Quotes that Say Something

"Please, dad, get down and look. I think there's some kind of monster under my bed."

Life when seen in close-up often seems tragic, but in wide-angle it often seems comic. -- Charlie Chaplin

"And when the cloudbursts thunder in your ear, you shout, but no one's there to hear. And if the band you're in starts playing different tunes, I'll see you on the dark side of the moon." -- Roger Waters, "Brain Damage"

Oct 9, 2014

The Deconstruction of Molly

The Deconstruction of Molly

Original Fiction by Butch Ekstrom

       An amiable and resourceful pair of
sociopaths -- an aging widower and his young
adult daughter -- risk it all to fulfill the last
wishes of their deceased wife and mother, Molly. 

                               “You may remember on earth -- though of course we never confessed it
                               -- the death of anyone we knew, even those we liked best, was always
                               mingled with a certain satisfaction at being finally done with them.” 
                                                               --  George Bernard Shaw, "Don Juan in Hell" 
           Lowe Landry glanced into the rear-view mirror as his car rolled northward on the highway toward the airport, which was always busy during these late afternoon hours. All day it had been abnormally frigid, the air soaked by an encompassing haze of winter mist and humidity -- a discomforting condition that overtakes the Gulf South during the most glum weeks in a new year. Dark gray clouds, signs of some troublemaking rain storm, were bunching toward the aeronautical path which she, Kayla, who sat without speaking in the back seat, one arm wrapped protectively around a travelling case, a barely detectable look of smug satisfaction spread across her lips and full cheeks, would travel in a few hours. Lowe yanked the shivery sides of his unzipped leather jacket closer to his ribcage. Despite the cold, his two overweight passengers had asked him to keep the heater turned down in his car.

          'What a strange pair, what an insane moment' Lowe thought, as he had many times before.

          Kayla would be flying soon into the greedy maw of a snarling storm -- bearer of the mythic deities of wind, rain, thunder, lightning -- made by a sweeping Canadian cold front clashing viciously with a northeasterly surge of warm wetness below a low-dipping jet stream. The prospect for turbulence in flight did not bother Lowe's backseat passenger one bit. A generally tense flyer throughout his life, he found Kayla's lack of concern more than a little strange. Given the exoteric expedition Kayla had before her, one that might take a while to complete, to a Mideast and Muslim culture and an ancient land being overwhelmed by destructive impulses, Lowe imagined that that ominous bank of clouds up ahead would easily serve as his excuse to bail out forthwith if he were travelling with her.

A Tell-Tale Heart

          "Ahhh, well, everything is gonna work out fine, just fine. Isn't it, Kayl?,' Melvin said. His odd walking stick sat between his short legs. The top of this cane leaned against the passenger door.

          'Everything's gonna work out fine, dad. No worries. Just fine,'' Kayla leaned forward. She patted the back of her father's left arm.

          'So, Kayl, as I was saying, about your mom. She's here? Where? I mean, is she here with us?' Lowe felt unsure about how to broach the subject.

          'Oh yes. She is. She is indeed. Like dad said, she's just fine,' Kayla replied.

          She had a round face, straight natural blond hair, big blue eyes, long lashes with dark liner. Clearly, by her father's outgoing demeanor and both parents' rounded body type, Kayla was the offspring of Melvin and Molly but she did not resemble them in other ways. Kayla was about 30 years old and 30 pounds overweight with alabaster skin and a few freckles, a subtle mix of fairy princess and Pillsbury Doughgirl. Her wardrobe was high quality, well-fitted, and professional. Her fashion was more upscale than a modern computer oriented job usually demanded. She was a graphic arts designer. Her parents had idealistically named their one child Kayla in hope that she would become an artisan of some sort with a pure heart's regard for the beauty and ethics of artistic creation. As a young adult, Kayla smiled easily, developed eccentric quirks like each of her parents, displayed a tender heart when it came to helping other people and cats, and liked to laugh, but like many only children she kept to herself a lot.
          'Molly's here?' Lowe tried to keep his eyes trained on the highway. 'Really? Where?'

          'Well, no worries. She's right here. Safe and sound. Just fine,' Kayla patted the carry-on case within her protective embrace.

         'Ahhh, good. Very good. Just like we planned it," Melvin said.

          Kayla's father, Molly's still aching widower, sounded uncertain. Though he liked Melvin, a next-door neighbor for years, a sincere lover of friendships, cats, and music of many kinds, and a genuine character in every true sense of that term, Lowe sometimes privately referred to Mel as The Minimizer.

          Lowe glanced back at Kayla again. The heavy traffic on this highway worried him. There were cars, especially a coupe of daredevil taxi cabs, darting in and out of lanes. Lowe kept his car in a middle lane.

          'Okay. But where ?, Lowe repeated.

          'Well, Mol's back there in an empty shampoo tube,' Melvin noted. 'Nice job with that, Kayl."

          'Yep. Not to worry. She's right here.' Kayla's smile, more wistful than before, was back. She tapped a pointy, polished fingernail on the case. Three sharp clacks filled the space inside the auto.

          'Oh God,' Lowe blurted in disbelief.


          Ten days before this, as Lowe walked toward his car in semi-darkness, Melvin had called out to him, which caught Lowe my surprise.

          'Hey, neighbor. Can you come over for a few minutes?' the man in the shadows of his front porch, feigning joviality, asked.

          Lowe sat next to Mel on the porch as usual. Strong odors of cat dander, rotting kitty foods, the smell of swampy mud mixed with decaying leaves, and the anguished residue of second-hand tobacco smoke suffused the atmosphere. A browned and dirty screen door which was forever locked kept the kitties, and everyone, out of the dimly lit living room. Lowe noticed that the ghostly lights in Molly's home office were turned on too. Several felines of various ages and sizes stalked around his seat, with their tales swishing like silent cutting blades, which kept Lowe unsettled.

          'Ahhh, well. Good to see ya, old man. Unseasonably warm for an evening, isn't it,' Mel said.

          'Yup. I thought you'd be inside by this time. Your yard looks good,' Lowe responded.

