A Muse Bouche Review: June 2024


Dear Readers

Welcome to our sixth edition of 2024. The theme is Eavesdropping.

The A Muse Bouche Review Team

Featured: In the Attic (David M. Simon) Fiction
Intercepted (Renée Gendron) Fiction
Overheard (Marian L Thorpe) Fiction
Me Savoring a Thirty-Year-Old (Joseph P. Garland) Fiction

June Team Showcase

Free space fantasia war illustration
Image by Marisa Marini from Pixabay


Renee Gendron (@ReneeGendron)

Infantry-woman Sadie Kolar lay flat against the damp tundra, stilling her breath. Her service weapon pressed heavily against her side, silent and unused. Her white camouflage snow suit had largely turned brown from scuffing and crawling against the soggy terrain back to base, but there were large patches of her shoulders and back that remained stark white—and starkly visible against the landing enemy.

Landing craft after landing craft descended from the starships in a tight formationorder.

With communications fritzing because of solar flare activity, she didn’t trust the security of her wrist computer’s link back to base.

Her squad had gone on patrol to chase off wolves and rebels who might take advantage of the interference caused by electro-magnetic interference on the dome’s shields. Without its shields, the dome—HQ—and its tens of thousands of inhabitants would be vulnerable to extreme cold, slashing winds, wolves that never had enough to eat, and rebels that never had enough of anything to steal.

Static suddenly played in Sadie’s ear, startling her, immediately followed by silence.

Static meant someone else was on the line, that communications were possible, that there was the possibility of connecting with another soul.

Silence was final, deadly, leading to an abyss of unknowns.

Movement crept along Sadie’s peripheral vision.

Sergeant Melanie Boyd crawled up on her elbows a few paces before Sadie. Boyd’s uniform was caked with moss and dirt as if she had spent the last hour rolling in the soggy tundra to feel it, taste it, become one with it.

Boyd made a fist with her hand, halting all advance of the unit.

Sadie forced the breath she held in the middle of her throat down. Her service weapon was clean and loaded, only needing something to lock up, but Sadie’s orders were to hold.


The worst possible order to receive.


Infantries were made to dodge, shoot, and charge. They were made to reconnoiter, dig trenches, hold back an attack and then press forward.


Hold was the worst word in the entire vocabulary for someone who just wanted to point and shoot.

Sadie’s wrist computer bleeped, and she glanced down on it.

No incoming signal from HQ, but an encrypted message. She tapped her monitor, and her wrist computer went through a series of communications protocols.

Sadie flicked her gaze to the dozens of landing ships making contact near the horizon. The sleek edges of the crafts silhouetted against the bright horizon awash with yellow and orange hues.

She squinted and shielded her eyes, then lowered her second glare shield, but the summer light was still too bright and intense for her mere multi-generation dome-dwelling self. Eyes shut, she angled her chin towards her shoulder.

Static on the radio. More, indecipherable static that made her pulse leap and knock against the little piece of flesh at the back of her mouth. The static rang her uvula like a gong, and it trembled in her mouth and almost made her vomit.


Give her action.

Give her somewhere to charge.

Give her someone to shoot.

Give her a hill to climb, some parapet to go over, some spaceship to shoot a grappling gun to and climb to.

Static. More staticky static. Staticky static that pricked her ear and gulped her breath and clenched her jaw.

She straightened and again narrowed her eyes on the horizon, past the endless horizon blotted by darkened spacecrafts depositing enemy troops to the dome.


Over the horizon, only a few clicks away, were her husband Caspian, and their two children. She checked the time on her wrist computer. He’d be doing his rounds as a nurse, and their children would be in daycare, likely taking their afternoon nap.

Her mind wandered to the dozens of patrols fanning out on the tundra, wondering how many had made it back to the dome unscathed and how many would need help from Caspian. Perhaps some had been brought in on stretchers, and Caspian had performed mouth to mouth resuscitation. P, and perhaps others had had their arms draped over their battle buddies who had hauled their bodies into the infirmary.

Whatever gore and mayhem and blood and spilt organs, Caspian would have approached with cool professionalism, transferred the patient to a bed and attached whatever appropriate monitoring and transfusion devices as necessary.

His handsome features would remain calm, his gaze focused, and the line of his thin lips unstressed and straight and sublime.

On her days off, she had stopped by the daycare to look through the window. Two-year-old Kendra and three-year-old Fisher had their little hands smeared with paint as they splatted them against a paper. Kendra had—so Sadie thought—a canvas of her family with two large blobs and two smaller blobs. And Fisher, with his wild imagination, had painted a whirl of swirls and bright colours without hands or feet, in what Sadie had thought was his first abstract painting.

