Congratulations to the Maryland Writers Association for organizing an excellent annual conference, March 23rd and 24th. About 150 people are hearing speakers and participating in workshops, all excellent.
Maria de Tounens
In 1641 the Spanish monarchy signed a peace treaty with the Mapuche Nation that inhabited territory of what today is Chile and Argentina. Almost continuous conflict between the Spanish and the Mapuche had drained the coffers of the European nation with no positive results. After this treaty, the Mapuche became the first independent nation in the Western Hemisphere. An uneasy peace followed, with frequent violations of the treaty by both parties.
In 1860 the Mapuche nation headed by the troika of Lonkos Kilapan of Gulumapu, Kalfucura of Puelmapu, and Orélie-Antoine de Tounens (French born naturalized Mapuche), established a constitutional monarchy on their lands in the Southern Cone of South America. The response by Chile and Argentina was to declare war on the newly created monarchy that resulted in the defeat of the Mapuche, the destruction of the monarchy and the annexation of the land by these two nations.
Ahead of the persecution that would follow, all functionaries of the monarchy fled. Maria’s family relocated in Cochabamba, Bolivia.
Maria had been raised in a middle-class family, as her father was a dentist and her mother a teacher. Upon learning of her ancestry, she became a firebrand for Native American rights. As part of these process she changed her name from Maria Bravo to Maria de Tounens. Eventually she moved to Uruguay and answered a job offering for the Company in which Francisco Gallo worked.
She would always remember the job interview with Francisco. She had dressed rather exotically. She wore a long flowing blouse that she had gotten from a trip to Otavalo, Ecuador, brushed leather pants with fringes and moccasins. The attire was a combination of pieces that she had picked up in her travels while a good will ambassador for Native Americans. The moccasins had been given to her by the San Carlos Apache tribe of New Mexico.
Francisco had been intrigued with Maria’s application and did not bat an eye when he gave her access at the lobby of the building. He did notice her long slim body and her chiseled facial features. Notwithstanding her attire, she could have been a light-skin Ethiopian model.
When they arrived at the conference room where the interview had been scheduled, Francisco inquired, “What would you like to drink?”
Sitting down Maria chose, “I would like water with gas, I mean ‘club soda’, please.”
Francisco opened a refrigerator in the back of the room and served Maria the water. He then sat down, reviewed her credentials and asked some questions related to Maria’s work with causes. He then unexpectedly reverted to English and asked her, “What of value can you offer us if we hire you?”
Without hesitation Maria responded in clear and slightly accented English, “I am a self-starter, work independently and I am stubborn as hell, I always get the work done.”
Francisco then asked her, “I see that while you appear to have some knowledge of computers, you don’t have any formal training for the position that you are interviewing for. Why should we hire you?”
Maria looked him in the eyes and responded, “I have a logical mind and have found any challenges I had regarding informational technology easy to overcome. I can guarantee that I will be your best assistant in less than six months”.
Her prediction was too conservative. In three months she had become indispensable in the office.
“Oh, no,” I thought, “the trunk lid’s partly open.
My wife, Beatrice, and I had driven in my new Honda, with its electronic gadgetry, to a Latino book fair in Alexandria, Virginia. It was in a school in a so-so area, a little west of the city’s famous Olde Towne. She had left her purse in the trunk. I had just picked up our income tax return, and it were there also.
We spent, perhaps, two hours in the building looking at books and hearing authors present them. There was also food as well as music and dance performances. We were happy when we went outside, but, “Oh, no.”
I hurried to the car and lifted the trunk lid with trepidation. Miraculously, Bea’s purse and our papers were intact. Not a thing was missing.
“Maybe we didn’t close it well,” I thought, but the same thing happened again, in a restaurant in Gaithersburg. As before, Bea’s purse was in the trunk and, as before, it was untouched. “I have to take this car to the dealer,” I said, but I procrastinated.
Not long thereafter, we took friends to Great Falls National Park and decided to go for a short walk. Bea left her purse on the floor in the front seat, but the doors would not lock. I clicked to close them, and they clicked to open again. Finally, it occurred to us: Bea’s key to the car was in her purse. You can’t lock that car with a key to it inside; It won’t let you.
