What Love Is and Other Stories by Pete Armetta

Archive Fiction Original Lit


While falling asleep on my belly with my face in the pillow, your hand casually rests on the small of my back. Waking up before you, I sit at the table reading the paper as you quietly walk into the kitchen, boiling water for the French press.  I pick my head up and take in your morning smile. Saying nothing, you come to me with the coffee pot and refill my cup.

“Aren’t you going to have any?” I ask, searching your face, gazing into your eyes.  “No,” you say. “I just made this for you.”


Moxie sat in the doctor’s office, waiting. Why is it okay to be on time for an appointment but these doctors can always be late? A travesty of justice! She spent her time reading an old issue of Vanity Fair, with that deliciously pretentious Christopher Hitchens going on and on about the integrity of his atheism or something. God rest his soul.

Just a way to pass the time really.

The waiting room was crowded, a microcosm of society all here in one little space. Moxie didn’t pay anyone any mind, just hoping to get her business done and get outta there. She was expected at her fancy-assed brunch after her appointment. Well that’s what she called it (to herself); the monthly luncheon when she gets together with the do-getter women of the town to discuss ways to impact change through their donations and hard work. It’d taken her years and years really to get to the point where she’d even be accepted by that crowd. Moxie had grown out of the impoverished existence she’d always known, and now could sit at the table with the ladies on equal footing. She’d finally made it.

They didn’t know that behind her coiffed veneer, Moxie was really just a junk yard dog.

She was engaged in her reading and blocking out most of the sound, when the chimes rang on the front door. Moxie briefly looked up and saw it was HIM coming in. She slumped down in her chair and picked up the magazine, trying to block her face. She really didn’t want to be forced to engage him. How long had it been now, almost two years? And it had taken her so long to get away from him back then. He’d only be satisfied if he squeezed every inch of hope out of her. Moxie had tried to leave on good terms then, but he just wouldn’t have it.

She could still hear the way that he always said it: It doesn’t matter, who cares? That’s what he always used to say.

Well things mattered to Moxie. There really was no escaping from him here. He checked in at the nurses’ station and when he turned around, walked over and sat down in the row ahead of Moxie, catty corner to her. She could feel him taking in the room, and when he looked over his shoulder he spotted her. She apparently didn’t do a very good job of trying to stay under the radar. Moxie looked up and he was walking over.

“Moxie, wow. How are you, what are you doing here?” he asked. He was standing over her, with a smile on his face but caution written all over him.

“I’m here to see the doctor Richard, I’m fine.”

She knew the wrong thing to ask was “how are you?” She was scared that’d give him an opening to launch into a whole rehash of his life after Moxie. She moved her eyes back to the atheist in the magazine, trying to maintain a casual and distant air.

“Why won’t you look at me? Don’t you even care how I’m doing Moxie?”

“Richard, Richard,” she said, looking up at him. She had no choice but to reply. “Well, how are you Richard, really?”

Richard tentatively sat down next to her. His expression was pale, like he’d had all the blood sucked out of his face or something. Maybe he was sick for real. His eyes darted around, then fixed on hers. “I’m fine Moxie. I mean, surviving. Since I’ve seen you I’ve given things a lot of thought.”

Oh no.

“I know you’ve been ignoring me, but you do know you screwed up my life, right Moxie?”

Moxie still held her magazine, but knew she was cornered. “Richard, please,” was all she could muster.

“I’m miserable and lonely and you took my soul away Moxie,” he said. She didn’t feel sadness coming from him, but anger. The others in the room had their ears open too no doubt, as Richard turned up his volume. “I’m not some abusive monster Moxie. It doesn’t matter but it’s all those things you said Moxie. You took away my self-esteem. It’s all your fault.”

Moxie put the magazine back on the stack of others on the end table. “Richard, please.”

She didn’t know what else to say, She’d said it all long before. She looked at him with fear, but also with pity. She wished she didn’t have to look at him at all.

The door next to the nurses’ station opened up. “Moxie,” came the booming voice of the nurse, a voice that was used to having to be heard over the buzz of indifference. “The doctor will see you now.”

Moxie got up and smoothed out her skirt. “You take care of yourself Richard.”

She walked away and disappeared on him.



As I popped out my thumb I was hopin’ to get a quick lift, as some of those other vagabonds were lurking about all day yesterday, and I didn’t have any strength left to entertain them anymore: too tiring, gets on the nerves. I have places to go and my time around here has gotten so droll, just boring as hell. A real yawner.

The morning traffic is noisy and harried, like usual at this hour, what with folks off to their tight-noose “jobs” and today’s weather finally tepid. Off to the malls and other destinations too I suppose. So be it, I’ve no ill will. Let people be as they are. I’m no longer impatient about them not responding in kind.

Abstention from interference.

So my backpack is light, which is good. It makes for easy trippin’. I buried the little money I have with my sentimental effects yesterday, nothing of any value really to anyone anyway. I’ll return for THAT on my reverse out of THERE I suppose. Or after I transition to the true great beyond, whichever comes first.

