:: Article


By Joel Van Noord.

He went into the 7-11 as he had done hundreds of times before, muscles aching and mentally fatigued. He bought a 22oz of Oregon brewed beer and picked a few cheap lottery tickets and then one of the randomized-number big-sum tickets. Outside the air was clear and cool. It moved against his face and pushed his beard. The long hairs tangled and urged each other; he felt this in his pores.

That was how he met Sonya, sort of. Sonya or Marylou, her real name, which he didn’t find out until much later. But, her inner thighs would rub his unmanaged beard in the same way as the wind. She liked this too.

It was November and he was on land for a week again, or should be, he normally was. He’d only been with the boat for three seasons and… They had to take a look at the books. They’d already had their contracts, a year in advance, cut in half. Which didn’t seem to make much sense to him, recession or not, people had to eat.

“Eh, there’s not many fish are there anyway kid, maybe it’s time you found something else to do?” His captain had tried to say encouragingly.

The sky was rich with color. At least a range of color. The blues were intensified by the collision between a high dark ceiling and a fluffy white stalled and building over the coastal range.

The cap fell off easily with a flick on his hefty belt buckle. He drank from it and stopped. It was cold. The taste was good. He drank a good deal and then sat on the small grimy step behind a boarded up Italian restaurant.

He sat relaxing, staring into the bright opening to the street. With the sharp undulating tip of the bent cap he rubbed silver flakes from the bright green, golf-themed, ticket. He unearthed a hole and read the directions.

He scratched off a few more and looked out from the shadow again. A small child ran past and stopped, there was a big yellow dog pulling on a leash and then all three disappeared.

One thousand dollars, he said to himself. He looked at the ticket again, read the instructions again and chuckled to himself, it could have been ten thousand.


She didn’t see him at first but eventually came by to sit by him. She welcomed him back. He thanked her. She asked if it was good, if they caught a lot of fish. He said some, enough, but not too much. He asked about her daughter. She made a giraffe in daycare. The place was empty and she sat with him in the dark, moody room. The lights, to him, seemed somehow sloppy. As if they had seeped beyond their logical extent.

Soon she was done and they left. She changed and they were on the street, his hand hanging from her shoulder. He didn’t smell strange men’s musk on her. He didn’t think about it. He was good at putting these sorts of things out of his mind and she was equally as good as setting up barriers to obscure this unpleasant little truths.

She was dressed cutely conservative and had a dash of perfume that evoked a subtle reminder of air-freshener.

“You were in the paper.” She said to him and he looked over. “You were.” She smiled, “‘Local man wrecks boat, requires Native rescue,'” she said.

He smiled too. “Is it all gone?” she asked.

“All what?” he asked. There could be a number of things that were all gone.

“The boat, has it all sunk?” she asked and then added in mock-annoyance, “And you never even told me about that, weren’t you going to? Or just let me hear about it in the paper? Hearing about you being dragged from the river mouth by some Klamath Indians.”

“I like the thought of me to proceed me.” He smiled faintly.

They walked a few more blocks and the small main street trees rising from the ornate metal guides gave way to ancient oaks and giant firs with thick canopies.

“I wish I could take piano lessons from a crazy old widow in an old cottage across town,” she said.

He put his hand in his pocket and it seemed to surprise him. He rolled it between his thumb and forefinger and slipped it around the tip, where it pushed against the fingernail. It fell against the ticket and he thought about that. Where could he cash it?

“You could.” He took his hand from his pocket. The brisk air found his moist hands and cooled them.

The old trees had uprooted the sidewalk squares and they walked up one incline and down the other, pausing briefly to observe the massive and knotted root that moved just over ground underneath the slab and off under a front yard.

“I can’t take piano lessons. I used to take lessons. Look at these fingers. Long and strong,” she said.

“Long and strong to take care of my business,” he said and pulled the hand that had been on display, down towards his opposite hip, so that she was forced to hug him.

They stopped now and stared at each other. He into her eyes and she, darting her eyes all about his face. She looked into his beard and around the side of his face. They kissed and continued walking.

As they neared the old cottage they began to hear the octave exchange between the old widow and young Annabelle, the pupil. The bass was strong and declarative, straight to the point, while the higher echo was faltering and unsure.

They knocked on the screen door and the stopped. Ms. Lowell answered. She was hunched over and strained to glare up and out the door into the faces looking in. She was able to smile as she relaxed her back and stepped away from the door.

“Sure, sure, sure, come in,” she said. Her curly hair was sparse and brightly white. It sat on the top of her head like an animal.

“I remember you…” the old woman said, the strain visible in her face as she looked up behind her large brown glasses. She pushed them up and noticed a letter sticking out of his pocket. “Raymond?” she asked, “See,” she relaxed her arched back and the strain left her face. “Still got it.” She tapped her head.

“Is this for me?” she asked and grabbed at the white envelope in his pocket. He let her take it and looked at it with the two women. Ms. Lowell frowned and turned it upside down. It was addressed to Ray Carrington and wore a stamp.

Marylou gave him an inquisitive look but before they could dissect the issue little Annabelle hopped off the bench and came screeching toward the entry way and her mother.

