Thursday, January 11, 2018

The Night She Died


The Night She Died

By Michael Cannata

                    She couldn’t bear it any longer. The beating he had given her the other night had left her praying that he would finally kill her. Death could only be an improvement. The pain, the fear, the abuse, it all had come to a point where living with it was no longer possible. Tonight she would end her life for good.

                Ever since she could remember, life was just a long, endless series of heartbreak and pain. Her parents had been cruel alcoholics who never failed to take the opportunity to let her know what a disappointing failure she was. Her father had abused her in ways that were both too shameful and fearful to ever reveal. She ran away and never looked back.

                Sleeping with friends she worked as many hours as she could to save money. She put herself through nursing school, studying into the early morning hours and doing her best to stay awake in class. She had grown accustomed to being alone, but still she yearned for love.

                She hoped that someday her hero would come and take her away; someone who would care for her as much as she deserved. When she finally got a job at a local hospital she imagined that she would meet someone special, maybe a doctor.

                But she always managed to meet the kind of men that never appreciated her accomplishments. It was her looks that attracted them. Sadly, once they found that she wasn't the sexpot they took her for, or wanted her to be, things always went downhill. One relationship after another had ended in pain.

                She always seemed to wind up with a younger version of her father; a cruel man that would make her feel worthless. Her latest relationship had been the worst. He was always threatening to leave her, yet, rather than leave her; he decided to do his best to beat her into becoming the woman he expected her to be.

                Maybe it was all her fault. Finally she realized the truth. If it was her that got her into this predicament, it was her that would have to end it. She was determined to end her pain once and for all. She had learned a lot about death. Surely dying had to be easier than living with him. Now she stood in her kitchen with the knife in her hands. She quickly drew the blade across her arm and watched as the blood flowed out of her wrist. The contents of her purse were scattered atop the counter.

                She walked around the kitchen letting the blood splash on the floor. It created a trail that lead to the back door that she had left ajar and unlocked. She smeared the blood along the doorjamb. He was the only other person that had a key. She used her keys to his car to plant evidence in his garage along with strands of her bloody hair in the trunk. Using strands of his hair from his brush she was sure to leave some in the trunk as well. Using a pair of his soiled underwear she had been sure to leave his DNA in all the right spots. Using his computer she had researched how to dispose of a body on Google.

                When she was sure she had done all she could to incriminate him in her "disappearance" she closed the kitchen door and walked away into the night wearing the new wig she had bought.

                With her new ID’s tucked into a new purse and a fresh bandage on her wound, she climbed aboard the bus that would take her far away from it all. She didn’t know what kind of life was ahead of her, but she knew what she was leaving behind.

                If her plans went right everyone would believe that she had died and that he had killed her. To her, dying felt like being born again.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Drunk Eli


Drunk Eli

By Michael Cannata

                      "Get the fuck out of the way you old drunk!"

                The sentence was punctuated by a kick in the side to the homeless man that was squatting in the warm doorway, away from the cold outside.

                "Leave him alone, Flash!" The girl exclaimed. "He ain't hurting you! His name is, Eli. Are you OK, Eli?"

                The young girl leaned over the drunk as he cowered in the corner. She tried to reach out and touch him but the drunk, Eli as she called him, just shrunk deeper into the corner.

                "Come on bitch!" Flash barked. "I got some serious business going on here. I don't need you playing nurse to that waste of flesh!"

                "Okay!" she replied, and jumped up to follow Flash up the stairs in the decrepit tenement. She turned back just long enough to see the drunk, Eli, talking to himself again.

                She didn’t know anything much about him, only what she heard on the streets. Eli, or at least that's what everyone called him, first showed up in the neighborhood about 2 years ago. He spent most of his time panhandling at the corner or in the small park two blocks down from where she and Flash were today.

                The story was that he was a Vietnam vet. He used to work at a warehouse near the shoe district but he lost his family for reasons no one really seemed to know. He stuck to the same few blocks and people got used to seeing him around. Eventually he became invisible to the people that worked, lived or simply lingered around the seedy part of town.

                He was best known for his habit of picking up old electronic junk from the cans that lined the streets. He would then have some very animated conversations with people from all points of the world. When asked, he would explain that he was doing recon work for his friends that were left behind in 'Nam.