Sadie had pinned both paintings on the outer front door to their housing for all in their quarter to see.

Countless residents of her quadrant had stopped and complimented the paintings with some leaving little appreciative notes on the door, with others leaving smiley faces on the virtual greeting door praising Sadie’s children for their artistry.

Sadie brushed the memory aside. Too cozy and too comfortable, too distracting from the static in her head, the bleeps on the monitor of her wrist computer, and the elongating shadows of enemy landing ships stretching across the tundra to darken her shape against the ground.

Her eyes adjusted to the comfortable and familiar dimness of the landscape. Rare were the patrols that went out during the day, too visible for predators and too susceptible to radiation from solar flares.

The static in her ear chirped and fizzed into clear language.

“Assume battle formation in fifteen,” the man’s voice said, steady and calm like he was reading the ingredients of a cereal box. “Fifteen. I repeat. We are go for attack in fifteen. Clear disembarkation zones and form up.”

Sadie’s tongue thickened in her mouth, choking her. The static in her ear turned crystal clear. She reached for her service weapon, but it was indifferent comfort to her.  Not cold, not hot, but heavy and cumbersome, like it was an imperfect tool against a perfect solution. She stared ahead, blinking through the contrast of a bright horizon and dozens of blackened silhouettes of enemy ships.

Flat on the soggy tundra, she lay between dozens of enemy ships and those she loved.

There weren’t enough bullets for her to get to them.

The static cleared. The enemy male voice squawking in her ear gave the attack coordinates.

Sadie gripped her service weapon and angled her gazed towards her squad leader a little ahead of her. One twitch of her squad leader’s hand, and Sadie would shove herself up to her feet, let out a primal yell and charge towards the enemies that abandoned the colonies so many generations ago.

But there was no twitch. There was no command in her ear. There was no aerial barrage of one-thousand-kilogram payload missiles arcing through the air from the dome to the enemy position, and no streaking arcs from the dome to the starships in orbit.

Just silence.

Sadie swallowed bile and fear and clung to her service weapon like it was her children.


The male enemy voice spoke in her ear, giving the command to attack.

“Go,” Sadie’s command said with such force and determination the planet’s tides might have changed direction.

Sadie tasted Caspian’s kiss one last time. She pressed kisses into her children’s cheeks one last time, then she tightened her grip along the butt of her service weapon, pushed herself up to stand and charged towards the silhouettes of enemy vessels ready to defend everyone she loved with her last breath.


Marian L Thorpe (@marianlthorpe)

Illustration:  Johannes Vermeer, Woman in Blue Reading a Letter; Rijksmuseum. Photograph Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

This continues The Letter, from May’s newsletter.

The letter had been opened and resealed, by someone with skill–a skill almost as good as mine. It was short, a report on the health of a child I had treated a few years earlier. A shoulder dislocated during a difficult birth had not healed well; I had reset it, and after a period of healing had shown his mother the exercises that would, with time, let her son use his arm without pain or weakness. She wrote to me periodically, to tell me of his progress. His skill with the bow, she told me now, was praised by his teacher and was the envy of other boys his age. A line or two about the weather, and the welcome of the lengthening days after winter’s dark, and that was all.

Or all that was written for anyone to see. Nor had the unknown reader looked for more; the paper showed no sign of exposure to a flame. Underneath the message about her son, written parallel to the other lines, Dagmera had used the juice of onion to convey other information. I sat in the bright sunlight of the small courtyard of my practice rooms, the weight of the words revealed by heating the paper dragging at my mind. I should tell the Princip what my correspondent had overheard, and yet I did not want to.

The King speaks of war, she had written. Only to my lady the Queen, in private, and he has told her to say nothing. He did not see me kneeling at a chest when he burst into her rooms, cursing his grandfather and swearing battle against Luivich and the Casillard.  I was sent away, and have sworn to say nothing, although my lady the Queen said his words were only frustration. That is all I know. 

Dagmera, my informant, waited upon the queen of Varsland. Words spoken in frustration could harden into resolve—and if the king of Varsland threatened war against the city that was the northern hub of the Casillard trading confederacy, then the Princip needed to know.  So did the Casillard council, both here and in Luivich.

One response would be calm and faceted, no doubt already planned for after the war fifty years past. One would be volatile.

