Sunday, February 23, 2014

Love Alone by BJ Neblett

Thanks to everyone who has made Ice Cream Camelot such a huge success! I know you've waited, but the paperback version will be released late this Spring. I have had numerous inquires as to what happened to young Billy beyond grade school. I am hard at work on a follow up memoir titled A Change Is Gonna Come. Picking up where Ice Cream Camelot left off, it follows me as I move through high school, the army and beyond. Look for a possible winter release. In the mean time I'll be posting random chapters here, works in progress, for your enjoyment.
Be sure to comment, like, link and share the love!

Love Alone
by BJ Neblett
© 2013/2014

            By the time I escaped the killer nuns at St. Pius X Grade School my drinking was starting to get out of control. Dad had even caught me one night returning home drunk from a session of singing doo wop with my older buddies. With an expression that told me he knew what I’d been up to, he sent me off to bed.
            I knew there would be more to come.
            It wasn’t so much that I’d been caught that upset me. But the look of disappointment in Dad’s eyes brought back memories of all the other times, the times I’d been high or drunk and manage to escape detection. It had been over four years since I started drinking, sniffing glue and smoking pot. Fooling myself into believing it was all under control, I teetered dangerously close to the abyss of addiction. I’ve yet to completely figure out if my parents ever knew of my activities. I prefer to believe that they were simply clueless, doing the best they knew how to raise a rebellious, stubborn and curious son.
            As it turned out I was right, Dad was waiting for me the next morning at the breakfast table. The absence of my sister and mother told me this wasn’t good. But once again my particle and loving father surprised me. In no uncertain terms, tempered with homemade waffles and maple syrup, he advised me of the dangerous game I was playing. His words made sense and I think for the first time I began to see the damage I was doing. I had already blown my internship at WIBG radio, working with DJ legends Hy Lit and Joe Niagara. My pitching arm was stronger than ever but I’d been banned from every Little League organization in the area for my drinking and obnoxious behavior. Yet in my stubbornness, I refused to see the long term, bigger picture as my dad explained. Drinking was interfering with things I wanted to do, that’s all. My young mind said simply, “Be more careful and slow down a bit.” That was all. Even my father’s stern reminder of the pact he and I had made allowing me to attend public school made little impression.
            I could handle it.

           The summer between eighth and ninth grade still remains mostly a hazy memory. Most of what I recall comes second hand by way of friends and some long gone writings. But I do remember the date vividly.
           June 2, 1965 was the last Wednesday of grade school. I was saying goodbye to St. Pius X, and killer nuns, and school bullies and, as it turned out, to my friends. I knew that I would be attending public school in the fall; that most all of my classmates would be going on to Cardinal O’Hara High; that things would change.
            I didn’t know how quickly they would change.
            My long time girlfriend Amy and I had already come to terms with the idea of different schools. After four wonderful, turbulent, exciting, confusing, and memorable years of growing and learning together, we agreed that our relationship had come full circle. We still cared greatly for one another. But it was time to move on, learn new things, and meet other people. We agreed we would remain friends – close, special friends – while we explored the world beyond St. Pius X Grade School, the Lawrence Park Shopping Center, and our click of friends.
            Neither of us suspected it would be the last time we’d ever see each other.
       I remember the look in her eyes, those gorgeous mysterious hazel orbs that had held so much excitement and intrigue for me, on that final Wednesday. Sister Joann made a touching if a bit contrived and overlong speech about moving on and becoming young adults. It was just a bit too pat and rehearsed for my taste. Amy agreed. The Sisters of the Sacred Heart were as eager to see us go as we were to leave.
          From behind, a slender well manicured hand with the pinky nail bitten down found my shoulder. Amy’s soft touch lingered. It was a touch I’d grown to know and love over the last four years. A minute later the bell rang and it was over. Nine years of growing, and learning; of confusion, and being bullied; of friendships, and falling in love and discovering myself and the world around me, with the shrill tolling of a bell it all came to an end.
            Memories came rushing back in a flood of bittersweet images. I thought of failing the fifth grade and the friends that had moved on ahead of me; of the first day of fifth grade part two and my father’s chiding words of encouragement, “New faces; new experiences; new friends to make.”  I thought of the new friends I’d made. I remembered my first meeting with the beautiful and beguiling Amy Johns who confounded and captivated me so. And I thought about Chris, the best friend I’d lost to a careless game of chase.
            My eyes began to mist.
          Fighting back tears of confusion and wonder, I turned in my seat. Amy stood at my side looking down. Her hazel eyes were wet.
            “Well…” she said softly before turning away.
            “Yeah…” I managed.
            Later that day we talked and reminisced with her mom over chocolate ice cream. In her back yard play fort, Amy and I awkwardly clung together. There didn’t seem much for us to say. Amy returned the simple silver friendship ring I’d given her, and that was that.