My thumb attracts nothing. Those other Muscae Volitantes put up signs, announcing their burdens and suffering. Not my style really. I don’t care when or even if I get picked up. I’ll pose here for awhile, as a part of me entertains me this way. If I didn’t laugh at myself what else would I do? A Toyota pulls up, well a Prius I guess. Didn’t Toyota get fatally maimed awhile ago with some flaw or mistake in their design? I don’t know, but this car looks new anyway.

“Come on son, hurry up if you want to get going here,” said the man doing the driving. He strained his neck to talk to me out the passenger side window. I jumped in the front, throwing my knapsack in the back and closed the door. “Thank you,” I said. It did feel good to sit down on a cushiony seat, and the aesthetics of the vehicle were pleasant enough. Not like a week or so ago when that crazy redneck, drunken, looking-for-trouble kid picked me up.

My mistake.

The man looked at me and asked, “Where you going?” looking me up and down and in the eyes. We set out on the highway heading west.

“As far as you’re going, where are you going?”

“On my way to work, over in Springfield.”

“Okay, that’s good then,” I smiled, showing him my toothy grin.

“Well, where are you going?”

“Well, I’m going there. To Springfield. With you.”

This man changed over into the fast lane, gunning his little econo-model. These are the cars that people buy to save the planet, geesh. Well I won’t bring that up. He was a bit nervous too. I mean not like a nervous type- he just didn’t know what to say to me. I’m used to that though, and generally am glad. I don’t really have the need to talk or engage much. I’m content being silent. The man was fooling with the radio, with his cell phone wiring coming out of his head, and his papers and Burger King refuse littering the back seat. Must be the busy type, yeh. I leaned my head back on the headrest and placed my eyes on the passing panorama. I’ll miss this place, it’s prettier than most.

After about ten minutes he asked, “Do you work around here, have family around here?”

Ohhh gosh.

“Well, I have some around, and no I don’t work here. Just visiting.”


“How do you make do then?  I mean how do you make money?”

I looked at him, pausing for thought. “I don’t make money, I make do without money,” I said. “Often it’s the kindness of people like you who are generous enough to give a lift and some company,” with other niceties thrown in.

Car drone.

“Well what are your plans, I mean when you get to Springfield?”


“I don’t have any plans. I’ll know when I get there.”

I guess confounding people is something I’m so used to, that it doesn’t give me much pause nor concern anymore. I’d be surprised if I didn’t! I confound me too! I’ll use the little time I’ll have in Springfield to find a shower and maybe a friendly meal with another roamer (when will they learn never to carry their money with them?) That’ll suit fine. I’ve much further to go anyway. I really need to hightail it back to the desert as quickly as possible. Things have just gotten too green around here. When my thumb’s out again, I’ll hopefully get a bored overworked trucker looking for a little excitement (and hopefully not more this time), who’s going for the long haul. It’ll give my itchy feet a reprieve from my always relentless wanderlust. I so need to get the hell outta here.

Back when I was a rubber tramp, things were a bit easier. But keeping up with the old beater car was something I quickly learned was impractical. Going overland is less of a hassle. Besides, cars cost money and I sure the hell ain’t gonna find some shitty-ass workhorse job to support all THAT.

I’d rather not have to put socks on…

We crossed over the gap in the mountains and descended down to Springfield, exit for the center up ahead. “Where do you want to get off?” he asked.

“Wherever you’re going.”

He looked at me and I could see he was getting impatient now. “You can drop me off right at the exit if you want, I mean wherever you’re exiting the freeway.”

This satisfied him. He was ready to be done with me anyway, really. At the end of the off-ramp he said, “Here?” He pulled over to the side of the road and I opened the door.

“Wait a minute son,” he said, holding out a tenner my way.

“No need,” I told him smiling.  “Thank you very much for the ride.”

No envy here.

I crossed the feeder road and headed into a little dive-luncheonette, asked and was pointed to the restroom. I sponge washed myself, took off my bandana and washed my hair some, fussed a bit to change my pants, and went out and sat in a booth. I dropped my knapsack on the bench next to me, pulled out a paperback and opened the zippers to reorganize my gear. A waitress came over and asked for my order, and I smiled and asked for a minute; told her I had to get myself together some. She smiled back, genuinely too, with a curious but warm eye contact. The bells hanging on the front door chimed, and I looked up and saw a guy walk in, askew and beaten-down- a drifter for sure. He noticed me and headed over,  cautiously sitting down across from me.

The waitress came over and asked him if he wanted anything, putting ice water on the table for both. I slurped some down and he asked for two coffees.

“Coffee’s okay with you?”

“Oh yes, thank you. You’re so kind.”


Saucy was coming up on 50 this week, and she looked it. Well, she just looked like she’d lived a hard life which she had. Weathered. It wasn’t a hard life materially, and she’d never been “abused” or maligned in any particular way. She’d just been born a person that she never understood, and this caused her so many struggles over the years. And she always felt God was punishing her for something. Being that she always stood out like a sore thumb all these years didn’t help much.

