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SPARKS

A Magazine for Creative People

ONLINE ISSUE #6

Editors: Jim Esch and Stacy Tartar

Copyright 1994 by Jim Esch and Stacy Tartar

All rights for each work contained herein revert back to the

author(s) upon publication.

We welcome your submissions. Unsolicited manuscripts will be

considered for publication and returned, provided you have included a

self addressed stamped envelope. Send all correspondence to the

address below.

232 North Kingshighway, #616

St. Louis, MO 63108-1248

Or Email us at Jim.Esch@launchpad.unc.edu

For paper copy subscriptions, contact us at the above address.

One Year subscription: $8.00 for four issues.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

CONTENTS

POEMS.................................................by Jim Morris

THE SALESMAN (story)............................ by Michael Gibbons

MICHAEL'S FIRE (story).......................... by Carol A. Coates

NOTEWORTHY

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

POEMS

by Jim Morris

THE COWBOY AND THE COW

A finger gun shot

deep in your western ghost town

of my motherlode.

DROWNING IN THE DAY

Beads of water run

Sweat surrounds my open shirt

Drowning in the day

DEEP-WAVE

the Sea thunders wild

On the cliffs that throw you down

Waves reach for you - "come"

DEATH-WAVE

Water sits and Dies

On your ocean-side plateau

They miss you, Long Hair.

ALARM CLOCK INDIGESTION

Time to get up, now

Dawn sinks deep in my stomach

The shower rains hard.

GIVE ME A BEER AND I'LL HAVE A FISH TO GO

For some wacky reason I have

fallen through the floor

And now I will see

the foundation at the source

My wild pigs will sell you

the things you want to know

And later they will buy you

A beer and some fish to go.

Refrain:

WigWamWigWamWigWamWig

I saw an indian drinking beer

WigWamWigWamWigWamWig

I saw him laugh as he cried a tear

Boo hoo Boo hoo

WigWam WigWam

Boo hoo Boo hoo WigWam WigWam

Boo hoo

WigWam

Boo hoo

WigWam

Boo Wig

Wan hoo

Oh, wow

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

THE SALESMAN

by Michael Gibbons

On a chill and cloudy day last November, McCoy mentioned to his good

friend Sinfan Tasmaguru, the midget Tibetan philosopher well known in

certain esoteric circles for his uncanny intuitiveness, that after

driving a cab for seventeen years he was ready for a change of job,

at least a temporary change, since McCoy couldn't envision himself

never being a cabdriver again. What McCoy needed, actually, was a

vacation, but he couldn't afford to take one.

"I run around looking for customers," McCoy said to Sinfan. "Now why

can't I get a job where the customers come to me? That would be

perfect. But what is that job?"

"It's seven weeks before Christmas," Sinfan replied, stroking his

long, wispy, graying black beard. "Why don't you get a job working in

the toy department at Macy's? It would be a great experience, and a

lot of fun, too. One of the best jobs I ever had was working in

Macy's toy department one Christmas many years ago. You'll see things

you won't believe. You'll see people behave in a way that only

happens during Christmas. One of the nicest impressions you'll ever

have in life is seeing children in a toy department waiting in line

to see Santa Claus."

The next day McCoy was in the Macy's employment office, with twenty

five other people, applying for a temporary job for the Christmas

rush. After a brief interview, to see if he could speak English, he

presumed, McCoy was hired and told to report bright and early the

next morning for the first of two paid days of orientation, at five

bucks an hour, not great pay mind you, but enough to make ends meet

until January.

For the first day of orientation, McCoy was placed in a "Retail

Training Room" with twelve other trainees, where he learned the

intricacies of the computerized cash register. Finally, after a

lifetime of watching others ring up his sales on cash registers,

McCoy would realize a heretofore hidden wish to use a cash register

on others. After lunch in the employees' cafeteria, he learned to

ring up sales slips, write out cash and merchandise credits for

returned goods, and write out special sales slips for employees,

because they usually received a fifteen percent discount.

On the second day McCoy was lectured about store security. He was

told never to leave a cash register unlocked if he had to be away for

any period of time. He was informed that one popular Christmas season

occupation for certain elements of society was ripping off department

store cash registers. That afternoon he was given a test on what he

had learned, which he passed easily. Then he was given his temporary

job assignment.

"McCoy," the sour instructor barked.

"Yes."

