ve always known this. But now is not the time to self analyse. 

“Sir I’d like to start you up at the top of the stairs, so I can shoot you as you are on the move, as you’ve requested.”

“I like it! An action shot.”

He comes barreling down the stairs, zig zagging and aiming his rifle straight at me the whole while.

“Excuse me sir. You need to go a little slower and if you zig zag like that it’s difficult for me to get a good composition.”

“And you call yourself a professional” Only when you can shoot and hit a running target then you can say you are a pro.” 

What a jerk. Right about now I’m wishing I was shooting bullets instead of pictures. I am evidently feeling out of place, but I remind myself that a photographer is also a director.

“I can do that sir, I can shoot you running, flying or fucking, if you’d be so kind as to trade me your AS Val for this Nikon.”

“Now you are making jokes, haha. I will do as you say, ok.”

“Good, so try and follow a straight line as you make your way down. Oh and try not to hold the rifle up so high, or we won’t see much of your face.”

“Right, okay, is this better?”

I had temporarily tamed the lion king. Long enough to get the job done.

LOCKDOWN: A Brief Diary

It is a very summery day for March. Then again Milano has not seen a real winter since 1986.  All store windows now sport a sign which reads, ‘Only one client at a time’.  The usual homeless kid is sitting out in front of the Tobacco store, all bundled up.  The empty coffee can, he uses to collect spare change, is as empty as the streets are. 

I pass by the bar where the local  pensioners usually meet.They too have suspended their gatherings, to stay in line with the new regulations. I spot Mr. Bonetti, who lives in my building. Looking freshly steamed and pressed as always.

“Good day Mr. Bonetti,” I say, shielding my eyes from the sun, he must be at least twice my height. 

Mr. Bonetti barely nods hello as he scoots by me, heading down the street, in the opposite direction.  No chit chat today.   Mr. Bonetti and his wife are a stylish looking, upper class couple who have been living in Milan their entire lives.  We live in the same building, where I rent and they own several apartments.   

Mrs Bonetti is a petite woman with childlike features topped by a sweet disposition, which makes up for her husband’s bearishness.  Although over the years Mr. Bonetti has softened up. 

He went from a grumpy old man to never missing a chance to chat with me and have a laugh or two. It’s so true what they say, about not judging people based on first impressions. Inside Mr. Bonetti’s rigid, stretched out form, dwells a passionate, life loving, young and mischievous version, I get glimpses of the once young and sprite Marco Bonnetti. He must have been a lady killer in his days, his smile still has the power to short circuit an entire neighborhood.

Mrs Bonetti, on her daily rounds, usually meets up with a group of ladies, at the local cafe in the neighborhood. She is always impeccable with matching this and tha. Permanently manicured nails, meticulously paired with her lipstick.  She boasts a thick silver mane and not one strand of hair is ever out of place. 

These ladies, six in total,  have been meeting at the same time every day, for as long as I’ve lived in the neighborhood, which is almost a decade.  Two of the women always have their dogs with them, the widows. 

One of the two widows, Mrs Motta, a matronly looking woman, the antithesis of Mrs Bonetti. Mrs Motta has a wiry energy, for a person with a stout build, which is exacerbated by her chain smoking.  Even on a good day Mrs Motta sounds grumpy.  She always wears the same grey wool coat in winter and she has her place at the cafe carved out.  

I make my way to the front gate of my building and head to the reception area where the mailboxes are.  

At the elevator, a neighbor is waiting, I join her and she chooses to take the stairs, leaving me the elevator all to myself.

I open the door to my apartment to find 2 large suitcases in the hallway. Marcella, my roommate steps out of her room with a smaller suitcase, which she sets next to the other two. 

“My mother is terribly worried and she wants me home in Rome.”

“You know there is a travel ban and even if you manage to get on the last train to Rome tonight, you are taking a big risk?”

“I’m not taking the train, I will be taking a taxi.”

“A taxi? That is going to cost you a fortune, I mean a quick calculation. That would be well over 1000€ for certain.”

“1200€, I checked, that is what it will cost.”

“Do you have that kind of money?”