Too much technology is too much for me. I can’t live without it, but I have to start learning from experience a whole lot faster.
No light at the end of the tunnel
He ran down the cylindrical tunnel, there were doors alternating each side every 20 yards or so. As he reached the doors, discovered that they were painted on the side of the tunnel, he could not find a way out. Miguel woke up sweating and with his left arm and shoulder dumb, from the posture of his sleep.
The attack on Dionisio the day before had been a wakeup call. There were too many unanswered questions with the incident. His subconscious was telling him that there were dangerous days ahead. He decided to confront Dionisio that same day. It was only six in the morning, he would get ready, have a cup of coffee and wait for Dionisio to wake up.
Miguel was pleasantly surprised when he entered the kitchen and found Dionisio there already having a cup of coffee. He had gotten out of bed, made coffee and was waiting for him, maybe. He appeared to be wearing his night clothes and had a resolute look in his face.
As Miguel made his presence obvious with a – “Good morning Dio, kind of early for you?”
Dionisio lifted his face and without even a smile said, — “Good morning (he still has not figured out how to address Miguel), I have something to tell you.”
As Miguel looked expectantly, Dio continued, — “The mugging is not a single case, I have been having problems with this gang for a while. Seems that this time they were ready to kill me.”
As Miguel got a cup of coffee and sat down, Dio added more.
“Some months ago, I was asked a favor by Vanesa, a person I knew. I didn’t know her well enough, so I didn’t know she was heavily involved with the MS13 gang. I knew her casually from high school, she was the kind of girl that was above my league, so I had admired her from a distance.”
“I was at the Roy Rogers and I had just noticed her and had waived, when two policemen, probably in their lunch break came in the door. She immediately approached me, sat at my table and while she slipped a small package into my backpack, deposited her food bag on the table. She started talking as if we had been together all along. I had to admire her skills, but at the same time should have realized the kind of deceit in her.”
“After the cops got their order and left to sit outside, she finished her food and waited for the cop cars to drive off. She told me that she owed me one and would put in a good word for me. She then retrieved the package from my backpack and with a radiant smile and a bat of her long eyelashes, she left.”
Dio then stopped and looked at Miguel expecting questions, when none came he continued, “About one week later, a guy that looked like he was the poster child for Central American gangs, approached while I was sitting on the sideline of a pickup soccer game at the Centerway Park. He told me that he had gotten really good recommendations about me, and that I could be made very happy in his outfit.”
“I must have looked at him as if he was speaking Greek to me, because he clarified his words. He told me that he was in the MS13, gang ‘the only and the original’ and that he could get me in the gang. He said Vanesa had spoken well about me and that I could be a person to be trusted.”
“He then told me that since I looked like a “good American boy”, the MS13 could use me for some jobs were stealth was necessary. Yea, I was surprised he used stealth, I had to look it up.”
Please note: This is a first, stream of consciousness draft. Please comment on content, not grammar. I will have this edited later.
Dio gets carless
Dio woke up that morning with new hope. His talk with Miguel had revamped his decision to turn a new leaf and maybe restart his college plans. He decided to walk to the county library to do some research on classes at the local community college.
He decided to take the short cut to the library. It would take him through the park that surrounded the artificial lake that was the crown jewel of the neighborhood. He used this short cut often, even when it was not a true shorter way.
As he crowned the top of a hill and started to descent into the lake shore, he noticed a young man leaning against a fence that separated the trail from the lake and was probably built to prevent bike riders from going into the lake.
As he approached the young man he noticed him to be slight and probably Latino. Knowing that as a more corpulent person he could hold his own, he approached.
The young man, in a casual way addressed him, – “Hey man, do you have some change?”.
Dio stopped and as he started looking in his pockets for some lose change, he looked away for a second. He felt the thud of the punch on the left side of his face just above the eye. The pain was followed by starts and he lost consciousness.
Miguel was wondering why Dio had not been at the house when he woke up. Dio had shown gratitude at being able to stay, and had listened to Miguel’s remarks about the need to think of his future.
When his portable phone buzzed late in the afternoon, he was tempted to ignore it. However, he answered cautiously – “What can I do for you?”