"Trim-a-Tree."

"Trim-a-Tree? What's that?"

"You know, Christmas trees, lights and ornaments," the instructor

said.

"What kind of Christmas trees?"

"Plastic, of course."

"Of course."

After he received his assignment, McCoy was told to report to his

floor manager to work out a schedule. McCoy was given Sundays and

Tuesdays off. He had to work till nine Monday and Wednesday nights,

and till six the rest of the week.

His disappointment at not being assigned to Toys lasted about ten

minutes, or until his eyes feasted on the flashing Christmas lights,

the satin clothed angels, the shiny colored ornaments, and the

plastic gaudiness of a half dozen artificial Christmas trees on

display in the Trim-a-Tree department. He was doubly delighted to see

that his department was next to the toy department. He would, after

all, get to see the lineup of kids waiting to sit on Santa's lap.

Now, some people might think that working in Macy's Trim-a-Tree

department is no big deal, they might think that it's worst than

driving a cab, a job regularly placed at the bottom of all job

desirability lists, but McCoy wanted to enjoy his new, albeit

temporary, employment to its fullness. He made up his mind, right

then and there, that he wasn't going to take his job seriously, and

that above all he would have fun selling plastic Christmas trees. He

would ask the department buyer how many trees had been sold in their

best Christmas season, and he would do everything he could to help

his department break that record. Then he could walk away from his

job on Christmas Eve satisfied that he had given it his best effort,

and that he had achieved a goal, no matter how small or modest.

When McCoy was a young boy his father worked as a salesman.

Occasionally he would accompany his father on short sales trips, and

he heard him make and close several deals. He must have heard his

father use every sales pitch imaginable. Now was his chance to delve

into his unconscious mind and dredge up the old man's bag of pitches

and try them out on a few customers. On the Sunday evening before his

first day on the job, McCoy stood in front of his bathroom mirror and

practiced his sales delivery.

"Excuse me, sir. Excuse me, ma'am. Can I help you? Oh, yes, it is

lovely, but can't I interest you in the latest and safest line of

artificial, completely fireproof, guaranteed to last a lifetime

Christmas trees?" He kept practicing his sales poetry until he was

overcome with laughter. He couldn't wait till Monday morning came

round.

The next day started slowly, much to McCoy's disappointment. But

then, who goes Christmas shopping at eleven in the morning nearly

seven weeks before Christmas? He rang up a few sales of decorations.

Three boxes of lights, one of the satin clothed tree top angels, a

dozen ornaments, and three cheap fake snow white blankets to spread

around the base of the tree. The early shoppers were mostly

housewives, a few nuns, and several pensioners. A trickle of business

men and women browsed the department during the lunch hour and after

work, but McCoy wasn't able to sell one artificial tree, though not

from lack of trying.

The artificial trees were displayed all in a neat row of a half

dozen, fully adorned with the usual trimmings, flashing lights, and

each topped by one of the satin clothed lighted angels. Prices ranged

from the cheapest, which McCoy dubbed Old Scrawny, because it was

tall, misshapen and thinly branched, at $39.95, on up to the one he

called The King, an eight foot tall, perfectly shaped beauty,

imitation Blue Spruce, selling for a healthy $295. All, of course,

fully fireproof and guaranteed to last a lifetime provided they were

neatly packed away after use each year, and provided no cats or kids

pulled them down prematurely, or repeatedly.

McCoy mused that, what the heck, if a family went out and spent

twenty-five to thirty bucks on a live fir tree each year for ten

years, they could spend $295 now and have the same tree ten years

from now, and save money. And who knows what a real tree will cost in

ten years? Or if the environmentalists will be successful in their

efforts to ban such a frivolous use of trees. What if they bought one

a little cheaper? Say that full beauty Northern Cedar for only

$139.95; and the Douglas Fir selling for $89.95 isn't bad either. A

sound investment, environmentally correct, he thought, as he mentally

formed the material to use in making his sales pitch.

About seven in the evening on his first day, just after he had taken

his supper break, McCoy sidled up to an elderly lady who was checking

out the tree display.

"What do you think of the trees, ma'am?" He said.

"I'm not sure. I've always had a natural tree, but now that my

husband's dead I was thinking that it might be easier if I bought an

artificial one. He was the one who put it up and took it down."