            The main difference between the summer of ’65 and past summer vacations was that I was alone. Amy and her family were once again summering in Atlantic City. My other friends, Tommy and Frankie and the rest, were busy with their own activities. I never saw any of them again. Instead I returned to my routine of sitting in the bleachers at the Little League games and then wandering up to the public grade school where I’d find my older friends.
            But all this too was changing. The baseball games held little interest for me if I couldn’t play. And most of my hanging buddies had moved on, too. Even my beloved transistor radio was unable to cheer me. Long time rocker WIBG was quickly giving up the fight against the British Invasion. As doo wop and traditional rock ‘n’ roll slipped from popularity, Philadelphia began to vibrate to a different beat. After a couple of false starts, the Beatles along with other English acts had finally established a foothold in American rock ‘n’ roll. Their influence would change the fabric of popular music forever. Even stalwart greaser DJ Jerry Blavat saw the writing on the charts. He began spinning more Motown and less doo wop. I remember the evening I switched on WHAT and heard the Righteous Brothers’ You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’. It seemed to announce the end of the world as I knew it. Sure, it was a cool song. But in my perfect world mind set it belonged on WIBG, not being spun by the ultimate in coolness, the Geator With The Heater. In another year the torch would be passed and the takeover complete as upstart WFIL and their Boss Jocks ruled the Philly airwaves. Removing the nine volt battery from its plastic case for the last time, I parked my trusted old musical friend in the top drawer of my desk.
            I was totally alone now.
            With nothing better to do, I continued my old routine, usually with a pint of bourbon or gin secreted away within a casual Pepsi bottle. My parents were gone a lot, Mom deep into her acting, convincing Dad to join her and handle lighting and effects for local performances. And my sister Mary, now a licensed driver, was spending much of her free time on dates and with friends.
            I stared at the lush green ball field blankly. I didn’t even know who was winning. I didn’t care. Taking a long pull from the ersatz Pepsi container, visions of Ronnie flooded my mind. It had been a long time since I’d seen her, too long, but she remained as fresh in my memory as yesterday’s sunset. We had met right here, on these bleachers, both of us pretending to watch the game, both of us looking for something more; neither of us knowing what that something might be.
            She was different from Amy in almost every way. I think that was what intrigued me so much about her. Ronnie and I didn’t talk a lot, there was no need. We’d meet after dinner, sit in a corner of the bleachers and share a bottle of whiskey. Often we’d wander deep into the woods behind her house. There Ronnie allowed me to touch her; explore her young body while she laid motionless, smoking a cigarette or just staring at the trees. But we never spoke of the things we did. If the petting became too heavy or uncomfortable for her she’d simply turn away.
            Despite the quiet distance between us, or perhaps because of it, I found I had strong feelings for Ronnie. I missed her when she moved away. I loved Amy as best my young years were capable of loving. But lying in my bed late at night, with the open window and roaring attic fan doing little to alleviate the burning fever in my young body, it was Ronnie I recalled.
            A loud clash of thunder stirred me from my brooding. A sudden summer shower was blowing in from the south. Within minutes, bleachers and field alike lay deserted as parents hurried their kids to the safety of the family sedan.
            “That’s a good way to get electrocuted”
            I looked up, finding a pair of cold black sardonic eyes. “I know an easier way,” I replied.
            A drop of rain found her slightly turned nose. She didn’t flinch, continuing to return my stare. I felt the rain on the back of my neck. “I’ll bet you do,” she answered with a disconnected dullness. It was the same kind of response you got from parents and teachers who were more interested in the things you didn’t say. “C’mon, I don’t feel like being struck by lightning right now.” Without looking back she turned and headed off.
            I don’t know why but I just sat there, a child stubbornly defying his parent’s orders. The rain picked up. It was cold; felt good. Taking another hard pull form my bottle, I finally slipped from the aluminum bleachers and slowly walked home.
            The rain persisted, ebbing and flowing in sprinkles and showers throughout the night. As I figured, no one was home to shoot me despairing looks and tell me to get out of those wet clothes before I caught cold. I stared blankly at a rerun of The Man From UNCLE, and then went off to bed.