Marcella is a student in Milan. Her family in Rome live in Settecamini, an urban zone of Agro Romano, a thirty minute drive from Rome. They are not wealthy by any means, and a scholarship is what has made it possible for Marcella to study in Milan.

“My mother insisted, you have no idea, she must have called me at least 60 times today. I have some money as a down payment for the taxi and she will pay the rest when I get there.” 

“How is your mother doing?”

“Here you can ask her yourself, that’s her calling again.” She hands me her phone.

“Hello, Mrs Gioia, Marcella is just getting the last of her things, she’s ready to leave shortly. How are you doing?”

“Oh you can’t imagine, life has gotten so complicated with this CoronaVirus. I had to get something called an App for my phone, so I can do groceries and have them delivered.” 

Mrs Gioia has a very loud manner of speech, on the telephone, I’ve never actually met her.

“You know people over 65 are not allowed to go out. It took me over one hour to figure out how to use this shopping app. When I was finally ready to check out, the first delivery date available was in 3 weeks. Thank god Marcella is coming home.”

“Well I guess it’s good bye then.” Marcella takes the phone. 

“Ma,  I’ll call you from the taxi ok?”  Marcella instinctively leans towards me for the traditional 3 kisses on the cheek. She freezes in her tracks. “This sucks, I don’t know, I mean I want to hug you but.”

“Go on now Marcella, I’ll see you soon enough, when all this madness is behind us.”

As I prepare dinner, I reflect on how none of us, not me, not you, no one was expecting reality to make such a sudden shift. The world as we knew it, life as we knew it, seems to be far gone now and the terrifying thought is, we don’t know what it will transform into. 

I take half the dinner, an apple, a liter of water and place everything in a bag. I  head back out onto the deserted streets. It’s raining. The street lights are still off, the neighborhood is plunged in darkness. I find the homeless kid in his usual night spot, where he stretches out in his sleeping bag, under the cover of a storefront.

“Hello, I brought you something hot to eat, some fresh fruit and water.” I hand him the bag.  

An invisible and powerful force is spreading across the planet, it is gaining speed and strength, as it tears down the foundation and fabric of our society. This force is showing us that in a world that wants to put up walls, boundaries don’t exist, that we all belong to one species. Far too many have forgotten this. 

 “Are you warm enough or do you need more blankets?” I ask the nameless young man huddled on the ground, surrounded by all his worldly belongings, which fit into a medium sized red suitcase. 

“No, that’s fine, I’m fine, thank you.” 

“Where are you from?” 

 “Ukraine, I am from Ukraine.”

“I was in Moldova several years ago, beautiful land and people.” He nods in approval as he organizes the food I brought him. 

 “Enjoy your meal then. Will I find you here tomorrow as well?”

“Yes, I come here at night only, at 8 o’clock usually.”  

I wish him a good meal and a good rest and tell him I’ll be back to check on him the following day. In the dark he thanks me quietly, with a smile.

On my solitary walk back home, my cell phone makes me jump as it rings with the bouncy music, which sounds completely inappropriate under present circumstances.  It’s Gabriele, an acquaintance not quite a friend. 

“Gabriele, what’s on your mind, I haven’t heard from you in what, 2 years?”

“You won’t believe this, this is unbelievable.  My brother got arrested for travelling outside the city without permission, three months in jail.”

“Gabriele, that is terrible news, I’m so sorry.”

“He was making one last delivery, a Venitian mirror, my dad and I restored and we really need the money, right now, business was slow and now it’s come to a total halt. This is surreal.” 

Gabriele’s family have been in the antique restoration business for generations. 

“What do you make of this situation, I mean I was reading some article about what’s really going on, but it’s hard to figure out what is true and what isn’t. I mean most of my friends are in denial and then there are conspiracy theories that are actually starting to make sense to me, you know what I mean?”

“I hear you Gabriele.”

“What do you think?”

“First off I think it has become a delicate balance for most of us, whether to give in to our gut instincts, our rational minds or paranoia, especially since all three are justified at the moment.” 

“I’m going ape shit crazy, I think I have left a permanent groove on my floor from pacing back and forth for days. I don’t even bother dressing anymore.  I stay in my boxers all day. I don’t cook, I’ve been binging on peanuts and mini Vienna weiners.  I even forgot to take a shit this morning. Nothing makes sense anymore.”  

