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Chapter 28: Prodigal Son

Sticks and Stones Kindle Ready Front Cover JPEGThe temperature was dropping. The remaining leaves on the river birch quivered in the stiff north wind. The boy was uncharacteristically quiet.

“What’s going on, Commando? Cat got your tongue?”

No answer. He stood motionless by the truck.

“Can we ride in the back?” said Maddy.

“Not this time.”

“But why?”

He opened the passenger door for them. “Um, let’s see, hypothermia, the cops, your mom would kill me.”

“What’s hypothermia?”

He flicked her ponytail. “It’s when you turn into a popsicle.”

She climbed in first, followed by Evan. “Well, my mom says we have to wear seatbelts too and you don’t have enough.”

He closed the door and walked around to the driver side. “Just pull that one around both of you.”

Maddy was scrunching her nose when he climbed in. “It smells bad in here.”

He smiled at the little girl. “Anything else, Madison?”

She surveyed the truck. “You don’t have a radio.”

“Thank you.”

The engine whinnied and rumbled to life. They coasted down the driveway in a cloud of exhaust.

Fran Vickers, Supreme Leader of the homeowners association, was waiting by the mailboxes. She covered her nose and mouth with a handkerchief and waved for them to stop.

“Roll down that window, Evan.”

He didn’t budge.

Fran coughed and tapped her fingernails against the glass, smiling like a rabid jackal.

“I’ll do it,” said Maddy, grunting as she reached across her brother and wrenched the stubborn crank.

“Good afternoon!” Fran trilled. A psychotic geriatric Mary Poppins in leopard-print tights. “The neighborhood is positively abuzz with chatter about the three heroes from Devon Lane.”

Maddy turned to him and beamed, basking in the older woman’s compliments. He envied her naiveté. At seven years old, she took words at face value. The world had not yet taught her to be skeptical.

“Mason, I would offer you a position with our neighborhood crime watch, but,” she smiled sweetly, “well, you understand.”

He accidentally revved the engine. A black plume of exhaust spat from the tailpipe and carried on the wind.

“Good heavens!” she cried. “If I was a Democrat, I’d label this truck a climate threat and file a complaint with the EPA.” She paused as if jolted by the tasty possibilities of her own veiled threat. A mental doubletake. “I do think it’s absolutely precious that these dear ones’ mother allows them to gallivant about the neighborhood with the likes of you.”

Maddy turned and smiled at him again, this time with less wattage, unsure. Evan continued his stare-down with the middle distance.

“Well,” said Mason, “we’re kinda in a hurry, so—”

“Really? Where are you off to?”

He ignored her question. “Did you need something? Or were you just stopping us to say hello?”

“Actually, I wanted to congratulate you on your heroic deed—”

“Thanks.” He put the truck in drive.

“And I was wondering if you got a job yet?”

None of your damned business, he thought. “I’m still looking,” he said.

Slowly, he pulled away from the mailboxes. She held onto the window and walked alongside the truck.

“Well seeing that you’re unemployed, it wouldn’t kill you to do a little home improvement on that eyesore of a house. You know what they say about idle hands and, honestly, our property values should not have to suffer because—”

He gave the truck some gas. “Nice talking to you, Fran.”

For a moment he worried that she wouldn’t let go. Surely she couldn’t run. She was at least eighty. He imagined her clinging to the window on the Interstate, billowing in the wind like a poltergeist. Or worse, falling and getting crushed under the tires. He was relieved when he looked in the rearview and saw her standing in the middle of the cul de sac.

“Ms. Fran is so nice,” said Maddy.

“Right … about as nice as a Komodo dragon.”

“What’s a Komodo dragon?”

“A lizard that eats people.”

“Like a crocodile?”


Her look was skeptical.

He shrugged. “Goggle it.”

“It’s Google, Mason.”


At the light on Conway Boulevard he noticed Evan twitching, some sort of facial tic. “Hey Commando, everything all right over there?”

“Yeah,” barely audible.

The light turned green.

“His new medicine makes him sleepy,” Maddy explained.

“Medicine? Is he sick?”

Maddy shook her head. “Just hyper.”

He turned over her words in his head as he drove across the train tracks and entered the warehouse district, occasionally stealing a glance at the boy who sat automaton-still by the passenger door, his hooded eyes unblinking behind his bifocals. Hyper medicine?

