And other short stories
Livinia is in a three-way with Christ…. Vittoria is becoming Joan of Arc…. Dorji is riding her bicycle 400 miles to Katmandu with a side of ham…. Gomez has a date with destiny in the syrup aisle…. Silvia’s symmetry is askew…. Chewy is carrying Jesus on his back through the traffic lanes at the San Ysidro boarder crossing…. Eloise is destroying the exquisite…. Maggie is taking her dead brother on vacation…. Roxayn is turning Japanese…. And, are those pink Flamingos out on the iceberg?
The Franklin Avenue Rookery for Wayward Babies travels from Varanasi to Tijuana, Rome, Kanazawa, New Orleans, the Klondike, Isle of Skye. The settings breathe through the lyrical stories. But it is the humor and humanity of the characters that renders Tourette’s of the heart in each quirky, underdog journey.
Below is a synopsis and excerpt from each story.
Tourette’s of the Heart
Dorje abandons her family to the Bitter Years in famine-struck Lhasa and attempts to ride her bicycle 400 miles to Kathmandu, fortified with a stolen wheel of yak cheese and a side of ham. Maggie devastates her family in a single act and finally leaves Sedona, taking her dead brother with her. These two women cross the world in search of deliverance and self-forgiveness.
Dorje believed the only thing she could do to redeem herself was to become a nun. But once a person has been weak in this world, has abandoned what is known to be right, it’s not so hard to do it again, now is it? Pradeep sought out Dorje in the quiet places she liked to go, inside the hay barn where the cats sleep, in the copse of aspens, to the donkey meadow. They never touched again. He was, after all, a monk. But a year later when Pradeep proposed they leave the monastery and marry, Dorje said yes, yes, yes. Because she did not want to be a hungry ghost, because she wanted to forget. Because he had Dalai Lama eyes.
A mother believes that her only concern is for her children when her ex-husband suddenly dies five days before their daughter’s wedding. As she navigates her children’s grief, she is surprised to find her own is decades deep.
The tattoos are hula girls. Pinks and greens. A Tiki torch. I think Ben used Tommy Bahama shirts for his patterns. On our first date I reached across the table and ran a finger up a florid hibiscus. “What’s the story?”
“I was born without it.” My fingers dropped back to the cold hook, pressed my fingerprint onto the metal. “You’ve never made love until you make love to a man with a hook for a hand,” Ben said in a serious voice, sealing the deal.
Gomez has a date with destiny in the syrup aisle. Queenie is mistaken for an alien. Chewy is carrying Jesus on his back through the traffic lanes at the San Ysidro boarder crossing between Tijuana and San Diego. The gun is in the lake.
In the mornings Gomez liked to pour himself a good strong cup of coffee flavored tequila and a small bowl of Grape Nuts. No milk. Just a bit of crunchy fiber to aid his digestive system. He would finish it off with a fig. And then a nap. At 94 he was hoping that he would make 110 and that some American news crew like 20/20 would do a story on him asking to what he attributed his long life, and he could say, “Figs. Figs are the thing.”
The House of Naan and Saffron
Livinia is in a three-way with Christ. Nils is following Rudyard Kipling to India. Kris is playing I Spy on the sari-soaked women rising out of the Ganges in their second skin of silk and color. Marigolds and smoke, hopscotching monkeys. It is impossible to see clearly in Varanasi.
Sanjita sits on her thin mat receiving rice, looking out to the Ganges, singing to herself, “Jesus Christ. Superstar. Do you think you’re what they say you are?” Livinia and Nils sometimes play the Broadway score at Sunday dinner, and Sanjita likes the tunes. She had joined the Church of Loaves and Fishes to get extra food for herself and Neera, but now she brings as much food as she takes. She’s not completely sold on Jesus, but she is on Nils, the sincerity of Nils. Some mornings, when Sanjita arrives early at her begging station and the sun is red, she sees Livinia get into Hari’s boat. She sees Livinia does not pay. She knows Livinia is a fool and will someday pay a full fare.
The Franklin Avenue Rookery for Wayward Babies
Katrina has a regard for nuns, and it isn’t high. But is that a Vargas girl tattoo on Sister Hope’s arm?
I know I was born in the Superdome. My name’s Katrina Theresa. Named after the storm and Mother Theresa. Not the good one. Just our mother, Theresa Chalfant. Sometimes I imagine what it must have been like in the Superdome. Mama won’t tell me about it. So I make the story up in my head: I picture the Superdome coming off its foundations, pulled out to sea. A slave ship. The weather is like looking into the round porthole of the washing machines at the launderette.
Weeki Wachee Springs
A near-to-blind man and a cripple set out on a road trip to Florida and find personal salvation at a roadside attraction.
The music started, surely the haunted voice of the Sirens. Milo’s soul heaved. His entire life his eyes had deceived him; he’d had to learn to believe without seeing. But what he had always felt in his own sapphire soul was that what he saw as incandescent and shifting, was real. He believed in Atlantis.
Out of a tunnel came the mermaids! Oh!
Good as Biscotti
Vittoria, in male disguise, becomes an altar boy so she can steal lira from the collection basket, but ends up smoldering for young Father Nicola. Emboldened with silk lingerie and a pomegranate, Vittoria is on her way to becoming Joan of Arc.
Father Nicola looked like the cover of a romance novel. All the sexy saints are men. Think Saint Sabastian with the arrows. Sabastian’s the patron saint of athletes, but I think he might also be the patron saint of masochists, tied to the tree, look of transcendental ecstasy on his face.
Pink Flamingos and the Good Friday Massacres
The Klondike. Small animal taxidermy. A girl with a plaid accent from 100 years ago has great impact on a color-blind violinist who is placing his faith in the northern lights. And are those pink flamingos out on the iceberg?
At last the northern lights. For Evan it was only grays and ghosts. He took up his violin and played a melancholy piece that made Uki feel falling stars and whale songs. Eagles with their terrible talons. Things that rushed, water and the artic hare. Things that waited for spring. The booming of blue-bottomed icebergs. It was a song of Alaska. Evan played with eyes closed, colors wavering through the notes of his internal aurora borealis.
One Woman United Nations
It’s not just a red dress, it’s a recently-divorced red dress. And Kara knows the trick to the Walk of Shame is to pretend that’s the way she wants her eyeliner to look.
Two best friends in the 1990’s attack Barcelona.
George joined us and we headed to an expensive disco; he paid our entrance fee to the blasé gatekeeper of the red velvet rope. Perhaps the view of her décolletage was worth the price of admission. Certainly she thought so. The music told us which way to go. I lost you in the wash of flesh and sweat. Lights swirled around and then landed on a dancing couple; a momentary flash of lust, then moved on. I danced with George. He had some moves. His cologne smelled like foggy redwood, and my, aren’t his hands big?
The Color of Fisticuffs and Bloodlines
Never ask a mother if she would exchange her life for her child’s. The answer may not always be yes. A mother and daughter find themselves somewhere between black and white, purple and blue. Life and death.
Once Roxayn got over the awful shock of dying and body disposal, she settled into her new freedoms and restrictions. She tried to show George and Fiona she loved them. Remove obstacles for them, like survivor’s guilt – that hard-to-remove heart stain. She was sometimes, somewhat successful. She traveled. Saw all the major sites. 1,000 Places to See After You Die. She learned that Mount Everest is not the tallest mountain at all times. That water talks but is inane like a drunk aunt, that bricks have a fascination with the rearrangement possibilities of earthquakes. Humans don’t need to believe it for it to be so.