Finding Fidelity—Demolition man

Just as spring arrived none-too-soon, Brandon and I were putting the kitchen back together and restoring the powder room to functional status. Everyone was thankful for the simple luxury of no longer having to run upstairs (or outside) to pee or eat.

By the time summer was patiently waiting backstage, we managed to wrap up our work. In the process, we managed to wipe out my checking account, my HELOC, and the entirety of the semi-precious coin collection I had amassed during my pre-college days as a fast-food cashier. Thankfully, the kindly proprietor at Excelsior Coin & Collectibles purchased the entire collection near the amount I still owed on my new appliances. My unsteady financial status aside, we had a main level that facilitated the basic necessities of living (and peeing) to go along with the upper level, which was serviceable for sleeping.

The basement was another matter entirely. But on an unseasonably warm Friday afternoon in early spring, we decided to eschew that issue and bask in the glory of our accomplished labors. An impromptu celebration took shape, as Brandon finished installing the front door transition molding.

“Do you remember that old-ass Special Export Leo kept in the steel cabinet in his workshop?” Brandon asked as his bumble-bee-colored drill whirred and fastened the piece of wood that spanned the gap between the hardwood flooring and the bottom of the front door frame.

“Ugh, the pair of dusty six packs he’d as us to throw into a cooler for every family reunion?”

Brandon laughed.

“The ones he’d fish out afterward, undrunk, and place them back into the fucking dusty cabinet?” I recollected.

Brandon guffawed.

“Yes! Remember they left rust rings on the cabinet shelf?” He added.

“Did you know that in addition to wiping off the dust before throwing them in the cooler each year, I’d sand the metal ring at the bottom of each can to remove the rust? It was fucking embarrassing!” I asserted.

“Holy shit—no!” Brandon enjoyed a horselaugh at the notion of me desperately sanding down the bottoms of the immortal beer cans.

“Dude, one year, Uncle Steve walked up to me holding one of the cans and asked how old it was. I told him that it would be in his best interest to drink anything else.” Brandon was in hysterics at this anecdote.

“Hey, remember at the end of my senior year in high school, you came home from college for the weekend, and we drank Leo’s Special Ex stash out of desperation?” Brandon reminded me through his laughter.

“Jesus Christ–I forgot we ever drank it! It’s a testament to our iron Scandinavian guts that we’re alive to tell the tale,” I emphasized.

“Sweet Mary Mother of God,” Brandon exclaimed, “Fucking killer hangover!”

We writhed in a communal fit of laughter for at least a minute. When Brandon and I pulled ourselves back together, we adjourned to the cement front porch just outside the front door. For a minute, we just surveyed the soggy earth and took in the telltale pungent aroma of the impending spring.

As we sat, the disposal company that rented us all three of the 30-yard dumpsters the remodel had required, arrived to pick up the latest overflowing land barge of construction debris. The driver got out of the truck and waved at us. A standard-issue Minnesotan, he remarked that, “The weather we are having is amazing!” We politely nodded in agreement, and gave him the green light to, “Take it away!”

We watched in rapt fascination, as he loaded the massive dumpster onto the truck bed without any assistance. After his task was complete, he climbed back up into the cab of his truck, waved goodbye, and drove off. It was one of those moments of perfectly timed symbolism—the driver was hauling away the final remnants of the broken-down old home we’d worked so hard to transform, minutes after Brandon installed the final piece of finish carpentry. We’d once again managed to collaborate to transform something ordinary into something different, something so much better.

“And there it goes…” Brandon said with almost a pang of loss in his voice.

“Indeed…” I echoed his sentiment.

“Hey, I love you and all, but I’m going to need my weekends back.”

I nodded.

“The fellas are inquiring about me down at the Roadside, the ladies are missing me over at the Drop Inn, and I owe Mae money, so I have to get back to Mae’s one of these nights to settle up my tab. Plus, I ain’t been laid in like three months,'” he nudged me with his shoulder.

