Thought Wheel

Ann Chiappetta

Unfair Advantage?

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Did you ever encounter a situation where no matter what you try, something gets in the way? I know, you’re thinking, oh, no, she’s going to try and pull off an Andy Rooney-like rant. If it sounds like it, feel free to go on the next article, but if you stay with me maybe we’ll both get something out of it.

To be brief, I’m registering for a licensing examination in New York State. The first step was to fill out the application. This I couldn’t do myself, as it is still a hand written submission. The process took two weeks from start to finish.
Three weeks later, I’m contacted by the person who processes the applications for the State Board of Higher Education and Licensing via email informing me that most of the auxiliary documents are in order and I’ve been approved to proceed to the examination registration. She asks for proof of my disability and I provide a form letter from our State agency for the blind, but she says that’s not good enough. I say it’s signed by a New York State rehab counselor, the very same State, in fact as the one she works for and if she can’t trust a sister agency, that’s pretty sad. So she accepts it.

Next, she wants to know why I’m asking for a reasonable accommodation, when, in fact, I did not request any while attending college. When I asked why that was needed, she answered that her job was to make sure I did not, “have an unfair advantage over my sighted peers,” before, during or after the test taking process. After a week of being very pissed off and feeling discriminated against, I got over it, wrote a letter stating how my vision had declined since then and that all my needs were addressed by outside agencies serving me. I added that if they wanted proof, to contact the rehab counselor who wrote the proof of disability letter. I concluded the letter by saying I thought asking for proof of my past needs was in no way relevant to what I required presently and that I found it an invasion of my privacy and insulting.

They, of course, moved on to a higher level of ignorance.
Next, the person says that since I’m legally blind, the testing facility can offer a screen magnifying program. I say I cannot use it because I no longer have useable sight. I describe the screen reading program I use (JAWS) and that I’m requesting to use it during the exam. They respond by saying, no, they do not have JAWS, nor will they obtain it, but they will, however make a reasonable accommodation by providing a human reader for the exam.
I ask if this is the first time the testing site has provided services for a blind candidate and, to their credit, no one responds to my question.

So, after ping-ponging with the woman and her superior, I fight for and receive approval for both a reader, responding person to take down answers, and double testing time. I receive a confirmation via mail instructing me to log on to a website to register and pay for a testing date and location. I go to the website and click on the PDF for instructions and guess what? It’s not accessible. I email them and guess what? The email is bad. So, this is what I mean by barriers. I’ve done it all correctly, crossing every t and dotting every I and I am still being denied equal access to something my sighted peers take for granted. We know who really has the advantage here, folks, and it’s surely not me.

The higher I go the more I find uncompromising attitudes. The simple folk are easier to deal with; I’m not quite sure why that is but it seems to be my experience.

In any case, I have to call the person and verbally recount my findings and hope they will not ignore me or it’s off to the Dept. of Justice with an EEO compliant. Sometimes I wonder if I will ever get my license.

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Verona goes to the Lake

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Verona goes to the Lake

She knew where we were as soon as we pulled into the parking lot. Are we at the free place? She seemed to say, I love this place. I get to swim, hang out off-leash and poop in the woods. Cool.

We unloaded the truck, weaved through the other guests on the strip of patio on the way to our room and settled in for a fun relaxing afternoon.

Verona and my daughter, April, played in the lake for an hour, Verona chasing sticks and paddling around. The funniest thing was the way she would blow water from her mouth after dropping the stick. April said it made her lips puff out and it made a loud, spitting sound that I could hear from the patio.

When the geese and ducks realized she was visiting, they hot footed it off the grass and stayed in the lake or in the weeds near the dock. It was a thrill to see her body stiffen, her head and tail go up when she saw them. It made me feel proud to share this time together, giving her back to her instincts for just a little while. She’s going to be five years old, I thought, the time goes by so fast. Each and every year we have together is a blessing, a time for me to feel unfettered. As we stand and watch the birds quack and waddle down the hill toward the edge of the lake, I try to think back on the way life was before training with Verona but my mind veers from those dark moments and I let them go. We are here, listening and watching, being warmed by the late afternoon sun, taking in the fresh water aromas. We are dog and woman, partners for however long time and fate permit. I place a hand on her glossy head and stroke it; she gives me a quick poke with her nose before returning to duck watching as the sun dips below the hills.

Greenwood Lake — August 2011

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Finally Met Buck Rogers?

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Well, I finally went to the Verizon store and bought an I-PHONE. I was afraid, you know, sweaty palms, the tight knot of anticipation, etc. Once i instructed the sales girl how to turn on the cvoice over accessibility, however, and held it, all the doubts blew out the window and into the slipstream.

So, I’ve learned how to flick, tap, split-tap, triple flick, scrub, and touch type while interpreting the boings, doinks, gurgles, and chimes accompanying each new gesture. Very cool, though I still have trouble with the two finger wheelie thing that brings up editing and typing options.

One drawback, though, and this is not a phone problem; my ISP is somehow influencing my not being able to send outgoing mail. I have to get on the tech line and find out why. Grrr.

I am so happy with it, that even with the outgoing mail snag, I have confidence that I will also invest in a bluetooth keyboard

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Survivors Guilt

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Survivor’s Guilt
By Ann Chiappetta

Flash fiction under 1,000 words

He didn’t come out here to live; he came out here to die. He would fall asleep and never wake up, his face poised in frosty rest, his hands clasped over his chest. He was ready, willing his body temperature to fall below normal so he could finally rid himself of the shame of being the one left alive.

When he was a teenager, he was rescued from freezing to death at a winter jamboree. The four other campers with him didn’t make it. The wind chill had dropped the temperature to ten below in the after midnight hours and when the fire went out, they didn’t wake up. The next thing he knew, he was in a chopper and he was burning all over, the medical team telling him he was lucky to be alive. He remembered wanting to scream for them to stop, that he wanted to die. He wanted to tell them to leave him alone and help the other kids instead. He wanted nothing to do with coming back to life. There was no one and nothing to look forward to back then or even now.

This brittle night he was back where he wanted to be, just like the freezing night of the jamboree. He was four years older, four years wiser, and felt cheated. No one waited for him at home; he had nothing left–even if there was someone to argue with him about it. His best friends died that frigid night and now he wanted to join them.
The moon was full and ice white against the depthless sky. The stars floated in cosmic patterns he knew but had lost since he began to freeze. The shaking had subsided. He smiled, thinking they were so pretty. He began singing, “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”. He giggled when he realized he had forgotten all the words. He hummed them instead.