Two years ago, Varril, Princip of Ésparias, had lost his wife and unborn child to a disease I had no treatment for, beyond controlling fever with willowbark and cold compresses. The contagion had brought on her labour early, the child born dead. She succumbed less than an hour later. Their loss had been hard enough, but that Jelte, their older son, had survived should have been a blessing.

I had thought the boy would die. His red rash was no worse than others, but his fever had risen and he had been unable to keep the infusion of willowbark down. We had stripped him, washed him with water chilled with ice. Then his screams of pain had begun, his hands clutching at his head before convulsions wracked his small body. I had told the Princip to expect the worst.

Jelte had lived, but he could never be Princip after Varril. Slowly, his body had recovered. He could ride his pony again, throw a ball, climb stairs with ease, balance and strength restored. But not his mind. The five-year-old who could read and add and subtract and play a basic game of xache was now seven. He could still read short words, and count to twenty. But xache had been set aside for simpler games. Nor could he follow directions beyond one or two steps.

I saw him once a month, sometimes more, at his father’s request.  “Surely it is just a matter of time?” Varril argued. “An injured limb needs exercise to return to its full abilities. Is it not the same for the mind?”

It wasn’t. I could heal Dagmera’s son’s shoulder. I couldn’t heal Jelte’s mind. At some level, the Princip knew this. It fed his anger, deepened his grief and pain. War with Varsland would give that anguish and rage an outlet.

A quiet cough made me look up. “Hælwitha? May we consult?” One of the medical students, taking some of the easier cases under my supervision. I nodded, holding up a finger to indicate I’d be with him shortly. Then I read the letter again.

Swearing battle against Luivich and the Casillard. I considered this, weighing options. Not against Ésparias, but against a city and a trading confederacy. Perhaps the first to hear this news shouldn’t be the Princip, but my brother.


 “Your informant is reliable?” The question wasn’t from Cenric, but from Kirt. I’d decided there was no point in speaking to my brother privately. He’d tell Kirt anyhow—not because they were lovers, but because Kirt was Leste’s representative on the Casillard council. I trusted de Guerdián’s diplomatic skills would guarantee he would not reveal to Mariss bé Berge, head of the council both in Ésparias and across the confederacy, that he had heard this news before she had.

“She is,” I confirmed, and briefly explained why. Kirt nodded, his brown eyes slightly narrowed and one finger tapping against the arm of his chair.

“Luivich,” Cenric said. “This results from last year’s meeting, I presume.”

Every few years, one or two representatives from each port town that was part of the confederacy met to discuss everything from new merchants applying for membership to the appropriate share of the cost of dredging a harbour. While the guild of traders and merchants that had become the confederacy had begun in Casille, the site of these large meetings varied. Sometimes the issues—like the fishing rights in the Smölvann —were of greater interest to the northern ports, and so the meetings were held in one of the towns on that sea. Luivich had held the last, the previous summer.

“Varsland’s envoys agreed to the fish quotas,” Kirt said. “The negotiations were heated, sometimes, but in the end it seemed everyone was satisfied.”

“Envoys, perhaps, but not the king, it would appear.”  My brother brought his hands together, interwoven fingers pointing upward. “But what has precipitated this, all these months later?”

“At a guess, a poor fishing season last year,” Kirt said. “The contract was made long before the pilcod had begun their autumn run. The possibility of that was discussed, and there were mitigations written into the agreement. But if the fish were scarce—” He shrugged. Part of my mind noticed that even that movement was graceful. There were moments I couldn’t help envying my brother.

“Luivich will have taken the greater share, and Varsland’s revenues will have suffered.” Cenric’s lips tightened. “The Forsittë must be told.”

“So must the Princip,” I said. Cenric’s eyes flicked to meet mine, and then away. A muscle tightened in his jaw. He knew what Varril might do, with this news as an excuse. Our cousin—we shared a great-grandfather, but before that our bloodlines had met and blended many times—had always been impulsive. A family trait, it was said, one that sometimes missed a generation or two. When it did appear, though, it was generally outgrown by the time the person was in their fourth decade of life. Varril was thirty-six. He’d had a wife and a newly-born son when he’d been chosen as Princip, and had shown every sign of the expected transition into a thoughtful, reasoning leader. Until two years ago.

“Tell Mariss bé Berge and the Princip by all means,” Kirt said, the words clipped. “But Luivich is closer to Varsland’s wrath than Casille, or even Abertabh. Word must be sent to them immediately.”

“It should come from the Forsittë,” Cenric said. “Except…”

“Except what?” He sounded hesitant, even for my brother.

“She is not in Casille. She is not even in Ésparias.”

“Who is her delegate?”

“No one person, but a committee of three.”

