Family Business

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been doing some preliminary research for a historical novel that’s been nagging at me for a while. I learned that in the early twentieth century, there were about 10,000 kosher delicatessens in Brooklyn. Now there are just a few dozen. This fact inspired a story for #2minutesGo this week. Happy Passover or Easter or Sunday, whichever you celebrate.

——–

The masonry and wood in the basement smelled like decades of everything it had absorbed: corned beef curing in stainless steel bins, cucumbers pickling in barrels, even the German and Yiddish and Russian and Polish words that had been spoken here, as the newer immigrants in Williamsburg supplanted the old. 

Eli’s first trip to the basement was as etched into his memory as the hash marks on the support beams. “See these, boychik?” his father had said. “This is where I keep track of employees that don’t work out so well.”

Pop had been smiling when he said it, so it was probably a lie; nobody knew the real answer. Eli eventually surmised that the marks represented a mundane system of accounting: how many rounds of pastrami, how many pounds of kosher salt, how much black pepper.

He ran a finger over a segment of them, ticked off like days a man might count his prison sentence. 

Eli had never counted.

“Grandpa?”

He swiveled toward his granddaughter. “Yes, Miriam?”

“I’m so hungry for Chinese food and this place is giving me the creeps. Can we please go back up to our table soon?”

“Yes. Very soon.” He peered up along the tops of the walls. It didn’t look much different, except for some new wiring. Telephone. Cable. All the modern conveniences. He took another deep inhale of the literal melting pot the space had become. “You know, I found it immensely comforting to be down here when I was your age.”

“Why, because you could hide from Papa Abramowitz?”

He grinned. Remembering all the hours he’d spent here. “Your great-grandfather was a pussycat. No. It wasn’t like that. I liked that it was quiet. I liked when we were working down here, just the two of us. He was so busy running the restaurant that this was sometimes the only time we spent alone together.”

Still with her arms hugged around her skinny middle, she picked her way over, through what was now extra cases of paper take-out containers and soy sauce packets. She stopped a few feet away from him. How much of her mother, her grandmother he could see in her face.

“That sounds nice,” she said. “I wish I could work like that with my dad. Well. I can’t paint like he can. But, you know. Help with stuff. Buy new brushes and write in the little book which paintings he’s sold.”

So serious, my little Miriam.He was thrilled that she agreed to this weekend together. Soon she would be of an age not to be caught dead wandering around Brooklyn with an old man. Eli plucked his hat off his head and plopped it onto hers; she tilted it at a jaunty angle and made a movie star face at him, which always made him laugh.

“But let me ask you something, mein aynikl. Did you ever ask if you could?”

Her gaze dropped to the concrete floor. Then she peered up at him. “Did you ask Papa Abramowitz?”

“Ask! There was no asking back then. It was the family business. We just did.”

“But we have a family business.”

“Yes. I suppose you do.”

She took off his hat and smooshed it back on his head. “I’ll ask him. I’ll ask him when we get home. But please. Please, please, can we go upstairs and eat now?”

“Go on.” He pressed a hand to her thin shoulder. “I’ll be right behind you.” He had a feeling he would never see this place again, and, unlike the last time he’d left, he wanted to say a proper goodbye.

————

Photo: City Foodsters [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D

The Council: Biden Edition

This week’s flash fiction was inspired by current events. Warning: weaponized political satire in operation. Proceed at your own risk. Don’t try this at home. And if the men in black suits show up at my door, it’s been nice knowing you.

——

Forty-four leaned back in his computer chair, rubbing his temples.

“Honey.” Michelle had just come in from the garden. “What’s wrong? Joe again?”

It was easy enough to guess; Obama-and-Joe internet memes slid one after the other across his screen. Going through the Biden folder sometimes lifted his spirits, but it wasn’t working. He’d gone up to Delaware, took him out for a beer, saw all the new pictures of the grandchildren. He told Joe the world was different now. There were things you couldn’t do anymore. A teary-eyed Biden had thanked him effusively, then grabbed him in a bear hug and landed a big fat kiss on his cheek.