Ms. Lowell began to speak. “Sorry to be grabby, no one likes that.” She rose her hands in defense and stepped back as the small blonde child clamored near her waist. Annabelle wrapped her arms around her mother and put her head against waist.

“Oh hello there darling,” Marylou said.

Ray put his hands in his pockets and moved the contents about. He wondered where he could cash the ticket. He could rebuild his small wooden sailboat… he could take a vacation… in the three years since he’d moved to this rural outpost he hadn’t ventured out of the county, albeit it was a very large county, larger than some east coast states.

“It’s just, Ms. Lowell needs her money,” Ms. Lowell said. Marylou looked over and shared an awkward glance with Ray.

“Well, Ms. Lowell, we have your money right here,” she said and began to search her pockets.

“Were you a good girl for Ms. Lowell. Did you learn some songs?”

Annabelle nodded her head vigorously. “Don’t suck your thumb honey,” Marylou said and began to unroll a five and then a thick series of ones for the old woman.


Annabelle walked in the middle. She held hands on both sides. On his other side, Raymond had his hand in his pocket.

“Did you have fun today Annie-Bell? Was Ms. Lowell nice?”

Annabelle shook her head vigorously again, she did this as she took the weight from her legs and swung forward. Ray leaned out to adjust for this. He smiled and his heavy mustache straightened. He thought he could smell fish on himself.

“What’s in the letter?”

“I don’t know, haven’t opened it?” He took his hand form his jeans pocket and reached into the thick red flannel his was wearing. He handed her the envelope.

“Who is Omar Sidaaki?”

“An old, old friend.”

“Huh. You never said anything about him before.”

She looked at him and he said nothing. Then nodded at her to open the letter. She did. Something fell out and she released Annabelle’s hand and in a moment Annabelle released Ray’s hand.

She rose looking at it, “It’s a plane ticket.”

“To where?”

“San Francisco,” she said. Ray said nothing. “Why would he send you this?”

“I guess he wants me to visit,” Ray said with a smirk.

“It’s for the 18th. Will you go?”

“No… No, no.”

“Why not?”

“Do you want to go? When I first met you, you were dreaming of going down there… making it big,” he teased her.

“It says your name.”

He shrugged.

“Who is Omar Sidaaki?” she asked.

“Who is Sonya?” he said.

She gave him a look and he smirked again through the thick beard. “Who is Raymond Carrington, for that matter.”

“Who is Barack Obama?” she scoffed at him.

“That’s an easy one,” he smiled.

“I think we’re all that easy,” she said and looked at him. Annabelle had run off and was leaning over, interested in some flower by the side of the walk.

“So who is Omar Sidaaki and why is he sending you airline tickets to your hometown?”

Raymond sighed. “He’s a smart kid who wasn’t smart enough to pull back a little.” He looked at her and she gave him a look that said, try again. “He’s the guy who was reading the same book you were at the same impressionable stage of life, he was the kid you were looking for
when you talked to yourself… he was the kid you first did drugs with, the one you plotted things with, the one you had intellectual insight with… the one who made you think you’d do great things.” He trailed off.

This time she was silent. Annabelle was in front of them; she’d left the flower and went skipping ahead. Raymond watched her, ready for her mom to yell out for her to stay close. But Marylou was staring at him.

“Do females have that… relationship?” he asked, “I bet Hillary Clinton did.”

“Maybe, most girls just talk about stickers and ponies and stuff.” She tilted her head.

She wasn’t mad. He looked at her. She liked to pretend she was mad when she knew she had a right to be mad.

“I wonder how he found me?” Ray said to himself.

“Where’s Annabelle? Annabelle!” Marylou yelled out.

A quarter block ahead of them there was a duck –a normal mallard with a green head. Out strolling the pavement looking for a mate, thinking about heading south for the winter, peacefully minding its business. Annabelle found this duck. She moved after it and it gave a small quack of annoyance. The duck waddled away, but not fast, at a leisurely place, as if saying to Annabelle, come on, pet me.

So Annabelle strode after her and the duck quacked and turned a corner and head around a tree. It quacked again and looked behind it and waddled a trot and quacked again. It came to a road and quacked and looked up and to the left, then began to step forward like a fully suited scuba diver on the beach.

With that slight hesitation Annabelle thought she had it. The mallard sensed danger and lurched out with a quick step, raising its wings and holding them out, just in case.

But just at that moment a speedy little mini cooper came rising over a hill in the road. Marylou heard the screeching tires, “Annabelle!” She yelled out and began to run. Raymond stared after her and then began to jog behind her.

Marylou stopped at the side of the road and put a hand to her head. There, in front of her was a mini cooper parked at an angle with rubber streaked for five meters behind. There was a woman standing there beside the car with her hand to her head, clearly spooked.

Raymond cut between a large fir tree and smirked. There was Annabelle, crouched with her butt nearly touching the pavement, a hand reached out touching the dead mallard sprawled out on the ground, it’s crooked wings reaching out and flat.


Joel Van Noord lives in California. Many pieces can be found here.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Monday, April 6th, 2009.