Kevin McCarthy jogged up the subway steps with such exuberance that the few souls going in the opposite direction at 5:30 in the morning moved aside. At the top of the stairs he inhaled the scent of the city, still stale from the night before.

Under a sign marked Service Entrance, a path led past trash barrels, toward a black steel door. This was not Kevin’s first job in the brotherhood—that’s what his father called the union. When he reached for the buzzer, the rubber band twisted around his wrist, as tight as he could stand it, pulled at the hairs on his arm. The tug against his skin was to remind him of the role he was playing: a kid without experience.

Kevin extended his hand to the man who opened the steel door. Rory MacDonald wanted to be called Mackie. Gripping Kevin’s hand with a firm shake, Mackie proceeded to talk non-stop; all Kevin could do was smile.

“Don’t look them in the eyes. If you show fear, they’ll sense it. They’re the kind that will take advantage of you, but they don’t bite.” Mackie slapped Kevin on the back and started laughing like a jackhammer. He had been a doorman in the building for ten years, always willing to give advice, whether it was asked for or not. “Most of them just want to come and go unnoticed. You’ll see, it won’t take you too long to figure it out.”

“Shouldn’t I greet them, say something, or tell them to have a nice day?” Kevin touched his wrist. “Isn’t that how you get tips? I mean, you want them to like you?”

“No one tells these people what kind of day to have.” Mackie motioned Kevin to hand over his jacket. “In the beginning it’s best to wait for the tenants to speak, let them bark orders, whatever makes them happy.” Mackie looked at the tan jacket, checking the gold stitching for any mistakes in the address embroidered across the breast pocket. He nodded his head approvingly and gave it back to Kevin.

“You’ll be okay. First few weeks, we’ll be partners. Go suit up.” Mackie gestured toward the staff locker room. “I’ll teach you how I remember all the names.”

Entering the windowless room, Kevin picked out an empty locker along the wall of pale green metal cabinets. Number twenty-four showed no sign of use; he put his lunch on the top shelf and began to change. He slipped off his dress shoes, removed his tee shirt and jeans and put on the uniform with the white shirt his mother had ironed the night before.

“Forty-eight families, right, Mackie?” Kevin shouted from the next room.

“That’s right, kid: twelve floors, two apartments each floor in the front and two each floor in the back of the building.”

“You ever been in one them?”

Mackie started his rat-tat-tat laugh. “I got stories—I got lessons learned.”

Kevin came out of the small locker room with a grin on his face.

“You feel dumb?” Mackie said.

“Yeah, my uncle is a cop, but this,” Kevin looked down at the tan uniform he was wearing, “this is a little weird for a kid from Woodside.” Kevin never mentioned his father to anyone. As far as Mackie was concerned, Kevin was who he said he is: a kid settling down in a good union job.

“Summer uniform. We need whatever relief we can get, even though we’re standing inside most of the time.”

Mackie checked the clock, showed Kevin how to punch in, and took a quick look in the mirror to set his hat straight, before he opened the door to the lobby. It was six in the morning and they were relieving the night doorman, who had been on since eleven the evening before. Mackie led the way down the marble hall, past a mahogany table holding a massive vase of flowers, to the front door.

“Reporting for duty.” Mackie teased Colin who looked like he didn’t have any downtime during the night. “Any excitement?”

“Just the usual stuff. Bennington with his girlfriend at one, he slipped me a twenty and winked. Struthers lost her keys and needed to be let into her apartment at two. Kids in 12B had a party while their parents were out of town, picked up fifty just an hour ago when the last one left.” Colin looked up at Kevin and smiled. “Are you going to introduce me to this shiny penny?”

Kevin extended his hand. “Kevin McCarthy, sir.”

“Save the sir for the inmates, kid.”

Kevin checked Colin over. Fifty plus, bad teeth, another Irish doorman. Easily managed.

“Sounds like you had a profitable night, see you tomorrow.” Mackie waved Colin off. “I don’t want Campbell to catch us jaw boning.” He turned to Kevin and explained,  “7B out for his jog around the reservoir every morning at 6:15 sharp.”