Suddenly a woman’s tinny voice burst into song, the ringtone rupturing the drone of road noise and snatching him from his thoughts.

Maddy pulled her cell phone from her pocket and held it to her ear. “Hey Mom.” She listened for a moment then glanced at Evan. “He’s being good. Just real real quiet.” She listened some more. “Okay, love you. Here’s Mason.”

He ignored the outstretched phone. “Tell her I’m driving.”

“He’s driving, Mom.”

She nodded and touched the screen. Brooke’s voice filled the truck cab. “I just received a disturbing text from a concerned neighbor who wishes to remain anonymous. Says you were driving reckless and endangering my kids.”

He shot Maddy a told you so look. “I don’t know why Fran would say that. I’m right at the speed limit, using my blinkers, and all seatbelts are fastened.”

“Ms. Fran is a dragon lady,” said Maddy.

“That’s not nice, Madison,” she scolded. “Mason, why are you in Westgate?”

“I told you I had some errands to run.” He glanced in the rearview. “How do you know we’re in Westgate?”

“Evan’s smartphone has GPS. You just turned off Conway onto Tamarack. Now you’re headed north.”

He shook his head. “Remind me never to buy one of those things.”

“So what errands are you running in Westgate?”

He turned down the winding driveway of Harmony Meadows. “My mother lives out this way. I usually visit her on Mondays.”

“Really? I didn’t realize, I mean, I just assumed that…” She changed the subject. “Hey, will you eat dinner with us tonight? I have some exciting news I’ve been meaning to tell you.”

“What are you cooking?”

“I don’t know. Does it matter? Something with more nutritious value than instant soup.”

“Will Blane be there?” He glanced at Maddy and curled his top lip in disgust. She responded by miming a vomit-inducing finger down her throat.

“No, he’s working late.”

“Then count me in.”

“You’re terrible,” she laughed. “I need to get back to work. Take care of my babies.”

“See you tonight,” he said.

“I’m not a baby,” said Maddy, but she was already gone.

He found a parking spot near the entrance and shut off the engine. The pines bent and swayed in the wind. He was flanked by polar opposites on the way to the door. One skipped, the other trudged.

“I thought your mom lived in heaven with my dad,” said Maddy.

Evan looked up in groggy anticipation.

“My dad lives in heaven with your dad. My mom lives right over there in that big building behind those log cabins.”

“But how come she doesn’t live at home with you?”

“Because she’s sick and they take good care of her here,” he said. “Way better care than I could give her.”

Through the thick bottle-green glass of the front door, he spotted nose-ring hunched over a stack of paperwork, Secret Service earpiece in place. He squeezed Evan’s shoulder. “All right, Commando. I need you to take out the front desk. Got your machine gun ready?”

His only response was a facial tic. Then two more in rapid succession.

Mason could not resist flashing his driver’s license as they walked past the counter. “It’s official now. I’m a naturalized citizen of the free world.” He nodded toward his photocopied mugshot taped to the file cabinet. “You can throw that thing away if you want. Unless it has sentimental value to you.”

“You still need to sign in, sir.” Her sir sounded a lot like inmate to him.

He scrawled his name in the visitors’ log. “Anything else? Fingerprints? A pat search? A field sobriety test?”

She glanced at Evan and Maddy. “Are they authorized?”

“Come on, lady. They’re eleven and seven years old!”

She returned to her paperwork, unconcerned. “They still require authorization.”

“By who?”

“By the patient.”

He restrained himself from pounding the counter. “The patient is my mom. She has Alzheimer’s.”

“I like that pretty earring in your nose,” said Maddy.

He was contemplating his next move when he heard the muffled sound of a toilet flushing, followed by faint whistling and a running sink. Then the door opened and his patron saint in cowboy boots walked into the lobby.

“Thank God,” said Mason.

“I do, every day.”

“This … woman is making my life miserable again.” He felt like a tattletale but he couldn’t resist. “We’re just here to visit my mom and she’s treating us like … like suicide bombers!”

“Autumn, Autumn, Autumn. Don’t you recognize these folks? They’re local celebrities.”

“Yeah,” said Maddy, hands on hips.

The doctor turned to Mason. “You’ll have to forgive my granddaughter. She doesn’t watch the local news. Got one of them dang Roku internet things. Come on, I’ll take ya’ll back.”