“Yeah, I figured your sweeping barroom wisdom, and alley-cat charm would eventually be required back at the office,” I kidded him.

He nodded.

“Congrats—by the way—on getting laid this year,” I added.

“Thank you,” he said proudly.

“Before you leave me, how about we relive the Christmas of ’94?” I suggested.

“What?” He shot me a quizzical look.

“Don’t you remember what I got you that year?” I asked.

“Not…really…” he ventured with a hint of confusion.

“Well, I wrapped up a pair of not exactly, but pretty much, matching heavy boxes, and a smaller, lighter box. Each of the boxes contained a dozen items inside—all necessities for a young man in the throes of college,” I teased.

“Oh! Holy shit! You got me a 12-pack of Special Ex, a 12-pack of Special Ex Light, and a 12-pack of condoms!” He exclaimed.

“Trojans Lubricated with Nonoxinal-9—bingo!” I pointed at him.

“Those came in handy!” he exclaimed, “Saved me a trip to Kerm’s Pick ‘n’ Save.”

“Great!” I slapped him multiple times between his broad shoulders the way our grandfather used to.

“I figure we can use the beer tonight, and you’ll need the condoms next weekend when you make your triumphant return to the Drop Inn.”

He loosed a hearty howl that echoed all the way to Valhalla.

“Let’s hit Valley Liquors and CVS—my treat!”

Brandon, still howling, punched me in the shoulder.

“And don’t forget to toss the condoms into your glove compartment,” I winked.

“For sure!” He assured me.

True to my word, we had procured the beer and condoms. In addition, we snagged some BBQ from Carl’s and slaughtered it further on the same front porch where I hatched my plan.

As the sun continued to set just a bit further down the lane, and the permafrost reseeded just a bit further toward the mailbox, the ghosts of winter exhaled their communal dying breath. We swilled Special Ex and watched the transformation before us as we recanted the transformation that we’d managed behind us.

“Hey, thanks, seriously. I’d be homeless, or dead, without you,” I stammered as I cracked the unnecessary dozenth beer of the evening.

“Fuck bro, I wouldn’t do this for anyone else—not even a hot chick!” Brandon stammered as he cracked an unnecessary dozenth beer of the evening.

“No, but seriously,” I slurred, “I can’t love you any harder than I do right now on this front porch,” I flung my right arm around his impossibly stout shoulders.

He turned and looked at me as hard and as close as he ever had in our four-plus decades together, and slurred, “We’re brothers, dumbass—we only have us! So, don’t die, because I love you too, dipshit.”

We almost kissed, but we fell onto the cement porch behind us in a heap of glorious laughter, careful not so spill a single drop of precious Special Ex’s in the process.

“Fuck, we have to go to bed! Seriously!” I roared from the cement slab that buoyed us.

“Not until I finished this,” Brandon thrust his beer northward, then he lowered in carefully to his lips and gingerly slurped.

“Totally!” I echoed as I attempted to replicate his deft horizontal consumption technique.

Later that evening, we passed out in Drew’s room. We slept in the pair of twin beds we had spotted on the side of the road with the hand-painted “Free” sign on them. It had been nearly thirty years since we’d shared a bedroom.

“Good night, bro,” he called from the bottom bunk, “I love your dumb ass.”

“Your’s too,” I answered, “Don’t yak in Drew’s bed!”

Brandon laughed, then babbled incoherently, then started snoring.

The next morning, when the sunrise pierced the blinds in Drew’s room—we neglected to close them in our boozy state—we awoke with familiar matching Special Ex hangovers. These hangovers were of a newer, and thankfully subtler, vintage.


Excerpt from Finding Fidelity, a forthcoming novel from Blake Charles Donley

Finding Fidelity, the emails

As Drew simulated an earthquake causing some of the trains to derail and dangle over the edge of the stage, I mean cliff, I selected the first catastrophe in my inbox to tackle. This morning, it was scheduling a lunch with the sales dude from our main ECM software vendor.

