Frank Sinatra Lonergan, Lucky Lotto Winner Number 1 (a serial story) – 12-83-77-5-39

This installment of our serial story was written by the lovely and talented Abby Barnhart. Thanks, Abby! To read the entire project, click here. __________________

Frank hummed himself to half-sleep, but couldn’t find the deep stuff. His hunt for Janell’s yellow dress, those needy nights together, their Palace in Queens, returned only mist. He’d been searching for that Janell, and that Frank for that matter, since ’67, and waking dreams were as close as he could get. Pitchforks pulled, the memories propped eyes open, waiting. For the voices to hush up, for the ghosts to return. Frank wouldn’t sleep if he could; he couldn’t even if he should. Sleep was for the innocent, the at-peace, the settled. And Frank Sinatra Lonergan was only innocent in the law’s eyes, only settled after a nightcap, and never, never at-peace.

Too haunted to hash past with himself, Frank set to work. He pulled a Phillips from his backpack and starting taking apart the plastic shell of the photo booth. Anything built can be torn down. A man, his family, his fears. Frank worked systematically, forming order from the remains of the captor of memories. What he expected to find wasn’t the point; just the act of dismantling seemed to rebuild what had been demolished in Frank. He worked faster with each screw loosed, and in his fervor he felt more certain. Every plastic panel stacked at his feet, a step toward restoration. Frank hadn’t planned this step in his story but at that moment, with shadows of Janell and Mary nearby, and Momma’s hogs rutting around in all their business, it seemed the only next thing to do. By the time the early riders paced with purpose beneath the sidewalks, Frank was gone and all that was left of his haunted house lay in evenly-distributed stacks of plastic on the subway station floor.

No one noticed, as New Yorkers never do. Numbed by the constant hum, they can’t pick out the melody, even when it’s singing their tune. If they had glanced into that dingy corner, they’d’ve been the lucky ones at Wednesday’s water cooler. Peaking from the dismantled photo-return slot: a New York State Lottery Ticket: 12 – 83 – 77 – 5 – 39. And the Mega Ball: 4.

*****

Several blocks away, an exhausted Frank slipped into a lonely diner and rifled through that envelope for the millionth time. He ordered poached eggs & bacon, sipped coffee between bites, and felt free for the first time in months. The faded photos from the now defunct booth sat between a postcard he never sent and a candy wrapper from his first bus ride East. Mary’s favorite, Sugar Daddy. Behind that, their marriage certificate scribbled on yellowed paper, a few dried flowers from Janell’s improvised bouquet. Frank could still smell them, and he nearly sneezed from the sudden force of things rushing back. He fumbled for his laptop and caught what he could from the onslaught.

Janell kept her wedding lilies pressed in her Bible on the left side table by the door of our Palace. She grew flowers in the window box over the kitchen sink, said it made her feel whole, growin’ something in the dirt like she was doin’ inside. She filled out fast. We ate fish every Sunday and cornbread between, and I never thought I’d leave her. Word of Mary missing back in Millwood shook me all kinds of up and I lost track of what love meant somewhere between guilt and forgiveness.

Frank Sinatra Lonergan, Lucky Lotto Winner Number 1 -- Don't Think Twice, It's Alright

The serial story continues.  To read the first EIGHT parts, click here. ____________

The man behind me on the bus out of Millwood finally asked why I kept staring at him. I lied and told him that he looked like someone I knew. I didn’t have the heart to tell him he looked like one of Mama’s hogs. The man smiled, pressed me, asked me who it was. I chuckled and said, “the grand general of the black pig army, sir.” He looked at me cross ways, squinted his eyes, offset his jaw to the right and told me that if I couldn’t give a straight answer he’d carve me up like a Christmas ham. This time I laughed and noted, “ironic, I reckon.” Without breaking gaze, I pulled my cap slowly down over my eyes and reclined my seat.

We cruised along the highway, making the occasional stop at a small town bus station or diner. From time to time I’d switch buses, make the connections that would take me to New York. Through it all, the pig general followed along with a small stack of Kerouac books and Time magazines. I didn’t figure him much for a lover of Kerouac. Then again, he probably didn’t figure me for the lover of a full-figured, full gospel woman.

In Portville we boarded a bus full of hippies. They carried travel guitars and smelled of marijuana. They sat near the front, sleeping off some kind of funk. Moving further to the back, I chose a seat next to a large woman who could have been in Janell’s church choir. She smelled of boiled peanuts, coconut oil, and RC Cola. She asked me if she could bum a smoke but I told her I didn’t have none. She said that was a shame and told me I smelled like Kansas. I asked what that was supposed the mean. She just patted my arm and asked me what I was running from. Nothing, I said. She smiled and asked, “you running from love or your mama?” I told her it wasn’t like that. She turned to look out the window and lulled, “mmm-hmmmm.”