Granddaughter? thought Mason, suddenly relieved that he had bitten his tongue. Maddy held his hand and Evan floated along beside him as they walked down hedge-lined sidewalks, antiseptic hallways, and through increasingly secured plexiglass doors. The doctor pointed out people, places, and machines along the way.

“Thanks for saving us,” said Maddy.

The doctor nodded at Mason. “It’s that Johnny Cash tattoo. Gets me every time.”

“My mom is a nurse. Her real name is Brooke. Have you ever heard of her?”

“Hmm, Brooke,” said the doctor with a straight face. “Sounds familiar.”

When they arrived at Ava’s room she was leaning against the dresser, squinting at her reflection in the mirror. A pink terrycloth robe was cinched around her tiny waist and tremors racked her body.

“Ava,” said the doctor, “you have visitors.”

Mason stepped forward with the kids. “Mom, these are my friends, Evan and Maddy.”

She examined them in the mirror, her face a crinkled roadmap of lost highways and tributaries. Then her eyes widened, the trembling halted, and thirty years fell away.

She turned, swallowed, and reached out to touch Evan’s face. He didn’t move.

“Mason? Oh my goodness, Mason!” She wrapped her frail arms around the boy. Tears streamed down her face as she kissed his hair. “Where have you been? I’ve been worried sick about you!”

Maddy gasped and looked up at him. “She called him Mason!”

“It’s okay,” Evan mumbled, his first complete sentence of the afternoon. “I don’t mind.”

©2018 Sticks & Stones by Malcolm Ivey
All rights reserved.

Synchronicity, King of Coincidence

“Many miles away, something crawls to the surface of a dark Scottish loch.” – Synchronicity, The Police

Sometimes I fall asleep listening to AM radio. Knocks me right out. A few months ago, I awoke sometime after midnight with the cord wrapped twice around my neck and hanging off the side of my bunk. Coast to Coast was on. The guest was psychotherapist and quantum theorist Mel Schwartz. He was talking about synchronicity. Specifically about the tsunami of 2004, the humanitarian calamity it wrought and how, although it claimed roughly 230,000 human lives, there were surprisingly few animal bodies found in the aftermath. He attributed this to a sixth sense long atrophied in human beings due to lack of use. He went on to say that at the exact same time that he was typing an essay about this phenomenon on the other side of the globe, a bird flew into his room and perched on his chair. Synchronicity.

As I staggered to the bathroom, half-listening, half-asleep, an elusive plot point from my latest novel, Sticks & Stones, suddenly clicked into place. (If you’ve read it, it’s the part about the drone.) Now I was wide awake. It dawned on me that had I not fallen asleep with the radio on, I might have never awoken to receive this pivotal building block of my then-novel-in-progress. The fact that this occurred while the dude on the radio was discussing synchronicity really blew me away.

Coincidences … chance happenings or mystical experiences? I once heard someone refer to them as “God winks.” A 2015 Esquire article divides them into four distinct categories:

Synchronicity – Two unrelated events collide in a meaningful way. (See above)
Seriality – A series of seemingly unrelated events lead to a noteworthy event. You usually take the bus to work, but you spilled your morning coffee on your shirt, which made you miss the 7:15. You almost called a cab, but decided to try Uber. The driver is attractive. You ask her out. Two years later, you’re married and expecting.

Simulpathity – The simultaneous experience of another person’s distress. This one usually happens with twins, life-long couples, and parents with their children.

Serendipity – Something unexpected and beneficial arises from being at the right place at the right time. Phizer researchers testing a drug called sildenafil as a treatment for angina notice a curious side effect: erections. Eureka! Viagra.

Which is your favorite?

Chapter 27: The Matchmaker

Vital signs. This is what Brooke Tyler’s workday consisted of. One never-ending sequence of vital signs. Blood pressure, temperature, heart rate, “Please make yourself comfortable, the doctor will be with you shortly.” Her plan had always been to become a registered nurse, but then David died and she was suddenly a single mother on her own. Between Evan, Maddy and work there never seemed to be enough hours in the day. The idea of three more years of school seemed less and less possible as time went by.

The familiar faces of her coworkers smiled from doorways and break rooms as she walked back to the front of the office to retrieve the next patient’s chart. Though she knew their names and the names of many of their children and spouses, they were mostly strangers masquerading as acquaintances. Who really knew anyone in this world?

