Saturday, July 15, 2017

Look Down

Look Down
by Steve Richman

I am on a ten-day cruise. At the beginning of the cruise I was with my girlfriend. We planned and saved for it for a year. She moved into a separate cabin four days ago. I don't know which cabin. I'm not quite sure why. She could be anywhere in these mazes of underdecks, level after level, no windows anywhere, all blinding-white steel walls and doors. I haven't seen her since. I doubt she is alone.
I am 45. To my vast surprise, a woman half my age is seriously in love with me. She is earnest, expressive, devoted, excited to be near me. I met her at the shrimp bar. She said she liked my eyes. This has never happened before. I move carefully at all times, fearing jinx. I act casual.
Tonight she has arranged for some private entertainment. The ship has a special room for this. There will be a series of canonically romantic events: a belly dancer, a mariachi-band serenade, a French-language movie. Chilled champagne.
The belly dancer looks familiar. I am fairly sure she is the Assistant Purser during the daytime. (What is a Purser?) She's moderately good at belly dancing. She makes exaggerated hand gestures that eventually I understand to mean: "Give me a tip." I have no wallet; my young admirer arranged all this. I raise my eyebrows and palms: "I've got nothing." She bluntly dances out of the room, neither angry nor not.
People in pretend-Navy white uniforms keep coming in and whispering in the performers' ears. The belly dancer, the mariachi band's second trumpet, the projectionist. They pause for half a second to listen, then instantly resume their performing expression. Their concentration is impressive.
My young admirer's face says: "THIS IS ALL FANTASTIC. IT IS." Her wide grin never falters. She has chosen to experience all this as the "dreamtastic romantic extravaganza" that the ship's brochure of optional extras promised. She sees only enchantment, fantasy fulfilled: not the mariachi players' sweat-saddlebags, the belly dancer's crass demand for cash, the projectionist's fidgeting.
At last we are alone, on a long low white couch without armrests. You could fall off the end of this couch. She smiles at me. I smile back, carefully. (Jinx.)
My young admirer, it turns out, sometimes changes into a donkey. She does so now. She half-reclines on the couch, head at the far end, her (back) legs near me. Her white hair--fur? no, it's hair--is so fine that I can see the pink skin of her tummy underneath. I remember now: I turn into a rabbit sometimes. I tell her this, though for now I stay human, and we discuss what it's like. It's involuntary for us both, it just happens, who knows why. It doesn't last but a few hours, generally. We take it in stride: "Okay, I'm a donkey now." I stroke her fine white belly hair. She was hoping I would. A wisp comes off in my hand. I rub it with my thumb.
I realize that she can probably do magic, as well. I can. I ask her; she says no. I embrace her and concentrate, willing us to rise to the ceiling. "Look down," I say. She sees that we're floating together up at the white metal ceiling, bobbing slightly, weightless. She is impressed, I can tell. "Look at that," she marvels. "Will you look at that!"

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Basketball and Ghosts

Basketball and Ghosts
by Fairlyn Thomas

The three of us were too tired to play any more, after who knows how many hours of outdoor hoops. We needed rest before walking the few blocks home, even. Heat still shimmered off the cement, though dark had fallen a whole Styx eight-track ago. When we had to chase a runaway ball into the dark, we were liable to kneecap ourselves on the bike rack. So we bought Slush Puppies across the street at Jax Snax, sat down under the uphill-side basket, and started telling each other scary stories. We told our stories as facts. I mean, we knew we were half making them up, and we were aware of ourselves as storytellers, we could see ourselves play up the suspense and the mystery, but we took even our own half-fictions as gospel. We believed ourselves. We scared ourselves.
Timmy Terry, junior guard, started. "Last summer my grandma appeared to my mom. She had died the year before, Grandma had. She came in the middle of the night. Dad was out of town driving his truck. Mom woke up about 3 in the morning, and she had this powerful feeling that there was someone in the room with her. She laid there quiet for a while and listened real hard. Then bam, just like that, she realized that Grandma was standing at the foot of her bed. It wasn't even like she appeared there, it was more like mom just noticed her all of a sudden. She was just standing there really quiet and sad-looking, watching Mom. She was wearing a white robe like the ones you wear in the temple. She just looked like a regular live person, she didn't glow or anything. She was just...there. They looked at each other for a while. They didn't say anything. Mom was a little scared but not too much, she was mostly happy to see her mom again. She tried to smile, but her mouth wouldn't move. So she couldn't talk, either.

