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Stories 2 Fall 2018
              by  Ben Fine
My mother was thirty-eight year’s old and had never had a driver’s license or a car.  This was common for many New Yorkers,   Cars were unnecessary given the public transportation system and besides very few people owned autos. Even living during the forties in auto-obsessed Los Angeles she still did not learn how to drive.  However in 1953, living in my grandparent’s house in Brighton Beach, working a short distance away in Coney Island Hospital but going to school in Manhattan, she decided that she needed a car.  She purchased for herself, an aquamarine Ford sedan.  It had cloth seating and no power steering and was quite difficult for her to handle. My grandfather pointed out the major problem. She didn’t have a license.
“A car, Sonny?” my grandfather asked, a look of confusion on his face, “You don’t have a license.”
“Look Pop, I’m living here and going to school in Manhattan. I need a car. Isn’t it nice?”
She pointed at the new big blue Ford sedan that was now parked in front of our house on Brighton Fourth Street. A man from a car dealership had dropped it off.
“You’ll teach me to drive Pop, you have a license.”
“Sonny, I drove a truck over twenty years ago and I haven’t driven since,” my grandfather answered still shaking his head “but if it’s what you want I’ll teach you.”
I was walking alongside the car and looking inside. Shiny and bright sky blue, it had nice red cloth seats and it had a radio. We could go places and not have to always take a trolley or a bus. To a five-year-old, this was one of the coolest things.
My grandfather, who had a license, but never owned a car, and never drove, proceeded to teach her, as best he could, how to drive.
Somehow - she didn’t have the money for bribery – my mother managed to pass her license exam and embarked on a forty-year career of terrible driving.  She was certainly within the worst one hundred drivers of her era.  Within four months of getting her license, she managed to run over a motorcycle cop. Well, actually not the officer himself but his motorcycle. As with many new older drivers, she went too slowly and was constantly on the lookout for the terrible and aggressive other drivers.  Couple this with her difficulty in handling her Ford’s steering made each drive an exercise in terror.  Driving defensively and on the lookout for other dangerous drivers she managed to go through a red light and was pulled over by a motorcycle officer.  This set her into a panic. She stopped her car in the middle of the street as he signaled her to the side.  He then foolishly parked his motorcycle behind her car and walked over to her window.
“What do you think that is,” he yelled at her as he pointed at the traffic light, “a candy apple? Now move to the side lady and shut your car off. Then give me your license and registration.”
My mother, now in complete panic mode, tried to move her car off the road but instead threw the transmission into reverse and with the startled officer looking on, backed over his motorcycle.
“What the hell are you doing?” he shrieked.
My mother managed to stop her car before too much damage was done and sat there waiting for the worst. The officer looking at his bike, wiped his brow, looked at my mother and shook his head. “Just get out of here lady and watch the lights.”
As she gained experience, and she bought cars with power steering, her driving got worse and she became even more of a menace to the general driving population. She now drove with a single pinky on the wheel, still too slow, but constantly chain smoking with the other hand.  On one occasion, years later, she was driving with my mother-in-law sitting in the front seat and my wife and her aunt sitting in the back seat of a Buick Skylark. Of course, one pinky on the wheel and a cigarette in the other hand, talking constantly to my mother-in-law and only occasionally looking at the road. Suddenly my mother-in-law said, “Sonny, our exit is over here” and pointed to the right side of the highway.
Oh thanks, Sylvia.” My mother then proceeded, without looking, to cut across three lanes of Belt Parkway traffic to get to her exit. In the course of this maneuver, she forced another car onto the side roadbed. My wife, the only other driver in the car, ducked her head in fear.  Once off the exit, my mother proceeded as if nothing happened. However, the driver of the car forced off the road chased her and drove up alongside her flashing a standard middle finger salute. “You stupid lady driver,” he yelled, “you almost killed me. Where did you buy your license?”
My mother, oblivious to what she had done, turned to my mother-in-law and said calmly, “Sylvia, these men drivers are so aggressive.  They’re a menace to the road.”