                The working girls liked him for another reason. Eli would never let any harm come to any of the girls if he saw it happening.

                He was never a bother to them or any other person on the streets, but he would always come to the aid of any of the girls that got caught up in a confrontation… be it a john or their pimp. If he saw someone threatening or hurting any of them he would rush up to the attacker, roaring in a loud voice and point an old military knife that still gleamed in the light.

                He looked small and almost frail hunched over in his long dirty coat. But when threatened, he would rise up to his full six feet and three inches in height and suddenly seem very formidable and dangerous. Invariably, the men causing the trouble would just move away as fast as possible.

                Tonight was a cold night. It wasn't unusual to find Eli taking shelter in whatever hallway he could gain entrance to. Flash and the girl were up on the 5th floor doing their business while Eli stayed hunched in the corner. He heard the door slam and their laughter alerted him to their approach. He started talking rapidly into his latest electronic contraption as they came down the squeaking stairs.

                Flash looked at him with a contempt that was magnified by the drug addled look in his eyes. He clutched a large brown bag tightly and close to his body. "Didn't I tell you to get the fuck out of here you stupid ass drunk?" He pulled out a gun from inside his jacket. "I ought to waste your drunken ass right now you piece of filth!" He waved the gun in Eli's direction as spittle flew from his mouth.

                "NO!" the girl screamed, getting between Drunk Eli and Flash. "Come on, Flash. We don't need any trouble now. We got everything we came for! We need to get out of here! Don't do anything stupid!"

                For a second, Flash and Eli's eyes locked. The lack of fear in the drunk's eyes made Flash hesitate. The look seemed to pierce right into Flash’s soul. He reconsidered his decision to shoot, Drunk Eli.

                Flash and the girl walked out of the hallway and into a sudden and unexpected show of force by a large number of police dressed in swat gear. Drunk Eli knew the rest of the squad team would be headed up the back fire escape stairs. No one in the building would be getting away tonight. The drug enforcement agents were swarming the building. It was the bust they had been working on for two years.

                Eli just lay still in the warm corner of the hallway as the police went about their business. Once Flash and the girl, along with about a dozen of the major dealers in the area were whisked away in a squad car an officer entered the hallway.

                "It's all clear." was all he said and turned to leave.

                Drunk Eli, waited another 15 minutes before standing and stepping out into the night. He shuffled down the empty street to the nearest subway entrance and got on the first train. As he got further away from the place he had been working undercover for the last two years, he finally breathed a sigh of relief. He had come too close to dying tonight. But his job was done. In the morning he would talk to his unit commander and ask to be reassigned.

                He had done his job well, but still, he hated the feeling that came with his success. An innocent girl, caught up in a life she had no control over, would be going to jail along with Flash; A girl that had risked her own life to keep him from the wrath of Flash. He would remember to tell his commander about what she had done. Maybe he could help her at least.

                He hoped his wife would still be awake. The last two years had almost destroyed his family and his marriage. Tonight he could finally tell her it was over and he would be home a lot more from now on.

                He hoped she would be awake when he got home. If not he would wake her. He longed for her embrace tonight more than most.

Monday, January 1, 2018

A Home's Heart

A Home's Heart
By Michael Cannata     

           The face on the old house looked as sad and weary as any face on any person I had ever seen. Its roof sagged and the eves slumped under the weight of the years that had passed since it was built. It leaned tiredly to the left, supported by a tree not much older than itself; as though it had lost the strength and will to stand straight on its own.

            Like a frail, elderly person, once young, strong and vibrant, its frame now looked brittle and weak. The weathered siding had lost its color and the hue of the paint that had brightened its facade when it was new had long since faded away. Its exterior was covered with the blotches and blemishes of old age. What little color was left in the peeling paint was washed and faded. The layers of paint and varnish had cracked and flaked like dry skin.

            I stood and looked at it with curious wonder. I had walked these woods many times as a boy. The land was the vast acreage set behind my grandparent's home where I'd visited often when I was young. My grandparents were always wary of me getting lost, so I wasn't allowed to wander past the range of their voice. I loved to explore the forest and imagine myself a pioneer blazing a trail to worlds unknown, but I'd never wandered this deep when I was young and thus had never seen it before.

