David was not the type to take the reins. He was always more comfortable sitting back and letting someone else take the wheel. It was easy, and simple, and he found that he learned much through someone else’s guidance, rather than trying things out for himself. He had learned not to play with fire when his sister burnt her fingers while lighting a match, not to play ball in the house when his brother fell and hit his head on a step trying out a new trick, and not to run with scissors when his kindergarten classmate was taken to the emergency room for stitches.

David learned through others; he sat, observed, listened and let his life flow by, led by an invisible, tender hand. Talent came to him naturally and he was blissfully unaware of hardship. Never in his life had he needed to strive for anything, food was never wanting, nor dress, and education and learning was always easy. That’s not to say he took things for granted, he did not. In fact, he was very conscious of the struggles of others, but could not always understand the time and effort people took to overcome them. He always figured everything would turn out fine. He always believed that everything was for the best.

Raymond believed the opposite. Raymond had grown up poor, in a house dry of books and learning, its inhabitants working themselves to the bone. Raymond knew sunless days and freezing nights. He knew poverty and hunger and hard work. Raymond knew David, and hated him. He would watch David cross the quad, always smiling, the sun shining above. Raymond would look up at the same sky and see only dark clouds. He would then spit on the ground and curse his lot.

Raymond was the janitor at David’s college, he had never wanted a higher education for himself, but was always quick to blame the kids who did. Those snotty, little good-for-nothings that befouled his halls, smeared his windows and dirtied everything he cleaned. It did not occur to him that those kids and their tuitions paid his wages, that it was his job to clean the school, to maintain it. Raymond only saw in others the opportunities he never had; opportunities, which, truth be told, he’d never wanted.

One day, Raymond saw David and decided to teach him a lesson. The pea-brained little shit had come out of the bathroom Raymond had finished cleaning not five minutes before. David and those like him could never wait for at least ten minutes before soiling his pristine and sparkling lavatory. That day, his foul mood compounded his negative outlook on life, Raymond decided enough was enough. David would have to pay.

Raymond watched David as he walked happily down the hall. He put his foot on the mopping bucket and waited for the right moment. In one swift movement Raymond pushed the bucket with a mumbled warning, and watched as David, unable to get out of the way, slipped and fell over the bucket. He fell on his arm with a crack and a painful cry. Raymond smirked while David tried to stand, his nose bleeding and cradling his arm.

People dashed to David’s aid, they helped him up and took him to the infirmary. He was later rushed to the hospital with a broken arm.

Raymond was content, the little shit would be more careful next time, the little jerk would have to watch where he was going.

Raymond’s shift ended while David listened to the doctor explain that his fractured arm would be in a cast for at least six weeks. He would be unable to play sports, and would have to rest. He would have to learn to use his free hand for all tasks that required his dominant, yet broken arm.

David smiled and shrugged; cool, he said, he would be ambidextrous now.

Raymond was on the bus ride home as David walked out of the hospital, arm in a sling, his coat draped over it. The flurries that had begun to fall while David was taken to the school’s infirmary, had now become a full, steady, blizzard. The visibility was near zero, and the bus trudged slowly through the untreated streets. The wind had picked up and Raymond thought what a helluva whiteout, as he looked out the window.

Suddenly, an empty trash can tumbled across the street and into the bus’s path. The driver slammed on the brakes and the bus skidded on black ice. The driver tried his best to control it, but the bus overturned.

It was in all the newspapers the next morning: “Local school janitor only fatality in bus accident.”



The World According to Virgil

Virgil had always known about right and wrong, particularly when it concerned other people. He knew that his brother Peter had chosen a career in the Law right, and that his sister Candace had chosen her husband wrong. Never mind that Peter was miserable, or claimed to be, because Virgil was certain he wasn’t. Or that Candace, childless as she and her husband were, were happy (Virgil believed otherwise).

Now the time had come for Virgil’s own children to choose their life, and Virgil knew what was best for them. The oldest, Samuel, would be a great doctor, the middle, Ian would be an excellent lawyer, and his daughter Karen, the apple of his eye, was best suited for accounting.

Thanks to the careers he’d chosen for them they would never want for anything. There would always be a need for doctors, lawyers and accountants, as certain as death and taxes, he always said. Thus, he said, he would be happy in the knowledge that his children had everything they’d ever want, that he had brought them up right, and that he could live peacefully the rest of his days.

He had always imagined himself surrounded by successful children, with equally successful partners and beautiful grandchildren. In his mind, the house would be bursting with family on Christmas Eve, and quiet by evening on Christmas Day. Everyone would do as he said, and everything would run smoothly according to the plans he laid out.