Hot breath found his face and he turned from it, barely able to do so in the frosty air. He flailed and tried to move away from the warmth. But the warmth continued to take over. First one side began to burn as it warmed, and he imagined he was in Hell, lying on the coals of his sins. When his other side began to feel again, he tried to sit up but his arms were like cinderblocks and the best he managed was a hoarse croak. Something warm and damp caressed his face and tickled his nose.
He looked up at the moon, his eyes tearing with the effort. He didn’t want to cry, didn’t want to have any regrets, but for some reason, those soft, warm rubs made him ached for more.
His tears were taken away as soon as he shed them. His thawing flesh was being warmed as it came back from its hypothermic repose. His desire to die thawed, too. As the sky altered its depths from night to dawn, the young man tried once again to sit up. He realized as he tried that he was already propped up against something. He reflexively grabbed at what was closest to his hand. His hand closed over something warm and soft. He grabbed again and his mind flared with recognition, but he was still groggy and he fell back into the warmth, almost against his will.
The next time he awoke, it was close to dawn. He began to understand. He saw that the ice white moon had begun its descent and the weak, pale sun was ascending in its place.
He felt alive, and it jerked him awake as if he was a pike snagged on a line in an ice-hole. What he saw made him freeze but not from hypothermia. Four grey animals lay against him, one behind his back. One at each side and one cradling his legs. All four sets of amber eyes gazed at him, and one of them whined and cocked its head, as if questioning him. He looked at his fingers; some were frostbitten but he didn’t care. He’d look at his feet later. He felt his face and wondered if he’d gotten any frostbite on his nose or cheeks. But it would have to wait until he got back to civilization. He was shaken but far from dying.
The wolves stood close by as he rose, watching him with amber eyes. He got up, pulled the hood around his face with numb fingers. His truck wasn’t far off, maybe a quarter of a mile away. He made sure he had his keys and turned to go. Then he turned back and felt disappointed when he saw the four canines had already loped off.
“Thanks, anyway.” He croaked, watching them.
The four companions trotted and bounced shoulders, great bushy tails swishing as they made their way up the path. Three loped on ahead, topping the rise, disappearing over it. But the biggest one, the one who he thought had probably licked his face, sat and raised its muzzle to the sky and howled.
The tears ran along with its woeful sound, and when it ended, the young man turned and walked to the truck.

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So Sad, But Life Goes On

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I found out yesterday that one of my ex Medicaid clients died. He was 48 years old. I had gotten him out of a nursing home and back into an apartment.He was so happy to get out of the place. He had strokes and diabetes and was a heavy smoker and knew the risks but didn’t make the changes to help himself. His name is Jose Rodriguez and he was a very nice man. I wrote an article about him in the agency newsletter last year, too. Verona liked him, too, always finding him when we looked for him in the nursing home when we visited. He died of a brain aneurysm from a blood clot which originated in his lungs. He hung on for a few days, then slipped away. I wish I could’ve gone to the wake. I found out via email from the man who took over for me when I left the agency to work for the V.A. What a crappy way to find out. Not even a phone call — freakin’ email. I guess I didn’t even rate to be called. Pisses me off.

Well, Jose, I’ll miss you and I’m sad you only got to enjoy your freedom for eight months after being forced to stay in that horrible nursing home for over two years, with no one to help you . I’m glad I helped you and wish you didn’t die. It was great knowing you, my friend. I’ll see you again someday at the end of the path.

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Out And About With Verona

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Mystic with Verona
June 27-July 1, 2011

Counselor’s training began on Monday at 1:30 pm. Before that, Jerry and April helped me tour the hotel. As we went to and from Our room, Verona would stop at a door to another room that wasn’t ours. If we were going out, she’d stop and look at the door on the left, if we were coming back, she would stop and indicate the door on the right. She found our door every time, though. Silly dog. She only made a few minor errors. One was due to a dog distraction when the PTSD service dog folks were waiting to go inside the meeting room and we were coming out of the meeting room. She was supposed to go to the bathroom, and she blew by it and took me right to the dogs instead. We also had a clearance error but it was due to an overcrowded sidewalk in downtown Mystic. The pedestrian drawbridge barrier was in place at chest level jutting out perpendicular to the side walk, and it was not painted orange or striped or in a place that would allow folks to pass it on the safe side of the sidewalk. Ro didn’t see it and it caught me on the right boob. I corrected her and reworked it but the crowd was blocking us and I’m not sure if she even understood what the error was.

We did get to go to the beach and she sat beside me off-harness and let folks pet her.She also got me up at 4:30 a.m. every morning. After a long day of counseling training sessions, she’s ready to eat dinner and take a nap on the bed. One day the cleaning staff put her sheepy plush toy up on the desk, and I asked her where it was, and she kept putting her head on my lap, pushing my hand up. Then she stepped up onto the chair between my legs, and pushed my hand over and guess what? I found the sheepy. Rick Adare, a Veteran speaking on behalf of the PTSD service dog
program maintained by East Coast Assistance Dogs (ECAD), said that there isn’t an adequate way to describe how his dog, a black lab named Baskin, enhances his life, but he did say that with his dog by his side, he is doing things he would never do without her. Like going to a crowded mall, or into a busy city atmosphere. I identified with him, as I felt isolated when I was a cane user, and now it doesn’t matter if I’m going into a crowded mall or a quiet path in a park. Verona takes charge and keeps me safe, and has my back, just like Baskin does for Rick. Only a person who has experienced being trained with a working dog, whether it is a K-9 dog, alert dog, a psychiatric service dog, or a guide dog has opened himself to allowing the dog to handle his vulnerability along with the disability. This is profound and the general public needs to be educated on this fact along with the other FAQs, like the responsibilities and daily activities of working with a service dog. I was asked by the Disabled Veteran’s working Group to come and Speak to them about blindness. We had much in common, and I also impressed upon them that while I don’t share their veteran experience I can meet them in the disability experience. It was an enriching dialogue and I hope to keep in touch with them.

Verona is happy to be home and see our family. Next week it’s Reno, Nevada, and after that, who knows?