Her proper name is Beatrice, but she was always called Saucy. Since as long as she could remember. Momma told her years later that it was because as long as she lived she always had a sharp tongue, always quick with the short retort. Momma told her she never knew why. It seemed Beatrice, well Saucy, just always had conflicts with many, and always had her “dukes up” so to speak. These conversations with Momma caused her to reflect some, but not too much really. Reflection wasn’t a strong suit of hers.

Could get her in trouble.

Saucy’s nurse was there today, helping her get ready for tomorrow. She usually didn’t have much use for this nurse, what with her nosing around in all her personal space, and insisting she do all these things, saying that she had to. I’m older than her for chrissakes, but don’t really have much choice in the matter, Saucy figured. But between her doing the laundry today and getting all her medicines straight, the sponge bathing and the usual hassle of arranging her transportation from the wheelchair accessible van service, it made for more bustle than a normal day. It’s just that this nursie didn’t really seem to like her much. And talked on her cell phone most of the time anyway.

She’s supposed to be working for me.

Saucy figured the center would make a big fuss on her birthday and like usual had mixed emotions and anxiety about even going. Feeling mixed about things was just natural for her. And feeling anxious. That center always seemed to make too big a deal over people, she thought. And for some reason the workers there thought that it’d helped. They knew most never got much support really ever, and were misfits. Just a bunch of square pegs, who never fit in the round holes of life.

Besides, like a cake and some singing really does anything.

The nurse answered the door to the Meals on Wheels volunteer with her lunch. They were nice enough volunteers, mostly from the local program where the “mentally deficient” gathered. It was nice they did the volunteer work. She wishes she could do something like that. Never did. Couldn’t really. But now that the nurse had been working with her, most likely the food would stop, being she’s not as “shut-in” as she used to be. And was for so long. She won’t miss that slop anyway, what with them only giving her the “renal, diabetic” mushy diet.

Special food for her specialness.

Everything was ready and Saucy and nursie were out front waiting for the van. She had on her best flowered dress, which she wouldn’t normally wear, and the ditties who lived in her building were all paying attention to her. Old bags. She also had a big yellow flower in her hair that the lady down the hall picked out for her from the garden. The van pulled into the parking lot and that nice driver, the one who always flirted with her, jumped around from the driver’s side, pulling open the ramp for her to roll on in. There were already six people in there, and being that she rode with them somewhat regularly, she knew them all. They all ooohed and aaahed over her. She brushed them off but felt herself turn crimson. She even felt herself well up a bit too. Not something she usually did.

After a few drop offs, and the usual climbing over each other in the hot van, they arrived at the center. The same crazies were outside smoking, bunch of lay-abouts, and when the driver opened the van and pulled down the ramp and Saucy came out, they started giggling and whistling at her. She muttered her usual profanities and gave them a scowl, but it wasn’t the same muttering as usual. She felt a smile on her face. And for some reason felt like a real site to see.

That she made them happy.

She was pushed into the center by a big skinny loudmouthed black guy who once inside called out the others to just “take a look” at Saucy! She was blushing profusely, but as she rolled down the hallway to the main dining room she thought about her life. She suddenly realized she felt like a queen, or even a Star.

With a capital S!


Uncle Charles was a quiet man, unassuming, and had always lived on his own. He was not unapproachable, but a man of few words. He liked to fish and ran a small fish tackle and bait shop in town; this is how I came to know him, I would stay at his place and fish during long summer breaks. Dad never talked about him much but I’d spent a lot of time with him for as long as I can remember.

I never knew anything of his past.

While a journalism student at the University of Virginia, I was shocked to learn that Charles Morrell had been a leading investigative Journalist and had brought down an entire crime family in the fifties at the expense of his own family. His wife and three children had been murdered in an explosion at their house. I read and reread the reports and examined the photos and even talked to dad about him. But Dad refused any information, saying that I would have to ask Uncle Charlie. So that was just what I was about to do. I sat in my car, with the entire portfolio in my briefcase; just getting up the nerve to enter his house.

I wasn’t sure how I’d approach this.

I picked up my briefcase and made way for the door. Although Uncle Charles never really said much, again I never felt uncomfortable spending time with him. It was mostly in silence, but he certainly never intimidated me. After all I’m the young buck here! He always accommodated my high energy and drive too. During those summers when I’d help him by taking the tourists out on the boat, he was never anything but gracious, and paid me as well as he could.

When I walked in the front door Aunt Helen was sitting on the couch with her knitting bag. She supposedly was Uncle Charles’ “companion,” as they never married, but she’d been around most of my life. Now my suspicions were TOO much. Just to think, my Uncle Charles had a whole life before this Aunt Helen. It dawned on me how I knew nothing about these people.

Gosh there was so much more.

She smiled and used her thumb to indicate the back door. I walked through the kitchen and out to the backyard and there was old Uncle Charles, working on one of the boats. He had all kinds of tools and cleaners and open cans of paint and supplies on the ground at his feet, and was brushing some polyurethane or something on the side of the boat.