Besides being a poor driver, she had a nonexistent sense of direction, and was constantly getting lost – fublundged was the term she used.  She was not averse to stopping and asking directions but then would get lost off of the directions. A young couple Monroe and Sylvia Miller, who were friendly with my mother and lived across the street from my grandparent’s bungalow, moved to Tuxedo, New York a bit upstate in the Catskill Mountains. My mother arranged to visit them and we set out for their house, just she and I, at nine AM on a Saturday morning. The plan, as I understood it, was to get there mid-morning, have lunch with them, and see their new place. The New York State Thruway was not yet built so we had to take State Route Seventeen, the standard pathway to the Catskill Mountain region. The ride, from Brighton Beach to Tuxedo, even without the Thruway, should have taken no more than two hours.  My mother sailed along smoothly and quickly to the George Washington Bridge and then continued without problem following the Palisades Parkway to Route Seventeen. Although everything was a straight drive, somehow my mother made a wrong turn somewhere in Sullivan County. Realizing that she was fublundged she asked at a service station, where the gas station owner set her on a correct path. Forty minutes later, after passing through two adjacent villages and several vacation bungalow colonies we somehow passed the same service station. She calmly went back in to get new directions. I was getting antsy – typical six-year-old stuff – but it was an adventure and I kept asking “Where are we going, next Mom?”
My mother, for her part, never became overly upset – “We’ll get there,” she kept telling me. We visited every Sullivan County town near Tuxedo, most of them I’ve never returned to, saw some nice mountain vistas, called the Millers several times from pay phones, and finally arrived at their house exhausted at 2:30 PM.
On another occasion, she and my aunt Katie, my grandfather’s youngest sister, were going to a party, somewhere on Long Island, and of course got lost.  They suddenly realized that they had circled the same corner three times and concluded that they were going incorrectly.  It was a deserted street in the middle of a neighborhood that they didn’t know, thirty miles from their home, and only a single car parked on the street. The parked car had two people sitting inside it with smoky windows; an apparent intimate encounter.  My mother though, knew she was lost, and needed to ask directions, so on this third time past this parked car she stopped and knocked on the window.  The male passenger angrily rolled down his window and my mother looked in shock at a married doctor from Coney Island Hospital, where she worked as the Director of Social Services, together with a single nurse also from the hospital.  My mother walked away without getting directions, leaving the perplexed doctor, who thought he had found a perfectly deserted spot for a tryst, to ponder how and why she found him there.
That big, blue Ford meant more to me than just a road menace. That car became a special place for my mother and I, and it was driving with her in that car that I learned both my mother’s life and just as importantly her philosophy of life.
Each Saturday I went to see my father. His apartment was on Eighty-Sixth Street and Broadway and when they first divorced he would take the subway to Brighton Beach to pick me up.  My mother had friends in Manhattan that she often visited with on the weekends when I was with my father, so after she bought the Ford she volunteered to drive me to my father’s apartment. For most of the week, she was busy with work and school and I was left in the care of my grandparents.  That Saturday afternoon drive became our private time together, just my Mom and me.  I looked forward to it as much as anything during the week. My friends asked, “How come you’re never around on Sundays?” I just told them that I did stuff with my family.
The drive should have taken forty-five minutes but with my mother’s slow driving and constant talking, it seemed longer. There were no seatbelts and no restriction that children had to sit in the rear so I sat on the cloth front seat and faced her. I listened and she talked on and on. Of course, she told her stories and I learned all about her life; the art school, the marionettes, Michigan and California, but there was more. She had a very personal view of what the world required of all of us and she impressed this on me; her politics, her religion and most of all her conviction that we were put here to help other human beings.
On these personal views, she felt she was one hundred percent correct and there were no questions. She hated right-wingers with a passion, calling them reactionaries, and said plainly, “Benjie you can’t have a heart and vote Republican.” My Uncle Misha was an ardent anti-Communist from his days in the White Army during the Russian Civil War and he leaned slightly to the right politically; to my mother, this meant that he didn’t believe that every Republican was a Nazi. My mother and he would often argue about politics; the more heated they became the less intelligible my Uncle Misha’s heavy Russian accent became.  Many times these arguments descended into shouting matches, and then just as quickly turned into laughter.