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Sitting On Rocks

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Solid as a rock By Ann Chiappetta

“I am like a tree by the river, my roots run deep”

My first memory of sitting on a rock by the river was at five years old. I snuck down to it one sultry afternoon in midsummer, knowing that if caught leaving the backyard, I’d be in trouble. I was forbidden to go alone but my mother and sisters weren’t around and so I took it upon myself to walk down the street and find out why the other kids got in trouble for going there. I crossed the street and over the bridge. I turned right at the end of the rusted iron rail and stopped at the top of the path leading down the embankment. To my five year old eyes the way down looked very steep but I was determined to get to the bottom. I planted my sneakers and rode them down and the loose dirt and gravel, pin wheeling my arms until I stopped. I coughed, spitting the grit from my nose and mouth. I remember looking up through the dirt cloud hanging in the humid air and wondering if I’d make it back up. The path to the street looked awfully steep. But I was in a different world now, far below the hot sun and the people hungry flies and yellow jackets.

I found a large, flat rock and sat, smelling the dankness and listening to the burbling water sounds. It was busy yet lacking the anxiety of home, which was rife with adult emotion. My young mind recognized the value of this place and at once I knew it would soon become my refuge of choice. Climbing back up the embankment meant going back to the house and its problems. From that point forward the rock by the river was the place to escape.

I found the baby snapping turtle at the river, taking it home and keeping it as a pet until it climbed out of the tank and died in one of my sneakers. I hunted salamanders, marveling at the vivid orange stripes contrasting with the black body and the creamy belly before letting them go squiggling from my hand back under a rock or rotting log. I poked centipedes, mindful of the pinchers and how quick they could crawl. I caught crayfish and watched the local trout but couldn’t ever get close enough to net one. I didn’t even trouble with frogs or toads that was boring. I collected moss and leaves, too, my father helping me identify them and press them between wax paper and flattening them in the pages of a book.

The river symbolized a safe, quiet sanctuary, far removed from the scary challenges of what was happening inside and around our house. Once my parents revealed they were divorcing, my ability to trust people evaporated. Nature and the river restored some of the continuity I’d lost, the flow and cycle of the seasons was more acceptable in my confused mind. It was easier to coax a squirrel to eat from my hand than to ask my parents to play a game or help me with my homework.
That rock was my spot from
then on.

The second time I used a rock was in third grade. I went to the rock behind a clump of bushes just outside the perimeter of the school yard with a boy. We sat together on the wide, flat boulder, sometimes talking, sometimes holding hands. One time he kissed me. I used the rock to be alone and read. This rock was granite with specks of pyrite and darker veins running through it. I didn’t really have any connection to this rock but it served its purpose. Once I left the grammar school, the rock took its place in my memories of Paul and my first kiss.

After graduating from grammar school and moving onto middle school, I returned to the rock near the river often, sitting on it and losing myself in the world below the street in the old neighborhood. I lived in an apartment building since the divorce. My father dropped off a child support check every week. On the weekends he didn’t come I walked the four miles to the river and sat for hours. I’d read, or, just sit and watch the wildlife.
Back then there was a family of beavers trying to dam the river and a giant snapping turtle and crayfish you could snatch up in the eddies lining the bank.

In sixth grade a girl who lived above us showed me how to river walk and ride the rapids on the swift side of the riverwhich fed into the harbor. We swam out to the rock island below the rapids and sunned ourselves. Not too long after that, the river became polluted and unsafe for swimming.

Once in high school, I returned to the river below the bridge sporadically, finding it hard to blot out the garbage lining the bank, rusting shopping carts half buried in silt, and jumbles of cans and bottles caught in the eddies where I once hunted crayfish. Even my rock was gone; a storm swelling the river the previous spring must have moved it. It felt like I was being abandoned again, like I had to give it up or risk the hurt of disappointment. I turned 14 the year I said goodbye to the river and its reassuring solitude. It was the last time I visited the river for many years and it was then, standing there among the green flora and artificial detritus that I knew it was time to leave and find a new place for myself.

Since then, I’ve walked other rivers and examined geological exhibits in other museums and tapped for crystals at the Herkimer diamond mines. I even walked among the stalagmites and stalactites in Howe Caverns. I love gemstones, especially my birthstone, aquamarine.

Perhaps my attachment to rocks is due to the fact that they are the foundation of our existence, and I needed a solid foundation at that time in my life. For me, the constant and powerful river and its elements provided a predictable foundation when I didn’t have it at home. I learned to trust my rock and explore my surroundings and was relieved and pleased to learn that I could be part of it whenever I needed to escape the irregular world above the river bank.

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Some Accomplishments

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Last year I was voted in as a director of the ACB guide dog Affilliate, Guide Dog Users, Inc. Since then, I’ve learned how to get along with our Board of Directors, {insert rueful grin}. It’s been challenging and quite fulfilling to put my skills to work for such a worthy organization and I plan to say on board for a long time, following term limits, of course.

I never thought I’d be able to tolerate politics but my training as a therapist has helped beyond what I thought it could. For instance, the skills I’ve learned regarding group process have already given me the understanding and boundaries key to being part of a high-powered broad spectrum of abilities and personalities while still being able to keep a professional perspective. At times, however, it’s been hard for me not to take things personally, especially when another person purposefully intends to do so and it’s obvious.

After something like that, I think, I should’ve taken more industrial psychology classes, hehehehe.

It’s been an enriching experience, don’t let me spin it the wrong way — I plan to stick around and keep the organization in the highest regard.

This year was especially busy. I chaired a task force designated to hire a professional web design studio to bring our decrepit website into the 21st century. It went well and we’re wrapping up the first half of it. Go to: to see the result of the task force’s work.

I think I’d like to find out how I could be part of other Boards but only when my activity with GDUI eases and this won’t be for a while yet.

The other membership I’m proud to be a part of is the Graduate Council at my guide dog school, Guiding Eyes for the Blind, What a wonderful family atmosphere. They take great care of my dog as well as my concerns regarding her, I made the right choice when I picked them for consideration. If you read Left Foot Foward, The First Year, and other dog related posts from 2010 you’ll get the stories behind my appreciation.

So, that’s all for now, folks, have a great June/Summer Solstice and goodbye for now.

