Monday, December 15, 2014

Batteries Not Included excerpt by JL Merrow

How would you react if you woke up one morning to find you were in bed with your favorite rock star? More to the point: how would the rock star react?
In Batteries Not Included by JL Merrow, animal rescue worker Sam is content to dream of rock sensation Cain Shepney. Trouble is, his meddling mother Lilith thinks he deserves to have all his dreams come true -- and she isn’t above performing a little magic to achieve her ends! Sam’s shocked to wake up one morning to find himself actually in bed with his celebrity crush -- but that’s nothing to how Cain feels about it! Suddenly Sam’s got to deal with an irate, naked, and very distracting rock star in his bed.

Cain has it all -- he’s good-looking, famous, and adored by millions. But his life takes a turn for the surreal when he wakes up in bed with Sam. Expecting everyone to be worried sick by his disappearance, Cain’s horrified to find his manager -- and even his mum -- insisting he’s an imposter, and the real Cain Shepney is right where he belongs.

Sam just wants to help, but with Cain convinced he’s a crazed, celebrity-kidnapping stalker, Sam’s got his work cut out for him. Can he get the object of his affections to trust him long enough to find out just what the hell’s going on?  Will this romantic screwball comedy have a happy ending?


Batteries Not Included
JMS Books (12/14/14)
ISBN: 9781611526851

Excerpt:

“Holy shit, who the hell are you?”
As wake-up calls went, I could think of better ones. At least, I could have if I wasn't terminally sleep-deprived. I cursed the day I ever let Lilith buy me that voice-recording alarm clock—she must have been laughing herself silly when she sneaked in to leave that little message—and reached out to turn the bloody thing off.
And hit flesh. Bare flesh.
What the fuck?
Suddenly more wide awake than if I'd been mainlining espresso all night, I stared into wide, grey eyes, surrounded by enough kohl to start a fire with. The face that went with them contained full, red lips, a cute little nose, and was topped off with spiky black hair with just a hint of purple.
“Oh, thank fuck for that,” I breathed, relaxing. Because I'd just realized I was dreaming. Had to be, as no way was the real Cain Shepney, pop phenomenon and mega-star winner of Britain's Got the Idol Factor, stark bollock naked in bed with me. “Come back over here, Cain,” I mumbled, reaching out for him.
“Get the fuck away from me!” I felt a sudden chill as Cain ripped the duvet from the bed and wrapped it around his naked form, backing away slowly.
Oh, bloody hell. It was turning out to be a nightmare. Which was odd, because usually my dreams about Cain Shepney were strictly of the pleasurable variety. You know, the sort where you have to change your boxers after, and possibly the sheets as well… is that too much information? My mates are always telling me I over-share. Then they meet Lilith, and they realize that actually, I'm pretty reserved, considering. I lay back on the bed and closed my eyes. Maybe if I tried to direct the dream a little, it'd go back to being good? “Mmm, Cain,” I murmured.
“Look, just shut up, will you? And, and tell me who the fuck you are, where the fuck we are, and just how the hell I got here?” Cain's voice got higher and higher, and cracked on the last word. It was a good thing this wasn't real. It couldn't have been good for his vocal chords.
I sighed. “Look, it's a dream, okay? Just relax, and it'll turn into that one with the teddy bears and the novelty condoms.”
“You're completely insane,” Cain muttered. “And depraved. Seriously, teddy bears? I'm calling my manager.”
“Fine,” I said. “But you're giving me back my bloody duvet first.” I made a grab for it, and Cain sort of squeaked. We had a brief tussle, which ended with me victorious and Cain sprawled on his arse on the floor. My mouth went suddenly dry. Bloody hell, he was hung like a cart horse. “Can I dream, or can I dream?” I said, smugly. “You sure you don't want to get back into bed?”
“What was it?” he demanded, getting up and grabbing the phone off the bedside table. “Rohypnol? Or did you just spike my drinks? Hello? Neil? It's me. Cain. I need you to send a car for me right now. And some clothes, all right? And yes, I know it's practically Christmas! Seasonal sodding greetings!” He broke off to glare at me. “What's the address?”
It was about this time I started to wonder. I mean, he was acting like, well, Cain Shepney, if he'd woken up in my bed. The real Cain Shepney. And trust me, I'd had the dream version in bed with me often enough to know the difference. “Er, 25, Eden Place?” I said cautiously. “That's St Albans, AL1 4OT, for the satnav.” I paused, then swung my legs out of bed. They felt like my real legs, not dream ones—I could tell, because my right ankle clicked when my foot hit the ground, where I'd broken it playing rugby. “Um, are you really Cain Shepney? My name's Sam, by the way.”
He stared at me, the phone seemingly forgotten in his hand, and then he nodded.
I sighed. “Oh, bloody hell. Did my mum put you up to this?”


Twitter - @jlmerrow,

To purchase from JMS Books, click here
To purchase from Amazon (UK), click here
To purchase from Amazon (US), click here 

JL Merrow is that rare beast, an English person who refuses to drink tea.  She writes across genres, with a preference for contemporary gay romance, and is frequently accused of humour. Her novel Slam! won the 2013 Rainbow Award for Best LGBT Romantic Comedy.
She is a member of the UK GLBTQ Fiction Meet organising team.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Two Loves excerpt by Jacob Campbell


Two Loves by Jacob Campbell is dedicated to the writer Mykola Dementiuk.  The author states, “Mykola is my dear friend and mentor, and he is a multiple Lambda Literary Awards winner. Mykola has been a constant encouragement since I began writing for publication. He suffered a physical crisis which left him partially paralyzed, and he types his books with one finger, a letter at a time.  I cherish his friendship and dedicate this novel to him with warmest wishes.”

In this book, Joey is growing up with no gay role models. In the dim light of the early 1960s, Joey only knew what he picked up on the streets, at magazine stands, and in public restrooms. In his senior year in high school, he falls in love with Ross, a beautiful athletic “straight guy.” But once in college, his love life takes a turn.


Ike, a flamboyant college freshman, turns Joey on to gay sex and the newly formed gay lib movement. But things don’t go well for Joey, and he fumbles through a few one-night stands and semi-relationships. After nearly losing Ike to a gay bashing, Joey gives up on love and turns his motorcycle toward New Orleans and the French Quarter, where he moves in with his bohemian cousin, Judy. 


Joey likes the gay scene in the Quarter but he is lonely, missing intimacy, and flails through life. The sexual nights in the French Quarter aren’t enough to satisfy his real needs -- but his resourceful cousin magically opens the door for him to have the best of both worlds.

Two Loves
JMS Books (November 30, 2014)
ISBN: 9781611526592

EXCERPT:


I was a goner from the first moment we met.


Ike was a kind and gentle man, a tender person. He was cheerful and talkative, and cared nothing for the fact that his gestures and speech mannerisms gave him away as a man who liked other men. In my earlier life, in high school, I’d fallen in love with a classmate who had similar atypical gestures and mannerisms for a boy. It wasn’t that Ike had girlish ways, but he lacked a macho stiltedness and his movements were spontaneous in all situations, with a sort of ballet-like gracefulness.