She fell naturally into left-wing politics. Her grandfather Barnett, my grandmother’s father, was a Socialist activist in Europe who after immigrating became one of the leaders in the Clothing Worker’s Union. My mother after high school worked for several years in the garment center and she told me “Benjie things were so bad in the sweatshops, the union had to come into being. There was a big fire at one of these companies and the girls couldn’t get out. They locked the doors so they couldn’t walk out to get a smoke. The girls had to jump and were killed.”
On the front seat of that Ford, I listened with horror and had visions of young girls, and I was thinking classmates, hitting the pavement. She continued, “My grandfather Barnett told me that we had to act – we couldn’t do it by Economic means alone. That’s why I became involved with the Socialist party.”
Economic means meant nothing to me, but the words stuck in my head.  It was only years later, that I read about the famous Triangle Shirtwaist fire and understood what she was telling me.
She never officially joined any organization, which was fortunate for her during the McCarthy witch hunt in the early fifties.  “Poor Joe Lobel lost his job with the Sanitation Department because his mother had him sign some anti-bomb petition,” she told my grandmother who shook her head in disgust. Others of her friends were harassed during the anti-leftist hysteria. Her job at Coney Island Hospital was a New York City job and she would have lost it if she had any official leftist background.  All this political activity and talk swirled around me but most of the concepts were meaningless to a young boy.  I just took in what I heard. It was clear that McCarthy was a villain as were those who sold out and testified against others. 
As part of the ride to my father’s, we went on the old Gowanus Highway, a narrow stretch of elevated cobblestone highway that passed through the Brooklyn waterfront and led to the Battery Tunnel. The tenements of the area perhaps made famous by Arthur Miller’s play, A View From the Bridge fronted and hung right over the highway. On hot summer days, the people would hang out of their windows as the traffic passed by. My mother looked at the sweating tenants in crumbling buildings and shook her head. “It was all like that during the Depression,” she told me. “No one had anything. There were thousands of people living in tents in the parks. Papa George was out of work for almost three years. Grandma took in sewing but the only way we ate was Papa George went fishing in Sheepshead Bay. These tenements like this is what we were trying to end”. She then pointed at the people looking out at us, men in cutaway tee shirts, women with aprons sitting on fire escapes and continued. “But it’s still all the same, all these poor people just struggling. The New Deal tried to help but everyone protects what they have.  Always remember, Benjie, dignity doesn’t have anything to do with money.”  
The Civil Rights movement was just beginning to gain momentum and she spoke of race relations. Her words now, to the adult in me, were just platitudes, but she believed them and they were part of her. “Colored people must have the same rights as everyone else, they’re people after all just like us. We knew how bad it was in the South but up here before I went to California we all palled around together, coloreds, whites, Jews and non-Jews. It didn’t mean anything to us. Hitler taught us though that we can’t forget that we’re Jews because the non-Jews never forget,” she lectured me. “And if you think things are better now Benjie just remember it wasn’t that long ago that there were signs that said, No Jews or Dogs.” I again had no idea what she was talking about but the words and finally the sentiments stayed with me.
Surprisingly during the time I was in grade school she was not active politically; no ban the bomb groups, no civil rights marches. Her actions were on a personal level and despite her convictions, she had a stand-offish attitude on many activists. I realize now and realized even then, how busy she was – work and school - but there was more. Once after a political lecture in the blue Ford, I asked her, “Mom, why did you stop doing stuff if things are still so bad?”
She shook her head and her answer betrayed a bit of sadness. “The war changed everything, changed people’s lives and changed people’s views. I never thought much about being Jewish, we weren’t religious after all. I was proud of being Jewish but it wasn’t all that important to me. The Nazis changed all that. It didn’t matter in Germany if you were religious or not, you got killed anyway so I realized it was important. You know Papa George had five other brothers and sisters in Romania and only one of them, Uncle Louis, survived the war. Now he’s stuck with the Communists there.”
The war was something she spoke very little about and it was only later from my father that I learned that her boyfriend had been killed.  D-Day was on her birthday in 1944 and she took that as a great sign.  She also spoke about all the revelations that the war brought.