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Soft Sci-Fi Short Story

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Lafayette 10
By Ann Chiappetta

Avril touched down on Lafayette 10 just as the sun was setting. The dry, harsh atmosphere was a welcome change from her home planet, Hepson and she already noticed a difference in her breathing. Hepson was like living on a damp sponge, she thought, taking out a pair of U.V. Shields and inserting them into her eyes. The filmy contact lenses hid her wide ovular eyes with a mirrored effect. She winked at her reflection in the compact and smiled. She gathered up her belongings and followed the other passengers to the debarking pods.

The jerk of the pod docking on the groundwoke her and she popped the restraint as it opened. It was her first time on an interplanetary trip and she was still feeling drowsy from the effects of cold sleep. She got on the belt and put down the carry on bag, reaching out for the grab bar while the other passengers settled. Once she and the others were on the shaded belt, it rolled toward the arrival building, an enormous, one story facility topped with solar panels and rimmed on three sides with moisture catchments.

Avril touched her mouth and smiled. She hadn’t needed the mask since entering Hepson’s spaceport pod prep unit. The medic pointed to it and said,
“take it off. You won’t need it again unless you come back.”
She slowly peeled it off, the tiny air scrubbers sighing as she pulled it away from her mouth and lips. She felt naked but the medic smiled reassuringly,
“Don’t worry, you won’t miss it when you get to Lafayette 10, that place is hot and dry. Just what you need.”

Avril touched her lips, remembering what he said and looked back over her shoulder at the huge, needle like craft that had carried her and 3,000 others light years from what was familiar and dropped them onto a planet composed of red dust and cacti. A planet that would give her life back but that also would view her as an outsider.

Well, she thought, it wasn’t any worse than her home world.
* *
Avril’s multi dwelling unit was located in a local mining community called Strata, one of the first areas to be settled in the northern hemisphere about 150 years ago, . It was an affluent city with the usual cultural diversity. She rented a modest semi-submerged two room apartment on the shaded side of the complex. It suited her well and was close to public transportation and her new job at one of the life support facilities located in the mining company’s main office. She was, after all, an expert on breathing apperatus and deep core mining provided her with a way to make a living. Possessing an advanced degree in environmental safety helped, too.

Since she worked the midday split shift, Avril usually slept through most of the morning, avoiding the scorching heat of the 115 degree afternoons.
She met Ralen in the gym about a month after arriving, enttering the gym for her daily cardio workout before reporting to work.
“Hello, haven’t seen you before,”
Avril stopped,
“Just started last week,”
He extended a hand,
“I’m Ralen Jarvis, from Border Tours,”
Avril slid her hand into his and smiled back. It was the first time she had been approached by a man, and he was even good looking, too. No one on Hepson had ever taken notice of her except to gawk. She almost put her hand to her mouth but stopped. She wasn’t a freak anymore, just an off-worlder.
“Since you’re new in town, maybe I can offer you a sight seeing tour? That’s what I do, you know, give newcomers a chance to view our world.”
He handed her a holo-card. She imprinted it and sent it to her ebox.
“I’ll look it over when I get home later,” she said, “it was nice meeting you, Ralen.”

She walked away into the changing area, hoping he didn’t see the flush on her cheeks. He was very handsome, she thought, almost giggling, and then chided herself for being so immature. His hand was as warm and dry as the landscape and she liked the sensation; Hepsonites were always cold and damp, like fish.
. Avril retrieved the digital calling card once she finished her shift. It was the only item in her ebox besides one from her mother a month ago, asking if she arrived safely. She didn’t delete it, as if doing so would sever her connection to her family for good. She instead tapped the digital card notice from Ralen.

The promo was thrilling and the price for a 12 hour ground Ariel combination tour was within her budget. She wiped her hand before tapping the respond icon and felt silly; it wasn’t a date, just a reservation, but to Avril, it felt like it.
“Silly girl,” she murmured, then hit the icon to reserve her place for the next tour.
• * *

Avril checked her satchel for the umpteenth time, her ears scanning the open air for the hum of Ralen’s rover; her eyes watching the security monitor for confirmation of his approaching vehicle. When she’d reserved her trip, she never thought to ask how she would get back to the spaceport to board the aircraft. When she asked him about it, he offered to pick her up on the way, explaining he was staying at a friend’s place just outside Strata and he would be glad to pick her up on his way to prep the flight.
“I won’t be in your way?” she asked.
“Not in the least, besides, if you want, you can lend a hand, if you’d like.”

Avril finally heard the hum of the rover and popped in her eye shields, tightened the band on her ponytail and put on the sunhat. Her dark hair would attract the sun and the hat kept her much cooler than she would have thought. She grabbed her bag once the security camera identified it was Ralen, and she left to meet it.

Avril stood outside the touring craft, feeling disappointed. She’d been all thumbs with the pre-flight check and could tell Ralen was only a few millimeters from losing patience. She’d bungled so many tasks that she just wanted to go home but Ralen insisted she stay. What choice did she have, anyway, she thought, he was her ride home.
The small light craft was outfitted for eight plus the two person flight crew. Ralen invited Avril to sit up front with him since the other passengers were couples.
“You’ll be bored back there by yourself. Besides, I could use the help.”
Avril frowned,
“I don’t know anything about aircraft and I wasn’t much help while you were prepping, either,” she said
Ralen shrugged and turned to welcome the other passengers,
“You can always climb over if you change your mind,” he said as he greeted the first couple and told them where to sit.

The Ariel tour took them on and east-west parallel and highlighted the colonies. Many of the settlers chose the now defunct volcanic craters to house them, as the rim rock was a natural barrier from the heat and sandstorms. Lafayette 10 was recovering from mineral pirating over millennia ago. Advanced techniques in modern terraforming and restoration proved that planets like this one could eventually be nursed from the brink.

Avril looked up from her holo display to find Ralen facing her in his seat.
“Don’t worry, we’re in a holding pattern until I get clearance to land,” he said.
Avril looked out the portal,
“Is that where we’re going on the lava boat?”
“Yes, we’ll be cleared to land in a few minutes, the port will bring us in by tractor beam.”
Avril watched the air commerce
“This is ten times busier than Strata,” she commented, as another small craft crossed the airspace beneath them.
“Lava City is a tourist’s dream, if you like that sort of thing,” he said.
“Oh? What do you mean?”
“Anything you desire is down there,” he said, “legal and illegal things, if you know what I mean.”
Avril blushed when she realized what he implied. Ralen chuckled

The craft began its descent and the remote tower announced the docking procedure. Ralen touched her knee
“Here we go, welcome to Lava City.”

