Just Maddy pt. 4

April 28th, 2019

by Martha Hubbard

read from the beginning, here

Winter brought hunters, and they were a whole different story: red hats, red jowly faces and red jackets; some even brought Day-Glo safety vests. That wasn’t a bad idea, as after two nights of sitting up drinking with Bill, most were so hungover and befuddled, they’d shoot at anything that moved. The extra bright colour might slow them down long enough to wonder if that was a deer or a mate. Sometimes watching this motley band of winter warriors stagger into their SUVs on Monday morning, Maddy thought it was a wonder they ever shot anything but each other. Somehow they did bag enough deer, wild pigs and rabbits to bring them back year after year.

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Just Maddy pt. 3

April 21st, 2019

by Martha Hubbard

read the story from the beginning, here

As spring, such as it was, trundled on into summer, Maddy’s life settled into a predictable routine. The work was hard but no worse than at Aunt Mary’s. At least she didn’t have to corral a herd of screaming kids from dawn to dusk. Summers could be almost fun. She even got to swim in the river that ran beside their property. And the campers and hikers who used Sunset Lodge were generally polite and friendly – some even tipped her. Tips she got to keep if Bill didn’t see it.  

“Hey, Maddy,” said Tom, daddy to three screaming hellions, whom Maddy had tamed by showing them how to hunt for deer tracks and getting them to silently watch beavers building their damn. “Thank you so much for making our stay here so special and peaceful,” he said handing her a folded up dollar bill.

“You’re very welcome. Come back and see us next year,” she said. “Drive safe, get home safe.”

After waving them goodbye, she unfolded the paper to find a whole fiver.

“I’ll have that, Missy,” Bill sneered.

“Da! He gave that to me. I earned it.”

Slap! His hand was fast and hard. “Don’t you ever talk back to me, girl. Everything earned here belongs to me.” He waddled off humming.

“No wonder you can’t keep a woman here longer ‘n a month or two,” she said to his back.

That night as she was rubbing cream into her cheek which was still red, Granny Maggie appeared. “Let me have a look at that.” Something soft and gentle seemed to stroke her cheek, easing the pain – just a little. “So the bastard hit you. If I had the power, I’d kill that son-of-a bitch!”

“Gawd, Gran, I wish you could.”

“Sadly, that’s beyond my powers, little one. But…”

“Yea?”

“I think it’s time you started to develop an emergency fund.”

“And how am I supposed to do that?”

“Back to asking dumb questions, are we? Seriously. Think about it when is he most likely to not notice where things are going?”

“When he’s boozing it up with his buddies.”

“Exactly. And when one of them comes to pay you for a round, what do you do?

“Put the money into his cashbox. And if a tinsy- tiny bit goes into my pocket, he’s unlikely to notice.”

“Don’t get greedy. No more ‘n a dollar or two at a time. Remember what they say about acorns.”

Yea, and think about how long that takes.”

“Patience grasshopper. Neither Rome nor an escape route were built in a day.”

“I don’t want to go to Rome, I want to go to Boston.”

“You’ll get to both places, I promise. Now we need to think about where to hide your bank.”

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Just Maddy pt.2

April 14th, 2019

by Martha Hubbard

read the story from the beginning, here

Winters in Northern Maine are long, cold, snow covered, and mostly grey. In the early mornings, waiting for the sky to lighten enough for her to see the path to the main lodge, Maddy would watch the sky slowly turning from inky sable to grey and wonder how many names for grey could be thrown at this one landscape. Then there was March. As bad as the winter months could be, March was even worse. The relentless, damp cold now delivered another challenge – mud. Mud, so thick and clinging, it could snap an unwary horse’s fetlock as soon as look at it. One pitch-black night, exhausted after finishing her chores, Maddy, trudging back to her cabin, got stuck so fast, she couldn’t pull her feet out. Stranded there, cold water creeping over the tops of her boots, she imagined herself pulled slowly down into the underground karst caves that riddled the area. She had just about decided to lie down, to see if this might speed things up, when her father came outside and saw her sliding down into the muck.

“God damnit Maddy! What the fuck do you think you’re doing?”

