Monday, February 28, 2011

CHAPTER EIGHT: "Jesús is Definitely NOT a Family Man!"

It was almost eight o'clock that night when they arrived at the Beach Rose. They signed in and climbed the narrow staircase to their tiny room in the back of the house. They peeled back the chenille coverlet off the double bed and made love on top of the blanket, before they were fully undressed. When they finally opened the bed, they made love again, in between the lavender-fragranced sheets.

They stayed up most of the night. They made love six times. Or maybe seven. Ronda lost track. About six o'clock in the morning, as the sky outside the window started to turn light grey, she sat up and told him she was starving. When they got up, she noticed that her face was chafed pink.

"I think you really ought to have a little mercy on me and shave," she said, running her fingers along the edge of his jaw. "I never saw a man grow a beard so fast."

She left the bed and stepped into the claw foot tub in the bathroom.

She closed the clear curtain around her. He pulled the curtain open slightly. He reached inside and placed two fingers on her face. "You are beautiful you know. En español, guapa."

"Guapa?" Ronda shivered. "Ooh, what an ugly word. Call me something prettier than that, will you?"

He thought for a moment. "How about bellísima?" Before she could answer, though, he stepped inside the shower and pulled her against his chest.

He cupped his hands beneath her breasts and tipped his face forward and sipped the water that pooled there. Then he ran his hands up and down her hips and cradled his fingers inside her. She leaned backward and he kissed her throat.

They made love again, lying wet on the shaggy cotton rug on the floor.

On Sunday, about one o'clock in the afternoon, they left the Beach Rose and drove to Truro to the dunes. It was warm but not too warm. The waves were calm, and the spring sunshine played on the lime green sea. The sky, as they lay side by side on a blanket in the sand, was the clear light blue of a jewel.

Neither spoke. There was nothing to say. She kept closing her eyes, seeing the way they had been an hour before, her lying on top of him. She smiled. She drifted asleep and woke up some vague time later, tasting the salt in the wind. Shifting up onto one elbow, she studied him.

His deeply set eyes. The sharp arc of his nose. His lips were slightly parted and now leaning over, she kissed them. Then she gently kissed each lid. When he still didn't respond, she placed the back of her hand against his jaw.

"Jesús?" she whispered.

"What?" he said, slowly coming out of sleep. He looked up at her, squinting, and slipped his hand beneath her sweatshirt between her breasts.

She let his hand stay there, but brought the other one, the left hand, to her mouth. On the third finger of that hand, Jesús had taken to wearing a ring. A simple gold ring on his left hand. The first time she noticed it, they were in New York, in his studio. It was March, their second rendezvous.

Two weeks had passed since they made love for the first time in Boston. She was pleased to see the ring appear, because clearly it meant something; she decided that it packaged a feeling between the two of them.

But she also insisted on teasing him. That day in March, she accused him of having a wife back in Spain. A couple of kids. She did that again now.

"Ronda," he said, letting his eyes close again. He took a long slow breath through his nose.

"How many times do I have to tell you Ronda that I am a first-class lover, as you well know, but that I am definitely not a family man?"

She waited.

"I'm not looking for a family man," she said finally. "I don't need another mate. A marriage partner. It's enough for me if I have your heart." He didn't reply.
She smiled slyly.

"Oh, well. I suppose there are a few other parts I want too."

He opened his eyes and faced her. His look was unusually serious. Then he looked away, staring beyond her into the cool blue of the sky. "I just want things to be clear between us," he said, turning back to meet her eyes.

"Me too. So go ahead, make things clear."

He paused. "I love you. I want to be with you. That's it. That's everything."

"Yes, that is everything. I agree. See, we think the same way." She dropped to the blanket.

"I just can't help teasing you about that wedding ring, that's all."

"It's not a wedding ring. Don't call it that."

"Whatever." She squeezed his hand now and turned back to face the sea. She watched a wave coming into shore. She held her eyes on the wave, traced the green water as it swelled, crested, folded over, then dissolved into white foam on the sand.

"I cannot explain why, Jesús, but I keep seeing a cottage in my mind," she said a little later.

"It's a small white cottage. I think maybe it has a red tile roof. Anyway, it's painted such a bright white that when the sunlight hits it, it hurts my eyes. Out front it's got pink bougainvillea. And hot red geraniums planted in two long window boxes."

He sits straight up. His forehead is drawn into a crease. "Ronda, why would you be imagining such a thing?"

His tone is sharp and it makes her uneasy. "I...I don't know," she said. "I mean, it's just a daydream for heaven's sake. Oh God, Jesús, I'm sorry, I guess I just like to think of the two of us together. In that cottage. The two of us sharing the bedroom, which is painted a cool blue.

And there is a small kitchen with nothing but a table and two chairs and open shelves. And a living room stacked with piles of gigantic pillows. And one other room. The studio. It's lined on one side with full-length mirrors. You practice guitar on the low pine stool set in the corner facing the window. And I...well I guess I dance on the other side, the side near the line of mirrors."

He nodded but stayed silent. The crease eased into a frown. Finally he lay back down and shut his eyes tight.

"Are you all right?" she asked after a while.

"I'm fine," he said. He reached for her hand. Held it against his lips and then set it on his hip.

"Look, I'm sorry," she said after a while. "I didn't mean to, I didn't really mean anything by it. It's just a, a little fantasy of mine, that's all. I guess I like to think that there is a place where...where maybe someday we can be together."

She studied him but his eyes stayed closed. Suddenly, she could feel blood pumping through her limbs. Until this moment she had not allowed herself to think about the possibility of loss. About the chance that she could get hurt. Lose him. But now she saw how easily it could happen. Fear billowed up like wind, hovering like the grey and white seagulls coasting over the ocean.

Her eyes closed. He rolled onto his side and took her to his chest. Kissed her forehead.

"Querida. I want us to be together. You know that." He kissed her nose. His tone was back to normal. Gentle. Relaxed.

"I hope it isn't wrong of me, Jesús. I mean to daydream." She was speaking into his chest.

She smelled the cotton of his new sweatshirt, the one they had bought the night before when they ducked into a souvenir shop in Provincetown, to get out of a sudden driving rain. It was the only shirt that didn't boast gold embossed letters or anchors or lobster pots or coils of knotted rope or multi-colored fish or silvery piles of shells.

The smell of his sweatshirt was clean and comforting. And it was heavenly mixed with his citrus cologne.

"Of course it's not wrong," he said. He clasped her hands flat between his own. Clapped them together. "We've got to, both of us, we've got to dream. I mean we have the rest of our lives. And hopefully, we can find a way to spend them together."

He kissed her again. Later, though, when she thought about what he'd said, what struck her was his tone: it was sad.

She had not heard that sadness before.

This appeared first on the Huff Post on Tuesday, February 22, 2011.

CHAPTER SEVEN: The Who-What-When-Where-How Ronda Got Pregnant"

Ronda knows for certain when she got pregnant. And she knows exactly where she was.


It was in May, the weekend of the 13th and 14th.

They stayed at the Beach Rose, a tiny bed and breakfast tucked into a grey-shingled cottage on a narrow side street. Looking back now, she is convinced that she tempted fate. That she invited disaster by abandoning her family and spending the better part of Mother's Day weekend with her lover. Glued to Jesús for two days, naked in bed.
They left the Berkshires on Friday afternoon. She told Ben over breakfast that morning that she and Karen had decided at the last minute to go away for the weekend. That what she needed most for Mother's Day was two days of R & R. "And so we're driving up to Hyannis, just the two of us." She smiled smugly. Shrugged.

Ben sat at the table. Drained the coffee from his mug. He scratched the thin spot in his hair with two fingers.

"I guess if that's what you want." He was preoccupied, reading over a paper he was preparing for a seminar the following week. A panel discussion on Kant. The paper wasn't going the way he wanted it to. He rumpled his forehead. "But Ronda, I was hoping to take you out for dinner at least."

She stood, walked around behind him. Leaned over, casually draped her arms across his chest, laid a dry kiss on his brow. "You can take me out to dinner next weekend, honey. I'll even make the reservations. Maybe the River Inn?"

As soon as Ben packed up his briefcase and left, Ronda called Karen. Asked her if she would mind driving over, picking up Ronda just after three so that Jack would be there to see her leave with Karen. Presumably, he'd convey that information back to Ben.

When Jack stepped off the school bus at the corner, Ronda was waiting, watching nervously from an upstairs window. He opened the front door and she paraded casually down the stairs into the living room with her duffel. Jack dropped his backpack on the floor and went to the kitchen.

"I'll be going shortly, honey," she said, trailing him. "Karen should be here any minute."
Jack nodded and opened the refrigerator. "Okay, have fun."