In the privacy of Ike’s room, we began kissing and his lanky frame seemed to wrap around mine. We kissed a long time before we moved our hands around exploring. We just hugged, kissed, and stared into one another’s eyes. The sensation of a fast fall into love was unmistakable. I was totally enchanted.


Hours into our private time in Ike’s bedroom, we took each other’s shirts off, and rubbed and kissed each other’s chest, stomach, and explored everything -- nipples, armpits, the long muscles of Ike’s neck and our hugging was wonderful.


We talked between kisses.


“You are so beautiful,” he whispered in my ear. His golden red stubble rasped on my cheek and our naked bodies folded into one another, soft accepting hard, hard pressing soft. “You smell so wonderful.”


It was so good to hear what he said. I felt so ugly lately, beyond ugly, and here he was telling me the opposite.


I spoke to him in whispers, “You are so elegant, so sleek, so strong and tight ... like a gymnast. What do you do?”


His dancer’s physique was a rush to touch, and we seemed to reach some sort of excitation crescendo mid-afternoon. We withheld actual sex all this time. We accumulated desire. We built anticipation. Our pants were tossed aside with wet spots in the fronts, and new heightened arousal as our skin in private parts of our bodies began to meet for the first time.


“Slow.” Ike whispered. “Go slow, make this last.”


“This is bliss.” Our voices so soft as to be almost inaudible, but we agreed to pause and savor this blissful threshold.


We were glowing and all I can say is that I fell in love with Ike again every instant as if this capitulating to his charm held new surrender each and every new moment.


He fell in love with me, too. It was impossibly fast in a sense, but what delays we experienced seemed to deepen our love. The emotions were unmistakable as love; but there wasn’t anything in my life’s experience that would have prepared me accept or to resist such a force of attraction. I was full, overflowing, joyful, and a roaring underground river flowed with warmth and majesty deeply within me carrying with it new love. New love flowed tangibly through us both.


Love at first sight unfolded like a lotus flower unfolds. Waves of excited blissful affection washed over us.


The sound of Ike’s voice whispering in my ear, the breath gently flowing past my ear and gently moving my hair…the clenching of our arms around one another -- everything was exquisite.


Somehow in my mind I remembered a past time when once I meditated at a botanical garden early one morning, and saw a lotus bud closed, but poised for opening at daybreak. I sat beside the pond, assumed the full lotus posture, and gazed unblinkingly at the purple and lime colored bud. It seem not to move from moment to moment but after a short while the petals expanded into a flower, and in a short time the lotus was fully opened. I felt the magic of natural unfolding from bud to flower as a parallel to this time in Ike’s room, in Ike’s arms.



Monday, December 1, 2014

A Cape of Good Hope Christmas excerpt by Lloyd A Meeker




“A Cape of Good Hope Christmas” excerpt by Lloyd Meeker, is not the typical Christmas romance with miracles and mistletoe.  It’s the story of an established couple who find they now want different things.

Chaz and Neil have been together ten wonderful years, but now for the first time it seems they each want a life too different for the other to accommodate. Taking a break from their regular surroundings they fly to Cape Town to spend a sun-filled Christmas with their friends Jerry and Piet in hope that the change will help them see their situation in a clearer light.

They love each other deeply, but can love provide enough common ground for their life together? Will a mid-summer Christmas at the southern tip of Africa bring them the gift of renewed happiness?