He was starting to believe that nothing he told the man would make any difference. It was a bitter pill to swallow. Here he’d been trying to bring change to the country, and he couldn’t even change Joe Biden. Maybe nobody could.

“I’m starting to think you’re right about him,” he said.

“You know I am. I’ve spent time with that man. He’s not going to change. But he does need to feel useful. He needs to feel that he can still make a difference. You know what to do.”

After she left, he picked up the phone.

—–

“Man, thank you for this.” Joe grabbed Forty-four’s arm as the former president swung his car off the Beltway toward Earl’s neighborhood. “A mission. Like old times.”

Maybe this was not Forty-four’s best idea. But it was too late now. He’d already made arrangements with Earl. The Council was expecting them. If he could sell this idea, maybe all was not lost. Lord knows they’d been short of ideas lately. “Look. Before we go in, there’s a few things I need to make you aware of.”

Joe waved a hand. “Yeah, yeah. I get it. Mum’s the word. Secret society and all that. I get it, and believe me, I’m honored.” He grinned like a kid. “So, they’re all gonna be there, really?”

“Be cool, Joe. I mean it.”

“How come this is my first invite?”

“Excuse me, but when were you president?”

“I could have been. It wasn’t for lack of trying. Hillary’s in, so I don’t see why I shouldn’t have—”

“Special circumstances,” Forty-four said. “And don’t call her that when we’re at Earl’s. Forty-three-and-a-half will do.”

Biden tapped a finger on the side of his nose, gangster-like. “Ah. I get it. So what’s my number?”

“We don’t usually…” Damn. That hang-dog face. “Okay. We’ll call you Forty-four-and-a-half. Work for you?”

“Fine and dandy.”

—–

As Forty-four figured, Joe lit upon Earl like the old friends they were. A tap on the arm warned him to cut it short, as the others had started arriving.

“Thank you for your indulgence,” Forty-four said as they all got seated. “I think you’ll find that our guest has some very special skills to bring to the table.”

Thirty-nine nodded sagely after a long clasp of Joe’s hand, as did Forty-three after a deep look into each other’s eyes. Forty-two seemed also in agreement, and pleased to see his former colleague. But Forty-three-and-a-half smirked and said under her breath, “What are they going to do, out-gaffe each other? Smell each other’s hair?”

“Now, Hill,” Forty-two said. “She’s been a little out of sorts lately.”

The look she gave him would wither most men. Forty-two just smiled. Forty-four did not want to be him on the car ride home. He didn’t blame her, though. Having to hear that “lock her up” nonsense everywhere she goes.

“Now if you’ll indulge me a moment, I have an idea. Forty-four-and-a-half here is going to help.”

Joe broke into an impish smile. “I’m gonna give him the business.”

Silence.

It lasted until Forty-three, steepling his fingers under his chin, said, “Perhaps you haven’t taken a full measure of our adversary.”

“Full measure? I’ve been measuring that guy since the first day he even thought about taking our jobs. And forgive me for saying so, but I’ll tell ya the God’s honest truth. You’ve been doing it all wrong.”

“Oh, please do elaborate,” Hillary said.

“Thank you. Madam Secretary, I mean, Forty-three-and-a-half.” He winked at her. “See, he thinks he’s this big tough guy. And most of what you’ve tried on him was tough-guy measures. Barry—sorry, Forty-four—remember how you made fun of him at that Correspondent’s Dinner, and he lost his ever-loving mind? Why don’t we just weaponize it?”

“A weapon of mass satirical destruction,” Forty-one mused, his eyes twinkling.

Joe pointed at Bush the Younger. “He gets it. Dontcha see? We go crazy with the memes. Find one of them Russian bot thingies to spread ’em around. Everywhere he goes, he’s met with an army of orange baby balloons. Then we can hire Alec Baldwin…”

“He’s gonna stroke out.” Forty-two hid a guilty smile behind his hand.