"Thanks, honey," she said. Her stomach twisted ever so slightly. She couldn't remember a time when she had lied to her son.

"Can I make you a sandwich?" Her voice was calm but her palms were sweaty. She ran the faucet, slipped her hands into the stream of water.

"I can do it. You do realize that in four months I'll be a freshman at Vassar?" He grinned. "Go wait for Karen." He took two slices of bread out of a bag and spread one of them with peanut butter. She remained in the kitchen.

"So, Jack," she said, taking a plate out of the cabinet and setting it next to his bread. "Please tell your father that we might not be back until very late Sunday night. I mean it might even be after midnight."

"Right, Mom." He was slicing a banana now and laying the chunks side by side on top of the peanut butter.

"And also, tell him that Karen and I probably won't call. I mean, the point is we want to be all by ourselves. No responsibilities." She inhaled slowly. God was there no end to these lies?

"Sure, Mom," he said, stuffing one piece of bread into his mouth. "I think it's neat that the two of you are going away. So don't worry. Everything will be okay here."

She loaded her duffel into Karen's Saturn and sat in the front seat. It occurred to Ronda then that she ought to be feeling something. Guilt. Regret. She had been lying to Ben for months, but now she was taking another step, far deeper into betrayal.

But as Karen backed out of the driveway and proceeded to the corner, Ronda's excitement grew more and more intense and she knew only one thing: that she absolutely wanted and needed to go. That she had been swallowed whole by her desire for Jesús. That whatever guilt she felt melted in the face of this other blinding emotion.

Ever since that first afternoon in March when the two of them met at a hotel in Boston and lay together in the strip of glowing yellow sunlight falling across the bed, she knew she had to be with him.

She thought about him every day, all day and night. She lay in bed next to Ben, trying to pretend nothing was wrong. When Ben finally fell asleep, though, Ronda would stay awake for hours, her body in twinges, reliving the time she had spent cradled against Jesús.

As the Saturn made a turn onto Poplar Drive, Ronda could feel herself getting lighter. A little giddy. She and Jesús were about to have two nights and two long days together. The prospect of the upcoming weekend made the insides of her thighs ache. It made her hands tremble so much that she had to hold them together in her lap.

"Do you think Ben suspects?" Karen asked as they turned up East Dalton Ave. The plan was to meet Jesús at Betty's, a coffee shop and bakery.

"No," Ronda said, nodding nervously. "There's no way. He can't possibly know a thing." She had placed every call to Jesús from Karen's house; she had used her cell phone only to text him, and then she had erased all of the texts. She had also erased every single email, as soon as she'd written it.

Each time the two of them met, it was in a different location. Twice, she had gone to Boston, to meet him after performances. Another time, she had taken the train to his studio apartment in New York. And once or twice when he traveled to Massachusetts, Karen let them have her house.

He was waiting in the back seat of the rented car when they pulled in front of the coffee shop.

He was leaning over the guitar, running his fingers rapidly over the strings. He didn't notice Ronda until she was standing right beside the car.

"Hello," she said.

He looked up. His eyes always had the same effect on her. They sank so far into her that she felt she had no bottom. She slid into the back seat and he leaned toward her and kissed her on the mouth.

"I was just starting to compose something," he said, laying the guitar into the purple velvet lining of its case. "All the way up the parkway I had this falseta racing through my mind and I have to get it out."

As they drove the Mass Pike, he played the first CD he had ever recorded, a fiery set of bulerías that featured a cantaor and the sounds of a dancer's feet. The car was loud with clapping and the pull of strings and the sharp snap of heels and the singer's howl.

Her eyes closed.

She reached over and set her hand on his leg. He took her hand and kissed the back of each finger in turn and then set her hand inside his thigh, high up. She kept her hand there. She smiled, thinking she was back in high school, trying out feelings she hadn't had for 25 years or more.

It occurred to her then that if he asked her to, she would, without a second thought, call Ben when the weekend ended. She would tell him that she was never coming home. It didn't matter where he asked her to go. She would follow him to New York. She would go to Spain.

This post appeared on the Huff Post on Sunday, February 20, 2011.

Friday, February 18, 2011

CHAPTER SIX: "Jesús Just Wants to Play Guitar" (part two)

"Jesús Just Wants to Play Guitar"

Ronda blushed and Jesús bowed slightly. "I'm afraid I must go inside now. Otherwise, there is a bride who will have no music."
He reached down and only then did she notice the black guitar case beside his feet.
"Oh, of course," she said. "Of course. You are playing."
"Yes," he said, another disarming smirk crawling across his face. "I have enjoyed meeting you," he said. "My name is Jesús. Jesús Becerra."
He extended his hand. She took it, flushed.
"Ronda. Ronda...Cari. I am Italian." For months afterward, he would tease her about why she said that. Because, as he pointed out, she wasn't Italian, but American.

"Well, 'Miss Ronda Cari I am Italian,' I am pleased to meet you." His eyes left hers and the next thing she knew he was bending forward and she could feel his warm lips caressing her hand. He looked up at her, but she was unable to speak.
"Yes, me too," she said finally. She felt the strong pull of his hand on hers. "I'm going to this wedding too."
"Then you must walk inside with me." He offered his arm and she hooked her fingers inside the smooth suede of his elbow and wondered immediately whether there wasn't some way she could leave it there.

Her body anchored against his, they passed inside the chapel. And when Ben saw her, arm in arm with the handsome Spaniard, Jesús was leaning his head close to hers, so close that their hair was actually touching. And her face was burning because Jesús was asking her now how her name was spelled. When she told him, he gripped her hand even tighter and brought her fingertips again to his lips.
Then he whispered. "I just want you to know Miss Ronda Cari, that your name is very special to me."
She turned. "My name?"
"Yes. Because you see, in southern Spain, just a few kilometers from where I was born, there is an ancient town, a most beautiful town, perched hundreds of meters up on the edge of a cliff and it has the very same name as you have. Ronda. The same spelling exactly. And that is the place where I first fell in love with the guitar."
Ronda turned to face him. Her heart was gathering speed and two warm pink spots were blooming like hot flowers on her cheeks. She wanted to hear him speak her name again. Because most people rhymed the first syllable with pond. But this man rolled the R, and made the first syllable, "Ron," rhyme with "moan."
"I' real name is not Ronda, but Gironda," she said.
But now he had dropped her hand and he was waving slightly and heading away. The best man, Frank Preston, was whisking Jesús to the front of the chapel to begin playing.
Head down, her face a study in red, Ronda scurried up a side aisle, and slipped into the seat beside Ben. Wiggling out of her coat, she realized that despite the brisk cold air, she was sweating; she was almost as wet as she was when she was dancing flamenco in señora Barranca's studio.
Ben was starting to say something, but Ronda cut him off.
"Kiss me," she said, smiling, looking directly into his eyes.
"Kiss you?"
"That's what I said. Kiss me."
So he did. He kissed her. Ben tasted of white wine, but that was fine. Because even though she wasn't in love with her husband anymore, she was full of something absolutely new and delightful and that feeling was so strong that it had to go somewhere, had to spill over tonight. And it might as well go to the man she had married so many years before.
Up front, Jesús began tuning, and soon he started to play. And the music was the music she so loved. The play of strings, and now and then, a falseta followed by a series of explosive rasgueados. Enrico and his young bride, Mercedes, were waltzing up the aisle from the back of the chapel, both holding tall thin tapered candles, both enveloped in a single happy glow.

Ben leaned over Ronda's bare neck and whispered something about the guitarist having a ponytail. Ben's breath was warm, and it tickled her neck.
"I hadn't noticed," she whispered back. But she did now. She looked carefully at Jesús, up there in the front. He did indeed have a ponytail. But more importantly, he had that soft, coffee-colored face, the one she knew but couldn't place. The one that had already drawn her in. The one she saw and thought she had known her whole life.
Later that night, Ben had at least four drinks too many. As he prepared to dance still another time with Brenda, Jesús finally slid up behind Ronda, who was standing alone, and he slipped one strong hand into the small of her back. Smiling, he gestured and then guided her onto the dance floor.

She turned to face him and immediately his hand dropped, and his fingers spread and straddled low across her spine, as if she had strings, as if she was the guitar, and he was preparing to play her. She had the sense that her head was lifting, turning, and that soon she would be impossibly dizzy.
"Is this OK?" he whispered. She nodded and he pulled her tightly to his chest, so close that she might have been his leather glove. Embraced this way, they stood there, barely moving on the dance floor.

Slowly, her chin grew limp and came to rest on his shoulder. She wondered if she would be bold enough at the end of the evening to scribble down her phone number, slip him the piece of paper.
She grew warm, the warmth spreading quickly; soon enough it was so late that Ben was there, holding her coat, waiting. She had to go.