She paused at the end of the hall and gazed out from the fourth-story window. A sea of majestic oaks stretched east toward her home in a canopy of green. High above, clouds like white brush strokes were painted across the stretched canvas of blue sky. Even higher, a lonely jet left twin vapor trails in its wake.

She wondered what Mason was doing. Then she caught herself and wondered why. Strange.

A hand touched her elbow. She turned. “Oh, Dr. Diaz.”

With a full head of black hair, he was in his late sixties without a wrinkle on his ruddy face. “I left Evan’s prescription up front with Crystal. If his symptoms continue or if there are any side effects, be sure to let me know.”

“I will. Thanks. Mrs. Flannigan is waiting in room two. Her chart is on the door.”

He grimaced. “I appreciate the warning.”

According to the checklist, Evan was a classic Combined Type ADHD, displaying the hyperactive/impulsive symptoms, as well as exceeding the inattentive criteria. Still, she had her reservations. The internet wasn’t much help. Ritalin was either a miracle drug, a zombie potion, or a poor man’s cocaine, depending on the reviewer.

It was during times like these that the glaring hole David left in their lives was magnified. He had a knack for always knowing the right thing to do. She ached for his input. At least she had Blane to lean on. She walked back down the hall to the reception area.

Crystal Riley was a year younger than she was and recently divorced after fifteen years as the trophy wife of an abusive evangelical minister. She described her newfound freedom as how Piper Kerman must have felt when she walked out of prison. Her renaissance was gradual. First, black nail polish, then an eyebrow piercing. After four weeks of leave, she shocked the office by returning to work with an impressive new set of boobs. Most of the other women gossiped about Crystal but Brooke admired her independence and her lack of concern for what others were whispering about her.

She stood in the doorway. “Hey, Crystal, do you—”

“Oh God,” she rolled her eyes.

“What?” said Brooke.

“Sorry, hon. It’s not you. It’s just this song.”

The familiar double-claps and keys of Private Eyes filled the room.

“You don’t like Hall and Oates?”

Crystal pretended to gag.

“Why don’t you change the station?”

She shook her head — her once-brown Pentecostal bun now a platinum pixie cut — and pointed to the note taped above the radio.

“Doctor’s orders. 95 Beach FM, only. So I’m stuck with the ‘lite rock hits of the 70s, 80s and today.’” Her chair creaked as she leaned back and stretched. “FML, right?”

Private Eyes segued into Alanis Morrisette’s Ironic.

Brooke swayed a little. “This one isn’t too bad.”

“Compared to what?” Crystal curled her top lip. “A colonoscopy? Gimme Lizzy Hale over this Canadian bubblegum any day.”

Brooke smiled and raised her hands in surrender, marveling at the once docile little preacher’s wife for the thousandth time. “Dr. Diaz said he left a prescription for me.”

She pushed her chair back from her desk and rolled across the office. “I think I put it over here somewhere.”

As Brooke watched her thumb through a stack of papers, she noticed a barcode tattoo on the nape of her neck. “Crystal!” she whispered. “Is that a tattoo?”

The receptionist glanced at her, an almost-smile tugged at the corners of her lips as she reached back and touched her collar. “This? Yeah. I got it on Saturday. I have two more but… I’d have to show you in the bathroom.”

Brooke felt her face redden. “Are you seeing anyone?”

She raised an eyebrow. “Nothing serious. Why? Are you asking me out? I thought you were all hot and bothered over the handsome attorney off eHarmony or whatever.”

“I’m not asking for me, silly. I just know this guy who might be your type.”

“Yeah? How old?”

“Forty-eight, I think.”

She shook her head. “Too old.”

“But you’re almost forty.”

She looked around. “Do not say that again.”

Brooke smiled. “He’s got a lot of tattoos.”

“Really? What’s he do for a living?”

“He’s … um … he’s unemployed.”

“Great,” said Crystal. “Anything else? Some missing teeth, maybe?”

“He just got out of prison.”

She clapped her hands. “Awesome! Sounds like my soul mate, all right. Nice to know your opinion of me is so high.”

“He’s really cute.” It was only after the words were out that she realized they were true. “And he’s a sweetheart. My kids adore him.”

“Why was he in prison?”

She minimized. “Robbery.”

“Hmm. Dangerous. That might be interesting. Do you have a picture?”