"It would be a lot easier to handle," McCoy replied. "No dried out

needles to clean up, no worry about a fire, and you could pack it

away ornaments intact, and pull it out next year fully ornamented. No

muss, no fuss."

"You've almost convinced me," the woman said. "And fireproof is very

important, don't you think young man?"

"Yes ma'am, it is, and it will last you a . . ." McCoy said, stopping

just before uttering the word "lifetime," as he well knew that any

tree on display would last this woman more than what little remained

in her lifetime.

"What was that, young man?"

"I think it's a sound investment," he said.

"Yes. But I don't see any small trees that would fit on a table. Do

you have any?"

"I'm not sure, ma'am," McCoy said. "This is my first day on the job

and I haven't had a chance to talk with the buyer. If you come back

later this week, I'll have the answer for you, or just give us a call

and ask for McCoy, that's my name."

"Thank you, Mr. McCoy. I'll do that. You've been most helpful."

And that was as close as McCoy got to selling a plastic beauty on his

first day. After selling a few more ornaments, the department

remained quiet until closing. McCoy passed the time with Teresa

Delgado, a high school student, who was working with him two nights a

week and all day Saturday. In the course of their conversation, when

Teresa mentioned that she had no interest in hustling Christmas

trees, McCoy set into place his sales strategy. He would sell the

trees, and Teresa would ring up the sales for those buying the tree

trimmings. As things turned out, every time a customer approached

Teresa with a question about a tree she would refer him or her to

McCoy, although she never understood his enthusiasm for selling

trees.

"Why do you want to sell the trees so bad?" she asked him.

"When I saw all the things for sale in this department," he said, "I

thought, what would I get the biggest charge out of hustling? It was

obvious to me that it had to be the trees."

"Why?"

"There big. There's something to them. They're so ridiculous."

"They certainly are ridiculous," Teresa said, chomping her chewing

gum.

Although Teresa seemed to like McCoy, she shook her head in

bewilderment at his answer. She was working at Macy's to get a little

extra spending money for Christmas, to buy presents for her several

nieces and nephews, and the less she had to do to earn it, the better

she felt. While McCoy was just the opposite. The more he could do,

the better he felt.

McCoy didn't get to talk to the buyer until the next day, when she

told him that the most trees the department had sold was 351, two

years ago, and that, yes, smaller table trees were on order and

should be in sometime next week.

"How many have we sold so far this year?" McCoy asked the buyer.

"Exactly one," she said. "Why do you ask?"

"I want to help set a new department record."

"All I've ordered is 375, including fifty table trees."

"That's enough to break the record."

"Why are you so interested in setting a record?"

"To give me an incentive," McCoy replied. "I'm not here for the

money, so it'll have to be here for the love of it, and the aim of

achieving something. My philosophy is if you're going to do something

throw yourself into it without reservation."

"You really sound like you love to sell artificial Christmas trees.

Have you ever done it before?"

"Never. And I won't love it until I've sold my first tree."

It wasn't until the first week of December that the selling of trees

heated up for McCoy. During the three previous weeks he managed to

sell 29 trees (60 had been sold by the entire department and McCoy

was proud that he had contributed nearly half), including a small

table tree to the elderly lady who was his very first tree customer.

But his first tree sale, on his third day, was to a nun from St.

Mary's convent, who had been dispatched by the Mother Superior to buy

an inexpensive one because the previous year their natural fir had

been set ablaze by a boy at a Christmas party for orphans.

"I'd like to buy the one for thirty-nine ninety-five," she said.

McCoy was very proud about his first sale, although he never had to

reach into his rehearsed bag of pitches since the nun had pretty much

made up her mind the minute she saw one selling so cheaply, making

the transaction more of a buy than a sell. But two things entered

McCoy's mind simultaneously. First, he thought, Old Scrawny was too

unattractive to adorn the convent, especially with the annual

orphans' party upcoming, and second, he intuited that Mother Superior

had given the nun a little more than the thirty-nine ninety-five,

forty-three twenty-five with tax, needed to buy the cheapest tree.

"But Sister, it's not a very nice tree," McCoy said. "I think the

convent deserves a somewhat fuller tree."

"I agree with you, sir," she said, anxiously fingering her black

wallet. "But Mother gave me only fifty dollars and the next one is

forty-nine ninety-five. Fifty-four-o-seven with the tax."

Now McCoy was not concerned with the dollar amount of his tree sales.