After a long time, maybe five-ten minutes, Grandma reached her arms out toward Mom. She held them out like that for a while, then put them back down. Then she shook her head like she was saying No, and she pointed at Mom and shook her finger back and forth like No No No. She looked sad, not angry, just sad. Then Grandma was gone all at once, she didn't fade away or anything, she just wasn't there. Mom says she definitely wasn't dreaming. She told me about it, and asked me what I thought Grandma was saying No No No about. I have no idea."
Well, after that, I just had to tell my story. For like two years I'd been thinking about this every time I came to the cement courts to practice Mikan drills. "When you guys are playing here, do you ever feel like you're being watched? Because I sure do. This big wall behind the basket with all the windows in it? What's that, like 20 windows? Plus the six on that wall connected over there? That is a lot of blank windows, like a lot of eyes. I don't like playing here alone, even during the day, because what'll happen is, I get this really strong feeling I'm being watched. I feel really sure that there's something, not a person, a thing, something evil, hiding in the darkness behind a window and just watching. It watches and it plans in there. If I ever got a good look at it, it'd be too late for me, I'd be dead before I could run away
It's all because of this movie I accidentally saw when I was little. I was like 3 or 4. I got out of bed and my mom and dad let me watch what was playing on the TV. I think it was an episode of McMillan and Wife. I just watched for a few minutes, but that little part I saw got stuck in my head and it's still there. The detectives were looking for this killer or whatever, and they were in this big house talking with a bunch of their friends and a couple of cops. It's dark outside and the house has these windows all around the room where they're talking, but they don't have the curtains down and they're all sitting right next to the windows. That's already making me nervous, because you know, in the scary movies the killer always crashes in through the window and kills someone. You never sit by an uncurtained window after dark, everyone knows that. But anyway, what happens is even worse. The woman detective happens to look out this one window--and there's a pair of eyes right there staring at them. They were sitting there talking and arguing and figuring out how to catch this killer, and he was sitting there watching them the whole time. It was terrifying!

So anyway, when I'm playing here, even at noon with the sun shining, I get that feeling really strong sometimes--it's watching. I'll grab the ball and stop, and stand perfectly still, then TURN REALLY FAST toward a window over there, or there. Then I check all the windows, one at a time. All down the row of the first floor, then back toward me along the second floor. Try it yourself--once you start checking like that it's hard to stop. You think, Okay, it saw me looking and stepped back a little, but now it's looking, and you have to check again.
You guys...ever feel that?"
There were mumbled half-agreements, sideways glances. They were hard to interpret. Then Arthur Kent, freshman point guard, spoke.
"Last Halloween a bunch of us were playing with a Ouija board in our basement. It was me and my brother Kevin and our two cousins from L.A. We had my cousin Suzanne hold the pointer thing.
First we played a couple of songs to kind of get in the right mood, 'Don't Fear the Reaper' and then some Black Sabbath of the Heaven and Hell album. Kevin asked first, "Are there any spirits here tonight?" The pointer went around in a couple of circles, and then to the YES. We looked at each other. Kevin asked, "Do you want to talk to us, spirit?" This time the pointer just went around without landing on anything. "You don't want to talk to us?" No response. "Talk to us! We want you to talk to us!" Nothing.

We asked Suzanne--again--if she had done this before. "Sure, lots of times." We decided to take another tack. My cousin Ty asked, "Are you in the room with us, spirit?" The pointer went directly to YES. "Will you stay with us?" The pointer took one quick circuit around the board and returned to YES. We seemed to be getting somewhere. "Will you tell us your name?" No answer. Ty asked the question again, and again we got no answer. Kevin was getting mad, and he jumped back in: "Talk to us! SPEAK! I ORDER you to speak!" I swear I felt the cement floor rumble, then the table was shaking, and the pointer was bouncing around on the board. Then the board exploded up into the air to the ceiling, and the pointer went flying and broke in half across the room. We put it all in the fireplace and watched cartoons upstairs for the rest of the night. I felt bad for Suzanne and Ty, 'cause their guest bedrooms were downstairs, but I sure as heck didn't want to sleep down there."
Now it was after 10, and full dark. We had scared each other into full paralysis. Our glances kept flicking to the empty, staring windows I now had everyone scared of. We had to get home, our parents must be wondering where we were, but we couldn't move. Nor could we talk about why we couldn't move. We couldn't say the thing we were all obviously feeling: "I'm too scared to go anywhere. I have to go home, but I'm not going anywhere by myself now, and I don't suppose you guys would...want to...go with me to my house?" So we continued sitting there. We wanted to joke away our fear, but couldn't come up with much to say, so mostly we just sat.
We carefully inspected each car that passed the courts, hoping one would be driven by one of our friends. No luck there. I started thinking that, well, I already kind of told the guys about how I got scared, in my story, so maybe I should be the one to say "Okay, I'm scared, so how about we all leave together?" Just then, incredibly, a car crept slowly, silently, up over the curb, toward us, blinding us with its headlights. Cops? It was my dad! "Where the...heck have you been? Do you know how late it is?" He sounded more relieved than mad. "Yes! Sorry, Dad, we just got talking after we finished playing. We've been right here the whole time. Right, guys?" "Well, get in and let's go home."
Our gooseflesh vanished. Our fear flew away. We gratefully rode home and fell straight into sleep as if into a bottomless pit. We never spoke of this evening again.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Confession Is Good for the Soul

