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Fletcher Assumes


Fletcher Assumes

Fletcher hadn’t answered Brooke’s calls because he had spoken “at some length” with the troupe’s regular director. They acknowledged that Kirsten should be stronger, but who cared? Fletcher did, of course, but if Terrible were Ophelia, he would need to direct her.  “Or did you assume your little sister would comply with your every dictate, Abominable?”

“We might have agreed. And what if I was calling about something else?”

“I assumed not.  Because Kirsten rang Alan, who rang me. Yet my faith in you never wavered. I trusted you to smooth any ruffled feathers. Just as you always do.”

“Oh.”  Brooke still wanted to talk about the play, for he had never openly praised her before.  But if she asked to talk later, after she’d had some toast and coffee, he might not answer until next spring.  Or if he did, he’d ridicule her.  Sometimes his rants were funny, and usually instructive, but Fletcher cultivated a scathing manner so that if he drunkenly lashed out, people were like “typical” and left him alone.

Upbraiding her was Fletcher’s style of mentoring. Because if he didn’t respect her, he wouldn’t have given her Hamlet.  He wouldn’t have insisted that Brooke be his assistant director starting when she was only twelve-years-old. Then as now, Ma was the house manager, the PR director, and producer for the summer theatre.  Fletcher required infinitely more assistance than Jenny could give him—but why Brooke?  When the general consensus of her even then had been: wild, extravagant, and impudent.  Ma had said that wasn’t true but as it happened, Fletcher appreciated such traits.

Brooke did not. If she could, she’d be restrained and focused, not excessive and impetuous. Most of all, she would be the kind of girl whose father never beat her up.

Tara said that because of Pop, Brooke must always beware of confusing abuse with affection.  So insulting! Did Tara view her as a candidate for a pop psychology TV show?  Like, calling Dr. Phil?

“Not exactly, but you can’t dismiss the documented results of child abuse.”

“Shut up, Tara.”

Only the girls, Ma, and Pop knew. And for now, Pop stayed away.  Brooke would never admit that she missed him, but she did. So let Tara think Fletcher was the worst of it.

Anyway, sporadic tirades aside, Fletcher liked them both. And he loved Ma, who made sure he remained the lifelong director of Woodstock’s summer theatre.  Because Fletcher’s long dead lover, Sir Jeremy, whom Fletcher called Dickie (to this day) had especially loved Ma.

When the couple had arrived at the realty after opening The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway, Sir Jeremy was immediately taken by Ma, who reminded him of his cousin Lily. Ma had just started working at the realty, upon finishing high school. She answered the phones and listed places for sale, which she kept in a black binder. But Sir Jeremy had requested her opinion. first on the property and then on the house they were building.

Fletcher was the one who told Brooke that his lover, who died before she was born, had been a baronet, like a character in Jane Austen. And that Dickie had known Andrew Lloyd-Webber all his life. In most of his theatrical extravaganza’s, Baron Lloyd-Weber casually added handful of Dickie’s lines, and then Fletcher’s, to The Phantom of the libretto.

Fletcher in those days had been like a punk-rocker. The big craze was in the 70s. Fletcher belonged to the Trainspotting  era.  Dickie had seen him hanging around and so Fletcher, who was doing “nothing legal” picked him up. Dickie, who loved Fletcher on sight, thought he was brilliant and promoted his ideas for all Lloyd-Webber’s pre-1990s productions. “Nothing but smart ass wisecracks! But then Dickie taught him everything.

Ma had been their one friend in Woodstock. They would invite her to their parties at the octagonal house rising from the creek near Mid-Mountain Way. Then in 1993, they moved there for good—Dickie was fatally ill.

Ma ran errands and arranged appointments. She fixed martinis and listened to them trade lines from Shakespeare and Noel Coward. Both of them, it turned out, hated musicals. When Dickie died, Fletcher drowned his sorrows in gin. During the 21 years since, Fletcher’s one activity was directing Woodstock’s summer play.

But at that moment, he was telling Brooke about Children’s Minds. Fletcher, like Ma, Tara, and billions of others, loved the show about a pediatric psychotherapist who figured out kids’ secret torments and what to do about them.