“Wait,” Forty-three-and-a-half said. “Can we get plausible deniability on that?”

“That’s why we’re keeping you out of it. Take a walk in the woods or something. Write another memoir.”

“Screw that,” she said. “I want to be there when it happens.”

“No.” The strength of Forty-four’s voice surprised him. And that he was now on his feet. “The last face he sees…is gonna be mine.”

Indie Book Month — Promote Your Books

April is a busy month. It’s National Poetry Month; Autism Awareness Month, Financial Literacy Month. It’s also Indie April, and Charles French is one of many authors spreading the word on Twitter (#IndieApril) and elsewhere about supporting indie authors and their work. You might want to check out Charles’s work and those who’ve commented on his blog. Happy reading!

charles french words reading and writing

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(https://pixabay.com)

On Twitter, there is a movement called #IndieApril, so I thought it was a good idea to import to WordPress.  Independent writers are the growing force in publishing, so please take this opportunity to publicize and promote your work!

I want to offer an opportunity for all writers who follow this blog to share information on their books. It can be very difficult to generate publicity for our writing, so I thought this little effort might help. All books may be mentioned, and there is no restriction on genre. This encompasses fiction, poetry, plays, and non-fiction. If I have neglected to mention a genre, please consider it to be included.

To participate, simply give your name, your book, information about it, and where to purchase it in the comments section. Then please be willing to reblog and/or tweet this post. The more people that see it, the more publicity…

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Flash Fiction: The Caddy

I was putting his nine iron back in the bag when the thunder started. Which was weird because the sky was almost totally clear. But in Florida, you never knew. You’d think we’d be used to the changing weather, but there was something different about this rumble. It sounded like a warning.

At least he thought so because I swear he flinched.

I’d only caddied for him a few times, when his regular guy couldn’t make it. “Everything all right, sir?”

“Yeah. Yeah, fine.” Making a tight fit in the passenger seat of his golf cart, he wiggled a hand into the front pocket of his khakis and came out with a sweaty ten-dollar bill and shoved it at me. “Kid, take a walk, okay?”

I took a walk. I’m not stupid. The pay there was shitty. I only worked for tips. And, occasionally, whatever food was left over.

Still, I had this sense of something not quite right. If his heart finally exploded (and among the caddies we were taking bets as to when) I didn’t want to be the guy who walked off and left his charge in trouble on the back nine. I’d never work in this town again. So I took a few steps away and hid behind a bunker.

“What?” he said, seemingly to no one. “Seriously, in the middle of one of my best games—”

Lightning flashed. Like that sky-to-ground shit. So close I nearly pissed myself.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah. Whatever. You want me to stop lying so much. Sure. I can do that.”

Thunder. It sounded like the sky was laughing.

“Watch me, loser. I got this.”

Loser. He’d called God loser? Because that was another thing discussed among the caddies. That while he played the course, he talked to God. And it wasn’t always respectful. He talked to God like he was someone who worked for him. I never called myself that religious, but even I knew that wasn’t right. You don’t call bullshit on God. If you want to live.

Another rumble came like a question.

He threw his hand up. “Because it’s easier than the truth,” he said. “Hell, nobody cares what you tell them. I know what they wanna hear. And it ain’t the truth. If I went out and told the truth I’d lose a million Twitter followers, easy. I’d never sign a boob again.”

The sky responded. The clouds darkening. “For fuck’s sake, how can you be that naïve? You must be a Democrat.”

I totally expected lightning after that. Like, for the whole club to get blasted off the face of the earth. I even put my arms up over my head.

Nothing.

He shot his middle finger toward the sky. “Pussy. Loser. I don’t know what those evangelicals see in you. Maybe they’re smoking something. I think you fucked it up, and you fucked it up big, and now you’re trying to blame it on someone else.”