The lava City spaceport provided Avril with the proof she needed to take what Ralen had said seriously. There were thousands of species milling around in the spaceport and she even thought she saw a few of her own people but couldn’t be sure because they wore environmental suits to keep the low oxygen, moist atmosphere circulating. She could be sure, though, that one was male and the other female, apparent by the size and shape of the suits. As far as she knew, she was the only one of her kind here and she didn’t like knowing there were others around. The only one who didn’t hate her for being so different was her mother.
“Do you know them?”
She started, turning to find Ralen looking at her, an unreadable expression on his face.
“What? Oh, no, just, well, a little homesick, I guess.”
Ralen nodded, watching the couple move past. Avril couldn’t help noticing that he was more than a little interested in them and it made her uncomfortable.
“Time for the tour,: he said, braking off his observation and gesturing to the kiosk leading to the boarding area.

The craft was narrow and cramped and the group had to climb a ladder to access the cockpit area. Ralen, as usual, loaded them back to front. When it was her turn, Ralen proffered a hand, and then pulled her up so strongly that she lost her footing and landed against him. He caught her and kept them both from falling into the cramped cockpit. She tried to get her arms working and push away from him but only managed to grab his buttocks.
“Oh, sorry,” she muttered, her face flaming with embarrassment.
“Are you okay?” he asked, steadying her, his hands on her shoulders.
She nodded, to embarrassed to look up at him. He took her chin in his hand and tilted her face.
“Look at me,” he said, his voice low.
She looked up at him, I’m a nice guy, honest, I don’t bite.” he said, then let her go and climbed into his seat.

The lava ride was the most thrilling experience Avril had with the exception of playing in the river Falls back home. The craft was an insulated hovercraft, riding the thermals above the floe 1000 feet below. Ralen expertly maneuvered the river with confidence and his narrative kept everyone entertained. The spontaneous tendrils of exploding molten orange kicked up by the fast moving lava reminded Avril of her homeland, and she soon lost herself in memories and felt a bit homesick.
Then she noticed Ralen’s level of concentration as he piloted the craft in the thermals.
Avril watched him, his excitement infectious. By the end of the ride, she was breathing as heavily as he was and when he turned to look at her, she smiled,
“That was wonderful,” she said, reaching out to squeeze his forearm. The other passengers were all clapping and nodding in agreement.
• *

“Avril, wake up, you’re home,” came Ralen’s voice as he shook her awake.
She sat up In the Rover and looked around. They were parked in front of her complex, the solar panels reflecting the twilight like soft silver. She must have fallen asleep on the ride back home. She turned her head and met his eyes. She could see them now, free of the UV shields that hid their true color. They were as blue as Hepson’s ocean, vibrant blue rimmed in black.
He kissed her, and then sat back.
She sat there in the Rover, her lips burning from the contact. After a moment, she remembered her manners.
“Thank you for such a great time, and for the rides,” she said, popping her seatbelt and opening the door. The hydraulics complied with a hiss.
“No problem, Avril. Call me if you want to see me again,” he said.
She stopped, turning back to face him,
“Do you want to see me again?”
“You have my number,”
“Okay then, I’ll call you,” she said, then walked to her unit.

When she got in and undressed, she felt the quiet desert night replace the day’s excitement and she was able to relax. She heated a meal and adjusted the thermostat up a few degrees before checking her box. Ralen’s name appeared. She tapped the icon and read the message.
‘You look great without your eye shields.’
She smiled, exited the message and set her alarm. The split shift at the mining facility was only hours away.
• * *
Avril considered calling Ralen many times during the next few weeks but could not bring herself to even approach the com unit without panicking. She just didn’t know what to say or how to act. She only knew that hshe wanted to be near him. She stopped going to the gym and worked out at home instead to avoid the anxiety being near him provoked because it was just too intense.

Hepson was a semi-aquatic world and she was it’s freak. She was prevented from learning all but the essentials or what could be sent via a com unit approved by her parents. She just didn’t know how to relate to anyone who was not either a co-worker or a superior. That was the one element of her life that she depended upon, her work ethic and intellect. It’s what got her off Hepson and would, she hoped, provide her with some direction on Lafayette 10. But she was at a complete loss as to what to do about Ralen.

Then one day it resolved itself. Avril was just about to leave for her shift when the security monitor bleeped. It was Ralen’s rover,
“Hey Avril, want a lift to work?”
His voice sounded like he wasn’t the least bit upset she hadn’t called since the day of the tour.
She took a deep breath,
“Yes, thanks. I’ll be right out,” she replied and popped in her eye shields and grabbed her satchel.
No time for anxiety, she thought, cramming on her sun hat after thumming the lock on her door.

Ralen was smiling when she stepped into the Rover but waited until she was secured before speaking.
“I thought maybe you forgot to call me,” he said, piloting the rover back the way he’d come.
Avril played with the strap on her satchel and said nothing. She wanted to say a million things but couldn’t find the right words. Ralen directed the rover to the mining depot where Avril worked before continuing.
“Listen, if you don’t like me, just say so.”
“I like you,” she said, still fiddling with the strap on the satchel, “I, um, I’m not very good at these things.”
She crept a look over at him from the corner of her eye. He was watching her watching him.
“so, just a little shy, is that it?”
“Yes,” she agreed, turning to meet his gaze more fully.
“But you like me?”
“Dating okay?”
“Good, I’ll pick you up after your shift, then, and maybe by then you’ll be able to tell me more about yourself.”
Avril smiled,
“I’d like that.”

She left the rover and entered the lobby of her office building, catching a glimpse of herself in the reflection off the mirrored security wall. For the first time, Avril touched her face because she was smiling.