He didn't care which tree a customer selected, he was only interested

in breaking the department record of 351 sold. But he felt bad about

the nun having to go home with Old Scrawny. So he reached into his

pants pocket and gave Sister enough to cover the tax.

"Oh, you're very kind, sir. May God bless you and your family."

"I think this one will look much nicer at the orphans' party," he

said. "It's much fuller through the bottom than that scrawny cheaper

one, and not to worry about arson, Sister, this one won't burn, even

in hell's fire."

Most trees were sold on Saturdays, when entire families prowled

Trim-a-Tree and the adjacent Toy department. The day after

Thanksgiving is the busiest day in the retail business, Mrs. Jacobs,

the floor manager, told McCoy, but he sold only five trees that day,

although one was for $189.95, a Norfolk pine, the second most

expensive tree offered, but still a sale of The King had eluded him,

although he came close when a Pacific Heights female pukka, after

much discussion, declined to make the purchase because she thought it

wasn't expensive enough, which, upon hearing, caused McCoy's blood to

boil.

"I wish I had one to suit your fancy," he said to the woman, snidely.

"But I'm sure you could order one from Neiman Marcus that would

satisfy you, if such a thing were possible."

Which commentary, after the woman complained to the Mrs. Jacobs,

resulted in McCoy receiving his first reprimand and lecture about

proper deportment when talking to customers. It was a boring repeat

of what he had already heard during his training session, and which

caused McCoy no lack of sleep since he didn't care if he got fired,

although he couldn't help to set a department record for tree sales

if he did. This incident reminded him of something his high school

baseball coach said to him after he had been thrown out of a game for

arguing with a one-eyed umpire.

"McCoy, you're no help to us sitting on the bench."

By the second Saturday of December, less than three weeks before

Christmas, McCoy's sales technique was firmly established. When

customers inquired about a tree, he would immediately show them the

cheapest one first, Old Scrawny, knowing that they would hate the

tall, thoroughly unattractive specimen, whether or not it was all

they could afford. Then he would lead them to The King, knowing that

this tall beauty was probably out of their price range. The idea

behind this strategy, McCoy reasoned, was that it made the trees in

the middle range ($89.95 to $189.95) more attractive to the customer.

In fact, more than half the trees McCoy sold, were the ones priced at

$129.95, closest to midway in price between Old Scrawny and The King.

And McCoy was rapidly becoming more adept at splitting his attention

among customers, jumping from one to another when he had four or five

looking at trees at the same time, answering a question quickly

before nimbly hopping over to answer another customer's question,

back and forth he went without ever giving the appearance of leaning

too heavily on one customer, or not paying enough attention to

another. He was learning to become passively active to his customers,

while remaining actively passive to himself.

On that day, the first Saturday of December, McCoy sold nineteen

trees, the most in any day up to that time, giving him a total of 55

out of the department's grand total of 126. McCoy was selling so many

trees that he had become somewhat of a local legend on the second

floor. One day the appliances manager stopped by to ask him if he'd

like to sell full time in his department after Christmas, adding as

an incentive that his salespeople received a five percent commission.

McCoy was flattered, and told him that he'd think about it.

One problem that did arise from McCoy's fruitful salesmanship, was

that he had the buyer running her fanny off trying to keep enough

trees on hand for him to sell. Though most were to be delivered by

the store, they had to be in stock, in the back storeroom, to be

sold. And having to hustle to keep an item in stock because of the

work of competent salespeople is something that buyers deeply resent.

Thinking, as they do, as McCoy was to realize shortly, and because

they make much more money, that they're more important than the

salespeople.

But McCoy was ever the naive optimist. Always thinking that everyone

he worked with had his same sincere intentions at heart. That the

Trim-a-Tree department was a united team surging steadily toward the

same goal. It was hard for him to believe that as the department

appeared on the verge of a new seasonal tree sales record, that the

buyer wouldn't do everything she could to help this most honorable of

efforts. To McCoy, selling for it's own sake was reward enough, and

his enthusiasm for selling trees had rubbed off on a few other clerks

in the department, but it put him on an inevitable collision course

with Sheila Frump, the buyer.