Brooke said, “I’ve never watched a whole episode.”

“So he said.”

She panicked, hearing this.

“You babysat for his children, did you not?”

“Yes. But Jasper was away, working on the grand finale.”

“But when he was there…?”

Her impulse was to throw down the phone.

Fletcher shouted at her. “Certainly, you know your boyfriend earned four Emmy’s before he was 25.”

“Fletcher! What do you mean—boyfriend?”

“Tut-tut, nothing personal. Few so-called straight actors are so…unpersuadable.”

“You mean unpersuadable by—you?”

“Naughty minx, by any man.”

“I can’t believe you asked him that.”

“Don’t be coy, Abominable. Jasper King is so good-looking he must acquire real skill or his career will amount to audiences drooling over him.”


“Indeed. After saying your Hamlet amazed him, he accepted my offer to coach him next summer. The man has a lot to learn.”

Brooke felt creepy. Something about Fletcher guessing she’d be home with a hangover…But she refused to let Fletcher get to her, and said, “Any other weekday, I’d be at school now.”

“Appalling! You must cease your attendance this minute!”

“Last fall I attended a playwright workshop on 42nd Street, because you recommended me! I applied to Vassar early, using my freshman year test scores. So Presidential Scholarship or not, I’m going.”

“Perish the thought! You’ll then direct Hamlet like everyone else.”

by kathleen maher

for more go here


The Real Reason


When Brooke dived from the waterfall’s highest ledge, her body became a spirit in mid-air. A lesser yet still irresistible transformation occurred when she bicycled down the mountain, flying over crevasses and bouncing off rocks. After her despair in Jasper’s meadow reached its peak, she sprang up and pedaled furiously away. A few seconds of relief and then she crashed headlong into a car stopped at the light. The driver hadn’t anticipated the blur of her hurdling out of nowhere and the awful sound of her bike breaking as she catapulted into a field.

A person, anxious even in shadow, got out of the car. Brooke leaped to her feet and waved. She cupped her mouth and called, “Is your car okay?”

Back in the SUV, the shadow-person sped away, leaving Brooke’s ruined bicycle in the street. She hauled it into a ditch and walked the remaining mile home. Tara heard her, staggering up the rickety outside stairs, because of course she was crying again.

The door swung open and Tara pulled her into the living room. Unable to suppress an air of triumph, her sister clapped a hand over Brooke’s mouth. “You want the whole world to know?”

Brooke didn’t care and collapsed on the floor. The room had a low ceiling and one rectangular window behind the couch. Sitting on it, holding a pillow, Tara said, “Told you,” and turned up the volume on a little boy screaming at his parents. Brooke, rolling up and hiccupping, watched a creepy TV kid supposedly making a documentary about his overweight parents. The mother and father sat catatonic in lounge chairs while he yelled. “More venom! More menace!”

Just stupid. Brooke jumped up. Her voice raw from crying, she asked, “Did anyone call the house?”

“The house?”

“Guess not.” She paced the room and tugged her hair.

The creepy kid was saying, “Great! We’re golden!” and Tara turned him off.

Brooke’s arms swung. She circled the room in long, loopy strides. And Tara tossed the pillow aside and closed in on herself. She averted her chin.

“Don’t do that.” Brooke knew the gesture, thanks to small-minded people who said, and very well might say again, that Brooked was beautiful, not to mention sexy. Tara was either “pretty” or “looked just like their mother.”  Sometimes they said this to the girls’ faces!  Brooke hated it that Tara took this shit to heart. But why now? When Brooke was a teary mess?

“Stop pacing.”


“Stop performing in all your ravishing pain, okay?”

Brooke stopped to stare at the ceiling. “Did anyone come over while I was gone?”


“Did anyone ring the doorbell?”

Tara laughed.

Brooke sank to the floor. “You’re right. Why did I think he liked me?” She hiccupped and rocked, about to get up.

But Tara finally pitied her enough to get off the couch and sit beside her. “So I guess the movie star stood you up.”

Hiccupping, tears pouring, Brooke said, “Yep. He…did…He stood me up.”