When the fog lifts, and she is fully awake, she is still in the hospital bed, and the light is low and creamy yellow. Jesús is nowhere to be seen. Instead, on the floor beside her, where the chair had been, there is a strange bulky shape. A body. Ronda's eyes, slowly focusing, take in a pair of blue jeans, a set of knees, scuffed boots that look familiar.
"Jack?" she cries out, forcing herself up onto one elbow. "Honey is that you?"
The shape comes to life. Jack pops up, eyes shut tight. His ebony-colored hair, the same shade and wavy texture as her own, is a tangled nest. Yawning, he runs both hands briskly over his face, and in that rapid up and down motion, he is suddenly the boy he used to be at age nine, waking up for school.
"Jack, what are you doing lying on the floor?" She sinks into the bed again.
"I was sitting in the chair for a long time, but my back was killing me."
His mentioning the chair makes Ronda wonder vaguely again about Jesús, about whether he's left the hospital and gone back to New York. She dare not ask Jack, because Jack has met Jesús only once, earlier this summer, and it would seem odd to him that Jesús would visit her in the hospital.
"How long did I sleep?" She's got a feeling like cotton filling her head.
"We brought you last night, and you've been sleeping all day. I think you've got to stay one more night at least."
There is a fluffy sensation, and a flutter, right in the tender part of her stomach. Something like a hunger pang centers itself there too, and gurgling, but accompanying those sensations is also a slight roll, a feeling she had once when she stepped into a sailboat and it pulled too quickly away from shore. Maybe because of the IV, she feels like she is awash in fluid, her insides running like a river of cool liquids.
"Did you speak to the doctor?" As soon as she asks the question, she thinks she shouldn't have. The question, and what it implies, is totally unfair. What right did she have to impose this responsibility on him? Why should her 17-year old son assume the role that his father had once played, that of Ronda's partner and protector? No, she decided, she shouldn't do that to Jack.

And yet, gazing up at her son, at his lean six-foot frame, she knows that there is nobody better, nobody she would rather have by her side in a crisis. This is the same boy, after all, who at age four, when her grandfather, Papa Aldo, died, and she was sitting on her bed, crying, came to sit beside her and patting her hand said, "Don't worry, Mommy, I'll be your grandpa."
A low pinpoint of orange light is shining right in Ronda's eyes now, so bright she can barely see. Without being asked, Jack moves to the window to adjust the shade.
"No, I didn't see the doctor. I've only talked to the nurses. I asked them what they're going to do to help you."
"Well, I guess one thing they definitely won't do is give you anything to eat. Not for a while, anyway. All you get is that clear slurp through the IV."
She chews into her lower lip. She isn't nauseous now, not exactly, but there is that awful gnaw in her stomach.

The agony reminds her. She has to make a decision. She has to make plans. And she can't take forever deciding.

Only, she can't do any of this without first seeing Jesús, without confronting him. Without hearing what he has to say when she asks him how a child, their baby, might play into his life.

Clearing her throat, she pulls herself up to a sitting position. "I wonder, honey, if I could ask you a favor?"

"Sure, Ma," Jack says, getting up from the chair. "What?"

"I wonder if you would get the nurse. I want to...I need to use the bathroom and I don't think I should get up on my own. I feel dizzy."
"Sure Ma. No problem."

As soon as Jack leaves, Ronda picks up the phone.


She knows for certain when she got pregnant.

This chapter appeared first on the Huff Post on Thursday, February 17, 2011 at

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

CHAPTER FIVE: "Jesús Just Wants to Play Guitar"

The HuffPost has revolutionized journalism by taking over the news business. Is fiction next? My new novel, Seeing Red, is being serialized three times a week on the Huffington Post. Here's the latest installment of the book.

"Jesús Just Wants to Play Guitar"

When she finally opens her eyes, he is right there, right beside the narrow hospital bed. One knee raised, he has the custard-colored guitar cradled beneath his chin.

For an instant before she is fully awake, before she can make sense again of what's happened, she is scared. His bearded face, the guitar, the music, all of it is so illogical, a mirage, a dream that she dare not let herself believe because it is bound to disappear.

But then she hears the sound of strumming, the squeak and twang of the strings coming alive beneath his fingers as he begins humming the tune she loves more than any other. "Ronda Marie," the one he wrote for her, the one he gave her, the night after he performed it in Boston last winter, wrapped up in a black velvet box with a red satin bow.

His eyes are buttery brown, as soft as chocolate left out in the sun. His voice swells, wraps itself around her, warming her more than the blanket, comforting her more than the pillow beneath her head.

"Querida," he whispers when he's finished the song. Sliding his chair closer, he leans over the guitar, so far that his face is only inches from hers. He feathers her cheek with his long fingers, the fingers that gallop like the lean legs of a stallion over the plains that are the guitar strings. So fast do his hands move that sometimes all she can do is watch in awe, focusing on the blur of his hands playing.

"They let you in?" she frowns, stretching her hand toward his face, only to find the clear IV line binds her from reaching him.

"Of course they let me in. 'She needs me,' I told them. 'She needs my music. I will play and she will feel better.'"

He rises, leans over her. A cloud of lime cologne descends. She feels the soft press of his lips, the brush of his new mustache.

"I, I can't believe you've come," she says, biting her lip. A single tear leaks out of just one of her eyes, begins inching down her temple.

"You were hoping for somebody else maybe?" He flutters his fingertips along the inside of her arm, then bends and kisses a spot just below the place where the nurse inserted the IV needle and taped it in. He leaves his face there, lets his mustache graze up and down her bare arm, tickling her, stirring her instantly into gooseflesh.

"Don't," she pleads. "Please don't tease me, Jesús. This isn't easy you know."

"I'm not teasing, Ronda," he says. And after a pause, "You want me to go?"

"No, no," she says, weaving her fingers into his. "Stay. Please. Play for me."

Her lids drift shut. Sleep covers her like a warm blanket, urging her back into the swell of blackness she has inhabited ever since Karen brought her here in the middle of the night some vague time ago. One night? Two? Who knows.

He is playing. She inhales and smiles weakly and sighs as he begins coaxing magic from metal and plastic strings. Soon he is singing, very softly, the refrain from "En la puerta de la luna." She rolls to face him, lets her eyes come to rest on the muscled place above his jaw, a rippled spot that fills with tension when he plays.

Her eyes flutter shut again and she knows that she is on the edge of a vast sleep. The last thing she sees is his hand wider than a claw, stretching across the wooden neck, each of the fingers extended farther than fingers can possibly reach. A single lock of hair falls like a dark arrow straight down from his brow.

All of a sudden she is sailing, but still her mind wonders one last thing: how is it she never noticed before that this single lock of hair, as chocolate as his eyes, boasts a streak the color of straw, so bright it seems threaded in light?


They met five months ago at Enrico Carcellar's wedding. A twilight service held on Valentine's Day in the Williams College chapel. Carcellar, a professor of literature in the Spanish department and an old friend of Ben Fallon's, had invited Jesús to come up from New York to play for the service.

Ronda wasn't fond of Enrico. She told Ben she preferred not to go to the wedding. But Ben said he would be embarrassed if she didn't go. Enrico, an old world guy, a highly traditional sort, would feel insulted. Finally, Ben insisted, so she went.

The evening of the wedding came, and Ronda couldn't decide what to wear. She knew most women would be in short cocktail dresses or long skirts. She decided to wear a new pair of tight black leggings, and a sweater covered in rhinestones.

Her sharp heels clattered as she crossed the wooden floor of the kitchen.

"So don't you look sexy tonight," Ben declared, staring. He was standing at the counter, filling a stem glass with white wine.

Ronda squirted a coin of white cream into one palm and rubbed it briskly into both hands.

"How about we make a deal?" she said, keeping her voice light. "I won't say a single thing to you about what you drink or eat tonight. But you in return have to promise not to make a single comment about my clothes or my hair."

Ben sucked thirstily out of the wineglass, eyeing her the whole while over the rim. "I guess that's fair enough." He kept staring. "But I'd be remiss if I didn't tell you how incredible you look tonight. I mean, I can compliment you, can't I?"

"Sure." She smiled at him. But the smile didn't last. "You can do that any time." She started to stroll away, but he caught her arm, leaned into her shoulder. Before she could pull away, he had left a kiss of cold white wine on her bare neckline.

"I almost wonder if you've got yourself a date after the wedding," he mumbled, taking a second long swallow from the glass.

She had swiveled out of his grasp, and now her eyes narrowed.

"Let's get going," she said hotly. "The wedding's at 5:30."