By four in the afternoon on the Saturday three days before Christmas,

McCoy sold 35 trees bringing the department total to 320 by Teresa's

unofficial but usually reliable count. McCoy's personal total now

stood at 158, and he could have sold more, at least twenty more, he

estimated, and the department probably would have broken the record

by now if they hadn't sold out of the three most popular selling

trees: the Scotch Pine at $69.95, the Douglas Fir at $89.95, and the

Northern Spruce at $129.95. Three days to go and more than thirty

trees short of the record. Where are the rest of the trees? McCoy

lamented.

Now, if you've ever been in a large department store on the Saturday

before Christmas, you'll fully understand the chaos that swirled

around McCoy that day. Customers bumping into one another, smashing

each other with well aimed elbows to the rib cage, arguing, swearing,

in their frantic effort to get at the remaining lights, tree top

angels, manger displays, bulbs and ornaments before they sold out.

The line of anxious and crying children lined up to see Santa

stretched forty yards and into the Trim-a-Tree department, further

crowding the floor and creating more confusion. Add to this the sight

of a thoroughly frustrated McCoy helping an elderly man drag a box

containing the last artificial Scotch Pine in stock to the elevator.

"What are you doing, McCoy?" Sheila Frump shouted, hands on hips, as

McCoy helped the man to the elevator. "Because you're busy helping

someone with their tree, I'm forced to wait on customers."

"It'll do you good, Sheila," McCoy said, after returning to the

register."

"The name is Mizz Frump, Mr. McCoy."

"Ah, yes, Mizz Frump, but if you'd done you're job and gotten the

rest of the trees in from the warehouse, you wouldn't be doing my

job, now, would you?"

"The impertinence," she gasped. "I have a mind to talk to Mrs. Jacobs

and have you fired."

"She won't because she likes me, and she needs all the help she can

get. Besides we should be helping customers instead of yacking like

monkeys."

"Yacking . . . Like monkeys . . . What nerve. I'm going to speak with

Mrs. Jacobs."

"Why don't you try to be helpful and wait on some of these people

trying to give the store money for the ornaments you bought? Isn't

that what they pay you for?"

Fortunately, reality intervened with a man nudging McCoy and asking

for help.

"I'd like to buy that Blue Spruce."

"What? The King?" McCoy exclaimed. "Yes sir. You'll have to carry it

with you because the store can no longer guarantee deliveries to

arrive before Christmas, it being just three before that day."

"Yes, yes. No problem. Could you tie it up with a handle?"

"Be glad to, sir," McCoy said.

At last, I've sold a King, McCoy mused, on his way to the storeroom,

but he was too busy and frustrated to savor the moment. One he

thought might never come. As he tied up the box with a handle, he

noticed that only ten Old Scrawnys, four Kings, and five Norfolk

pines were left in stock. We'll never break the record unless Mizz

Frump can get the rest of the trees from the warehouse, he thought.

Unless . . .well . . .Let's see, nineteen in stock, 320 already sold,

leaving . . .thirty-six in the warehouse!

On returning to the floor, McCoy again asked Teresa for the tree

total.

"I'm not exactly sure, but it's around three hundred twenty-two or

-three," she said. "But it's slowing down because everyone seems to

want the ones that are sold out, or they don't want to carry them

home."

"Maybe we could get Fernando out of the stockroom to help a few

people," McCoy said. "He could carry the tree out of the store and

get them a cab."

"You should maybe relax a little, McCoy," Teresa said. "Besides, I

don't know if Mrs. Jacobs would go for that."

"It's so busy, who would notice?"

"I'll bet Sheila would."

"So what if she does? She's not the boss."

A few minutes later, McCoy was back in the storeroom tying up an Old

Scrawny when Sheila entered with a delivery man, who arrived with

five Scotch Pines and five Douglas Firs. We'll need a lot of luck to

break the record today, McCoy thought.

"There you go McCoy, ten more for you to sell," Ms. Frump said.

"What about the rest, Sheila?" McCoy asked. "By my calculations there

are twenty-six more in the warehouse."

"I told you to call me Mizz Frump, and I've already talked to Mrs.

Jacobs about you embarrassing me on the floor in front of customers."

"Good. I'm glad to hear you got some satisfaction."

"Don't you want to know what she said?"

"No. I want to know when we're going to get the rest of the trees."

"Why didn't you bring the rest of them with you?" McCoy asked the

delivery man.

"Mizz Frump wanted to save some for next week."

"Great," said McCoy. "We could have sold them all today."

"I want to save some for customers next week," Sheila said, "because

it's bad for business to be sold out so soon before Christmas."