“Uncle Charlie, hey what are you doing?”

Uncle Charles was deep in concentration and muttered hello. He kept slowly moving that paint brush; first to the left and then to the right. To me he did it like a Zen master.

“Do you wanna go out on the water?” I tried.

Uncle Charles kept stroking the brush. He was deep in thought and transfixed, so I sat Indian style on the ground and watched and waited. Left then right, back and forth. Again, being quiet with Uncle Charles was something I was used to.

He finally put his brush down and looked at me for the first time. “Son? What is it? You wanna go fish?”


He went into the shed and pulled out our gear and threw it in the back of the truck. We loaded ourselves up and made way toward the Bay Bridge. I held the portfolio on my lap, and if my Uncle saw it, he raised no questions or had no interest. Uncle Charles just looked at the road then rolled down the window and spit out some tobacco. God only knows how long that’s been in his mouth.

“Uncle Charles?”


“I know you love fishing, but is that all that you ever did? I mean you’ve got quite a grand house and everything, what were you doing when you were my age? I’m just wondering: how does a simple fisherman afford a big fancy house like that? When did you meet Aunt Helen?”

Uncle Charles sat silently as we started the ascent up the bridge over the Chesapeake.  This is the bridge of my youth- Gosh I’d been over it maybe a million times, back and forth to Uncle Charles’ tackle shop. It’s the bridge that goes over the water for awhile, then under through tunnels, then back up over the water. It’s gotta be at least twenty miles across too. The whole panorama here is of endless water, with small islands interspersed randomly in the bay. The tunnels are there to let the big freighters and barges have their access to the ocean. I’ve always been fascinated with this bridge.

“Well I’ve had that house a long time Son. I mean since way back when.”

“Yeh but Uncle Charles, did you ever do anything other than fish?”

“My, my,” said Uncle Charles. “You are the curious type today. I guess now you think you’re a journalist in real life? Questioning and badgering me like this? I’ve been to lots of places. I’ve done lots of things Son. Don’t you worry about it.”

I sat silently. Why in the world wouldn’t my Uncle open up to me? I’m a grown man now for chrissakes! Something, anything?

“But Uncle Charlie!!!”

I unzipped and opened the portfolio on my lap. It was a series of newspaper articles and photos and my “evidence.” I started rifling through, ready to present my case.

We pulled into the parking lot of the tackle shop, our usual spot. He shut off the truck and sat back in his seat.

“Son I’ve known a lot of people and don’t know many anymore. That’s just the way things are in life sometimes. Best just to leave things alone. For me it’s just water under the bridge.”


The car broke down in the middle of the night, in the middle of a long stretch of nothing. We were on Route 40 between Flagstaff and Winslow, on the old Route 66, and nothingness was all there was here. We’d put miles and miles of flat scrubby desert behind us, and still had lots more to go.

She immediately started to panic, as she’s known to do.  When was she ever known to keep a level head? Especially during an iffy situation?  Just yesterday she almost had a coronary because her gynecologist cancelled her appointment. Doesn’t take much to get her going, never has. A long list of all the imaginary and evil things that could happen started streaming from her mouth. And she started in with that annoying thing she does when she gets all lathered up, calling me by my first and last name over and over: Trevor Jackson. Trevor Jackson.

Couldn’t stand it.

“You know everything’s gonna be just fine now, really,” I said, trying to console her. I held her hand and it was clammy and shaking.  “We still have some power in the battery and I’ll keep the radio on, okay? And we have the dome light here, see?” I turned it on. “Everything’s gonna be just fine, I promise.”

She sat there quietly with her head hanging low.  Other than her anxious breathing, the only sound was that damn Association on the oldies station going on and on ad nauseum.  Cherish is the WORRRRRRRRRRDDDD…

Yeh yeh.

It was hours before dawn and pitch black too. We were miles from any sign of anything. People are scarce this far out, that’s for sure. Now what the hell were we supposed to do? It’s not like someone’s gonna happen upon us who could help anytime soon. And the battery still worked sure, but it would be dying soon, wouldn’t be long now. Then we wouldn’t be able to see a foot in front of us.

I put my hand under her chin, lifting her face to see me.

“Hey,” I said. “It’s gonna be okay.”

Battery dies.

“We’re gonna die out here. I know it Trevor Jackson,” she said, murmuring and whimpering under her breath, “You’ve done it again. Trevor Jackson you always know how to get us into a SITUATION,” getting louder, “We’re gonna die out here, Trevor Jackson. I can’t even see anything, Trevor Jackson.  I gotta get out of this CAR Trevor Jackson!!!”

She stepped out into the black. I opened my car door and jumped out.

“Hey, where are you going!?”

I heard her feet stomping around on the pavement, but couldn’t see her. Where was the moon? I walked toward the noise, but couldn’t get my bearings for the life of me.  I couldn’t tell up from down.

“Come on now, get back in the car!” I yelled.