“Dad,” Samuel told him over breakfast one day, “I’ve been thinking about a career in Engineering, you know, building things, what do you think?”

Virgil shook his head and sighed, “Sam, we’ve been over this, the best career for you is Medicine. A great doctor can do a great many things for humanity, and I believe you’d be best at it.”

Samuel bowed his head and ate his breakfast in silence. He knew it was no good to argue with the old man, he knew that his father would never see the world through his eyes, would never understand that the Lego’s and Erector sets that had so fascinated him as a child fascinated him still. It was no use telling him that his favorite shows on TV were about how things were made, and that his favorite subjects at school had always been, and always will be, physics, science and math.

Virgil would look back on that breakfast years later and wonder what he did wrong. He had never understood why Samuel had done what he’d done. Worse even why his brother and sister had followed in Sam’s footsteps.

Samuel’s Medical School career was untarnished and unsurpassed. He was the great doctor that Virgil always knew he would be. Virgil was proud of Samuel, he puffed his chest and spoke of his son as Doctor Samuel.

One day, while Virgil and his children were sitting quietly in the living room, Samuel, clearing his throat, presented Virgil with a check and his diploma.

“What’s this Sam?”

“It’s a check for all the years of tuition, and my diploma. Here’s your medical career, I’ve enrolled myself in Engineering. No need to worry, Dad, thanks to my practice, I can pay for the tuition myself.”

Virgil was speechless and when he looked at his other children for help, they shrugged.

“What did you expect, Dad?” Ian, the middle child, said, “You’ve spent so much time planning our entire lives for us, but you never bothered to ask us what we wanted.”

Ian reached over and handed Virgil a piece of paper. Karen did the same. They were both checks.

“I’ve never wanted to be an accountant, Dad, I’ve always wanted to be an Architect. Who do you think played with Sam’s hand-me-down Lego’s? And Ian, a lawyer? Puh-leaze, he couldn’t argue a case to save his life. He loves Archaeology.”

Virgil scowled and his face turned an ugly red.

“You ungrateful bastards! After everything I’ve done for you! I know what’s best for you, I know what’s right. Engineering? Architecture? Archaeology? Do you realize how ridiculous you sound? Get out! Get out of my house!”

Soon after that, came the first of many Christmas Eves Virgil’s house didn’t burst with family.




Sail Away

It was almost like drowning. Jason felt himself sinking as he realized the severity of the situation.

He had worked so hard and now all hope was lost. Everything he had strived for was gone. Lost in an instant. He saw himself shipwrecked on an ocean of hopelessness, as vast and empty as his future now was.

He had been so sure it would all work out, he had been so certain. Nothing made sense anymore, what would he do? He had failed at the one thing he had been preparing for in life. Now all was over.

Jason dragged his feet on the sidewalk, his head hung low and his gait that of someone carrying a heavy burden. He walked slowly, not wanting to go home, but at the same time wishing he were already there, lying on his bed with the pillow over his head. He wanted this horrible day to end, but wished it never would. He hoped night would never come. There was no way to explain this, and nightfall meant explanations would be necessary.

Maybe I could just leave, he thought, and imagined himself sticking his thumb out, hitching a ride. Maybe someone would stop, and he would climb in, destination: anywhere. He would eat at truck stops, and wash in rest area bathrooms. Then, somehow, he would make it to the coast, and there, he would board a ship. Jason pictured himself a stowaway, but decided against it.

If only he’d been born at a different time, he might’ve sailed with Magellan, or plundered with Blackbeard. Always free to go where he pleased. Nothing to hold him down, no ties to pull him back to land.

Jason had always loved ships. He’d always been fascinated by stories of seafarers, pirates, sailors. Always wished he’d been one of them. By the age of ten he could identify almost every ship type ever built, schooner, man-o-war, caravel, brigantine, frigate, he knew them all. When asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, he always said sailor, a response which had prompted many a ‘huh’.

Jason’s parents were against it, he was to study hard, graduate with honors, attend an Ivy League school and be a lawyer, or a doctor, or a CEO of a Fortune 500 company. That was his future, they said, it’s what’s best for him. On land. Work hard, they said, and when you’re successful, maybe you can buy a yacht, hire a crew, and drop anchor in Monaco, or Capri, or Ibiza, they said, but study first.

Jason sighed as he walked home, his last chance at the future his parents wanted gone forever.  He had not been accepted to any of his colleges of choice. He was a failure.

As he rounded the corner he saw his older brother on their stoop. Alex was perfect, everything that Jason wasn’t. He had gotten a scholarship to Yale and had just been accepted at Harvard Law School. He was his parents’ pride; Alexander the Great.