By the end of third day Kevin had learned the names of all of the tenants in the building. There were an equal mix of young families with children and older couples who had lived there for thirty years or more. The Wright sisters, Emma and Fern, were the exception. They had lived in 9C for eighty years, first with their parents, and later as teenagers after they were orphaned. They knew the history of the 1915 building designed by Candela, one of the many prewar edifices that face the pristinely landscaped meridians along Park Avenue.

“You’ll get to know them all, kid. Be careful of the Wrights though, they’ll want to invite you to tea. They’re eccentric. Sweet, but seriously missing a few screws. Fern calls me Roger—thinks I’m an old boyfriend.” Mackie took his index finger and made a circle motion near his head. “My advice is to stay disciplined with the line.”

“What do you mean line?”

“Never cross the line between us and them.”

Kevin considered what that might mean for him: a person who tested limits and boundaries.

Dennis McCarthy, Kevin’s father, was head of Service Union 32BJ. “Everyone owes somebody something, right?” That’s what his father always said during one of his lectures. Kevin remembered how he had ended his speech the night before. “You’ll do just fine, just stay out of other people’s business for a change.” He was giving Kevin another chance to get his life straight.

Mackie pointed his chin to the limo driver who was waiting outside to take Mr. Blake, 8A, down to Wall Street. “I could tell you a story, maybe later after the rush is over.”

Clicks of heels across the marble floor announced the approach of a tenant.  Mackie choreographed the opening of the front door fifteen seconds before the woman was close enough to open it herself.

 “Good morning Mac,” she said, “should have called down—I need a taxi.” She didn’t notice Kevin and kept walking to the curb.

 When Mackie returned, he gave a summary. “Mrs. Bryan, 11D, divorced, two kids in college, workaholic, and a maid that comes every day.

 “She never thinks I can do as good a job as she can hailing a cab. She watches every move I make. Spots them before I do. Pain in the butt. Once she whistled just like a man, fingers in her mouth.” Mackie laughed. “That only happened once with her—once was enough.”

 Kevin smiled and made a mental note.

“Let me check Big Brother to see what’s happening today,” Mackie said.

In a small room, next to the front door, the security camera fed video from various parts of the building to the doormen on duty. A computer held all the vital statistics: emergency numbers, who was home and away, who was expecting visitors and what workmen and maids were scheduled. Guest keys were kept in a locked drawer.

 Kevin’s dress shoes were finally broken in and he felt a little more relaxed standing for four hours at a shift. He would trade off with the elevator men if he needed a quick break.

 “You’re doing great, kid. I’ll give you the keys for the tenants who are on vacation. Just put the mail inside the front door in the box on the floor,” said Mackie. “Don’t get nosey. Whatever you do, don’t go beyond the foyer—none of our business.”

 The C and D apartments faced the side and rear of the building. Kevin started with 2C. When he opened the front door, it was too dark to see inside the apartment. He stood in the elevator foyer and checked the mail in his hand before dropping it into the box. Mostly junk, he thought, possible invitation; he felt the thickness of an envelope.

Exiting on the ninth floor, Kevin held the mail in one hand and the keys to 9D in the other. When he heard a noise behind him, he turned around. Fern Wright stood hiding behind the open door. She stepped into the foyer and he could see how fragile and visibly upset she was.

“This is the wrong day. My sister doesn’t know you are coming. I haven’t told her anything.” She put her finger to her lips and turned to look over her shoulder. “If you come in now, we have to be very quiet. I know it is hard for you to do that, sweetheart, but I can’t let you in unless you promise to whisper.” She reached for his hand.

As he put the keys down, Kevin tried to explain that he was delivering mail to the apartment across the hall. “I’m sorry if I have frightened you, Miss Wright.”

“Roger,” she interrupted him and peered over her reading glasses. Tapping the floor with her cane, she frowned. “This is no time for jesting.”

“I’m the new doorman, Kevin,” he said.

 “Roger, you always say the most amusing things.”

“You’ve made an error Miss Wright.”

“Silly boy. I remember clearly what we talked about just last week.” She started to giggle. “It feels like you were just here, and I agreed to help you. I have a very good memory, dear. We can keep this as our little secret, just as you want it to be.” She winked. Taking his hand, she guided him into the apartment, down a long hall and into a yellow room so filled with objects that Kevin could not identify what its original purpose might have been. The faded wallpaper had started to peel near the windows and the draperies were sagging off the rods. He didn’t know where to sit and stood looking at a large portrait of a woman in an evening gown.