Tara said, “But it’s one night, one disappointment.”

Brooke stared at her fingers crisscrossing the carpet. “It feels like a lot.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. Stay there.” Tara went upstairs to her bedroom and returned with a bottle of Maker’s Mark. “Stole it from Pop.” Their father worked in a bar forty miles away. Tara still visited him the way they both had until Brooke was 10 and he had slammed her head against the wall. She didn’t know if she passed out. Tara said she did and Pop acted scared and sorry.

Swinging her legs in front of her, Brooke arched her neck and took a big swig. She had never drunk whiskey before and shuddered, but it cured her hiccups. She stood up and drank some more. “Okay if I take this to bed with me?”

“Drink it in here. We’ll watch anything you want.”

“I need to lie down.”

“All right. But don’t spill it.”

In her narrow, little bed, Brooke drank, woke, drank, and then—the stench of puke forced her up and out of there. She fell in the hall and crawled down the three steps into the living room where Tara was watching her favorite show Children’s Minds, in which Jasper King played a clairvoyant child pschiatrist.

“You’re shit-faced.”

Brooke tried to stand and fell.

“Dammit,” Tara grabbed her sister’s hair, dragging her into the bathroom. She shoved Brooke into a freezing cold shower and yanked her out again to peel off the smelly T-shirt.

“Take your underpants off.” Brooke tried but Tara had to crouch down and lift her feet. Then Tara stood in shower, adding hot water, and rubbing Brooke all over with a soapy wash cloth. Brooke giggled and gagged and Tara pulled her hair hard. “Shut up!” She shampooed Brooke’s hair, cursing at how long and thick it was.

Later, Brooke woke in Tara’s bed, wearing Tara’s nightgown. She got up and leaned against the warm washing machine full of towels, and then jumped back from her own stinky sheets piled on top. It was still dark. Their mother was still meditating with her group.

In the TV room, Tara was snoring in front of an early episode of Children’s Minds. Brooke turned it off and nudged her. Tara’s eyes opened. “Looks like you’re still staggering.”

“I’m okay. And really sorry. But, Tara, you’ve no idea what you did for me. ’Cause getting drunk like that helped.”

“Did you have sex with him or something?”

“God, no! Making people think he likes them is his job.”

“Not exactly. It could’ve been anyone, Brooke. And next time? You’re not supposed to care about a no-show.”

“Maybe he was worried. Like I’d ruin his reputation.”

Tara laughed. “You couldn’t ruin Jasper King in a million years. He left because he wanted to—the real reason for everything.”

(To read the previous and intervening episodes, go here, here, and here.  Don’t worry, I won’t be listing every link. A few to start and an occasional two or three you might want to read, if you happened to wonder what else occurred.) 

Jump Rope

My son composed the music for this on an old synthesizer he bought from Ebay. My husband made the video after we had been visiting our daughter in Oakland, CA. Usually, I jump rope inside the apartment because nothing’s below us but mail slots. But I needed to calm down before the long flight from San Francisco to LaGuardia.

Rue for You

rueforyou copy

This is part 3 of James Bond and the Girls of Woodstock, serial fiction I’m writing as I go, aiming for one a week. On my site, under serial fiction, I’m up to episode 70. But serial fiction works better on a blog. So I’m posting a few episodes from different sections here. If you want to read the whole story, go here. At the top of this blog, James Bond and the Girls of Woodstock appears as a page, which offers an overview.

Almost everyone involved with Woodstock’s Art Colony, 100 years old and called “The Gallery,” gathered to meditate in a barn-like building every Sunday.

Jenny Logan had been devoted to the overnight practice since high school. And while neither Brooke nor Tara had any interest in joining their mother, Jenny so clearly regarded the experience as her private thing that Brooke half-suspected if they wanted to attend, their mother just might say, “No.” Although to soften this, she would offer some non sequitur as an explanation. Saying no, especially to her daughters, ran counter to Jenny’s nature. Of course, she must have told them no when they were toddlers. But to hear her tell it, even then, Brooke and Tara usually understood more than she did, so she usually deferred to their inexperienced judgment.