            Sunday after dinner I headed out the door. Mom asked where I was going. I had no idea. “To the ball field,” I called back. I knew Little League games weren’t played on Saturdays or Sundays. I doubted if my parents knew.
            “Have a nice time,” was mom’s reply as the screen door hissed shut.
            I sat in the deserted home team dugout nursing three fingers of rum. It was all I had left, and with my neighbor Mike doing thirty days for drag racing down West Chester Pike while drunk I didn’t know where or when I’d be getting my next fix. Tipping back the bottle once again released more ghosts along with the tart liquid. Unwelcome phantoms are the hidden prized at the bottom of every bottle of liquor. It was right here, in the home team dugout I’d lost my virginity. It had been about a year and a half ago but seemed an eternity. She was a gift for my thirteenth birthday from my older doo wop singing buddies, her and a bottle of Seagram’s Seven.
            Try as I may I couldn’t recall her name. Involuntary selective memory is the bother and bonus for regular drinkers. But her face came into sharp focus as the last drops of rum burned their way down my throat. The girl was nothing more than a fish, a groupie. Except for her face and the warm sensation between her legs I remembered nothing of the encounter. But that cold December night we both got what we wanted. She was accepted as a member of the gang that hung out at the public school making a nuisance of themselves, singing and drinking.
            And I became a man.
            I laughed out loud at the thought, coughing up thick green and brown phlegm in the process.
            “Didn’t your mother ever tell you you’d get sick sitting out in the rain?”
            I spit the slimy wad to the far side of the floor, holding up the paper sack wrapped empty bottle. “Not sick…”
            A flash of white teeth approached as she made her way across the narrow dugout. “So, what ya got for me?”
             I tossed the bag after my luger. It shattered in the corner as she flopped down next to me. “I got nothing, I’m tapped out. All I got is my memories.” I turned and found a familiar pair of cold black eyes. “And memories suck. At least mine do.”
        “I’ll drink to that.” Slipping a denim purse from her shoulder, my visitor produced a bottle of Thunderbird wine. “You don’t think I carry this thing because I’m a girl do ya?”
            We both laughed as she cracked open the fresh pint. “That shit sucks worse than my memories.”
            “You said it.” Taking a long pull, she passed the bottle over. “But, whatcha gonna do?”
            I accepted the offering.
            “To memories,” it tasted awful, and I had to swallow hard to get it down. I never cared much for the taste of wine or beer. But at fourteen you couldn’t be picky.
            We sat in silence for a long time. I didn’t know what to say and she didn’t seem interested. The sky was slowly clearing and a waning crescent moon spilled its light into the dugout. She was someone I’d probably ignore on the street. Pretty in a plain sort of way, piercing black eyes and tight figure were her best features. Our two brief conversations so far bespoke of a cynical, sarcastic attitude.
            I liked her immediately.
            “What did you mean about knowing a better way?” she asked, breaking the silence.
            “The other day, in the bleachers, you said you knew a better way to get electrocuted.”
            “Oh…that…” More ghosts; little did I realize at the time how large a part in my life to come those ghosts would play. Perhaps if I’d kept a tighter rein on the endless bottles of liquor they would have stayed put. I thought about what she’d asked. I didn’t have to think long. The day was burned indelibly on the insides of my eyelids. It shadowed my days and haunted my nights. “May 18, 1962.” I turned and our eyes met. “I was in the fifth grade. I watched my best friend get fried by a high tension electrical wire.”
            She didn’t blink or even stiffen the way most people reacted when I spoke of Chris’ death. For just a moment her eyes softened and her detached demeanor slipped – for just a moment, “I’m sorry. Now that must have sucked!”
            I laughed. I couldn’t help myself. I laughed out loud. She laughed, too. I could picture my old pal Chris looking down, laughing and grinning from ear to sugar bowl ear right along with us. It was exactly the way he’d want to be remembered, with laughter.

            Trudy turned out to be a combination of both Amy and Ronnie; a mysterious amalgamation of the good and bad of both my former girlfriends. Like Amy she was fun and interesting; unlike Amy she was shy and withdrawn around most people. Like Ronnie she drank and smoked, and we engaged regularly in sexual activities; unlike Ronnie she participated freely and eagerly. We became friends, or as much of friends as she would permit. I discovered Trudy didn’t trust many people, kids or adults. Nor did she allow anyone into the private thoughts and feelings and fears she kept tightly sequestered behind those impenetrable black eyes. I was afforded cleft note glimpses of her inner mind set and rhetorical reasoning. Some of it reflected my own; some of it frightened me.
            Her drinking was a result of a dysfunctional alcoholic home life. Trudy’s dad began feeding his daughter liquor when she was six. After she passed out he’d sexually abuse her. When she grew old enough to understand what was going on she started drinking on her own. One night when she was twelve she broke a bottle of cheap rye over her father’s head while he slept. In a day an age when abuse was spoken of in whispers and most people preferred to look the other way, Trudy was sent to live with foster parents. The situation only abetted her anti-socialism.
            But we were a pair, Trudy and I, soul mates, kindred spirits cast from the same flawed mold. Without explanations or questions we understood each other. Later, perhaps too late, I came to realize it was more than just an errant storm that had brought us together; and more than mere alcohol that kept us together that summer. With Amy’s departure, I had nailed my emotions to my bedroom wall and placed my heart in the desk drawer. It was obvious Trudy had long ago done the same.
            As with Ronnie, the Little League games formed the framework for deceiving nosy parents. We’d meet and watch the game from the bleachers while sipping bourbon or rum or gin from a Pepsi can that fooled no one. Later we’d hang around the vacant dugouts or slip into a small, tightly concealed clearing in the woods. One evening I introduced her to what remained of our thinning doo wop group. The guys were cool and seemed willing to accept her as part of the gang. As it turned out Trudy had quite a pleasant and natural singing voice. Problem was she disliked doo wop and adored the Beatles. After that I began spending less time hanging out and singing. New, younger faces soon began to replace the old bunch, and by fall doo wop days at Loomis School, like doo wop itself, were a thing of the past. I missed those times of adolescent camaraderie. I still do. Those nights of simple songs and innocent dreams hold some of my fondest memories.

            Among the many things Trudy and I didn’t talk about, our feelings for one another ranked right at the top. It wasn’t necessary; we shared a quiet understanding that transcended anything I’d experienced with Amy or Ronnie. We weren’t in love; co-dependent would be a better term. She never cracked the door to her feelings more than her safety chain allowed. I kept mine locked up in the drawer with my transistor. We wore our pain and loneliness like stealth armor, visible to anyone who cared to notice; most didn’t bother. Sex mirrored our drinking; both defined our relationship: selfish, detached, indulgent and satisfying.
            It probably should have been a memorable summer – crossing the threshold between adolescent and teenager, moving on – it wasn’t. I did my best to hide from the changes going on around me and to ignore the ones that lay ahead. With Trudy I succeeded. The rest of the summer is a blur. I remember Trudy moving away the first week of August, sent off to live with yet another foster family. It was probably the only time I ever saw her show any signs of emotion. “This sucks,” she said flatly, “I’ll miss you.”
            A week or so later I sobered up long enough to realize junior high was just around the corner. I’d better get my act together. I cut down on my drinking, mainly because I’d begun to hate drinking alone. By now there was no one left to hang and sing with, and I’d lost all touch with my old St. Pius gang. The week before Labor Day was spent shopping with my mother. She let me pick out most of my own clothes. That turned out to be a mistake on both our parts.