“This is nurse Neela from the Holy Cross Hospital in Germantown. Mr. Dionisio Serga asked me to contact you regarding a crime he was a victim of this morning. First let me tell you that he is OK, he needed some stitches and we have given him a prescription for pain pills. He is a little groggy as he has already been medicated.”
Miguel thought about what he has just learned and after a few seconds asked, – “If you don’t’ mind telling me, why are you calling me?’
A little taken by surprised the nurse responded, – “He has given us your name and phone number as the person to contact. While he appears to be fine, the hospital would rather he goes home. Apparently, he doesn’t have insurance and we have to exhaust all avenues to have him discharged, as we need the beds.”
For paying patients. Thought Miguel.
“Sure, I will pick him up. Were the police informed?”
“Yes, they were also here and talked to him, but he didn’t have much to say about the incident. They asked him where he lived and he said he was homeless.”
“Can you tell me anything else?”
“He was assaulted at Lake Whetstone by two men. Fortunately, a neighbor walking his dog came upon the scene and the muggers took off running. He called an ambulance and he was bought here.”
Miguel appreciated the presence of mind of Dio not revealing where he was staying and made arrangements to pick him up.
More than a mugging?
It was starting to get dark when Miguel got in his car to pick up Dio at the hospital. He was using a ten-year-old Toyota Celica that gave him the profile he wanted, minimal.
As he drove the five miles to the hospital he tried to organize his thoughts. It wasn’t like him to be caught off guard with a situation like this. But again, how can one plan for the unexpected? Maybe setting up levels of awareness would help, what does that really mean? He thought.
As agreed Dio was waiting at the emergency entrance sitting on a wheel chair. A bored orderly smiled when he saw Miguel’s plain vanilla car and mentally kissed a good tip goodbye.
Miguel stopped, got out of the car and approached the duo and said to Dio as he helped him get into the passenger seat, “Wow, that is some bandage, you look like you had major brain surgery”.
Dio looked at him with a dazed stare and did not appear to understand the attempted humor by Miguel. Then smiled and said, “You should see the other guy.”
Defying stereotypes, Miguel produced a five-dollar bill and gave it to the orderly who tried not very strongly to not accept it. Upon the former’s insistence, the orderly pocketed the fin and decided that he would follow his father’s advice to be more optimistic about human nature.
As Miguel pulled away from the curb he asked Dio, “So, how bad is it? It is difficult to tell with all that gauze on it.”
Dio took out his phone and after some swiping he waited for a light to show the selfie he had taken just before they had glued the wound.
“That doesn’t look like a normal punch to me, I bet the guy was using brass knuckles.” Remarked Miguel as he drove off.
Dio thought for a while and responded, “All I know is that I felt like someone had scrambled my brains with a baseball bat, I was out cold and remembered only when I was being put into the ambulance.”
Miguel thought, this I not a mugging, they wanted to harm badly or kill him. I have to find out what is behind this.
Dio was starting to wrestle on whether he should come clean. This M13 shit is not going away, he thought.
By Ellie Yambrach,
I sat by the maple tree and took off my back pack. I pulled out a blanket, set it out on the grass, and lay down. Gazing at the sky my eyelids grew heavy; I drifted.
Solitude and peace.
Then came the words, angry and furious.
“How could you?”
“Why would you do that?”
“You spent it all?”
“You’re so selfish!”
He was angry at me. SO angry. And I did not have answers.
My consciousness stirred, the argument faded. A cool breeze pulled me out of the turbulence. My eyes opened; the dread from the dream stayed with me.
I tried to shake the feeling. This was to be a good day. We were having good days. I wasn’t going to let a dream ruin the celebration I had planned.
I checked the time. He was going to arrive soon. I told him it was a surprise. I gave him specific directions where to find me at the park.
I unzipped the other side of the backpack. One by one, I pulled out the delicacies he liked. Brie cheese, a French baguette, Greek olives, an assortment of charcuterie, a bottle of pinot noir, two wine glasses and two of the most beautiful Gala apples I could find. This was to be a celebration.
I reached into the bag one more time to be sure I had everything. My fingers touched a piece of paper. I grabbed hold of it. My eyes recognized it immediately; my dream was predicting a disastrous event.