I always found these charades to be most tedious. First off, we already paid a quarter of a million dollars each year in “annual maintenance” simply for the privilege of using the lackluster software. That, and to have access to their crack staff of support technicians, who often seemed as though they had been smoking copious amounts of the stuff.  

After a decade of annual maintenance fees, we’d purchased this particular piece of software a dozen times over. So, what else were we going to buy in the wake of being treated to an $8 lunch at an all-you-can-eat pizza buffet? Also, why was pizza always considered some sort of exotic treat in every corporate setting? Was this some hold-over from the grade school days when pizza parties were dangled in front of students as an incentive to sell a bunch of useless crap to their neighbors in a not-so-veiled attempt to raise funds for a bunch of techno-crap that the school really didn’t need?  The other aspect of these communal meals that ground my gears to a fine metallic dust, was the inability of anyone to pick a fucking restaurant. The exchange unfailingly (and actually) went like this: 

From: Sales Guy, Greasy 
Sent: Thursday, April 1, 2012 11:02 PM 
To: Holst, Jaye<jholst@mvt.com
Cc: Barnett, Jules<jbarnett@mvt.com>; our manager<deadweight@mvt.com>; our CIO<etherealpresence@mvt.com
Subject: Lunch 

Jaye,  

Long time no talk MVT compadres! [Thank god I haven’t had to visit you cheap bastards in a while] I’ll be in your neck of the woods next week, and I’d like to get a little face time with everyone if possible. [I have to come to your god-forsaken frozen-over desolate shithole state to follow up on a hot lead, and I figured I’d stop by and pretend to be interested in what you are doing on the non-existent chance I can sell you something] We have some exciting new innovations coming down the pipe, and I want to be sure you have a head’s up. [It’s more hype than substance—it always is—but what the hell?] How about lunch on Tuesday? [I mean shit…I have to eat somewhere anyway] Let me know if you are available, and where you’d like to meet up. [Nowhere too expensive, preferably some place on the pizza-buffet or Applebee’s/Chili’s/T.G.I. Friday’s/OliveGarden price tier

Thanks! 

From: Holst, Jaye 
Sent: Friday, April 2, 2012 8:45 AM 
To: Sales Guy, Greasy<greasysalesguy@softwarecompanyinc.com
Cc: Barnett, Jules<jbarnett@mvt.com>; our manager<deadweight@mvt.com>; our CIO<etherealpresence@mvt.com
Subject: Re: Lunch 

[Hopefully this was an April Fool’s joke…?

Hey Greasy,  

Thanks for checking in with us! [It’s unfortunate that you decided to interrupt the blissful silence, we enjoyed not hearing anything from your for nearly a year] Does anyone at MVT have availability for lunch next Tuesday? [Please say no, everyone!] If so, does anyone have any preferences on eateries? [Please don’t say Jimmy’s Pizza Shack!!]  

From: Barnett, Jules 
Sent: Friday, April 2, 2012 8:47 AM 
To: Holst, Jaye<jholst@mvt.com
Cc: Sales Guy, Greasy<greasysalesguy@softwarecompanyinc.com>; our manager<deadweight@mvt.com>; our CIO<etherealpresence@mvt.com
Subject: Re: Re: Lunch 
 
Hey, I’m available. I have no preference on where we eat. 

From: Holst, Jaye 
Sent: Friday, April 2, 2012 8:49 AM 
To: Sales Guy, Greasy<greasysalesguy@softwarecompanyinc.com
Cc: Barnett, Jules<jbarnett@mvt.com>; our manager<deadweight@mvt.com>; our CIO<etherealpresence@mvt.com
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Lunch 

Cool. [Goddammit!] Anyone else? [It’s a done deal, so I really don’t care who else is interested, honestly

From: Our Manager 
Sent: Friday, April 2, 2012 8:51 AM 
To: Holst, Jaye<jholst@mvt.com
Cc: Jules Barnett<jbarnett@mvt.com>; Sales Guy, Greasy<greasysalesguy@softwarecompanyinc.com>; our CIO<etherealpresence@mvt.com
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: Lunch 


 I can make it. Anywhere is fine. 