I’d never heard thunder that loud before. It shook the ground.

But the man only chuckled. “Obviously you’ve forgotten we had a deal. And that you signed a solid NDA. I’ll have your ass in court so fast you won’t believe it. Acosta won’t even believe it.”

The sky responded and the man laughed louder.

That was when I saw it. The dark spot at the edge of the rough. He was facing away from me, and the words flooded my brain, as insistent as a command from…well, Him. “You know what to do,” I swore it was saying, and for some reason I could not take my eyes from the iron sticking farther out of the bag than the others.

I crawled over there—fortunately he was occupied with whatever trash-talk he was doing with the Big Guy—inched it out of the bag and, employing skills I’d honed playing pool and darts in many, many bars, I sailed it true and it landed near the dark spot.

Thunder sounded like a snort of amusement.

“What?” The man turned. I ducked away, back behind the bunker. “Aw, who the fuck left that over there. Caddy. Caddy? Hey. Pablo!”

My name was Juan.

He worked his cell phone out of his pocket. “No fucking signal. We had a deal. We had a deal! Five fucking big shiny bars wherever the hell I am.” A slow, rolling peal of thunder. “Fine. Be that way. I’ll just have to get it myself. No thanks to you.”

He tossed the phone onto the seat next to him and struggled to pull his bulk from the cart. Scowling, he lumbered across the green toward the rough. As he was bending, he clutched his chest, dropped to the grass, and it seemed the earth, through that dark spot, opened up to swallow him.

I could do nothing but stare for what felt like minutes. Then I snuck out from behind my hiding space, got the club, cleaned it up pretty, and put it back in the bag. The sky looked a little lighter. The dark spot was just as green as the rest of the thirteenth hole. I thought it best to leave the cell phone where he’d dropped it.

I felt something then, like a hand in my shirt pocket. Very slowly, I checked it and found a crisp new twenty.

I’m not stupid. I dropped that twenty into the first church collection bin I saw.

What is a Kitchen Brigade?

Some of you have been asking about the significance of the kitchen brigade, and why I chose that as a title for my latest book. The kitchen brigade (brigade de cuisine) is a system of hierarchy in the kitchen, particularly in restaurants and hotels, developed in the late 1800s by Georges Auguste Escoffier (yes, that Escoffier) to delegate the many, many tasks required to produce a magnificent haute cuisine meal, The list, as originally crafted, is incredibly extensive, and includes four positions just under the pastry cook alone! The larger the restaurant, obviously, the more positions are required. It was called a brigade based on Escoffier’s career in the French army.

Most modern restaurants don’t use the full order of the brigade. Partly because of the cost involved and because most restaurant meals don’t include the seven or eight courses that were common in the high-end restaurants of the late 1800s, when a fancy meal could last an entire evening.

Since, in the story, Chef Svetlana has crafted a kitchen to please the refined sensibilities (if not refined palate) of the Russian general she works for, she structures her kitchen using a stripped down version of the classic brigade system. She’s the head chef; under her command are sous chefs, a pastry cook, and two line chefs. In real life, she might have preferred a fuller brigade. But there’s a war on, so she does the best she can with what she can find. So, a kitchen brigade during wartime… The Kitchen Brigade seemed like a natural fit as a title.

Also, in case you didn’t get to see this, or want to learn more about The Kitchen Brigade (the novel), here’s an interview I did with Cyrus Webb about the story. I hope you enjoy it. He asks great questions.

As always, thank you for reading!

New Zealand Mosque Attack – the murder of children

I have nothing to add here. Meeks says it so well. Namaste.

Meeka's Mind

I was horrified by the New Zealand Mosque attack yesterday. It touched my head and made me angry.

Today, the first thing I saw on Twitter was a picture of a man. He was shown from the back and in his arms hung the body of a child. A four year old.