“Sit in Mother’s chair, dear, while I get what you asked for.”

Kevin let the charade continue. He was curious about what Mackie had been up to. Fern returned with a long black velvet box. She sat in one of the worn armchairs, looked up at Kevin, and smiled.

“You see,” she said gazing at the painting, “Mother is wearing the bracelet.” She touched the top of the box where Kevin could read the word Tiffany. “Mr. Sargent wanted her to take it off, but Mother was determined to wear it.”

“Sit down, Roger.” She pointed to the frayed armchair across from her. “Tell me again about your sister, the one who is missing.”

 “Miss Wright, I’m not Roger. I’m Kevin, the new doorman. I don’t have a sister.” He waited for her to absorb what he was trying to tell her.

Fern closed her eyes for a moment. “I don’t understand,” she whispered. “Aren’t you Roger?” She opened her eyes and searched his face. “I thought you needed money to save your sister?” Fern Wright looked down at the velvet box and stroked the smooth fabric. “You don’t have a sister?”

“No, but I do have a brother. Roger is my brother.”

“Oh—I see…tell him, tell him…” She closed her eyes again.

Kevin’s cell phone vibrated; it was a text from Mackie. A chime rang in another room. There was a muffled conversation and Kevin stood up before Fern’s housekeeper walked into the room.

“The front doorman…Mackie.” The woman hesitated before looking at Fern who appeared to have fallen asleep. “He just called and wanted to know if you were finished with your visit. He needs you at the front door.”

“Yes, thank you. By the way, you might want to put that someplace safe.” Kevin looked the box that was sitting in Fern’s lap.

“Oh, the bracelet.” The woman started laughing. “It’s not real. Fern and Emma still like to play dress-up.”

“Not real?”

“They’ve given away many of those bracelets over the years.” The housekeeper looked over Fern. “It’s always interesting to see who takes them,” she said.

“What took you so long? I saw you go into the Wright’s apartment on the cam and when you didn’t come out, well…” Mackie was agitated. “I thought I told you about them.

“Fern was insistent. I didn’t want to offend her. Besides, she was so confused she kept calling me Roger.”

Mackie froze. “What else did she say?”

“Hey, it’s your deal, not mine.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean whatever you’re doing with the Wright sisters—it’s your business. I’m new here and I don’t want to mess up a good job. This is your con, right?”

Mackie took a breath, shifted his weight, and waited for Kevin, who was just staring at him, to speak.

 “Don’t worry Mackie.” Kevin turned as a limo pulled up in front of the building. He went to the curb and opened the car door for 8A. When he returned with a tip, he stretched the new bill in the air before folding it into his pocket.

“We’re brothers.” Kevin slapped Mackie on the back.

The Night Watch

August was relentless, night provided little relief. Peter tossed off his sheets and stared at the ceiling, a blank canvas for memories. When the morning light finally filtered through the blinds and the insects announced the fourth day of a heat wave, he turned away from the window and thought of the people who had lived in his house. They came and went in such a haphazard pattern that Peter had forgotten most of their names. Only one seemed to endure.

Mr. Hayakawa, the painter who rented the parlor floor was Peter’s original tenant. He wanted the high ceilings and a certain kind of light from the back windows. The message on the bulletin board of the ‘High and Dry’ Laundry read: Artist seeking parlor floor rental. North light wanted. Very clean, very quiet will pay rent in advance.

Paying in advance was all Peter needed to know; money was short in those days—his job at the post office didn’t cover the heating bill and taxes on the house. His sister had gotten married and moved out of the second floor flat with her husband to some place in Ohio. Peter had lost track of her there. A young couple took that apartment and now they had grown to a family of four, squeezing into the small two-bedroom space.

The third floor had cycled through a cast of singles. When the sound of roof top parties shifted to baby showers, Peter knew it was only a matter a time before a new fresh-faced tenant would appear.