“I’m stuck Da. Can’t get out. Can’t go back. Don’t know what to do….”

“Stay there. I’ll get some boards and a rope.”

“Where the fuck does he think I’m gonna go,” she wondered, but not out loud. Once she was finally pulled out, cleaned up and back in her own room, he chewed her out something fierce. But the next day, he had a crew in to put up wooden walkways, all around the camp, that made it safer to get around. 

Not long after the mud incident, Maddy’s Granny Maggie began to talk to her. At first it was just in her dreams, soon it was in all the places she went to escape the unrelenting tedium of her days and Bill’s constant shouting. 

“You’re not as fucked as you think you are,” said a voice she recognised as Gran’s.

“I’m making this up, aren’t I? You’re not real, right?” Maddy was sitting on a large flat stone in the middle of a brook that ran off from the main flow of the river. Her grandmother’s voice seemed to float out of the trilling water swirling around her.

 “I’m as real as you think I am,” said Maggie, before beginning a rambling dissertation about how the stone Maddy was sitting on had arrived in its location.

The next day Maddy came back with a notebook. If her Gran was going to tell her stuff, she wanted to remember them. 

“OK, let’s say you’re real. At least your voice is. Why are you here?” Maddy spoke in the direction of a dark pool near her rock.

“Why do you think I’m here?”

“You do know it’s impolite to answer a question with another question?”

“If you want me to stop, then don’t ask questions you already know the answers to.”

“OK, fair go. So you’re here to help me, how are you planning on doing that?”   

A soft breeze, totally unlike early April, rattled the branches and ruffled her hair. The pool she had been addressing began to swirl round and round until a face she thought she recognised, appeared. “Hey, is that really you? You look a little like I remember my mother looking,” she asked.

“Well, I would hope so. I was her mother after all,” said Maggie. “I’m going to try and teach you all the things your mother would have taught you if she had lived.”

“Like what?”

“You really are a suspicious little thing.”

“You would be too, if you had to live my Da Bill.”

“Fair point. Now, to begin. What do you know about plants?”

“Not much. Some are safe to eat or touch; others will make you sick if you eat them or give you a nasty rash if you grab them.”

“I suppose that’s a start. Now listen…..”

As spring warily crept up from the south and the forest carpet began to turn green and spongy, Maddy and her Gran’s voice – Maggie had explained that it took a lot of energy to incorporate and teach at the same time – examined and sometimes tasted vast numbers of small plants, lichen and tree buds. Maggie learned their properties and uses; which could harm, which could heal wounds or nourish a sickly animal, and how to collect and prepare these. She very quickly stop interrupting with useless questions, sucking in this new world of information and possibilities like a parched sponge. 

Later, when the thaw was fully operational, the runoff that year was so powerful it carved a channel that grew into a ditch under the wooden walkway connecting Maddy’s cabin to the main path. Grumbling as ever, Bill conceded that a proper bridge was needed so Maddy wouldn’t fall in and break something getting to work. Two of his mates from town arrived and constructed a little wooden bridge that actually worked, complete with guard rails and everything. It was a little rickety-rackety, but Bill reminded her that “beggars shouldn’t be choosers.” Maddy silently agreed. 

A few nights later, she was lying in bed talking to Gran, something she did most nights now, before falling asleep.

“…so it wobbles a little when there’s a strong breeze, but I think it’s safe enough,” Maddy said. 

“For you definitely, I’m sure. But…. “

“But what?” 

“… safe enough for a little thing like you. Maybe you should think about loosening some of the joints – just a little bit. And you could scrape away at some of the supports, too. Not too much, mind you…”

“So the bridge would still be safe for me, but someone bigger and heavier would get an unwelcome surprise.”

“That’s my girl.”



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Just Maddy

April 7th, 2019

by Martha Hubbard

Everyone called her Maddy. Anyone who thought about it, and there were not many, assumed it was short for Madeline. In fact, the name on her birth certificate read Margaret (for her grandmother), Denise (her mother), Keller (her father, Bill). However, it had been a long time since she had had a mother, a grandmother or any name but Maddy.  

