Remember Where You Came From…

Pat clutched the phone and slammed it into her ear with her long fingers. “Hello?” she barked.

“Pat? Patty?” The voice on the other end was more than a whisper, but barely. It was hard to distinguish whether the speaker was male or female, such was the rasping quality of the words.

“Yes?” Pat drew a long drag of her cigarette into her mouth. She watched herself in the mirror, and couldn’t help admiring her own red lips curling around the end of the thin white cylinder that was held in her talons, the nails of which were painted ruby to match. “Hello?” she added, annoyed, distracted from her own wonderful image.

“Remember where you come from, Pat.”

The line went dead. Pat took the phone away from her ear and looked at it for a moment, as if it would reveal who the caller was and what he or she had meant. Slowly she returned the pink receiver to its cradle. She blew smoke out of her mouth slowly, watching the dramatic effect of her open mouth filling with blue-gray tendrils. Remember where I come from… she thought.

The mirror seemed to shift and waver in front of her, and she was confronted by an image that it took her a moment to recognize. The girl across from Pat was was about fifteen, wore a sweater that was clearly knit by hand and fit rather badly, had too much bright pink lipstick smeared on her mouth (and some on her teeth) and had more acne than seemed possible. Pat stared in horror and clutched at her own face; the image disappeared and she saw only herself as she was now, fifteen years later, smooth-skinned, fashionable, beautiful.

Jumping to her feet, she hurried to her address book and flipped through it quickly until she found the correct page. She opened up her laptop and began frantically typing an e-mail to her youngest sister, a girl who was, as Pat always moaned to their mother, a completely hopeless case and who would end up a spinster working in back-rooms so that no one could see her.

Her life was different after that day. She remembered that she’d had flaws once too, found a therapist, and began to work on what everyone around her knew to be her painfully inflated ego. It took her many years, but she became less judgmental, more accepting, and happier for it. She spent less time staring at the mirror and actually lived her life. She often wondered, and spent many fruitless hours with her therapist obsessing over the matter, who had called her with such a poignant message that day.

It was probably better that she didn’t know who the mysterious caller was. She would have probably been frightfully disappointed if she’d discovered that seven other people got the same mysterious phone call that day, and that twenty-two others got a similar call with the message “Seven days…” and another thirty-four were told that “I’ll always know what you did last summer…” Pat really wouldn’t have appreciated the two fourteen-year old boys who’d spent a lonely, boring afternoon ringing up their parents’ phone bills.

The Concert of My Dreams

A lot of it was a blur. Hours seemed to pass between the time spent in a strange mall, all closed up except for one store blasting out strong music, and the actual event. It was strange, the way everything lost proportion. Time either crawled or hurried past. Scenes and people and views changed in a flash. Only some moments stand out clearly in my memory… That’s how it always is in dreams, isn’t it?

But it wasn’t a dream. It was real. We got to the mall at 15:00, found the neighboring stadium and the cluster of people. It felt like coming home. They were happy, energetic, giddy with excitement. There were nerds, and girls and Goths and metal-heads. There were young boys, barely into puberty and women in their thirties, clearly original fans.  Bottles of beer, vodka and even white wine littered the ground along with what seemed to be a thousand cigarette butts. But it was the one place, the only place, in which I felt perfectly comfortable with it.

We were there for a concert, a show. The rules are different when music pumps in people’s veins and the sun burns their backs to a crisp as they wait at a gate guarded by a couple heavy-set men. The rules have to change in an environment like that – it’s inevitable. Better to throw bottles on the ground where the organizers know it’s going to happen than throwing bottles into a crowd later and injuring someone.

It seemed as if we were in and out of the mall for food and bathroom breaks a hundred times, but finally, at 16:45, we were in the crowd waiting at the entrances. It was hot, sticky, and the sun was piercing and bright. People kept whooping for no reason, getting everyone just a bit more pumped up. Sir B. F. and I played games, guessing at what this or that person was like outside of Concert-Time.

Concert-Time is a different dimension, holding a dream-like quality, and consisting of no more than twenty-four hours in which time itself seems to shrink and elongate. The sunlit hours are the longest, whereas the moment evening falls, the breezes hold sweet and short promises. Crushed in a crowd, time elongates again in the heat and airless place. But then, suddenly, time seems to jump forward – by fifteen minutes, half an hour, an hour. The opening bands are on the stage forever, and then they’re not. The stage is empty forever, and then, suddenly, gloriously, it’s not.