            After they had passed away, their small country retreat had been left to me. It'd been years since I'd last visited. I'd forgotten how much I loved the place. After taking stock of their house and property, I decided to take a long walk in the woods to reacquaint myself. It was late autumn, the leaves were still filled with color and the golden sun was slowly sinking. It was a reflection of the sun off one of the remaining windows that made its way through the heavy trees and caught my eye that led to the discovery of the old house.

            The aura of its past was immediate and powerful. I was overwhelmed by melancholy as I noted its dreary and sorrowful condition. It wasn't large, but it was a home that had obviously been used by more than one person. It was a family home... or at least had been long ago.

            In the low branches of the old tree were the remnants of a child's tree house. A single length of frayed rope that still hung from a thick arm of the tree with a board attached was evidence of a swing that had once been a child's plaything. Without knowing how, I was sure there had been more than one child who had played in the arms and shade of that tree.

            Abandoned long ago, years of disrepair and abuse from the elements had taken its toll. A few intact panes of glass in the empty windows were all that was left to hold back nature and its relentless assault. There was no sign of a road leading to the house. The path, if there had ever been one, had long since been reclaimed by the moss and plants that covered the forest floor.

            I found myself wondering about the old house and its mysterious history. My grandparents had never mentioned it, although the land had been in their family since before my grandfather was born. They'd lived on the property for almost 60 years. Who had lived there? When had it become empty and left to its fate in the woods? Why? What had become of the children that had played on the swing and in the tree house? Where had they gone to once they were grown enough to move on?

            I walked carefully up the porch stairs. The steps groaned and creaked as they held my weight. There was no door and so, cautiously and warily, I entered the house; certain that I was the first to do so in many, many years. Expecting it to be chilly, I found myself experiencing a feeling both warm and welcome, as though the house was glad to finally have someone to shelter once again. I imagined I could hear the sounds of the family that had lived there echo through its rooms and halls.

            Odd pieces of furnishings and debris littered the floors. The walls that had once been covered with bright paper by now had lost their color and patterns. There was a fireplace in the largest room and the mantle, while slumped and crooked was still there. On it was a single picture in an old frame. It held a black and white photograph that had no date. It looked to have been taken in the days just before or during the great depression. There was something unusual in its appearance but I wasn't able to say just what it was at first.

            I walked over and took the picture off the mantle. It was a picture of three people, a family. There was a woman and two small boys. The boys were smiling broadly and looking into the camera. The woman looked in the direction of the camera, but her eyes seemed to be focused on whoever was behind it. Her hand was raised slightly in a demure wave and her smile was one of shyness; as though she was happy, but uncomfortable being the subject of the camera's lens.

            The house behind her was new, straight and strong looking. It sported a fresh coat of paint, but I couldn't tell the color other than to note it was light and the sun was bright upon it. The flowers that lined the porch were in bloom. Everyone looked like they had just come home after a special family day. Someone, the missing father perhaps, wanted to capture their happiness so it could be shared with loved ones forever.

            It was the kind of photo that would have been the first thing packed away with cherished mementoes if the family had moved away willingly. Leaving it behind just didn't seem right somehow. It was a moment captured so clearly and lovingly that you could feel the love and warmth of the happiness their faces held. It wasn't a house they were in front of... it was a home... their home. It was where they belonged and where they would spend their lives together.

            And now they were gone. The decaying frame was just an empty, lonely house abandoned by the family it sheltered so long ago. Left alone for reasons unknown, never to become a home again.

            As I stared at the picture a voice, carried on whispering winds, seemed to echo through the trees. It sounded like my grandmother's voice did when she would call me home as I played outside. The sun had reached the horizon. The long shadows were the sign I always used to tell me when it was time to go home. The voice seemed to reach through the trees as it did when I was a child. Once again I felt the familiar need to go back to my home. I started to take the picture with me, intending to keep it as a treasure. I had taken one last look before tucking it away in my jacket when I realized what it was that made the picture so strange.

            The house and its rooms and floors were all weathered and covered with the dust and dirt of long time accumulation. The glass in the windows and the mirror over the mantle were dark with dirt and grime. Mysteriously, the picture frame and the glass were as clean as if I had just cleaned and polished it. The spot it had stood on the mantle was free of dust and the paint under it was still bright around the frame's outline. The photo in the frame was still bright with no sign of fading. It looked as though it was taken yesterday. The signs of passing time were everywhere in the house, except on the picture.