“So triple the time to make a decision,” Kirt snapped. “Are they all at least in Casille?”

“I believe so. I will send for them.” Cenric rose, going to the sideboard where writing supplies were kept. Kirt was lost in thought, or calculation. I stood to join my brother, reaching for the candle kept to melt the wax for the seals. Our backs were to Kirt. Cenric folded the first note, addressed it, handed it to me to seal. Then a second. “Give them to Pietar,” he said. “Tell him they must be delivered at all speed.”

Two notes. But— “You?” My lips formed the word, without sound. He nodded. I cocked an eyebrow, asking a silent question.

He glanced at Kirt. Of course. Cenric was intelligent, conscientious, more than competent—but he was also cautious, both as a merchant and a man. Or so I had thought, until Kirthan de Guerdián had come to live with us.  There would already be talk, questions of influence arising less from their business partnership than their personal one–and my brother was too good a merchant and guildsman not to consider motives, in any transaction, even an intensely private one. De Guerdián’s apparently flexible morals were a subject of gossip and speculation, whispered or loud, depending on who spoke and how much wine or ale had been consumed. Cenric was well aware of what was said. I guessed he had hoped no decisions of any importance would need to be made in the Forsittë’s absence, and asked to have his appointment kept quiet.

Kirt’s stillness had the feel of calculation to it, a man weighing the importance of what he had just learned. He had, I thought, heard our murmured exchange, or noted the two letters and reached his own correct conclusion. But, standing, all he said was, “I shouldn’t be here when the deputies meet. Send to Ferrand’s inn when it is appropriate for me to return.” He sounded unperturbed. He had, of course, his own secrets, even–or especially–from my brother..

“Kirt,” Cenric began, then stopped. HIs expression was the one I saw when he studied records from guild meetings or the business accounts. “Take Audun with you. Water his wine,” he said, “and yours. We may need your thoughts, later.”

“A de Guerdián does not water his wine. I will limit myself to one glass, perhaps two. Ferrand’s best, of course.” He smiled at Cenric before taking the stairs up to the bedrooms. His steps sounded on the ceiling, his voice calling Audun’s name. Then an unintelligible conversation, and two sets of feet going down the stairs that led to the kitchen.

“I’ll ask Pietar to have the fire built up,” I said. The night was damp, almost cold: the two people who would travel to us would be glad of warmth and a hot drink when they arrived. Spiced, warmed cider would be appropriate, comforting without clouding judgement.

I’d ask for pastries, too, I decided, as I went in search of our steward, letters in my hand. Something told me this would be a long night.

In The Attic

David M. Simon (@writesdraws)

Free Dolls Collection photo and picture
Image by Jean-Louis SERVAIS from Pixabay

Mom and dad didn’t freak out until the third kid disappeared. The first one, a little girl, happened on the far west side, nowhere near us. The second one was a boy in the next city over, even farther away. The third one, though, was a kid from our neighborhood, a seven year old boy named Gusty. His name’s really Augustino, but everyone calls him Gusty. We all know him. My brother Jimmy goes to school with him. He lives right here in the Hawthorne Park Estates, same as us.

Hawthorne Park Estates sounds all fancy, but it’s so not. Just a bunch of one-story apartments connected side-by-side around courtyards that are more crabgrass and dirt than grass, and there’s six courtyards altogether, plus a pool that’s closed half the time because the water keeps turning green. I’m making it sound horrible, but it’s not a bad place to live. There’s a ton of kids that live here, so there’s always someone to play with. In the summer we would leave the apartment in the morning and not come back until supper time, and mom and dad never worried about anything happening to us. At least not until Gusty disappeared.

Dad woke us up early the next morning, before he left for his job at the machine shop. He sat us down at the kitchen table. Mom was already there, wearing her scrubs, with a cup of coffee in front of her. Me and Jimmy figured we must be in big trouble, because school had let out a week ago, so there was no reason to get us out of bed. Jimmy was ten and I was twelve, so we usually stayed home by ourselves, no babysitter. It was my job to keep him out of trouble.

“What’d we do?” Jimmy blurted out. He’s a tough kid, but I could tell he was on the verge of tears. As far as I knew, we hadn’t done anything lately to get in trouble, but you never know.

“You didn’t do anything, honey,” Mom said.

Dad stood behind Mom, his hands on her shoulders, and she looked up at him, covered his hands with hers. “You guys heard about Gusty,” he said. We both nodded. “Until they figure out what happened, I’m going to ask the two of you to stay in the apartment with the door locked. Your mom and I can’t afford to miss work, so we have to trust you to do as I say and stay in. I’m serious.” Dad looked at me with that death stare I usually only got for punching Jimmy. “Josh, you’re in charge, but that doesn’t mean be a dick to your brother.”