They came on-stage, four men in the their mid-forties, and the crowd roared. We were part of a beast, a many-headed animal that thrashed and begged and demanded to be satisfied. The moment the first note started, we began to feed. Music, loud notes one after another, lyrics yelled at the top of our voices while the men on-stage sang loudly with us, for us. The speakers, huge and foreboding when the sun was up, were now a welcome friend, giving out the drug that we needed – the music.

**

Metallica haven’t been in Israel for eleven years. Finally, on Saturday, May 22nd, they performed at the Ramat-Gan Stadium to the ecstasy of long-time and new fans alike. There were sound issues, issues that the stadium staff blamed on Metallica’s equipment. But it didn’t matter whose fault it was – only that it was fixed, and that the crowd, and I inside it, roared approval at each return of the full blast of the speakers.

There are concerts you can’t ever go to again. Concerts that you know were likely once in a lifetime opportunities. This was one of them, and I cannot express how glad I was to be there. It was a night of enchantment – a night of dreams coming true.

A Leroy Excerpt

Leroy remembered only two things from his early childhood. Tony Boss-man has asked him about it once, to see how good his memory was. So he’d told him those two memories, like pearls in the rough and dirty shell he’d become, and he’d felt he was giving part of himself away. But then, the Boss-man always made everyone feel as if they were giving themselves away. That was part of the Boss-man’s power.

The first thing he remembered was eating cereal when he was about two years old. It had been a shabby house then, shabbier even than the next ones would be, but he had a corner that his mother had painted yellow, and his little mattress was there with his few toys. Inevitably, night after night, he’d sit in that corner and watch as his mom fought with his dad. It happened every day, as far as he could tell, and only years later did he figure out what his mom was doing and why his dad objected. The particular memory that he could see so clearly in his brain was different. It didn’t have drunken-dad and floozie-mama in it. It had been an afternoon alone, and he’d climbed up onto the counter in the kitchen with the aid of a stool, a chair and then a big heave with his puny arms. If nothing else, being inside had strengthened those skinny arms of his. No one can stay weak inside. If you do, you’ll get in trouble. But on that afternoon, he’d felt it was the biggest accomplishment of mankind that he’d gotten all the way on the counter. He’d opened the cupboards because his belly was rumbling – and there was something else, he was always hungry then, but of course he would be, why should his parents give a hoot over a two year old’s nutrition? He’d found a box of cornflakes in the cupboard, and he sat triumphantly on the counter with his small legs dangling daringly. He dug his tiny fist into the box and heaved out a handful of the dry little flakes. He put them in his lap and ate them slowly, one by one. One by one. That’s what the Boss-man always told him, too. Take ’em one by one, Leroy, taken ’em on one at a time and it won’t feel so big. As if the Boss-man, sitting in his office with his piggy little eyes knew anything about the streets.

The second memory Leroy had was from around the same age, he thought, and was just as vivid, although it had a more surreal quality to it. It was a night when Momma and Pop were settled, not fighting. They’d gone to their room for a while, and both came out smiling. Leroy remembered smiling, too, and reaching out with his arms to latch onto Pop’s leg. Momma lit a cigarette and gave it to Pop. The smell wasn’t the same as the one that already permeated the house. It was different. He’d gone over to his corner and taken a pen and stuck it into his mouth, pretending to pull something in and then blow something out. Momma and Pop laughed, so he did it again, and stood very straight with his arm bent sideways, the way Momma held her cigarettes. They laughed again, and this time Pop stooped down to him and gave him the burning roll-up in his hand. Leroy’d been afraid, but he wanted Pop to keep smiling so he took it but didn’t know what to do. Pop took it back and whispered to him that this wasn’t just that green stuff or brown stuff that your Momma has all the time. No, this was some fine quality heroine right here. So smoke up, boy, never too early to have some fun. Leroy, panicking, tried to bend his face away from the smoke that was so close, making his eyes tear up. Pop put it in his mouth and pinched his nose closed, so he’d had to inhale a bit of whatever it was Pop had. He went limp, and the last thought he remembered having before he passed out was that maybe Pop was making him a hero, he gave him hero smoke, maybe he’d be like Superman.

Leroy’d thought a lot about those memories when he was inside. When he worked out, he thought again and again about getting rid of his tiny arms, of those little things that had hauled him onto the counter. When he sat and muttered and made people think he was crazy, he wondered if that toke of heroine smoke – hero smoke, as if – had really made his wiring go wrong. Those memories had proved to Boss-man that he could do what was needed. That’s all that mattered in the end, really – Tony Boss-man approving you or not. He’d been approved and he was damn proud of it at the time. But the man – the gaping hole – the smell of gunpowder – and Tony, letting him take the fall. No, that didn’t sit well with Leroy, not one bit.