• * *
“She was meant to die,” hissed Simsu, reading the mail from his wife’s ebox, “You let her go and now your actions have disgraced us.”
Luuma said nothing, her secondary gills quivering, the only clue to her discomfort. Simsu made her sit before him , berating her with words and a kick or two to emphasize his anger.
“You are lucky you gave me sons first or I’d have left you for dead when you gave birth to our freak.”
Luuma knew that the only reason he let them both live was to exploit them. She sent her daughter away to save her from being sold to a gypsy. Luuma had outsmarted him by putting Avril on a deep space transport destined for a planet she hoped would save her daughter’s life. Her own life meant nothing now and she was ready for whatever her husband was going to do. Simsu seemed to read her thoughts, his rubbery lips grinned, revealing the baleen like teeth,
“You think you’ve saved her, well, wife, we’ll see about that. “
She glanced at him, risking another kick for such boldness.
He laughed,
“That’s right, wife, I’ve called in a favor. A lunar cycle from now, your beloved little freak will be dead.”
Luumla said nothing, turned away from Siimsu and asked,
“It is as you say, husband.”
He grunted and struck out at her again but it was half hearted.
“Bring me food. Ttomorrow you will thank me for sparing your life.”
Ten minutes later Luumla served her husband, kneeling by his side at the low table as he ate, and then as he died, the poison working quickly to paralyze his heart. When she was sure he was gone, she ate her share. Her last thought was that the poison didn’t hurt, which was disappointing because she wanted the horrid beast who was supposed to be her husband to suffer before dying.


Ralen waited for Avril in the mining company’s main lobby, his eyes on the public holo , his ears, however, listened to the gurgling swoosh of an elderly evo suit behind him. Ralen recognized the suit from the day he took Avril and the other tourists on the Lava City tour. Two people in junkyard suits appeared at the spaceport that day and one of them was here again today . He positioned himself so he could unobtrusively inspect the off-worlder’s reflection in the mirror finished wall beside the public holo. Ralen noticed the suit’s apparent age, as if the wearer had thrown it together from bits and pieces of other suits. The form fitting helmet and face plate made it hard to tell the sex of the suit’s wearer, though he was sure it was male. It was definitely the same suit, apparent by the unique patchwork of bonding tape and sealant.

Normally he would have passed the off-worlder without a second glance, however, it was Avril’s reaction when seeing them in the spaceport that day that made him take note of them. She looked surprised and even a little afraid. That got him thinking back to the conversations he and Avril had as they returned from the tour in his Rover. By then, he’d guessed that she was here because she was tired of living with an air scrubber glued to her face, but he asked anyway.
“So, why are you here? Don’t Hepsonites need moist air to live?””
“I’m not like the others. I don’t have gills.”
She gathered her hair and looked at Ralen, hesitating a microsecond before lifting it up to reveal indentations where her gills should have bben. She turned in her seat to give him the full effect. The indentations were on either side of her throat, just under the jawline below her button-shaped ears.
Ralen reached out and traced the indentation with a finger. Avril turned away, letting her hair fall back over her shoulders.
“My mother made me leave. She said I’d die if I stayed any longer. She said my home world would kill me.
“Kill you?”
Avril shrugged.
“It was hard to breathe.” She added, then changed the subject.
Soon after that, she’d fallen asleep. And he’d never gotten the chance to ask her why she didn’t introduce herself to the other Hepsonites.
He thought it odd that the two Hepsonites in the spaceport just happened to show up when she was there. Ralen hadn’t met any of her kind since living on Lafeyette 10, which was his entire life so far. He knew Avril was from Hepson because he made it his priority to find out about newcomers for his business. When he saw her, however, he was attracted to her exotic looks.She was slim, narrow hipped and her face was taken up by a large eyes and mouth and a petite flattened nose. Her skin was the color of cream. To Ralen her features were a welcome change from the broad tanned obvious faces of his kind.
He watched the off-worlder through his reflective vantage point and waited. A few minutes before Avril’s shift ended the junkyard suited man left. Ralen tailed him as far as the outer archway, feeling uneasy.
He scanned the area in front of the mining company once more, then shrugged to himself and returned to wait for Avril.

She saw him as soon as she stepped off the lift, his tangle of platinum hair seemed to glow in the refracted light from the mirrored lobby. She resisted the impulse to throw herself into his arms and instead gave him a quick hug and kiss. He popped in his eye shields and gestured toward the exit,
“I hope you’re hungry, we’ve got reservations at The Rim,” he said steering her out and into the lift to the parking garage.
“What’s The Rim?” she asked, twisting her hair and shoving it under her hat.
“He smiled like a little boy with a secret,
“It’s a surprise,” he said.
They walked to the rover and got in and were soon out of the city and skimming the open red-tinged landscape of the outer limits of Strata.

Avril soon discovered that The Rim was a restaurant perched atop the highest natural rock tower just outside the west rim of the crater. The entire structure reminded Avril of a mushroom with an abnormally long stem. It took only a few minutes to reach the top via seated lifts which corkscrewd the tower’s outer surface. The ride provided a splendid view of the crator’s landscape.
“It’s beautiful,” Said Avril, taking it all in as if she was a little girl in a land of candied confection.
Dinner was a work in progress for both Avril and Ralen; he explained the foreign sounding entrees, drinks, and desserts to her with patience.
“My home world wasn’t exactly a cosmopolitan place to live,” she said, taking another sip of the house wine, “thanks for expanding my horizons.”
Ralen pointed to another piece of land crab she’d pushed aside,
“Are you going to eat that?” he asked.
“I’m full, go for it.” She smiled and pushed the plate to him.
The ice cream was her favorite and Ralen mentioned that there was a great ice cream kiosk near the mining company and offered to make that their next date.
“I’d like that, we could go on my break, if you’re not doing tours that day.”