“You can watch as much TV as you like, and there’s plenty to eat in the fridge,” Mom said. “Boys, until we know what happened to Gusty and those other kids, you’re going to have to humor us and stay inside. The other parents in the Estates are telling their kids the same thing. And it wouldn’t hurt to get a head start on your summer reading.” Jimmy and I snuck a glance at each other when Mom said that, but to our credit, neither of us snorted. They both looked scared, which I think made us a little scared. It did me, at least.

And that was it. Ten minutes later Mom and Dad were out the door on their way to work. Jimmy and me each got a bowl of Peanut Butter Captain Crunch and settled in for some extended Nickelodeon watching. That lasted until lunch time.

“Josh, I’m bored!” I was surprised Jimmy’d lasted as long as he did. “Can we play attic ball? Please?”

We have a trap door to our attic in the hallway between mom and dad’s bedroom and the one me and Jimmy share. There was a string that hung down, and when you pulled it the door swung open, with a ladder you could unfold to the floor. Here’s the thing. We were not, under any circumstances, allowed in the attic.

Which of course just made us want to check out the attic. We’d been sneaking up there when our parents weren’t home for a couple of years. It was big, the entire length and width of the apartment, and it was jam-packed with all kinds of stuff, because it was really the only storage we had. Dad had a box of old Playboys up there that we regularly thumbed through. Everything was jumbled together and stacked to the rafters, with little paths between the piles. That made it perfect for a game we had invented called attic ball.

Attic ball worked like this: We started at opposite ends of the attic, each with a tennis ball (nobody in our family played tennis by the way, we found them in the courtyard). The rules of attic ball were simple. Sneak around in the semi-darkness—there were a couple of small, dirty windows that let in light—and try to nail each other with the balls. That’s it. That’s the whole game. There was no scoring involved, and it usually ended when Jimmy got pissed at me for hitting him in the head and sulked down to our room, threatening to tell dad, even though we both knew he never would. We usually played it on rainy summer days while mom and dad were at work, but since we weren’t allowed out of the house, I quickly agreed to a game.

I always started at the far end of the attic, and Jimmy near the trap door. That day I decided to hunker down and stay put, waiting for Jimmy to advance. He took the bait. I could hear him with every exaggerated step he took trying to be quiet, bumping into boxes, dragging his shoes. At one point I even heard him shush himself. When he got close I jumped up and beaned him right in the forehead.

Maybe it hurt a little, maybe he had too much sugary cereal that morning, but instead of calling me a turd and threatening to tell, Jimmy screamed, put his head down and tackled me. He caught me right at the waist and drove me back against the wall, and then right through it.

It turned out the wall separating our attic from the one next door was nothing but particle board, and the combination of age, water damage, and the shoddy workmanship that dad was always complaining about had weakened it. When the dust cleared and we sat up from where we had landed, we were in our next door neighbor Mrs. Pulaski’s attic. And there were what seemed like hundreds of eyes looking at us.

“Josh, what the fuck,” Jimmy said, and scooted over next to me. Usually I would have reminded him not to say that, mostly because if he said it when we were alone there was a better chance of it slipping out around our parents, but if ever there was a what the fuck moment, this was it.

It was dark in Mrs. Pulaski’s attic, same as ours. We were surrounded by what looked like dozens and dozens of little kids standing perfectly still, their eyes wide open. We finally climbed to our feet and approached the closest one, a girl in weird, old fashioned clothes. I got up the nerve to reach out and touch her, holding my breath the whole time. “It’s a doll,” I said, and started breathing again. “A lifesize doll.”

Jimmy laughed, even though it sounded more than a little fake, and poked her in the nose. “They’re just dolls,” he said, looking around. “Man, what is Mrs. Pulaski’s deal?” Mrs. Pulaski had been here when we moved in, but we didn’t really know her. She was about a hundred years old, and drove a giant, ancient car that dad called a classic and mom called a clunker. She mostly kept to herself, except to come out and yell when a ball hit her window. She always confiscated the ball. She probably had a pretty good collection by now.

Yes, we should have quietly left Mrs. Pulaski’s attic and gone back home. I knew we didn’t belong there. It should come as no surprise that we did not. Now that we knew that they were just oversized dolls, we started checking them out. They were dressed as cowboys and pilgrims, as princesses and storybook characters, as kids from different countries and different time periods. They looked very old. I was fascinated, spending long minutes staring into the glass eyes of each one, feeling their dusty clothes. Jimmy soon went off on his own.