He gave his thin frame a push up by holding onto the night table. In the bathroom he looked in the medicine cabinet mirror and shook his head at where the muscles use to be. Peter had been in the infantry during the Battle of the Bulge; he was seventeen then. “Don’t start down that path.” A cold shower focused him on what he needed to do first.

“You’ve reached the Department of Veterans Affairs,” the automated recording began. “Please type your VA number and press the pound button when complete.” Peter put on his glasses and held the phone in front of him. “For information regarding health insurance, press one. For information regarding benefits press two…”

“Damn it,” Peter said into phone as he waited for the recording to reach the final choice, which was to speak to a live representative.

“That check, Mr. Daniels, will be processed in the next two weeks and automatically deposited into the account that you’ve designated.” 

“That’s good, because I‘ve been waiting a month for it,” he said. Peter tried not to be offended by the chirpy girl on the end of the line. “Where are you?” he asked.

“What do you mean?” she said.

 “Well, I was just curious if it was as hot where you are as it’s here. Maybe that’s why it’s taking so long to process that check. You’re not in Bombay, are you?”

“No, Mr. Daniels. Americans working in the United States staff the VA. I’m in Oklahoma City. Can I be of any further assistance, sir?”

“No, dear, that’s all for today.”

“Well, we are always here for you and we do appreciate your service to the country.”

There was a pause on the other end of the phone.

“Thank you.” Peter pressed the end button. “Bet she doesn’t even know where Belgium is. That was one cold winter.”

Peter looked up when he heard the front door close. “Is that you,John?”

His son came every morning on his way to work. He sometimes had breakfast, but most of the time he was in a rush to get to his job in downtown Brooklyn where he did other people’s taxes. The two men had a pattern: first John would check if his father had taken all of his medicines the day before, next he would look over the apartment to see if everything was in order, and finally he would review the list that was on the refrigerator door.

John was a list maker, and while Peter was annoyed by having to check things off every day, it did save conversation about what he ate and the number of glasses of water he drank.

“I see you didn’t take a walk yesterday.” John stood facing the refrigerator door.

“I went up and down the stairs four times. I think that counts. Here, let me check it off.” He turned to face his balding sixty-year-old son. “Did you take a walk?”

“It’s not about me, Dad,” John said.

“Mrs. Allen called me yesterday about her toilet. I went upstairs and she didn’t even have a plunger, so I came down here to get mine. I’ll be damned if I’m going to call a plumber because her kids keep trying to flush toys,” Peter said.

“Maybe it’s time for you to consider retiring as the super of this building. You could fit everything you have here into a small apartment. Remember the pictures I showed you last week of that apartment in Flatbush? It’s in a better neighborhood, too.”

“This is where I was born, and this is where I’m going to be carried out the front door.  I’ve lived on every floor of this house. I know every board and every crack.”

Peter looked across his apartment. Beyond the living area were French doors that opened onto a small garden with a flagstone terrace. “Where could I get an apartment with such a beautiful garden? Rose bushes that my grandmother planted.”

“Well, there’s a park in Flatbush and…”

“Thanks, John, but no thanks. This was your playroom, and we had a swing on that tree in the corner of the yard. Remember?”

There was a loud crash and both men looked up at the ceiling.

“Just Mr. H, he’s working on another masterpiece. I was in his apartment yesterday; we had a long chat about art. His new paintings are very dark: black, brown and blue.”

“Is that what you talk about?”

 “No, sometimes we talk about the weather and sometimes we talk about the war. He makes a real good cup of tea.”

“The war?” Peter opened his thermos and took a sip of coffee.

“It took me a while to bring up the subject. It’s uncomfortable for both of us. We have our prejudices.” Peter laughed.

“What’s so funny?” John asked.

“You know he’s been my tenant for almost thirty years, and I wasted ten of them barely speaking to him.”

John shook his head. “So, what’s your plan for today?” 

“Well, first I’m going to hose down the front sidewalk, then I’ll water the plants out back. They need special food and some conversation. I thought I’d take my walk today over to the clinic and get my vitals taken. I know how much you like to keep track of my blood pressure. Gotta stop by Sweet Hearts though; you can’t win if you don’t play—right?”