          In fact, Melvin obsessed over keeping his grass, bushes, and easements tidily cut and trimmed perfectly all year round. A team of gardeners had labored around his place for hours that day. The orderly yard was a strange mirror image to the interior of Melvin and Molly's house, which had always smelled rancid, seemed messy and mysterious, and which was (by some unstated edict) completely off limits to visitors. Molly rarely was seen out of doors, came across as unaccountably shy, became discomforted by conversation gambits, and spent almost every hour of her life in the house, more precisely in her office and bedroom. She was slightly taller than Mel, pulled her medium brown hair invariably into a severe bun, carried about 200 extra pounds on her sedentary frame, and smoked dozens of her cigarettes each day. Still Molly was a local legend as a graphics artist and desktop publishing whiz. She apparently ruled the roost on the inside of the home. Melvin always seemed more outgoing and jovial than his wife and daughter. He cherished humorous print cartoons and all suggestive jokes. His perfectly sonorous voice had afforded him many good years in radio and television announcing. He had also had limited parts in dinner theater productions and for a while appeared in locally-produced TV spots. Mel was very short and egregiously overweight, like his spouse, hence this increased reliance lately on a quirky walking stick. Melvin was known to passersby on the city streets by the names of certain characters that he had once played on kids' shows and local TV commercials -- Biggie, The Big One, and Big Mal the Kiddie's Pal. He generally seemed glad to experience chance encounters with fans on city streets.

          One thing that Lowe had surmised soon after meeting Melvin was that he was completely devoted to Molly. Love is blind, the younger man reminded himself. It seemed to be his primary, perhaps only, life mission to keep things shipshape (the guy had served in an undistinguished manner in the Navy) and ready for snap inspections on the symbolic outside of their relationship, like the carefully manicured lawn, the perfectly molded bushes, and the trim but overhanging oaks and willows. It also appeared that Melvin could do just about anything at any old time -- drive off to the local AFTRA office for an unannounced weekday visit, take a brief job creating resonant voiceovers at some local station, read a book, focus on a football game, or enjoy one of his thousands of warping vinyl records by Diana Krall and traditional jazz artists, very old school material, on his dusty music turntable. He would arrange things in a low-key manner so that Molly, the chain smoking and introverted artisan whom Mel insisted was 'brilliant, just brilliant,' could take care of business on the proverbial inside, while neglecting the most rudimentary housekeeping and personal care issues. Lowe translated Mel's term brilliant as 'coolly competent,' which is enough in typical Southern labor contexts to rate a superlative about one's work. Then the Minimizer's elusive all's well that ends well scenario crashed (and almost actually burned their house down) while Melvin was on one of his weekly field trips to the A&P. Molly's sudden death, she suffered a fatal heart attack in her office sanctuary, a burning cigarette stuck between two fingers -- about her sixtieth of that day -- was stabbed into the chocolate hued shag carpet, totally devastated her spouse. Within days, subtle signs of deterioration in and around Melvin's once-controllable existence became noticeable. The process of disintegration mentally, emotionally, and physically would take a long time to play itself out which would not be pretty.

          'You know how we were talking about where to go with Mol's ashes?' Melvin asked without a preface.

          'I do,' Lowe Landry replied slowly. 'You've thought of something?'

          "Ahhh, yes. Well, Kayl and I have decided what we want to do,' Mel added.

          Lowe was amazed. He considered this a minor miracle. He had figured that nothing would be done on the subject for at least weeks, if not months. It was true that Molly was not about to wander off anywhere, like one of the come and go family felines. Soon after her demise she had been reduced to a gleaming and decorative box of cremains. The power trio of Melvin, Molly, and Kayla were avowed atheists. There was no wake and no religious acknowledgment of the woman's death. In her reduced state, Mol's ashes had made only one brief, public appearance at a party with several hundred, mixed emotion professional colleagues and Mel and Kayla's few personal friends in a big hotel ballroom, a fete which went from frosty to festive as the evening ensued. Lowe and his girlfriend enjoyed the party once enough alcohol and hand rolled ganja, Maui Wowee and Coasta Roasta, had been consumed by the notable TV and radio personalities, plus others, in attendance. Mirroring her personal standoffishness when it came to neighborhood parties, the container of Molly's cremains appeared for about 30 minutes on a front table, with a simple vase of yellow flowers next to it, but then the shiny box disappeared, as if she had repaired to her cozy but unhealthy office. Lowe wondered if Melvin (or perhaps Kayla?) had orchestrated this as a nonconformist, postmodern message to those who had truly known the missus.

          Lowe often thought of Melvin as The Minimizer, yet he also privately dubbed him The Grand Procrastinator. It invariably took Melvin months to take a step or get around to doing something, even regarding important matters. There was a decrepit Buick in the family driveway. This was Molly's modest ride to putter back and forth to a print shop at all hours, to make breathless runs for cigarettes at a discount tobacco shop, and almost nowhere else. This junk Buick was now largely covered by dead leaves, dried tree branches, cats' paw marks, and several inches of accumulated grime from Fall and Winter rains. Six weeks before Molly's death, a tire on the car went flat one night in the driveway. Instead of getting it fixed, M & M just let the pitiful thing linger. Now there were three flat tires on the paralyzed Buick. Melvin also had a declining car -- it was a small, once sleek and silver Oldsmobile station wagon. It was sufficient for once-a-week runs to the A&P and for basic transportation to short notice, announcing jobs downtown. On the day after Molly's heart attack, the Olds' engine would not fire up. It had expired. Currently, on this unseasonably warm Winter evening, the wagon also displayed one flat. Several mature tabby cats languished on its roof and hood, which did not seem to concern Melvin at all.

          To Lowe, Melvin's precarious hold on responsible adulthood was obviously unraveling. His sense of loss and daily structure were causing him to crumble, even though a largely absent Kayla tried her best to help him. As far as Lowe could tell, Mel had recently concluded like a crazy person that he really did not require a car for his personal business. He would get others to take him to the limited number of places each week where he needed to go. This raw assumption came to Lowe after the non-wake as he pondered the swimming pool behind M&M's back bedroom. The small pool was completely overwhelmed by wild tree limbs bending down, painted over by inches of black and deadly liquid moss, and waiting patiently for someone to take a misstep, which theoretically could happen any day. The pool reeked like a Louisiana swampland. Only a few persons on earth knew this poison pit existed. Lowe called it The Secret Lagoon. Melvin was also a man who had once possessed a working cell phone but it had been out of service for weeks, perhaps months. Likewise, during the past Spring, Mel's e-mail, cable television, and internet service had strangely died all at once too. No one ever came to repair his losses. M&M had apparently withdrawn from the digital culture without comment. Lowe was confused about how Molly could maintain her graphic arts business and the connections required in her other work, which seemed steady. But he did not ask about the matter on principle.

          'Well, you know, Molly was from West Virginia. Strong family ties she had there growing up. She said that when she went, well, ahhh, if I was still around I should get her to two places. She was a really good woman, the top. People loved her. She did just great work, the best,' Mel said looking down.

          Lowe nodded as if deep in thought.

          "Where are we going with this, Mel?" Lowe asked.

          'Well, one of the places he wanted to get back to was her home state. West Virginia. Her family was from Beckley,' Mel said.

          'West Virginia,' Lowe repeated perplexed. Was this a lead in to one of Mel's funny tales?