Far away and getting steadily closer, I heard a low hum coming down the road.  Sounded like an 18-wheeler.  I turned and could see headlights cutting through the night, coming at us from over the horizon.  The glow of the lights started bringing the surrounding panorama into view along its way.

She yelled from the dark, her voice now quite shrill. “You’ve never done anything worth anything, see that now Trevor Jackson!?  We’re gonna die out here I tell you. DIE in the middle of nowhere! I shoulda known it’d turn out like this with you Trevor Jackson.” She paused for a second. “You’ve always been a loser, Trevor Jackson, you ain’t never done nothing right!”

The roar of the wheels of the 18-wheeler got louder. I turned toward the sound and saw it barreling down the middle of the two-lane highway, coming our way.  I looked back  in the direction of her voice and she came into view. I could see her running and wobbling and stumbling down the road. At least she was running in the direction of Winslow. I couldn’t help but think that she looked like some befuddled participant in a long distance marathon from an old B movie.

Or something.

“Hey, get outta the road!” I made a bolt for her, yelling at the top of my lungs. “Mom! Mom!”


The 18-wheeler never saw her.

HERBERT  illustration by Sam Parr

Herbert stopped short and just stared. He had walked into the kitchen, grocery bags in tow, where Gladys would usually still be cleaning up after this morning’s breakfast; or sitting there reading the paper with the radio on. She always had to listen to that damn NPR, all those know-it-all people going on and on about everything all the time. The two had this same morning routine now for over fifty years. But Herbert had noticed that Gladys had seemed a bit off-kilter lately, struggling some.  And the fact that she wasn’t here doing her regular thing just stopped him short.

He was so used to it.

Herbert didn’t hear anything in the house and called “Gladys? Gladys?!” No response.  Worrying some, he walked up the steps shaking his head and muttering her name under his breath. “Oh, Gladys. Gladys.” He walked down the hall toward the bedroom. When he peeked in he saw her sitting on the floor in her nightgown with their old photo albums, a mess strewn across the floor. Everything was askew.

Gladys was frantically rooting through everything and seemingly in a fuss.

“Gladys, Gladys, what is it now?”

She looked up at him, squinting through eyes wet with tears and confusion and uncertainty, and pulled out an old photo from the pile, showing it to him. Herbert walked over and took it from her hand and saw it was gosh, a picture that must have been from the early 1940s. It was of Gladys as a baby with her mother and father, and she was bouncing on her Daddy’s knee. They were smiling and laughing.

“What, Gladys what?”

Gladys looked down and put her hands back in the piles of photos and started pulling out those of her siblings and aunts and uncles and children and friends; everyone they’d ever known. She was showing the pictures to Herbert, pointing at the people in them.

“Gladys, what is it?”

Gladys was gasping but managed to say, “Who, who…? Who are all these people?”

Herbert stopped short and just stared.


He thought he ruled the world. Well at least HIS world. In all his days, no one around Jimmy ever much disputed the fact that he certainly was in charge of things. A mover and a shaker. He met Valerie when they were still in high school. And once he knocked her up and both their parents were insistent that he did right by her, without hesitation he knew marrying her and providing for his new family was exactly what he’d do.

He’s in charge remember?

King of the universe. Chief of the tribe. Jimmy the man.  Valerie always complied, at least through his twenties while he was furthering his education in engineering, appearing regularly in journals and scientific magazines and consistently getting accolades and attention from the media and academia. They called him the Whiz Kid. Valerie stayed home, first with little Jimmy Jr., and then once Mary came along, and fell comfortably into her role as homemaker and caretaker. Not that Jimmy was ever one who needed to be “taken care” of.

Jimmy always took care of everything.

Now that he’d found a lucrative career and what is defined nowadays as “success,” Jimmy and Valerie had settled into a comfortable lifestyle that anyone would envy. Jimmy Jr. was off to Harvard to study Biology of all things- wants to be a doctor that one. And Mary had met a nice young man of good pedigree, with both families hoping they’d marry. Those two would have the wedding of the year no doubt is what people said, and superior offspring without question.

It’s a nice life.

Jimmy had always given back to his community, and nothing made him prouder than leading the Young Minds fraternity of recent prep school grads. The Young Minds yearly trek into the great outdoors was this morning, and Jimmy was well qualified to lead them. He’d backpacked across the American West and Europe many times throughout his 20s, and had the sharp mind and leadership acumen necessary to help expand their horizons.  This trip was nothing that ambitious really. Just a couple of nights camping on the river outside the city, in the greenbelt of forest and trails and mountains that surround it.

Ecotone.  That’s what Jimmy called it.  He explained it was where civilization and the wilderness meet, and had a whole thesis about what this meant too.

He’d talk to you about it at length if you asked.

He and the trekkers met in the Walmart parking lot right before dawn, and formed a line as the bus pulled in to take them away. They packed their gear up underneath and boarded, starting out through the city streets, as the sun started to peek over the horizon. The bus wound slowly through the neighborhoods where people were just waking up, some already out having breakfast in outdoor cafes, while others were out walking their dogs. The morning ritual. Going to be a warmer day today for sure. Everything’s just going to be perfect.