Gabriele is naturally high strung at the best of times. I’m just not sure why he is calling me, but I suspect he has been scraping through his contacts and has called everyone he ever met. He’s got the lockdown blues.

 “Maybe your diet needs to change  Gabriele, sounds like you may be constipated, more than forgetful.”

“I almost forgot why I was calling. I thought we might get together you know. Have some wine. Hey I can cook for you.”

“Gabriele I don’t mean to offend you but it’s not going to happen. You and me. We tried years ago, remember.”

“No, no that’s not what I meant. Just a nice meal and good wine together that’s all.”

“Tell you what, once the situation is under control and I don’t risk getting arrested for a Wieners and peanut dinner, then we’ll talk about it.”

“Got you. I’m a bit lonely and cagey, you know. I’m not ashamed to tell you I am also afraid. Do you believe there is a sinister plan at work here,are they culling us for what is to come?  I mean you must be familiar with these so-called conspiracy theories right?”

“Sure. It is the Universe conspiring to make us into a better species. This invisible enemy has no prejudices, no favorite race, religion or political associations. This invisible enemy has shown us that we are all one and made of the same stuff. It is in times such as these that we are revealed to ourselves and to others, moments that lay bare the truth about who we are and the world we have built.”

“Wow Madda, you are creeping me out. That is deep and sounds like the second coming of Christ or an alien invasion or something if you put it in those words.”

“Stay strong Gabriele and make an effort, take a fucking shower. I can smell you from across town.  You are wired, try and get some rest and don’t stress so much over something you can’t control.” 

“Easier said than done, I can’t even see my parents, God you have no idea how much I miss my mother’s cooking and to think I used to complain about having to go over every Sunday, what I wouldn’t do now for a plate of her Carbonara.” 

I turn on my computer and go online.  The local news is live and the entire nation is commenting on the even “stricter measures” the government is considering to contain the threat which has put us all in lockdown. 

Reading the comments, those that I can catch, as they are scrolling by so fast on the thread it reminds me of the credits at the end of a TV series, they were never intended to be read. 

I can smell the fear in those comments. The same people that fought tooth and nail against the initial quarantine rules, before the lockdown, those that in rebellion arranged large gatherings and festivities, they are some of  the same people that are now screaming at the government to stop vacillating and move ahead with stricter measures.

They have been tamed by their own guilt and fear and they have entered another level of unconsciousness. The outbreak has become a platform for every cause on the planet. Someone comments with ‘Dear God don’t make the outbreak stop until Abortion is abolished.’

People are lost in the matrix more than ever.  The collective mass’ subconscious is projecting onto the virus its own state of profound confusion and dissociation from reality.

The virus is a catalyst in our initiation in terror, myself included.  All that fear in each and everyone of us, tucked away and hidden has just joined yours and the fear of millions of others.

LIVING WITH THE DEAD

“Lucy, are you dressed yet? 

“Be right there Mom!”

“Hurry or you won’t make it back on time for lunch.  You know how your father hates it when lunch or dinner are served late.”

It is morning, on the eve of Christmas, in Montreal. Lucy’s mother is yelling above all the chatter in the kitchen.  Christmas is a highly charged time of year for an Italian family, immigrated from the south of Italy.  The preparations begin days in advance, with all the matriarchs busy creating their magic in the kitchen.

“How many times do I have to tell you? Don’t run down the stairs, I swear you’ll break your neck one of these days.” 

Lucy enters the kitchen ready to head outdoors into the cold. 

“What did I tell you about having your boots on in the house? Just because we’re at your aunt’s house, the rules don’t change.  Now do what your aunt tells you.”

 Barely eleven years of age, Lucy is the eldest of three sisters. A tall spindly girl with big brown eyes and thick stubborn hair, which drives her neurotic mother crazy, as nothing seems to tame Lucy’s unruly mane.

Her mother is high-strung, chain-smokes, and keeps a tidy house.  “You’re putting too much flour in the mix, it’s gonna bake as hard as your head.” She punctuates her comment with a fake slap across the back of her husband’s head.