It Should Have Been Raining

In the books she read and the movies she watched, the weather always matched the mood of the main character. The sunny days, with breezes coming from the sea and whipping the hero’s hair around, were the good days. Those were supposed to be the days of love and laughter, high spirits and fun. The rainy days meant trouble, danger, sadness and despair – the thought that all was lost and would never be recovered.

Real life wasn’t like that, she knew, as she looked out the small window in the room belonging to her and her room-mate. There were bars on the window, of course. It wouldn’t do for the troubled patients to sneak out into the gardens at night. She wondered if the windows were small because so many of the patients were small enough to fit through slightly larger ones.

The night, she noticed, was warm. Warmer than it should be for the time of year. Perhaps, though, it was only she who was warm – she who had spent the last hour and a half sobbing into her pillow again. Her room-mate had been so annoyed by the noise that she’d tutted, gotten out of bed, picked up her pack of cigarettes, and gone out, presumably to the enclosed patio where she could smoke.

Looking out the window, she wanted to have a stern chat with Mother Nature. If movies and books were based on real life, then it should have been raining. It should have been raining.

Spam [Part II]

Part I

Ladonna had walked down several blocks at a very brisk pace before she stopped, shook herself both mentally and physically, and tried to pull herself together. It was weird, true. It was even extremely strange and unlikely. However, there was no reason to panic. In fact, quite the opposite: perhaps her lottery ticket would really be worth something.

Still, she was spooked. As she slowly made her way home, she shook another cigarette out of her pack and lit it. The smell and taste of smoke calmed her nerves, but only out of habit. She considered smoking as a sort of meditation. That argument had never worked on her friends who told her to quit smoking, but it sounded good anyway.

It was still early in the day, and Ladonna had the day off for her birthday. In the evening, she’d have a few friends over. They were all taking the train down to throw her a little bash. She was appreciative – she knew train tickets weren’t all that cheap and that the two hour train ride was a hassle for them. She comforted herself with the knowledge that she’d be taking the train over to them soon enough as well, and so she shouldn’t feel guilty. It was her birthday, after all. She was allowed to be indulged, at least a little.

Thinking of the evening, Ladonna’s mood improved as she walked along the streets back towards her apartment. She meant to cook up a good meal for her friends, and even bake a cake, and she wanted to get an early start on things. There would be alcohol, of course, and plenty of it. Her friends were planning on staying the whole night and get raucously drunk (though not really, because there were neighbors who wouldn’t appreciate that). Ladonna smiled to herself rather grimly as she envisioned the hangover that would follow and the too-familiar feeling of that odd and illogical peace that would settle in the house as she and her friends would drink cup after cup of coffee at her table and try to sober up. They had spent many nights and mornings together in this fashion.

Well, they’d all be nursing headaches and queasy stomachs together, at least. Oh, oops, Ladonna realized. All of us but one. Kate was pregnant, and wouldn’t be drinking. Damn, Ladonna thought, that means none of us will get as much drinking as we’d like done either because we’ll all feel she shouldn’t have to suffer us extremely drunk. She felt guilty immediately afterwards, and slammed the heel of her shoe down on her dwindling cigarette. She had reached her apartment.

As she was climbing the stairs, a man exited a door on the next landing. He had a dog with him, an obedient golden Labrador who sat quietly as he fumbled with his keys one handed. He seemed to be having difficulty getting the key into the lock. Ladonna then realized the type of leash he was holding – not a leash at all, but a harness. The dog was a seeing-eye dog, and the man must be blind. She stepped sideways on the staircase to allow him and the golden Lab to pass her, but the stairway was just too narrow and the man bumped into her just as his Lab sensed the danger of it and sat down to warn him to stop.

“Sorry, sorry!” the man hurriedly apologized. “My mind was elsewhere, didn’t hear there was anyone else here, I’m so sorry.” He gazed at her unseeing and smiled slightly, trying, she felt, to gauge her mood somehow.

“No, it’s no problem at all!” she mumbled shyly back, trying to edge around him. She hadn’t meant to distress him, and he seemed so worried.

“Say,” he began again. “Your voice is a new one. Are you new here or something?” Ladonna felt ashamed of herself again. Here was a new neighbor, a person that would be tromping up and down the stairs here just like her, and she was acting like a complete ninny, just trying to get away from him because she was nervous!