            It was as though, while the house and everything around it had grown old, the picture and the moment it captured hadn't aged a day. It was a moment that would never grow old and as long as it stayed where it belonged. Safe and sheltered in the home that shared the memory, it would never be forgotten.

            I suddenly understood, if I took the picture with me, the house would quickly fall and be lost forever. The picture would soon be stored away by me and the moment would be over and forsaken. The picture, the moment and the love it captured was the heart that had turned the house into a home. It was what had been holding the old house together. It was the source of the welcoming warmth I felt when I entered it. It was the love between the home and the family that gave it power. It belonged there... it belonged to the home.

            The family had never left the home. Time had taken them in its course. The family had started in the home. It had ended there as well. For them there was only one house... one home. For the home, there had only been that one family. The picture hadn't been forgotten. It had been left where it belonged; in the heart of the home that they had loved and that had loved them.

            I placed the picture back in its precious place on the mantle and left the house. I paused at the door and looked back at the picture. A shaft of setting sunlight came through a window and landed on it. Startled, it was suddenly obvious to me who the woman was looking at beyond the camera... she was looking at me.

            Her hand was waving at me with a mixture of thanks and well wishes. Thanking me for respecting her home and its heart. Her wave was the gesture that she would have used to welcome me to her home, as well as bid me goodbye. I felt foolish, but I waved in return before leaving. I headed home again feeling both confusion and comfort. I felt as though, while I would never meet them, I would also never forget them.

            I had found new friends who had shared a special secret with me. The house and I, along with the family, had forged a bond across time itself. I resolved to never disturb the home or the grounds again. I would let it stand until time itself took it away. I wouldn't try to find the people in the picture. I would never know who they were, but I knew where they were. They were alive still in the heart and soul of the old house. Still a part of the love it had shared with them.

            They were where they belonged. In the heart of their home.

Family Secrets

Family Secrets
By Michael Cannata          

           I wanted so much to tell her. Our son had a serious drug abuse problem. I learned of it late one night when I got a call from the police. His mother was upstairs sleeping and it was the sort of news that I didn't want to wake her to share. He had overdosed and landed in the emergency ward. It was a close call, but the doctors managed to save him.

            I left her sleeping and drove to the hospital alone. He was conscious and I was angry. Together we cried, fought and worked out our feelings. He wanted to change and needed my help. 

            Our son loved his mother as much as one person can love another. He begged me not to tell her, he was afraid of what knowing would do to her and so was I, so I didn't. We both knew it would kill her if she found out. He was her pride and joy.  He was mine as well. He was a straight "A" student in high school. He was now in his sophomore year at college. He had his whole life ahead of him. I didn't want to see him destroy it all.

            It had started when he went to college. He blamed the peer pressure; the need to fit in with a faster, older crowd. He was able to hide his addictions easily enough. He lived on campus most of the year. He always looked OK.  We never had any suspicions or indications that would have led us to believe what he was straggling with; until the night of that call.

            My son and I went to counseling sessions together. He enrolled in a rehab clinic that I paid for out of my pocket. Intent on keeping my promise that his mother would never know,  I had any mail or notices sent to a private post office box. He tried his best to beat the habit. Unfortunately, like most addicts, he relapsed often. Eventually, his binges became more intense. He'd disappear for days only to reappear at a clinic looking more desperate each time.

            The deception began to weigh on me heavily. I was cheating our son out of both of our love and support at the most serious crisis in his life. It was getting to the point where, in trying to protect his mother, I was becoming the kind of person I swore to her I would never be, a liar. If my wife ever found out she would never trust me again. We had never kept anything from each other. It would destroy our marriage, our family, if she found out from anyone else about our sons problem. Telling her wasn't just the right thing to do, it was the only thing. It always had been. I hated myself for having kept the secret.

            When he finally lost his license for driving drunk, I decided it was time to tell her the truth, no matter how much it hurt. Once she was over the pain, I believed she would be even more help to him than I had been. I wanted to be the one to tell her. I was going to do it that night after making her dinner.

            The call came as I was setting the table. She was killed in the car accident along with him that afternoon. He never should have been driving. She didn't know, because I wanted to tell her, but I didn't.