The air brakes released and as the bus eased out of the station, I thought about Janell, about the possibilities of life together. At only twelve weeks, her body wasn’t showing the changes yet. When she told me, I immediately took to planning. We talked about which side of the tracks we’d call home, asked which side had the smaller throwing stones. We considered the possibilities, considered sticking it out with the spiritual singers of Janell’s church but we knew it wouldn’t work. After all, Millwood was just like the rest of 1967 America. There were only two unpardonable sins—fascism and miscegenation.

On the Saturday before Easter, we visited Elder Johnson. We had planned on asking him to marry us quietly in his home. We’d threaten to live in sin if he wouldn’t. But when we arrived mama and little Mary were sitting on his couch, Mama visibly uncomfortable with the black protestant feel of it all. She came right out and asked us whether Janell was pregnant, said she’d heard rumors, said she wouldn’t help raise no mixed up son of a whore. Elder Johnson stood in the corner of the room. It was the only time I had ever seen him powerless. Mary, ran to my side, hugged tight to my leg. Janell fled, crying. I shook Mary free and followed after Janell. The storm door slapped shut. I looked over my shoulder through the window. Mama had taken to yelling at the Elder. Mary watched me from the window, begging me not to leave but understanding that I had to.

I caught up with Janell a couple of blocks down the road, told her I’d hop the next bus out of Millwood. She planned on taking the train. Traveling separately would help us avoid suspicion, make it more difficult for our folks to track us. Neither of us knew nothing of New York, so we chose Grand Central as our meeting place. I told her it could work, sold her infinite possibilities—her singing for money, me working a blue-collar job, us raising our child as the face of the new America.

Mary was my only regret.

The bus lumbered slowly through the Appalachians. One of the hippies in the front of the bus pulled out his guitar and started lazily strumming that stoning song Bob Dylan wrote about rainy day women. “Shut up,” the pig general yelled, “some of us are trying to sleep back here!” And without missing a beat, the hippy quickly transitioned into a more appropriate tune,

It ain’t no use to sit and wonder why babe If’n you don’t know by now And it ain’t no use to sit and wonder why babe It’ll never do somehow When your rooster crows at the break of dawn Look out your window and I’ll be gone You’re the reason I’ma travel’n on But don’t think twice, it’s all right.

Ghosts are made for giving up. But don’t think twice, it’s all right.

Frank Sinatra Lonergan, Lucky Lotto Winner Number 1 -- To Want is to Dream

Kevin Still is at it again. (Enjoy Kevin's work at Three Hands in the Popcorn Bag.) Talk about a dream sequence worth reading! Good work today, Kevin. To read the entire series , click here.You'll want to start at the beginning if your new to this story. ______________________

She stands stage faded, kitchen yellow dress. Dark neck, chest, arms sparkle salt-water slivers slide skin. Eyes close. One hand microphone. Other strokes air. Yellow dress obeys curves, press hips damp patches late-July. To listen was to want her. To want her was to dream.

Old black man wears suspenders and bow tie sits upright piano. Juice glass gin-full wobbles piano top. Frank can not hear old-man, but Frank can tell he swings jaw and gnaws lip old man asks mercy himself. Janell’s voice swells out. Old man swings chin, eyes close, dreams someone seeps salt-water some other July.

Frank approaches stage, takes air hand. Janell recognizes. She smiles. She sings. Frank pulls Janell close, floor flushes grass field. Music continues but old man, piano, gin-filled glass, disappears and swift breeze lights Janell’s yellow dress, tugs loose places and tightens right spaces. Grass rolls calves, tall and fresh, uneaten by cattle or heat. Frank smells salt Janell’s skin and knows grass ain’t tall enough.

As Frank kisses Janelle, voice sounds. His name. He turns and sees mother stand hilltop, two butter colored hogs, stand horse high, crowd Mama’s sides. Mama calls son, “Frank! Frank, I need you go into town! Mrs. Maggie’s taken sick, and I need you to . . . .”

Angry, explanation full, Frank turns Janell. Gone. Grass grows, taunts place he not hide day away. Hay and grass and hog replace sweet salt smell. Frank turns back mother. She feet away. Hogs crowd her look eye-level Frank, grin through corn-mush and bacon grease slick jowls. He hates hogs. They hate him.