Or replaying it.
Between my fingers was a baseball ticket. The date June 28, 2009. This same day, eight years ago, his birthday.
We had been going through a rough patch, arguing about everything; work, family, household chores. Mostly we argued about money, because we had so little. But, he loved baseball and I wanted to make everything better by taking him to the game for his birthday. I checked out our account. We had enough. I bought the tickets; seats a few rows right behind home base. He was going to be so surprised!
But when I met him at the Metro and told him where we were going he became upset. He asked what the tickets cost and how I got the money.
Then he revealed to me that he had been putting the money aside to take me on a long weekend for my birthday next month. It was so sweet what he had planned!
But he was mad. So mad that I had spent the money first! Now, he didn’t know what to do for my birthday.
He complained that I spent money on an event that would take an afternoon, whereas his plans were for us to spend a long weekend together. I explained that I wanted something special for him just as he wanted something special for me.
But he wouldn’t give it up, and that made me furious.
By the time we got to the stadium, we were both enraged.
At the entrance I handed him his ticket. He looked at it with a disdainful smirk.
“Fine!” I said.
I ripped my ticket to shreds.
“I don’t’ want to go. You don’t appreciate what I do for you.”
He placed his ticket back in my hand.
“Neither of us will go then.”
He walked away.
I imagined an afternoon of cheering and holding hands and sitting with his arm around me. Now, with his back to me, he strode around the corner, alone.
I didn’t go after him.
I shoved the ticket into my backpack, and walked in the opposite direction.
For a long time we didn’t talk. But when we did, we realized we wanted to give each other something special from the little we had. The incident deepened our love and understanding of each other.
A cool powerful wind swept up and blew around me in circles bringing my thoughts back to the day; this day.
My heart filled at the sight of him making his way towards me. I had news.
Between my fingers was an unpleasant reminder. I raised my hand and released the ticket and let it flutter away in a current of air.
In a Maryland suburb of Washington, DC
Miguel’s home in Maryland was in a planned community about 30 miles from the DC line and had been built in the late 1960s. He chose it for its anonymity and privacy. It was a small one floor detached house with a zero-lot line on one side. It had an eight-foot wall that surrounded the building and yard and it was almost impossible to be viewed from outside. A mail slot on the door hid the fact that mail could be accumulating inside and Miguel’s frequent visits kept the house clean and anonymous.
This development was favored by transient people that rented or retired people that were away for months during the year. The fact that he was seldom there was not unusual.
He also paid a young man to keep the outside trim and anonymous. In the three years that he had owned the house, everything had gone well and there wasn’t anything to make the house unusual.
When Miguel arrived unexpectedly at around 2:00 AM, he set in motion a series of events that threatened his secret existence.
Miguel used his remote garage opener and rode his vehicle in. He entered the house proper through a common door. As he deactivated his security system and turned around, he was confronted by a young man holding a baseball bat in a defensive posture. Apparently, the young man that he had paid to keep the outside of the house in good shape had figured out that Miguel was seldom in it and had moved in, expecting to time his exit to sync with Miguel’s next regular trip.
As Miguel calmly assessed the situation he recognized Dionisio Serga, the young man that had been maintaining the outside of his house and made a guess of why he was there. Dionisio had also recognized him and was probably also thinking how to explain his trespasses, as he lowered the bat.
Miguel waited until both he and Dionisio had taken a deep breath and then he asked: “How would you like a cup of coffee?”
“Uh…, no thanks”
Miguel proceeded to the kitchen and remarked:
“Well, I definitely could use one”
Dionisio followed Miguel into the kitchen and sat at the breakfast table and quietly observed coffee been made.
While waiting for the brew, Miguel joined Dionisio at the dinette and asked him: – “How do you think we should resolve this situation?”
Surprised, Dionisio took a few minutes to formulate an answer – “First let me tell you why I was crashing in your house. My mom remarried about one year ago and I don’t like my stepfather and he doesn’t like me either. He finally gave my mom and ultimatum that it was either him or me.”