From: Sales Guy, Greasy 
Sent: Thursday, April 2, 2012 8:55 AM 
To: Holst, Jaye<jholst@mvt.com
Cc: Barnett, Jules<jbarnett@mvt.com>; our manager<deadweight@mvt.com>; our CIO<etherealpresence@mvt.com
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Lunch 

Awesome! [Goddammit!] It looks like we have a quorum. Has anyone tried Jimmy’s Pizza Shack? [I mean…I can’t take them to McDonalds, can I?] It is on Broadway Ave. and Elm Creek Blvd. It looks promising. I know how popular pizza is with the IT crowd 😉 Does noon work? Will [the CIO] be there? [He’s the only one who can spend money, and since he’s sort of a tool, I may be able to talk him into some useless add-on bullshit administrative tools with kitschy names and catch-phrase-riddled descriptions that are pretty much superfluous and useless] I’d love to chat with all of you. [“love” is an overstatement, but conveying artificial concern and transmitting false interest is my job, I pander for a living] There are a lot of exciting things happening at Software Company, Inc.! [I have to pass out my quota of glossy business cards with our new company logo and brochures that we spent a fortune printing, even though they are strictly balderdash, buzzwords, and bullocks] 

From: Holst, Jaye 
Sent: Friday, April 2, 2012 8:59 AM 
To: Sales Guy, Greasy<greasysalesguy@softwarecompanyinc.com
Cc: Barnett, Jules<jbarnett@mvt.com>; our manager<deadweight@mvt.com>; our CIO<etherealpresence@mvt.com
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Lunch 

Noon on Tuesday should work. [I’ll be sure to toss a bottle of antacid tablets in my laptop bag that day] I don’t think [our CIO] will be able to make it. [That deadbeat never even shows up to work, much less checks his email, we could hire a starving actor off of Craigslist to play our CIO and save the company hundreds of thousands in annual salary] Do you mind sending a meeting invite to us? [I am not your admin assistant, you fucking lazy fucker, and this was not my fucking idea by any stretch of your warped imagination] We look forward to catching up with you! [Fingers crossed that you miss your flight, or maybe it crashes.


Excerpt from Finding Fidelity, the forthcoming novel from Blake Charles Donley

Finding Fidelity

 After five years of religiously working a well-worn thrift store circuit during my lunch hour, I had unearthed and polished thousands of black vinyl gems. But the crown jewel continued to allude me. Don McLean’s magnum opus American Pie was not among the thousands of LPs on my shelves. And while I’d snagged plenty of choice picks from the malaise of substandard standards that comprised the predictable thrift store record selection, I’d never flipped to that unforgettable thumb. 

My father had long since bartered his (and Peter’s) records for two months’ rent at the antique mart where he maintained a stall. So, that fateful copy was out of reach. I could easily buy it from an auction site or record shop, but that would be sacrilege. The vast majority of my records were strays rescued from thrift store bins. I washed them, cleaned the dust jackets, removed the price stickers, repaired the split seams, and stored them in archival sleeves to be enjoyed forever. Someday…I would save the record that saved me. Acquiring it any other way would be pointless. 


Excerpt from Finding Fidelity, a forthcoming novel from Blake Charles Donley

All The Men Stayed

Advantage XX

Everybody has a dream. Without question, a little girls dream involves a Prince Charming; her knight in shining armor. Fast forward, a moment if you will. There have been years of dating and dreaming and searching and finding. Finally the painstaking meeting occurs in which a young man asks a father for his daughters hand in marriage. A blessing is given and forever is promised…. until death do us part. And although love brought this couple together, family approved and God blessed it, it is real life that tore them apart. 
Cyndi

Advantage XY

So there was once a young man. As most young men do, he dreamed of many young women. Yet over time, the various young women that occupied a place in his heart’s imagination became just one celestial creature. She populated his dreams and provided him everything he desired. 