“You hear me, Frank? I need you to go to Mrs. Maggie’s. She’s taken sick, and them field boys ain’t gonna do right by her. She needs some Whiskey and brown sugar heated up and fed her by spoon. You’re gonna have to do it. Frank, you’re the only one. And when you’re done feeding her, you come feed me. I’ve been your mama long enough, and I expect the favor returned.”

Frank walks away. Hogs scuff ground. All this taking. All this expecting. To want away was to dream. Black pig army crowds feet, snort and bounce hind legs, mouths slick filth, filth table scraps, table scraps uneaten pig siblings. Frank kicks them, but black pig army root louder, gurgle chorus grunts and gut-laughs. Frank curses black pig army. Kicks them. Throws fist air. But black pig army snap heels, bite holes socks and take skin. Frank balls fists and slams own head, screams blasphemy at land and life and . . .

Frank woke on the couch. The light of the side-table lamp burned his eyes. He pulled his hand over his face, rubbing his mouth. His lips felt cotton-thick from his open mouth breathing. His throat stung dry. He used his thumb and index finger to pinch the bridge of his nose. He could see Janell in her kitchen yellow dress, and Mama with her guardian hogs standing behind her. Mama stood in every background. Her presence, her voice, bigger than those prized hogs.

Frank swung his feet off the sofa and reached for the bottle on the coffee table. He chugged a gripe of Irish Whisky, smoother than Bourbon, and looked out the window. The music had fallen silent. A few voices – one a bellowing laugh from a gentlemen trying too hard – remained after the crowds. Frank wondered the time and then thought better of it. “Tomorrow, tomorrow, you cursed slave-driver,” Frank said as he reached for the laptop. He couldn’t remember where he’d left off. Just somewhere in his story, his story that seemed to have no beginning or end, just a neon explosion of moments he could not re-gather except in words. Words were all Frank had.

Frank swigged the Jameson again and took the lottery ticket from his pocket. He held it between his fingers and flicked the corner on the coffeetable’s edge. “Mrs. Maggie’s dying, Frank,” he could hear his mama saying, “Mrs. Maggie’s dying, and you got the money right there to do right by her. She’s been your neighbor all your life, I expect the favor returned.”

Frank slipped the ticket back into his pocket. “Mama, why don’t you and your hogs go rut in someone else’s business?” He opened the laptop, waited for the document to reload, and then he lowered himself, mind and spirit and all, back into his pool of words.

The man behind me on the bus out of Millwood finally asked why I kept staring at him. I lied and told him that he looked like someone I knew. I didn’t have the heart to tell him he looked like one of Mama’s hogs.

Frank Sinatra Lonergan, Lucky Lotto Winner Number 1 (a serial story) – Part 7

This installment of our serial story was written by Abby Barnhart. After you spend some time with her installment, make your way over to her site. She’s, good people! To read the first SIX parts, click here.

And while you are here today, check out our Lent project. ______________________________________

Frank opened his door and thought before walking in. Some people deserve money, and others shouldn't get a dime.

Where Frank fit on this social spectrum of entitlement he wasn’t so sure. Nor was he sure how long he’d been passed out in the photo booth before Thornton had dutifully dragged him home. It was just like his friend to leave him at the door, a million-dollar ticket nearly hanging out of his pocket, taunting fate to teach him the lesson he needed so badly to learn. Frank’s opinion of himself swung wildly between deep appreciation for grace and a great desire to pay for his sins. The musical voice of Elder Johnson rattled in the conscience quadrant of his mind.

The apartment door swung open, hitting the side table and knocking the last week’s bills to the floor. As he bent to pick them up, Frank felt the years in his back and the vodka in his head. He found a clear spot to crash on the couch, an open plug in a nearby outlet, and the presence of mind to press his own rewind button . . .

I didn't really have a choice, I had to leave. And while I was gone, things got worse for Mary and Momma. The paper mill shut down, and all the work left with it. It always smacked ironic to me . . . all that paper being made so folks could take home paper, head for the bank, trade it for other paper, and then send it off here and there to settle accounts, all wrapped in paper. Seemed like there’d never not be a need for that mill with all that paper going back and forth. But I reckon somebody smarter than me decided they’d rather get their paper somewhere other than Millwood. I betcha a stack of green bills they sent a paper notice to shut her down.

Frank hit rewind again. Whirring back to the day before he left for New York City.

Mary was still sporting pigtails when Momma threw me out. Rivers of fire followed her frolicking up trees, down the hallway, through the ruffled neck-holes of bright yellow dresses. Momma’d never a called it that, but that’s what it was. True, I was too big to be thrown, but it don’t take more than a look from a mother for a son to know it’s time to go. I’ll never forgive myself for leaving Mary in that white-washed window, lying to myself that she’d be fine. That Millwood would do her better than it done me.

