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Books by Quantum Muse contributors and friends.
Outrunning the Storm

by
Michele Dutcher
The Tooth Fairy War and Other Tales

by
Jeromy Henry
Louisville's Silent Guardians

by
Michele Dutcher
DONKEY FROGS & PANTRY GOBLINS

by
Richard Tornello

Fragile Magic

by

James Gardner



Jane Mabel Alexander dodged a bullet. Emblems embossed ‘Peterbuilt’ and ‘Fruehauf’ filled her windshield as a red and white tractor-trailer fishtailed, spitting crates and swapping licks with parked cars. She stomped brakes. Multiple wooden ammunition boxes hit the street in front of her little red Neon and burst. She smelled burnt rubber.

Peabody’s Best .22 longs with assorted packaging fell from the sky too; fell through her open moon roof'; fell down her collar and lodged in her hair and between her breasts. Eight human eyes and their owners deserted  a hot dog pushcart. She dodged the hot dog vendor but his business succumbed  to the sideslip of the tractor trailer that still played street sweeper and spat cargo. Frankfurters flew towards the heavens. The Neon received a reward of dribbled mustard and skidded to a stop.  Jane's heart vibrated her whole body; her chest rose and fell of itself. Unable to sustain orbit, a quick lunch for twenty fell: in the street, onto the hood, and through the moon roof.

Wooden lids covered her windshield. Smells of rubber, pine, and blood filled her nose. She wiped the blood from her lip with the back of her hand.  Factory fresh bullets shook from her hair. Crates’ lids slid to the street followed by mustard laden hot dogs, with and without buns. She threw wieners out of her window.

Jane mused, "One naughty little thought staring Bob the cheerleader and phallic symbols fall from the sky. The universe has spoken; so will Jane."

Jane yelled, “One bullet! A thousand!  You ever heard of gun control? You crazy mother-trucker.” She spoke, “Self-control? Vehicle control? One little day dream and I'm attacked by weenies.” She shook a fist out the window. Nobody watched.

A policeman motioned for her to drive on. “Move it, make room for the tow truck, lady. Clear the street.”

She gripped the wheel and mumbled between clenched teeth. “You, you stupid cop.  Focus Delta Girl, focus.”  I guess I’m not hit. Hmmm, beautiful Bob, hmmm.

“Move it,” the officer motioned frantically.

The starter worked. She hit the gas, smelled exhaust, and heard a high pitched whine, “Let us try that once again.” Jane shifted to ‘D’ and drove away.

“Giddy up, Dodge; I want Bob to see me at my best for the crush party. Get that mail truck out of my way.” Jane isn’t the sort that talks to herself a lot, just some. Self-control, self-improvement, self-preservation, sometimes a girl is her own best friend; sometimes not.

The little car moved up a street lined with blooming dogwood trees. The white blossoms gave a peaceful dream like prelude to Aunt Doris's buzz saw voice.

Jane hopped out. She pulled a substantial shopping bag from the back seat, and scattered wieners and bullets. Short shrubbery at attention like a rank of soldiers lined Aunt Doris's drive and walkways.

In Aunt Doris’s presence everyone listens. As persistent as gravity, Aunt Doris speaks, “You girls don’t know how to dress, can’t take a compliment, you think sexy is a blouse open to the navel,” she motioned into her cavernous TV-sitting-dinning room.

Jane meekly entered. Just like always, the same four paintings stared down from the walls: General George Washington, Confederate General Robert E. Lee, First Ladies Eleanor Roosevelt and Mamie Eisenhower.

“Speaking of navels, you college girls take the four least attractive inches of female skin available and bare them instead of showing a little garter or some lace. No wonder you kiss each other, the boys don’t have anything to look at.”

With six foot, two hundred fifty pounds of fifty year old female army vet looking down at you, day-dreaming is not an option. Jane sighed.  Pretty Bob?                                           

“Please Aunt Doris, you promised you’d help me for the crush party. You said you could turn a mop into a fashion presence for a hundred dollars. I almost wrecked on the way over. My cute little car has scratches now and dents too.