“In the thirties, we all thought that Socialism was going to save the world and that the Fascists were devils. Yes, Hitler and the Nazis were really pure evil but we learned that Stalin was just as bad, crushed a lot of the Socialist feeling. Then there was this fear with the McCarthy thing and we threw most of our ideas to the side. Remember Bertha and Louie from Los Angeles?”These were close friends of hers that we had visited. I nodded, yes. “They were the biggest Communists. Now Louie owns two nursing homes and lives in Bel-Air.”
The most important thing she spoke about in that big, blue Ford was her philosophy on religion and what it required of us.  “God is just the good in all of us, Benjie – all this religious stuff is just that, no more and no less,” but she felt that this “good” required much of us. “What God requires is that you do your best for other human beings. You can never turn away. If someone needs  help, you have to help.”
She was the ultimate Good Samaritan. Helping others, both personally and on her job, was her life’s work. She helped on many levels. A neighbor with a son, who had cerebral palsy, before services for the disabled, were provided, came to her for assistance.  She found help and education for him. Another friend couldn’t afford a wedding dress so she found a pattern and made one for her.
When I was in fourth grade, she left Coney Island Hospital and went to work for the Federation for the Handicapped. Her job there was to find employment and training for handicapped workers. She worked with her clients much more than the job required and she had many interesting cases. A third-year medical student had cancer and had his arm amputated. Despondent and near suicide having lost his dream of being a surgeon, my mother counseled him into finishing medical school and becoming a psychiatrist. A patient with cerebral palsy had no control of his hands, yet he was brilliant and bilingual in Russian and English. She designed and had built a device where he could type with his feet while looking at an overhead screen.
She had many ideas for the disabled that had she lived during the computer age could have been implemented. If a person has a below elbow amputation of the arm he or she can still use a hook, utilizing the forearm muscles. A hook is extremely useful to an amputee. Unfortunately, at the time there was nothing that could be done with an above elbow amputation so prosthetic arms were solely cosmetic. She designed a prosthetic arm for an above elbow amp that worked a hook off of the shoulder muscles. It was heavy and of limited use, but given the lightweight materials and computer technology of today, it would have been a great innovation. 
After four years she left the Federation to go to work for the New York State Office of Vocational Rehabilitation where she eventually rose to the highest civil service position and was director of education programs for the mentally disabled.
She preached a hard code to live by, but it became embedded in me. I was entranced with films about knights, like Ivanhoe and King Arthur and the Round Table and coupled with my mother’s philosophy I began to think of myself as Sir Galahad.  As a teen, I gave up Sir Galahad when I realized he was celibate, but over the years, I’ve followed my Mom’s Good Samaritan program more than I’ve ignored it. Sometimes I helped out and I became a hero and sometimes not and I wound up with trouble.
Even for her, it didn’t always work out.  One time, I was perhaps eleven; we were walking in Greenwich Village on a shopping trip when in front of a store, there were two policemen harassing an apparently drunk man lying in a fetal position on the sidewalk. “Get up you bum and move on,” one policeman yelled as he poked the man with a nightstick. My mother, her sense of justice invoked, stepped between the cop and the prone man and said: “Officer please stop, he seems to be having some sort of an epileptic seizure.” The other officer pulled her out of the way while the first poked the man again with the nightstick. This time the man stood up and said: “Okay, I won’t sleep here now.” He then stumbled away.
Bio: Dr. Ben Fine is a mathematician and professor at Fairfield University in Connecticut in the United States.  He is a graduate of the MFA program at Fairfield University and is the author of thirteen books (eleven in mathematics, one on chess, one a political thriller) as well over 130 research articles, twelve short stories and a novella about Pirates. His story August 18,1969 published in the Green Silk Journal was nominated for a Pushcart prize. His story From the Dambovitsa to Coney Island was an honorable mention winner in the Glimmer Train Literary Contest.  He has completed a memoir told in interwoven stories called Tales from Brighton Beach: A Boy Grows in Brooklyn. The stories detail his growing up in Brighton Beach, a seaside neighborhood on the southern tip of Brooklyn, during the 1950’s and 1960’s. Brighton Beach was unique and set apart from the rest of New York City both in character and in time. His latest novel Out of Granada was released in July. His author website is https://benfineauthor.com