A Cape of Good Hope Christmas
Wayfarer Press (November 23, 2014)
ISBN: 978-1-939092-07-6
Excerpt:
I watched Chaz cut a bite of lamb from its bone, his delicate, precise motion thoughtful, and oh, so gentle—exactly the same way he arranged flowers in his shop. The soft light of the restaurant made him radiant, angelic, breaking my heart.
He was always that gentle, and in that particular instant I resented it. If our relationship was in trouble and he was the soft, pliant one, what did that make me? The hard-ass bad guy. It was unfair to be summarily convicted by his gentleness.
He seemed utterly absorbed in savoring his food, which I could readily understand. This was our third night at the Lanzerac Estate, nestled between the Paarl and Stellenbosch wine regions, and the rich flavors of the Cape’s vineyards and cuisine still surprised us.
The thick white linen on our table spread like a snowfield between us. Adoring him, hurting at our distance, I waited for him to glance up.
When he saw me staring at him, his eyes widened, as if surprised by danger. After eleven years together, I knew that startled deer-at-the-edge-of-a-clearing look very well. I hated that sometimes I scared him when that was the last thing I wanted.
Maybe he expected me to raise The Awful Issue. It hadn’t come up at all on our trip, and although I knew it eventually must, I was grateful it hadn’t so far. I wasn’t eager to share what I had to say from my side of the problem.
"Would you rather have stayed in Cape Town with Jerry and Piet?" I picked up my wine glass and stared into it, not wanting to spook the wary soft-eyed deer. As a worst-case scenario I could imagine he might have agreed to three days in the wine country even if he hadn’t really wanted to come. That would make it my fault if he wasn’t happy here. I was braced for that.
"No," he said, his eyes bright. "This is wonderful. Besides, the whole purpose of this trip is for us to be together in different settings. I want to be with you." He put down his fork. "I always have, from day one." Chaz smiled, radiant. So beautiful.
I ached when he smiled like that. I knew what he said was true—but he also wanted to be with me in ways I couldn’t give him, and it was tearing me apart.
He’d smiled at me like that almost twelve years ago when I walked into his flower shop The Enchanted Forest for the first time, needing flowers for a date. He’d led me on a slow tour of every cooler, standing half an inch in front of me, forcing me to peer over him as showed me what he had in stock.
It was easy to see everything he pointed to, because the top of his head barely came to my chin. In that first moment his melodic voice and uncanny grace enchanted me. I imagined the sharp floral odors of the shop to be the cool green scent of his body. He became a beautiful, slender sprite moving among his flowers and it took willpower not to pull him back against me and crush him into my arms.
My date that night years ago didn't go well, and I'll readily admit it was my fault. I'd been bewitched by a sprite in The Enchanted Forest. Every time I looked at the flowers I'd brought my date, I'd see Chaz's smile. The next day I returned to The Enchanted Forest after work, and every day after that, buying far too many flowers until he agreed to have dinner with me. And here we were at dinner years later and half a world away.
"I’m glad," I said, pulling myself back from sweet nostalgia. Reluctantly. Our present was a more difficult part of our story. I raised my glass "Here’s to Christmas in the Cape."
He lifted his glass to clink with mine. "To Christmas in the Cape."
"I love you," I said, holding his gaze. "No matter what."
"I know. I love you, too." His smile turned wistful. "We’d be in deep shit without that, wouldn’t we?
I nodded and took a sip. "Do you want to talk about it yet?"
He shook his head. "I can’t. I’m so certain your answer is going to be no, and I’m not ready to hear you say it."
"Will you hate me if I say no?"
He tilted his head a little to one side and smiled sadly. "Probably. For a little while, at least." And maybe longer. Which was exactly what I was afraid of.
Whatever I might have said right then would only make things worse, so I grabbed his free hand and held it. He turned his over so we were palm to palm, and spread his fingers. His sweet energy sparked up into me.
"I want you so much," he whispered. "Take me to bed."
I set my glass down and signaled for the check.
Back in our room I pulled off my own clothes in a hurry, but undressed Chaz slowly, standing behind him, reaching around him to unbutton his shirt, peel it away, rubbing against his back as I unzipped his pants and pushed them down. I pressed him down onto the bed to pull off his shoes and pants, stroking and kissing his knees, calves and feet as I uncovered them.
We made love in an unhurried ceremony of respect and tender affection—knowing, giving each other pleasure in ways we’d learned in our years together. We both were careful not to think of anything else.
#
The following morning we loaded up the car and drove back to Cape Town.
I blamed my sister Gillian for making Chaz want children. A mother of three, she’d somehow gotten to Chaz, filled his head and heart with the joys of parenthood, and then suggested we adopt a child. Or two—because two weren't a whole lot more work than one, and way more than twice the happiness.
When he first raised the idea, Chaz’s eyes glowed with his eagerness. My response was very different. I filled with claustrophobic panic I’d never imagined, let alone experienced. I couldn't explain it. Then Chaz decided he didn’t want to adopt, since adoption was difficult for couples like us. Instead, he wanted me to sire children with a surrogate.
Gillian probably hadn’t put those ideas in his head deliberately, so although I blamed her I couldn’t be angry with her. She loved being a mother, and maternal contentment shone through everything she did. Raising those kids was her life, her calling. Childrearing was about as far as anyone could get from mine.
We watched the scenery slide by. Chaz pulled my left hand into his and squeezed it against his thigh. "You’re thinking about it, aren’t you?"
I squeezed back. "I haven’t been able to think of much else." He didn’t ask for more, and I was content leaving the rest unspoken. Straight people would have talked about having children early in their relationship, but when we first got together our current dilemma hadn't been a realistic option for us to discuss, let alone plan.
I loved kids. I did. But some terrified voice in my head insisted it made no sense for two men pushing forty to start a family. We both had successful careers that demanded at least fifty hours a week, and now after years of hard work we finally had the resources to travel more, which we loved to do.
Was it selfish of me to want to be free to travel now that we could? Maybe. Even for super-mom Gillian, loading the car just to go across town with infants required packing for an expedition. I'd watched her with amazement as she did it. Chaz said he was willing to sell his shop and be a full-time parent. I was certain he'd be a good one. I was equally certain I wouldn’t, and the prospect froze my guts every time the idea came up.
We pulled into Jerry and Piet's driveway, and it was a relief to be yanked out of the future into the present. Our plan was to take the guys out to dinner tonight, and then tomorrow spend the day at the Kirstenbosch Gardens.
I loved botanic gardens, but I loved Chaz's love of botanic gardens even more. Walking paths through unusual shrubs and flowers with him was nothing short of inspirational. He had a passion for growing things—their beauty, their uniqueness. When he saw them arranged or landscaped with artistry and imagination his excitement, his childlike wonder, carried me with him into a way of seeing the world that I could never experience by myself.
#
Next morning I awoke with the sad, quiet understanding that today I had to tell Chaz I couldn't be a parent, just didn’t have the most basic capacity for parenthood in me. Below the understanding sat a dark well of dread. I knew two things—no, three.
One, I couldn't dedicate the next twenty-plus years of my life to raising children. Two, Chaz might feel just as strongly that he wanted them. And three, if he wanted children so badly, he deserved them. What that might mean to our relationship was an unknown. If I had the right to take a unilateral stand for what I wanted or didn’t want, so did he.
The uncertainty of what my decision might bring wasn't as painful as not being completely open and honest with the man I'd loved and lived with for more than a decade. If he needed children to be happy, then with a broken heart I'd let him find someone he could raise children with.
I imagined him hauling kids to recitals and soccer games, attending parent teacher meetings, coming home to someone else. I could see him herding the kids to the dinner table and settling their squabbles, making them pick up their mess in the living room before bed. Crawling into bed himself, next to someone else. That part drove me crazy.
No matter which way I looked at the issue it was a colossal no-win situation. If Chaz stayed with me he didn't get children. If we did have children, I was certain there would come a time when I would resent both Chaz and our children for forcing me to live a life I didn't want and wasn't cut out for. That was unthinkable.
We got to Kirstenbosch no more than an hour after they opened, but even so the parking lot already held a dozen cars. We paid our R45 each and decided to hike up to the waterfall first while it was still cool. Because the gardens were set against the slope of Table Mountain, it wasn't likely to get as hot as it had been in the wine country. Still, a morning hike seemed the more comfortable choice. We ambled up to the waterfall, with Chaz providing expert commentary on what we passed.
The garden was stunningly beautiful, both the cultivated areas and the natural setting. The summer day was bright and perfect. But as beautiful as my surroundings were, I saw everything through the lens of my sadness, my fear that whatever happened between Chaz and me about kids would be bad.
At the waterfall we walked to the edge of the ravine to see as much as we could. Chaz stood so close that our hands touched on the protective railing. Without taking his eyes off the cascading water he said, "So. You're thinking about it again, aren't you?"
So this was the moment. "Yeah. I am. Are you ready to talk about it now?"



To purchase ebook, click http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00Q3J2ZWI

Monday, November 24, 2014

Snowman with Benefits excerpt by Marshall Thornton


In Snowman with Benefits by Marshall Thornton, Trey is desperate to win a neighborhood snowman contest. Trey pulls out all the stops. He and his boyfriend, Landon, work all morning to make a snowman along the lines of Michelangelo’s David. Unfortunately, all does not go well, and the two break up over Trey’s relentless perfectionism. Struggling to take a nap that afternoon, Trey is awakened by the sound of someone in his house. He goes downstairs to find the snowman has come to life – and he’s horny!

Snowman with Benefits
  • Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (November 10, 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 1503190447
  • ISBN-13: 978-1503190443

Excerpt:

Someone was rumbling around downstairs. Opening things; shutting them. The noise woke me. My first thought was that I was being robbed. My second was that Landon had come back and was packing his things. The thought of Landon downstairs made me angry – not as angry as the idea of being robbed – but still, angry. Breaking up with me at Christmas was low. Despicable even. And for what? I wasn’t abusive. I wasn’t a drunk. I just liked things to be nice. Who didn’t like things to be nice? And I wanted him to be better. Was that so terrible? Everything I said was for his benefit.
I stomped down the stairs and stormed into the kitchen ready to give Landon a piece of my mind. A big piece. Unless, of course, he’d come back to apologize, which was actually very likely. Instantly, I decided I’d be kind and generous and forgiving. Yes, I’d sternly warn him to never, never do it again. And he would promise not to.
But when I got into the kitchen it wasn’t Landon standing there. It was someone else. A man. Looking into my refrigerator. He glanced over at me and said, “I’m so thirsty. Do you have any iced tea?”
He was tall and pale, so pale that his skin had a bluish cast to it. His hair was frost white and his eyes sea green. He had a clever little dimple in his chin. He wasn’t wearing anything other than a red Speedo and an amazing set of abs. He looked exactly like—
No, it was not possible. Not possible at all.
I dashed out of the kitchen into the living room and looked out the window. My mouth dropped open. He was gone. Snow David was no longer standing in front of my house. Where he’d been standing, there was just a lumpy mound of snow. This couldn’t be real. I had to be dreaming. I slapped myself in the face a couple of times and then looked out into the front yard again. The snowman still wasn’t there. Did that mean I wasn’t dreaming? Or did it mean I just hadn’t woken up? I tried slapping myself a few more times.
Nothing. No snowman.
My face throbbed and I was wide-awake. I had the sick feeling I wasn’t dreaming. I went back to the kitchen. The snowman was still there. Still studying the contents of my refrigerator. He opened the freezer drawer and looked down into it. Then he squealed. “Popsicles. Yummy!”
He snatched up a cherry popsicle and was about to unwrap it when I said, “They’re from last summer. They might have a little bit of freezer burn.”
Dropping the popsicle, he slammed the freezer shut and stepped back in horror.
“Freezer burn is a devastating skin disease. And it’s contagious. You have to get rid of that immediately.” He took a step toward me. “Seriously, can you imagine what it would do to my porcelain complexion?”
“Who exactly are you?”
“What do you mean, ‘Who am I?’ I’m the snowman.”
“I know you’re a snowman. But which, how, who...”
“Not a snowman. The snowman.”
“Well, there’s more than one snowman. Right?”
“There’s only one snowman who counts and that’s me. The snowman.”
“All right, you’re the snowman. How did you get here?”
“You made a wish. Don’t you remember making a wish?”
It took a moment but then I did remember. But that— “I did sort of make a wish, but I didn’t wish for you to come to life. I’d remember that. I was really wishing for something more... useful.”
“Has no one ever told you to be careful what you wish for?”
“Well, yes, but this is not—”
“No this is exactly what they were referring to.”
“Well, okay, sure. How exactly was my wish granted? I mean, isn’t there usually a witch or a genie or a fairy godmother involved?”
“All of the above. Or none, as the case may be.”
“And this is a none case? Because, you know, I didn’t see any non-human wish grantors around.”
This had to be one of the strangest conversations I’d ever had in my life, I thought.
“You know, it’s not always a good thing to think too much about things like this. It’s best to go with the flow. And witches are actually human, by the way. ”
“Oh, that’s right.”
“It causes all sorts of problems when you date one, though.”
“You date witches?”
“Well, no, warlocks. Now and then. But the whole, human/not human thing... Well, it’s complicated.”
“So, what you’re telling me is that the magical characters I grew up “The Easter Bunny. The Tooth Fairy. Jack Frost.”
“Jack Frost! Don’t even talk to me about Jack Frost.”
“You know Jack Frost?” I asked.
“We dated. Briefly. Between you and me he’s kind of an ice queen.”
“What about Frosty the Snowman? Did you date him?”
“I would never! You do know that everyone calls him Fisty the Snowman behind his back?”
“Um, no, I never heard that.”
“Well, I’d stay away from him if I were you. You could put an arm up there and not see it again until spring.”
“I’ll keep that in mind. What about Santa, you didn’t... he’s not...”
“Don’t be silly, Mrs. Claus would have me by the snowballs. I did go through an elf phase. I’m not proud of it. Short men always have something to prove. I let them prove it.”
I didn’t know exactly what he meant by that, but was sure I didn’t want to.
“Okay, so what happens now?” I asked.
“What do you mean?”
“Well what are you going to do? I mean, are you staying or are you going back to being an actual snowman? Soon? Like, maybe before the contest is going to be judged? Which I think is in about two hours.” I really hoped no one noticed that my snowman was AWOL. That could raise some challenging questions.
“Really? This,” he said, waving his arm dramatically from head to toe. “This is standing in your kitchen and you’re worried about a contest?”
“It’s an important contest. I thought I had a shot at winning.”
“Well, of course you do. Look at me.” Snow David walked across the kitchen and stood very close to me. Too close. “It’s very hot in here. You couldn’t turn the air conditioning on, could you?”
“It’s the middle of winter.”
“Hmmmm... I know. I’m most comfortable at about thirty degrees Fahrenheit.”
“My pipes would freeze.”
“Oh baby, I’ll freeze your pipes.”
I took a step back. “Frozen pipes are actually a very expensive problem.”
“Why don’t we go to your bedroom and you can check my plumbing?”
“You want to have sex with me? We just met.”
“Oh my God, you’re one of those guys, aren’t you?”
“One of what guys?”
“One of those guys who has to get to know someone. You do realize that never ends well.”
“Landon and I didn’t have sex until we’d known each other a month.”
“And look how that turned out.”
“When we started having sex didn’t have anything to do with our breaking up.”
“I didn’t say it did. But if you hadn’t waited you’d have had a whole extra month of sex. And if you had a whole extra month of sex maybe he would have liked it enough to stay.”
“He didn’t leave because he didn’t like having sex with me.”
“He didn’t say that. But really, that’s why they all leave.”
“That’s a horrible thing to say.”
“Do you want to screw or not?”
I thought about it for a moment. He was sexy in a frigid sort of way. And I was now single. But he was also a little obnoxious. And definitely pushy.
“I’m not sure.”
“So you’re just going to let me stand here and melt while you make up your mind?”
He made it sound like I was being rude not to have sex with him. The rules must be very different in fairy creature land. I was tempted. Very tempted. But, well, I didn’t really know what I was getting into, and there was something I needed to know first.
I stepped over to him and pulled the band of his Speedo away from his belly. I looked down and took a peek. In his swimsuit he had a nicely-shaped, nicely-sized member. It was a bit ashen but other than that it was completely normal. I looked up into his face and said, “Oh my God, you have, you’re... anatomically correct.”
“Really? I’m a snowman come to life and the part that surprises you is that I have a penis?”
“You know that I didn’t give you, I didn’t actually sculpt—never mind. You’re right. This is one of those moments in life when you have to take a leap of—”
“Whatever,” he said, before he lifted up my chin and kissed me. The kiss was deep, searching and a little chilly. Not cold in a bad way, but bracing. As though I was kissing someone who’d just drunk a glass of ice water. Snow David explored my mouth with his tongue and I tried not to think about Landon. It felt like cheating, except it wasn’t. We’d broken up. Hours ago. Which was weird. That it was so soon. But then again, how many times in my life would I have the chance to have sex with a non-human, vaguely mythical creature?
I pulled away from him and asked, “Should we go up to my bedroom?”
“Unless you’re willing to go out into the backyard. There’s a lovely blanket of snow out there.”

“Maybe not.” Hypothermia had never been a turn-on for me. I took him by the hand and led him upstairs. 
To purchase the paperback, click http://www.amazon.com/Snowman-Benefits-Marshall-Thornton/dp/1503190447/ref=sr_1_1_twi_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1416789678&sr=8-1&keywords=snowman+with+benefits.