Brooke shook her head, then glanced at the computer. “I don’t know, maybe. Can you pull up the Channel 7 News website?”

She rolled her chair back across the office and tapped on the keyboard. The Eyewitness News logo spun like a coin in the center of the Channel 7 homepage.

Brooke pointed to the tab that said Local. “Click here.” The Magic Mart story was the third from the top. “And right here.”

Mason’s face filled the screen, a deer in headlights.

“Yum,” said Crystal. “Look at those muscles. And that hair.”

Brooke laughed. “My daughter is responsible for that.”

They watched the video clip in silence. When it was over the receptionist reached over and touched her hand. “Those are your kids, aren’t they?”

She nodded.

“Oh my God, you must be so … I don’t know if I should say proud or scared.”

Brooke shrugged. “Both.”

Crystal glanced back at the screen. “Well, I would love to go out with your babysitter. If he’s interested. Show him my Instagram page, okay?”

A grandmother appeared at the window with a girl around Evan’s age. The conversation ended there. Brooke selected a chart from the top of the stack and went to the waiting room to call the next patient. “Malone?”

A thin regal woman with silver hair reached for her purse. On the way to the examination room she heard Crystal call to her from the front office.

“Hey Brooke? Don’t forget Evan’s prescription.”

©2018 Sticks & Stones by Malcolm Ivey
All rights reserved.

Chapter 26: Live at Five

Brooke held the glass up to the light, inspecting it for blemishes. Her hands were still shaky from her kids’ near-death experience, but she was slowly returning to normal. She noticed a few gray specks of soap scum below the rim. Blane’s pet peeve. She vigorously erased them with the hem of her shirt.

“Hurry Mom,” Maddy called from the living room. “It’s coming on.”

She dropped six wedges of ice in the glass, filled it with water, and padded back down the hall just as the Eyewitness News music erupted from the television.

“Turn it down a little.”

Evan and Maddy were on the floor in front of the coffee table while Mason sat rigidly in a straight-back dining room chair, palms on knees. She took her place next to Blane on the couch and handed him the ice water. He slid his arm around her.

“An eastside babysitter and two children are heroes after thwarting the robbery of a local convenience store this afternoon. Hailey McGuire has the details.”

From the corner of her eye she saw Blane examine the glass for cleanliness. Satisfied, he took a sip.

On the TV, a college-age brunette stood smiling in front of the Magic Mart awaiting her cue to begin. After an awkward delay, she nodded at someone off camera.

“I’m here at the Magic Mart on Seren Drive in Rosemont where today three ordinary citizens, two of them students at a local elementary school, did something extraordinary.”

The camera angle widened to reveal Mason and the kids.

Brooke burst out laughing.

“What a shmuck,” Blane mumbled.

His hair, still hard from the mousse and styling gel, had come unfixed in the scuffle and was a chaotic hash of swirl and spike. He stared unblinking into the camera, stiff with stage fright. Evan blew a purple bubblegum bubble while Maddy beamed and waved at the viewing audience.

Seeing herself, she whipped her head around, eyes shining, big jack-o-lantern smile. “I look famous, don’t I Mom?”

Brooke nodded, acutely aware of Blane’s arm around her. She braced for Maddy’s reaction but her daughter either didn’t notice or was too caught up in her own celebrity to care.

“Shut up Maddy, I can’t hear,” said Evan.

“Hey, that’s not nice.”

The reporter held her mic up to Mason. The sweat on his muscled forearm made his tattoos appear darker. Johnny Cash flipped off America.

“How long have you been a babysitter?”

“Uh … first day.”

“What made you decide to intervene in the robbery?”


“What were you thinking when the gun went off?”

“Um … loud.”

From his spot on the floor, Evan bent backwards and looked at Mason upside down. “You’re more scared of the camera than you were of the gun!”

“What’s your name?”

“Evan Tyler.”

“What happened in there?”

“That robber pointed his gun at Ms. Dot and then Mason jammed his soups against him. BANG! The gun went off and I thought it killed Mason but it didn’t, just the soup. Then they wrastled on the floor and Mason made him let go of the gun and it slid and the robber tried to get it but I kicked it away and my sister got it and ran away.”

He turned and smiled at Brooke, radiant with boyish pride. Then he noticed Blane’s arm around her and his face fell.

“Here comes my part!” Maddy squealed, almost hyperventilating with excitement.