“Josh! Josh! Holy shit, Josh, come’ere!” Jimmy was calling me in a strangled whisper from the other side of the attic. He was backed into a corner, hard against the rafters, pointing at something laying on the floor.

Jimmy had found the missing boy and girl. Their hair was neatly combed, but their skin looked weird, like it was pulled too tight. Mrs. Pulaski had dressed them like her dolls, in old, ragged clothes. She had sewn their mouths shut. She had stitched their eyes open.

Jimmy fell over crying, face against the dirty floor. Then his eyes seemed to open extra big, the tears stopped, and he pushed his ear hard against the plywood. He mouthed, listen, and waved for me to join him.

I didn’t hear anything at first, but when I repositioned my head, and did my best to settle my own heartbeat pounding in my ears, I heard her. Mrs. Pulaski. “Stop squirming, young man.”

“I have to go to the bathroom!” Gusty’s voice, through phlegmy tears. I glanced at Jimmy and I could tell he recognized the voice, too.

“Go ahead and piss yourself, you little brat. I’m not untying you. In a little while I’m going to give you some juice, won’t that be nice? And then you’ll go to sleep, and that will be that. Now sit there and shut up while I get everything ready.” I could hear Gusty sobbing through it all.

“We have to do something,” Jimmy said. He wasn’t crying any more. Now he looked mad as hell. Gusty was his friend. “Let’s call dad.”

“We can’t,” I said. “We’re not supposed to be up here, remember? We can’t call the police, either. They’ll wanna know how we know, and we’re breaking and entering right now. We need to rescue Gusty ourselves. We need an army or something.”

Jimmy stood up. “We have one. Come on.”

We hurried back into our own attic and back down the ladder. We left the apartment, even though we weren’t supposed to. We were on a mission. We went from door to door, every apartment where a kid lived. They were all tired of being cooped up, plus they knew Gusty, they played with him. They were ready for war. By the time we gathered in front of Mrs. Pulaski’s door, there were ten or fifteen of us, armed with baseball bats, golf clubs, even wooden sticks. Ellen Miller had a big wooden spoon.

I knocked on the door, then knocked again when she didn’t answer. Mrs. Pulaski finally pulled aside the curtain in the window and frowned at us, but when she opened up the door she was all smiles. “Yes, dear? What can I do for you?”

I was pissed off, and I was feeling brave thanks to the group of friends behind me. “Give us our friend back. Now.”

“I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about, dear. Why don’t you all run along now.” She was still smiling, but it looked like it was hard for her. She tried to shut the door, but I stuck my foot in.

“You took Gusty. Give him back to us, and he better not be hurt.” I heard a chorus of agreement behind me, some shouted yeahs.

I also heard police sirens in the distance, and I looked back at my friends. “I called the police,” Ellen said. “I figured we could use the help. That’s why I only had time to grab this.” She held up the spoon.

“Fuck off, you little brats!” Mrs. Pulaski screamed. That’s when we rushed the door.

It turned out the old lady was stronger than she looked. Five kids finally sat on her while she kicked and cussed at us. By the time the cops showed up most of the fight was out of her, and we had Gusty untied. After he told the police what happened (Mrs. Pulaski had lured him into her apartment with the promise of chocolate chip cookies), me and Jimmy did the same. I didn’t care any more about getting in trouble. I wanted them to know what we found in the attic. Those parents deserved to know what happened to their kids.

All of the balls Mrs. Pulaski had taken were in a basket by the door. We took them on our way out.


Me Savoring a Thirty-Year-Old

Joseph P. Garland (@JPGarlandAuthor)

Free Drink Glass photo and picture
Image by IGOR STADNYK from Pixabay

The party was going on far longer than I prefer but it was a special occasion and my mother loved special occasions, particularly when it involved a birthday she let everyone know had a 0 at the end. Still, I always had the freedom to wander off on my own to get away from the crowd of well-wishers and hangers-on. The estate was mine, my father having died fifteen years before with my mother having her own set of rooms in the wing to the west as well as the condo overlooking Central Park.

So there I was, walking into the fine den that had been my father’s and his father’s before him and is now mine. A little masculine, I thought, but I feared any major changes would bleed out the favor of the place. The stuffed trophy heads were gone, but it was my father who had seen to that.