“Why the long face, Argonaut?” Alex asked when Jason sat down beside him.

“I failed,” he sighed, “I failed at everything.”

“Yeah I know, they told me. I thought you were in the running for a scholarship, though.”

“Didn’t get it, and Mom and Dad don’t have enough money for tuition. My chances are shot. Community College is my only choice now, and I’d still have to work my way through it, I’m such a loser.”

“You know why you think you failed?” Alex spoke after a moment of silence, “It’s because you wanted to. You didn’t really want the future they planned for you, and I’m glad you failed. I’d rather see you poor and happy than rich and miserable, so I brought you this.”

He handed Jason two brochures, one about the Navy and the other about the Merchant Marines. Jason looked at his brother in wonder and Alex smiled.

“Pick one, or both, or neither, doesn’t matter. Look them over, see what you like best, see what fits you best.”

“Mom and Dad won’t be happy.”

“No, but that’s their problem. Go on, little bro, choose your life. I’ll handle Mom and Dad.”

Alex gave Jason an envelope. It was full of cash.

“What’s this?”

“It’s for you, to spend on your future. It should get you out of this place and then some.”

“Where did you get this?”

“I’ve been saving up for this since the first time you said you wanted to sail ships and they shut you down. Just promise me that whatever you do, wherever you go, you’ll always do right. ”

“I promise.”

They sat on the stoop and watched the sunset in silence. Jason smiled at the bright future ahead. Alex’s arm around him sealed their brotherly bond.





My life changed that day on the hill. The sunset was so intense it seemed the sun had set the world on fire. We were kids, all of us, playing at being grown-ups, singing, dancing, talking about boys and having the time of our lives. I didn’t know it was to be my last day of childhood, that I would grow ten years older that day.

The sun dipped in the sky, shadowing our faces as we smiled at the oncoming dusk. It was a glorious summer evening, the cicadas chirped at full blast, while the birds trilled hidden among the trees that lined the craggy rock at the top of the hill, Venus the Evening Star shone her way into the royal blue sky. We honored her that day, we honored our girlhood, our womanhood and all the feminine beauty around us.

I was happy, we were happy, and as we trudged down the hill by the light of our flashlights I felt and inkling, a feeling, that the fiery sunset had been telling me something, but I didn’t understand the message.

I waved goodbye to them—Linda, Janice and Grace—as they got in the car. I would be walking home, even though they always offered me a ride. It was part of the ritual: the climb up the hill, the sunset at its summit, the hike down in the dark and the offer and decline of a ride.  Perhaps if I’d gotten in the car with them they would be here now. 

The police found their abandoned vehicle three days later, ten miles outside of town, no sign of the girls. In the ten years since there have been no phone calls, no letters, no bodies, not one clue to their fates. 

I sit alone in the sunset, and as the sun dips below the horizon I ask him if he sees them and if they are all right, but he doesn’t answer; and when Venus comes out I ask her if she saw what happened, but as the darkness surrounds me, the silence comes, and the questions remain. 




The Moon sees everything, Diana thought as she hurried down the street, away from the street lamp, keeping to the shadows. She wasn’t running away, not really, she was running to. She ran towards her life, her independence. She had to leave in the night, by the light of the moon.

The Moon sees me, she guides me, she does not judge, the voice inside her spoke, she is my mother, my sister, and by her light I will be free.

Diana stopped at the corner, the street light was out, but The Moon shone her cleansing light on her as she looked back. She slid the ring off her finger, her past fixed in its metal, and flung it away. The moonlight caught it as it flew, like a falling star lost in the night. Only The Moon saw it glimmer for an instant as it hit the ground.

BRUEGEL TAROT: V The Hierophant


There Are No Stupid Questions

Walter had spent most of his life teaching others. He had always known it was his calling, ever since he had been chosen as student tutor in eighth grade. It came so naturally to him, the explaining, the lecturing, and most especially, the grading. He loved it when his students excelled, and to him, grades where the only way to measure a person’s capabilities.

Now, as a University professor he felt himself the cream of the crop. He was famous for being the toughest lecturer in the school, he was also known as “The Colander” because only the best of the best passed his course.

Walter liked being The Colander, it gave him a sense of pride, of accomplishment. He was the reason students pushed themselves beyond their potential, he was the reason they shone. He shaped the young minds of the world, and when future Nobel Prize Winners accepted that prestigious award, he would be the one they were thanking. He was The Great Instructor behind The Master.