Those were innocent days. 

All the love he ever needed spawned from daydreams about night things. It always satisfied the bent yearnings of a young man starved for physical love; it had to. As much as he wanted a living breathing heroine to play to his heroic stance, he was terribly introverted and not nearly as consciously bold as he was when unconsciousness embolden him. Like all men, he stumbled when trying to translate fantasy into reality. 

Those were bewildering days. 

Sentient women – real women – would come eventually. But they dealt in only immaculate heartbreak and codependent pageantry; it was nothing like the illusory productions of his youth. The young man found that he was not well equipped to deal in one-way love, regardless of the direction. 

Those were arduous days. 

In the end, building the foundation of a union on friendship seemed preferable to lust or drama. Rather than an endlessly searching for a soul mate, it seemed prudent to settle for a first mate. But sensibility rarely yields fulfillment. Discontent inevitably afflicted a home rife with friends, family and frenzy – how is that possible? And although love brought this couple together, family approved and God blessed it, it is real life that tore them apart. 
Blake


Excerpt from All the Men Stayed, the forthcoming novel—a collaboration between Blake Donley & Cyndi Nickey

I’m an Author

I’m an author

On a 104-key QWERTY keyboard I scribe

I’m writing

Gratis or for bribe

Born and Raised – The Redux

Even in the bewildering epoch between childhood and womanhood, she knew her home was not home. Once a month, Sam found herself dragged along to her mother’s hair appointment. Parked in one of the bright green Naugahyde chairs arranged like fence posts bordering the rectangular reception area of the salon, Sam would sit and wait. She couldn’t help but notice issues of Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and BAZAAR scattered atop the glass and chrome table in the center of the area. Observing others casually leafing through magazines as they waited, she eventually mustered the courage to snatch one for herself and thumb through it. She became obsessed at what she found within the two-dimensional world of international style and fashion.

Saturated in whispers of small-town gossip from the cackling hens, rays of sun flooding through the picture window, and waves of nicotine haze from the parade of Virginia Slims that assaulted her coming and going, she could escape to Paris for fashion week, the beach for the latest swimwear designs, or Cali for a preview of the latest North Beach Leather line from Michael Hoban. His glassy, colorful, and new age second-skin creations captivated her best. She eagerly awaited the “Fall Fashion Preview” headline that was plastered over the covers of the lobby rags at the tail-end of each summer. She was nearly desperate to see what new lustrous eye candy he’d dreamed up and the models who brought it all to life.

Sam never knew what it was about leather specifically, but the lighting, angles, and action of the photos appeared otherworldly—a world she desperately wanted to see for herself. All of it was so foreign to her current circumstance or future prospects. She could scarcely believe any of it was happening anywhere on the same planet where her mundane life was plodding forth.  

The magazines stoked a smoldering desire to see anything beyond the 5 state Midwest region consisting of WI, MN, ND, SD, IA (and sometimes IL) that had so far confined her. It bewildered Sam that her parents would venture as far as the Black Hills on a summer road trip, when it would’ve been quicker to drive to Thunder Bay—it wasn’t another planet, but at least it was another country. As it was, Eau Claire seemed like a bucolic gulag. 

 In nearly every sense, Sam was more backpack-Europe than college material. In sixth grade, standing in her choir robe in front of the congregation at Concordia Lutheran Chruch, she looked up toward the heavens and dreamed of the bustling hostels, breathtaking vistas, and historic beauty. Under her bed, she kept a secret wish book—in actuality, a three-ring-binder nabbed from her father’s office—chocked full of clippings from the magazines at the hair salon. Before her mother announced they were going to the salon, she would slide a pair of scissors she’d lifted from school into her jeans or coat pocket. Leafing through the pages, if she saw an image she coveted, she’d surreptitiously slice along the spine, tear it out, fold it ever-so-gently, and pocket it. Even when she was old enough to stay home alone, she eagerly accompanied her mother to the salon to see what new magazines adorned the glass table.