And yet, when they arrived, a few minutes after five, and she saw that the chapel was only a third full, and the music hadn't started, and the candles up front on the altar weren't even lit yet, and everybody was still milling around, a bit aimlessly, she turned to Ben and told him that she would be outside. "To look at the stars," she told him. "To watch the evening sky."

In the old days, Ben would have gone with her. They would have stood together, despite the frigid cold, holding each other to keep warm. They would have stared upward, scanning the sky, waiting for Venus and Jupiter, or Mars, to pierce the zenith. They would have made bets between them, trying to pinpoint exactly where to expect Orion to rise.

But that was a long time ago. Ben wasn't much of a sky watcher anymore, at least not in winter. He claimed that it was too cold and he was too old to see the way he used to. "It's just not the same," he had told her recently, "when you can't keep stars in focus."

In any case, standing in the chapel the night of the wedding, Ben was focused on people.

There were dozens of old friends and academic colleagues he hadn't seen in years. Like Dan and Brenda Beecher. Dan had been a junior professor at Williams before he went on to a position at Harvard. Brenda had been one of Ben's all-time favorite students, "B.R." -- "Before Ronda." Dan, tall, slim and graying, was walking towards Ben now, extending a hand in greeting. Would he be so enthusiastic, Ronda wondered, if he knew that Ben had slept with Brenda several times, even after she and Dan were a couple?

"Just don't stay outside too long," Ben whispered into Ronda's hair, before pivoting and giving his hand over to Dan.

Pulling the belt of her long wool coat tighter, Ronda descended the stone steps outside the chapel and walked a few feet beyond the sidewalk into the snow-covered lawn. The heels of her boots sank. She lifted her eyes, gazed into the sunset color splashed across the sky: the milky blue overhead gradually turning pink and yellow, and finally coming to rest in a fiery yolk squashed into the rim of the dark mountains.

Tipping her head back, Ronda inhaled the cold evening air. Her arms rose, and her head dropped to one shoulder and she began a slow turn to one side, spiraling unsteadily around the corner of the building.

She was moving slowly over the snow, eyes locked skyward, trying to predict where in the clear space overhead Orion would appear. She had almost decided on a spot when suddenly, her left arm smacked something.

"Ohmygod, I'm...I'm so sorry," she mumbled, turning. Somehow, out of nowhere, she had gotten hold of a man's arm, a soft sleeve.

Later, she would tell him that his face was glowing that night. That his skin was the mellow reflection of the heavenly color of the sky.

"I thought for some reason I would be safe out here in the snow but I see that is not the case," he said, holding a joint between his thumb and first finger. He had his other hand over hers, to steady her. Later, she would remember how the warmth of his hand sent a bolt of electricity straight up her arms and into her head. A moment passed when absolutely no movement occurred, when he simply balanced her.

He was smirking, but when he saw how flustered she was, his expression melted, gave way to a full mocking smile. "I must say that never today did I expect a beautiful woman to appear, going in dizzy circles around me, trying to knock me to the ground." He laughed and the soft sound of it snaked right inside her coat, slid into her blouse and shivered across the bare skin of her back and shoulders. He dropped her arm. But immediately took her hand. "Are you steady now?"

She nodded, conscious only of the blood rushing into her face. She stood gazing at him, confused. His eyes were level with hers.

"I...I'm fine." And then, when she realized what he might be thinking, she stumbled on. "I...I haven't been drinking. If that's what you're thinking."

He laughed harder. Shrugged. "I think everyone ought to drink a little, or a lot, depending on what it is they've got to do." His English was thick in accent. He paused, took a hit from the joint and then, holding the smoke in, he offered it to her.

"No, thank you," she said, shifting uncomfortably. "I really am sorry. I was looking at," she motions upward, "...the stars. I love them as they first appear. It's so beautiful out tonight, so clear, it made me want to dance."

He nodded and exhaled and a sleepy smile crossed his face, mellowed from smoking. His eyes narrowed and he inhaled again, and again he held the smoke inside. The tip of the joint glowed orange. All the while his eyes held hers, until finally, she turned her gaze away because, she would say to Karen later, "I couldn't take him looking at me like that anymore, the way his eyes bore into me. As if he could see right through me."

"It is a beautiful night," he said, dropping the joint and squashing it with one boot into the snow. He looked up at her. "And you are beautiful too."

He stood there, grinning. Her heart was hammering inside her chest.

"You are absolutely right to dance at sunset. If I had time, I might ask to join you, as you are glowing, and you are every bit as pretty as the sky."


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

CHAPTER FOUR: "Down the Drain"

"Down the Drain"

With both Ben Jr. and Jack, Ronda more or less felt OK. Mild nausea always used to hit late in the afternoon, right about teatime. Her stomach stayed "out to sea," as she put it, having its way on the waves, swelling, falling, refusing to be quelled, until finally she would force down a broiled lamb chop and a baked potato, because she knew that if she ate something hearty, the nausea amazingly would recede a bit. If Noni was around, she would eat a warm plate of homemade spinach ravioli, or a bowl of Noni's polenta. Then she would fall into bed, half dead from exhaustion, about seven.

But that was 17 and 18 years ago. Noni's been dead for a dozen years. And this time around, it is so much much worse. Not just morning sickness. Morning, noon and all night long sickness.

Sometimes lately, when she is flushing the toilet for the twentieth time, she stares into the clear toilet water circling down the drain and she swears she sees a long black hearse floating there. It's pulling up to her front door. She sees red and yellow gladiolas, columns of them, heaped in back. And a mahogany casket, carrying her inside. So many times in recent weeks that she has decided that dying would be bliss compared to living like this.

"Anything," she whispers now, her mouth starting to water, to fill up once more.

"What Ma?" Jack tenses. "What'd you say? Can I get you something?"

"No, no, nothing," she says, sinking into his shoulder and crying. "Just stay.

Jack starts humming, the tune to that sweet old song she made up for the boys during childhood. "Mommy loves you, Daddy loves you, and you are our little angel." Sniffling, she rubs her cheek against the soft flannel of Jack's pajama shirt. It hurts to think about Jack as a baby. Which is why this baby, this baby murdering her tonight, gave her so much joy at first.

At first, she had no doubt. She wanted to keep it, fuss over it, dress and nurse it. Bathe and powder it, walk and sleep with it. No matter that the father wasn't so sure. Ronda was.

Absolutely delighted to think that one more time she would experience the flesh on flesh of motherhood. Especially if she had a girl. Elizabeth. Elizabeth Marie. Marie for her own mother, dead three years, the old-fashioned Italian mother she once resented but now misses desperately.

But now. Now this baby maybe shouldn't be. Maybe it's a curse, maybe the worst idea in the world. "Dear Lord," she keeps asking. "Why?" She can't help but wonder whether this is the way He punishes all women who dare to sin, who happen, quite accidentally, to become pregnant against the wishes of the men they love.

For the last three days, and especially tonight, she has begun to believe that even if the whole ordeal isn't punishment, it's exactly what she needs. Because she has been feeding herself lies. Because she has been deluding herself for the last few weeks with fantasies that Jesús, her lover, will, after all is said and done, come around. He'll call and sound like he used to, his voice low and sexy and carefree over the phone.

She rolls away from Jack. She's got to lie flat on her back on the floor. She is always more nauseous sitting up. She laps the water inside her mouth with her tongue. Tries to contain it, hold it back. She faces Jack, sees his frightened eyes, grown round and wide, hovering over her own.

"Ma?" Jack inquires, his voice quivering.

Bolting upright, she thrusts her chin over the rim. Her stomach caves, tosses, and nothing comes out. She crumples back to the floor. Her face is wet and clammy. She is drained of her last bit of energy. If only she could pass out.

Jack places a hand tentatively on the top of her head, as if he's afraid to touch her face. "I hear Karen," he says, turning. He jumps up. "I'll get the door."

She turns over onto the floor, face first. She feels her cheek against the cool tile. Feels her hipbones, and her stomach, raw and hollow. How ironic, she thinks. Here I am pregnant, supposed to be making a baby, and I can barely keep myself alive.

"I'll die, maybe, but that's better," she says to herself, "at least then I won't have to decide what to do. Whether to..." She thinks those two words, whether to, and she feels brutally unhappy and starts to cry. Her heart pummels the inside of her chest. She would like to think it's breaking.

But actually, her heart isn't breaking, it's just making those funny quick flutters again, as if it were skipping beats. It's been like that ever since she found out she was pregnant. She figured she would tell the doctor on her first visit. That is, if she makes an appointment for a first visit.

"Oh dear God Ronda." Karen is speaking in a hush, and scooping Ronda's shoulders up off the floor. There is that sweet scent of soap, Karen's scent. The fragrance of lilac. "Oh, Ronda why didn't you call before?" Ronda is over, on her back, her head in Karen's lap, and now she is smelling Crest or Colgate. Wow, Ronda thinks, Karen thought to brush her teeth.