“What’s your name?”

“Madison Rose Tyler!”

“And you grabbed the gun?”

“Yes, and then I ran to Mason’s truck and locked the doors. He tried to chase me but I’m too fast.”

“Were you scared?”

“Mm hmm, ‘specially when he punched the window but Mason choked him real hard and slinged him across the parking lot.”

“What made you grab the gun?”

“I dunno. I just did.”

“Weren’t you worried it might go off? Did you know not to touch the trigger?”

“I know all about guns. My brother has almost two thousand confirmed kills on Call of Duty. He’s gonna be a YouTube celebrity.”

Brooke glanced at Blane and rolled her eyes. “Maddy I really wish you’d stop talking about confirmed kills. It’s unladylike.”

Her daughter popped off the floor and ran around the coffee table. “But aren’t you proud of my interview, Mom?”

She smiled. Evan wasn’t the only beneficiary of David’s genes. Her husband lived on in Maddy’s furrowed brow and dimpled cheeks, in her stubbornness and confidence and charm.

“Of course, I’m proud. I’m horrified that you held a loaded gun and were chased by that awful man. But, yes, I’m extremely proud of you.”

Maddy squeezed between her and Blane, separating them. “Are you proud of Mason too?”

Brooke glanced at the hulking ex-convict in her living room, uncertain how to answer. Leave it to Maddy to put her on the spot.

On the television, the reporter was wrapping up. “The suspect, Colin Driver of Lancaster, has a lengthy criminal history including charges for burglary and aggravated assault. He was booked into the Lincoln County jail with no bond. Our city streets are safer tonight because these three ordinary people did something extraordinary. From Rosemont, Hailey McGuire, Channel 7 News.”

“Well,” Blane sniffed, “personally I think it was foolhardy and irresponsible.”

Mason stood. “All right, that’s my cue.”

Brooke touched Blane’s knee, hoping to silence him. It didn’t work.

“That’s what we have police for.” He took a sip of water. “You endangered the kids’ lives and the clerk’s life by trying to be Bruce Willis.”

She attempted to smooth things over. “Well, thankfully, everyone’s okay.”

Mason glared at him. “What would you have done?”

Blane inspected his cuticles. “I would have memorized his features, height, weight, face, clothes, while cooperating fully to ensure the safety of the children. Then, when the police arrived, I’d brief them with all the information. Once apprehended, I’d attend every hearing to guarantee that he was prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

“Yeah, I’ll remember that the next time someone’s waving a gun around like a maniac.”

Blane smirked. “A situation I’m sure you’re all too familiar with.”

Brooke tried her best to quell the rising tension. “Hey, guys, it’s been a long day. Let’s not—”

“It’s all good,” said Mason. “I’m leaving.”

Evan pulled at his sleeve. “But we haven’t played Call of Duty yet.”

“Another time,” he said, his eyes touching hers.

Brooke noticed their color. Bluish-green, aquamarine, Earth from outer space.

“I’ve been known to dabble in the old Black Ops,” said Blane. “I’ll play with you.”

Evan responded by emptying a clip. “Br-r-r-r-r-r-ow!”

Blane jumped. Then, over the machine gun fire said, “Are we still looking into the Ritalin?”

Evan charged up the stairs.

Maddy pushed off the couch and followed her brother. “Why does Mason have to leave?” she yelled down the staircase. “Mason is a hero! He’s extraordinary! I think BLANE should leave!”

“Madison that is not nice!”

The door slammed.

She smiled at her boyfriend and shrugged, utterly humiliated. “Kids.”

©2018 Sticks & Stones by Malcolm Ivey
All rights reserved.

Chapter 25: Dorsal Fin Day Care Part Two

He pulled the hundred dollar bill from his pocket. “All right you little heathens, who wants cigarettes and beer?”

Evan raised his hand. “I do.”

“Wrong answer, Commando.” He shook his head. “Testing you again.”

Maddy smiled up at him. “I don’t want any cigarettes and beer.”

“Good girl,” he said. “Cigarettes and beer mean less push-ups. Less push-ups mean less muscle development which means less confidence which means…” He glanced at the boy. “Less chicks.”

“Well how do you know I’m not testing you?” said Evan.

“Testing me for what?”

“To see if you’re a crooked babysitter. The kind who buys kids cigarettes and beer.”