“I’m tired. I feel like I just ran the whole way on foot.”   Jane flopped into a 1940's overstuffed chair.                       

 “I can’t turn Harriet Hammer-Wielder into Suzy Saucy in ten minutes.”  In one seamless motion, Aunt Doris produced, lit, and took a long drag on a filter-less cigarette. "Smoke 'em if you got 'em."              

 Jane fanned smoke, “You’ve got eight hours, and I bought new everything: panties, skirt, even new hankies, and glasses. A new makeup kit too. My car...”  Jane breathed in; normal people breathe air.                                    

Others exhale smoke, “I always use my own war paint, kid. Flush the new glasses. You don’t need to see. He needs to see something worth looking at; some curves; some hair; some, but not too much, T&A.” Doris snuffed out her cigarette.

“Even a blind man sees the difference when you’ve tried, and salutes you for it,  the old one gunner, Cinder-Mabel. Sell them wheels; get a Mustang.”

“God, Aunt Doris please call me Jane or at least ‘Pookie.' I like my Dodge. Transportation’s not the issue; fashion-ableing me is your mission, Major.”

“OK, Jane May-Be-Able-To-Get-A-Dance, magic time: tub and scrub; hair and teeth; bottom and top; of everything. You’re burning daylight, girl. Report back: dry and clean, hair damp, perfume everywhere except eyeballs, but not too much. Then, we’ll start with the skin and work out.” The floor creaked under Doris. "Gotta get that fixed."

“Not workout now; don’t even think about sweat. And use the stinky soap that matches the ‘oh dee stink-um’ parfum. Make sure you brush the rest of that ordnance out of your hair.” Doris held out a bar of perfumed soap.

“You don’t have to talk to me like we’re at Fort Rucker and I was a recruit, or something,  Major Alexander. What’s ordinance? Oh, the bullets.” Jane pulled hair pins and with her long hair a few more .22's fell escorted by a bite of hot dog lathered with yellow mustard.

“You're safe. I chained Attilla to his doghouse. Unwrap that soap. The smell won’t wash in through the wrapper. Girl, the Military broadens the intellect. Been retired a whole year now, girly girl. I know a civilian from a troop. Hop to. Move it. Move it.”

Doris rescued Jane’s new clothes from their bags, and laid out the essentials.  Her sitting room soon resembled an assembly line. The blinds snugly closed.  Light shone through windows at the top of the front door. A floor lamp illuminated her work place. In god-like fashion, Doris pronounced it, “Good.”

One entire wall of Doris's huge bathing complex was mirror. "I look like an albino frankfurter with mustard." Jane put her clothes in a sink, there were three, and tuned up a warm frizzy water stream. The multi-headed shower complied.

"This place is like the paint booth at the Ford assembly plant." Soapy water in motion marks time’s journey as well as fresh, unless in it's Twenty-first Century manifestation it resembles suspended animation. The hopeful thoughts of Jane Mabel Alexander, Bob, aligned themselves into a mystic scenario with lots of mist (the shower helped) and even a white horse (Prince Charming drove a Mustang). In a dream cloud [of steam from the shower] she floated towards the living-dinning-TV room.

The hall's rich carpet cushioned her steps. Doris's everything room resembled the antechamber to a feudal  manor. “If Bobby would just...”

Reality struck back, “No, he won’t. Whether he kisses you or kicks you, don’t build yourself up for disappointment. No man, let alone a twenty year old boy, can read your mind. Neither canst he doeth what thou dreamest, Lady Fat Chance.” Doris motioned.

Jane sat. Under the watchful gaze of past American generals and first ladies, the fragile magic of romance was stripped with a vengeance.

Aunt Doris brushed Jane’s long brown hair in quick thoughtful strokes. “First out he wants an eyeful. Next, he wants a touch; eyeful, handful, and so on. Somewhere along the line you have to divert all that boy-energy from T&A to you. Repeat after me, ‘I’m not a generic lay.’”