Chandra’s Promise

  by Tom Sheehan

The sun sat overhead in mid-flight and neither shadow or noise marked the street for Chandra’s swift glance, door to door, of the street running a city block, the tenements vertical, only the chimneys taller. Nothing moved up or down or across the pavement, a street holding silence in place, as well as any commotion.

That’s the way death lingers before it happens. Her mind dug for resolutions, never stopping.

The street wasn’t a dead street though Chandra couldn’t see a soul moving in the heavily tenemented district of Boston where she lived, where her daughter played her games, did her early years’ socializing by direct contact with some who were, to Chandra’s knowledge, the scum and scrabble among her Kitty’s associates, near young as dawn, some as old as they’d ever get, the tide against them all, and Kitty too if she didn’t keep her eyes open, her mind sharp, aware every day of dangers taking direct aim at her.

And her mother on guard.

“Kitty,” Chandra’d say at the very start of day, “stay away from the druggies, as far as possible. You know who they are, I know who they are. They don’t care who you are. They want you to buy from them, to steal if you have to in order to buy from them. The drugs’ll kill you and that’s how they’ll get me, dying too.” She understood her love for her daughter could be overwhelming, the way it surged through her at the oddest seconds, as simple as seeing her munch on a bowl of cereal. A spoon in one hand, a book in the other, using each portion to feed her young person, promise coming from her young hungers, young tastes, and the perplexity of wondering if Kitty was a “reading eater” or an “eating reader.”

Those relaxing moments were rich rewards for her engrossing protection, real fears rearing threats from many directions

Chandra would watch from a window, from an imposing stance on the porch to scatter those of them getting too close to Kitty, rearing herself up as an obstruction, a guardian of the first order, a mother afraid of a single wrong twist or turn by her daughter, who had some clean friends but whose paths were constantly intruded by the others.

Life was becoming tenuous for all concerned, all ways and routes, and always directed at the young among the neighborhood, the dream hopes for salvation and/or loss in one split second of decision, use, inhalation, sip, for hidden from view, tucked under porches, piazzas, steep-step climbers, there were enemies, even at this noon hour, gathered for cause, for distribution, for early enticement.

The earlier, the better.

To the lot of them it was simply a matter of business: get a new customer. get more bucks in the bank. Even at this noon hour, mothers rolling out the scant lunches, hopeful their young would eat only their lunches; the odds, coming against the safe lunch, piling up.

Life could be a pile of turds unless you knew how to fight back when it counted. Kitty’s future was tied to her own future, a promise somehow out there, waiting.

This quiet street, this motionless scene, was a bed of heavy drug activity. Chandra could see it even within the motionless street, parts lingering, signs to read. A parent had to keep praying their child was smart enough to be wary, to steer clear of the quiet rumble, to keep clean. Among their own dear friends, the losses were felt at unbelievable ages.