"I tried to call you Ronda. You didn't answer." Ronda tries to smile, but is too tired.

"No," she mumbles. "I'm too sick."

"I'm sorry I didn't come anyway. I figured one of the boys would call. But why didn't you call me?"

Ronda smiles sweetly. "I didn't want to bother you."

"Bother me. Bother me? Dear God." Karen looks away. "Look, Jack, honey. We'd better get your mother to the hospital now."

Ronda stares up at Karen, the soft underside of her friend's chin. She feels Karen's strong arms. In these arms, she feels totally limp, soft, pliable, as if she will melt into a puddle on the floor.

"Hospital? Why?" Ronda says now, her lips dry as they come together. She wants to smile, because she is so happy to have Karen here. She can't think too clearly right now, but she knows she loves Karen, and Karen loves her. They laugh together. They shop for bras and bathing suits together. They drink white Sauvignon Blanc, ice cold, and they drink very strong cappuccino together. The night Ronda confided in Karen that she was pregnant, and that she had decided to keep the baby, even if Jesús didn't want to, she and Karen hugged each other for a long time and then Ronda cried. She is crying now. Somehow, tears are coming out despite the fact that there is no fluid left inside Ronda's shriveled body.

"Honey, I'm taking you over to the ER," Karen is whispering. And Ronda is thinking, what? ER? Why?

The rest happens as though it's in the past. As if she dreamed it. As if some vague time ago, she heard Karen say to Jack, in her calm nurse's voice: "Here, Jack, help me. We gotta get your mom up. She's probably not going to be able to walk too well or even to stand."

She heard that. She heard other things. Jack saying he should have realized something was wrong, really wrong, a lot sooner. And Karen saying, "That's not your fault, Jack. There's no way you could have known. We just have to get her to the hospital now. Right away. Before she gets any more dehydrated. We'll take a bag."

"A bag?" Jack asks, confused.

"Yeah, a grocery bag, for when she throws up again in the back seat of the Saab."

"Oh. Right."

Karen and Jack each get an arm under Ronda and move her slowly down the stairs, Ronda stumbling, her legs coming forward on automatic, as if she's Raggedy Ann and her red- and white-striped legs are stuffed and made of cotton.

In the back seat of Karen's car, Jack holds his mother to his side. Ronda watches the block of night sky outside the window go by and she thinks briefly of Orion, but then he's gone and she is falling in and out of sleep, keeping her head on Jack's shoulder, and at one point when she wakes up, her stomach is rolling and heaving and twisting and she's aboard a ship and her mouth is watering yet again and her lips keep trembling and she's retching and absolutely nothing is coming out.

Only her diaphragm keeps wrenching, wrenching, pushing, twisting, and she stares into the brown grocery bag Jack has brought along and suddenly she decides that if tonight is the night she is going to die, then so be it. She had better pray. She closes her eyes and pictures God. An eerie image comes up. Ben Sr. in the garage, lifting the door. Then him in the car, giving her the finger. A huge wind comes up and blows the car away. In the wind, some female god appears. She is bright, an electric light. She beckons Ronda. Ronda follows as the goddess soars skyward, flying white and iridescent in the night sky. In light. In folds and folds of white and golden light.

The lights are so bright that Ronda covers her eyes. Other eyes hover over her. Suddenly a needle jabs the inside of her arm, just below the crease of her elbow.

"Will you just kill me and get it over with?" she mumbles.

"Oh now, come on Mrs. Fallon. Things aren't that bad." A hearty female voice. She hasn't heard this hearty female voice before. She hasn't heard this name -Mrs. Fallon--uttered in some time. For at least three months, she has been telling everybody to call her by her maiden name. Ronda Cari.

"Who are you?" she asks, and without waiting for an answer, she cries out again.

"Karen! Where is she? KAREN!!!!" She is crying, bawling, screeching now. She reaches out.

Tries to rise off the hard bed. Two arms slap her down.

"We'll get her for you, Mrs. Fallon. Just hold on."

Karen appears. Bending over, her eyes close, she squeezes both of Ronda's hands and kisses Ronda's forehead. Ronda reaches up with the wrong arm, feels the pinch and strong pull of a needle, a plastic tube. She cries harder. Her eyes fall shut, and all she sees there is the inside of the toilet bowl.

But this time the water, swirling, disappearing, carries Ronda herself down the drain.

READ THE NEXT INSTALLMENT OF SEEING RED, at "Jesús Just Wants to Play Guitar." at Catch up with previous chapters at "Seeing Red on the HuffPost!"

Sunday, February 13, 2011


A "NOVEL" WAY TO READ A NOVEL! HuffPost has revolutionized journalism in the last few years by taking over the news and news feature delivery business. Now I'm using the blog to venture into the realm of story publishing. Starting this week, my novel Seeing Red2011-02-10-FINALCOVERSEEINGREDNOV6th.jpg will be serialized, three times a week, on the Huffington Post. Here is the third installment of the book, a chapter called


Tonight she's been sleeping, or trying to, right beside the toilet bowl. Because she is that desperate. Because she can't seem to get back and forth from the bedroom to the bathroom quickly enough. Because she has thrown up so many times that she's lost track. It is some time after midnight now and she has dragged her pillow and Noni's afghan to the tile floor and she is flat on her back, saying, "I'll die here, I'll die here," and her head is so close to the white porcelain toilet that she can feel its cool surface through her damp dark curls.
She is weaker than she ever remembers being before. She can barely lift her head up above the white ceramic rim. She screams out, "Help me somebody! Help me, I'm dying in here." Not that she really expects anybody - with him moved out and both boys asleep--to come to her aid. But then, her darling, Jack, she can always, always count on him, he comes stumbling through the bathroom door, groggy, eyes in a squint. Instantly he is crouching beside her, his warm hand pressing her arm.

"Ma, it's me! I'm here, Ma," and his voice quakes and squeaks as it always does when he gets upset. And she is saying, "Oh, Jack, honey, just...just...I'm sorry, I'm sorry to wake you...maybe you could just sit there and stay with me." And Jack says "Sure, Ma."
In the very next moment, she thinks of Jack's father, and she throws up again.

And then she wipes her lips with a wad of toilet paper, and she leans into her cold sweaty forearms, the prayer position, and then she prays that she will simply pass out. But she doesn't, not yet. Jack kneels on the floor right next to her, and he places his hand on her back.

"Ma, let me...let me call somebody. Karen. She'll come. You know she'll come. At least then...I mean she's a nurse and she'll know...or at least she's somebody who can..." he shrugs, wrinkles his face. "You can talk to her at least."
"Sure," Ronda whispers.
He leaves, and now, cross-legged on the floor, her head twirling, she sees Ben Sr. the way he was that last night, as he threw a few gray under things into his frayed suitcase on top of an Irish knit sweater, on top of a polo shirt and a couple pairs of khaki pants. "Oh so you didn't plan it this way? So which way did you plan it exactly?"

And then later, just before he dragged the suitcase out the back door, when he stopped, came right up to her in the kitchen, stood no more than two inches away, close enough so that she caught the whiskey on his sour breath and the red threads in his haggard eyes and the twitch in his right eyelid and even the flecks of dandruff dusting his shoulders.

"So tell me," he whispered then, leaning even closer, his face so close that for a moment she half expected he would kiss her. "Now that it doesn't matter anymore, tell me who it is and how long you've been screwing him, huh, Ronda? A year? Two? Three? Tell me. Maybe it'll make me feel better."

She had turned away, had covered her eyes, but he had stuck with her, had circled around, had kept his face twisted so close to hers that his nose practically brushed her lips. And he'd continued the harangue, too, asking over and over again for her lover's name.

"Who is it, Ronda? Jeff French? Bill Antos? Ted Harris? Who? Somebody from Williams? A creep from the kids' school? Who? Who can I kill, huh?"

She raised her shoulders and kept shaking her head until finally, unable to keep quiet any longer, she looked up, and blurted out two words, softly at first, but when it was clear he hadn't heard them, she said them again, loud, she screamed them in fact, at the top of her lungs.


The words hung there, with no explanation, Ben just staring, open mouthed, him not asking what they meant and she not saying, but soon enough, she added the rest, in a voice made gravelly from crying. "For your information it's only been four months, barely four, but they have been the most wonderful months of my life."

She dropped into silence again, and looked down, glad suddenly that she had said it, and tempted too just to tell him who it was, because what the hell difference would it make? She might have told him, too, except that when she raised her eyes again, she saw that the menacing look on Ben's splotchy red face had dissolved, and his shaggy grey head was crumbling over into his hands.