Monday, November 17, 2014

Mother Asphodel excerpt by Edward C Patterson


“Clothes don’t make the queen. The queen makes the queen.”

It’s Santa Saturday in
New Hope, Pennsylvania and Mother Asphodel is trudging through the snow to a gig at the Phoenix Club - her drag queen couture bundled in a shopping cart - her bony feet stuffed into galoshes. At seventy-seven plus, Mother has seen the glory days and, in the course of this evening, she’ll share those memories with a younger queen, Brooks MacDonald (a.k.a. Simone DeFleurry of The Jade Owl fame). Listen to these stylish dames as they plan Mother’s return into the spotlight, to shine once again in the eyes of the community and peers.

Mother Asphodel, a novella by Edward C Patterson, bubbles with the secrets of a raging entertainer, who has rubbed elbows with the famous. Still, time knows no friends and Mother cleaves to life’s ornery path on a bleak wintry evening when hope is as sparse as bread crumbs thrown to the birds. The possibilities are endless on the road least taken - a kaleidoscope glimpsed only by those who take it.

Mother Asphodel
CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (November 8, 2014)
ISBN-10: 1503148947
ISBN-13: 978-1503148949

Excerpt:

“I was just rambling, dear - reflecting on the word gay. Just when did they give us that name?” 

“I think we took it when no one was looking.” 

========================

Chapter One

Snowy Afternoon

It was Santa Saturday in New Hope and the Phoenix Club held its annual fundraiser — AIDS research the worthy recipient. The Leathermen of the Delaware Valley were the sponsors and, ever since this plague afflicted the community, much cash was raised and donated. Beyond the altruism and community responsibility, the event was highlighted by comic relief, bawdy auctions, including the piece by piece sale of Mr. Leather Cubs’ apparel down past the jockstrap, and, of course, entertainment from the local drag queen brigade. There was a cake decorating contest, the leatherettes slaving over confections, each craving the grand prize — a golden spatula and a hundred dollars, which was always donated back to the cause. There was a leather Santa and leather Elves and many non-leather gawkers, who were welcomed if they brought their wallets. In past years, several Keith Harings brought in big bucks and the promise of another classic graffiti piece would draw the bridge and tunnel crowd from the moneyed towers of New York and the better-heeled burbs of New Jersey. Drinks would flow and hanky-panky was expected. Then there were the queens — Flabba Gasted, Brooks MacDonald, Hilly Billy and some newcomers plus the well-trodden sorts generally drawing more amusement than praise. Still, Santa Saturday was the destination event for the drag set year after year ever since the event began in days of post-Stonewall yore. It was to this magnet, through snow and wind that the legendary Kissme Asphodel came, struggling from her apartment in Lambertville, dragging her shopping cart filled with costumes across New Hope’s Delaware River Bridge.

The river burbled in her ears, blending with the metallic sounds of the occasional car over the steel trap road. The bridge was older than Asphodel, but not by much. In fact, she had dropped the Kissme from her stage name years ago, the community tagging her with the name Mother. At first it was an endearment, but as sixty waned toward seventy and now waxed to eighty, the pert name was meant to salute this drag veteran who had become more Mother Hubbard than Mother Theresa. On this occasion — her trundle across the bridge drew horn tributes, each honk rattling her nerves and causing her chattering teeth (those that remained) to chew her blue lips. But the road went on, the show went on and thus Mother Asphodel managed to cross into New Hope. Here she briefly paused, gazing through the snowy veil to the next hurdle on this trip — a hill, which could have been the Matterhorn for all practical purposes to her old bones.

The street was slick and the curb problematic, the cart’s wheels buckling into the sewer drain.

“Damn you,” Asphodel muttered, pulling until the cart bolted from the grating, nearly tossing her to her bony ass. “If you do that again, I’ll abandon you and salvage the essentials.”

Whether the cart heard her was hard to tell, but it became kinder on the next curb, navigating over a low snow bank. Another pause, and then up the hill.

Asphodel recalled the walk being shorter last year, and even shorter the year before. Of course, there was a time when she drove and an even better time when she was driven, handsome beaux at the wheel, escorting her like Tudor Royalty, befitting her position in the pecking order. Now it was the highway and, even if she used her thumb, no one would stop.

Thwack.

Something pelted her noggin, and then another and, when she turned to see, a third, this time smack on the cheek.

“Damn you,” she cackled at two youngsters, no more than eleven or twelve, who were fortressed behind a park car with an arsenal of snowballs. “Stop that. Can’t you see I’m an old woman?”

“You’re not a woman,” shouted one, another ball fired. “You’re an old faggot.”

“Does your mother know . . .”

Thwack.

“Fuck you,” shouted one.

“Faggot,” shouted the other.

Mother Asphodel huffed, ducked and then pulled the cart forward as fast as she could, the missiles zooming past her, and a few landing on her back. She heard an older voice yelling at the kids and the barrage stopped, but she didn’t. She slipped and slid, landing on a knee. But the cart, which had been so roundly cursed before, became her friend now, bucking her up. She peeked over the rise of sparkling garments. The boys were cuffed by a man she recognized — one of the waiters from Pietro’s Pizzeria — a witness to this assault, coming to her aid. She once knew his name. She once knew all their names — all the waiters in all the restaurants — the young ones and old ones — the living and dead. But for the life of her, she couldn’t remember this one’s name.

“It doesn’t matter,” she muttered, pulling herself up again.

It wasn’t worth going through the alphabet to recall. The wind bit her cheeks. She pulled her scarf up high and shivered. The snow worsened and the traffic lessened. She hoped that Santa Saturday wouldn’t be canceled due to weather. After all, even if she had to purloin one of the display reindeers from the nearby toy shop’s display, she meant to arrive at the Phoenix, even if fashionably late. Her public called her.What they called her had varied from age to age, but at least she had not fallen into that oblivion — the drag queen footnote in hell.

For Mother Asphodel breathing was a challenge even on a clear sunny day sitting on her balcony, watching the sparrows. Trudging up this incline in a wintry mess only proved she wasn’t dead yet. She could still belt out Loving that Man of Mine — at a slow tempo, true, but there could not be a successful Santa Saturday without Mother Asphodel’s Jerome Kern stylings. Despite this notion, she wondered if this was the last time she’d climb this slope to entertain the legions of Leathermen, who assembled for no other reason but to hear her warble. On a mission, she was and meant to achieve it, even if her faux fur was drenched and her feather boa strangled the shopping cart’s wheels.

Bridge Street curved when it met Ferry. Here Mother stopped again to rest. The Mulberry Diner was closed for the Holiday and the Holly Bed and Breakfast, where she had always been welcomed to pop in and while away the time, was as shut as an oyster. But she thought she spied a drape shimmy and fingers prying between the Venetian blinds — Miss White, the proprietress, no doubt. If it was Miss White, she’d open up and extend a piping hot cocoa to the old queen of New Hope. Mother sighed. It was Miss White. She sensed it to the bone. But the door remained shut — no invitation in out of the cold.