That image touched my heart and will haunt me for the rest of my days.

I remember being a young Mum and suddenly being terrified of the world into which my baby was born. My baby is over 30 now. The child in that picture…

I’m only one person, but I have to do what I can to hammer home this simple truth:

people who spew white supremacist/nationalist poison are not exercising their right to free speech, they are pointing psychopaths at a target and inviting them to shoot.

Every single person who excuses, condones or ‘softens’ the…

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Carla

This week I was inspired to go a little dark. Some parts of this story are based on actual incidents. I learned why I never go to that pharmacy.

———

“Ma’am?”

The syllable filters down like mist, drifts around in her head as she parses the inflection and what it wants of her. Everybody wants something. Read this, join us, click here, you won’t believe what happens next. Get mad, get religion, get woke, donate to save the polar bears. Save democracy. Save the planet. Save the children. Save your soul while you still can…

“Ma’am, I have to close the store now.”

Store. She clasps something in the faded-denim valley of her crossed legs. Cotton balls. Jumbo size. She doesn’t remember needing cotton balls. She doesn’t remember coming here. She never comes to this pharmacy. But she can’t remember why. The slippery package feels nice in her hands. Cool. Soft. Comforting. There’s a background hum—ventilation maybe—the air is clean and antiseptic, the floor carpeted. Before her sparkles a mirrored wall of wands and lacquers and tubes, but she can only see slices of her face. Face slices. The words and image make her laugh…softly, to herself, before her throat tightens and the tears threaten to return.

“Ma’am.” Now it’s a plea. “Ma’am, I need to go pick up my kids. Is there someone I can call?”

“Carla,” she tells the heavens. Remembering how her mother loved it. Loved crooning it to her to chase away the pain.

“Oh…kay. Does this Carla person have a number?”

“I’m Carla. My name is Carla. I’m not ‘Car.’ I’m not ‘ma’am,’ I’m not ‘honey,’ I’m not ‘libtard,’ I’m not ‘snowflake,’ I’m not…” The tears choke off her voice before she can say it. Crazy.

Silence from above, except for the buzz of fluorescent lights. It skitters across her nerve endings. Now she remembers why she doesn’t come here. He shook his head at her when she said that about the buzz; he walked away and turned on the television. Those loud, braying mouths spewing garbage. Like his.

He can’t walk away anymore. Or watch that network.

“Okay, Carla.” She pinpoints the source of the sound. A loudspeaker mounted to the ceiling. The voice is slow and deliberate. Almost kind. But she doesn’t quite believe it. “How are we going to get you home?”

An image flashes through her mind and she shakes her head violently. The slices of her face dance. Face slice dance. Not funny. Not funny anymore. She clutches the cotton balls more tightly to her middle and with the unlacquered finger of one hand traces patterns in the dried, rust-red dots on her jeans. “Oh. Oh, I’m not going home. I’m never going home.”

More Challenges Faced by Indie Authors

Good stuff, here…

Author Don Massenzio

ChallengesThis is the second in a series of posts centered on the challenges faced by indie authors as we try to compete in the vast ocean of competitors/cohorts that is filled with sharks and other predators. Here are more that I’ve come up with to get you thinking and to foster a discussion:

bad reputation speedometer illustration designThe Stigma of Self-Publishing

I refrain from calling what we do self-publishing. I am an independent author. My publisher is Amazon. Instead of having services provided to me by a traditional publisher, I outsource them to providers that fit within my budget and style.

I recall trying to join a local author group and being refused because I was “one of those self-publishers”. Truth be told, I had essentially published more books than the total of all of the authors in the group. Many of them were waiting for some big publisher to say yes. Of those…

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7 Things I Learned in 7 Years as an Indie Author

Some of you have asked what it’s like to take the indie author road instead of traditional publishing. So I’ll tell you. It’s a bit like typing in Spanish with one hand and Greek with the other, while you’re blindfolded and going fifty-five on a hoverboard. Except with less nausea and bloodshed. I kid, of course. It’s worse than that. Why do it, then? Because I can. Because I like to be in control of my work. I’ve been self-publishing for seven years now—long enough to learn a few things, and also long enough to realize there’s a lot I still don’t know. Here are a few things I’ve learned in my seven years of independence.