          'She wanted to get back there,' Melvin replied earnestly.

          'You want me to help you get Molly to West Virginia?' Lowe asked.

          'Ahh, now you see, things, well, this is touching right on the heart of the matter. Mol said we should to get her back to West Virginia. That was the deal. But we can do that, Kayl and me,' Mel tried to convince Lowe he meant it. 'But, you see, there was one place that Mol always, always, wanted to see. That's the part that's gonna be, uhhh, a little harder for Kayl and me to get to.'


          A speeding taxi honked rudely and cut in front of Lowe's vehicle. He pictured poor Molly's post-cremation ashes stuffed down in a pink L'Oreal tube. Then he felt slightly sick. He did not think that Melvin and Kayla, a quirky father-daughter team of sociopaths tearing a wide path through their dark, grief-ridden and difficult days, had thought for a moment that there was anything unusual about their crazy plan.
          'Ahh, yes, well, we figured they won't look for anything in a hair conditioner tube in a perfectly innocent bag. That's how we're gonna get Molly over there,' Mel added.

          'But what if you get caught? Customs is gonna frown on your transporting . . ., um, Molly in her condition into their sovereign territory,' Lowe said.

          Kayla shook her head. She smiled, then loudly tapped her fingernail atop the case once more. 'We won't. Get caught. Not at all.'

          'Ahh, what are they gonna do anyway? We're fulfilling a dying woman's wishes. We have a plan. Grieving daughter, lost and desperate widower, trying to fulfill a woman's last wish here on earth,' Mel noted. To voice these words, he had adopted his resonant, on the-air professional voice. This made Lowe smile.

          Kayla would fly across the ocean overnight by herself. It would be getting light in the east when her plane entered the airspace over the Mediterannean. Mel was afraid to get into an airplane large or small any more. The family team wished to get to the busy airport so they both could get pleasantly buzzed on bourbon and water, for a few hours, at a gate-side bar before Kayla's plane went wheels up. Lowe's role would end when he dropped them off by the sleek terminal entrance. Mel and Kayla wanted to keep the upcoming hours private -- just for family, which meant parent and partial parent and child, the threesome's last time in one place on earth, reserved for their tears, memories, stories, and dashed dreams, set aside for last minute conspiratorial whispers. Just in case, Kayla had brought her cell phone fully charged. Also she had secreted in her warm jacket a phone number for a pricey attorney, a specialist in international contraband and transport law, just in case of emergency. Mel had known this lawyer while he appeared during the best years of his professional life on radio and television in Detroit.

          As his car reached the peak of a rounded overpass, Lowe spotted the metallic airport terminals. The dark gray weather front had crept coldly over the edge of the expansive airfield. A frigid drizzle had started to fall on the car. Mel and Kayla helped Lowe navigate to the proper terminal entrance by interpreting the hieroglyphics on the road signs.

          'Alright then, good luck. God, be careful, Kay. All that time in a strange place. It's weird. I know, I've been over there. When will you get back if all goes well?,' Lowe said this as Kayla's big bag was extracted from the trunk.

          A few droplets of freezing rain pelted them. Lowe pictured this blond, outgoing girl by herself perhaps for an extended period in the strangeness of a Muslim culture. Why didn't Mel seem more concerned? The Minimizer, Lowe remembered. Blond, blue-eyed, fair-skinned females, with a tendency to apply seductive Cleopatra eyeliner and ruby lipstick, could find all kinds of trouble without even breaking a sweat.

          'I don't know yet. No worries though. As long as it takes. Dude, I'm about getting the job done,' Kayl replied.

         Lowe slammed his trunk shut. The hazard lights on his car blinked brightly. 'True to your mom all the way I see. Mel, you sure you don't want me to wait with you? I could drive you back home,' Lowe asked.

          'No, no. We'll get along fine. Just fine. You'll see. I'll see you at home,' Mel assured him.

          The overweight duo, father and daughter, pulling two travel bags with wheels and handles, moved slowly through power-driven glass doors. Mel also toted his carved walking stick and a thick scrapbook with many items pasted into it. Ahhh, memories, what might have been. If only . . .  Then the dark doors slid closed.

Melvin's Walking Stick
          Lowe stared at the smoked glass facade. He had lost sight of his friends once they were behind it. That made him feel sad. He worried that Kayla was undertaking a gallantly wacky but huge blunder. A few seconds passed. People on foot clutching boarding passes, passports, and shoulder pouches scurried by. Car horns honked randomly. The steady roar of a massive jet plane's departure trembled the pavement under Lowe's feet and reverberated on the walls of sturdy airport buildings.

         The glass double-door entry to the terminal slid open again, a rush of warm air, like a big bear hug, puffed out to greet him. Then suddenly the terrifying, earsplitting clatter of a powerful helicopter bore down on him from the unseen interior into which Melvin and Kayla had just disappeared. A wide flying machine jetted toward Lowe at eye level. He ducked as the gleaming chopper, its massive rotor spinning madly, impossibly cleared the open doors, like a bolt of unseasonal lightning, pointed its nose ever so slightly down at him, and then whooshed up with a frightening roar over his rain-dampened head.

           The copter climbed rapidly, laboring with all its might to clear all layers of the tall parking garage in front of it. The din as Lowe stood in the helicopter's wake was deafening. Lowe clapped his hands tightly over his ears and squeezed his eyes shut.

          'No! No! Owww, God, owww!' Lowe cried out.

          He tracked the chopper's flight path. As the powerful copter had rocketed toward him, Lowe thought he had briefly seen words painted on its side: Albatross Air. Also, he had beheld three people through the front window of the chopper. One was a pilot in a khaki jumpsuit, a khaki ball cap, an unsmiling face with a dark 5 o'clock shadow, and dark wire-rimmed aviator glasses.

          The two other figures spied in the helicopter made no sense either. Next to the khaki pilot was Melvin, looking grim too, leaning forward on his carved walking cane, which had been a gift from Molly, with the strange, red bearded face whittled into it long ago. Kayla sat next to her father. Both wore  khaki desert attire and gold wire-rimmed aviator shades with very dark lenses. Melvin's daughter wore a dark hijab that covered he head and her neck. Lowe had surmised as they flashed by that the two were sad and grieving. Kayla held protectively under her right arm an ancient and ornate urn, cream-colored and dusty, with complicated gray Egyptian hieroglyphs all over it. With her left hand extended, saying nothing, she pointed steadily toward the eastern horizon, a place far away from the bustling airport and gathering storm.