            September 9, 1965 was the first Thursday of junior high. It was the start of ninth grade; the beginning of the new Billy. I felt nervous, scared and alone. Maybe that was because I looked like a clown.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Charlie Brown On Love

"Love is being happy just knowing she's happy... but that isn't so easy."

Growing up I suffered from un-diagnosed dyslexia. A Peanuts coloring book helped me learn to read. Later I discovered good ole Charlie Brown had a lot more to teach me about life and about love. So for Valentine's Day here are some of the lessons I learned, and a few I probably should have learned from Charlie about love.

"Nothing takes the taste out of peanut butter quite like unrequited love."

"Love is not giving up on someone when they don't love you back."
"Love is a baseball."
"Love is standing in a doorway just to see her if she comes walking by."
"Love is visiting a sick friend."
"Love is being able to spot her clear across the playground among four hundred other kids."
"Love is wishing you had enough nerve to go over and talk with that little red haired girl."
"Love is getting someone a glass of water in the middle of the night."

Thanks Charlie.
For more on love from the Peanuts gang click here.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Fill In The Blank by BJ Neblett

As you may or may not know, 2013 was a pretty rough year for me in many ways. I can see a light at the end of the tunnel, I just hope it is not a speeding train headed my way! I've had the chance to do a lot of thinking and contemplating about life recently, who knows, perhaps too much time. I can honestly say I've come up completely blank. The answers I seek just aren't there. In a classic case of speaking something into existence, it would seem one of my poems has returned to prove itself, or perhaps to haunt me:

          The older I get
          The further I go
          The more I learn
          The less I know

My work, my money, many friends, and even my softball team have been taken from me. And I have no answers, reasons or explanations as to that ultimate question: 'Why?'. I am left with just my health, my writing and my thoughts, and, once again, I have come up short. So I'll just sit back and let you good people fill in the blanks.

         "The (most)______________________man is the one who has nothing left to lose."
         "A man with nothing to lose is _______________."

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Full Of Woe by BJ Neblett

I've had several requests to post this story from a few years back. It is one of my favorites and since this is the month of love, it seems a bit fitting. Enjoy, and be sure to 'like', 'link', comment and share the love!

Full Of Woe
BJ Neblett
© 2006, 2012

            Melissa hated Wednesdays. Wednesdays to her represented everything that was wrong with the world, her world anyway. Wednesday was not a day but a hole, an unfilled gap – like the inside of a cheap jelly doughnut – between Tuesday and Thursday.
            Her teachers always seemed to spring pop quizzes on Wednesdays. Her annoying baby brother, as much of a surprise to her parents as to her, arrived on a Wednesday. Wednesdays are neither here nor there. You are neither just starting nor almost done with the week. It’s too far to care about last weekend; not close enough to plan the next.
            Nothing ever happened on Wednesdays either. It’s a lousy night for TV viewing that is if Melissa cared about T.V. Back in her parent’s day new movies opened on Wednesdays. But with few exceptions, most multi-plexes now premiered on Friday.
            C.D.’s and D.V.D’s are released on Tuesdays. Magazines generally hit the stands on Thursdays. Sunday is family time and Monday back to school. Friday nights are for friends, Saturday date night. Although, since being dumped by Bobby three Wednesdays ago, Melissa’s social life progressed at the rate of an arctic glacier.
            And who ever came up with that ridiculous spelling: Wed-nes-day? There aren’t even any good songs about Wednesdays. What possible good was Wednesday? Nothing! No good at all as far as Melissa was concerned.
            Melissa stood in front of her full length dressing mirror this Wednesday morning, as she did every Wednesday morning, grousing about: her clothes – too nineties; her hair – not nineties enough; her eyes – not blue enough; her legs – not long enough; her nose – too big, and her breasts – too small for a fifteen, almost sixteen year old. And that was another thing – why did all these problems seem to come up on Wednesdays? In Melissa’s mind it was just more proof that Wednesdays hated her.
            “This is definitely a Wednesday blouse,” she said aloud, stripping off the pink Oxford in favor of a pale blue cotton pull over.
            “There, that’s definitely NOT Wednesday.”
            Fastening a medium length gold rope chain – the one that once held Bobby’s class ring – around her Audrey Hepburn neck as her mom called it, Melissa decided jeans; a sweater and Reeboks were the best she could hope for on a Wednesday.
            As she brushed her buckskin hair, a deafening thunder clap shook the two story colonial style home. It was followed by lightening which turned the battleship grey skies amber. The sound of heavy rain filling the aluminum gutters reached her ears. Melissa rolled her eyes.
            “Wednesdays!” she muttered through gritted teeth, then gathered up her books and headed down the stairs.
            “Good morning, Princess, and a happy hump day!” Tom Evans just missed with a kiss to the top of his daughter’s head as she hurried past.
            “Hump day? What’s that some new age save the whales’ slogan or something?” she asked, pouring herself a glass of orange juice.
            At the kitchen table, Melissa’s mom Julie, a taller version of Melissa – the pair more closely resembled sisters – struggled to get two year old Andrew to finish his now cold oatmeal. “No, silly, hump day is Wednesday, as in over the hump.” Turning back to her son she found the oatmeal piled in a mound on the floor, the boy smiling innocently.
            Melissa flopped down on a chair, giving her dad’s morning kiss a chance to find its mark. “Sounds stupid to me,” she said.
            “No, not at all, your mother and I met at a hump day happy hour.”
            “You mean you picked her up in a bar!”
            Tom looked at his wife who was busy cleaning the floor. Her expression offered no help but to say, you made that mess, you clean it up.
            He thought for a moment. “Well, not exactly. It was a club, a night club. I wanted to dance, so…”
            “You picked mom up in a disco?” Melissa made a face. “Yuck! Where was I conceived, in the back of a Ford Tempo?”
            “That’s enough, young lady.” Her mother glanced out the window as she rinsed an oatmeal clogged dish rag in the sink. “Your father was quite the charmer, and quite the dancer.”
            Outside, a car horn sounded above another roll of thunder. “Your ride is here. Don’t forget your umbrella,” Julie chided.
            Umbrella… Melissa let out a quick breath. Parents were bad enough, but parents on Wednesday – hump day – were positively exasperating. “Ok, Tom Travolta…”
            “That’s John Travolta…”
            “Whatever, just don’t forget to pick me up after school. We have a driving lesson.”
            Holding her English textbook over her head, Melissa dashed out the back door. By the time she climbed into the waiting van her hair was flat. Rain dripped off her nose and ears. The two girls in the back began to giggle, as did Mrs. Coleman, the car pool driver. Susan, Melissa’s best friend, sat next to her, grinning like a Cheshire Cat. Unable to contain herself, she swallowed hard and burst into laughter.
            Melissa closed her eyes, trying to disappear into the bucket seat.