In the next moment his beefy frame began to shake and he started breathing hard and coughing and making a rather pathetic snorting noise that sounded like it was coming from an animal stuck inside a drum. In the end, that sound is what started Ronda's own tears going.

"I'm sorry, Ben, I'm sorry but you asked," Ronda said, but by then, she was talking to no one, because just as suddenly as he'd started crying he had fled, outside, he was already lifting the garage door, and as he started the car backing out of the driveway he rolled down the window and gave her the finger. "You wait, Ronda," he'd called out. "You'll pay for this. You'll see. You'll pay."

And now she is paying, rather dearly, right here in the bathroom. And as she raises her chin barely over the rim and pukes into the bowl again, a thin green drool, it occurs to her that surely, Ben didn't mean it this way. Or maybe he did.

"I called her, Ma," Jack is saying, laying his hand on her back once again. She fumbles for his other hand and squeezes it. Hard, so she can feel the long bones of his fingers. He kneels. They sit there together in the bathroom on the floor, as if there were nothing more normal. If her mouth weren't so foul tasting, she would kiss him.

"Thank you honey," she whispers, curious now how Ben Jr., can possibly sleep through all this. Or maybe, she thinks now, he actually hears every single thing going on. Maybe he's just keeping to his room. Like he did the night Ben Sr. left. After it was all over, Jack had tiptoed out to the living room, had embraced Ronda, had kissed her on the face, had given her a Kleenex to blow her nose. Ben Jr., meanwhile, had remained holed up in his room, just like he had almost every other night since he'd come home from college for the summer.

When he emerged the next morning, he poured himself a glass of orange juice and left for work, his face revealing absolutely nothing.

"I never realized it was so hard," Jack says now. "You know, to have a baby."

"No Jack. It isn't. It doesn't always go this way," she is saying, thinking how the poor boy will be frightened away, permanently, from fatherhood.

"Isn't there...isn't there some medicine or something?" he asks. "I mean, for God's sake." Jack. Always so practical. So logical. Just like her father. Always thinking there has to be a solution. Money. Hard work. Guts. Determination. Only, there isn't always. The night her father died, there was no solution. No matter that the EMTs worked on him in the living room, with Ronda watching, crying, wishing for a miracle, for close to a half an hour. There was a massive rupture of the heart tissue in his chest. That was that.

"Oh maybe there is a medicine," she says wearily, weepy now, thinking about her father. And about how sad it is that Jack even has to know that she is pregnant. She was determined to keep the secret until she was sure what to do. But then, she became so terribly sick that she was forced to tell him the truth - no, it wasn't a stomach flu after all.

"I'm going...I'll call the doctor in the morning," she says now, her voice wavering. "Karen says her doctor gave her something once when she was sick like this."

READ THE CONCLUSION TO "WRETCH" on Sunday, February 13, 2011. Catch up with Seeing Red, and READ ALL THE NOVEL SO FAR AT "Seeing Red on the HuffPost!"

Thursday, February 10, 2011

CHAPTER TWO: "Sex and Cinnamon" (conclusion)

There hadn’t really been anyone before Ben. Only a boy. A rangy high school beau named Robbie who she’d known since seventh grade. The two of them had shared popcorn at Saturday night movies. They had gone to football and basketball games, parties, the prom. But they’d always had a curfew. They had always lived under the ironclad scrutiny of Ronda’s mother. Mama Marie, as Robbie had always called her.

And then Ronda went to college. All of her dorm mates had lost their virginity by Thanksgiving. She had hung on, though, writing long letters to Robbie at Cornell. Looking forward to some vague future she wasn’t sure was ever going to happen.

Her second semester, though, she had met the infamous and handsome Professor Ben. Philosophy 114, Morals and Society. And when he actually noticed her, when he had complimented her writing, when he scrawled on the bottom of her first essay, “Please come see me, as you seem exceptionally talented,” she raced to his office. At which point, he spoke to her not about Nietzsche or Kant or Hegel, but about ballet, asking how many hours a day she worked her pliés and arabesques and battements. About how sore her legs were at the end of an afternoon on toe.

By the end of the spring term, Ronda had earned an A plus. And as soon as the final grades were in, the very next night, Ben invited Ronda over for warm Japanese Saki and to share his passion for astronomy. They spent the evening on the roof of his apartment house, studying the moon through the telescope he had made himself. Staring into the black velvet sky, he explained that four billion years before, the earth and the moon were one.

By 8:30, they were indoors, lying on the sofa together. She read to him: “Ode to the West Wind,” by Shelley. The following night, Ben fixed her dinner: homemade pasta, garlic bread, porcini mushrooms, fresh tomato sauce with basil. And when she’d eaten only a bite or two, and claimed she was full, because she had to watch her weight, because she was a dance major and being a dancer, she had to stay slim, then, he fixed her a gigantic Caesar salad.

As he tossed the dressing into the crisp green lettuce, Ronda watched him; she noticed how wide his shoulders were, how the sides of his eyes crinkled when he laughed. That’s when she blushed warm, and a new thought rushed into her mind, “I could fall in love with this man.”

Two weeks later, they had dated 18 times: seven lunch dates, four more times on the roof tracking stars, three movies, including one antiquated drive-in, two times bowling, once roller skating, and once a canoe ride that ended with her diving over the side and swimming to shore. One warm clear night, they swam at Craft Pond, and afterward, they stayed up on the roof talking the whole night, lying beneath the white light bulb of a full moon.

By May 17th, Ben had already asked her three times to go up to Greylock with the soft blue blanket. She kept saying no, because she knew about that blanket. Because he had used it with innumerable other girls. So widespread were the rumors about Dr. Fallon’s famous Greylock breakfast picnics that a couple students one year had pitched in and bought him a basket with a checkered cloth lining in the same sky blue color as the blanket.

She held out until May 28th. The following week, she was supposed to move back home for the summer. To live with Mama Marie. To be a lifeguard at the local pool. And maybe because of that, maybe because she couldn’t face life without Ben, couldn’t face life erased of all emotion, all warmth, all light, all male touch, she agreed that “maybe” she’d go up to Greylock. She would think about it overnight, she said, and let him know the following morning.

“Call me early,” she said on Wednesday night when he had walked her from the ballet studio back to her dorm. “And then, I’ll be all ready, or I won’t, and then we’ll go. Or we won’t.”

“Fine,” he said, folding his arms and squinting into the sunset at her, and then, when she just stood there, looking at her Dr. Scholl sandals, her bare toes, he reached over, grabbed her.

“Come over here,” he whispered, pulling her into the arms he had built up so systematically, with push-ups, and late night workouts in the college weight room. “Your body is gorgeous,” he said as he kissed her face and raced his hands up and down her torso, which was tightly encased in a black leotard.

“This isn’t the best place,” she said, chuckling, struggling out of his grasp. “I mean we’re right out in the open, Professor Fallon.”

“Exactly,” he said. “Which is why I’d like you to come up to Greylock with me. In the wee hours of the morning it’ll just be me and you and maybe a few bears.”

She went.

He had packed carefully. The freshly squeezed orange juice he poured into stemmed glasses. A thermos of coffee and for it, real cream and mugs. Whole strawberries laid out on a flowered china plate. Grapes that he squeezed, jokingly, from his lips and teeth into hers. Small triangles of Swiss cheese and squares of cold buttered toast. And the cinnamon rolls.

He bought two, on the way, at 6 a.m. when the Cinnaman Bakery first opened its doors in town. She ate a bite of one. He ate his and had begun to work on the rest of hers. It was then that she poured herself more coffee, lay back on the blue blanket. Played with the rays of sunlight. Then closed her eyes. Figured he was eating, so she would just rest. Let the sun pour down on her face. That’s when he cupped his hand gently over her breast.

She lay there, trying to decide what to do. Before she could reach a decision, he had lifted her T-shirt, and slipped his other hand inside her bra. All the while he kept his eyes fixed on hers. Saw that she saw. Saw that she saw that he couldn’t wait.

“Ben?” she whispered. “Is this…is this…” what she was going to say was, “is this a good idea, I mean, right this minute?”

What he said instead was: “Don’t worry, Ms. Cari, this is not a test. Or a quiz. Or an essay. Or a philosophical debate. This is just when I make love to you in the sun. Because I’ve been waiting for you. All semester. Every fucking day since I first saw you waltz into my classroom in a goddamn leotard. For chrissake do you realize what you do to men wearing those goddamn dancer’s clothes? I want you to know it was torture sometimes trying to keep my mind on the books. Surely you realize now how I feel.”

“But isn’t it always this way for you,” she said in a low voice. “I mean, right? Every semester it’s a new girl.”

“No. I know what you’ve heard,” he whispered, his face buried in her chest. “But I promise you, I’ve never felt like this.”