          Lowe shook his head as if he were coming out of a deep sleep. Rain fell harder. His car was illegally parked by the drop-off curb, his hazard lights were blinking brightly. A security guard was grimly marching his way. Momentarily, Lowe thought about going inside to find Melvin and Kayla. He would drink with them. Toasts would be offered -- to Molly and her untimely demise. Kayla would try to conceal her justifiable nerves. Lowe would tell them all about the unsettling fantasy that had just raced through his head.

          'What a strange pair. What a strange moment,' Lowe remembered.

Ancient Urn

          He looked again at the eastern horizon. He could almost hear the faint clatter of the helicopter's engine as it ascended through the overcast and then faded.

          'Pure craziness,' he whispered.

*****   *****   *****

          Lowe Landry rubbed his sleepy eyes. It was dark outside and, at this early hour, Lowe had not yet made coffee. He studied the screen on the laptop. If only this e-mail from his grieving friend, Melvin, would simply go away. The cover on the electronic message, posted thirty minutes before, undulated like the telltale heart that the mystery writer Poe gruesomely imagined. Damn, I'm seeing things again, Lowe despaired. He recalled the imaginary helicopter. What had Kayla held protectively in that fancy urn? He grew morbidly curious to see what the e-message might hold.

          Had the audacious artisans, father and daughter, pulled off their unlikely crime?, Lowe asked himself.

          Lowe looked at his girlfriend. She was still asleep. Impulsively he had asked her to marry him last night as their mountain vacation drew to an end. She replied that she would think about it. Sherry did not want a church wedding, but Lowe did. Their long trek home would start today. Lowe could feel his elevated heartbeat thumping in his chest. His pulse, usually steady, was racing.

          Ever since Melvin had spoken in the dim half light on the porch about the iconoclastic plot, in two movements, to dispose of Molly's meager remains, Lowe had suffered sincere misgivings. Later these became feelings of guilt over getting involved. Smiling ruefully and having a sentimental laugh together over Molly's secretive neuroses and demonstrated idiosyncrasies was one thing. Being irreverently careless about death and its consequences was another. Disrespect for and desecration of the dead were foolhardy things. Poe certainly taught about that, Lowe thought.

          Kayla had disappeared for months. Mel assured Lowe that she had arrived safely and on time at their intended destination, which was Cairo. Lowe asked how she was doing. Good, just fine, Melvin assured him blithely. That did not seem plausible to Lowe. Melvin claimed that Kayl had met some friendly people. She had been taken under their sheltering wings. Always the Great Minimizer, a skeptical Lowe thought. Exactly what Melvin would want if he were over there. What else, guy -- has she gotten anything else done about  you know what . . .?, Lowe inquired haltingly. Ahhh, yes, it's gonna take her a little while longer to get things done than we have planned. But look, Kayl's got a good head on her shoulders. She'll know what to do when the time arrives, the older man replied. Lowe looked away in impatient disbelief.

The Pyramids of Giza --
Ancient Wonders of the World
          Lowe focused on his laptop. The e-mail had been sent under Mel's nickname via BellSouth.com, which suggested he was using a library computer, or one at a Kinko's shop, to stay abreast of Kayla's adventures.
          Sherry began to stir in bed. She lifted her head slowly to peer over the notebook screen at Lowe, like a groggy groundhog sneaking a misty morning peek from its burrow. 
          'Sher, you've gotta see this! We've finally heard from Melvin. After all this time. It's about Kayla. Sounds purely crazy,' he said.
          His sense of guilt had kept Lowe from telling Sherry the whole plan regarding his dead neighbor's ashes.
          'What's going on?' Sherry asked vacuously.
          Lowe felt his tell-tale heart pounding away. He answered, 'Well, the e-mail title says Greetings from the Tomb of the Pharaoh Khufu. Damn. How 'bout that?'

          Sherry flopped back on the bed. 'Koo-Foo? Yeah. How about that?' she echoed listlessly.

          'Mel  says Our girl Kayla has met with great success. Molly now rests forever in the royal Khufu,' Lowe Landry read aloud. ' -- But hey there's nothing else here.'

Ancient Hieroglyphs

*****   *****   ***** 

Pharaoh Khufu (c. 2550 BC )

          The West Virginia chapter of the plot to deconstruct Molly seemed innocent enough, even somewhat touching and humorous, to Lowe and Sherry. Kayla and Melvin described it sentimentally, their individual voices bubbling with great emotion, a fitting tribute to a fine upstanding woman.

          Molly was born into a fiery English-Scottish immigrant family of alcoholics in the town of Beckley, which remains a languid Appalachian town with a mountain temperate climate and is the unremarkable gateway to the south central region of the state. As she grew up, Kayla knew little about West Virginia, hilly little Beckley, or her mother's Anglian relatives. Her mother, who was also an only child, had left her fundamentalist parents and drinkers' lifestyle behind as a high school dropout and runaway. No one came after her. While hitchhiking west, she took a ride with a pleasant retired couple to Detroit. On the way north, Molly took her first drink of alcohol and smoked her first cigarette, from which a lifelong love affair with nicotine -- until Molly's chest-crushing and dying breath -- sprung. Throughout her childhood, Kayla believed naively that Molly was shipped for some purpose (Molly confessed to being a rebellious hellion) by her pious parents to a convent in a heavily Catholic section of Detroit, thus escaping a desperately poor and illiterate prison. Melvin, Molly, and Kayla rarely talked about Molly's family and her birthplace. Kayla learned the hard way, as a child, not to bring up the subject. Later, the daughter learned the truth while she was in her 20s and it made her furious. Kayla stormed out of the house and leased her own apartment. But, after several years, Kayla finally gave in to Melvin's plea to forgive their deception.

          After a few minutes of travel time from the Beckley-Raleigh County Airport, Kayla stepped into the disheveled office of Baron Jack, the main pilot in the employ of Albatross Air Service. Kayla carried a pouch full of cash, which would keep all records to a minimum. Jack mildly objected to Kayla's proposal for a 30 minute twirl over Beckley, mainly because just about everything that the young woman desired -- particularly the part where she would unburden the contents of a silver cremains box over some forested hillside outside of Beckley proper -- could cause him to draw the attention of Homeland Security agents or, worse, cause him to surrender his pilot's license. 

          On the other hand, there were not many pleasingly plump young girl blonds, with piercing blue eyes, glossy lips, and sharply crafted eyeliner, who just dropped in with untraceable cash at the old Albatross. The stranger with the box had already agreed that the charter price the flyer had quoted would work. Pausing for a moment, Kayla then slapped a crisp, newly printed $100 bonus onto the counter. Baron Jack greedily pocketed the money, then pulled on a khaki colored cap to match his jumpsuit. He maneuvered a pair of gold, wire-rim aviator glasses onto his face. He asked Kayla to wait inside while he fired up the chopper, which had Albatross Air painted on its side, and then be very careful.