            The rest of the week was marginally better. For Melissa marginally better usually meant disastrous. Her luck held true: arriving at school, she discovered not only she forgot her lunch money, but that her math and English homework, which if truth be known, took her all of fifteen minutes to complete while on the phone, had melted and run thanks to the rain. It now resembled the Picasso’s and Dali’s she studied in art class. And, her father, ever the absent minded professor, did indeed neglect to pick her up after school.
         Thursday the rain continued harder, and the pop quiz she hoped the math teacher forgot on Wednesday showed up. By Friday the car pool more closely resembled Noah’s Ark as it plowed through the rain swollen streets. It smelled as bad too, thanks to Susan’s Black Lab who was headed for an appointment at the vets. When the girls piled out of the van in front of the school, Melissa’s cardigan smelled like wet dog. She was sure Wednesday had cursed her.
            “Bless you, honey. I think you are catching a cold from all this rain.”
            “I’m fine, mom, honest.”
            It was Saturday afternoon. Melissa and her mom sat outside J.C. Penny’s, eating hot, soft pretzels from Auntie Anne’s. Mother daughter malling became a Saturday tradition at the Evans home just as soon as Andrew was weaned from his mother’s breasts. Tom spent time puttering around the house doing guy stuff with his young son. Meanwhile, Julie and Melissa mined unexplored shopping grounds. This Saturday it was the Exton Square Mall, less than thirty minutes from their suburban Philadelphia home.
            “Still, I wish you’d be more conscious of your health, especially in the rain. You never wear your boots or take your umbrella.”
            “Boots and umbrellas are for geeks. Very Wednesday,” Melissa said, wiping mustard and cinnamon, her favorite pretzel toppings, from her lip. She tossed the crumpled napkin into the trash.
            Her mother smiled and shook her head. “Honestly, I don’t know what the big deal is with you and Wednesdays.”
            “Wednesdays hate me. But that’s ok, I hate them back. They’re useless. I wish Wednesdays would just go away. Who needs them?”
            Julie laughed at her daughter’s remark as the two strolled past K-Bee Toys. “Just remember what Nana says, ‘Be careful what you wish. It might come true and you just may regret it’.”
            “Yeah, well, Nana lives alone with six cats and talks to George Washington’s ghost.”
            They both laughed out loud causing a passing security guard to stop and turn. “Well, you know,” her mother added, “that old house is said to be one of old George’s stop over’s. It has just never been satisfactorily verified.”
            “It’s old and spooky enough,” Melissa agreed.
            Near the center court a banner announced the opening of a new cellular phone store. Directly before them, in the center of a wide aisle, between Kay jewelers and Gadzooks, sat an eight by twelve foot open kiosk. A large red sign overhead declared: GRAND OPENING EVERYTHING ON SALE.
            “Oh, mommy, look!” Melissa ran ahead a few steps then turned, wide eyed. “Look, it’s a sale! Can I please have a cell phone, mommy? Please?”
            Julie knew her daughter’s mommy tone all too well, including the innocent deer caught in headlights look. “We’ve talked about this before.”
            “I know, I know… but…” Melissa paused, searching for the right buttons to push. “My birthday’s coming up, and besides…”
            Ok, here it comes, her mother thought smiling to herself.
            “…besides… dad forgot me at school three times this week! I could have called to remind him. And when I get my license it will be a great safety thingy to have,” Melissa said all in one rushed breath.
            Her daughter’s logic stopped Julie in her tracks. “It was only two times your dad forgot you, but at least you didn’t say, ‘Everybody has one’. And the safety thingy does make sense.”
            Melissa took a hold of her mother’s hand, half leading, and half pulling her. When they reached the booth, a middle aged woman appeared as if out of thin air.
          “May I help you?” she said through lavender painted lips. “I’m Glenda, the owner. Welcome to OZ Cellular.”
            Mother and daughter looked at each other. “Glenda… OZ?” they said in unison.
            The woman blushed. “Yes, well, this used to be an occult shop. You know, candles and dragons and the like. Unfortunately, cell phones and accessories sell much better than love potions these days. And I couldn’t afford a new sign and letterhead and such, so… what are you going to do?”
            It took a moment for Julie and Melissa to decide if the woman was serious. She was. As if to assure them, she motioned to the glass case separating them. “Oh, I still have a nice selection of amulets and tokens and of course spells and potions. And a fine vintage Grimier, very reasonably priced.”
            There on the shelves, next to the latest in cellular technology from Verizon and Sprint and AT&T, sat an assortment of rings, necklaces, amulets and coins, plus detailed pewter statuary of castles and wizards and dragons. In the next case, surrounded by ear phones, car adapters, and other accessories, were beautiful crystal gazing orbs of varying sizes and hues, along with a thick, ancient looking leather bound book.
            Julie blinked to be sure her eyes weren’t playing tricks on her. The store owner smiled pleasantly from across the counter. Her age was indiscernible. Her pale skin and long straight hair the color of cigarette smoke, straw like in texture, reminded Julie of a witch. Her eyes were mysterious and cat like, and the simple black dress which reached to the floor seemed to be that of someone in mourning.
            “Well… err… Glenda…” Julie said, forcing herself not to stare. “I thought maybe a phone for my daughter.” She looked around. Melissa was engrossed with something in a counter at the end of the kiosk. “It’s her birthday.”
            “I think I have just the right thing. And it seems your daughter has found it.”
            They moved to the end of the booth. Glenda slid open the counter and produced a coffin shaped box about four inches long and two inches wide. It was bright ruby red colored and adorned with mysterious looking gold markings. To Julie’s surprise and Melissa’s delight, the hinged cover flipped down, revealing a fully functional phone with an L.C.D. screen, and a large keypad inscribed with the same strange signs, as well as the normal alpha-numeric table.
            “It’s very unusual,” the woman said. “There were very few made. It was hand fashioned by a small company in Salem, Mass.”
            “Unusual doesn’t begin to describe it,” Julie replied.
            Before she finished speaking, Melissa had the device in hand, pressing buttons and dialing numbers. “Oh, can we get it, mommy? Please? It’s perfect!”
            “Well, I don’t know…”
            “Let me assure you,” Glenda said, “it is very reasonably priced, has an excellent warranty and service policy, and I can set it up for you in a matter of minutes on most any network you choose.”
            Julie looked at her daughter. Melissa was squealing into the coffin phone, as Julie found herself calling it, deeply engaged in a conversation with Susan.
            “I’ll throw in a complete set of accessories: head set, extra battery, charger, car adapter, case; the works,” Glenda offered. “Free, since it’s her birthday.”
            Taking in her daughter’s expression, Julie raised her hands in surrender. “Ok…”
            By the time the contracts were signed and the activation completed, Melissa had made calls to half a dozen of her girlfriends. Glenda placed a large bag on the counter and handed Melissa a slip of paper. “Here’s your number and all your accessories. There’s also an owner’s guide. Please, read it carefully,” she said, placing a hand on Melissa’s arm and looking her in the eye. “Your phone has some… unique… features. Use them wisely.”
            After more shopping and burgers and fries and chocolate shakes at T.G.I. Fridays – Melissa liked the name – mother and daughter laughed and joked about the weird little kiosk and its weirder owner as they drove in the rain down Route Thirty, heading home.