Back at home, she’d sneak into her father’s office and use the three-hole punch to make the requisite puncture and add it to her wish book. On any given evening after lights-out, with flashlight in hand, she’d flip through photos of the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, and the bridges and canals of Amsterdam. Leather-clad models strutting the catwalks of Paris, Rome, and London broke up the monotony of European landmarks.  To Sam, it all seemed as wonderful as it was impossible. 

For years, she lusted after her own private European adventure to commence the minute she received her high school diploma. She even squirreled away every penny she earned in a shabby cigar box that she hid under her bed next to her bursting Euro fantasy binder. But the drudgery of a diabolical Scandinavian-Lutheran upbringing slowly wrung the wont for adventure right out of her.

In one way or another, Sam was destined for Eau Claire and Eau Claire was destined for her. An insistent mother and overbearing father pleaded with her to accept Tony’s proposal of marriage. Brow-beaten by her folks and convinced, due to a lack of collective imagination, that Tony was the best she could do, she let go the last vestiges of her vagabond soul. Sam would settle for the arrogant undersized brute who, like a used car salesman, fast-talked her into a cheap and broken-down marriage. Apparently, she was fated to become Mrs. Anthony Wolf of Eau Claire, WI.


Excerpt from All or Nothing Girl, the forthcoming novel from Blake Charles Donley

Lipstick Sunset – The Redux

If I lay here forever, this can’t end, she thought, in vain. 

If I never give up this room, it will be mine, forever

She pulled the covers over her face. 

If I stay here, who will miss me? 

But he’d have to stay with me… 

The thought scored her heart. She felt like she was bleeding internally. She’d never lost anyone who didn’t want her gone. She felt the desperation of young lovers torn apart at the end of a perfect summer tryst. 

Sam slammed her fists into the mattress and resented the tears that streamed from her eyes. The sheet covering her face snatched each droplet before it could tumble down her temple. She resented that as well. She wanted to savor this exquisite misery. 

Excerpt from All or Nothing Girl, the forthcoming novel from Blake Charles Donley

The Dance

It’s weird. It’s surprising. It’s nearly paradoxical. But there is a whole heap of fear and loathing among writers about the act of writing. As creative writing instructor Larry Donner says in the epic Throw Mama From the Train,

Remember, a writer writes, always.

This seems so evident as to be absurd, and yet it ain’t. As my favorite author David Foster Wallace (R.I.P.) said about his days teaching college-level creative writing courses (I’m sorta paraphrasing),

A lot of my advanced creative writing students like the idea of being a writer much more than actually writing anything.

Full disclosure, unlike Wallace’s advanced creative writing co-eds, I went in THE entirely opposite direction: I majored in Management Information Systems (a.k.a. IT). I was a geek for 20 years. Then, about exactly a decade ago—love does funny things to a man—I once again fell in love with writing as an escape, a lark, a lifeline to the past. It was easy, as it was not the foundation of my identity. I didn’t have to write to pay the light bill, and therefore, I wrote fearlessly with vigor and abandon.

But I mostly wrote essays.

Essays are nice. You can laser-focus on an argument, an idea, or a swift vignette and knock it out in an evening (or so). Over the course of a decade, I probably wrote a few hundred of them. Some of them were actually pretty great (if I do say so myself). But many of them were just mental masturbation for my own amusement.

Then, one day, I started a book.

Then, a year later, half done with my book, I accidentally started another one.

Then, a year later, I finished the “another one”.

Now, I’m editing it.

As compared to writing essays, writing a book is a differently colored horse to be sure. Edgar Lawrence Doctorow, who was an American novelist, editor, and professor, and best known internationally for his works of historical fiction (thanks Wikipedia) once said,

Writing is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as the headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.