McCoy retorted: "Sheila, there's only two more days before

Christmas."

"If you call me Sheila one more time, I'll insist that you be fired."

"If we had enough trees in stock, we'd sell enough to break the

record, and then I wouldn't mind in the least if I got fired."

"Oh, you and your record," she said, leaving in a huff.

By seven that evening, McCoy had sold fifteen more trees, including

two Kings, and the department total now stood at 346, six away from

the record. But, although five more trees did arrive from the

warehouse late that afternoon, and were quickly sold, only nine trees

remained in stock, three kings and six Norfolk pines, the two most

expensive varieties. And they would be hard to move.

No more trees were sold that day. As Mrs. Jacobs got ready to leave,

she approached McCoy with a stern look in her eye.

"I want to speak to you first thing Monday, McCoy," she said.

"About what?" He said.

"I think you know."

"Do you want to fire me?"

"I'll talk to you Monday, McCoy."

After his second cup of coffee Monday morning, McCoy opened his

register. A few minutes later Teresa Delgado walked in, much to his

surprise.

"What are you doing here, Teresa?"

"Gloria called in sick

"Could you find out the tree count, Teresa," McCoy said. "I think my

hours, my minutes for that matter, are numbered."

"Are you getting fired?" Teresa asked.

"Probably. But what difference does it make. It's our last day

anyway. What time does Mrs. Jacobs come in today?"

"Twelve."

McCoy went to the storeroom to get an inventory. He counted seven

boxed trees. With two of them marked damaged. He returned to the

floor.

"That makes three hundred and fifty, McCoy," Teresa said excitedly.

"You finally caught the fever, Teresa."

"Yes. For you. The record means so much to you. But I'm most happy

because this is my last day. Hooray!"

Two away, McCoy said to himself.

"They only sold four yesterday," he said to Teresa. "The delivery

from the warehouse hasn't come yet then."

"I guess not."

"And who wants to buy an artificial tree on Christmas Eve? Who wants

to buy two?"

"I think you've let this record business get you too worked up,

McCoy," she said.

"You're right, Teresa, I have. It's become an obsession."

"A what?"

"An obsession."

"What's that?"

"Something I can't get out of my mind."

"You mean like love? When you like someone so much it hurts?"

"You're a sweetheart, Teresa." He gave her a peck on the cheek.

They were interrupted by a woman who came up to them and said that

she'd like to buy a Douglas Fir.

"Sorry, we're out of that one."

"Do you have one of the Cedars then."

"Nope. All out of them too."

"I knew I shouldn't have waited till the last minute," the woman

said. "But we never put our tree up until Christmas Eve."

"An old tradition," McCoy said.

"What do you have left?" she asked, looking worried.

McCoy walked her over to the two most expensive trees, the Norfolk

Pine and the Blue Spruce.

"This is all we have left," he said.

"They're a bit expensive."

"They are that, but either of them will last you a lifetime, if

properly taken care of. You won't have to water them. No worry about

a fire. Environmentally correct. And if you spread the expense over

ten years, you'll be saving money."

"How do you figure that?" The woman asked.

"If you figure the price of a natural tree each year for the next

ten, you'll be paying much more than three hundred dollars.

Three-nineteen thirty-four with tax, to be exact."

"I never thought of that," she said. "Well, I've got to do something.

I think I'll take a Norfolk Pine."

"One more to go," McCoy mumbled to himself.

"What was that?" The woman said.

"You've made a good decision, ma'am. You won't have any regrets."

At eleven-thirty, an elderly lady, very bent over, came in and said

she wanted to buy a Scotch Pine.

"I'm very sorry, ma'am, but we're all out of them."

"What about that one there?"

"That's the display, ma'am," McCoy said, before the thought entered

his mind. "Hmmmmm . . . "

"It sure is a nice one," the lady said.

"It is that," McCoy said. "Would you excuse me a minute, ma'am?"

McCoy hustled over to the register where Teresa was sitting fingering

her hair in boredom.

"That old lady wants to buy the Scotch Pine, and I think I'm going .

. "

"You're not," Teresa said. "Sheila said under no circumstance can we

sell a display tree."

"But look at the poor thing, Teresa, she obviously can't afford the

ones we have in stock. Be a sweetheart and write out a slip for me

while I go find a box to put it in, ornaments and all."