After her mother died, trying unsuccessfully to give birth to the brother her father had so insisted on, seven year old Maddy had been sent to Bill Keller’s sister, Mary Teresa, to be just another mouth in a large unruly nest of siblings and cousins. By age twelve, she had grown into a skinny, awkward, mostly silent young girl. Preternaturally shy, when spoken to, she ducked her head, causing long, strait, brown hair to cover her face. She earned her keep, what there was of it, by acting as chief babysitter, cook and dog’s body for Mary Teresa and Pierre’s brood, that had run to six before Mary Teresa told her husband, “If you don’t have the snip, I’ll cut the damn thing off myself. 

Her own father, Bill, seldom bothered with her. He never remarried, but a rotating carousel of girlfriends kept him sexually sated. Few lasted more than a few months once they understood that their main task, outside of warming his bed, was to shoulder the work of running a traditional hunting lodge fleshed out by a collection of rustic wood cabins. Popular with nature lovers, it attracted campers and hikers in the summer and hunters in the winter. In season, it was one long, hard grind. It was on one of his rare visits to his sister, that Bill noticed a very busy and useful young girl who was in fact his own daughter. 

“Why do I have to go and live with him?” Maddy demanded while Mary Teresa was trying to explain what had been decided. “I thought you were my family.”

“He’s your father,” her aunt replied through clenched lips.

“After all this time, he suddenly decides he wants me to live with him. It’s not right!”

“It may not be right, but it’s his right. So I have to let you go.”

“Don’t you care at all?”

“Of course I care. The kids’ll be devastated. They think of you as their big sister.”

“Right! And now you’ll have to pay somebody to babysit.” Maddy threw the words at her aunt as she ran out of the room. There was no way any of them were going to see her cry.



Read the next part of Just Maddy, here,

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Gonzo Days….part V [ the metamorphosis occurs ]

March 31st, 2019

by Terry Smith


After three days in a Tijuana jail I just couldn’t wait to feel the salt spray of the ocean on my skin…leaving my cocooned friend on the bed in a motel in Big Sur I grabbed a bottle of tequila , two joints  & my hat … wearing only that & my panama pajama’s ( the sheen of sweat that is always on your skin in that part of the world ) I head out toward the open sea……I make myself a nice little pillow out of some wet sand…( someday to be someones window with the ghost of a view of my ass )…take a swig off the bottle & smoke a joint….then i hide the bottle & the other joint under the pillow ( or at least I think i did…I was pretty buzzed at this point) & dive head first into the water…..after a little body surfing I felt  somewhat better ’cause clearing the cobwebs of a mexican  jail takes a lot of nature.& booze….I go back to my bottle & light the other joint….then time for  a little nap….when I awaken I head back to the motel & when I walk in to my surprise  there is the most beautiful naked woman I have ever seen….some kind of porcelain goddess with eyes like lightning & a body like rolling thunder….I toss her the bottle & say “man room service has changed”…when to my surprise she says (with a voice made of pure honey like the kind straight out of the bees ass ) ..”no you asshole it’s me ! “…I looked for a moment around the room & noticed the cocoon was missing…” Roach!” i said…”Damn…I take shits in front of you !”…she looked at me for a moment & said ” Yeah…that’s gotta stop.” Then she took a hit off the bottle while walking towards me.like the wind….dropped to her knees & started licking the head of my penis..I am simply stupefied…this gorgeous woman was once a creature so fowl nobody but I could stand it….I always had to pay extra anyplace we went just to get it in….& we were friends because “the roach” as I called it never judged me…& trust me there was plenty to judge ……while i am playing all the crazy ass shit we have done together in my mind like some photo-graphical carnival ride she has brought my cock to full attention & has proceeded to swallow it whole …gulping like she hadn’t had anything to drink for days & that caused me to explode in her throat like a fire-hose had sprung a leak….not missing a beat she stood up & kissed me & whispered in my ear ” that is for being my friend, always.”….” & tomorrow i’m going to let you in the back way”…then she laid down on the bed & proceeded to fall asleep

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Gonzo Days…part III [.leaving Las Vegas on our way to the city of Angels]