And so in a great fever and no time at all he removed her T-shirt and soon enough her bra, and she discovered how much she liked him licking her torso and nipples. And before she knew it, he took the white paper bag, the one that said CINNAMAN BAKERY in red letters on the side and he tipped the bag upside down and he shook it so that cinnamon sugar sprinkled onto her shoulders, her flat belly, her breasts. Throwing the bag aside, he proceeded to suck the sweet brown powder off her skin.
She was in ecstasy. She was in doubt. She wanted to get up, run out of the forest. She wanted to stay all day, lying there curled up with him. She moaned out loud.

That’s when he rolled on top of her. That’s when he began undressing the bottom half of her, saying, “I really think I’m in love with you Ronda. I love you. Can you hear me Ronda Cari, I’m saying I love you.”

“You do?” she whispered, in a tone that meant, “You really mean this? You don’t say these very same words to every girl you bring up here?”

“I do. I want you. I want you more than I’ve ever wanted anybody before.”

It was at that moment she murmured to him. “Ben, I am not ready. I really don’t think I want to do this yet I am just not there yet I...” By then though he was inside her body and then he exhaled the word Amen. Then all she could do was listen, and watch. He was powerful. The pain was sharp and tight and ripping but she focused instead on the vireo, its sweet warble, and what came to mind was how she first saw Ben, facing the blackboard, strong. A big reddish blonde head and a blocky, square body. There in front of the classroom, a coffee mug in his right hand and scrawling with his left, something from Plato’s Republic.

Why when Ben was first inside her was she thinking about the curious way he had of erasing the blackboard, from the bottom up, the short up and down strokes. Why was she thinking about chalk dust at a time like this?

Later, as he was lying beside her, as she looked at the clear glisten on her belly, as she felt tears gather in her eyes, she decided to listen to the vireo only.

Ben Fallon was trying to kiss another purple grape the same color as the stain on her lips, into her mouth, but she wasn’t sure she wanted him to. Her eyes blurred, and she sprang off the soft blue blanket. Stepped lightly over Ben, and fled through the forest. There, she crouched low, hovering over a mossy spot. Eyes closed, clouded, she breathed steadily, gathering herself into a still moment.

And then, not knowing why she had to dance, she did. She rose in the sunlight, a flower unfolding, and bent at the waist, twisted, circled once quickly, arms clasped over her head. Again and again and again, she rose, threw herself into a wild series of relevés, each time she came down feeling the thick wet moss between her toes. Each time she rose, feeling her abdomen go up, up, up, and down and up, up, up. Up and out of itself, again and again and up some more.

Finally, when the dead feeling down between her hips had melted, when the stiffness had poured out of her lips, when her eyes had dried, when she was winded and no longer scared and she could feel her lower half alive again, at that moment, she stopped. Still on toe, her breath going quickly in and out of her mouth, and so much sweat on her brow that it began forming small beads, at that moment, she twirled again, bending alternately forward and backward at the waist. As if she were a leaf.

As if the tree overhead had hold of her hands. As if she was attached by a stem, and she was caught in a wind and blowing in every direction. Like all the leaves, all of them whispering and waving overhead.

A steady clapping began. She looked up, and there stood Ben, in his blue jeans only. His zipper undone, his belt dangling on his hips. Embarrassed, she dropped onto her knees and leaned over so her forehead touched the ground.

“That was incredible,” he said, lightly touching her hair. “Really.” He spoke in the most polite voice she’d ever heard from him. “I don’t know much about dance, but I think you are terrific. I mean, if you want to, Ronda, I bet you could be a really really great dancer.”

“You think so?” she asked, looking up at him. She recalled then what her father had said when she was eleven, just a few months after she had started on toe. “Gironda,” he said, “You are so beautiful dancing. You are a real ballerina.”

“Yes,” Ben replied, taking hold of her hand, and pulling her to her feet. A smile played at his lips. “You would be especially popular if you always danced like this. Buck naked.”

Her gaze fell. Ben kissed her mouth and then both breasts. He turned and led her back through the forest to the blanket.

Together, they sank. She was hot and flushed. Without knowing why, and with something new and totally unfamiliar rushing through her, she pushed herself on top of him. Taking hold of his hands, she stretched their arms out together. Wide.

“I feel right now like I could fly,” she whispered, her legs stretched out behind her. Warm light bathed her back. Energy pulsed from her pelvis straight down through her thighs into her toes.

“I feel like I could screw you again,” he whispered.

She went up onto her elbows. Stared into his gray blue eyes. The salmon-colored curls ringing his sweaty forehead. She saw the earnest look in his face.

“So I think I would like the same thing,” she said, not knowing her own voice. “Screwing, I mean.” She leaned her lips right into his ear and breathed out, hard. “Only this time, Professor Fallon, please. Make sure that I’m along for the ride?”


This post appeared on The Huffington Post on February 8, 2011.

CHAPTER ONE: "Sex and Cinnamon" (Part One)

Years later, she tries to focus on the details: the cinnamon sugar sticking to her shoulder. The thick fold of leaves overhead.

The cold buttered toast wrapped in tin foil. The smell of his sweat mixed into the smell of pine needles.2011-02-06-FINALCOVERSEEINGREDNOV6th.jpg

The feeling of him feeding her the small concord grapes. And especially, the watery green sunlight, the way the rays of light angled, dissolving into gray forest shadows.

She concentrates on the small details because she hates to look at the bigger picture. When she does, she is sure to get into trouble. She is likely to look back and agree with her therapist, who once pointed out that the first time Ronda had sex with the man who became her husband - the man who fathered both her sons - she was, for all intents and purposes, raped.

Ronda cannot face that, so she focuses instead on the cinnamon and the leaves, the grapes and the light. The way the rays of the sun filtered through the trees and seemed to hang, like fog or mist or smoke. Lying on the blue blanket with Ben that day, she recalls passing her hands through those slanted rays. Watching the light as she sliced her cupped fingers through it.

Sometimes she allows herself to recall this: how he whispered to her as he slid his fingers into the waistband of her sweat pants that morning, and quickly worked them down and over her hips. "I really think I'm in love with you Ronda. Can you hear me Ronda Cari, I'm saying that I love you."

Lodged as she was beneath his heavy frame, she coughed up a reply, "Ben, I am not ready. I really don't think I want to do this yet I am just not there yet I..." He kissed her then, and she must have swallowed that last word, "ready." By then his urgency and his thick hands took over. He settled himself between her thighs.

"Please stop," she yelled, but by then, she wasn't deciding anymore. She was feeling his fiery skin and the sandpaper of his face and she was hearing his urgent breathing as he pushed inside her.

She heard him exhale and say a single word. Amen.

What filled her mind then was the sound of the bird, the bird that he had called the red-eyed vireo. She heard the vireo warble its sweet morning song in the tender canopy overhead.

Later, on a night when he should have known better, when everything about the new baby was painful and exhausting and wrong, Ben dared to say that he hadn't realized that she wasn't sure, that he never knew that she hadn't wanted to do what he made her do that morning on the mountain. He hadn't realized that she had been so terribly frightened that first time. He implied, simply, that after all was said and done, her feelings on the mountain that morning didn't add up, or worse, that they just didn't matter to him.

That night with the baby was one of those evenings when Ben Junior simply couldn't be comforted, no matter what she did for him. Ben Senior had come home from campus to find her with the baby in a T-shirt and diaper, face down across her knees.

The infant was wailing, a long, low persistent screech, and she was in the rocking chair, bouncing him face down on her knees and rubbing circles on his bony back. Now and then she'd lift him to her shoulder and he would stop crying for a moment and then he would pull his legs up, and hiccup and puke a stream of white curdled milk onto the wood floor, and then he'd start screeching once more.

Ronda was frantic even before Ben Sr. arrived home and placed a long kiss on the crown of her head. But things didn't improve after he walked through the door. She told him she was totally spent, and he made some comment about her needing to join him in their bedroom for "a little love and affection." Which she interpreted to mean that she needed sex, which she absolutely knew she didn't need. Lately, he'd been alluding to the fact that they hadn't made love for months.

"Maybe you need sex, Ben, but that's not what I need. That's not going to fix things. Honestly, Ben, when you see me struggling like this, how can you even talk about sex? Don't you see I'm drowning here?"

She held the newborn to her shoulder. Ben Jr. was barely seven weeks old and she was sore and still bleeding and constantly feeding the baby and crying and feeling depressed all the blessed time. And even though the semester was over, Ben was spending less time at home.

Things between them had gotten so tense that for several nights she had been sleeping on the single bed in the baby's room.

He was leaning on the door of the nursery, the room that for a few short months before the baby came had been her ballet studio. A studio minus a mirror.