[Note handwritten in excruciatingly neat printing, with what must have been a calligraphic pen, on a 6"X 8" heavyweight cream-colored notecard suitable for a wedding invitation:
Dear Mr. I. Ron Door,
I would like to place this story in your story-writing contest. I earnestly hope in my heart that it may strengthen the testimonies of some readers of the Nozzy News.
I thank you
--Mrs. LaReen Fleen]

Confession Is Good for the Soul
by LaReen Fleen

My dear brothers and sisters, I feel inspired by the Spirit to share this story with you. It was something that troubled my heart mightily at first. But now I know that our Heavenly Father desires of me that I should share it with you, that you might learn from it as I have the Truth of His love and forgiveness.
I don't want to name names, but a certain not-too-young Elder from my ward, who has been somewhat inactive for many years, attended Fast and Testimony Meeting recently. He runs a couple of businesses downtown; you've probably been in them many times. I was surprised but happy to see him in church. I was really surprised when he was the first person to stand up to bear his Testimony. He practically sprang up like a jack-in-the-box. His wife, with her neat, tight grey perm Aqua Net-ted perfectly into place, looked at the floor intensely. His son looked like he had a tummyache. But he looked super happy, like he had really good news to share--as if his not-so-bright son had got into BYU, maybe, or he could now start selling Idaho Lottery scratch stickers in his store.
"Brothers and sisters, I feel inspired by the Spirit to talk to you today. It has been quite a long time since I said anything in Testimony Meeting. Basically, I had drifted away from our Heavenly Father. I did something about twenty years ago. That sin has been a wedge that Lucifer stuck in between our Father in Heaven and I, and until recently I didn't see that. But now I do. I understand. I know that this iniquity has pulled me farther and farther away from our Lord and His teachings. So the Spirit has whispered to me that I have to confess it to you. Then I can be reconciled to our Father."
His wife bored holes into the linoleum with her eyes. She shrank in her seat. His husky son carefully inspected his folded hands.
"Twenty years ago, when [Mrs. X] and I were engaged, is when this happened. I made a trip with several other Elders from Missouri, which is where we lived then, to help the people in Capetown, South Africa. In those days, South Africa was segregated, black and white. It was the law. It was called apartheid. So there was literally a white side of town and a black side of town.
The black side was the one that was having problems. There had been a big earthquake and tidal wave, and most of the damage had happened on the black side. The tidal wave had wiped out a lot of houses, so we were helping the people build shelters and clean up the streets. We were passing out food and medicine. It was a really big job. The waves had really done a number on the black side of town. We worked all the hours it was light enough to see, for about three weeks. Sometimes we got so tired that we had to just lay down where we were and sleep there for the night. See, they didn't enforce the segregation on the black side of town as much as on the white side. We could stay on their side, they were just kept out of the white side mostly.
So after about a week, one of the colored families asked me if I wanted to stay in their house instead of walking all the way back across to the white side after working hard all day. Well, that was a long walk, and I wasn't too much thinner then than I am now, and I was really, really tired, so of course I said yes! I was grateful. They were actually very nice people.
Anyway, to make a long story short, when I was staying in that household I fornicated with their daughter, who I think was eighteen. Not just once, but twice, two different nights. It's not something I'm proud of. It just...happened. Obviously, the Devil put it into the family's hearts to ask me to stay over. Then he put it into my heart to lust after their young daughter, who was actually kind of pretty in a way. I'm just very blessed and thankful that we did not have a child together. Brothers and sisters, that was our Heavenly Father's great mercy right there. We did not procreate. I've just carried the heavy sin in my heart ever since then."
In the pause that followed, [Mrs. X] shrank further. I could not have seen her over the pew's top if I hadn't been sitting a few feet away. She stared at the floor. The son inspected and rubbed a dark spot on the uncushioned wooden pew. The father continued.
"The Spirit told me that I must confess this great sin to you today. I have allowed it to torment my conscience for twenty years. But today I know, I know, that the Lord forgives me completely, now that I have fulfilled his commandment and confessed. He loves us and forgives us all when we do as He wishes. This I say in Jesus' name, Amen."
Having abruptly concluded, he smiled and passed the microphone back to the frightened-looking deacon who came to take it.
Wife's eyes on linoleum. Son rubbing the pew like it was his job. Half the congregation was staring at [Mr. X], some with open mouths and goggling eyes; half gazed into their laps, embarrassed--for the wife, for the son, most of all for themselves.
What I must tell you here and now is this. At first, I was shocked and, I guess the word for it is, a little bit nauseated. Why would he say this in front of everyone? What purpose could it possibly serve to tell this story now? He said himself that he didn't make a child. It was twenty years ago, before he was even married! We're all young once, right? Why tell it now?
But then I realized the Truth of it. These thoughts were my own weakness, disguised by Lucifer as compassion for the wife and son. See, the Devil is tricky that way. He won't just openly come right up to you and say, "Blahaha, I want you to turn against the Lord! Go forth and sin!" Instead, he whispers in your ear; he convinces you that what is bad is good, and what is good is bad. He messes with your mind without you even knowing it. I try to be a compassionate person, and so the Devil in his cleverness tried to turn my softheartedness against me. He made me think that feeling sorry for [Mrs. X] and their son, and wishing [Mr. X] hadn't said all this in public, was righteous and natural. He made me think that the confession was a terrible thing that would only break people's hearts. But you see, brothers and sisters, it can't be bad, because the Holy Ghost whispered the Lord's wishes to [Mr. X]. He just carried out our Father in Heaven's wishes. Sometimes what our Father asks of us is hard, and sometimes it is difficult to understand. I know it wasn't easy for [Mr. X] to confess his fornication, and at first I didn't understand why he did. But we don't need to understand, because our Father in Heaven does. He is always right. We must always follow Him.
This I testify to you in Jesus' name, Amen.