Wasn’t it always?

The bus stopped at the trail head, and Jimmy and boys disembarked, slinging their backpacks on and heading off overland into the woods. Jimmy led the way. He knew this land well and was quite attached to it, and he was animated this morning too. He was talking up a storm in his loud voice to the boys following behind, with a steady stream of instructions and a recitation of their itinerary. Once they got much deeper into the woods, Jimmy chose a site next to the river, and the troop set up camp.

After a breakfast of hot coffee and juice and muffins and croissants, Jimmy gathered them in a circle and stood in the center of it. “Okay guys, we’re going to set out for the hike up to Mount Face. Remember, this is at the minimum a seven hour round trip, so it’ll be dusk on our way back. If you haven’t triple-checked your back pack to make sure you have everything you need including your first aid kits and flashlights and water and cameras, please do it now. Okay? Remember like I’ve said, in the Ecotone it’s safety first.  Jeremy (he pointed at the kid at the back of the group), did you triple check that all the food’s tied like I asked you to?”  Jeremy, the smallest kid there, and the one the others picked on and roughhoused with relentlessly, said “Yes sir I did, everything’s up, everyone listened to me this time.”  The other boys snickered, as Jimmy started making his way out of the campsite and headed towards Mount Face, the largest peak in the area, with his charge of kids backing him up.

Jimmy was singing and encouraging the boys to chime in. They were a somewhat raucous group. This intruded into the silence and stillness of the forest and bounced off the walls of the mountain as they made their way. They began their ascent, with the river starting to loom below. Jimmy and the boys slowed down some to accommodate the growing incline, and quieted down some too, now focused on the challenge ahead. Jimmy was still taking the role of leading this expedition quite seriously, with a steady stream of pronouncements and commands from the head of the line. Little Jeremy lagged behind the rest of the group, daydreaming like usual.

Two hours in, and having most of the ascent  behind them, the trekkers stopped at an overlook next to the Great Falls, a spot famous for being the largest waterfall in all of these mountains. They could see the top of Mount Face from here, and the rest of the way would be slow going in alpine air, over large rocks and formations. No more trail. The boys dropped their backpacks with grunts and relief, and the group broke up for the first time today. Jimmy sat down and started rummaging through his backpack as some boys went off to take pictures of the scenery, and others made a beeline for the large rock outcropping next to the falls. The boys had to yell to be heard over the loud roar of the water, and you could see them trying to get as close to the falls as possible. Little Jeremy was standing silently off by himself, staring down at the valley and river below.  You could hear Jimmy talking to no one in particular, elaborating about the dangers and precautions necessary for success in the Ecotone.  He yelled over to Jeremy, calling his name to get his attention. Jeremy turned his face toward Jimmy, and cocked his ear to listen, then stood frozen in place. He saw the big Grizzly slowly sneaking up behind Jimmy. Jeremy told the others later that it seemed as if the bear just didn’t want to hear Jimmy’s voice anymore.

Jeremy didn’t have time to open his mouth before the Grizzly quickly ended Jimmy’s reign.

NOWHERE FAST  illustration by Sam Parr

Darren was waiting. He needed for the phone to ring today, or someone to come to his door, or something. It’d been a few days since he’d talked to another living soul, and although he couldn’t stand anyone anyway, his internal dialogue was getting old.

And loud.

There’d been no reason for him to even think of taking a shower, or leaving the house. He had enough food here to last through even the rapture, if need be. And he had the company of the TV, where every day he had certain times allotted for certain shows, although most of the time it just squawked on and on and on.

Not the best company.

He ran through the channels again, nothing. Dr. Phil listening to someone talking all kinds of crap. Him feigning interest and responding with blabby wishy-washy diatribes about nothing, like usual. The Karadashians whoring around and flushing lots of money down the toilet, money they’ve earned from me watching them, he figured. Talking head pundit know-it-alls, being all clubby with each other, acting like THEY should be runnin’ things. Just a bunch of self-aggrandizing, cock-a-poop braggarts and fools really, he thought.

Well not in so many words…

Darren got up and made his way back over to the refrigerator, tossing his empty bottle into the hopper, clink!, and sticking his head in, pulling out another Meisterbrau. He looked at, then decided against, that plate of now sticky macaroni and cheese from last night, while twisting the lid off his beer. Making his way back to the couch, he stopped when he caught sight of himself in the mirror. Eh, not bad for 50 years old, he thought. Running his hands through his hair he looked at his body. Well, could use a bit of work there. He flexed a bit, and thought of Jennifer. Eh, screw her, he thought, that bitch could shack up with anyone, who the hell cares anymore!?

Who needs her!?

Back in those days things were a lot different. He had no time to just sit around drinking beer and watching TV. The kids and work and life gave him little time to breathe, always running around and listening to all the yap-yap 24/7. Her telling me what to do all the time, bossing me around. The kids never shuttin’ the hell up.