“That’s true. I heard the lottery is now—what, twenty million?” John looked at his watch and picked up his briefcase. “I’ve got to run, I’m glad you’re going to have a busy day.”

Peter followed his son outside. “I really should take the pay-out as one lump sum…don’t you think?” He pulled the hose around the iron-gate next to the stoop.

“Sounds sensible to me. See you tomorrow.” John waved as he walked away.

Peter’s wife, Bea, had always kept red geraniums in pots around the entryway. Now that she was gone, the small, gated area held some ivy and four large black plastic garbage cans that were chained to the fence six days a week. As he bent over to connect the hose to the faucet, Peter felt a dizzy spell coming on, so he sat on the wooden bench next to the garbage cans. The small space outside the garden apartment’s door was still in the morning shade and he could hear but not see the traffic on the street.

Hart Street had changed. Brooklyn had changed, some for the good, and some for the bad. “I sound like an old man. My father was sure to have said that when the Greek family moved into number forty-five, and I bet his father said the same thing when they plowed over the last cornfield on DeKalb Avenue.” He pushed himself up, connected the hose, and started to water down the sidewalk.  The fragrance of the wet cement increased as the water splayed across the uneven squares.

 “You’re up early.” Peter watched as his neighbor’s granddaughter locked the front door and pause midway down the steps. He tried to continue the conversation, but she ignored him and looked at her phone.

“Everyone has someplace to go. If you’re not a celebrity, well, you might as well be invisible.” Bea had told him he looked like Dick Powell.


Mrs. Kadam was in the store when Peter walked in. She was sitting behind the counter reading a fashion magazine. Peter watched her fold the corner of one of the pages and lick her thumb so that the next page would turn more easily.

“Good morning, Mrs. Kadam, how are you today?”

“Oh, Mr. Daniels, you surprised me. I’m well. And yourself?” She examined his shirt and avoided his eyes.

“Well enough.” Peter smiled and looked around the store for a few things to buy. He would never come in just for the lottery ticket. The purchase of a ticket was intended to look like a causal after thought. Walking to the back of the store, he raised his voice. “Do you have any plant food?”

“It’s in the last aisle, next to the dog biscuits,” she said.

“It’s a wonder how well you’re stocked for any and every possible need.” Peter returned to the counter and had the plant food in one hand and a can of soup in the other. “Here, this will do it for today.” He frowned as he looked above her head at the rows of cigarette cartons.  “It’s amazing that people still smoke.” Peter stood staring at the boxes, thinking of Bea rolling her oxygen tank from room to room.

 “Can I interest you in anything else, Mr. Daniels? Perhaps a Pick Ten, or a Mega Million, today.”

 “How much is it today, Mrs. Kadam? The Mega Millions, that is, the big one.”

He had heard a radio announcement confirm what John had said: it was going to be twenty million by the end of the day.

“Over twenty-million,” she smiled pointing to the sign in the window.

 “I’ll take one. Maybe you’ll give me luck.”

 “Are you still going to give all the money away?”

 “I may buy myself something. And you, Mrs. Kadam, after you buy all the shoes you want, what then?”

 “Oh, I never play, Mr. Daniels. Mr. Kadam doesn’t believe in it.”

 “The Lottery?”

“Oh, yes, the Lottery. He said it’s a conspiracy of the government, sir, yes. The government is keeping poor people down by selling them lottery tickets and cigarettes.”

“Look at the time. I must excuse myself. I have an appointment.” Peter cleared his throat and took his package. 

 He had started to walk down DeKalb Avenue when he heard Mrs. Kadam calling his name.

“You left your ticket on the counter, Mr. Daniels.” She was waving it above her head as her orange sari billowed behind her.

“A gift, Mrs. Kadam.”

She protested and tried to push the small rectangular ticket toward him.

“Surely your husband will allow a present from an old customer?”

She looked over her shoulder in the direction of the store. “We will worry about this tomorrow then—when we win.” 

“Of course, tomorrow,” Peter said.

When Peter returned home, he glanced up at the bay window of the first floor and saw Mr. Hayakawa staring back at him. He could see that his tenant’s hands were covered in blue paint, and there were streaks of black across the front of his painter’s smock. Mr. Hayakawa tapped on the glass, smiled, and motioned for Peter to come upstairs.