Friday, May 20, 2016

You Can't See Me

You Can't See Me
by Steve Richman

Forty minutes into the Yonn Corporation's Southwestern Regional self-audit working group's Wednesday 3 p.m. quarterly preplanning subcommittee meeting, Herman Jones realized he had become invisible. He looked right where his left hand was sitting inert on the ergonomically designed ovoid conference table, but he could not see it. He saw high-tech designer wood grain, a few stray sugar granules and bearclaw crumbs, but no hand. The joke watch he wore, with a cat face in the middle and each hour replaced by "Nap," appeared to float in space. He faux-casually brought his right hand up to his mouth as if to yawn: also invisible. He had become, visually, an empty cheap suit.
Mind racing, Herman weighed possible courses of action. No one seemed to notice anything unusual--good, keep it that way--hold very still, stifle the slight coughs and sniffs that punctuate these meetings. Let's see now. Walk out? Bad idea, everyone here will be so desperate for distraction they'd look right at the moving empty suit. Must not call attention. In the movies about invisible people, the man always takes off his clothes. (Why is it always a man?) Get naked? NO. VERY BAD idea. He could just as suddenly reappear, and he was pretty sure Human Resources would frown on Walking Around Naked in the Workplace. Don't undress for God's sake, don't move, don't make noise. Just get through the meeting.
After an hour, an eternity of sweaty concentration, the meeting ended and it was time to go home. He was still invisible. In the hallway, on his way to grab his lunch bag from his grey-lined cubicle and turn off his computer, he passed Antoine.
"Hey, man, are you finished with that MST tape yet?" Antoine asked.
Herman checked his peripheral vision. "You're asking me?"
"Hah, yeah, buddy, I don't trust just everyone with my only copy of The Crawling Eye!"
"Ehh heh, yeah, sorry, long afternoon. Uhh, not yet. Can I give it you Friday?"
"Sure, man, sure. Next Sunday A.D. is fine. See you tomorrow."
So--Antoine sees me. Look at that--I can see myself again too! What the hell was that?
But the triumph, and the visibility, wore off as soon as Antoine ducked into his own cubicle. Moving quickly, mostly up on his toes but also trying not to look like a cartoon sneak-thief, Herman slunk to the stairs, out the building, down the sidewalk to his bus stop. Transparent as a mountain stream, he joined the scrum for his bus, held a strap for the fifteen-minute ride, entered his apartment building.
Crossing his threshold, Herman popped back into full clear visibility, almost audibly, as his Siamese cat Freddy meowed a hello. This gave Herman an idea. He stepped back into the hallway, pausing outside the door. Still there. He walked down to the elevators. Visible. He called an elevator to go down. He disappeared just after the arriving car dinged. He let the elevator go without him, and began walking back toward the apartment. After a few steps, *poof!* visible again. Aha!
As he now expected, Herman stayed visible right up until he got on the elevator the next morning. No one noticed the apparent empty, walking clothes. He decided he would figure out his invisibility's rules or limits. Before long, he'd confirmed that only two people at work could see him; or, to put the same finding another way, only in the presence of two people did Herman regain visibility. Around Antoine--with whom Herman frequently played Magic: The Gathering, swapped MST3K tapes, and went to the movies--Herman shone out like a lighthouse with nary a flicker. Christie from Reception, who always took a moment to chat with him when she wasn't too busy on the phones, cast Herman into a kind of quarter-light--nearly see-through, as if observed through a window at dusk. Otherwise, he remained completely unseen, unseeable, from 8 to 5 Monday through Friday.
This, he decided after brief consideration, was not a bad thing. Why not be invisible? When had anything good ever come from being noticed? He didn't trust his invisibility enough to do anything crazy with it--stealing, Peeping Tom-ism, playing poltergeistish pranks. He didn't even care about any of that. He had other, smaller ideas. He began taking two-hour lunches in the canteen, losing himself in fat paperback fantasy epics. Who ever chose 8 a.m. as a reasonable hour to begin work? Lacking a good answer, he stopped setting his alarm and strolled in daily between 9:30 and 10:30, depending. For that matter, why stay till five--or more accurately, five after five, lest the boss see you leaving on the stroke and--accurately--interpret that as eagerness to get the hell out? Four o'clock would work just fine. He stared out of windows, visiting other floors specifically for the purpose. He doodled at his desk. He perused every item in vast game and used-book catalogs. He wrote joke names for his in-house badge, though he didn't dare use them: avoid notice.
Herman stayed invisible this way for nearly three years. The time passed painlessly. One Thursday morning, shortly after breezing in at ten, Herman noticed Gary Schmidt, his regional assistant manager, standing at one end of the cubicle room thumping the door frame and speaking loudly. The Yonn Corporation was "right-sizing," he announced, sneering at the euphemism, and he was sorry to have to be the one to tell everyone, but the whole subdivision was being phased out as of noon today. Everyone had until that time to pack up all personal belongings and exit the building in an orderly fashion. He read briefly from a 3X5 card: "The Yonn Corporation values your contributions to our company over the time of your employment here, and wishes you success in all your future endeavors. Your wellness is our concern. If you wish to visit with a psychological wellness specialist, please see the Human Resources department right away to set up a salary-scaled appointment."
The room buzzed with reaction. Heads swiveled. Everyone looked at each other, variously wryly amused, wide-eyed with shock and worry, stunned, dejected.
Herman saw that he had now abruptly become visible again. He shone out to himself, to all others, suddenly as visible as a stapler, a printer, a penny loafer. He looked at people and they looked at him. He clenched his teeth and squeezed his eyes shut. "You can't see me," he whispered under his breath. "You can't see me. You can't see me. You can't see me."

