ANN O’DYNE, nurse, had healing hands, wee mitts sprung from the cuffs of her crisp white tunic. Her voice was gold, a brook in a meadow. It washed away fear and anger, discomfort and pain. She was the pride of the ward, the whole hospital, the surgeon’s pal, the patient’s savior. At home, her feet hurt, she drank, slept with a butcher, called talk radio programs, ranted about illegal immigrants and the Jew-run media.


THE TALL ONE pointed the gun at my son. “Give me everything.” My son said:
“ I have nothing.” I rose, but the short fat one pressed his gun into my back. “Sit down stupid.” I said: “ But my son is only nine, he doesn’t have any money.” “Then we will take his shoes. Everyone must contribute.” My son removed his sandals and I gave them my cell phone, wallet and cash. They took my wife’s jewelry, touched her breasts.


I SHOULDN’T have asked. He was insulted. I should have known better. He was hurt. This friendship business can take a wrong turn after many years of straight road and I must have sneezed or something when the sign came up, cause I didn’t see it. Now my pal is bent out of shape, like a banged fender, and I am driven to drink. It might have been that girl hitchhiker I picked up who disoriented me, created a blind spot.


I STOLE A CAR once, a Buick Riviera, that had a dent in the door, a puckered triangle, where the paint went all funny. I used to steal a lot of things back then, magazines, school supplies, cigarettes, clothes, beer. I work downtown now, have a family, am an honest citizen. Yesterday I saw that long-ago car in a lot, touched the wounded door and felt a rush of joy, an awareness of a heavenly Fagin watching over me.


THE SLIVER is very small, not the wee lumber that can pierce my hand when I’m in the shop, easy to find, remove. No, this is the size of an eyelash, a fly’s leg. I mine for it with a needle, peel away patches of skin, bleed the dermis, but can’t manage to extract the damn thing. Not with tweezer or Xcto blade. I soak my hand in salt water, try to loose its grip, but it remains, barely visible. I will have to wait.


THE BLOOD LETTING commenced at first light. Swooping into their camp, we trampled and savaged all life before us, giving no thought or quarter to the age or gender of heathen. Some fought back, valiantly, admirably, I admit, while others cowered in their huts holding onto amulets as if some pagan god could protect them from our sabers. There was nothing of value in their sorry camp and the women were not pleasing.


THE POND froze over last night, black pane frosted, framed by a stubble of cattail and brush. A blackbird sways on a stalk of swamp weed, the red and yellow patch on his shoulder his rank, little corporal. Geese fly overhead, big V honking south. Jesse and I bring the old skiff back to the barn. She wants to buy some red paint, give the boat a facelift. I say why spend the money, we’ve got grey paint right here.


ANOTHER PARCEL arrived, wrapped in brown paper, secured with waxy twine. The dog sniffed it, growled and backed away, snapped his teeth. Mitchell left the package on the sofa for three days, then cut the twine, removed the paper and opened the box, sighed. Inside, a fuzzy handknit sweater vest. In those colors. He put it on, reluctantly stood in front of the hall mirror. “I look like a goddam potholder,” he said.


“I LIKE New York, ok? I just don’t want to be its darling.” I walked back to the barn, stomped through the puddles, made a big splash. Having a show in a NY gallery was a way for me to pay for the luxury of looking at a pond filled with ducks and frogs each morning. Why, besides the shopping, would she want us to live there six months of the year? I opened the barn doors, exalted at the sight of my canvases, the hay.


WHEN HE asked if we put the body of our dead dog in the trash I was astonished, not angry. After all, he’s a foreigner, not used to our customs. Maybe he was inquiring in order to secure the carcass for his family to eat? I didn’t know them well, they’d only lived next door for a few weeks, had no pets. I went back in, put a pizza in the microwave, popped a beer and turned on the game. Maybe I should have been angry.