The entire family has gathered at Aunt Angelica’s home for the Christmas holidays as is customary.  Aunt Angelica is the closest thing to a grandmother Lucy has since she’s never met her grandparents, who lived and died in Italy.  Her aunt Angelica is dressed in black, from head to toe.  Her widow’s pale skin and tiny frame are misleading, she is far from fragile. Aunt Angelica is a lioness, fierce, loyal and at times scary, or at least this is how Lucy perceives her.

“Lucy, remember,  light 3 large candles, one for uncle Fabio and 2 more for your grandpa and grandma, then 2 smaller ones for the twins, God bless their souls. Don’t forget to say a prayer as well, asking God to let them out of purgatory.”

“What is purgatory like Aunt Angelica?”

“Purgatory is like a waiting room Lucy, a place where you wait your turn, where all sinners go and have to wait their turn.”

“Like going to the Principal’s office at school?”

“Purgatory is not meant to be easy Lucy, it’s a place where we pay for our sins, in order to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the gates of heaven and that can take years.”

“Years?  That is a long time.” Lucy tries to imagine what years must feel like. Time is funny that way. She’s noticed that when she is waiting to see the Principal, for example, or the dentist, it feels like forever and even the clock on the wall moves slower.

“Some people sin more than others, so you see Lucy, the souls in purgatory need our help.” Angelica hands Lucy a pile of change, “Your uncle Fabio he was a good man, bless his soul, but he was no angel either, he could use a little extra help.”  Lucy puts the change in her coat pocket.

“Lucy, Lucy, men are weak when it comes to sins of the flesh, the flesh is weak. One day, when you‘re a woman, you’ll understand what I’m telling you.” Lucy makes a mental note, not to commit any sins of the flesh, as these sound serious.

Lucy understands more than the adults give her credit for.  She has seen some of the boys at school give away their lunch money so they don’t get beat up.  It’s all clear and straightforward to Lucy.   In order to avoid unpleasant circumstances, trade-offs are necessary even for the dead.

“Be careful now and don’t stop,” Lucy interrupts Angelica, “to talk to strangers, I know aunt Angelica.” Lucy gives her aunt a kiss on each cheek and heads out into the cold bright morning.

It had snowed all night, big fluffy flakes. The sun is blinding, as it bounces off the icy blanket of snow, as far as her eyes can see. This is North Montreal in the mid-sixties, flat open fields, ready to dig and start building as soon as the snow melts. Not a single tree left to stop the wind from blowing the powdery snow in swirls and gusts.

As Lucy makes her way towards the Church she ponders upon her uncle Fabio’s predicament.  She tries to put herself in his place or the twins, she imagines it can’t be very pleasant being in-between places, paying for sins.  On occasions, she’d been sent to the  Principal’s office, where she was told to wait outside, in a small adjacent room, and sit on a hard polished wooden bench.  On these occasions Lucy recalls her tummy feeling all knotted up in anticipation and fear of the punishment which might be awaiting her. The Principal is a very serious man,  just like God, he never smiles and whenever the children have done something deemed inappropriate, they are sent to the small room with no windows and the hard wooden bench, where they wait in angst to pay for their wrongdoings.  Similar to purgatory but not as bad, at least she gets to go home after detention.

Lucy and her sisters often spent the holidays at their aunt’s house, their aunt being the eldest Matriarch in the family who had immigrated to Canada. Lucy gets to sleep in her aunt’s bed, now that her uncle is in purgatory.  Placed on the dresser, in her aunt’s bedroom,  is a small oval picture frame with a black and white photograph of her dead uncle Fabio’s head.  His picture is lit by a tiny bulb, which is encased at the base of the frame. In order to avoid her uncle’s floating head and unmoving stare in the dark, every night, Lucy turns on her side, her knees curled up to her chin and pulls the blanket over her head.

Lucy has reached the Romanesque church with its two steeples.  She is playing with the loose change in her pocket.  She feels very small once she finds herself reaching for the immense bronze cast doors.  She steps into the cold, echoey interior, her boots make clickety-clack sounds that reverberate throughout the church. 

There is no one, it is empty at this hour. For the Christmas midnight mass, only a few hours away, there would be standing room only.