“Yeah, I am, actually.” She decided to do the thing properly, put a smile in her voice and kept on bravely. “My name’s Ladonna Trent, I just moved into the apartment right above you, sir, and I’m glad to make the acquaintance of a neighbor.” She then took his hand and firmly shook it.

He smiled widely. Ladonna noticed how sweet, open and friendly that smile was. This big man, wearing a white t-shirt, blue jeans, and black tennis shoes looked simply boyish, despite being very much over fifty years of age.

“Well then! Welcome to the building, Ladonna! My name’s Steve, Steve Solomon. This good girl here,” he gestured to the Lab, who was sitting quietly beside her master with her tongue hanging out, “she’s Anibal. Anibal Solomon, really, since you could say she’s like a daughter, helping her dad around and all.” He grinned widely again. “We’re going out to the corner store. Need any milk or anything?”

“N-no, thank you, sir.”

“Steve’s fine, Steve’s fine – we’re neighbors, after all! If you ever need a cup of sugar or something, just knock on my door. Anibal here will get me if I’ve got my headphones on. She’s good about noticing the door. Come on, girl!” With his command, the Lab started to walk slowly and carefully, her harness gripped firmly by Steve, and led him down the stairs and out into the street.

Ladonna stared after them until they had left the dimly lit interior of the building. When they were out of sight, she ran the rest of the way up until she reached her apartment. It took her three tries to get the key in the lock, and she felt a pang of sympathy for Steve, needing to fumble like this all the time. Finally she managed it, and wrenched the door open. Without bothering to take the keys out of the lock or close the door, she rushed to her computer.

The screen was writhing with strange snake-like pipes that were moving and growing and then collapsing on themselves. Impatiently, Ladonna jerked the mouse aside, stopping the screensaver from it’s endless patterns of pointless animation. She stared at the spam folder in her email. There were still five emails there, from five different supposed senders.

Ladonna Trent was her name, of course.

Ronda B. Clements had been her waitress.

Ricky Charles had been the sole survivor of a freak tractor accident that she had happened to catch in a convenience store on the shortest, silliest news report of the day.

And now, Anibal Solomon had just happened to be her downstairs neighbor’s seeing-eye golden Labrador.

This was turning out to be the strangest birthday Ladonna Trent had ever had, and that included the one where her older brothers had tried, and succeeded for a few hours, to convince her that aliens were attacking the earth because she had turned eight.

Spam [Part I]

Ladonna Trent sat staring at her computer screen, which was displaying the spam folder of her email account. There were five emails there. Four were advertising something called Rx Meds [At Your Fingertips Today!] and the other one was advertising fake watches. The emails were from a variety of names: Anibal Solomon, Rubin J. Keith, Ronda B. Clements and Ricky Charles.

The rather odd thing was that the last sender of one of the emails advertising Rx Meds seemed to be from herself. The name Ladonna Trent was neatly listed next to the subject of the email. Ladonna stared at the email a while longer, wondering what the odds of THAT happening were. She decided the odds were some big number to one. How odd that it should also happen today, of all days, her birthday.

Ladonna abruptly abandoned her computer, grabbed her coat, keys and cigarettes and dashed out the door, only remembering when she got to the end of the hallway that she should probably lock the door, especially as she actually remembered her keys this time. The door made a satisfying click when she locked it and Ladonna wondered how just a small, round, metal bar could lock a door so thoroughly. As she walked down the stairs of the building, for the elevator was broken yet again, she continued to marvel at the incident of the spam email. Why would a woman with her exact name be sending out advertisements? Actually, the advertisements probably weren’t sent by actual people, but just by some company’s computer, and the names were probably just generated randomly. Still, it was strange to see your own name advertising something like illegal medications.

As she stepped into the late morning sunlight outside her building, Ladonna wondered what she should do now that she was out. It was her birthday, after all, and she wanted to have a nice day in this city of strangers. She had just moved to the city a week before. She worked for a large company who did big and important things, though Ladonna didn’t quite care what those things were. She only cared about what she was supposed to care about – whatever her boss needed. She was one of the CEO’s secretary, which meant that she made him coffee, took his phone calls and made appointments. She never really cared what those phone calls or appointments were about. The Boss had moved here to run one of the local offices, and as she had nothing much tying her down in her old city, she came along.