The massive set of front doors still had the original etched glass panels. A second set, across the worn tiled foyer, had several locks. On the floor of the small entry was a musty old umbrella and unwanted restaurant flyers. Peter folded the junk mail into his back pocket and unlocked the door to the hall.

“I saw you leave earlier and thought I would give you a look at how the painting is progressing.” Mr. Hayakawa was standing in his open doorway in the dark hallway.

“Did you come up with a title for it yet?” Peter asked as he walked into the front parlor.

Even though Peter visited with his tenant often, he was always surprised: the twelve- foot ceilings and walls were painted white, the room was pristine and uncluttered. The floors were covered with sisal carpets, and a beige sofa with cushions around a low table completed the furnishing. Peter removed his shoes.

“My grandmother had this room painted red, deep red and my mother tried to paint over it. Yellow, as I recall. You could barely move around all the furniture then. The room over the years turned from orange to yellow. And now…” Peter paused. “Finally, white.”

“So, you’ve told me, Mr. Daniels.”

“How many coats of paint did it take you to get to white?” Peter asked.

“Four coats, the first year. Of course, I’ve repainted several times.” He pointed toward the sliding pocket doors that were shut. “I’d like to tell you about my painting before I show it to you. If that’s all right?”

 “The world is filled with obvious things. I applaud your mystery,” Peter said

“I’ll make us some tea first.” He gestured to the seating area in the bay window that overlooked the street. “Please sit down. I’ll be right back.”

A few moments later Mr. Hayakawa returned with a black lacquer tray holding a kettle, and two small gray tea bowls. “I’ll pour,” Mr. Hayakawa said.  He stirred the liquid with a small bamboo whisk, surveying the leaves, as they melted in the hot liquid. The scent bloomed from the small containers.

Peter observed his tea bubble in the ceramic cup. He could almost taste the hot bitter liquid.

“First, my title: The Night Watch.”

“Is it permissible to use a title that’s already been taken?” Peter asked.

Mr. Hayakawa smiled and nodded. “It’s a tribute to a painting that was severely criticized in its own time. A painting that had flouted the classical rules of art.

 “I’m afraid I need a Rembrandt refresher,” Peter said.

 “Well, if this was indeed an image of a night watch, then, as you know, Mr. Daniels, the rules of muster or as we might say mobilizationwouldn’t be so chaotic. Those men almost look like street performers, not soldiers. Here’s a print of the painting.” Mr. Hayakawa handed Peter a photograph.

 “It’s so dark,” Peter held the photo closer.

“Yes, that’s also one of its attributes or failings…or perhaps the aging of a canvas with layers of varnish. Rembrandt’s critics wanted more light in the painting.”

 “The little girl in the yellow dress seems out of place.” Peter stared at the print in his hand.

 “Symbolism. Possibly victory or resurrection. What do you think?”

 “I’m not sure, but I’m ready to see your Night Watch.”

Mr. Hayakawa went to the pocket doors, pushing one open with his left hand and the other with his right. In the corner of the studio was a very large canvas; it reached halfway to the ceiling and almost completely across one of the walls. Peter walked up to it and looked at its surface. He carefully stepped backwards.

The canvas was black with three large rectangular shapes. Each of the shapes was dark blue, so close to the black that the edges of the color fields almost disappeared. Within each of the blue forms Peter could see an under-painting, almost erased by the blue, a fleck of a yellow line in one and speck of red in another.

“Well?” said Mr. Hayakawa.

“I’m lost in it. A memory of the sea at night: black, but with a depth of blue, possibly moonlight flickering through waves, possibly a stain of blood from battle.”

 “I knew you would see more than just the surface,” said Mr. Hayakawa.

 “But you weren’t in the war. Why this subject?”

 “There are many kinds of battles. I’ve felt the anguish of war in my own way.”

Peter had learned years ago about the internment camp that Mr. Hayakawa’s family entered in 1942. He first heard of the camps when he returned home from the war, and even then, it was something Peter wasn’t willing to come to terms with—not until Mr. Hayakawa showed him his book of Dorothea Lange photographs. 