Many of the neighboring streets, she could readily assume, were of similar structure and contact; and life could become a horror show from a small spurt of choice, a weakening of will, the insistence of a friend, “All you have to do is try it and you’ll love it, take it from me.”

Oh, how the innocent, the foolish, were fooled.

Chandra could not forget the services and funeral of an 11-year old neighborhood boy who got caught in the flux of drug traffic, right on the street where he lived, and only a block away from her front steps. Heaven and Hell itself were not distant for the alert could see what was unseen, the threats, the dangers, the sad separations too close to one’s own doorway.

When Checkoff1 and Checkoff 2 came round the first time, routing some of the smaller players right off the street, Chandra could imagine what the street would look like in damned short order; they were business brothers to the core, understood the trade and the opposition and began working kids of the street with an immediate concern: you can’t let any opposition get a head start, not on choice territory; don’t let your opposition get any older on the job.

They had their tenets, their rules of order in the ranks.

Chandra had Kitty by the hand as she walked her to school on a bright Monday morning. The enemy was afoot already, sharp-eyed, alert, Checkoff 2 ’s eyes studying Kitty, the flounce to her walk as she noticed a boy looking at her, an older boy at that. Her hand tried to get loose of Chandra’s hand, but her mother wouldn’t let go.

The warning bells were alive at different levels, promising different results: be took and be taken, give in and be gone, let go and be let down, all chances are not choices. Chandra’s mind brought her the fantasy of odds in a weird kind of music and sounds; beware, child, beware; heed the ultimate of care.

They pounded at her, like a drummer.

“Mom,” Kitty said,” he’s about 14 and smiling at me, really smiling at me. You’ve got to let go of my hand. I’m 10 now, and not a first-grader. I know my way around. He’s a good-looking boy, and new around here. I don’t even know where he lives, but he was looking at me yesterday too, I could tell.” She yanked hard at her mother’s hand, understanding that she was not about to let go.

Plain embarrassing here in front of a boy who kept smiling at her like she was a doll in a store window.

“By Gawd, if I told you a hundred times, him and others like him only want to make money off you, make you find it, steal it, slip it out of someone’s pocket, like mine, and waste it. Waste every penny of it on your account, but not theirs. He’s going to die for what he’s doing, at what he’s doing. He doesn’t know that yet, but it’s coming and you’re not going to be any part of it.”

The young dare leaped out of Kitty. “How you going to do that, Mom? Put me in a cage? Won’t that be a sight.”

“As close as I can, Kitty, As close as I can?”

“How? That’s silly.”

“You’ll see.” She turned around, spinning right on one heel and heading back where they had come from. “We’re not going to school today. In fact, dear daughter of mine, we are through with this school. We are going to go to another school.”


“I don’t know yet, but it won’t take long. We’ll find a new school for you.”

At home she called her boss who was aware of Chandra’s concerns about her daughter. “I need a week off, Charlie. I’ll make it up to you, but things are about to get way out of hand. I can feel it coming, so I have to take care of the future right now.”

“Take what you want, Chandra, and keep me posted on good developments. I have a feeling you’ll get done what needs to be done. Blessings go with you.”

She drove around outside of Boston, in a northerly direction, spoke to contacts where she had them, spoke to policemen, teachers, officials, settled on one location, talked to real estate dealers, made visits, decided on a house, initiated a deal, signed the mortgage agreement, hauled her boss in on assurances of work history and work future, advised him where she was in her promise to her daughter, in her promises to him.

The next day she hired a moving truck, cleaned out her rental tenement, left the city and never once looked back as the truck went over the bridge, that piece of the city forever behind her. The ties, she hoped, were being loosened, let free of their knots, escape at hand, the sense of a new freedom getting heavier and heavier in reality.

The first new teacher had to know everything, understand everything, smiling continually at Chandra, nodding at every statement, feeling a new cloak had fallen over her. She was the new cadre in a child’s life, a child’s hope.