March 24th, 2019

by Terry Smith

….It was time to leave Vegas….the golden goose was gone…man that bitch was crazy..& there wasn’t going to be anymore free rides for this pony boy & besides my luck had turned to shit at the crap tables anyway….so the roach & i saddled up & headed towards the desert…I don’t know if it was the psilocybin pizza or the 5th of tequila but the music & the desert melted into one giant beat.driving us onwards…..my friend long since passed out ,fedora over his eyes & me just getting ready to take another swig when the worm came out of the bottle….adjusted his glasses looked me straight into one of my eyes & said to me…”drive 17 miles…the second cactus on the left”…well at this point i knew there was nothing left to do so I swallowed him…chewy like an albino raisin…now with my gps firmly swimming throughout my body i had a destination…..when i arrived at the cactus my body was recreating the great San Francisco quake of 1906 & I vomited the most spectacular rainbow…a splatter of colors like some cartoon character had just gotten violently mutilated…specks of color everywhere…. then they all flew out to create the sunset…feeling a little better i laid down on the floor of this once mighty ocean & listened to it’s ancient waves as one by one the stars came out….they started speaking to me in morse code…braille of light touching my eyes like galaziel acupuncture & as i watched the stars started to line up…front to back to form words one behind the other revealing the secrets of everything…I took a crayon from my pocket….yes i always have a box with me …but i could not find ANYTHING to write on…except a ticket i got last week for going 129 in a 35….the cop asked me if i knew how fast i was going & i said no i was to busy rolling a cigarette & arguing on my cell phone with the ghost of christmas past ..but i knew if i topped it out I could get it to 140…..but that is a story for another time…i wrote it down on the ticket as best i could when i noticed that my friend & i were covered in agave worms …I guess they could smell a family member on my breath ….the little guy just wanted to go home….i broke free but the roach was covered in some kind of tequila cocoon …I grabbed him & threw him in the back seat …..& headed off to Los Angeles … 

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Gonzo Days…part I [ jukebox breakfast special # 9 ]

March 17th, 2019

by Terry Smith



…Somewhere in the middle of the desert by the side of the road is a little diner called “Eats”…..Kafka’s cockroach & I decide to stop & have breakfast….I get “your brains on drugs” with toast & orange marmalade & a tall glass of iced tea….the Metamorphosis gets the house special…we sit in silence for forty five minutes waiting for Death to arrive….but she doesn’t show……..so back in the car & on we went…




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Taking the Money Out of One Pocket and Putting It in the Other

March 10th, 2019

by Jeff Nazzaro

On a clubhouse table I set a hot dog with a thin line of mustard down the middle beside a cold cup of MGD just starting to sweat, dropped the folded Daily Racing Form from under my arm onto the table, and sat down to eat. I left the Form folded and the golf pencil tucked behind my ear.

At the booth across the aisle a man with dark, thinning hair in a striped sport shirt with the sleeves rolled up to the elbows glanced over. He had a beer, a Form, a park program, and two ballpoint pens, one black and one red. Across the table from him sat a little girl.

No more than four, the girl periodically dipped her fingers into a sandwich bag full of Cheez-Its and sipped from an apple juice box. Sprawled across the table were a coloring book, several sheets of blank paper, and a boxful of Crayola crayons.

Biting into the hotdog, I watched the girl munch her crackers and color, putting the finishing touches on a thin strip of green lawn underscoring a typically square, triangle-roof house beneath a solid blue sky. The house had a rectangular red door surrounded by four square windows marked with crosses for panes. Finishing the lawn in a jagged green flourish, the girl spun the paper 180 degrees, as if to imagine a world of green skies and upside-down houses teetering on blue lawns. With a black crayon she marked a line of dashes, then drew what I imagined to be a little blue bird in the green lawn-sky, as if gravity had forced open the windows and freed the bird. The girl giggled and spun the paper back. Her father looked from his Form to the program and back to the Form, then inked a thick red X over a black question mark beside the 9 in Race 3. There were already red Xs beside the 1 and the 5.