         Twenty minutes later, 2000 feet up, the pilot banked his ear-splitting copter to the north. Through a headset, Baron Jack pointed to a hillside outside of downtown Beckley and said to his passenger, 'There. There's your spot. Go on now. Let her go now.'

          Kayla nodded grimly. "Got it,' she whispered.

         She was going to cry. The contents of the small box poured out a window and fluttered over the rolling terrain. The helicopter raced away, dripping tears. To Kayla a bottomless cache of family burdens, desire for mercy, and sad indebtedness made her feel like she was going to drop.

        The troubled daughter decided not to hunt for any of Molly’s relatives. Baron Jack said he wanted her to stay on for a few days since his wife and he had split up recently. He pointed out a lowbrow Super 8 motel that was now his abode. Kayla did not believe his hard luck story. She instructed  him to drive straight to the Beckley Airport. She tersely claimed she had better places to go.

          This proved to be the least complicated aspect of her overall mission with her mother.

         Weeks later Kayla (just a day or two after she flew home from the Mideast) bumped literally into Lowe Landry while she was emerging from Melvin's front door.
        'True," Kayla yelled heatedly back at her father, who stayed inside. "Too true. But I'm not a bit sorry. Okay?'
          There was no reply.
         Lowe found Kayla's sudden outburst insensitive, cold, disturbing. She was angry, defensive, not her most pleasant and endearing traits. Her reunion with Melvin seemed to have hit a wall. Lowe wondered what might have happened overseas to bring this up, if anything, if she even went over there.
          Kayla huffily dragged Lowe to a porch seat. It looked like she had gained 10 or more pounds around the middle.

         He stammered, 'You're back, you're done! That was some kind of feat, girl. Your dad said. You snuck into a pyramid? Giza beeza! Was that totally awesome or what?

         Kayla said impatiently, ‘Please be quiet. I have something to tell you. It’s big. I don’t need a critic. I need a buddy. Be that still?’

          This made Lowe wary.

         Just one night before, Melvin and Lowe had sat in the same spot for a serious conversation. The old man talked about Molly’s demise as sheets of rain poured earthward.
         Melvin would not admit to having problems with Kayla's dark adventure with Molly’s last remains. As avowed atheists, and as a team, the trio approached death as an insensate and bloodless consignment, an airless black box, a splashdown in some deep and darkened pit without a pendulum, or whatever heartless image, such as a plunge into a backyard lagoon, that you could chalk up to a timeless eternity. Disregard for burial matters and the uselessness of the dead body was not a big deal in their playbooks.
          After reading the abrupt e-mail message Melvin had sent, Lowe felt certain that he could not fully trust what his two friends would claim about Egypt. Kayla's trip to West Virginia he chose to believe in. Her mercurial mission with mama Molly to the Appalachian Trail seemed real enough. Lowe had perused the evidence with morbid delight -- a few photographs taken by Kayla's cell phone, grease-smeared food receipts, her taxi cab driver's hand-scrawled signature and date, a trio of postcards with chirping birds on hillside trees, 'Welcome to Beckley, Y'all' greetings, and the crab-like map of the coal state, West Virginia. Frankly though, her imaginative story about a backwoods flyboy named Baron Jack recklessly captaining a rusting helicopter, property of Albatross Air Service, his pants pockets flush with Melvin's cash, tucking a walk-in named Kayla into a four-point seatbelt, stretched Lowe's sense of credulity.
          (Lowe’s private, eerie fantasy of the helicopter jetting from the airport still weighed most days on Lowe's mind. When Kayla, still freshly returned from West Virginia, showed him an picture of the Baron standing next to his rusting time machine, Lowe took a step back in shock and instantly felt faint. He gasped, his face went white. He pulled the iPhone from Kayla’s hand. He groped around unsteadily for a chair, as if some weight yanked him earthward.
          ‘Albatross? Albatross Air? Where’d you get this picture?’ he mumbled densely.

          ‘Umm. Duh. What’s your problem, dude? When I went to Beckley. That’s the fly guy Jack I told you about. His copter. His ride. Hey, man, what’s the matter?’ Kayla asked. She rubbed Lowe’s bony shoulder as he sat, afraid that his heart was about to give out.)

         Melvin confessed said that he felt guilty about his wife’s life force suddenly giving out. On Molly’s last afternoon, he felt secure about leaving the house. Mel contended -- likely it was only a delusion -- that he had felt the last echo of her ravaged heartbeat when he dropped his bag of groceries and fetched Molly’s flattened torso from the offensive office carpeting. I should have, could’ve, brought her back, Mel claimed tipsily, if only things, the timing, had been a little different.
          'Maybe you could have prevented some part of it, but I doubt it,' Lowe retorted.

          Melvin was working on his fourth or fifth glass of cheap wine since Lowe had joined him. According to Mel’s comically twisted worldview, he had never really gotten drunk. ‘With all due respect, I have merely been over-served,’ he invariably contended.
         As she neared death, Molly had become deeply captivated by stories of ancient Egypt. This was because Molly had been introduced, smoldering cigarette after cigarette in hand, a stained coffee mug that said Boss beside her, a cheap ink pen tucked into her pinned up and slightly graying hair, to the delightful anarchy of internet surfing, at all hours of the day and night, in that musty killing zone of a home office.
          Molly could drive home a point, Melvin likewise admitted. She let Kayl and me know if she could not travel to Egypt on her own, we needed to get her there once she passed. Then Mol lit another cigarette, puffed out a huge cloud of smoke, and demanded, no kidding, Did y’all hear that?
          Rain sheeted noisily off the slanted overhang. Humidity made the men feel sticky. Stray cats again were sheltering on the porch. Water was seeping into the rusted and rickety cars and, around back, torrents were accumulating in the blackness of the hidden lagoon. Melvin poured more wine.
          'Maybe you should have stopped her,' Lowe said to Melvin, who seemed to be drooping.
          'Ahhh . . . . I know it. But she was dead set on what Molly wanted,' Melvin said.
          ''This field trip overseas was your idea, big guy. Don’t kid yourself,’ Lowe noted. ‘Not about that. Kayla still might get into serious trouble. The heck with the no worries nonsense. She could have gotten into major trouble or killed dammit. What about pregnant? Grabbed into captivity? Looking at prison time? Hell, she has been in real trouble since she got there in my opinion. But our girl will manage to skate free luckily in the end. Somebody somewhere has to be watching over her,'
          'Ahhh, so it was. So be it. Kayl did what it took, for Molly's sake. It didn't turn out so bad. The soldiers on Sphinx duty would have prob’ly frowned on a young, American tourist, a lowly female no less, squeezing out human remains on a national treasure from a shampoo tube.' Melvin, on a slight rebound, laughed a little.
          'Was that genuine repentance?' Lowe smiled at The Minimizer. 'You put Kayl in a compromising situation, you know. Then she sails into the heart of darkness and, typical of an invincible young adult, she decides to take it up a notch or two. 'Nothing bad’s gonna happen to me. No worries. I've got this. -- That better have been a repentant note, big guy.'
          Melvin stared vacantly into the stormy darkness. A big cat jumped into Mel’s lap, curled up, and purred. The old guy was truly lost without Molly.
         Melvin took a long sip of wine. He brough forth his perfectly sonorous on-air voice. 'Deep into that darkness peering long I stood there wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming. Seeing dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.
          "Well, okay, before we call it a day,' Lowe said. ‘Tell me a little more about how Kayla got Molly all cozied up with the immortal Khufu?'