“I could be dying in the snowy woods for all she cared,” Asphodel huffed, and then continued on her course.

The hill flattened, but the ice roughened. Twice Mother nearly lost her balance, but old friend shopping cart kept her tenaciously on her feet. Her galoshes were practically new at six seasons with enough grip for the tricky patches. But with the fresh snow layer on the pavement, the cart provided the best support. As long as it held her, she didn’t dare move forward.

“Need help?” came a voice.

“Just a bit, young man.”

The young man wasn’t young in the least — a delivery guy, who carried a wreath to the door of the Glengarry Inn. Still, an offer for a steady arm would not be refused.

“What are you doing out in this, Ma’am?” the man asked.

“Places to go,” Asphodel replied, elegantly, eying the delivery van. “You wouldn’t be going my way, would you?”

“That depends,” the man said. “I’m not supposed to have passengers. Could get fired.”

“If caught. But you have a nice face.”

“I’m not sure what that has to do with it, but I suppose in this weather I could get you home.”

“Not home,” she said. “I’m headed for the Phoenix. Do you know the Phoenix?

The man raised a brow. No doubt he had heard of the Phoenix. Everyone ‘round these parts knew the place — perhaps not inside, but rumor and legend held sway in Bucks County’s more conservative consciousness.

“That’s out of the way,” he said.

“You’d let me walk all the way?”

“You were doing that before I showed up.”

“But you offered.” Asphodel blinked and puckered. “I’m getting on in age . . . a tad, and winters are a hardship for us older folk.”

“Are you flirting with me? I’m not your type.”

Mother giggled like a school girl.

“It’s not that far.”

“Unless you’re hoofing it . . . in the snow. And what are you dragging behind you?”

“Oh, my gear. You know.”

The man shrugged. Evidently he didn’t know. But he grabbed the handle and walked it to the van, stowing it roughly in the back.

“Do be careful with it,” Mother carped, slipping toward the vehicle. “The feathers are frayed as it is.”

The man stared at her, and then caught her before she slammed to the curb.

“I wouldn’t want you to ruffle your feathers.”

“I really appreciate this,” she said, opening the door and hauling herself into the front seat. “It’s not very far and I know it’s out of the way and . . .”

“Enough, lady,” he said, slipping behind the wheel. “You’ll be my last delivery of the day, so don’t push it.”

“Well, you offered.”

The man shook his head, put the van in drive and drove slowly up Bridge Street advising Mother Asphodel that silence was golden. She didn’t heed the warning, jabbering like a duck on bread. They only made it as far as The Raven, when the van halted, the doors opening — the drag queen ejected, feathers, cart and all.

Mother Asphodel once again was left to her own devices to finish the trek. 
“Chivalry is dead,” she squawked, gathering her dignity from a snow bank.

The distance between the Raven Bar and Restaurant and the Phoenix was only a half mile. They were closer in kind, although the Raven was known for its older gay crowd, while the Phoenix, a younger set. But when it came to a Leather event like Santa Saturday, the two establishments were satellites.

Mother was tempted by the inviting warmth of the Raven, but this was no place for a drag queen. The place had great food, but otherwise was all pick ups and octopi — nothing for a stylish gal to get excited about. So, rejuvenated by the short hop in a warm van, Mother latched to her cart to keep her upright and marched the half mile to the Phoenix.

Chapter Two

The Phoenix

The Phoenix was surrounded by motorcycles and, from the boisterous sounds flooding from inside, Mother Asphodel was reassured that the event was not cancelled — thank God. She huffed through the crispier snow to the club’s back entrance, the front blocked by leather-types, smoking and cuddling. Besides, for an entertainer to assault the main entrance was not becoming. The cart bumped through the crust, and then into the slush, but Mother had a sudden burst of energy, invigorated by the sights and the music. By the sound of it, Jasper the Belly Dancer was doing his schtick. He was a real looker — sleek as a snake, and sequined from hip to thigh. Mother had enjoyed his show at many venues, especially private parties. But Mother hadn’t been invited to a party, private or otherwise, in many years. She hurried, anxious to watch Jasper from the wings, but the chill got the best of her.

“Whew,” she muttered, reaching the backstairs to the rear porch. “I’ll see him next year.”

Mother plopped on the stairs to catch her breath. She noticed a brace of men huddled at one end, smooching and otherwise warding off the cold. It brightened Mother’s heart, whose days on the back porch had flown with the last swans of summer. But the memories were cheering. Still, she had to get the damn cart up the damn stairs.

“Yoohoo!” she harked, hoping to get a hand.

But passion abated for neither man nor woman nor drag queen, so Mother righted herself and tugged at the cart’s handle, managing to get the wheels, one step at a time, up to the porch. It was a task fit for a younger starlet and it put her on her ass again on the snow encrusted chaise lounge — a slippery sit at best and a wet one at worst.

“I’ll never make it in,” she moaned. “They’ll need to build a fire to thaw me out.”

She tried to get up, but the ice patch under her feet afforded no purchase and back she went into the chaise lounge.

“Yoohoo!” she sang out.

The smoochers noticed her now, laughed, smooched some more, and then raced back inside.

“Oh, Mary Mother of God,” Asphodel moaned.

She considered sliding to her knees and crawl for the door. But just as she lunged forward, the back door opened and a mug popped out — a comely drag mug, cigarette hanging from her lips.

“Flabba,” Mother said.

“Mother? What are you doing here?”

Flabba Gasted tossed the cigarette, and then tip toed out, her stilettos a more challenging platform than Mother’s flats and shopping cart.

“What do you think? I never miss Santa Saturday. If I had to crawl here, I’d take my rightful place among the gals.”

“Well, dear, what do you need?” Flabba held onto the door. “I’m on next and can’t afford to fall or even take the ice in on my heels.” She took a step, but then rallied back to the door. “Can’t you make a try, dear? Or perhaps you should just sit it out. There hasn’t been much call for you, and the dance card’s full.”

“What do you mean, there’s not much call for me?”

“Don’t get your panties in a twist. I mean, look at you.”

“How can I look at me from here? And my gear is in the cart not on my ass.”

“You aren’t going to wear that wig are you?”

“It’s on my head, Flabba. Where else should I wear it?”

Flabba made another attempt, but then hopped back over the threshold.

“I’m on now, Mother. Hang in there.”

“Hang in there?”

Mother lurched forward again, but landed on her knees, the cart keeping her body upright, but standing would be a feat monumental. So, she pushed back to the lounge, missing it, landing flat on her chest, the slushy snow biting her nose.

“What a mess,” she yawked, but could do little to right herself.

“Is that you, Mother?” came another voice, and then a helping hand.

“Brooks?”

Indeed, it was Brooks MacDonald, a stunning queen in a sequined black gown with white faux fur trim. Her goldilocks wig was perfection and her mascara was applied by the gods. Only her somewhat hooked nose detracted, but even that had its place in a well crafted suite of elegantly styled preparations.