The furniture was dark and old and well out of fashion, as were the burgundy window treatments and shelf after shelf of books that other than the periodic dusting of their spines I don’t think had received any attention in a decade or more. They were worth a pretty penny, or at least had been when people lined their McMansions with mock literacy, but those days were long gone and I expected that the Dickenses and Austens and Woolfs (Virginia and Thomas) and even some first edition Joyces would end up in a dumpster until those of their words that were not consumed by worms would float into the sky in droplets of ash.

It had such a close connection with my grandfather and father, and myself running around and being told to behave myself, that it was the one room I couldn’t bring myself to update, though I kept telling myself it needed doing.

I wasn’t there for the book, though. Over near the ancient mahogany desk was a matching sidetable and on that table several decanters were assembled. These were the one thing in the room that attracted me on evenings when the house was chock-a-block with guests mingling after a first class meal and even better wines, in weather like tonight’s out on the patio overlooking the woods that surrounded the house and that offered a view to the Sound.

That weather was crystal clear, the sort of late September day with the afternoon’s heat replaced by breezes and the sky offering enough stars for everyone to make two or even three wishes upon them.

I lifted the decanter on the left. It was an Irish crystal and part of a set I bought to replace the lead-laced ones that had long been there. It contained a thirty-year-old single malt from the Scottish highlands, an almost auburn tint to it.

I poured a thumb’s worth of the amazing stuff into my tumbler and restored the stopper. Twirling it lightly in my hand I stepped to the tall, pair of windows that opened onto the patio where I savored my first burning sip. The party had moved to the open space, paved in brick and surrounded by a low wall of a matching stone. Guests were sitting in pairs on the wall or standing in clusters of twos or threes. One or two saw me and I saluted them with my glass.

Suddenly I was taken back to another evening thirty years earlier. It was another party. My father’s forty-fifth. It too was formal, so I wore a tux and then, as now, at some point I escaped to the solitude of the den. And there was a thirty-year-old whisky in that old decanter and I’d done pretty much the same thing with it then, pouring and carrying and savoring at the open French doors.

What was different was the weather. It was late spring, but one of those unseasonably chilly, overcast ones in southwestern Connecticut. Clouds had rolled in and there was a bit of a mist. I could barely see the line of trees, shorter back then, that defined the far end of the lawn.

So the party had not adjourned to the patio. It settled into the living room and the foyer, a cacophony of talking and laughing and alcohol flowing freely, though I’d blotted that out when I closed the door.

My solitude at the window was interrupted, though, when I heard voices approaching from the left. There was only the one light on in the den, but I didn’t want to be thought to be eavesdropping so I backed away. Which, of course, only enhanced my opportunity to eavesdrop.

It was Tom Richards and Mike Jones. In four weeks, Tom would become my brother-in-law. Mike was his best friend from high school. I didn’t particularly like either of them but seeing as I was marrying Tom’s sister Abigail in less than a month, I did my best to be sociable with him, which explains why he and his friend were at my father’s forty-fifth.

I was about to leave with my secret potion to rejoin Abigail when I heard Mike say something about “your sister.”

Wrong as I knew it was, I remained hidden in the shadows and leaned closer.

Tom had two sisters, both younger, but it was quickly clear who Mike meant.

“He’s a bit of an idiot,” Tom said, his words somewhat slurred from a combination of the quality and the quantity of wine he’d consumed. “You know I asked Abby about having a pre-nup. I figured, you know, that all rich assholes want a pre-nup.”

“Yeah. I’d want one if I were a rich asshole,” Mike said.

“But would you sign one if your rich fiancée insisted?”

“I’ll cross that bridge when I get to a rich fiancée,” Mike said, and they both laughed.

“Anyways, I asked Abby about it, and she said he never asked for one.”

“Did she say she’d sign one?”

“That’s just it, she said he never brought it up but that if he did, she’d sign it without a question.”

You should understand that Abby and her family were not particularly well off. She grew up in the far less affluent northern part of Greenwich.

“He is a fucking idiot,” Mike said. “She cheats on him and she still gets half if he dumps here?”

“Don’t know about the half. But she’ll get plenty and will be sitting on a yacht in Greenwich Harbor or Bar Harbor and me, being her favorite brother, will be there too.”

“He must really love her, allowing himself to be taken to the cleaners if it breaks down. I admit that I never thought her much of a catch. Too brainy and independent for me but I’d take a run at her if she were a gay, rich divorcee.”

Tom laughed. “Yes, you are a certifiable asshole.”

The two were sitting on a stone bench that abutted the house and looked out to the foggy lawn and tree line.

Mike said, “I need a refill.”

“Just give it a minute. It’s nice here. Let’s enjoy it.”