"Let me take him for a while," he said. He reached for the baby, and held him. The baby's cries softened for a moment, but then he began bawling again. Ben walked back and forth across the nursery bouncing the infant against his chest. The baby quieted again.

"See, he needs his daddy is all," Ben said, in a low voice.

Ronda sat in silence in the rocking chair, glaring at him.

"And all I was saying before is that it's time you come back to sleep in our bed," he said. "That's all."

"Oh, so is that for your comfort or mine?" she shot back. "Because who gets up four or five times every night to feed this child? Not you, surely not you."

He stopped walking. The baby started crying. "Ronda, I don't want to fight, honestly I don't. I just want things to be right between us again. The way they were."

"When was that exactly Ben?"

He closed his eyes. Stood there. "Please Ron, I know you are stressed to the max. I know you are exhausted and furious and ..."

"You know that but what do you do about it?" She started rocking in the chair. There was no way forward, nowhere to go with this discussion. "You take care of you, period. But then, that's all you've ever done. You want me back in bed so that maybe we can screw. What difference does it make to you that I'm falling apart? It never has mattered, how I feel. That very first day, way back when, up on the mountain. You just did what you did, because that's always what you do. Just exactly what suits you."

"Ronda, stop this nonsense. You were there because you wanted to be. I didn't force you."

Her eyes flared. "You did indeed force yourself on me, Ben. You didn't care a bit how scared I was."

"Great, now you bring that up again. It's a little late to be talking about that, isn't it? Besides, you seemed to enjoy yourself just fine the second time that morning. How was I to know? How bad could things have been the first time if you were so gung ho the second time through?"

Ronda set her head into her hands. "I don't believe you, Ben. I do not believe what you say to me."

"All I'm trying to say is that it's in the past, Ron. We have a son now."

"It's not in the past," Ronda yelled. "Yes, we have a son, but he's a son I take care of, night and day. You drop in now and then, but when you do, what help are you?"

Ben seemed genuinely shocked by the last comment. He dropped onto the bed, and held the baby, who once again quieted. As if somehow the infant knew at that moment, that his parents needed him to be silent.

The two of them, Ben Sr. and Ben Jr., just sat there, father and son in statue.

"I try to be helpful Ronda," he said simply. He set one large hand on the baby's back and patted him gently. "I have a job. A career. But I do try to help you with him when I'm here."

"Well, good for you," she snarled. "It has been a lovely year for me, being pregnant, dropping out of school before my sophomore year, and now, having this...this dreadful..." Her words melted into a whisper. She shook her head. Sometimes she said things that she felt in the moment, but that later, she absolutely knew she didn't feel.

The baby wailed sharply then and Ben handed him back to Ronda as if the child was on fire. She hoisted him to her shoulder. She was starting to cry now. She wiped her nose with the sleeve of her bathrobe. Here it was six o'clock at night, and she was still in the bathrobe that she had been wearing since the morning.

Ben retrieved a box of tissues from the changing table, handed it to her. Then he sat down on the bed. "I know you are angry, Ronda. You hate to talk about all this." He paused, waited for her response. She said nothing. She sniffled. He leaned closer.

"Ron, you made the decision in the end to have this baby. I know sometimes you wish you hadn't. But I told you then when it happened that I'd support whatever you wanted. And this is what you said you wanted."

Ronda brought the rocking chair to a halt. And in what amounted to a second miracle, the baby stopped crying, again. But that just got Ronda crying harder.

"Think about it, Ben," she sobbed. "I was barely 19. I had never even seen a man, naked. And you, you just moved in on me that morning and ...and you took over. And there I was lying in that
goddamn forest on that goddamn blanket, completely vulnerable, with you, 20 years older than me, a professor I hardly knew, and there you were doing things to me I never dreamed of doing and there I was terrified, so terrified..."

READ THE CONCLUSION OF CHAPTER ONE, "Sex and Cinnamon" on The Huff Post!

This post appeared on The Huffington Post on Sunday, February 6, 2011.

PROLOGUE and Introduction

The Huffington Post has revolutionized journalism in the last few years by taking over the news and news feature delivery business. (Check out "The New Yorker's" excellent piece, "Out of Print" for more details on the demise of newspapers and, simultaneously, the meteoric rise of the Huff Po!)

Now the blog has decided to venture into the fiction-publishing business! Starting this week, Seeing Red becomes the first novel ever to be serialized on The Huffington Post.

Serializing novels in a chapter-by-chapter format isn't new. Not at all. Charles Dickens and Mark Twain and many other Victorian writers published their stories in installments in weekly and monthly magazines back in the 19th century. Readers lined up to get new installments of the novels that Dickens and others wrote.

With the book publishing business in peril, and electronic books on the rise, it seems timely to try experimenting with books on a blog! We hope you'll join us in the first Huff Post blog-book!

What follows here is the first installment (the Prologue) of Seeing Red, a love story just in time for Valentine's Day.

Protagonist Ronda Cari is married and the mother of two and, oh yes, she also dances flamenco! Pretty soon she has a Spanish guitarist lover named Jesús and he's got eyes -- what else, the color of melted chocolate!

But while this book's got plenty of romance, and some decidedly hot encounters, it is definitely not a romance novel. It's a story about a woman's passion for her dancing, and her discovery that art -- and friends who do art -- can help us heal from the worst of heartbreaks.

We hope you'll take a few minutes to read the Prologue. Here's a note from a reader:

"I just finished Seeing Red and I LOVED it! I had trouble putting it down, and now I'm grieving my loss because the story is over. Seeing Red is about passion, but not only the romantic kind. I followed Ronda through Spain on her journey of love and self-discovery as she explores her marriage, motherhood, infidelity, and loss, all the while nurturing a once-forgotten passion for dance that transforms and empowers her. It is impossible not to experience Ronda's joys and pain, as well as reflect on your own, due to your gift for transporting readers via accurate and vivid details, along with your depth of insight and knowledge. I was transported, both there, AND to many personal memories. I love it when an author can do that for me -- although it is very emotional and draining, I love it."
-- Kellie LaCoppola, Palatine Bridge, New York

New installments will follow three times weekly, every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. Enjoy!


Later, much later, Ronda came face to face with the Spanish girl. She peered into the young woman's eyes, green and full of strange glittering light.

"What could you possibly want from me?" Ronda whispered.

The girl remained silent for a moment. But her eyes bore deeply into Ronda. She fixed her sight so tightly that Ronda felt pinned, and inside her blouse, sweat sprouted across her chest and in her armpits.

Ronda turned to Hernán, the man she had hired to drive the Mercedes. "Can you please ask her?" Ronda said. "Ask the girl what she wants from me."

Hernán nodded. Straightening up, he turned to face the girl. He cleared his throat and then, bending forward slightly, he spoke a few hurried lines of Spanish, all the while gesturing with one hand toward Ronda.

The girl lifted her head. Answered slowly. And defiantly. Hernán's eyes widened. His gaze dropped to the ground. He shook his head.

"What?" Ronda insisted. "Hernán, tell me. What does she want?"

He looked up at Ronda. He said nothing at first, as if he was deciding what to say. Finally he spoke. "She wants to know, señora, if...if when you go back to the United States, if you would be willing to take the little girl. The baby, that is. With you. keep."

The words hovered around Ronda's ears, but they didn't go deeply enough. She didn't hear them. Or maybe she did, but she couldn't possibly process them, not so that they made any sense. She felt them twirling around in her brain, the same way she herself had been twirling these last months, her feet and legs learning to dance the complex steps of the alegría and the bulería and the fandango.

Ronda shuddered slightly and just stared at the girl. With no warning, the girl reached out and grabbed Ronda's hands in her own grimy hands. She held on. Despite the blazing heat, the girl's fingers were sticks of ice, as frigid as the pond back in Ronda's yard in New England.

Ronda struggled to break the fierce grip, tried to pull her hands away, but the girl just held tighter. She made one giant fist out of her own hands and Ronda's, and she shook fiercely, as if she were forcing them into a pact. Ronda shuddered again and wrenching her hands free, she stepped back.

"No..." she whispered. "Never."

She gave the girl one more look: the bronzed weather-beaten face, the green eyes, pleading.

That's when she noticed. The girl's lips. How could she not have noticed before? The lips were faintly purple now, and the pallor seemed moment by moment to be getting darker.

Ronda felt her stomach tighten. She turned toward the car, and as she did, she started to feel lightheaded.

"Hernán, I really need to...leave. Right away, we need to, please. Now."

Immediately Hernán was beside her, opening the door of the Mercedes and Ronda, casting one last frightened look at the greenest eyes she had ever seen, slipped inside the limousine.

This post appeared on The Huffington Post on Thursday, February 3, 2011.