The challenge was in the teacher’s lap, her school in a rustic area. Lots of grass, trees, playground room, a reservoir, the child’s new home a few hundred yards away.

It might prove heavenly.

The distance between then and now grew.


The teacher, Miss Carla McCullough, often thinks of those early days, the challenge, the self-charge she felt, like it must feel feeding an infant from her own barren body. Though she had no children, no lover, no hopes, but she found a newness come over self, a hope of her own, Kitty proving to be bright, resourceful, her imagining what passed through Kitty’s mind in a new school, what she thought of her classmates, her new teacher.

“Tell us, Kitty, what it’s like for you to join us, becoming one of us, here in your new school. Does anything frighten you, surprise you? Of course, we wonder about you too. What it was like in your other school, your other home.”

“I lived in a big city, in an ugly part of it. Some of it I can’t tell you, but we had no trees like you have right at the edge of the playground, trees so big and green and still bright they make things nice for all of us. I never saw such trees back there, had no schoolgrounds like this one, no lake across the street where I see the sun bouncing off it in the early morning.”

The revelations were formidable, revealed another life-set, but another place to avoid at all risks.

This child had the inborn ability to summarize issues and feelings better than some of her elders, as when she concluded one discussion with, “It’s really different from living in shadows all the time.”

Carla McCullough took those words to heart, imprisoned them as her own, knowing her responsibility for Kitty would be for the long road.

The following year, her principal said, “Carla, I see you have asked to move up a grade. There’s a special trade going on here and we all know it’s that girl Kitty. You must know some folks would think it’s a strange position.”

“She’s very special, in her own right, and to me, which is obvious, but her mother made it her business to corral me as her teacher, day-time guardian, sponsor, special eds teacher, whatever name you want to give it because she was saving her child’s life and had commissioned me in a heavy part of it. I can tell you, this little girl has changed my life.”

She paused, nodded at an inner matter, and offered, ‘Some days I wait for her to teach me.”

And later there was the word that came to Carla McCullough from another astounded teacher who advised, “This kid has the bravo and the brains to stand up and give a review on a piece of home study, saying, “this is pure crap or this is pure eloquence.”

Miss McCullough could almost hear the “ahs” and “ohs.”

Chandra meanwhile was back to work each and every day as those days and grammar school days passed, and Kitty had moved into junior high school, a stalwart student all the way along the line.

On one strange evening coming home from work, Chandra almost crashed into the car ahead of her. Driving another car on the highway was Checkoff 1 or Checkoff 2, not sure which one this driver was. Easing over to the side of the highway heading north, she slipped off the road into a landmark restaurant, the parking lot of a Howard Johnson’s already loaded to the fill. Slowly she circled the building on the lookout for Checkoff 1 or Checkoff 2, saw him snag a convenient parking spot for his car right in front of the building and then enter the restaurant.

The decision came fast, her heart pounding in her chest, dangers inserting their possibilities at wild random, but they drove her forward with a sudden idea, having seen an uncle do it to several of his pesky neighbors. Manipulating a bobby pin, she fixed the tire valve stem on one of his front tires so that it would go flat in a matter of minutes, then drove to the far edge of the lot, saw him emerge, kick the tire, jack up the front end, and change the wheel. When he spun out of the lot, he headed back toward the city.

Was it a mere incident? An accidental near-head on meeting? Was he following her? Was she too cautious after all these years? She would have to be wide awake from then on.

She went home in a circuitous route, her eyes on and off the rear-view mirror, and thinking of what she had to tell Kitty.

It came out at the late supper table where most of their conversations of late seemed to occur. “I saw one of those Checkoff boys today, Kitty, on the road from the city. I’m still not sure if he saw me or not, but you have to be alert from now on, just in case he’s followed us up this way. I can’t believe they’ve known where we are all these years. He might just have scared the thought right into me but we can’t let it run us off again.”