1. It helps to stay current.The publishing market is always changing. Sales outlets change; advertisers change; Amazon algorithms reallychange. What worked like gangbusters for one author one day might be a flat bust for another…or even for the same book two months later. This is why I read a handful of publishing blogs and bother my colleagues with questions about what’s working—and not working—for them. 

2. Reviews are for readers. A hard lesson I learned was that once I publish a book, I have no control over what readers will say about it. Zip. Zero. I still hope for reviews. They make me feel good, especially when readers like my work, but I stopped getting hung up over the “negative” ones. Because, really, reviews are for readers. They tell other readers if a book is worth their precious leisure hours that they could be spending with Netflix or crafting avocado toast. If you hate first person, present tense stories about vampire mermaids with serious alpha billionaire issues (spoiler alert: this is not what I write), you’d want to see that reflected in a review, yes? Saves you oodles of time and frustration.

3. Goodreads is also for readers. Other than doing giveaways (which are now honking expensive so I stopped) I was never really comfortable wearing my author hat there. It felt kind of spammy and stalky to be lurking around. But I do like the site as a reader, with my shelves and to-reads and discussion groups and all that. Once in a while, I’ll mention a new book or a promotion or whatnot, but I try to keep it low-key.

4. Patience. Patience. Patience.I publish a book. I open my handy spreadsheet of bloggers and reviewers and send out queries or review copies. I wait. I wait patiently, I wait professionally. I wait…happily. Not that I’m sucking up or anything, but book bloggers and reviewers are gold. They are wonderful people who love books and want to talk about books, but they are BUSY. They don’t get paid for what they do, so they have jobs and stuff. So once I send, I don’t bother them. Ever. If they choose to review my book, I thank them; I share their blogs and try to get them more traffic.

5. The Oxygen Mask Rule. There’s that announcement in airplanes that if the oxygen mask drops, put yours on before assisting others. Promotion and marketing can take a lot of time and energy. I went out guns blazing when I started, and within a few years I was dragging. I had to make a tough decision: back away from promotion so it wouldn’t kill the joy I get from writing. When I was ready to return, I had a much better perspective on how I was balancing my time.

6. Play well with others. The internet truly is forever. So are a lot of readers’ memories. I cringe when I read public posts from authors bashing other authors, complaining about Draconian editors (not me, of course), or whining about book reviews. It makes them look like jerks. 

7. Do my own thing and be happy. As I said before, writing is one of my great joys and I like to have control over my work. So I want to write and publish in a way that makes me happy. If another author’s version of happy is publishing six romance novels a year or winning the Pulitzer or making a boatload of money, then I wish them well. Life is short and we all deserve a shot at being happy with what we make.

Thank you for being part of my adventure.

Nonessentially Essential

Terry was supposed to have been home by now. Done with all this. That was the deal. Pete had made dinner, fed the kids, took care of the dog, the cats, the dishes, the laundry, the playdates, the bills…keeping himself active now to stem the barrage of disaster scenarios. Accidents and phones dead and emergency rooms and—

Stop.

He took a deep breath. Two. Three. Four. Checked his phone again to make sure he hadn’t missed her. Some accident of interstellar space keeping her voice from its landing pad, some defect in the system. Once he had two voice mails and the little button on his phone never told him.

Nope. Nothing.A low rumble started from far away. He felt it in his fingertips, pressed against the countertop. The rattle in the windows pounding in his heart.

“Dad. Dad!” Mark, all of seven, came barreling in, hair askew, eyes wild. “Dad. It’s one of those big planes. I can tell by the lights! Come see!”