“I didn’t give my mom a chance to choose and told her that I would leave. She seemed relieved by my decision. I went to live with a friend, but his girlfriend just moved in also and the place is very small. I had figured out that you only come about every six weeks and decided to move in instead of living on the street or a shelter. The money I earn is not enough for me to get a half way decent room. As you can see, I have kept the place extremely clean and no one knows I am staying here. I come in late at night and leave through the back gate after most people have left for work.”
Miguel had hoped for this type of answer from the boy. He liked the fact that he hadn’t tried to deny fault and that he appeared sincere. He also noticed that the home was impeccable, as if no one lived in it.
He got up and asked Dionisio to go back to sleep and promised that they would come up with a solution the next morning. The boy appeared grateful that he wasn’t going to spend the night outside. Miguel was also thankful that Dionisio had used the extra bedroom and not his. It kind of told him that he was not intent of just taking advantage of him.
The trip to the Middle
On the morning of the trip Jon A again questioned himself whether his trip to the Middle was such a good idea. The last few days spent with Fernanda A had a lot to do with his reluctance. While she knew and she had promised that she would be waiting for him. Leaving was still very hard.
With thoughts of “this is a small sacrifice….” He got himself ready and walked to the “footer” that would transport him to the mag station. Besides the clothes on his back, he carried a small book size bag with his papers, communicator and an energy dehi in case he got hungry. He had been told that his luggage and equipment would be waiting for him at the transition area.
The abrupt notification that he had reached his destination almost made him lose hold of the footer handles. Of course, there was very little to worry about since the safety net would have caught him, with probably a little laughter and good intended ridicule from his fellow riders.
At his arrival, he followed the crowd to the terminal. A syn-Porter at the door eyed each person and pointed to the door for each passenger to go. His completely natural voice reinforced his directive, “Jon A, good morning professor, door three please.” Three appeared to be his lucky number. He knew that as an approved visitor of the middle, he would be placed in the first train to depart. Reminding travelers of the benefits of his current place residence was another way of trying to improve the chances that he would return.
After making himself comfortable in his seat he looked around. He saw several other persons that would probably be travelling with him to the Middle. They all looked excited and a little apprehensive. The nearest person to him, a middle-aged woman, smiled and inquired, “What is it that you wish to find in the Middle?”. Jon A liked the direct approach and the smiley face and bright intelligent eyes of his travel companion.
“I am Jon A, I am interested in the past and believe that my trip will improve my teaching. I think seeing the past as the present will also be very interesting and an experience of a life time. By the way, I throw the same question to you.”
“I am Bella TA and I am coming back to the Middle. I was fascinated by some of the people and way of life in the Middle. I am an Anthropologist by profession and work for the government.” The two initials after her name indicated that she had been born on land and had moved to one of the sea colonies. This was unusual as most people wanted to stay and/or live on land.
After a few seconds, Jon A asked, “Is this a work trip then?”
She shook her head and remarked, “No I am doing this as part of a personal project, I want to write a book comparing our form of life and the life in the Middle. I know that this is a very challenging task, but I don’t think my approach has been used before.”
Putting his academic hat on Jon A asked, “What do you think is the most blaring difference between the two modes of life?”.
Bella TA thought for a few seconds and responded, “To me the fact that a significant number of people rather live a life of variable potential is fascinating. We in the World know what our lives are and will be, and find that very comforting, they reject that premise. What makes a person like that?”
This simple statement made Jon A think. What were his real reasons for his trip?
The thought of absence makes the heart fonder
Jon A received a very fast authorization to travel to the Middle. Included were instructions on how to update his self-chip to receive new and more protective features. He was also guided to the relocation center where the work would be done.
The relocation center was only a few minutes away from his place of work. After teaching his classes that some time ended with spontaneous applause, alas not this time, he walked to the nearest “footer” station. He made a smooth transition into the continuous travel belt, inserting his foot easily into the stirrup. He remembered how when he was young he overthought this process and was always afraid of falling. He arrived at the relocation center in less than 10 minutes. While walking had been an option, he had done an extra 30 minutes of exercise that morning and after standing on his feet for three hours teaching he was a little tired.