Yep, that’s pretty much the most succinct analogy for writing a novel ever.

And, so, you pretty much need to get into your car each night and drive somewhere with only your headlights to illuminate the journey. But for me, and most writers, it’s not as easy as just hopping into the car, turning the key, and carefully backing out of the garage. Sometimes, just finding the door to the garage is a struggle. Sometimes, you just stare at the car keys on the kitchen table as you drink bourbon all night.

I have thought a lot lately about the notion of “What is writing a book like?” For me, the car analogy is great, but it’s not apropos (enough). My version is more like this,

Writing is like asking a girl to dance. There is an alluring girl across the room. You want to ask her to dance. You are all nerves and diffidence. She is intimidating, she is captivating, and she is surely out of your league. So you ruminate, you shuffle from side to side, and you curse your two left feet. But at some point, you marshal the courage to look in her direction—to really see her. She is looking back at you. You immediately refocus on your feet, your face shades crimson, and your palms heat. A thousand butterflies take flight somewhere deep in your gut. When you dare to steal another glance, her beauty stirs your desire over your inadequacy. Eventually, your resolve boils over and you casually walk in her direction. She spots you and quickly averts her eyes. But she rejoins your gaze as you close the once impossible gap. You introduce yourself, you politely ask her to dance, and she graciously accepts. The first steps are awkward. But you quickly fall into a lusty rhythm. And as you dance the night away, you can’t fathom why you waited so long to ask her.

Writing is like that.


Copyright © 2020 – ∞ Blake Charles Donley

Another One Bites the Dust – The Tridux

The thought of starting her own business with Kendra was as exciting as the thought of going back to Eau Claire and never again seeing these impossible people was excruciating. The whole thing made her ache at some foundational level that encompassed the heart, mind, and soul, especially.

She desperately wanted another drink, but she was already plastered, and the clock on her nightstand was creeping toward 5:00 AM. She flung her blankets toward the opposite corner of the bed and wobbled out. Shedding her hoodie, she marched a zigzag path to Sid’s room. He was sleeping on his side facing toward the window. The moonlight was playing on the strands of his disheveled hair. She slid under his blankets and pressed her naked body against his. He was as warm as she’d hoped.

Sid never so much as flinched, but Sam’s heartache, apprehension, and tension dissolved. There was a strange synergy between two people sleeping in the same bed. Even if neither was conscious, the connection of the sleeping souls, as a result of subconscious proximity, was undeniable. Nuzzled against Sid’s neck, her breasts pressed against his broad shoulders, Sam began to experience hypnagogic hallucinations before a complete loss of consciousness silenced the electrical storm in her head. At that blip in the slipstream, she was exactly where she needed to be.


Excerpt from All or Nothing Girl, the forthcoming novel from Blake Charles Donley

The Eponymous Hippopotamus

CHAPTER ONE


Africa is a continent in the southern hemisphere.
Kenya is a country in Africa.
The Masai Mara Reserve is a wildlife reserve in Kenya.
Lake Nakuru is a soda lake in the Masai Mara Reserve.
Wendell and Steve were in Lake Nakaru.
Well, Wendell was.

 

CHAPTER TWO


Wendell was a hippopotamus.
Steve was an oxpecker.
Wendell was big and gray with a pinkish hue.
Steve was small and brown with a brilliant red-tipped yellow beak.
Wendell spent most of his days cooling his chubby frame in the lake.
Steve spent most of his days perched on Wendell.

 

CHAPTER THREE


Everyone called Wendell “Big Daddy”, except Steve.
Wendell had a wife named Beula, but he called her “Boo”.
Wendell had a son named James, but he called him “Jay”.
Wendell had a daughter named Margot, but he called her “Mags”.
Wendell had an oxpecker named Steve, and he called him “Steve”.
Steve had Wendy and Boo and Jay and Mags.