            On Sunday the rain changed to a light drizzle and the thermometer dropped. Before the rains arrived the northeast was experiencing a balmy Indian summer. But now, the third week of October, temperatures fell into the forties and it looked like there may be snow by Halloween.
            This day the Evens family was visiting with Nana, Tom’s great aunt. No one knew exactly the age of the mysterious old lady who lived in the spooky ancient house on the hill. Not even Tom. When asked, she’d smile a crooked smile, flash a gold tooth, wink and reply, “I stopped counting at one hundred.” Few doubted her.
            Nana lived in a three hundred year old farm house. The three story wood and stone building was one of a small handful of homes situated within Valley Forge Park, which still remained privately owned. It commanded a stunning view of the park, overlooking a rolling hill where determined American patriots drilled and practiced in the cold and snow, preparing to do battle against the British and Hessian troops. The house was not only well known for once housing George Washington and some of his officers, but for being haunted by those very same men.
            Dinner over, Melissa’s parents busied themselves in the kitchen while Andrew slept. Melissa sat on a mushroom shaped ottoman, chatting with Nana. The old woman relaxed in an antique Bentwood rocking chair, lovingly stroking the large brindle cat purring on her lap. Six feet away, a pine log crackled and split in the huge stone fireplace warming the room.
            “Look what I got for my birthday, Nana.” Melissa proudly held out the ruby coffin phone, and then flipped it open.
            “Oh, my,” The woman leaned forward and accepted the device. She looked at it curiously then flipped it shut. “What do we have here, Pywacket?” The cat stirred on her lap, as Nana traced the gold markings with a wrinkled fingertip.
            “Do you know what they are?” Melissa asked.
            Nana held the phone closer to her eyes and hummed quietly. Finally she spoke, “Runes.”
            “Yes, my dear… runes… ancient letters…” She looked at Melissa who now knelt next to her, intrigued. “Some say witch’s writing.”
            “Oh, yes. For a spell to work it must be written in runes. These are the letters of the witch’s alphabet, and these symbols represent the planets and the zodiac.”
            Melissa’s eyes grew wide. “Really…? Do you know what it says?”
            “Humm…” Nana studied the lettering carefully, then gazed into the fire. It cast an eerie, flickering shadow across her face. “Yes… yes,” she said looking at the phone and reading:
                                                            “On Wednesday show
                                                             Full of woe
                                                             To make it right
                                                             By runes write”
            Melissa wrinkled her nose, “Wednesdays!”
            “Yes,” her aunt replied. As in the old poem:
                                                            ‘Monday’s child
                                                             Is fair of face,
                                                             Tuesday’s child
                                                             Is full of grace,
                                                             Wednesday’s child
                                                            Is full of woe…’”
She smiled at Melissa. “You were born on a Wednesday you know.”
            Melissa sank back on her heels, her soft blue eyes rolling, “It figures!”
            Pywacket stretched on Nana’s lap. Sniffing the ruby coffin phone, the cat let out a guttural yowl, then jumped down and ran out of the room. The old woman nodded. “Some say cats can see and understand things humans can’t.”
            Melissa pondered the cat’s actions, and then turned her attention back to the enigmatic phone. “Yes, but what does it mean, the inscription?”
            Her aunt looked at the words again then handed the phone to Melissa. “I believe it means it only works on Wednesdays.”
            Considering the phone, Melissa flipped it open, the L.C.D. and buttons coming to life. “That’s silly… it works all of the time…”
            That evening Melissa lay in her bed studying the owner’s guide. In the section explaining text messaging, she discovered a button which permitted writing to the L.C.D. screen using standard characters or the strange witch’s runes. She realized each unique symbol – glyphs the booklet called them – stood for a letter of the alphabet.
            At the end of the section she came across a cryptic warning:
                                                CAUTION! TEXT TO * - Б - 1- 1
                                                      (STAR, PLUTO, ONE, ONE)
                                                         CAN NOT BE UNDONE!
            Too tired to read anymore or try to figure out the warning, Melissa closed the booklet, turned off the light, and fell fast asleep. As a freezing rain played against the window, she dreamed she and Nana were witches chanting a victory spell to George Washington and his men on the eve of a great battle.