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Nelsons of Nozzy

Installment 5
By Suzie Q.

1. Janeece

No doubt about it, Rajkumar Chatterjee was an interesting man. Raaaj Kumarrrrrr (rolled r) Chatterjeeeeeee. He'd told her to call him Raj. Roger that, Raj. Hee hee hee. Rajah Raj.
He'd started working in the Wales Bank on Main Street six months ago, and already she felt like she'd known him for ages. He manned the other non-drive-through teller booth, five feet away from Janeece in hers. Except for lunch hours and first thing in the morning (why did people over 60 all want to bank at dawn, anyway?), their untaxing job gave them plenty of time to chat. She'd become accustomed to his accent after just a couple of days, and now everyone else in town sounded like big dumb hicks in comparison. Lamarr in particular.
Poor Raj. If there was ever a fish out of water, Raj would be it. A dark-skinned Indian man in all-white Nozzy; a well-educated man where book-learnin' was carefully concealed unless it had to do with the Church. A skinny vegetarian in a town populated by hefty cattle ranchers. Delicate, emotionally transparent, considerate, polite. An alien being, but for her, a breath of fresh air.
Apparently his life was kind of a mess, which was understandable under these circumstances. He told her about it five minutes at a time, between customers, over the months. Three years ago, when he was working as an Associate Professor of Finance at a medium-sized Calcutta university (he'd told her the name a couple of times, but she couldn't quite get the knack of how to pronounce it), his family had been visited by two Mormon missionaries. Two girl missionaries. Sister KayDee Rasmussen and Sister Bryttnee Bolton had knocked at their gate, and because they were well-dressed and American and white--"the gori-est goris of all time!" Rajkumar chuckled--the gatekeeper and then Raj's parents, Akash and Amrita, had let them in. Devout Hindus, they had no interest in anything the girls might have to say about their peculiar Christian-ish religion; they did, however, have all the interest in the world in finding their son a wife--and they'd heard no one was more eager to marry than Mormon girls. It was high time: Raj had his Ph.D., he had earned tenure and stability at his job, and he was about to turn thirty. The situation was about to become dire unless they acted quickly.