          Kayla’s letter surprise was composed on Museum of Egypt stationery. The official envelope bore the museum Director's seal, impressively, plus a smudged postmark from Cairo. It looked beaten up -- as if it had been circling the globe tucked in postal sacks for eons. The careful handwriting on the envelope belonged to Kayla. Melvin felt faint when the postman handed the paper to him. His hands quivered. His pulse rate quickened and a red flush crossed his pale and whiskery cheeks. He had barely heard from Kayla by e-mail at the neighborhood library during her absence. Kayla had not disclosed much. But why the snail mail, he puzzled nervously.

        Mel had stopped paying heed to broadcast news. He jumped every time a phone rang. He gave his fears pithy scripts -- Armored guards in Egypt, serious as heart attacks at the Six Pyramids Over Cairo Resort, announced today they nabbed a lovely, American tourist squeezing human ashes on King Tut from a L’Oreal tube. Melvin reached anew for his wine glass.

         He pried open the letter.

     Dearest Father:

     Love you muchly. Just as Mother predicted, this place has the most magnificent sights on earth. The trip over here was very long but a real thrill ride. Baron Jack could not have done a better job of flying us through turbulent weather. LOL. Muah, muah. There are literally hundreds of things to do and see here in Egypt every day. I wish you could share this with Mom and me. If I know you, you have been worried about how I am. Well, I am glad to say that everything is just fine. I realize I have been gone for quite a while. Actually it’s much longer than we expected. The Egyptian desert holds many hidden mysteries and secrets. It’s going to take time to uncover them all. Ha! Ha! I decided to rent an apartment in Cairo near the awesome Museum of Egypt. I have learned so much and feel like I am becoming a better person because of all this. Mom would have eaten it up. I also have come up with a great place to put Mom so she can stay here forever like she wanted, well here and West Virginia that is. So I hope to get the important thing we have talked about, like lose the albatross, done soon in a marvelous manner. Dad, I do not want you to worry in any way. Everything is going to work out just fine. No worries. But I have met a great man. He is a marvelous Curator at the Museum. Can you believe it? His name is Akbar Aziz Hassan, the son of one of the most famous Egyptologists ever. Originally he was a history teacher before getting a doctorate and going to work collecting and verifying stuff for the museum. I just call him Zahi like everybody does. He fell for me, says I’m unlike any woman he’s ever known, in a good way Ha! Ha! 

      Zahi has pledged to help me with my mission. But, you need to know this infatuation may be about love. Crazy isn’t it? Yes, yes I know I have to bounce, I must break it off. I cannot stay here forever. So I will head home. One little sticking point perhaps ithough s that Zahi is married with two children and has one on the way. No worries. I had no clue at first. Yet love is the strangest tongue, like you have always said. One bonus is that Zahi as a Senior Curator can get me into almost anywhere related to his museum all the time. I've got access now to most of Egypt’s most protected historic treasures.

     So, that’s the deal for now. I need to wrap this. Being here has taught me that the lines between life and death are pretty shadowy. Who can say for sure where one ends and the next begins? See now, all of this has really gotten to me. Mom is safe and sitting right next to me now. Can you hear me sniffling? Hugs and kisses. Muah, muah! In just a few days Zahi and I will head to the Red Sea and then the city of Giza for a special occasion. Mom's coming along too. When I finally tell you about it, you will never forget it. How's that for a tease?

Love, xxooxxoo  Kayla


        ‘Dissembler! Villain! Mendacity and deception! Curse her hideous and false heart,’ Zahi fumed. A hothead accustomed to having his way with females, underlings, and other dependents, he slammed his palms hard on a desktop. The American girl had vanished one week after their trip to Giza. Zahi proudly thought he was wise enough to spot a con in his field of Egyptology and likewise in affairs of the heart. She had duped him and those around him on the museum staff. But why? Destiny (was that not her real name?) provided a tantalizing romance in secret but was to him just one of several temporary dalliances. He assumed a bogus passport and faked credentials had been worth the investment. The paranoid Zahi searched the girl’s abandoned apartment, the one he had long paid for, angrily. He searched for her up and down Cairo streets and in the tunnels of the Metro. He tried to trace her on the internet to the States and Canada. He even hotly considered a quick trip to America. But Zahi, the great intellect, banged sharply into impediments and encumbrances at each turn. All references, data, photos of Destiny had been scrubbed off Google and other search engines. His careful and cloaked blond mistress had pulled a hideous disappearing act, as if she had been summoned to a spirit world by Allah. Zahi grew paranoid that Kayla had purloined something of value from the museum’s collection. He tore the cruel deceiver’s apartment to pieces. Zahi also searched through museum pieces compulsively. Curses, the Curator fumed again.

        Late one night they had left the hotel in Giza. They headed, arms entwined, toward the glowing and cosmopolitan Giza Square. Front desk personnel did not take special notice. This couple had resided without fuss here on Pyramid Street for days. They left the hotel and later returned at all hours of day and night. Alighting on the cracked sidewalk, Zahi and Kayla were dressed in dark clothing, and despite the lateness both wore gold-rimmed aviator glasses with tinted lenses. She bore a black hijab, bright red lipstick, and clutched a small, decorative silver box. It gleamed in moonlight rays.
          “No words must pass between us once we enter,” Zahi had cautioned her before. “I will use my credentials. I will claim that I neglected something, left behind, for my research. No words, no suspicions, my dearest. Alright?’

         Zahi the Curator was respected, intellectual, handsome and virile, but often an overbearing bore. Still personnel of many ranks and stations employed by the Museum seemed to love him. He could come and go freely at Giza monuments thanks to his position.

         The night was unseasonably hot and breathless. Spring had arrived on the broiling winds of the khamsein, which some Europeans romantically call the sirocco. Daytimes became unusually warm and humid, the air bleached light yellow by blowing desert sands and the malaise of auto pollution. Egyptian summer was approaching fast. Kayla missed the north wind and icy raindrops at her home airport.