            Monday at school Melissa excitedly showed off her new phone. She decided the witch’s runes and glyphs were just a gimmick, a marketing ploy to sell phones. She didn’t care. The ruby coffin phone was a hit and Melissa was the envy of the school.
            At lunch, she and Susan programmed the phone’s memory with the numbers of friends, the movie theatres, home, her dad’s work, and other phone numbers vital to a fifteen, almost sixteen, year old girl.
            “What’s that?” Susan pointed to the button with the odd looking Б marking.
            “I don’t know. The book doesn’t say anything about it except you shouldn’t use it or something.”
            “Why not?”
            “Beats me, dad says that’s the symbol for the planet Pluto, only it’s upside down or something,” Melissa replied, snapping the phone shut.
            “Pluto, wasn’t he the guy in charge of the underworld or something like that? Exactly what did the instructions say?”
            Melissa thought hard. “It said, ‘Texting a message to star, Pluto, one, one can’t be undone’, I think.”
            “Whose number is that?”
            “Probably some geek service tech.”
            “Billy Campbell’s older brother is a service tech and he’s cute,” Susan said, her voice turning dreamy.
            The two girls looked at each other grinning.
            Melissa flipped the phone back open. “What shall we say?”
            “I don’t know. Say you are having trouble with the ring tone.”
            Nervously, Melissa tapped the lighted buttons, words appearing on the screen as she typed:
                                                Hello, having trouble with my ringer.
                                                Can you help, please?
            Followed by:
                                                * - Б-1-1
            “Go on, send it.”
            The two giggled. “Oh, my God,” Melissa said, taking a deep breath to calm her giddiness. Then she hit send.
            They waited.