• * *

The Rover sped through the desert night. Avril noticed the land traffic here was much heavier than on the outskirts of Strata.
“I’m stuffed, thank you so much for dinner.”
“Want to stop for a drink?”
“I take it this is a normal part of the dating thing, right?”
Ralen laughed, “Yes, it sure is. How about a cactus Daqri?” he suggested, heading the Rover to a brightly lit bar fronted with a dancing neon holo of a frothy concoction overflowing a stemmed glass.
“It’s not ice cream but it’s cool and tasty, trust me,” he added, nudging the rover into a spot and popping the doors.
The bar was crowded but Ralen found two seats. Hhe ordered two cactus Daqeris.
The android bartender placed the drinks in front of them and debited Ralen’s account, then left.
“Ever drink alcohol?” he asked, watching Avril’s reaction after taking a sip
“Yummy,” she said, licking her lips.
“Ever see a bunch of drunk fish? That’s about fifty percent of my homeworld. Fermentation and distilling are mainstays there.”
Ralen laughed,

He wasn’t a drinker and preferred a few beers but only while not working. He didn’t want to come off as a wimp, but he had to be up early for a two-day tour out beyond Lava City. After the second drink, he sat back and stifled a yawn.
“Let’s call it a night, okay? I have to pilot another Lava City tuor and I need some rest”
She looked disappointed but got up and let him put an arm around her. A few steps later, her arm was draped around his waist and they walked out, arm in arm.
Avril was just settling into the Rover when her voice comm unit Beeped. She glanced at the display and frowned.
“What is it?” Ralen asked.
“It’s my security droid. It’s reporting that someone’s trying to get in to my place.”
?Did it notify the police?”
“yes,” she nodded, tapping in a reply “I just told them I’ll be right there.”
“Ralen backed out of the spot and set the navigation for Averil’s complex and hit the accellirator.

“Before we get there, I’ve got something to tell you,” Ralen began,”I was hoping to tell you this another time but I guess now’s the best time considering what’s just happened.”
Avril looked out the Rover’s window, her mind racing with anxiety. Was he going to tell her he didn’t want to see her anymore? She didn’t know what to say and waited him out.
“I’m a clone. The Sheriff is the guy who cloned me.”
Avril looked through the windshield,
:We’re here already, that was fast.”
“Did you hear what I just said?”
“yes, and it doesn’t matter, Ralen. Do you know why?”
He shook his head, “No, so tell me.”
“It doesn’t matter because I was once a tadpole that swam around in goop.”
Then they looked at each other and laughed until Avril felt tears running down her cheeks.
The rover’s brakes got them back into the moment. Itslid in next to the Sheriff’s vehicle and they got out. Sheriff Marion Fisk was there to greet them, a look of surprise came and went across his face in a flash when he saw Ralen. The two men gave the same nod of acknowledgment.
“Miss Ozmalut?” Sheriff Fisk said, holding out the I.D. pad.
Yes,” she said, thumbing the pad to confirm her identity.
He scanned the data and then looked up,
“Whoever did this was not a professional or they would have actually opened the door. As it is, only the lock has been broken.”
“What can I do? I can’t stay here without security.”
“I’ll stay and we’ll get it repaired tomorrow.” Said Ralen, “unless you can suggest something else, of course, Sheriff.”
Avril looked from one to the other, they were twins, the only difference was in age. The Sheriff was heavier and looked much older.
“I can’t keep watch with my men, if that’s what you mean, Ralen. I’ve got the city to worry about.”
“Right, I forgot the city gets all the attention.”
“Thank you, Sheriff, we’ll be fine, I’m sure of it.” She said, putting a hand on Ralen’s forarm. It seemed to calm him down,
“Right, let us know when we can go in, then. We’ll be in the rover.”

The Sheriff and his assistant left a short time later and As Avril made a late night tea, Ralen set up a simple security beam over the door with a kit he’d left in the Rover.
“It’ll be loud if it goes off but that’s it.”
Avril was sitting next to him on the futon,
“Thanks,” she said, taking the empty cup , “now try to get some sleep.” She kissed his cheek and went to the bedroom and closed the door.

Ralen left as soon as the sun rose, passing the repair droid on the way to the Rover. As the droid worked, Avril drowsed on the futon. Wondering why someone would break in, as she had nothing of value. She’d left most of her things behind in the rush to get off Hepson. She reset the alarm after the droid reported it was repaired and tested, then she went back to bed. She snapped awake, realizing she didn’t hear her usual wake-up music. She sat up, looked at the clock and cursed, she was going to be late for her shift if she didn’t get moving. She threw on some clothes, gulped down her vitamins, and grabbed her satchel and hat. She thumbed open the door and was tackled by a white blur.

Avril heard the evo suit’s breathing equipment as she woke and her hand went to her face, expecting to find the air scrubber attached. She was confused for a moment when she couldn’t find it, her mind snapping to attention once she realized it wasn’t her air scrubber making those sounds. Then she remembered everything else and opened her eyes.
She saw the patched evo suit and heard the suits labored crinkle which meant the filters needed cleaning.
“Ah, so you are finally awake,” said a voice heavy with the Hepsonite gurgle all the planet’s inhabitants had developed due to air escaping the secondary gills while speaking.
“I thought I’d given you too much of the sedative,” he said, “I want to say a few things before I have to kill you.”
His words brought the last few hours back to her all at once and she almost cried out as the events played out in her mind.
She was on her way to work, opening the door, and felt a sharp pain in her thigh. She looked down. As her hand began to pull out the needle, she felt the unmistakable sensation of the sedative and she tried to get back in the apartment and shut the door but it was too late. She grabbed the door frame and stumbled into the smaller of the two intruders blocking her from leaving the apartment. The Hepsonite tried to steady her but Avril had no control of her limbs and fell against the other, slamming the smaller woman into the wall. Avril heard something inside the suit’s pack give way under them and the woman let her go, hands flying to her suit controls. Avril’s legs weren’t working. She got to her hands and knees to crawl away but a booted foot caught her in the ribs and sent her sprawling into the kitchen alcove. Her head hit the corner of the wall and she saw stars before losing consciousness.

Avril looked around, not seeing the female Hepsonite, and realized she didn’t even know where they were. The first thing that came to her was why was someone trying to kill her? The man in the evo suit was watching her webbed hands uncovered, one hand held a wicked looking injection pistol that had been used to shoot her with the sedative.
He caught her interest in it and laughed,
“I’ve got your lethal dose right here, don’t you worry,” he said, waggling it like a toy.
“Why?” she asked, sitting up when she discovered only her feet were bound
“Why?” he laughed again, the gurgle adding a phlegm overtone, More than one reason, bitch. First for Siimsu, you are a disgrace to him and killing you will amend that. Second, for killing my mate, you know, the one you crushed in your dwelling.”
. She thought she would never hear that phlegm soaked gurgle ever again. She hated it so much it made her physically sick. She swallowed down the nausea “I was told to give you a message before you die, he looked at her but the suit’s face plate blocked Avril from seeing his eyes. “Your father wants you to know that he thinks you would have made a wonderful whore. It will be an honor for me to kill you.”
Avril looked down, noticing the dried blood on her hands and shirt. She remembered hitting her head and found the tender spot at her hairline just above her forehead. She shifted and pain shot through her left side where the man had kicked her into submission. It was always her mother who was battered by her father; protecting Avril by saying she was too delicate for beatings. Siimsu would add a few kicks to compensate, adding that she was right; Avril’s selling price would go down if she was damaged. This Hepsonite man was no different than her father. All of them were oppressive and prone to violence. She supposed being brought to death by chemical injection was better than being beaten but she wasn’t ready to give in, not yet. Her mother risked her own life to save hers and Avril wasn’t going to let this slimy off warder kill her without a fight. She liked her life, her job, and even being pursued by Ralen was becoming quite pleasant. She had a lot to live for, in fact.