The Boss had met his mistress at a café near her house, Ladonna knew, for she had made the appointment with the mistress herself, so she decided to head there for a cup of coffee and a smoke. The café was a pleasant place with little white tables out on the sidewalk for those lowlifes of the American society who still needed to puff smoke into their lungs. Ladonna didn’t really mind being one of them. She sat down at one of the tables and waited to be noticed by one of the laughing waitresses inside. Eventually one of those fresh faced young women came out, still smiling from whatever joke had been shared by her and her friends.

“Hi, would you like a menu or do you just want coffee?” She asked, her smile changing to a long practiced polite little uplifting of the corners of her lips.

“Just a coffee, thanks. And an ashtray, if you could be so kind,” replied Ladonna, imitating without realizing it the empty little smile. The waitress came back within minutes with the frothy cappuccino and a small ashtray. Ladonna thanked her with the fake smile again, and sighed with delight as she took a sip of the coffee. It was good, better than the ones she made herself at home. She took her cigarettes out of her coat pocket, shook one out of the soft pack, and lit it with the lighter that inhabited her jeans pocket perpetually. She took drags in between sips of coffee and enjoyed a moment of quiet in a public place, something she had not enjoyed for a long time. It was nice to go to a café on your own – she had always thought this, but she hadn’t gotten around to doing it in a long time. She watched the traffic flow by lazily, with the occasional halfhearted honk, for who could be rushing on a lovely sunlit morning like this? A homeless man across the street pushed his cart in a seemingly chipper way, though he was probably just rushing to the nearest soup kitchen before it closed. A woman with three blubbering children walked by, trying to wipe the nose of one, pull the other from the curb and stop the third from spitting out his food at the same time. Ladonna smiled indulgently on it all, knowing that it looked lovely to her only because she was in a good mood and thinking how nice it would be if good moods really affected the world in some way.

Her coffee and cigarette finished, she waved the waitress over, and asked for the bill. As the waitress was bringing over the bill, Ladonna noticed her name tag. It said RONDA on it. The name tickled her memory so much that when the waitress came back to take the money and her tip, Ladonna decided to ask her what her name was.

“Ronda,” She smiled and pointed at the name-tag.

“Yes, yes, but I meant what’s your full name?” Ladonna caught the look of confusion on Ronda’s face and added quickly “It’s just that you seem familiar and I was wondering if you were related to someone I know.”

“Oh, then my full name is Ronda Bantam-Clements. I got both my mom’s and my dad’s last name. Could you be related to one of them? I know my mom’s got a bunch of family she doesn’t speak to.” Ronda nattered on about her family history for a while before Ladonna cut her off, saying that she must have been mistaken and she didn’t know her after all.

Ronda Bantam Clements. Ronda B. Clements. How odd. Another of the spam emails that morning had that name listed as the sender. What a strange day this is, Ladonna thought to herself.

The discovery of Ronda B. Clements made up Ladonna’s mind. She would go and buy a lottery ticket. Who knows, she thought to herself, perhaps a coincidental day is all that’s needed to get lucky. Ladonna found a convenience store, and asked the large man behind the counter for a lottery ticket for tonight’s drawing. He looked at her strangely, as if it was a very odd request, before tearing off a ticket with numbers to be filled in and handed her a pen.

“Here, love.” The man said, revealing his strong English accent and his penchant for calling total strangers by pet names. Ladonna filled out the lottery ticket, thanked the man and was about to leave when she heard the tune of the beginning of the noon newscast come on the television across the counter. She hadn’t even opened her newspaper that morning, so she paused and looked at the off-color screen to listen to the five minute news edition.

“It’s twelve o’clock, and I’m John Irving with the news. Three people died and a fourth was severely injured last night in an accident involving a tractor. The details of the incident haven’t yet been released, but Ricky Charles, the sole survivor, exclusively told our reporters that the incident revolved around a drug induced cult act. More details will be released later.

In other news, ‘Cereals are in danger’ says specialist…”

Ladonna didn’t want to hear any more. She walked briskly away from the shop, shaking her head and trying to understand what was happening to make today so strange. Ricky Charles, the sole survivor of whatever freak accident happened with that tractor, was another of the names on Ladonna’s spam emails that morning, and Ladonna was getting uncomfortably aware that something strange was going on today. Something she could not explain, something she did not even know how to describe. After all, it might just be a very odd coincidence. But what are the odds of finding your own name on a spam email, finding another spam-sender serving you coffee and discovering a third as a name on the news? Something about today is definitely off, Ladonna decided.