Brooke wouldn’t argue that they both possessed top-notch academic abilities, which amounted to one kind of smart, the kind that isolated them from their classmates. But their mother tended to exaggerate their skills. And they soon learned how much of their supposed excellence sprang entirely from their mother’s fantasies. Nevertheless, the girls naturally, and to be honest, easily, strived to meet their mother’s vision.

Consequently, almost as soon as they were speaking, Jenny depended upon their authority. They gladly took charge, so full of their superior selves they didn’t balk at complicated responsibilities. To them, adult work felt like a privilege. By adolescence both girls believed their independence was right and good.

Sunday night after the last performance of Hamlet, and the night before school started—or rather the night before Brooke and Tara started school, having skipped the opening Wednesday through Friday because of the play—Jenny prepared for her all-night meditation. Brooke and Tara made dinner.

Then Brooke called upstairs to her mother’s dormered bedroom.

“Come on, Ma, before it congeals.”

“Thank you. How nice,” she said, sitting at the small kitchen table. They ate tuna fish sandwiches on the thick homemade bread. As a treat, Brooke had filled a serving bowl with blood-oranges mixed with beets, ready-made from Maria’s, an expensive habit she’d picked up while working for the King’s.

More sulky than usual, Tara said, “To me, a man and a teenage girl watching a movie alone together is a date.”

“Tara,” Brooke said, “nobody’s doing that. And if I ever watched a movie with a man, I’d need to invite you, too.”

“No, you wouldn’t.”

“Who knows more about movies, you or me?”

“You don’t watch movies. You watch the people watching the movie.”

“When did you watch me watching a movie?”

“What are you girls talking about?” Jenny asked. “Brooke do you have a date?”

“Of course not.”

Tara said, “Pop says no dating till we’re 18. What’s that mean?”

“Don’t tell him I said this,” their mother was pushing her finger into left-over bread crust, “but I think he means no sex.”

“Does ‘no sex’ mean no kissing or no fucking?”

“Brooke,” Jenny said, “if your father heard you say that, he’d knock you unconscious. I mean it. He stays away but you need to make a habit of being civil. The way you look—without trying; I’m not saying that—is provocative enough. You cannot afford to talk dirty.”

“And Tara looks nice but talks like the devil.”

“You’re the devil,” Tara said. “Now Ma, suppose Pop found out Brooke was watching movies with a married man.”

“Is this happening?” Jenny asked. “Because Brooke, my God! Don’t people in this town gossip about you enough?”

“That’s the danger? Tons more gossip about me.”

“No,” Jenny said. “But if you’re thinking about going out tonight—it’s my job to stop you. I’ll miss my meditation practice.”

“I forgot about that,” Brooke said. “Guess I better tell this imaginary married man, ‘No movie tonight or Ma will have to miss her meditation thing.'”

Jenny said. “Are you trying to send me into a frenzy?”

“Go meditate,” Tara said. “Sorry for mentioning the unmentionable.”

Jenny said, “Don’t tease me. You know I can’t keep up.” She was halfway upstairs to get her things. “And please clean the kitchen. You’ve no idea how depressing it is, washing dinner dishes the next day.”

When their mother had disappeared into her room, Brooke grabbed Tara’s hair. “What are you trying to do?”

“If you’re watching a movie with Jasper King, you sure as hell better invite me along.”

“I’m not watching a movie with Jasper!”

“Look at it this way, Brooke. I’m on your side. That movie star’s got no business with the babysitter. Especially since his wife and kids have left.”

“Did they?”

“You said they did.”

“My mistake then.” Brooke stepped outside, careful not to slam the door. She ran down the outside stairs and hopped on her bike. When would people stop calling Jasper a movie star? He was a great actor.

(This introduces the two girls and their mother. It happens to be the third installment.  If you want to start at the beginning, go here.)