So the older couple invited the two girls in, and offered them chai at regular intervals, and met the girls' determined refusals with good grace. ("Is that the kind of tea with caffeine in it?" "I suppose it is, yes.") Raj's parents visited with them from early afternoon--a significant sacrifice, as they had to skip the siesta virtually required by the muggy Calcutta climate--until evening. The girls were pressed to stay for dinner, and they happily accepted. By the time gulab jamun was brought out for dessert, long after dark, one thing was clear to everyone at the table: KayDee Rasmussen was completely smitten with Rajkumar. Even Raj couldn't help noticing Akash and Amrita grinning at each other across the table, winking every time KayDee smiled or giggled at Raj, which was pretty much constantly.
After dinner ended, near midnight, the Chatterjees sent the girls and their bicycles home in a tuk-tuk they insisted on paying for. Raj knew what was coming, and sure enough: as soon as KayDee and the other one putted out of sight, Akash and Amrita began enumerating KayDee's allegedly excellent qualities, all the ways she would make him a wonderful wife. It was as if the whole visit had been a normal arranged-marriage interview, though it had begun by chance.
A very strange courtship then followed. Although Mormon missionaries of either sex are not supposed to date, nor focus on things other than proselytizing, Raj's parents and KayDee conspired to throw them together often. The Chatterjee family had a particular attachment to Ganesha, god of new beginnings, removal of obstacles, and scholars; they had a human-sized idol in their prayer room, which they carefully steered KayDee away from when she visited. They frequently exclaimed his name aloud ("Arre, Ganpati Bappu Morya!").  Nevertheless, they feigned interest in Mormonism, and begged Raj to do the same, in order to justify to KayDee's supervisors the copious time she was spending at the Chatterjee's spacious house. Raj felt basically the same about both marriage and (outward) conversion to the Mormon church: fine, kuch bhi (whatever), as long as it makes maata-pita happy. None of the Chatterjees felt they were betraying any religious principles: they were well accustomed to accepting God in myriad different aspects and incarnations, so what did it matter to add one more? Raj liked KayDee, though obviously not as intensely as she liked him. She would do, and maybe this would help him find better-paid, more prestigious work at an American university. For her part, she only ever wanted to live in America; permanently settling "in this crazy country" appealed to her not one bit.
Visits were all whole-family visits. Like any respectable Indian boy, Raj did not seek to spend time alone with KayDee, lest people think God-knows-what-all would be happening. He listened politely, silently, to the four official missionary lessons. He smiled when smiled to, laughed when she laughed; his face ached from it every evening. When it came time for her to ask him if he would be baptized, he said he would. The next evening, over the mildest vegetable curry imaginable (adjusted for KayDee's American palate), Akash and Amrita asked her to marry their son. She shouted yes and laughed and clapped her hands and cried. Raj nodded politely.
And so when KayDee's mission was finished, after another six months--most of which, to her profound unhappiness, was spent in other Indian cities, away from Raj--she returned home to Logan, Utah in the American West. At the end of his semester, Raj resigned from his university and moved there too. He stayed with Indian friends, faculty at Utah State University, for a few weeks until the wedding in the Logan Temple.
There wasn't a whole lot more of this story that Raj was willing to tell. All he would say about his temple wedding ceremony was that it was "most peculiar and rather embarrassing." Janeece figured she knew what he was talking about, that whole undressing and anointing thing. That had embarrassed her pretty well too, back then. Amrita and Akash never quite got over not being invited inside, nor KayDee's declining to walk around the sacred fire in a sacred Hindu ceremony. They stayed in Calcutta, fuming to themselves.
After the wedding, the marriage was a fast, uninterrupted ride downhill. Raj discovered that American university hiring didn't work the same way as back home: it followed an unbelievably slow, complicated process, and it felt stacked against foreigners. During the two interviews he did have in the area, the silly people kept talking about how much they loved Gandhi and samosas, barely inquiring about his qualifications and experience. He wondered if he was supposed to enthuse about burgers and Bush. Both schools sent form letters of rejection three months later. He had taken the teller job in Nozzy--despite his vast overqualification for the job--out of pure urgent necessity, shocked at how expensive even food and basic housing was here.