“Don’t worry about me, Mom. I’ll keep my good company near me, never travel or walk about alone, scream for the cops if I have to. There’s no way he’s going to snatch me up with a smile. Miss McCullough says I’m too smart for that stuff, calls it old hat.”

“You talked to her about that?”

“We sure did. She thinks the world of you and me too. Says she’s going to get a scholarship for me when the time comes. Up at the University of New Hampshire (UNH), at Durham. I already looked at the map and pictures of the campus. It looks great, like a dreamworld, a place you would have loved at my age.”

Chandra left work early the next day, and spent more than an hour with a friendly and caring policeman, Officer George Owens, who lived near the school, explaining her near-encounter with one of the Checkoff boys. Previously he had heard the whole story about the move from the city and was moved by the courage and ingenuity to get it done. And she was conscious he had other interests in her, the flash in his eyes, a widowed man too early in his life, but time enough for both of them for the tangling,

“Don’t you worry your pretty self about him, Chandra. If he comes on the scene I’ll take care of things for sure. I promise you that much. I know the model, color and registration plate number of his car, what he looks like, and will birddog him whenever I spot anything, We’re not all hunkies up here this far from downtown in the big city.”

She found her hand in his hand, suppliant, his energy full, yet the other lingering at the touch. The imbalance of her own wants and needs had not yet cut its pure way into their situation, him cutting the real stuff of a man.

Chandra quickly saw how far she and Kitty had come. She saw Miss McCullough and George Owens in their needed places, her own needs at their lowly positions, her dreams yet fighting all the powers stacked against her. Nothing was going to crush her dreams for Kitty. But she’d throw herself upon George Owens if needed.

In the routine of Officer Owens late day, he spotted the Checkoff vehicle paused before the lone theater in town, Checkoff study the attraction signs, park his car, buy a ticket and enter the theater.

He sat directly behind the drug dealer, waited until the feature was a half hour into its showing, slipped the clean pistol from his belt, felt its cleanness right from the rack at the police station, knew its full history, let its history and bare of print clutches slip down beside Checkoff, heard it bounce off the floor with a heavy sound, saw Checkoff bend and grasp what fell at his feet, snapped his own weapon at Checkoff’s neck, say with loud words, ”Better stick up your hands, Mister, I’ve got my weapon right at the back of your neck. You move and I shoot. I don’t know who you were going to shoot, but it means dick now. You are under arrest.”

The deals, of course, were made with best advice from a lawyer at quick response, and the fingerprinted pistol, a snub-nosed 38 caliber pistol with owner’s fingerprints was locked away for safekeeping at the advice of a local cop.

High school for Kitty was a solid blast right from day one, and Miss McCullough’s full-scale letter to Durham contacts was received and accorded with significant testimonial as she was awarded a full-scale scholarship for four years at UNH.

The phone calls between mother and daughter went on for those four special years, I believe they are still underway.

The very night following Kitty’s being dropped off at college, Chandra found herself entangled with Officer George Owens of our police department, to her absolute delight, and, of course, to his.



Bio: Sheehan, in his 91st year, has published 36 books and multiple works in RosebudLiterally StoriesLinnet’s Wings, Serving House Journal, Copperfield ReviewLiterary OrphansEastlit, Frontier Tales, Western OnlineLiterary Yard, Rope & Wire Western Magazine, Green Silk JournalFaith-Hope-and-Fiction, etc. He has received 33 Pushcart nominations and 6 Best of Net nominations with one winner, and other awards. Newest books are Beside the Broken Trail, Between Mountain and River and Catch a Wagon to the Stars with 4 in publishers’ queues, including Jock Poems for Proper BostoniansAlone with the Good Graces and The Keating Script. He served as a sgt. in the 31st Infantry in Korea 1951-52, and graduated from Boston College in 1956. His most recent reading was about the First Iron Works in America for The Saugus Historical Society. He has read for 17 years at Out Loud Open Mic in Melrose, MA.