Collin was not the brightest star in the sky, he was not fast of thought, and he often had to ask for explanations, but he was dogged, and stubborn, and driven, and, as a child, he had earned the nickname Turtle. “Slow and steady wins the race” was his motto, and “there are no stupid questions” his slogan.

Collin was only two credits short of graduating. It was a great honor to his family, and his greatest personal achievement. The stage of school life was set for the final scene and so it happened that Collin was forced to sign up for Walter’s most dreaded and difficult course, History of Economics. It was the only course available that would fit Collin’s schedule, it was also the only course that was never full.

That last semester was a living hell for Collin. Walter made sure of it. He hated slow students, he hated repeating himself over and over because one student was too lazy to understand the first time. Collin studied and studied and tried as hard as he could, and though the course was too difficult and too fast, he never gave up, and by midterm, when The Colander usually drained the school of slackers, Turtle had managed to scrape through. It wasn’t a bad grade, but in Walter’s eyes, it was mediocre.

To Walter there was no getting rid of Collin, no matter how hard he tried to fail him, the little shit still managed to make it by, so he tried more powerful means of persuasion. He yelled at, humiliated, teased and bullied Collin, but Collin just kept his head down, studied and muddled through, exactly like a turtle, seemingly unaware of its slowness and stupidity. To his classmates, Collin was a rock, a hard nut, someone who didn’t break under pressure. Some felt that he held up the class, and they would often join in Walter’s bullying, but others were impressed by his steadfastness and stalwart demeanor, and they defended him, and helped him  and admired him. This admiration towards the world’s biggest fool only angered Walter more. They should be admiring him, Walter The Colander, not Collin The Turtle.

By day, Collin bore the humiliation and the bullying like a hero, his personal slogan “there are no stupid questions” soon spread like the wind over campus, but at night, Collin broke down. He studied until he could no longer see, worked himself into fevers and often cried himself to sleep.

Finals came and Walter knew that Collin’s fate would be decided, the war would soon be over, and this blemish would soon be out of his life.

The test was the most difficult and tricky that Walter had ever designed, it was meant to make people fail, not to gauge their knowledge and understanding of the course.

Walter knew the battle was half won when he saw Collin walk in the exam room. He was gaunt, and pale, his hair ruffled and greasy and his eyes sunken. He looked like a walking corpse.

Walter couldn’t wait to grade Collin’s exam, it would be the first and he looked for it frantically amongst the papers the students had turned in. The answers were mediocre and some just plain wrong, and as Walter kept a tally of Collin’s points he smirked. The Turtle was just one point shy of passing. The final answer was correct, written coherently and exactly what Walter was looking for in an answer. It was perfect, and it would have been enough to pass Collin had Walter not been overtaken by a fury so strong it blurred his vision and numbed his mind. He had long forgotten what it truly meant to teach, but now, that dormant feeling was cast out of his soul forever. He reviewed Collin’s exam again, looking for any excuse to fail him, and found it. So simple! Collin had forgotten to date the exam! With a smile and a flourish, Walter flunked Collin.

When Collin received the news of his failure a little part of him died. He fell to his knees in the hall and sobbed quietly into his hands. His classmates rallied around him, tried to cheer him up, and even tried to convince Walter to pass him, but the die was cast, and Collin would not be allowed to graduate with his class.


Walter was proud of himself as he walked into the dean’s office. He had done the right thing, Collin had been the last slacker standing and now all the bad apples were gone.

“Walter,” the dean said as he gestured for him to sit, “I have heard that Collin Harris failed your course. In fact, I’ve had about ten students complaining to me about your decision to fail him over something so trivial as a date. I believe that you know what is best, but I will ask you to reconsider.”

“Sir, my decision is final.”

“I see…I hope you understand why I’m asking you to rethink your decision. I’m sure you have gotten to know him well during this semester. As you know, his parents were killed in an accident when he was a toddler. He himself was in the car and was badly injured. His grandparents raised him, and while the rest of his body healed, his brain never fully developed. He has pulled himself through school all his life, slow and steady, and this was to be his crowning achievement.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t know that,” Walter’s heart fell to his feet. He had always seen the boy as a stain, a smear to this institution and it had never occurred to him to learn more about his student.

“Sir, if I may ask a stupid question,” Walter’s voice was almost inaudible, “how do you know all this?”

“I talked to him during admission. I vetted him and these past four years I’ve mentored him. He has reminded me of the meaning of teaching and guidance, and he will graduate, this semester or the next. And I must say, that is my crowning achievement.”

Walter stood up, and head down, opened the door.

“Oh, and Walter? There are no stupid questions.”