"That wouldn't be right, McCoy."

"Teresa, it's not a question of being wrong, or right, or even

setting a record. Just look at that old woman. Won't her eyes light

up when she finds out she's going to get a fully decorated tree,

including the satin clothed angel for the top? We have no right to

deny her this moment in her life. How long do you think she has

left?"

"I know, McCoy," Teresa said, "but is it right?"

"It's for the impression of joy," McCoy said, "and has nothing to do

with the morality. What are they going to do with the displays after

Christmas? Store them away until next year, right?"

"I guess so."

"I'm going to find a box."

The old woman looked around for McCoy, who reappeared carrying a

cardboard box.

"It's yours, ma'am," McCoy said. "Why don't you go over and pay that

nice young lady by the register and I'll pack it up for you and carry

it downstairs when you're done."

"Thank you, sonny," the old woman said.

McCoy carefully dismantled the tree and had just finished putting it

in the box, when Sheila Frump arrived.

"What, might I ask, are you doing, McCoy?"

"I just broke the record."

"You know you're not supposed to sell a display tree."

"But how could you deny this lovely old lady a tree on Christmas

Eve?" McCoy said, as the woman hobbled over to where McCoy and Sheila

stood.

"I'll carry it downstairs for you, ma'am, just as soon as I tie a

handle on it."

"You'll be fired for this, McCoy," Mizz Frump said.

"I can't be, Sheila, I just quit. I've accomplished all I wanted to

accomplish. Farewell, Mizz Frump."

As McCoy and the old lady walked over to the elevator, he heard

Sheila Frump shouting after him.

"McCoy! McCoy . . . ! I'll call the police. McCoy . . .?"

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

MICHAEL'S FIRE

by Carol A. Coates

"Who's that asshole?" John asks as he pulls his old Plymouth into the

space in front of Naomi's rented home.

It's one AM, and both he and Naomi are buzzed on beer.

Naomi follows John's gaze into the park that borders her home. There,

she sees the object of his disdain: a thin man perched on a

cinderblock before a small fire. The man wears a flannel shirt and

blue jeans. His hair is pulled back into a ponytail that falls to the

middle of his back.

"Oh, that's just Michael," she says as she steps out of the car.

Michael catches sight of Naomi, and waves. She returns the gesture.

There is a chill in the air of this Spring evening, and John, his

hands stuffed into the front pockets of his jeans, rushes to catch up

with Naomi on the front walk.

"You know him?" he asks.

She wonders if that is jealousy she hears in his voice, then decides

that this is only wishful thinking. He could take her, or leave her,

and she knows this.

A twenty-seven-year-old guitar player, John is two years older than

Naomi. He says that he is too young and busy to be serious with any

woman.

"Sure, I know Michael," she explains as they approach the front door.

"He lives just down the block with his mother. But each year, when

the weather turns warmer, he moves into the park for the season."

"And those cinderblocks arranged around the fire are, what, his

furniture?" John asks. There is sarcasm in his tone.

"Exactly," Naomi replies as she fumbles with the lock on the front

door.

"Don't you think that's just a little bit crazy?" John asks.

She turns to him, and has to stretch her neck muscles to look up into

his face. Such a perfect face. He is almost beautiful.

"Michael fought in Vietnam when he was young," she says, and shoves

the door open.

"Oh," John says, and follows her inside.

John is kissing Naomi's neck and tugging at her blouse before she has

a chance to remove her denim jacket -- the jacket that her mother had

given her for Christmas just before she'd divorced her father.

They fall onto the futon that is opened out on the living room floor.

Naomi doesn't have a bedroom, as she rents only the first floor of

this home. The two elderly sisters who own the place live upstairs.

When he has finished, John jumps up immediately from the futon.

"Gotta go, Babe," he says. He scoops up articles of his clothing from

the floor as he makes his way into the bathroom.

"Don't call me 'Babe'," Naomi mutters as she pulls a blanket over he

naked body.

John returns from the bathroom, and stands fully dressed at the foot

of the futon in the darkness. Naomi is feigning sleep.

"Did you hear me? I said I've gotta GO," John says.

She lifts her head. "What do you want, a fucking parade?"

John's voice softens. "You're angry. You want me to stay."

"I want you to do what you want to do," Naomi says.

"Look, I promised Jack I'd help him out. He wants to record tomorrow,

and then there's the gig tomorrow night..."