It was seven minutes to post for the third race, a mile-and-a-quarter claimer on the weeds. I was sitting it out. Though I’d gotten pretty good at handicapping the races based on this videotape I’d seen on TV and sent away for, it was a limited sort of good. I could unravel the entries in the Form well enough, but I’d learned the hard way to avoid races longer than seven furlongs, turf races, and anything on sloppy tracks. As far as strategy went, it wasn’t much, but it left plenty of action.

“How’d you do on the first two?”

It was the man with the little girl.

“Picked them both, plus the Early Double.”

The man jutted his lower lip, tilted his head to the side, and nodded. “Both heavy favorites,” he said.

“Yeah, and I bet light, too. Two bucks to win. Two-dollar double.”

“Ah,” he said, extending his hand and flipping it palm up. “You’re just taking the money out of one pocket and putting it in the other.”

“I guess.”

He glanced at the spread on my table. “You’ll be here awhile? Keep an eye on her for me while I place my bets?”

“I usually go outside to watch the races.”

He gave a little chuckle. “I’ll be back well before post.” He said something to the little girl and left.

I looked at the girl. Across from all the betting slips on the table lay her open coloring book. She was coloring in a butterfly with large circles on each wing. There were smaller circles, too. One of the large circles she colored in orange and the other large circle she colored in green. I took another bite of my hot dog. The girl’s father returned. He offered a quick thanks and sat back down at his booth, arranging his fresh betting slips, nine of them in a three-by-three grid— boxed trifectas. The third race settled, he picked up his paper and folded it back to the fourth race, flipping the program to the same. The little girl never looked up from her coloring book.

At two minutes to post I stuffed the rest of the hotdog in my mouth, grabbed my beer, and walked outside to lean on the rail and watch the race. The old man in the trench coat with the long hair and beard was down at the rail, too. Every time I went I saw him. When the horses hit the homestretch he’d start bellowing, wordless and guttural, slapping his folded-up Form against his thigh. The little guy in the porkpie hat and vest was there, too. He always cheered loudly, right out of the gate, in a thick accent. Race 4 was back on the dirt, but it was a mile and a half, so I decided to watch the third, then spend the rest of the time until the fifth—six-and-a-half furlongs on the dirt—studying the Form.

I didn’t need that much time. In less than two minutes I’d zeroed in on a horse called Whitey’s Delight, the number one favorite entering the race and also a consensus pick by the park handicappers. Two of them had him as their number one overall selection for the day, and the third had him as his second pick. The track’s leading jockey, Rudy Fenstermacher, had the mount, and the horse was trained by the park’s leading trainer, Bull Gerber. It was a fast track. Starting in the fifth position in a seven-horse race, Whitey’s Delight, with early speed and a taste for the winner’s circle, was a lock.

After quickly making the choice in my head, I scanned the entry for glaring weaknesses or major adjustments, recent poor results or bad workouts. There were none. He wasn’t moving up in class and didn’t have any equipment changes listed. They hadn’t put him on Lasix or taken him off. Sure, he was carrying extra weight, but I’d never seen that to be a factor, especially in a sprint. Already at 4-5, down from even odds, Whitey’s Delight was the pick. I took the golf pencil from behind my ear and circled his name in the Form. Then I did something even I didn’t expect. Maybe it was because of what the man with the little girl had said to me, and maybe it was just my gaining experience and confidence, but instead of my usual $2.00 bet to win, I went to the window and bet $20.00 to win on the 5 in Race 5. I passed a $20.00 bill through the slot in the window and took the betting slip the clerk slid back.

“Good luck, honey,” she said.

I found a seat in the grandstand. It was a Friday afternoon in Salem, New Hampshire, September 1991. Across the rings of the track and the little artificial pond in the infield you could see the massive shopping mall that had opened up in the spring. The mall got a lot more action than the racetrack and would continue to do so long after the track stopped hosting live cards, reduced to simulcasts and Texas Hold ’Em tournaments for charity. In June I’d taken a job at one of the smaller bookstores in the mall. This was back when there were still small bookstores in every mall, back when there was still live thoroughbred racing in New England.