A fifth breath. He’d been hearing more and more of those engines shaking the house. Cargo planes from the air force base, an hour away. Headed god knows where with how much killing power.

He went outside with his son. A clear, cold night. Stars twinkling. The sort of night Terry had written poems about, before she took on this new assignment… Before she tore a hole in the tapestry of their everyday. Before terrible meals and unmade beds and lonely nights. So many lonely nights. He knew this was the deal. Didn’t mean he liked it. Didn’t mean he hadn’t had the occasional fantasy of driving to Washington and punching a few politicians in the face.

“Dad!” Mark was shouting, pointing up.

Pete had never seen lights move that slowly across the sky. Hovering. Taking one last, long glimpse at what its passengers would be leaving behind.

“I think it’s a Galaxy!” Mark waved. As if the people on board could see him. “Like the one Mom was in! Dad. You think she’ll come back in one, too? Maybe this time we can see it?”

His throat tightened. His hand landed on Mark’s thin, twitchy shoulder. “Yeah. Maybe. We’ll see. Let’s go in now, son. Cold out here.”

He went back to busywork, diverting his attention. Long ago he’d stopped watching the news; he didn’t want to know what had exploded where. “Just keep in touch when you can,” he’d said, mustering all his energy to quash some Y chromosome throwback—or voice of his father—telling Terry that her place was with them. Not in some godforsaken country doing thankless work for ungrateful leaders, where every day could be her last.

“I have to try,” she’d said. A near-death experience shining a new light in her eyes, as bright as the stars she wrote about. “I have skills they need. Getting girls into schools. Teaching them to read, to have a chance to improve their lives. I have to serve.”

“But couldn’t you do that here? Somewhere safe?”

She laughed, a soft laugh, pressing a cool hand to his cheek. A strong hand, one that had held babies through sickness and health, through joy and pain. Yet tender enough to calm his greatest fears.

She couldn’t calm this one. It would have been so easy: don’t go.

He’d reasoned, he’d fumed, he’d tried so many ways to get her to see things from his point of view. But in the end he gave up the fight. Because he eventually realized that when she came home—and he wouldn’t even allow “if” into his head—he wanted her to come home to him. 

Three months, she’d said. That was what she’d signed on for. Six months ago. 

He put the kids to bed, watched something unremarkable on television, put a leash on the dog for one last, quick walk.

Half a block later, under a canopy of stars and silence, his phone rang.

Terry. His blood pressure dropped twenty points just hearing her voice, hearing her tell him about the work she’d done, the lives she’d bettered. He held his tongue each time he thought “what about our lives?” But then he saw a shooting star. Making a wish on it like his mother always told him. Wishing he could make peace with her decision.

“Honey, you still there?”

“Uh. Yeah. Sorry.” The connection was bad. Why did she sound so flat?

“I said, is next Tuesday good? Around six?”

“Good. Good for…?” Damn. So self-involved, so absorbed with how this was making his life a holy mess that he didn’t…

“For meeting me at the base. They’re done with me. I’m coming home. Or would you prefer I call an Uber?”

“Wait. Done with you?”

The pause broke his heart a little. In it, he imagined a frown, a shrug. A brave face. “No money, no nonessential services.”

Those bastards. “They can’t just—”

“Yeah.” The sound this time was a definite sigh. “They can.”

His Y chromosome went into overdrive. “We’ll find you something else. Some other way you can help. There are plenty of girls here, poor neighborhoods, schools that need help…”

Was that a laugh? It was a soft laugh, a little sad, but it made him stop. And smile.

“Whoa, cowboy,” she said. “I want to talk about that, I want to talk about all of it, but let’s wait until I get home, okay?”

“Yeah.” His voice broke. He cleared his throat. “We’ll do that, yeah.”

After they ended the call, he petted his patient dog’s soft ears, and the two of them finished their walk silently, gratefully, under the dome of stars.