“You see, Mr. Daniels, Rembrandt’s Night Watch is an enormous painting, much larger than this.” He gestured toward the black and blue canvas in front of them. One needs to stand back from his painting, and it see it from a distance.”

“A distance of time, too, perhaps,” Peter said.

“Yes, wars from a distance melt into one another—don’t you think? We see history as a never-ending cycle. My Night Watch is meant to be seen up close.” The painter smiled. “Our night sky is the same.”

Peter must have look confused.

“It envelops us,” Mr. Hayakawa continued. “It closes in. We sense the enormity of the universe. It pushes on us from a great distance and makes us feel its presence and our smallness.”

“Your night sky from the desert of California was the same as my night sky over Saint Vith in Belgium,” Peter said.

 Mr. Hayakawa nodded. “Time and space bring us closer together.” He moved near the canvas, pointing to the red stain and then the yellow line. “We have left our marks on this world.”


This story was a finalist for the Adelaide Literary Award Anthology 2020, Short Stories. ADELAIDE BOOKS

The story is dedicated to the memory of Alfred Moskowitz who served during the Battle of the Bulge.

Talk To Me

At three months of age, Maria Lopez Ruiz’s eyes turned blue. Not just any ordinary blue, but turquoise, the color of the sea near Porto San Sebastian, where Sophia Lopez Vargas, Maria’s maternal grandmother, lived. She, too, had turquoise eyes.

            It was a sign; Maria’s brown-eyed mother told the rest of the family that her child, the fifth daughter of a fifth daughter, would be a woman of great importance.

             Maria’s father worked at a grand resort in Las Almandas, which was over three hundred miles from Porto San Sebastian. Because of the distance, he only came home twice a year: the month of August and the week of his birthday.

It was in January of Maria’s sixth year that her mother died with the fever, leaving the family adrift. Maria moved in with her grandmother, Sophia, in the small house that overlooked the sea.


            “Being successful, Maria,” her grandmother always began her stories, “requires being in the right place at the right time.” As she continued to braid her granddaughter’s hair, she repeated the adventures that led her to Porto San Sebastian.

“My first marriage was arranged, or that is what my husband believed. He was from Madrid and I was from Las Rozas. He had seen me…” Her grandmother went on to describe how, at the age of fifteen, she had used her turquoise eyes for the first time. “I have not always lived in this quiet village,” she said, ending the story the way, she ended all of her stories. “And you will not, either,” she added.

“When you are fourteen, you will leave here. You will go and live with your oldest sister in a faraway place. You will become independent and a woman of great importance.”


Maria leaned against a pillar on the platform of the Christopher Street Subway station and rubbed her belly. She was in her fifth month with her first child and the heat was the one thing that felt familiar. Taking a deep breath, she considered how far in ten years she had come to be in this place so removed from San Sebastian.

That evening she told her husband: “If I close my eyes for a moment, I am transported home: the thick air covers me, and I can almost hear the sound of the waves.”

He laughed.

“Why is that funny?” she said.
“That’s not why I laughed it’s just…”

Maria sighed as he kneaded his fingers deep into the arch of her right foot.

“I’m proud of you. Remember when I introduced you to my aunt? We agreed to make her think I was seeking her approval,” he said.

Maria smiled and looked toward a window where the air conditioner hummed relentlessly. A sound so familiar and yet so far away, a steady summer wind rattling her grandmother’s house in Porto San Sebastian before a storm.

“Your aunt took me into her lavender bedroom, she pulled the shades and read my cards by candlelight. I know she whispered the readings to you, mi amor. It was a good thing that you had already proposed marriage, or you might have changed your mind.”

He furrowed his brow.

“You are a beautiful woman,” he said. “When we walk down the street, people stare at you. I don’t think you even notice.”


It was at the age of twelve that her grandmother told Maria about men who were only interested in the superficial.

“We are like this,” she gestured toward the sea with one hand, as they sat in old wicker chairs on the stone patio sipping cold tea. “Men see what they want to. It is useful.”


Maria’s boss, Xavier Batista, was one such man, expecting to get his way with anything and everyone he touched. Xavier moved in all the right circles at Telemundo.