“Can you get up, dear?” Brooks asked.

“Not very well,” Mother uttered, gasping, desperately not giving in to tears.

“Let me help you,” Brooks said, whose youthful vim lifted Mother to land legs once again. “You’re wet from head to toe. Did you mean to perform today?”

“Of course.”

“You’d best hurry then. Let me get the cart in and watch your step over the . . .”

“I know, I know,” Mother said, exasperated, but relieved to get the support of someone at last.
Through the door, a blast of steamy heat and smoke struck Mother. It felt like home — the aroma of sweaty men and cheap perfume — heaven in cabana.

“What’s she doing here?” asked another drag queen.

It was Hilly Billy, the vamp of the tramp set.

“Never you mind,” Brooks replied. “Just help me get her settled.”

Suddenly, a short dude in a leather vest and panties blocked the way.

“Look what the cat dragged in,” he said.

“Who are you calling a cat, Dooley?” Brooks said. “Just get the line up and move it along.”

“Who made you boss?” the Emcee barked. “The line up’s set and I don’t see no Mother on the list.”

Mother halted, shaking her wet mop wig until it slid askew.

“I am always on the list.”

“Not this time you’re not,” he said. “In fact, you shouldn’t be back here. Get your bony ass out front and find a seat in the audience.”

There wasn’t much to differentiate the backstage from the front — a rough curtain separating the wee platform from rows of folding chairs, strewn on what otherwise would be the dance floor. Today even the chairs were hard to see, three deep in bikers and leatherettes, many hefty bears and their fuzzy-wuzzy cubs, boisterous and bidding — cash flying like kites at Kitty Hawk. But it was for a good cause. Every one was bidding on cakes, artwork, stripper clothing and filling the passing jars while Flabba Gasted sang a cheery round of It’s Raining Men.

Brooks snapped the clipboard from Dooley’s hands.

“Give me a pen.”

“What are you doing?”

“I’m making a late addition to your line-up.”

“I don’t have a pen; and even if I had one, I don’t take orders from some pushy Jersey bitch.”
Brooks turned to the assembly of chanteuses, who were in various stages of paint and prep and pull and tuck and squeeze.

“Anyone have a pen?”

“No pen,” said a young Latin queen. “But use this.”

“How appropriate,” Brooks said, grabbing an eyeliner from the seƱorita. “Now there. Mother Asphodel follows me and I’m on soon. So dear, you need to get your ass in gear. Find a spot.”

Dooley grabbed his clipboard, grumbling, but he knew better than to go against the grain when it came to the feather boa bevy.

“Yeah, get a move on — all of you.”

He disappeared to the front, Flabba finishing her set. The crowd went wild, the jars filling. Leather Santa came on stage, Flabba Gasted sitting on his lap and making her wish list. Boots pounded the ground. Whistles blew to the roof. It would be a memorable Santa Saturday after all.

Mother moseyed into the slim corridor, which was transformed into a makeshift dressing area — clothes racks draped with silk and satin and feathers and an assortment of dazzling displays. Into this, she wheeled her cart, drawing several sneers and more than one watch out with that thing. How things have changed over the years. Mother had prepared in crowded spaces before — smaller even, with many more armpits being shaved and hairlines cinched. But the performers were sisters all — polite and helpful, sharing and caring. Now these were cats on the back fence balancing their caterwauling to a wintry moon. How sad.

“Is anyone using that mirror?” she asked, spying a small set up in the corner.

“It’s communal,” said the Latina, Maria Maracas. “But be quick. It’s never free for long.”

Mother parked the cart by the wall, and then shod her wet coat and kicked off the galoshes, the things never fitting correctly in the first place. Her old shift hung loosely and slipped off with little invitation. She rummaged through the Hefty bags in the cart, threading out a white chemise and a red velvet and sequined gown, quite the thing in its time, but now frayed in spots, the hem wavering and the straps repaired above the snaps. Distance was its friend. It didn’t take long to drape over her shoulders, a shaggy companion of many shows. It knew where all the contours lay, even if they had vanished in a cloud of years.

“There,” she said, sighing, adjusting her falsies. “That’ll do for now.”

She looked about. No one noticed her; the others busy preparing for their stints. She could hear the stylings of Brook MacDonald on stage — a heavenly rendition ofSomewhere Over the Rainbow.

Mother experienced a pang of jealousy. There was a time when her voice was that sterling. Others depended on lip sync and preen, but never Mother Asphodel. If the piano man could play it, she could belt it.

She retrieved her make-up kit and head cinch. There wasn’t much hair to tame, but she always did it first, since it was weed gray. No sense drawing comments from the lion manes of the younger set. Over it went, tight as a drum. Her makeup box was a mess, having overturned in the cart.

“Jesus,” she said. “I need a new box. Some day I’ll fix it up again.”

The light around the mirror was dim, but what she saw was a bit different than what others saw. While they witnessed a drawn face, bagged and wrinkled, with arroyo canyons beneath the eyes and deep ravines around the lips, Mother Asphodel saw possibilities. She had mastered the art of Revlon — the high court of Estee Lauder. With a few brush stokes, she banished the ravines to mere crags on a precipice. Her powder puff sent the arroyos to the circus. A bit of rouge brought out the merriment of a calliope, while the lipstick, shakily applied, managed to highlight lips where lips were not, even unto the chin. She saw perfection — the resurrection of a face flown south. Others saw a lesson on how to shove one’s head in a flour bag and emerge for a comedy shot.

“There,” she said, ready for final insult.

She raised the wig and fastened it to the cinch plugs, assuring it would only fall off if her head should. That head had a slight shake, as did her hands. She would not show her hands on stage if she could help it — nail polish being a bitch to apply now.

“Where is she?” came a call.

It was Brooks, who had finished her number, wild applause following her beyond the front.

“Mother Asphodel. You’re on,” shouted Dooley.

Brooks was beside her and, upon getting a glimpse, did a double take. But no comment was made except:

“It was hard to get you in the line-up, dear, so look alive. Where are your shoes? Let me help you. Give me that foot.” Brooks grabbed the low heeled, ruby slipper, and then the foot. “How cold. Are you sure you want to do this?”

Mother heard the others laughing — comments best left to ignorance, because ignorant they were.

“Yes, dear. The evening would not be the same without me.”

Brooks finished her task, and then helped Mother up. She then removed her own string of pearls and draped them around her neck.

“You must accessorize, dear. You need something in case of slippage about the breasts.”

Mother nodded, smiled dimly and proceeded to the curtain’s edge.

Chapter Three

Fish Got to Swim

The audience, if she could term it that, fell silent . . . briefly. Mother considered this. Certainly it was out of respect for her well-trodden reputation. But no sooner than her first step onto the platform, twittering began — first from the peanut gallery, and then, like a wave clapping the jetties, moving to the front, both sides and up to her ruby-slippered feet.

“What’ll it be?” asked the piano man, impatiently.

“Oh,” Mother said, and then shuffled to the upright and whispered; “Do you know Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man of Mine?

“Bitchin’,” he replied, cracking his knuckles and playing a dazzling intro.