Fast Forward

 I’ve been writing The Vitruvian Man on and off for six years, mostly in private. (The Vitruvian Woman, the sequel, I’ve posted twice as a serial.) The Vitruvian Man’s second to last rewrite, which I expected to consist mostly of proofreading, something unique developed between the two main characters. Perhaps subconsciously, I was always writing toward a relationship that enlightened them equally, despite their differences in age and privilege. But I was unaware of it until “proofreading.” Suddenly, their natural, delicate rapport struck me as an ephemeral ideal. I ended the story there, leaving the consequences of their relationship for the sequel. But in the year since, I’ve decided it doesn’t make sense to omit the price Walter will pay. So I’ve written a new scene to open the novel. I’m posting it here because even if nobody reads it, his punishment can exist in prose. 

jpeg, prison, added barbed wire fence texture

August 2014

On the plane, I tried to tell Amanda what I had already said as well as what we had agreed not to say. But before I spoke a syllable, she draped an arm around my neck and reached over with her other hand to press her index finger against my lips. Later, driving north on I-95, I said, “You’re worth—” and she slapped my leg while putting a finger to her own lips. We had agreed not to talk. She had told me it was perfect. Making any comment now would only detract from that. Also, she refused to listen to or participate in any way with “Goodbye.” Because it wouldn’t change anything.

Too soon, we were there. I stopped the car in front of the village library. Amanda opened her door and I rested my hand momentarily on her shoulder. She scarcely nodded, straightened her spine, and slid out of the car. As the Accord idled downhill on the steep street, she gently closed the passenger door. And without a word, without glancing back, Amanda skipped up the library’s concrete steps. The huge, heavy wooden door opened to a narrow strip of darkness into which she disappeared.

Resolute then, I drove a few feet farther, coming even with the police station’s Main Street entrance. Turning right onto Ferris Court, I parked on the street dappled by leafy shadows and checked the flight printouts and hotel receipts in my backpack. Quickly, I stepped onto the sidewalk and opened the police station’s side door.

Chief Carl Peterson was standing, arms crossed over his chest, just outside his small office. “Go home, Walter. Me and your wife, the middle-school’s social worker, and the principal agree. We’re in complete agreement.”

“I’ve committed a serious crime.”

“As far as I and everyone who lives in this village are concerned, you have not.”

“In New York, second degree kidnapping is a class B felony. I knew that when I abducted thirteen-year-old Amanda Jonette for thirty-one hours.”

“I have no doubt,” the chief of police said, “she was delighted to be wherever you went.”

“May I sit down?”

“Go home, Walter.”

“Not before I write a full confession.”

“You know, part of my job is preventing suicide.”

I shook my head. It was important to own up to my guilt. We exchanged our polar points of view until Carl lost patience and went home.

Alone in the police station, I sat at his desk and carefully described my crime in a notebook I had bought at the Orlando airport. The chief’s stapler was in his top drawer and I used it to attach the printed evidence to the cover. While I was perusing my semi-legible handwriting, Detective Jim Buckley came in. He knocked on the doorframe, the office door being open. “Hey, Walter. Where’s the Chief?”

“Not here.” I stood up and handed him the notebook. Buckley refused it. He didn’t even open it, but perhaps noticed the stapled receipts. If he refused to respond, I told him he must put me in a squad car and drive me to the county facility. Buckley protested, but seeing that I was determined, did it anyway.

At the jail in Valhalla, the sheriff and guards treated me like any thirty-two-year-old man who had kidnapped a thirteen-year-old girl. Wearing an orange jumpsuit, I spent the night hand-cuffed to a bar running across the ceiling. But I’m tall enough so that my feet in regulation white socks remained flat on the ground.

The next morning, my wife, Sterling, arrived screaming at me and at the authorities, who mostly ignored her. When she stopped yelling and wept, I asked her to ring my former boss at the Bank of America, because I was supposed to meet him for lunch tomorrow.

Hearing this, she began keening.

“Sterling, please. You’ve helped a lot but I’m counting on you to see me through this.”

Furious, she managed far better than I expected. She met with Glen Engle twice and convinced him to get involved.

Following a cursory investigation by the FBI, the magistrate broke with standard procedure and allowed character testimonies. These took nearly three months, but saved me from going on trial. And not being tried by a jury, my attorney said, was critical. “Because the more you tell them there was no sexual misconduct, the worse it can get. Like if you say, don’t even think about it, the more they’re gonna think about it. Basic human nature.”