I might’ve stayed if she hadn’t brought Janell into it. I could’ve swallowed a lot of what an older angrier Momma dished out just to stay with Mary. I knew it was all for Daddy, not us. I knew she didn’t know where her daggers landed, only that she needed to hurl them as far away from her heart as she could manage. I would’ve stood shield in front of Mary until she was big enough to leave herself if Momma hadn’t’ve gone and dragged my Janell into the mud with all the rest. The Janell I loved – all good, all grace – didn’t deserve it, and the Momma in me – all fire, all fury – came out of nowhere, bought a ticket for New York City, and slammed the door on Millwood and Mary.

The light of the side-table lamp was no longer enough to illuminate Frank’s screen. He rubbed his squint-weary eyes and tossed the laptop aside. As he slipped to sleep, he heard the band pick up at the jazz bar on the corner. They started with “I’ll be Seeing You,” and as dream and reality melded, he thought he heard Janell begin to wail . . .

“Them that's got shall get Them that's not shall lose So the Bible said and it still is news Mama may have, Papa may have But God bless the child that's got his own That's got his own”

Frank Sinatra Lonergan, Lucky Lotto Winner Number 1 (a serial story) – Part 6

To read the entire series , click here.

Matt Brock takes another crack at it with Part 6. Enjoy. _________________

Families think their ways are best. They love to protect their own, but they can also alienate. I didn't really have a choice, I had to leave. And while I was gon

Power Off.

Frank wanted to scream. Without any juice left for the laptop, his mind fired back to Thornton's words about him chasing the wind. Frank couldn't believe it. He gathered his belongings and hurried off toward Pretzel Palace, the last shop before the entrance to the mall security office. As Frank passed clothing shops, he smelled the high priced perfumes and colognes exploring the hallways and remembered how little he had growing up. He also remembered how bad he was with saving money. Frank was a duck in a sea of soggy bread crumbs and he licked his lips at the striped button-ups and boot-cut khakis. This money thing will surely be a curse, he thought.

At the door Frank gave a mini morse-code rap on the frame, not the door itself, this was one of Thornton's rules. There was shuffling about inside and a chair screeched as it was slid along the floor.

“Can I help you?”

“It's Frank, I need you to show me that tape.”

Thornton considered. He wished he hadn't spoken at all. He unlatched the door in at least 3 separate places. “Get in here already.” Thornton searched back with his slow rewind button and Frank stood looking over his shoulder. Thornton turned over a metal trash can and patted on it. Frank took his seat. “Ok, here it is, but it's 'gainst regulations so don't you dare go chirppin' to nobody. This is a one time deal. You'll have to leave right after because i'm as behind as a horse's tail today.” Thornton raised his bushy eyebrows. “Deal.”

Frank leaned forward for the show.

Things played out as Thornton described. Random shoppers passing from both sides of the booth. The end of the line to the Japanese fast-food place extending into the top left of the frame. Frank burst out of the booth like he was escaping a burning building and then the most peculiar thing, Frank stood staring. Whatever he looked at was outside of the camera's view, but it held his attention for almost 10 seconds, as seen by the real-time clock at the bottom of the screen. Suddenly, and at the most awkard time, Frank hurried out of shot and even bumped the shoulder of a young man walking by. He was gone. There was no woman, no red-headed child.

“See.” Thornton swivelled around and leaned back. “Now get yourself home, I got real work to do.” Frank wanted to argue, wanted to debate, but he had no case. He shut the door behind him and walked slowly back through the maze of shoe departments and stands with board games and calenders of young pop singers and small clothed puppies. The last thing he heard before awaking from his stupor at the front door of his apartment building was two men in the food court having a discussion about urban sprawl and they were laughing. The fatter man was laughing more.

Frank was at the same apartment door that he used to walk into with Janell. The same creak of 100 year old hard-wood flooring. The same. Frank dropped his keys while fumbling with them and his landlord's wife opened up from two doors down and stepped out into the hall. Tina might have been beautiful at one time, before the meth and cigarettes.

"Frank, rent's due.”

“Yes, i'll have it by tomorrow.”

A small blonde child peeked her head around her mother's skinny legs. Tina looked down. “Sissy, go get momma her cigees, ok?” The girl smiled as she trotted back and returned a moment later with a pack of Marlborough Lights. “Well, bye then.” Tina shut the door.

Frank opened his door and thought before walking in. Some people deserve money, and others shouldn't get a dime.