Lucy removes her mittens and dips the fingers of her right hand in the holy water recipient, a marble carved vessel, framed by three winged chubby cherubs.  She executes a quick sign of the cross, realizes she crossed over to her right shoulder instead of her left.   She immediately corrects this, then heads towards the bank of votive candles on the far left wall.

The morning light spills through the stained glass windows depicting the Sixth Station of Christ when Veronica wipes the face of Jesus. There is a strong scent of amber and frankincense in the church.  Lucy twitches her nose, she does not care for the smell.

She is debating whether to follow her aunt’s instructions entirely or make slight adjustments, as she did on previous occasions.  Lucy retrieves the coins with which she has been entrusted, to save the souls of unknown dead relatives. 

The church offers 3 different-sized candles, for different budgets, which clearly indicates, God is not one to judge the dead by the size of their candles.

Lucy lights 3 medium votive candles for the dead adults, they cost less than the large ones and one medium-sized candle for the twins to share, leaving her some spare change. 

She performs a rapid sign of the cross, accompanied by a clumsy curtsy in place of saying a prayer, as she had been asked to by her aunt Angelica.  Lucy doesn’t feel comfortable asking God for favors or anyone for that matter, she prefers to keep her transactions with God simple and detached as she does with the Principal. She finds it’s best not to get noticed at times.

She doesn’t exactly like churches either and the only time she goes is when her Aunt Angelica is around and during the holidays. Lucy is grateful that her parents are not churchgoers. They never pray at home, not before dinner, nor before bedtime. One last sign of the cross and Lucy hurriedly dashes for the doors without looking back.

Once Lucy is out on the street, she feels relief rushing through her.  She crosses over to the other side of the street, where she walks into a shop. The sweet scent of chocolate and vanilla brings an instant smile to her face, it is a nice respite after the amber and frankincense that still clung to her clothes and nose.

“The usual young lady?” Asks a friendly face, from behind the counter, at the pastry shop where Lucy has practically become a regular client.

“I will have two chocolate eclairs today please, thank you.”

“Two eclairs! That deserves a nice box with a pink ribbon then.” The man behind the counter places two eclairs in a small pink box with fancy gold script on the lid and a pink ribbon to match.  “There you go Miss, two chocolate eclairs, that will be 50 cents.  He hands over the box to Lucy and she places the change in the small plate provided on the counter.

On her way home, Lucy stops at a nearby park, where she brushes the snow off one of the swings and sits down, placing the box of pastries on her lap. She slowly unties the ribbon and opens it. She picks up one of the two eclairs and takes her first bite.  Her eyes close as she sinks her teeth into the crisp coating of dark chocolate, followed by the velvety cream filling flowing into her tiny mouth.  She saves the second eclair for later and heads back to her aunt’s for Christmas Eve preparations.

That night, as soon as her mother has folded Lucy into her aunt’s bed and turned off the lights, Lucy finds herself alone with her dead uncle’s floating head, again.  She has been practicing staring back at her uncle Fabio in the dark and she can now manage several seconds before shutting her eyes.  In the dark Lucy pulls out the pink box, from the night table next to the bed, slowly and quietly opens it.  Thoughts of purgatory and chocolate eclairs are colliding in her little girl’s mind, as her uncle’s severed head watches her biting into the pastry shell, savoring the cream and chocolate mix.

Lucy gasps as she sees her uncle break into a smile.  She shyly smiles back and as she does, the tiny bulb flickers and dies, her uncle vanishes, swallowed by the darkness.

The following morning, Christmas morning, Lucy is eager to tell her Aunt Angelica the good news.

“Uncle Fabio is out of purgatory Aunt Angelica, You don’t need to worry anymore.”

Angelica is moved by the child’s statement. “Sweet sweet child, it is true then, God does speak out of the mouths of babes,” she hugs Lucy, “the best Christmas gift I could ask for.”

Everyone is happy just as Lucy intended. The wait is over for Uncle Fabio.  Aunt Angelica no longer needs to worry about his soul.  There is one less soul to rescue, which means one less candle to light at church. One could say Lucy has found her own way of living with the dead.