 

CHAPTER FOUR


Steve ate ticks and flies and other nasty things off Wendell’s back.
Steve ate ticks and flies and other nasty things off Boo’s back.
Steve ate ticks and flies and other nasty things off Jay’s back.
Steve ate ticks and flies and other nasty things off Mags’ back.
Steve was busy and happy and very well-fed.
Wendell and Boo and Jay and Mags were happy and very healthy.

 

CHAPTER FIVE


Wendell and his family lived with other hippopotamuses.
A group of hippopotamuses is called a pod.
There were 10 other hippopotamus families in their pod.
The pod attracted many oxpeckers like Steve.
But Steve was loyal to Wendell and his family.
And they were loyal to him.

 

CHAPTER SIX


Wendell had his family.
The other hippopotamuses in the pod had families.
The other oxpeckers who hung around the pod had families.
The other animals—lions and tigers and giraffes—had families.
It seemed like everyone on the savanna had families.
Steve had no family.

 

CHAPTER SEVEN


Steve once had a family.
Her name was Harriet.
She flew away one day and never returned.
Steve was sad when he thought of her.
Steve missed her.
But she obviously didn’t miss him.

 

CHAPTER EIGHT


One hot day, Wendell was in the lake.
Steve was perched on his head.
Steve was not eating ticks or flies or anything nasty.
Steve was just staring at shore of the lake.
Steve was not the same old busy happy Steve.
Wendell knew something was wrong.

 

CHAPTER NINE


“What’s wrong buddy?” Wendell asked.
“Nothing,” Steve sighed.
Wendell knew this was not true.
Wendell knew it was a “nothing” that really meant “something”.
“You can tell me, I’m your friend,” Wendell said.
“I don’t have a family,” Steve said.

 

CHAPTER TEN


Wendell scrunched up his big nose, then said, “What do you mean?”
Steve pinched shut his small beak, then said, “You have Boo and Jay and Mags.”
Wendell thought about this, then said, “Yes, I do.”
Steve sighed again, then said, “I have no one.”
Wendell thought about this, then said, “Yes, you do.”
Steve pinched shut his small beak, then said, “Who?”

 

CHAPTER ELEVEN


Wendell said, “Us!”
Steve said, “Well…I’m not a hippopotamus.”
Wendell said, “So…I’m not an oxpecker.”
Steve said, “So…we can’t be family.”
Wendell said, “Well…you are.”
Steve said, “How?”

 

CHAPTER TWELVE


Steve hopped to the tip of Wendell’s big nose and looked into his big dark eyes.
Wendell explained to Steve that a family was more than just relatives.
Yes, family was grandpas and grandmas and dads and moms and sons and daughters.
Yes, family was uncles and aunts and nephews and nieces and cousins and cousins.
But, family was also those whom we love the most even if they weren’t grandmas or grandpas or moms or dads or daughters or sons or aunts or uncles or nieces or nephews or cousins and cousins.
Steve looked off at the shore of the lake and thought about this, a lot.

 

CHAPTER THIRTEEN


Boo and Jay and Mags swam up alongside Wendell.
Steve’s small eyes darted between Wendell’s and Boo’s and Jay’s and Mags’ big eyes.
Wendell wiggled his big nose.
Steve’s small eyes focused on Wendell’s big eyes.
Wendell said, “We are your family!”
Boo and Jay and Mags nodded their big heads in agreement.

 

CHAPTER FOURTEEN


Steve was smiling.
Steve was happy.
Steve was home.
Steve felt like a family.
Steve felt like a hippopotamus.
Steve felt like a superstar!

 

CHAPTER FIFTEEN


Steve had a big smile on his beak.
Wendell said, “If you’re in our family, you need a nickname?”
Steve said, “OK! What is it?”
Wendell thought for a minute, then said, “Hippopotamus Steve.”
Steve did a little dance in the tip of Wendell’s big nose.
They had an oxpecker named Hippopotamus Steve, but they called him “Hippo Steve”.