I had the day off. I’d parked at the mall, picked up my check, cashed it at the bank on the first floor, and walked to the track, using the season’s pass for free admission I’d gotten with my friends Hop and Noah as part of a Memorial Day promotion. Getting the passes was the first part of a plan to basically spend the summer at the track, make it our hangout, our new thing. That first day, Hop and I played the $2.00 Daily Double and both hit it, without having any idea beforehand we’d picked the same two horses. Of course, it was one of those doubles where the favorite won each race, so the payout was small. To me it felt great to win a Daily Double and all the better because Hop had picked it, too. I figured it would keep him interested, but really my picking it somehow ruined it for him. He always had to be the smart one, Hop. Just being at the track had somehow ruined Noah’s day. He was moody like that. I kept offering to buy him a beer or something to cheer him up, but he refused. He bet long shots all afternoon and lost every time. Playing it safe, Hop and I cashed our share of tickets and pocketed a few bucks, but the three of us only went to the track together once more after that.

I went by myself. I got the job at the bookstore in the mall. I got a credit card and ordered that videotape on handicapping and watched it over and over. Still cautious, I never bet big, so I never lost big. I never won big, either. I guess it was like the guy with the little girl said: taking the money out of one pocket and putting it in the other. I didn’t care. I liked the track, the atmosphere, the sport of the races. I liked deciphering the entries in the Form, trying to figure out which horse would win. Even if it was the heavy favorite, it was a thrill watching a horse you’d picked come around to win, and it sucked in the most exhilarating way when your horse got nosed out of the money. When a long shot charged down the stretch under the whip to win at the wire, the place was pandemonium. I liked watching the other bettors, the fist pumps and high fives, the ripped-up tickets tossed in the air, raining down from the grandstand, sailing out of the windows of the Turf Club high above the track like ash belched from a burning building.

While Hop and Noah were back at school for their senior years, I was on academic suspension again. An English/history double major who didn’t want to teach and didn’t want to go to school for the rest of his life, I was close to done with it. That winter I’d be twenty-two, living with my parents, working at the bookstore, going to the track.

When Race 4 went to post, I found my way down to the rail to watch. I should have handicapped it, just for the practice, but it was nice to take a break. Twenty minutes between races usually wasn’t long enough to evaluate all the information for each entry, on top of which I was easily distracted by big favorites with gaudy results and times, so it was nice to fold up the paper and just sit in the sun and sip a beer. Maybe I should have brought a book. I got a discount on them at work, but so far I’d only bought one, a paperback collection of D. H. Lawrence short stories, the one with the story about the kid who picks the winners of the horse races by riding a rocking horse until he knows, until finally it kills him. It kills him, but he knows.

For Race 5 at Rockingham this day, I didn’t need a rocking horse. I barely needed the Form. It was a surer bet than the first two had been, a surer bet than the three winners I’d picked the week before or the four I’d picked the week before that. I hadn’t won much money, but I’d paid for my day each time. A day at the races paid in full, a pocketful of dimes to the good.

Standing at the rail, it crept into my head to go back and double down on my bet. What was twenty bucks to me, anyway? About four hours of work after taxes so not nothing. Still, my biggest winner to date had been blind luck. That was the last time Hop and Noah came with me. I bet $2.00 to win on the 3 thinking I was betting Race 4 at Rockingham, when really the woman working the window punched in a race simulcast from Saratoga. The horse I picked at Rockingham shit the bed, but by then I’d realized my ticket said Saratoga and took it back to the window just to check. Sure enough, it paid $23.40 on my $2.00 win bet for a 10-1 horse whose name I never knew. That was the last straw for Hop, who wasn’t winning anything. He called me Lucky Fuck the rest of the day. Noah, who this time was drinking and not betting, cheered up because I said the beer was on me that night. I bought a case of Bud longnecks on the way home, and we drank them together in Noah’s backyard, but our plan to hang out at the track all summer sort of went out the window with my blind luck.