Looks at phone.

He hadn’t even talked to his oldest son, Darren Jr. in a few months now. And he sure the hell wasn’t going to call him! Besides he was busy with his wife and those rug rats, pretty much doing exactly what I was doing at his age, poor bastard. And the rest of them, he hardly even knew where or what they were about anymore. If they weren’t going to call him or come see him, he could care less what they did anyway.

Picks up remote.

Sitting back and closing his eyes, Darren flipped through the channels. Ehhhhhhhhhh…. Same old stuff. Another forty-five minutes and Celebrity Apprentice’ll be coming on. Eh that bastard Donald Trump what an idiot! Eyelids heavy, Darren was moving in that place between wake and sleep, brain buzzing from beer. Yeh that Donald Trump, oh they call him “The Donald,” what kind of hair is that? Darren laughed at that a bit, jarring himself awake for a second. He reached over and picked up his beer and took a long swig. His eyelids closed again, heavy, dreaming, Meisterbrau resting on his protruding belly flesh.

He dreamed he was back in high school, running track, fast, fast, the wind at his back, and his classmates far behind him too. Nothing on his mind at all except how strong he knew he was, how the hot sun made everything bright, the roar of the crowd egging him on, and the ribbon across the finish line coming into his sights. Running, running, little or even no effort to keep charging. The winner he’ll be. Then a bell in the distance, out there but distinct. Well a ring really, louder now, finish line up ahead, stampeding, just tearing ahead. Ringing.

By the time he awakened he’d just missed the phone call.


My friend had to say something.
His boss wasn’t getting the whole story out.

My friend told the journalists that
“the department had authorized the funds.”

The next day his boss went on TV and denied
“that was actually the case.”

My friend’s boss is lying.
And he’s filled with fear.
He took a stand and nobody backed him.

Now he’s in limbo.


Rich stood in the aisle of the thrift shop looking at the bric-a-brac on the shelves, although he didn’t have any plans to buy anything. He wasn’t able to stomach his situation anymore, and being here was a part of his action plan. His fight with Alli last night was really the last straw. She doesn’t understand that he means business this time. He’s going with or without her.

Out to Slab City.

He walked down the aisle to the back of the store, where there was a counter with a sign above it saying Customer Service/Layaway. He stood in line behind the other customers, not really sure if he was wasting his time here or not. He didn’t have much stuff at home; most of the house was furnished with Alli’s stuff. She’s the one that came to the marriage with money, and a past. She pretty much had furnished the whole place. But he did have the nice sectional sofa in the TV room downstairs. Oh yeh, and the TV, that oughtta fetch a bundle one would think. Plus the assorted historical photos of the Civil War are worth something, although he wasn’t sure they’d want them here.

Rich couldn’t believe that after all these years his life was taking this particular turn.

“Next!” said the portly and jolly-looking woman behind the desk.

Rich stepped up, “Do you folks buy furniture?”

“Yes we do Sir, you can bring it to the store and we’ll send the guy outside to give you a price. What do you have?”

“Oh that’s good. Well can you come to my house? It’s a lot of stuff,” Rich asked.

“Well, what do you have?”

“I have a sectional sofa, floor lamps, some end tables, a big screen TV, civil war items and whatnot. It’s all in good condition and I need to empty the place out quick. Oh and a car too, I don’t think you take that but maybe you know someone who does?”

“Well no on the car for sure,” the lady said, laughing. “But the rest sounds like something he’d go see. Are you moving Sir?”

“Yes I am. I’m going out to Slab City.”

“To where?”

The idea of Slab City came to Rich from a recent news story he saw about “victims” of the recession. Although Rich didn’t really think of himself as a victim, the past year everything had changed so much for him. His unemployment had put a severe stress on his marriage with Alli, and the having to go on food stamps plus the pending foreclosure on his house had all taken a toll on him. Rich was shell-shocked. He was drinking again too, and that wasn’t doing him a hill of beans of good. Rich felt rejected by his family and friends, who had no interest or empathy at all for his situation.  Why do people only value you if you have money? All these years he’d done okay for himself, as good as anyone else at least. He thought that he’d made it. But the idea of how he sacrificed his health and his dreams too just to keep a roof over his head, made the adventure and idealism of Slab City all the more inviting. Especially when he’d been trying SO hard to recoup what he once had.

The timing was right.

Slab City is an abandoned military base located in the southeast California desert. All that’s left of the base now are the concrete slabs from the former structures that were there, hence the name. Years ago it became a free RV park, and over time has attracted all sorts of idealists and squatters and hitchhikers. All are welcome. Snowbirds come down during the northern winters to escape the cold and the rat race, when the population swells to well over its year- round 200 or so residents. It really is a community and town in its own right; with an alternative culture, although distinctly American. Most of the misfits who wind up there have suffered financial hardship and given up on making it in mainstream society any more. And didn’t want to. Just like Rich. These folks decided they had no choice but to “drop out” and do things differently. The place has a reputation for being unsafe and dirty, with no running water or electricity either, although lots of residents use generators and solar panels, which exploit the 365 day relentless and over-the-top heat.