As he entered the center he saw that additional finger stations had been put into operation. There were now five as well as a “manual” booth at the end for those that needed special assistance. For symmetry, he chose the middle one and inserted his index finger in the reader. This action coupled with the simultaneous reading of his self-chip by surrounding sensors prompted a response, “Jon A. Frisco, please proceed to door number three (again the middle door), please take your token”. A small disk the size of a dollar coin was ejected from a rectangular opening just below the reader and Jon A took it. The disk contained hash information that would key the type of process and materials that Jon A would need for his trip and stay in the Middle.
Upon opening the assigned door, Jon A inserted the disk in the front of the Human Services Combine or “hiss” as was commonly referred. A feminine voice instructed, “Please disrobe and place your feet in the marks on the floor”. Jon A looked down and saw a projected image of feet and stood on it. Jon A complied and removed his one piece garment.
He was also advised, “Please lower the harness and locate it on your shoulders, be sure to insert your head in the loop, your arms must hang loosely and straight down your torso.” After a few seconds, he was admonished “Please rotate your pelvis forward, so that your arms hang more naturally”. After this final instruction, the machine appeared to be satisfied and asked Jon A to breath normally.
What followed was a choreographed performance worthy of a ballet. He was given three air injections, a sensor searched and found his self-chip and updated it and several images to be used for his travelling and identifying documents were taken. With a very soft touch an instrument prodded his body, obtained and recorded his vital signs: temperature, blood pressure, height, weight and body mass index. The government was always collecting data, but especially from people travelling to the Middle. The data collected now would be compared with that collected upon his return.
Not giving Jon a chance to feel uncomfortable, the whole process ended in less than three minutes. Jon A was further asked, “Please get dressed and place your communicator in the spot marked by the blue light, we will update your data bases, add others and upload your travel authorization documents, transportation tickets and schedules. You will find other physical needs in the basket near the exit door, make sure you compare the inventory with the actual objects to make sure you have everything. If there is a discrepancy, we will resolve it immediately. Please make sure to retrieve your communicator and to gather the rest of the items before you leave the room.” After a few seconds the voice returned, “your communicator is now ready, please fetch it. Thank you for your patience.”
With a smile of satisfaction for having completed all his pre-trip tasks, Jon A started to think how he was going to approach the most enjoyable part of his days before the trip.
He was scheduled to take the mag to Terra only two weeks after the Reply. Time flew as it does when a trip is eminent. Jon A decided to spend as much time as possible with his pair. They have selected to pair with each other through a very long process and as was the norm, she was everything he would have wished. He had been given assurances by her that he was also what she ever wished for.
As he entered the manifold to the podhive she lived in, he started thinking of the little time that he would have with her and how to best use it.
He inserted his finger in the finder and his image appeared in her communicator. She immediately activated the access button for him to be able to enter her pod.
She was at the door to greet him, “Hello love, I really want to give you a send off that you will not forget.” She held him tight and presented her lips for him to kiss.
“Fernanda A, it has been so long or seemed so long”. They had actually seen each other less than two days before.
She was dressed in his favorite attire. Al low cut blouse tied pirate style just below hear firm bust, courtesan pants and no shoes. The outfit really framed her strong athletic body and her voluptuous derriere. Her hair was up showing off her picaresque profile.
As he entered the public part of the pod he noticed that she had been busy setting up a feast. He first saw the oysters on the half shell and the salty lemonade that he liked so much. Small bowls with minced ginger, finely cut onions, Siracha sauce, lemon quarters and everything else that a raw oyster eater would have dreamed. He knew that after the sumptuous appetizer, there would be a very blue piece of prime rib to enjoy with horse radish sauce. She had gone all out and probably had made a dent in her exotic food budget, especially considering the delicacies that she had and intended to serve.
He hugged again and expressed his joy, “Wow, this is out of this world, and a prelude to what I think one of the most wonderful nights of my life.”
She blushed and her eyes sparkled with anticipation. Reminded him of the lyrics of the old Bob Dylan song,
She wears an Egyptian ring that sparkles before she speaks.
Fernanda A did not need a ring. This scenario was to be repeated in the days before his trip.
At first, we heard the noise, then we saw the stampede of horses only 100 yards away filling the road and shoulders of the narrow canyon. I grabbed my little brother’s arm and scampered up the steep hill to try to get away.