I didn’t mind going alone; in fact, I kind of liked it. Here I was, a few months of experience under my belt and my day already paid for thanks to Rudy Fenstermacher bringing home the 1 under the whip to win me Race 2 and the Daily Double. Thinking about the little guy in the porkpie hat raising his arms and shouting, “Rootie Kazootie!” and then laughing with joy, I thought Old Rudy definitely had one more winner in him, and I’d be the one yelling out, “Rootie Kazootie! Yeah!” Then I thought about what the guy with the little girl had said. Still occupying the same booth, he sat there puzzling over the Form, with a pile of betting slips and a fresh beer, the Cheez-Its down to crumbs and the little girl conked out on the table, her head resting on tiny arms folded across the open coloring book. I couldn’t see the picture. I gave her a little wave goodbye, like I knew her, though I don’t think she’d even glimpsed my face. Asleep on the table, she looked sweet and peaceful. It was no place for a kid, I thought, the track, but maybe it wasn’t so bad, either, being with her father, with snacks and crayons and pretty horses to watch on all those TVs.

Pulling myself out of a sort of daze, I made my way back to the betting windows. After waiting a couple of minutes for a man to finish placing his bets, I took a single long stride to the window and told the clerk through a suddenly dry throat, “Rockingham, Race 5, $50.00 across on the 5.”

It was most of what I had on me—my paycheck plus what I’d won. It was the same window where I’d bet the $20.00 to win.

The woman looked up and through the glass and said, “Fifty? Five-Oh?”  

I nodded. She punched it in.

“One-fifty,” she said.

I counted the cash and slid it under the window. She slid back the slip.

“Good luck, kid,” she said.

Whitey’s Delight went off at 3-5. At that price, I wouldn’t get rich, but I’d pick up more than a few dimes and build my confidence. You had to bet big when you found sure things at low odds. You had to take the money out of one pocket, slide it through that window, then take more money out of that window and stuff it back in the same pocket. Even if it lacked the excitement of a long shot or the glamour of a big stakes race, this was a gimme, a hopeful owner padding an up-and-comer’s resume for a future claimer. Still, I’d hedged my bet by spreading the buck-fifty across the board, so unless Whitey’s Delight fell to fourth, I’d at least get a chunk of it back. And how could he finish fourth?

With a minute to post, I scooted down the ramp out of the clubhouse and made my way to the rail. Dipping in the late afternoon sky, the sun reflected at eye level off that fake infield pond, so I used my rolled-up Form as a makeshift visor and drummed my fingers on the rail, not quite as nervous as I’d felt at the window. I’d bet enough big favorites, watched them streak around to win, collected my $3.40 on a $2.00 bet. This time the excitement would build, though. This time I’d jump up and down and shout at the top of my lungs with the man in the trench coat, the man in the porkpie hat.

Whitey’s Delight broke fast and led at the first call. I knew it was over and I knew I should have bet it all to win. At least I hadn’t gone my usual two bucks, or even my initial twenty. A hundred and seventy dollars was a lot of money for me. I only made six an hour. Even after buying a Form, a hot dog, and a beer, I was up close to twelve. This was good. I was getting smarter, bolder.

Into the first turn, at the far side of the track, through the sun, I lost track of the 5. I lost track of the call. The man in the trench coat started whacking his paper against his thigh, bellowing every three whacks; the man in the porkpie hat was yelling, “Lessgo, lessgo, lessgo!”

The pack rounded the second turn into the homestretch. I scanned for the green cloth framing the white 5, strained to hear the name, but Whitey’s Delight had disappeared. Then came the pack, bunched at the rail. And then, like a miracle, shot a horse on the outside, pushed wide and charging hard. The crowd roared. I jumped up and down. But it wasn’t the 5. It was the 7. The 7 was 40-1. Twenty lengths back came Whitey’s Delight. Rudy Fenstermacher didn’t have him under the whip, he had both hands bunched up in his mane. Standing up, leaning back, his boots pressed into the stirrups, his toes pointing almost straight up into the air, he seemed to be pulling back on those thick fistfuls of horsehair. I watched all this in a sort of tormented slow motion as the roar for the 7 grew and grew as she closed on the pack and won by a neck.

A couple of guys ripped up their tickets and scattered the pieces in the air. There were a few loud whoops from the grandstand. Everyone left the rail. I stood there, numb, until they posted the official results.