         As they hurried, her dupe of a boyfriend cautioned Kayla again, exasperating her: ‘There will be others in or very near the king’s gallery and inner chambers. Studious researchers and forbidding guards work day and night in these timeless troves. Once we enter the Great Pyramid we will proceed to the innermost sanctuary with the sarcophagus of Khufu. Cause no one to be suspicious. Conceal your precious box well.’

        ‘Got it, dude. No prob. Such a sweet talkin’ guy you are,’ Kayla snorted. She enjoyed needling Mr. Serious.

        Pyramid Street was bustling with activity. Giza was an electrifying night-life town. Kayla was breathing hard after just a few steps. Her palms were clammy. They could see the apex of the Pyramid of Khafre towering at the end of the street. The sight made Kayla nervous. Khafre was the human model for the Sphinx, a despicably cruel ruler just like his father, the notorious Pharaoh Khufu – a king sometimes called Cheops, who erected the Great Pyramid of Giza, still standing as an ancient wonder of the world. Zahi had arranged a ride to take them the rest of the way to Khufu.

        They stooped through a makeshift entry, known as the Robbers Gate, at the impossibly massive pyramid. Hand in hand, Zahi and Kayla took a step inside. Then they took another.
         Kayla remained breathless. Her usual snark and barely disguised smugness had evaporated. She was sweating. I can’t do this -- too weird, too dark, overwhelming , she thought. Kayla had often envisioned this moment, bearing her mother's remains across the threshold, as an international caprice, a lark, a crazy moment she would someday tell her kids and grandkids about. But the reality felt gravely serious, creepy, sobering. She imagined the faint beat of an old heart, out of sight, the veins that fed it severed, leaking sticky blood, carefully concealed. Kayla squeezed Molly's cremains container tight.

          ‘No, do not falter,’ the Curator cautioned bossily. ‘Know that the steps are dark but we must take the first, then the second, to progress. Come along, dear Destiny.’
          They paced in silence, hands clasped tightly, for thirty meters more. They reached the imposing Grand Gallery of King Khufu, a long and narrow passageway that darkly ascends toward a black void at a precise 26 degree angle. Inwardly, Kayla screamed no. Her big eyes got larger.

          Museum security officers in tan and crisply starched uniforms nodded at them.

The Grand Gallery in 1900

          Up the couple went through the stifling gallery. Kayla felt smothered; she ached for release -- her head spun, her stomach churned. The portentous heartbeat thumped faintly somewhere up ahead.

           'You must come now. Do not turn about. No words, no undue attention. Courage. Conceal your box well,’ Zahi whispered passionately. 'In this rand Gallery of Cheops, about 150 feet more, there will be tunnels left and right to the burial chambers of two great queens, Hetepheres and Melistities I, the mother of King Khafre. Then the gallery will narrow as we reach our apex, just outside the sarcophagus chamber of Khufu.'

            At the peak of the Grand Gallery, the visitors passed two silent and uniformed sentries, standing at attention, each with a surgical mask in place. Their expressionless eyes studied the man and woman. Zahi wore a Curator badge. Kayla displayed an official Visitor credential. No words were exchanged. 
          Kayla huffed noisily from the exertion. She unbuttoned her overcoat, straightened her crimson dress, and tucked some stray blond hairs back under her hijab. Zahi in his tweed jacket and white shirt was perspiring too. They were forced to turn sideways to wedge through the opening that led toward the ancient Pharaoh.

           'Pure craziness,' Kayla thought. She felt she had made an incalculable mistake.
           'Look, I'm ready to bounce, Doctor Z. Let's get out. This is just too scary, Let's go while we can' she whispered.

           Another masked guard stood silently inside the sepulchral chamber.
          'Terrible. This is the worst,' Kayla nearly gagged as she inhaled. She clapped a gloved hand over her nose. The smell all over the pyramid, oppressively earthy and vulgar, seemed most perverse within the burial vault.
          Zahi gripped her left hand hard. 'Magnificent,' he said. 'Kingly Khufu's sarcophagus sits in the exact center, the pinnacle of that island mound built up on this sloped and shallow lake. His royal eminence coveted everlasting leisure on water, an eternity of sailing.'
          The limestone burial box looked mysteriously plain to Kayla. It was marred by small chisel marks and one corner was cracked off. Zahi said recent digs within the Great Pyramid had uncovered a sailing boat over 150 feet long hidden away for the late Khufu's amusement. 
          Anxious and frightened, Kayla felt like she was about to fall into a bottomless pit. She mentally pictured a helicopter bigger, stronger, than Baron Jack's powering up from a huge limestone quarry in remote Egyptian mountains. It towed a dark limestone mass, heavy and heart shaped, on a swaying cable. The flying machine screamed eastward, destined for this crude-smelling chamber with the Pharaoh’s decaying body waiting inside.

         'Pull up the top of the casket. Pull it free,' Kayla hissed as the image faded. She was surprised. 'I need to see. I need to see him.'
         Zahi was appalled. Was she about to hyperventilate? 'Impossible, my dear, be quiet' he protested. 'Grave robbers did their work millennia ago. The sarcophagus is empty, a void. Hold onto your senses.'
         'Please. Don't deny me this,' Kayla whispered hotly.

         'Step down with me into the lake bed. Very carefully, down the slope. Quiet now. Do not draw attention. Pour your mother's mortal remains slowly, gently, down where you stand,' Zahi instructed.
        Kayla closed her eyes as she went down into the ancient trough. She started to cry. She sought to steady herself on her companion's arm.

    'This is it Mother. Thank you. Goodbye. What else is there to say?' she choked out quietly.
         Zahi glanced toward Destiny. Instantly he sensed relief. Molly ashes were sifting silently onto the dusty bottom of tyrannical Khufu's hidden lagoon. 

        At last, Kayla felt a weight rapidly drop from her. Her duty was done, a satisfaction, but a pain beyond physical sensation remained. Ready to run, she concealed the tiny box in her coat. She shook her gloved hand over the slope. 
         A muffled groan welled up inside the chamber, a sound of deep disturbance. What's that, Kayla quizzed Zahi. But she was not about to linger to find out.

        One masked guard took particular note and bowed gravely as the visitors passed. Zahi saluted. What a strange pair they are, the guard thought.