“Brilliant!” He clapped his hands. “But, why just New York, Maria? Think bigger. This country is changing. You have a story to tell, use your biography. Remember my mantra: demographics. Women are our audience; this show will speak to them.

“You have been so generous to me, Xavier.” She turned her eyes toward him and could see the heat rising into his face. “If the network buys my show, how will I repay you for your advice?”

He looked at her, smiled and reached out to touch her arm. “Tell your husband who the father is.” When he began to repeat his dream of how they would move to the city of angels together, Maria moved away. “We are meant to be together—a team.”

“It is too soon to talk of these things. My husband thinks…”

He pulled her toward him. “We will work this out.” His face was now flush with color.
For several months Maria let Xavier think what she needed him to.


A scent of bitter fruit infused the air as Maria felt the rumble of the Number 1 train before its lights turned from the tunnel and flooded the tracks ahead. When she entered the crowded subway car, Maria stood in front of a young woman.

“Oh! Sorry,” the woman said jumping up, offering her seat. Maria sat, closed her eyes, and started to review the presentation of her show Háblame: Talk to Me.

Thirty minutes later, when she walked off the elevator onto the twenty-first floor of an office building in mid-town Manhattan, she spotted her secretary, Julia, leave her cubicle and run toward her.

“The presentation has been postponed; something happened this morning.”

Maria let Julia take her briefcase and watched as the woman put her finger to her lips.

“I’ll explain in your office.” Julia twitched like a small sand bird, weaving her way through the maze of gray cubicles.

As she followed Julia, the young employees, heads focused on screens, sat quietly typing. They didn’t look up. It was not their usual morning buzz over prefabricated walls where they stopped to welcome her.

“Xavier has resigned,” Julia said breathlessly as she closed the office door. “I mean he has been fired—resigned is what his memo to the company said.”

Maria took out her phone and saw for the first time the messages, starting twenty minutes earlier from her staff, multiply with every second.

Julia went over to a table where a carafe of coffee waited to be poured. She turned and looked at her boss.

“Are you surprised?” Maria said looking up from her phone. They had never discussed the rumors about Xavier.

“Some of the interns had problems with him,” Julia said. The cup rattled on the saucer as she walked across the office.

Maria flinched. A few years earlier one of the production assistants told her something suggestive Xavier said to her. She remembered laughing. Now the child inside of her rolled and pulled tight against her.

“Talk to me, while I get up to speed.” Maria sat adjusting a pillow on her back and logged into her computer.

“There’s an executive committee meeting in fifteen minutes.” Julia handed Maria a printout of Xavier’s letter to the company. “I told them you would be there,” she said.

“How are you feeling?” her secretary asked.

“About this…or just in general?”

“You work…worked really closely with Xavier. Did he ever…?” Julia’s voice was trembling.

“Of course not, a total professional since the first day I met him. I’m shocked.” She rested her hand over the kicking inside of her. “Give me a few moments.”

“Can we meet?” read the text from Xavier.

Maria waited and when a second text appeared on her phone she read: “Are you there?”

“Can’t. It’s crazy here,” she responded. She was walking toward the Board Room.

“I need to talk to you,” he wrote.

They all will have stories, Maria thought. Even now, on the other side of the building, the President of Telemundo was finishing telling his to the media.

“None of it is true,” Xavier added.

Maria knew he couldn’t possibly know everything everyone was going to say.


This story was published in Adelaide February 2020

Fact or Fiction

“Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.” – Mark Twain

Autobiography, Memoir or Fictional Memoir?

An autobiography tells the story of a life, a memoir tells a story from a life with touchstone events and turning points. Relying on memory, well, you know how that goes.

We remember what we want to or how we want to.  There is the saying that there are three sides to every story: mine, yours and the truth. Memory is often a liar.

Is there such a genre as Fictional Memoir?  I think so.  Here’s a list of famous fictional memoirs according to goodreads. 

So why is there a picture of a trapeze artist attached to this post? She is Erma Ward and she could fly.

My grandmother was in the circus = Fact

She had TEX tattooed on her arm = Fact

She saw Erma Ward fly = Fiction

“ I will make it okay. Everything is possible, see—look at Erma, she just lets go. You have to believe.”  – From The Last Daughter of Elizabeth Light