She cuts him off. "You don't have to tell me again how busy you are."

When John has gone, Naomi rises from the futon, wraps the blanket

around herself, and steps into the kitchen. She pulls a bottle of

beer from the refrigerator.

She moves closer to her kitchen window, which offers a good view of

the park. She gulps the beer. The embers of Michael's fire are

burning low, and she watches as he collects kindling from beneath the

trees.

When she has finished the beer, Naomi picks up the telephone and

calls her mother. Though she has neither seen nor spoken to her

mother in three years, she is confident that he mother will be awake.

"Hello," Naomi's mother says, her voice thickened with alcohol.

"Mom?"

"Naomi," her mother says breathlessly. They are silent a moment.

"Where are you?" Naomi's mother asks. "Tell me where you are."

Naomi is quiet. Her throat begins to swell and constrict. Pressure

builds behind her eyes.

"I can't love anyone," Naomi says, but this is barely audible. Then,

tears flow, and pain rises up out of her insides in sounds so raw and

pure they might have been made by an animal.

But Naomi's mother has understood. "You won't let anyone in," she

whispers. "How can you love anyone if you never let anyone in?"

"I...have...to...go...Mom," Naomi says, and the words hitch up out of

her throat through barely restrained sobs.

"Don't, Naomi..."

"I...have...to..."

Naomi returns to the window. She watches Michael sip from a bottle as

he mind and body begin to go numb--the inevitable aftermath of strong

emotion unreleased.

Michael climbs into a sleeping bag near his fire. Only the top of his

head shows now. As she watches the sleeping bag rise and fall with

his slow steady breathing, she feels a calming in the place inside

that is usually turmoil.

"I want to give up too," she whispers to the window, and her breath

clings as mist to the glass.


She dresses in flannel and blue jeans, and pulls a sleeping bag from

the floor of the closet. She steps outside and into the night.

Michael does not stare when she approaches his camp. She lays down,

with her head near his feet, and soon sleeps peacefully in the warmth

of Michael's fire.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

NOTEWORTHY

Z.E.N. (c)

THE ZINE EXCHANGE NETWORK (c)

The Zine Exchange Network (c) is an informal service designed to

facilitate the "cross-pollination" of ideas through the exchange of

zines. It is a clearinghouse for zine publishers and traders who wish

to distribute their publications and receive others in return. The

idea is to get your zines out into the network, thereby increasing

their visibility, and at the same time seeing other people's work

that you may not have seen before. The service is free. The only

cost involved is postage.

Participation is simple:

1. Send as many copies of your zine as you care to distribute. Keep

in mind that the more copies you send, the more visibility, and

therefore, more potential subscription/trade/review contacts it will

generate. If you do not produce your own zine, send in zines that

you believe others would like to see.

2. Also include a Self-Addressed Stamped Envelope (SASE). It will

be filled and returned to you with a variety of other folks'

publications. The SASE should be large enough and should have enough

U.S. postage affixed to accommodate the number of zines you wish in

return. (If you're not sure about postal rates, a good rule of thumb

is 29 cents for the 1st oz., 23 cents for each additional oz. A

bargain can be had for $2.90. You can send/receive up to 2 lbs. for

this price - UNITED STATES ONLY. Check with your local Post Office

for details).

The only guidelines you should follow are those of common sense.

If you send one copy of a lightweight zine, please only include a

SASE appropriate for an equivalent exchange. If you want a lot of

zines, send a lot of zines plus a SASE big enough for the job. You

are welcome and encouraged to send a variety of zines in addition to

your own. Please do not send what you consider to be trash. I will

do my best to match the *quality* of zines to be exchanged. What you

get depends on what you send.

I DO NOT accept money. I exchange zines, I don't sell them.

You may also include a request for the type of zines you wish to

receive in return (humor, political, art, literature, computer,

cyber, personal, music, catalogs, grab-bag, etc...). I may not be

able to match your request exactly, however I will do my best.

The Zine Exchange Network (c) is a *FUN, EASY and CHEAP* way to

trade art and ideas and make new contacts. The address for Z.E.N.

(c) is:

ZINE EXCHANGE NETWORK

GARY PATTILLO

P O BOX 7052

AUSTIN TX 78713

Please feel free to pass this information along. Help spread the

word! (c) 1992 Gary Pattillo gary@well.sf.ca.us

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