***   ***

         If one ignores history one knows next to nothing. Like the unseeing finger that is grafted to the hand, one cannot detect intuitively that one is part of a living body. Shaw's Don Juan had to descend into Hell to discover that life, without  context and historical perspective, is a tempting fiction, a dream, an illusion, and death is its painful only point. 
        As time passed, Kayla regretted her brashness and self-sacrifice as the finger of Destiny. She resented the Curator for years but eventually saw things differently. Kayla felt guilty for many years. But her mother, Molly, could not be moved now and would never know what her promiscuous daughter had done. 

         Kayla judged that Melvin should not be told about the Pharaoh’s real story. Her father’s physical health was deteriorating, as were his mental functions. Her detached and minimizing parent loved his old and warped records that spun round and round, his random cats, and creaky sentimental musings. 
     Kayla began to read a big book about Giza as she flew homeward. Manetho the Egyptian wrote the haughty and cruel heretic named Khufu ruled the Old Kingdom of Nubia for six hard decades, forty-five hundred years ago. Manetho's contemporary Herodotus, a Greek scholar, recorded how the king strangled all prosperity and vainly subjected his people to terrible hardships to enrich his accounts and pamper his family. At times the Greek wrote the sociopath pharaoh's name as Cheops. The people detested this vile ruler. Thousands perished like slaves in his vast limestone quarries or starved while the Great Pyramid went up. Building it took three decades. Khufu's depraved son, Pharaoh Khafre, followed his father and was equally hated during his reign. Father and son abused the Old Kingdom for over 100 years, an evil duo like no other.

       Khufu lusted for money during his long period of unrelenting debauchery and prideful construction. His greed and hubris eventually undid him. Late in life, the Pharaoh forced a beautiful and sprightly though oft molested daughter Melistities II, filled with gumption like her mother before marriage, to work as a concubine in her parents' finest brothel. Her nefarious father needed to pay for more stones for Giza.       
       The desirable daughter, Melistities, named after her mother, proved enterprising and of worthy, a future Nubian queen. She met her father's price resentfully. Yet secretly Melisities collected a premium payment from each man who came to her, including the vile Khafre, her  incestuous brother. She coveted her own pyramid. Each day's labor at her father's command paid for one of her pyramid stones. 

         Kayla was staggered as she consumed the  old story. A daughter exploited, craven reprobates for parents, it felt too close for Kayla's comfort. In the shadow of the Great Pyramid of Giza, there lie some smaller edifices rising from the desert floor, one of them a royal prostitute's pyramid as a memorial to herself, she who was only her horrid father's second most-prized product. Herodotus' stark account crushed Kayla's spirit.

        History unread and ignored conceals awful truths.

        Kayla was still shaken when she got to her father's house. He would be giddy of course, unaware that she had become chastened profoundly and depressed from her travel education. She had much to tell Melvin. But this was the night, post-Egypt, when she sadly but fortuitously bumped into Lowe on Melvin's displeasing porch. The first stage of the family reunion had apparently ended badly. Kayla came storming out of the screen door. Melvin remained inside in shadows.

          'True,' Kayla barked back haughtily. 'Too true. But I'm not a bit sorry. No regrets for any of it! Hear me on that?'
          From Mel's shadowy interior there was no response.

          Kayla wheeled around and bumped foreheads with Lowe. 'So okay?' Kayla demanded hotly.

          Lowe blinked with surprise. 'O-kay. Whatever?' he replied tentatively. Angry prattling was not one of his female friend’s more attractive traits.

          Kayla seemed heavier by 10 pounds or more. She impatiently dragged Lowe by a shirt sleeve to a seat. 
         ‘So you’re done, finally? 'What a relief,' Lowe noted. 'That was some kind of awesome, girl. You snuck into a real pyramid? Geeza beeza! Was it totally awesome or what?

        ‘Sit still. I have something to tell you. I don’t need a critic. I need a buddy. Be that for me?’ Kayla asked, impatient and vulnerable.

        ‘Anything,’ he fibbed. He felt wary of the father and daughter team again. ‘I got your back, girlfriend. What’s the deal?’

        ‘My father’s not happy. Like that unholy Museum douche that I left my mom behind with. Un-happy,’ she said irritably.

        ‘What? What? Are we talking about your Curator dude now, Kayl?’ -- Lowe asked.

        ‘It’s crazy how it all happened,’ she added. ‘Like Khufu’s obedient daughter, I came home with a little bit more than I expected.’

        What? What’s that about? You’re losing me. I know some of your story. You only did what you had to do. Right?’ Lowe tried to sound convincing.

        ‘True!’ she repeated. ‘But look.’ Kayla anxiously rolled up the rounded tails of her red shirt. Lowe looked at a patch of her layered, Doughgirl abdomen.

        ‘Hmm, pretty,’ Lowe mumbled. He was lost again. ‘Where’s this going, Kayl?’

        ‘It’s like this, bro. I came home with more than frequent flyer miles and a few Egyptian souvenirs. -- I myself . . . I am pregnant, Total baby on board, totally unplanned. The baby belongs to Zahi. Can you imagine?’ she laughed nervously.

        Frankly, Lowe could not. ‘Whoa indeed,’ he whispered.

       ‘Hence I’ve got a daddy problem that is in full bloom, as they say. Want to know an even juicier secret, Lowe?’ Kayla asked

        ‘I don’t really know. Do I?’ he asked. He had not yet learned about young Melistities, the conspiring prostitute princess, nor her twisted regal family.

       ‘Well, bro, it’s a girl. My baby is gonna be a girl,’ Kayla laughed scornfully. ‘How perfect is that, dude?’

       Lowe worried that Melvin might not ever emerge from hiding. Clearly he was becoming unhinged. Was Kayla now following him into some early stage of dementia? Her biting words and disdainful laughter unsettled him.

        ‘Here’s the way I see it, bro. I could call it Melanie, or Melania, if I wanted. So like, you know, the male version of Melvin. Or then maybe I won’t need a name because I won’t have it at all. My trouble is that I need someone who’s a buddy and not a critic right now, someone to give me a helping hand, like I told you,’ Kayla continued. ‘So I’ve been thinking, dude, you know, sketching a little plan in my head. You think you could give this girlfriend a little boost? Sometime soon?’

         Lowe realized that this was his golden opportunity to dredge up some excuse and bounce quickly back to his place.  

         Kayla said, ‘Tell you the truth, Lowe, I wouldn’t require all that much.’
         'Giza bazeeza! Another plan?’ Lowe exhaled to himself wearily: in no way would this be acceptable.

         But against his better judgment, Lowe relented, ‘Well, alright, let’s hear it. No promises. But what exactly do you have in mind?’

         A stray tabby cat scurried past his shins, rubbed his skin, and startled him.

        Without warning, the sound of Melvin’s voice purring -- a long ‘Ahhhh . . .’ – filtered resonantly from the barely lit living room.

*****  *****  ****

February, 23, 2014

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