I listened, my heart pounding. My lawyer suggested it, but I shot him down. Perhaps I was a fucking idiot after all. But not much I could do about it now, not with the hundreds of thousands spent on the wedding.

I took the final bit of the single malt, holding the glass tightly as I waited. I couldn’t leave since opening the door would expose my presence. And I did feel like a schmuck for continuing to listen, hoping there wasn’t anything more they say and would instead be going off on the Yankees or the Giants or whatever sports team they were interested in.

Finally, Tom stood. “I’m done. Let’s go back. But I’m afraid we might have to crash here.”

“Here?” Mike asked. “We’re barely guests. We’ll just bum a ride from someone who’s sober.”

With that, they moved away from the window went back inside. I got myself a bit more of the Scotch and went back to the window.

Maybe I should ask her. He said she’d do it.

As these memories of that long ago evening flooded over me, there was a knock and the door slowly opened.

“Are you in here, honey? Your mom’s looking for you.”

When she saw me, she took the glass from my hand. “You’ve had enough for the evening, don’t you think?”

I did think, and I gave her a kiss on her forehead.

“You are too good for me.”

“Then you are too gooder for me.” She raised herself on her toes and gave my lips a peck.

“Ah, you and that thirty year old.” Her fingers drifted down my cheek. “Scotch I mean.”

“You really are too good for me.”

She stepped back and after putting my glass down on a sidetable, she reached for my hand. “We can do this all night, but your mother wants to see you before she turns in. She’s not as young as she used to be and she’s beginning to fade.”

She put her arm through mine to lead me out.

“What were you thinking about while you were here?”

“I was just remembering eavesdropping on you brother and that friend of his. About a month before we got married.”

“Mike? Oh I never did like that guy. A bit too handsy for my taste and Tommy sometimes encouraged him more than I liked. Do you know he’s on his third marriage?”

“I did not know that.”

“Keep that between ourselves. Tommy still sees him now and then.”

As we reached the door, she stopped.

Looking back into the den, she said, “Do you think it’s about time we brought this room into the twenty-first century? It could be really nice.”

I looked back.

“Yeah. It might be time.”

And with that we were through the door and heading to the foyer where my mother was somewhat wearily holding court and waiting for her son to escort her to her room.

June Team Showcase

Marian L Thorpe‘s eighth and final book in her historically inspired speculative fiction series Empire’s LegacyEmpire’s Passing, is out in paperback and as an ebook. (Empire’s Daughter is the first part.) She has numerous titles available; they can be found at her aptly-named website, MarianLThorpe.com  or at Books2Read. Marian’s short story On Shining Wings is included in the anthology Historical Stories of Exilepublished by Taw River Press.

Renée Gendron‘s Frontier Hearts is a Western historical romance set in the late 1800s in the District of Alberta, Canada. The series follows a variety of romantic leads as they arrive and thrive in Prosper, Alberta. Each book involves a different romantic pair, a mystery, and plenty of historical details to take you back in time to the Canadian Western frontier. Jaded HeartsGolden HeartsSilver Hearts

The Nearer Realm Tales is an epic fantasy romance series that combines humour, mystery, adventure, and romance. Each book features a strong cast with many recurring characters.  A Gift of Stars: Book 1 The Nearer Realm Tales is available for pre-order on Amazon.

Renée’s Heartened by Sport is a series of humorous amateur sports romances. Each novella features a new setting, sport, and romantic dynamic: Seven Points of ContactTwo Hearts on the Backspin:  Three Volleys to Love.

David M. Simon has published The Wild Hunt: Novella 2 of The Wild Hearts and Hunts Duology (Part 1 is Renée Gedron’s Ninth Star) as well as Trapped in Lunch Lady Land, a middle-grade fantasy adventure.

Louise Sorensen has contributed to numerous anthologies that are available on Amazon, and is the co-author, with Misha Burnett, of Duel Visions.

Joseph P. Garland, as J.P. Garland, has done some editing and republished his romance Coming to Terms. Several excerpts from the book have been included in prior issues of the review. His Becoming Catherine Bennet is available on KU and also on Audible.com.  (First Chapters.) He has also adapted his AMBR submission of a few months back involving Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy entitled “Mr. Darcy’s Regrets” from June 2023 into a novella entitled The Omen at Rosings Park, also available on Kindle Unlimited and as an Audiobook on Audible.com. He has also started a newsletter and those interested in getting on the mailing list can contact him at JPGarlandAuthor@DermodyHouse.com. He has also published the pieces from AMBR in something called A Compilation.