KayDee and Raj didn't do much better as a couple. Knowing so little about Mormon culture, he didn't see coming what nearly anyone else would: now that she was "finally" married, all she wanted to do was produce children, lots of them. In fact, he learned to his dismay--if it had been in the lessons, he'd missed it, while he smiled and nodded absently--that Mormons believed "the more children, the better." Each soul needed an earthly body to achieve salvation. The more souls you could provide earthly bodies for through procreation, the more blessed you'd be, the more good you'd do for the universe. Those souls had to get here somehow. Sheer, irresponsible, unsustainable madness, he thought. And but so, KayDee and Raj quickly found themselves at an impasse. "Let me get reestablished in my profession first," he insisted. "God will provide," she insisted. They talked of little else. They enjoyed little together. Within a year, they chose and quickly got a divorce.
So now here he was, living alone in a studio apartment in Nozzy, working as a bank teller, wondering how it all went so badly so quickly. Every day, multiple times, he thanked Janeece for listening so kindly to his "prattle" (a word she loved to hear him say in his accent--she loved hearing both t's), for being a "good friend whilst I consider my next move" ("whilst"! how adorable!).
Such a very interesting man. Not like Lamarr at all. Not like anyone else she'd ever met.
Speaking of which: was Rajkumar Chatterjee a Lamanite? Janeece had always been taught that God had cursed the bad people in the Book of Mormon with dark skin (Lamanites), so you could tell them from the good ones (Nephites), but now she was wondering what category people from India fit into. Raj had explained that in India people took every shade from darkest dark to whitest white--so what were they overall? What was Raj specifically? He had pretty dark skin, but he didn't seem bad. Something didn't make sense. Either God was choosing individuals' color--would He do that? what about genetics?--or, well, the whole Nephite/Lamanite classification didn't quite add up. And then what about like Chinese people? What about albinos? Surely they weren't especially good? It was all such a mystery.
Anyway, Raj had become a thoroughly indispensable ray of sunshine for Janeece. Sophisticated, smart, sensitive, kind to her without fail. She could hardly wait until the next day, when she could chat with him again. She'd written down a couple of jokes she thought he might like; she wanted to see how big they'd make him smile.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Nelsons of Nozzy

Installment 4
By Suzie Q.

Lamarr: [portentously] Son. Mom'll be home after a while. She had to work late at the bank ah-gayn, that's why we're having Glamour Burgers here. But I wanted to talk to you too. 
Tom: [afraid "The Talk" is coming] Sure, Dad. What's up?
Lamarr: [irritable] Okay, okay. I'm trying to say it.
Tom: [realizing it's not The Talk but is still serious] Dad. Dad! It's okay! Just, uhh, take your time.
Lamarr: ...
Lamarr: Okay.
Lamarr: I heard a voice in my truck the other day. [pause]
Tom: A voice.
Lamarr: [nervous flood of words] It was kind of in my head. The voice. It was talking to me, for sure, I knew it was talking right to me. I don't know how I knew that, it didn't say my name, was like inside my head, so it was definitely for me.
I was driving on the big bridge, you know where, right? This voice all of a sudden pops in my head and says "DRIVE INTO THE WATER. DO IT NOW." Then it kept asking me "Do you doubt, do you doubt." I had cars behind me or I would have stopped. I kept going, and the voice kept telling me to turn off. This was last Saturday. Ever since then I can't stop thinking about it. I didn't know what to do, so I kept going. I don't know if that was what I was supposed to do.
Tom: ... You mean, you think maybe you should have driven off the bridge?
Lamarr: [relieved: he's made himself clear!] Yes, exactly!
Tom: [forcing a laugh] Well, I'm kind of glad you didn't! 'Cause here you are!
Lamarr: [forces a laugh] Here I am!
Tom: Why do you think you should have gone off the bridge? That sounds kind know.
Lamarr: I...thought maybe it was, you know. Lucifer.
Tom: You thought maybe the devil was talking to you?
Lamarr: Yeah. Heh. It kind of sounds different saying it out loud like this, with you. Heh.
Tom: ...
Lamarr: [gaining confidence as he speaks] See, you know, in the Latter Days the saints will be sorely tested and all? So I thought maybe it was Lucifer trying really hard to wipe me out, have me go over the edge and die, because maybe I'm supposed to do...great...things. In the future. And he wanted to get me now before I could do those things. But then I also thought maybe it was our Heavenly Father, and he was putting me in kind of like an Abraham type situation. See if I'd do what the Lord said like right away without question, and then He'd save me or turn the wheel at the last second or something. So it was a test. It could be a test either way. Like "Can you resist Lucifer when he commands you?" Or the other way, "Will you do something that sounds really crazy, even, if the Lord commands it?"
[deflates] I don't think I'm explaining this very well.
Tom: ...
Lamarr: Like I said, I ended up just going across the bridge. And I'm still here.
Tom: Yes! Good!
Does...Mom know about this?
Lamarr: NO. AND DON'T YOU TELL HER. [more softly] Please!
Tom: Okay, no problem!
[with great caution] Now, I don't mean anything mean by this...but are you feeling okay these days? You didn' know, hit your head or anything?
Lamarr: Oh my heck, no. I'm totally fine.
Tom: You haven't heard the voice again since then, then?
Lamarr: Nope, just that one day.
Tom: I'm glad! [pause]
So, what do you think now? About what was going on?
Lamarr: ...I don't know, Son. I just don't know.
Tom: What are you going to do?
Lamarr: I was...just going to talk to someone. I decided it should be you. I haven't really figured out anything past that.
Tom: Hmm. Okay.
Lamarr: Well. I feel so much better! The Spirit tells me I did the right thing talking to you! Thank you! You're a good good boy!
Tom: Thanks. [forces a smile]
Lamarr: Ahh, there's Mom now! [mimes zipping his lip, then smiles big at Tom]

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Nelsons of Nozzy

Installment 3
By Suzie Q.