“What?” Jane saw a rainwater stain in the corner. Naked on a stool, she almost cried.

“When he sees you as a person, then you’ve scored.”

Jane sighed, “What if I don’t want a man, fishy bicycle and all that?” She nodded her head for emphasis, "Ouch."

“Keep your head still. Nobody wants to be a human replacement for a vibrator. Eye connection, soul connection, T&A, soul, beefcake, soul. True love. Well, true like anyway.”

“I feel funny. I’m naked on a cold wooden stool. My Aunt is brushing my hair and we’re talking about sex the way we used to talk about school.” Jane glanced about. Except for the new carpeting it could be 1990, or if the TV were different too, 1960.

Doris's sermon continued  unabated. “Better funny feeling than funny looking. Some kids get knocked up and they don’t even get kissed.”

“The military is very practical. Sex is something we are, not something we do. We’re just talking about life just like always. It’s a school party at school on a school night.”

“I thought gender is what we are.”

“Gender is what a noun is. 'Female' is a sex.”

“You’re really a dinosaur, Aunt Doris. I'm cold. I could use a robe. A sorority party is different.”

“I breathe fire too and prefer the older nomenclature, 'dragon.' I’m almost through. Hold still, you can wear this while I make you up.” Doris produced a green cotton antique anti-robe from thin air.

Jane stifled a retch, “Yuck. Stinky, smoky, sticky. No way.”

“Well, just hold on to your hooters. Madame Doris’s magical make up madness casts her spell best unhindered. What’s a crush party? Is that like a Sadie Hawkins Day?”

“The invitations are signed by the Sorority as a whole.”

“So, the girls asked; who for you?”

“Bob Wilson.”

“Bucky Bracemore? Aren’t we aiming a tad low?’ Doris admired her niece with a grin.

“He’s six two, two eighteen and no more Mister Wire Mouth, no more fat. He's got big brown eyes a girl could get lost in, if she’s lucky. He’s a cheerleader. I wish he’d pick me up the way he does Dana. He always looks up her skirt.”

“That’s so he won’t drop her. Bob was always a kind soul, cute freckles. Maybe Mabel can catch a ride with Mr. Charming.  He moved in with his granny two days ago. He is the boy next door once again.” Doris picked at tuffs of Jane’s hair and pronounced it, "Good."

“What if he saw me come in?”

“He probably thought you were a bag lady, all that stuff, and that rag around your head. Please, don’t get your panties in a wad. Sit still. You almost got a mascara moustache.”

“That’d be some trick nude. I guess I could by hand easy enough. But what if he did? Did see me and think bag lady?”

“Oh Christ the doorbell. I called your mom. We need those blue shoes.” Doris took a few steps and snatched the front door open without a thought. She said, “My heavenly days, Bobby Boy, you sure have grown. Well, what brings you to Casa de Doris?”

Bob's eyes glistened and quivered as if he stared at the sun.  His black crew cut stood at attention. “Hi. I my. Oh, hi Jane. I thought you might want a ride back to school. I’m going to Delta’s crush party. I could pick you up around five? Uh, after you get dressed of course.” Bob caught drool by licking his lips. His smile seemed to touch both ears.

“Sure. That’d be great. Five is good. After I’m dressed of course.” Jane nodded. Her soft curls bounced. She even managed to smile.

Doris shut the front door.

“I’m humiliated, undone, embarrassed, beyond hope.”

“Like I was saying, eyeful, handful. You own him, Sugar.”

“I’m blushing to my toes.”   Jane stood and put her hand to her heart. "It's hot in here."                     

“A good healthy glow will help the magic along. It’s fragile magic, Jane Mabel.  Live the spell while it lasts.”

“Is this a life changing experience, Aunt Doris?” Jane pulled the back of her hand across her forehead.

“Well it sure is for me. I’ll never be able to say 'bug-eyed' again. I’ll have to say 'Bob-eyed' from now on.”                                                                                                             


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