“Easy tempo,” Mother said, and then took center stage.

The laughter receded, but tensely bubbled beneath the surface. She hadn’t warbled a note yet, and they were already whispering about her misplaced lipstick and falling gown straps. The piano man began again, even faster. Mother struck a pensive pose and began.

    Oh listen sister,
I love my mister man,
And I can't tell you' why
Dere ain't no reason
Why I should love dat man,
It mus' be sumpin dat de angels done plan.

There was a problem. The piano man wasn’t playing the verse. He thumped out the chorus and at a tempo far outstripping Mother’s chanteuse tempo. It was a song to be fitted like a glove — each finger put on one at a time, and then swell to the glorious chorus. She stopped and stared at the piano man, who ceased playing. He shrugged.

“You shoulda told me you were startin’ there,” he shouted, and the place broke into peels of laughter. 

Mother sniffed, cocked her head and blinked. Three Leathermen were belly over belly in mirth, tears cascading down their cheeks. Several collegiate types shook their heads, grinning as if they had seen their first clown act. A little damsel with crayon red spiked hair and a blue sequined leather skirt began to do a herky-jerky dance. The piano man began again, this time at the verse. Mother began again, this time at the chorus.

    Fish got to swim, birds got to fly,
I got to love one man till I die.
Can't help lovin' dat man of mine.

    Tell me he's lazy, tell me he's slow,
Tell me I'm crazy, (maybe I know).
Can't help lovin' dat man of mine

Disaster.

Mother was clearly out of tune and her sound was shrill, but now tempo and melody didn’t match. By the time the piano man reached the chorus, he pounded it out in a true buck and wing. The herky-jerky dancer got the rhythm right and soon a number of front row rowdies were dancing to the fishies and the birdies also. Added to laughter now was pointing and a number of noses held.

“Ungrateful,” Mother murmured, but no one could hear her.

She blamed the piano man for this. In fact, she wouldn’t put it past Dooley from putting him up to it. It was a train wreck of the highest order. She nodded her head — a gracious acknowledgement that she was finished. It was met with cat calls and Mother Gotohell. But the piano man played on, the place happy with the dancing and the contribution jar being filled, not by the old hag’s singing, but by the upstart ivory tickler’s beat. Mother turned, and then shuffled to the curtain.

“You ought to hang it up,” said one of her cohorts, she couldn’t tell who and could care less.

There were many shaking heads backstage — the disapproval of the tribe. She brings a bad name to queens of all ages. We should all know when it’s time to burn the brassiere. That face was put on with spray paint.

The world was a blur. Mother felt dizzy. She wanted to run away, but she could hardly walk and where would she run — to the snow banks? She still needed to trudge home in this wintry mess. The thought brought her to an even lower point. She reached the corner mirror and waited for Aida Peach to complete her eyebrows. Aida took her time. Surely she knows I’m waiting. Surely she did, but Aida was an eighteen year old newbie and an up-and-comer. What did she care for a fright in a slipping gown and a frayed wig? But even eyebrows need their finishing touches. So Aida Peach turned smarmily to the older queen and looked up.

“Oh, have you been waiting, dear?” she said.

Mother sighed, not even gracing the query with a reply. The seat was vacated. It was time to wipe off and wash out. The mirror seemed less kind now. The laughter was behind her, but not really. The comments buzzed in her ears, her mind desolate to the moment. And the face in the mirror wasn’t hers. It was something left over from a weary life upon the stage. It had seen better days, better lights and better audiences. But to be brought to this point was unforgivable. Her reputation alone should buoy up their respect. Certainly her voice was thinning and her looks needed bracing, but the performance was sabotaged. Now the craggy mask looking back at her exploded all delusions. It was downright kabuki. Suddenly, another face appeared in the mirror — a younger, kinder face with a hatchet nose, but with an angel’s grace.

“Brooks,” Mother said.

“Don’t give them another thought,” Brooks urged. “They’re a jealous lot.”

“They are, aren’t they? And it wasn’t my fault. The piano was ahead of me and behind me and never at the right place in the song.”

“That’s so like Milton. Give him an audience and spotlight and he’ll steal the thunder from right under you.”

Mother brightened.

“So you did hear me try, dear.”

“Yes.”

“And my voice is still in tip top shape.”

“Well, I would be lying if I agreed with that.” Mother frowned, “Do you want me to lie?”

“No, no, dear. At my age, the voice can be a bit spindly . . .”

“And shaky.”

“Yes, that’s what I say.”

“And somewhat out of tune.”

Mother turned.

“Are you trying to bring me down?”

“No, no. Not a bit. I’m just saying perhaps you should rethink your act. Evolution and all that. If it was good enough for Charles Darwin, it should serve Mother Asphodel just fine.”
Mother sighed, and then returned to the mirror.

“I’m shabby. I admit it. I need a new compact and a better wig. Next week’s the New Year’s Eve gig and I intend to join in the fling.”

“Perhaps the fling is not the thing.” Brooks hunkered down, her gown stretched to the limit. “Perhaps a quiet New Year’s Eve with a glass of the bubbly and watching the ball slide down the pole might suit better.”

“I’ll not be alone at New Year’s.”

“No. You should invite over some friends.”

“All my friends are glitter gals and they’ll all be here performing. No, I must take my place among the . . .” She streaked her mascara with her fingers. “. . . among the . . . I look more like Halloween than New Year’s or Christmas, don’t I?”

“It’s not that bad. Let me help you wipe off.”

Brooks applied the cold cream and wiped gently. There were tears in the repellant. Suddenly, Mother began to cry in earnest, her head shaking, her wig jittery.

“There, there,” Brooks said.

Flaba Gasted came over.

“Does she need an Alka-Seltzer?” she asked.

“She needs some peace and quiet, Flabba,” Brooks snapped.

Mother slowly recovered, but when she glanced in the mirror, she renewed the waterworks.

“We need that mirror,” said Ada Tude.

“Suffer,” Brooks said. “Unless you mean to perform a procto, this mirror’s in use.”

Snarls. Fiery glances. But Ada Tude receded to another mirror bumping another queen aside.

“I need to go home,” Mother blubbered.

“Yes, yes. Have a nice cup of tea or perhaps a belt of scotch.” Brooks glanced at the shopping cart.

“Oh, you walked here, didn’t you? Where do you live?”

“Lambertville.”

“That’s too far a walk.”

“I got here, didn’t I?”

“Barely. I saw you on the porch. You looked like a snow queen. No. I’ll drive you home.”
Mother gazed up at this angel.

 “You would do that?”

“Of course. Have car, will travel. Besides, you can brew me a cup of tea or pour me that hooch. Now, pick up the pace.”

“We’re leaving now?”

“Right after they auction off Mr. Leatherman’s jock strap. Wouldn’t miss that for the world. And don’t you want to see who takes home the cake prize? But hustle now, dear. I can only fend off the girls so long before the gloves come off and the nails are sharpened.”

Mother agreed. She stood and let the gown drop. She looked in the mirror no more.


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