She looked at the injection pistol, the man’s webbed fingers, all six of them, awkwardly covered it, his single jointed thumb barely able to rest on the safety toggle.
He laughed, waggling the pistol at her, mistaking her interest as fear.
She looked up at him,
“Your suit sounds like it needs new scrubbers,”
“My suit’s fine, bitch,”
He got up
“If you let me live, I’ll repair it for you, I’ve got the supplies at home.”
“I’m not an idiot; I know you design the breathing packs for the mining company.” He said, his breathing seeming even more labored than before. The crinkle became a squeak and his hands went to adjust the moisture pump. He looked down and tried to shift his grip on the pistol when Avril rushed him, knocking the pistol from his hand. They toppled backwards over the chair he had been sitting on, the pistol skidding across the floor.
She rolled off of him and kicked out with her bound feet, the blow breaking something inside his suit. The gasping sound got louder and he got up, searching for the pistol. They both saw it at the same moment but Avril grabbed the chair and swung, sending him slamming into one of the stone walls. She scrambled for the pistol and pointed it at him but he was not standing and she could barely hear the suit working. She took stock of the room for the first time, her hands shaking, her mind still feeling the rush of adrenaline. The door leading from the room was simple and she opened it, surprised it was the basement storage of her apartment complex. She hobbled out and shut the door, then took off her shoes and wiggled out of the bindings. She rubbed her ankles until they stopped burning and put her shoes back on. She shaded her eyes from the sun and followed the path to the front of the complex, the gun still in her hand

Ralen saw her come out from behind the main building, her hand shading her eyes. He had his comm. Out and was jjust about to call the Sheriff’s office but stopped when he saw her limping toward him.
“Avril?’ he said, his voice cracking. .
She stopped and looked at him, then she broke into a lurching trot. He rushed to her and she clung to him; for the first time in her life, she felt safe.

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Excerpt From Memoir

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Rolling up the Rugs: Non Fiction by Ann Chiappetta
Excerpt from “After the Divorce: 1970”

I got my love from animals — dogs, cats, sometimes coaxing a squirrel to eat from a hand. We had a revolving door of pets depending on how long it took mom to discover the new additions my middle sister, Laura brought home. Teika was a calico who had three litters of kittens with a Russian blue tom cat we also owned named Jack. Eventually Teika went to live with mom’s ex boyfriend, Eddie, a few months before we moved to California. Until then, though, she turned out to be a sweet and loving pet.

The summer after graduating from fifth grade, I noticed jack hadn’t been around and I went looking for him. He usually sauntered into the hall as I came in from school or from the complex pool, wanting to eat, but he hadn’t been doing it for a day or two. Something told me to go find him. The tingle was there and I wanted it to go away but I couldn’t ignore it and after feeding Teika, I went out to look for him. I found him lying in the bushes near the front steps of our building, his body stiff and cold. I Recognized that he died horrifically, apparent by the arch of his back and the way in which his lips had shrunken revealing ann open-eyed death mask. I will never forget the shock, sorrow, and anger I felt. It was rat poison, that much I knew, with a certainty I couldn’t explain. I stood up and tried to figure out what to do next. I remembered overhearing a neighbor talking to my Mom about finding her cat dead on her patio and when she called the police, the officer said it looked like rat poison.
Another neighbor had knocked on our door a few days ago and I heard a snippet of conversation between her and my Mom about the fear that the super had put out rat poison to get rid of the cats instead of the vermin. As with many conversations, it really didn’t mean too much at the time but now it bridged the gap of how this could have happened and it fueled my anger.
I knew by the returning tingle that the superintendent had put out the bait. I got a paper bag,
slipped him in it and went to the super’s apartment, He opened
The door and I showed it to him. ” You killed my cat, you bastard. I hope you go to Hell” I said and walked away. I shook with the intensity of it all. Standing up to an adult like that and cursing them went against every fiber of my being, yet I did it. My legs felt like rubber but my mind was telling me I did the right thing.

I walked down the hall, knowing he was watching me, feeling his eyes on my back, but I didn’t stop. I went to the furnace room and opened the outer door. I brought Jack to the furnace and unlatched the heavy door, glad it was cool and not being used. I placed jack inside on top of some garbage already there, closed the door and pressed the button. the whoosh of the
intense furnace heat incinerated his corpse. In less than an hour he would be gone, his ashes swirling up the flue with common household refuse.
I watched him being consumed by the fire in the tiny window in the iron door and cried. A few weeks later, as I headed for the side door to the building to go home and have dinner, the Super was standing there like he was waiting for me. I hadn’t seen him outside since Jack’s poisoning and got a bad feeling. Nevertheless, I had to go inside, so I tried to pass him. He blocked me as I tried to pass.
“I feel bad about your cat.” He said, “Got a gift in my pocket for you to show you how sorry I am.”
I looked up into his face and he smiled. I wasn’t sure but reached into his pocket anyway, not sure what to expect. My fingertips met something soft and warm with a hint of wetness.
He tried to push my hand deeper into his pocket but I jerked it out, the flash of realization making my stomach flip. I’d been touching his penis. The words I cursed him with a few days ago came back to my lips but I held back.

“You’re disgusting,” I said, and walked away.
I remember telling my Mom what had happened but don’t recall anyone ever asking me about that horrible day. Like many grief-laden events in my life while growing up, I shouldered it as best as I could, not knowing I had an option to trust someone enough to share it and unburden myself. I learned this much later, after many years of trying to manage depression resulting from carrying this and many other burdens caused by loss.

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