Nothing your Momma’d have any interest in.

The portly but jolly-looking woman came back to the counter saying Mr. Jonesboro could come out around 2:00 tomorrow, and asked Rich if that would be okay. Being that he had nothing but time, Rich said “fine,” and made his way out the front door.

It was a beautiful sunny day, warm for the winter at around 55 degrees, and Rich got in the car and opened the sun roof. He drove down the tree lined streets of this suburbia, looking around at the neatness and redundancy of the houses, and it reminded him of his lack of any interest in any more conformity. He was glad for SURE he’d decided to put it all behind him. He felt so sad that Alli believed they could ever return to their glory days.

And felt sad he had to make a break with her now.

Alli had taken the day off from work to welcome her Mother, who’d be arriving that evening. When he walked in the front door he heard the radio coming from the kitchen. He walked in and saw Alli in a flurry of activity, cooking and getting out the best china and the mood in the kitchen was bustling.

“Did you get the prescriptions like I asked you to?” she asked.

“Oh gosh Alli, I forgot.”

“Oh Rich, well where’ve you been all this time then? We have to get this place together. Mom’s bringing Jimmy and Jenny (their nephew and niece) and they’ll most likely wind up spending the night here. We have to get things ready.”

“Alli, we need to talk,” Rich said, in a serious and somber tone.

“Rich, please not now, not today, what is it this time? We have a busy day here, I don’t want to have to go through all this again.” Her impatience was obvious. Rich thought by now she’d be used to their daily wrangling. “You’re not gonna start getting into all that foolish talk again about that damn Slab City, are you? It’s ridiculous Rich, I mean really.”

Rich looked at his shoes, then up at her. He walked closer and locked eyes with her, putting his hands gently on her shoulders. “Alli, I have the Salvation Army coming tomorrow. I’m selling all my stuff. I’m going.

“What?? Come on now, stop with that idiotic talk. I told you I’m staying here! There’s no way I’m going with you to that damn place.”

“Alli, you could keep the car, or sell it and send me the money, we can even split it I don’t care, whatever you want. I don’t need it anymore.”

Alli turned to a pot of boiling water overflowing on the stove. She let out a heavy sigh, and Rich could feel her anger rising. She pulled the pot off and yelled, “Now see what you made me do?”

“Alli, I’ll be gone by the weekend. There’s no use in me trying anymore. I’m going out to Slab City.”


He’d finally left and now she had quiet. The goings-on of last evening had left her with a restless and unfitful sleep. When he woke up and was getting ready for work, she kept her eyes closed, pretending she wasn’t awake yet. She didn’t want to have to look at him, look him in the face. She didn’t want to have to listen to him, and have to respond.

She now had the whole day ahead of her, many hours until he’d return. She dragged herself into the kitchen, putting her hand over her eyes to shield from her from the bright sun coming through the window. The street below was bustling with morning activity, the shopkeepers opening, the neighborhood getting to work, the aroma of that great french bread that she loved wafting up through her windows. I’d love to go down there, she thought.

I won’t do that. I’m too unkempt, I just can’t.

Her back ached, her MIND ached, and she stopped and leaned herself up against the counter. Rubbing her face she wondered, will I even go anywhere? I’m just coming apart here, things are never going to change for me.

How can I make things change for me?

She felt herself give way and then slumped down to her knees on the cool, tiled floor. Just another day to wonder how it’d all come to this.


Apropos of the dark, wet, foggy morning, he dragged himself from his slumber, finding it a challenge to accept that he’d have to face this day. The driving rain figuratively pelted his weary and heavy heart.

It was his custom to always forge ahead, no matter the situation or circumstance. Today he was determined to make things different for himself. He was resolute to affect some kind of positive change, and to feel he’d done his best. He fumbled to make his coffee and feed the dog. Walking around the house in his bedclothes, he turned on the lights to try and brighten this day.

To jumpstart his psyche.

He looked out the window at the dreary sky. It was getting light out, but today the sun had decided to hide. Not being able to make out the normally prominent mountain ridge, he thought this day was just pea soup and miasma. How could he be expected to effectively accomplish anything on a day that so resembled night? Where the murkiness of everything pressed down with such weight?

It’s gotta feel this way in hell.

Apropos of the gloomy, rainy, misty morning, he begrudgingly went through the motions of showering and getting dressed. He prepared his brown bag lunch, and slowly made way out to the car. He’d fulfill the obligations he had today, as he knew he had no choice. Opening his umbrella he started down the walkway. He saw neighbors doing the same. One caught his eye and smiled hello.

Apropos of the love, goodness and kindness in people, his heart instinctively jumped and gladdened. His miasma lifted to sunshine.

One thought on “What Love Is and Other Stories by Pete Armetta

  1. Does this writer have a book or is writing under another name now? Such a broad storyteller and with so many different voices and interesting characters. I hope you print more.

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