The 7, a mare named The Two Debbies, paid $81.80 to win. In the winner’s circle they took her picture with the jockey, trainer, and owner. But I didn’t watch any of that. I waited for Rudy Fenstermacher and Whitey’s Delight.

I always cheered when I won, but I’d never yelled out in anger at the track, and I’d certainly never cursed. Seething from the loss, though, when they went by I called out, “Hey, Rudy, at least make it look good!” And when he didn’t so much as glance, I yelled, “That was fucking bullshit!”

Though three sprints remained on the card, including two for the Late Double, and I still had a few bucks in my pocket, I left. I wouldn’t enter another thoroughbred racetrack for ten years, by which time I’d moved to Los Angeles, having sort of run away from a stagnated life. Giving up on school, the winter after I lost the buck-seventy at the track I switched jobs from the little bookstore to one of the big department stores at the mall, where I tried to sell men’s shoes. I wasn’t very good at it. I worked on commission, and I didn’t like rejection. If a guy wanted to buy, I helped him buy, but I had trouble pushing for sales, stretching truths, telling them what they wanted to hear to get them to lay down the plastic.

Around that time I met a girl online who lived in LA, so in the spring I moved out there with a little money I’d saved. I got a job at a supermarket, one of the smaller ones, more like a grocery store, I guess. After a year they put me in charge of the dairy and fresh juices, so I spent a lot of time in the cooler. It reminded me of winter back home.

One balmy May day I took my girlfriend up to Santa Anita, bought a program, a Form, and a couple of beers and, while she chased long shots with pretty names, I picked six winners out of the seven races I bet—seven sprints on a fast dirt track under the Southern California sun. It was a gorgeous day at a beautiful racetrack and a very good day for favorites. Through a cloudless sky, free of smog from a steady breeze, snow glistened on the San Gabriel Mountains. It felt good to scan the Form, place bets, watch the races, cash tickets. So what if it was just taking the money out of one pocket and putting it in the other.

Jeff Nazzaro lives and writes in Southern California. His short stories have appeared in over a dozen online literary venues, including the Angel City Review, Oddville Press, WORK, and Blood and Bourbon.


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At Zentralfriedhof

March 3rd, 2019



Tram 71; end of the line; Zentralfriedhof Cemetery.

Down the central path from the main gate, Brahms has a sleek, marble— white, shining white— vertical slab, his carven portrait atop an as white pillar.  The horizontal slab above his  remains remains green with moss.  On the pillar in bright gold, his last name, only, and 1833-1897.

Joseph Hoffman has a cubical pillar, taller than wide, wider than deep, a patched light grey, the limestone turning green at the top.  It reads Joseph Hoffman MDCCCLXX MCMLVI  Karoline Hoffman MDCCCXCIV MCMLXXX.

Zemlinsky’s grave catches my eye: five identical metal abstractions, angled 50 degrees off parallel from the path; each has a straight line on the far side, angled also off from vertical, and on the near side five sharp and differing angles.  1871-1942.

The funereal bell tolls; how quickly it tolls.  

An open grave to my right; wooden ramp leading to the six-foot opening.  

The procession soon follows led by brown clad, elderly, bearded monk.  I cross myself soon before he passes.  And the priest, in royal purple, nods his appreciation, for I have stepped to the side of the gravely road, allowing the hearse to pass.

Wide and deep fields of empty plots stretch far to the North, waiting for the rest of us.




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Dance of the Bartenders

February 24th, 2019


It’s a small circular bar counter, with less than eight feet between the beers spouts and espresso machine, either ends of the unclosed circle behind the bar.  The young man is the manager, the young woman a bartender.  The other man— short grey beard, big gut bulging the buttons on his shirt— owns the place.

The manager steps from his stool outside the counter into the small inclosure.  As the bartender returns from delivering sausage to a group of three, the manager side-steps to the back of the inclosure.  She tops off a foamy beer, but now he blocks the way to the kitchen!  She slides to the gap in the counter, and the manager, he steps forward.  The owner then joins the fray, pouring wine for a woman who has waited longer than he believes she should.  The dance continues: pouring, delivering, clearing, wiping and stowing glasses— stepping forward, sliding back— passing each other with a hand on the arm or the back.




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