1. Tom

What in the flipping heck was going on with Dad these days? He looked...doubtful. Not slow like usual; normally Dad never thought very fast, but he definitely knew what he thought. Even when he was wrong: Son, I'm telling you, the Statue of Liberty isn't there any more. Seriously. Tom hadn't had the heart to tell him: Dad, that was Planet of the Apes. For the last week Dad'd had the constant air of a man trying to remember where he left his keys. Doubtful all the way down to the bottom. His eyes kept wandering skyward and staying there. He'd stopped holding forth to Tom and his mom on "the blacks," and the importance of hard work, and the scourge of income tax. Twice Dad had looked him meaningfully in the eyes and said "Son" in his General Authority voice, but then after staring at Tom for a while he ended up commenting on how nice the weather'd been. What the heck, Dad? Mom seemed confused by this turn too, though she didn't seem very worried.
At Sunday School last week, Tom heard a story he'd been repeating to himself ever since, every time he had a quiet moment.

"The Five-Dollar Job."
Jim, who was just about you guys' age, was trying to make some money one summer. There was a school trip to Disneyland scheduled for the next spring, and no way could his parents afford that on their own. So Jim was mowing lawns and doing odd jobs for some older people in town. He took loads of garbage to the dump, and trimmed trees, and cleaned out rain gutters. He did a good job, and people appreciated his good work, so before long he had a pretty big bunch of customers.
Most of Jim's customers were nice enough, but there was this one grouchy old man he hated to work for. Mr. Henrie. Mr. Henrie had run the town's little post office for as long as anyone could remember. Maybe that was the problem--the boring details of that work had just sucked all the joy right out of him and replaced it with pickiness, and irritability, and suspicion. No matter how carefully Jim mowed the lawn--both across and up and down, turning it into a giant checkerboard--Mr. Henrie always reacted the same way. He'd come outside, and give Jim a nasty look like Jim was trying to put one over on him. Then he'd walk all the way around the borders of his property, bending over to get a good close look at Jim's edging. He'd always find a spot or two Jim had supposedly missed, and he pointed them out with what looked like angry satisfaction. Like, "Gotcha!" Jim would touch up those spots, then ask for his pay. Mr. Henrie would ask, every time, how much they'd agreed on. Maybe he hoped that one of these times Jim would ask for less, or just forget completely. "Three dollars, please, Mr. Henrie," Jim would sigh. "That's a lot of money, you know. I could live for a month on three dollars when I was your age." "Yes, Mr. Henrie." "I just expect some really good work for three dollars." "Yes, Mr. Henrie."
Jim finally had enough of that little game. He determined that he was not going to have that conversation ever again. Jim decided that he was going to do such an overwhelmingly fantastic job on Mr. Henrie's lawn that even that bitter old man couldn't find fault with it. It would be perfect. It would be better than perfect. It would blow his mind.
So the following Saturday, Jim set his alarm for 4:30 a.m. He shoveled in a quick breakfast and rode his bike over to Mr. Henrie's house long before the sun came up. With a flashlight in one hand and a pair of hand shears in the other, Jim pruned the big thorny hedges, all fifty yards of them, all around the yard, before most people in town were eating their breakfast. At the stroke of 8, he pulled the lawnmower's starter cord. He went around the yard four times, up and down, side to side, and then both again in the opposite direction. He took off his shoes to feel for anthills and low spots, then carefully evened them all out. He took his plastic school ruler out of his pocket and measured the grass to make sure it was as equally trimmed as it looked. He bagged all the grass and leaves, then took them out to the dump rather than leave them for the garbagemen. He did everything he could think of to make that lawn: perfect.
The sun went down about 8 o'clock; Jim finally stopped working at 9. He guzzled a whole quart of water, then knocked on Mr. Henrie's door. Jim thought he'd seen Mr. Henrie watching through the blinds a few times during the day, but still, the old guy acted surprised to see him, and asked him what he wanted. "I'd like my pay, please, Mr. Henrie."
"How much is that again, young man?"
"Five dollars, please."
"FIVE DOLLARS! But I pay you three, don't I?"
"Yes, Mr. Henrie, normally you do. But today I did a five-dollar job."
And he had. Mr. Henrie couldn't help but agree, and he wrote out a check, and handed it to Jim, with a look of newfound respect. "Excellent job, young man," he beamed. "Couldn't be better!"

Now that was a story. That was a philosophy for life. Work so dang hard that people had no choice but to be impressed. The rewards and the reputation would follow then just like s, d, f, and g follow a on the left-hand home row on the typewriter.