            Wednesday afternoon Melissa sat in the school’s library staring blankly at her math book. She was depressed. Not only was it another stupid Wednesday but snow had begun to fall. If it kept on, by the time her father picked her up from school she wouldn’t be able to take a driving lesson.
            Saturday was her birthday. Because of the number of students requesting Driver’s Education, she wasn’t scheduled to take the course until January. Now with the weather changing she might not get her license till spring.
            She looked out the window at the snow then at her math book. The numbers seemed to be laughing at her like in an old Looney Tunes cartoon she’d once seen. Melissa felt about math the way she did about Wednesdays. And math on Wednesdays was the worse. Finding herself idly scribbling in her note book, Melissa got an idea. She didn’t really believe in magic and spells, but at least it was something to do, something other than math.
            Copying what she had unconsciously written in her notebook, she pressed the keys on her phone’s lighted key pad. One by one the words appeared on the L.C.D. screen:
                                                            Snow snow go away
                                                            Let me go out and play
            And then:
                                                            * - Б -1-1
            She read the impromptu poem over then hit send.
            The phone stared up at her.
            “Figures… its Wednesday!” she whispered.
            Then something occurred to her. What was it Nana said? Spells have to be in runes to work. With nothing better to do than math homework, Melissa shrugged, hit clear and then the button which activated the glyphs. Carefully she retyped the short poem, this time using the witch’s alphabet, then * - Б-1-1. She crossed her fingers, hit send and closed her eyes.
            When she opened them ten seconds later a ray of yellow light shone across the table where she sat. Melissa shook her head and looked at the ruby coffin phone in her hand. The message she typed was gone, replaced by another. It read:
                                                            Message received
                                                            Have a nice day. Б
            Outside the snow stopped and the sun was breaking through the overcast.
            The school bell shook Melissa back to reality. Closing her books and tucking the coffin phone into her purse, she headed for her next class.
            Avoiding her homework, Melissa sat in her room after dinner thinking. It really hadn’t been too bad a day… for a Wednesday. True it started off as well as any Wednesday, which wasn’t well at all. But things seemed to slowly improve as the day progressed. Her last two periods went smoothly. She thought she might have even aced the pop quiz in history.
           Most surprisingly, her dad was actually on time picking her up from school. And the driving lesson went well. According to her father, with a couple more lessons over the weekend she’d be ready to take her test. All in all it wasn’t too bad a day… for a Wednesday.
            Melissa looked at the ruby coffin phone sitting on her desk. The scene in the library came back to her. She had made it stop snowing.
            Or had she?
            Picking up the phone and flipping on the glyphs, Melissa began to type:
                                                If I’m the fairest of them all
                                                Then why doesn’t somebody call?
            “This is stupid,” she said as she punched in * - Б-1-1 and hit send.
            The phone blinked three times and her message disappeared. A second later it was replaced by:
                                                            Message received.
                                                            Have a nice day. Б
            The ruby coffin phone rang.
            It was Bobby.

            Melissa awoke to another Wednesday morning. But she wasn’t depressed. It was a beautiful day and the past week was a new chapter in the new Melissa Evans’ life.
            She passed two major tests on Friday, one in math. The weather was mild and pleasant again. Her driving lessons over the weekend went great and today after school she was going for her license. She didn’t even care that it was another Wednesday.
            But best of all she and Bobby were back together. The night he called they talked until the battery on her phone went dead. Thursday he drove her home from school, and Saturday they went out for her birthday. Bobby gave her his class ring and she wore it on a chain even now as she lay waking.
            True, she tried to conjure up more magic with her phone and failed. But she didn’t care. It didn’t matter. From now on every day was going to be a great day.
            Even Wednesdays…
            Especially Wednesdays…
            She was wrong.
            “Honey, what’s wrong?”
         Melissa ran through the front door, past her mother and up the stairs. Julie heard her daughter’s bedroom door slam shut. She was sure Melissa was crying. A moment later the sixteen year olds father walked into the house.
            “Tom, what’s going on?” Julie asked. “What’s with Melissa?”
            He sighed and sat heavily on the living room sofa. “Well, let’s just say this hasn’t been a banner day in the life of our daughter.”
            “Why, what happened?” Julie now sat next to her husband. “Was it the driving test?”
            “The driving test was a disaster. And from what I gather that was the highlight of her day.”
            “Oh, dear, maybe I should go to her.”
            Tom touched his wife’s arm. “You’d better know what you are up against first.”
           “Remember how happy and chipper she was this morning?” he began. “It didn’t last long. From what I can tell she failed two quizzes today, English and math. Then at lunch she spilled mustard and ketchup on her new sweater.”
            “Not the cashmere one Nana bought her for her birthday?”
            Tom nodded. “I was a few minutes late picking her up from school and while she waited her and Susan got into a big fight.”
            “Oh, no, the poor child,” Julie looked at her husband almost afraid to ask the question. “Her driver’s test…?”
            Tom’s face went pale. “A pretty badly dented fender, fortunately it was a concrete barrier she hit, not another car.”
            Julie stood. “Well… maybe I can…”
            “That’s not all. On the way home we stopped at a red light. That boy she’s dating… Bobby… he was in the car next to us with Melissa’s friend Susan.”
            “They were kissing.”
            Julie sat back down on the sofa. Her heart ached for her daughter. “Did Melissa say anything?”
            Tom shook his head. “She just kept mumbling something about Wednesdays.” He patted his wife’s leg. “Give her some time to herself. Melissa’s a smart girl. She’ll figure things out.”
            Upstairs, Melissa lay across her bed crying. The day’s events played over in her head like a bad movie. She thought about calling Susan and having it out with her. Or maybe it had all been a terrible mistake.
            Wiping tears from her eyes, Melissa sat up and reached for the ruby coffin phone. She looked at it. She was getting better at reading the witch’s runes.
                                                            On Wednesday show
                                                            Full of woe
                                                            To make it right
                                                            By runes write
            “Of course,” she said aloud, reading the inscription over. That was it! “It only works on Wednesdays. Wednesdays! That’s what it meant. That’s what Nana said. The spells only work on Wednesdays.”
            Melissa thought. Several ideas passed through her head. None were very satisfying. She couldn’t harm anyone. Not even that rat Bobby. What she needed was a final solution; one that would take care of all her problems in one swoop, and for good. If it wasn’t for Wednesdays…
            She had it!
            Flipping open the ruby coffin phone, she punched the button that activated the glyphs.
            Melissa sighed.
            If it worked she wouldn’t be able to do anything else.
            “Or undo it,” she reminded herself.
            Her mind was made up.
            Carefully she typed:
                                                            No more sorrow
                                                            No more woe
                                                            No more Wednesdays
                                                            All must go
            Melissa re-read what she typed.
            With a smile she typed: * - Б-1-1 and hit send.