Lucky me, getting away with thought crimes. Nevertheless, a class B felony in New York means five years mandatory. So last week, I began my incarceration at the Federal Correctional Institution in Otisville.

Peace on Earth


We’re visiting family in Chicago.


Slap Happy

An Excerpt from my still unpublished novel, The Vitruvian Man

composite, Disney's Space Mountain, faint overlay of Donald Duck

[Flash forward, this comes from the second chapter to the end.] 

In the hot early afternoon, we’re waiting our turn for Space Mountain. Amanda tugs my hand. She looks very serious and says, sounding very guilty, that she needs to tell me a shameful secret.

“All right.”

“I’ve never ridden a roller coaster—not even one for little kids.” She turns and giggles. “Oh my God, it’s so embarrassing.”

I laugh so hard I crouch. Amanda shoves my shoulders. To balance, because now I’m laughing even more, I drop to one knee. She circles behind me and slaps my back. I pivot around, and see her giggling, hand raised and ready to slap my face. I burst out laughing all over again. Amanda attempts indignation, which causes her too to break into full-throttle laughter. I scoop her bare legs together, drape her over my shoulder, and stand up, dancing side-to-side while she pounds my backside with her fists. We’re both laughing uncontrollably and I can’t keep her still. She’s squirming and clinging and choking back laughter to speak.

“Shut up! Shut up!” she yells, sliding down and around me, her arms around my neck, so she’s riding me piggyback. “Everyone’s staring at us!” she hisses.

Indeed they are. She pulls my hair. “How dare you laugh at me! Shame on you!”

I try to keep her behind me and she tries to twist around as if to free herself, despite her thighs squeezing even tighter around my waist. Finally, I set her on the ground and double over, trying to catch my breath, while still caught in hilarity.

Back on one knee, I touch her head. She shifts so we’re eye to eye. The impulse is simultaneous. We clap a hand over each other’s mouth. This lasts one second before we burst into fresh peals of mirth.

The line to Space Mountain has become a semi-circle around us. Amanda tries to bite my right hand. I raise it above her reach and wave my left index finger in her face.

“Shame on who? Shame on you, little girl! You promised to behave in public! You promised.”

She leaps at me. I fold her over my shoulder again and rise. I spin in a circle, balancing her. She’s giggling so hard I feel her shaking. Donald Duck appears and quack-scolds us until I put her down, his huge webbed feet flapping as he stalks off.

We don’t entirely recover until the steel car we’re strapped in enters the dark, scary mountain. The careening ride twists and turns. We cling to each other and scream.

Eventually, when the car slows and begins coasting to the end, our hearts pound together. We stay in the car until we’re helped out.

Languorous with relief, we wander hand in hand in the bright sunshine, our sunglasses on, our legs loose and rubbery. After a while, we’re strolling toward the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. The line here is especially long but Amanda’s glad we didn’t schedule a time using the Fast Magic option. She’s happy to wait and I’m perfectly content listening to her history of Captain Jack Sparrow. She prepares me for one steep drop and possibly a ghostly sighting of Blue Beard.

Donald Duck quacks past us again and I ask her for a translation.

“Donald Duck wants us to know—” Amanda puffs out a cheek and offers a good but understandable impression. “That’s more like it!”

We climb into a boat and watch robotic pirates drinking from flagons and kicking loose planks around. Amanda snuggles beside me and kisses my cheek.

“Oh no!” She’s noticed a little animatronic dog barking on a shipwreck. I tell her Sterling’s taking care of Samson. “She always had a dog growing up. Getting Samson was her idea.”

Amanda nods and in the dim light. Now that she knows someone’s taking care of Samson—no talking.

She absorbs every amusing detail, every entertaining sight and stunt the same way she experiences every moment in real life. I’m not as successful. The future is bearing down, wielding a deadly bludgeon.

Except—Amanda throws her arms around me while two pirates drag a captured enemy into a transparent cauldron of boiling oil. My anxiety vanishes. Amanda and I are great together. And her touch, whether or not her innocent desires require me to vanquish my sick and dangerous ones, fills me with admiration, love, and hope. What on earth is more magical than that?

by Kathleen Maher