“Nice,” said Mason, holding out his fist. “You’re full of it, but I like the way you think on your feet.”

Evan stood a little straighter and tapped his knuckles. “I don’t care about chicks anyway.”

“No? I thought you had a thing for…” He nodded at his neighbor’s house.

“He wants Ms. Tammy to be his girlfriend,” said Maddy.

“No, I don’t. She’s a whore!”

“That’s not nice.”

“It sure isn’t,” said Mason. “Where’d you learn that word, man?”

Evan shrugged.

“Why would you call her that?”

“Because … she wears high heels and short skirts and bikinis and makeup.”

“It’s a woman’s nature to want to be beautiful,” said Mason. “How would you feel if someone called your mom that name? Or Maddy?”

“That’s not nice, Evan.”

“Listen, I’ll leave the lectures for your mom and what’s-his-face. I’m the wrong guy to be giving out life tips anyway. But manhood isn’t just about push-ups and soldiers and being tough. It’s about respect and kindness. You have to work those muscles too.”

“I’m good at kindness,” said Maddy.

He flicked her ponytail but continued to look at Evan. “Are you picking up what I’m putting down, Commando?”

Evan kicked a rock down the driveway. “I guess so.”

“Good,” he waggled the C-note. “Now, who wants to go blow Mr. Blane’s hard-earned cash at the Magic Mart? What’s a hundred bucks split three ways?”

“A lot,” said Maddy, hopping up and down. “Are you gonna buy soup?”

“I might.”

“Thirty-three dollars,” said Evan. “Can we ride in the back of your truck?”

He held out his keys. “Why don’t you drive and I’ll ride in the back.”

“He’s testing you again, Evan.”

“I don’t have my license,” said the boy.

Mason jingled the keys. “Neither do I.”

“But you can’t ride in the back,” said Maddy. “You’ll mess up your hair.”

He reached up and touched the rigid mohawk. “Yeah, I guess you’re right. I’ll drive.”

They raced to the truck and climbed in the back. It cranked on the first attempt. A volcanic cloud of black smoke erupted from the tailpipe. He kept the speedometer at fifteen as they coasted up the street. In his mirror there were gap-toothed smiles and laughter. Skinny arms and small hands hung over the sides of the truck bed, touching the wind like water.

The Magic Mart parking lot was deserted as usual. Dot frowned at him through the window as he pulled between two faded yellow lines and shut off the truck.

“Hey Mason, can I have ice cream?”

“Mm hmm.”


“You’ve got thirty-three dollars, you can get whatever you want.”

“I want a Smart Ones,” said Maddy.

“What’s that?”

“It’s like a TV dinner, ‘cept it’s for girls. My mommy eats them.”

The door chimed as he held it open.

“Hey Ms. Dot,” Maddy waved. “You look pretty today.”

For the first time since he’d been frequenting the convenience store, Mason noticed the wrinkles and frown lines on Dot’s face pull into a genuine smile.

“That’s quite an interesting hairstyle,” she said.

Maddy bolted down the candy aisle after Evan. Tennis shoes squeaked on tile. “I designed it all by myself!” she yelled over her shoulder.

He picked up a Rolling Stone from the magazine rack and tried on a pair of cheap sunglasses.

“Cool Mason!”

He left them on and swaggered, tag dangling, to the back of the store.

The door chimed. In the security mirror above the dog food, he saw a thin man in a navy blue windbreaker and a baseball cap walk in. He headed straight for the coolers that held the beer.

Mason watched him for a moment but was soon distracted by his own reflection. The dorsal fin was streaked with gray and leaning to the right. The tag on the sunglasses hung in front of his nose and fluttered with his breath. The mirror further exaggerated this caricature of self by expanding his head and extending his legs. He looked like a Blow Pop with a mohawk.

“Hey Mason,” said Evan, “can I have some lottery tickets?”

He picked up a case of picante beef soup and headed for the register. “If you can talk Ms. Dot into selling them to you. But I think she’s a stickler for the rules.”

At the counter he noticed the man’s cap had a silver Nittany Lion on the front. It was pulled low over his eyes. Beard stubble covered the sharp, emaciated angles of his face.

Dot’s hands trembled as she rang up the quart of malt liquor.

“Gimme a carton of Newports too,” he rasped.

She inspected the rack behind her for his brand.

Mason watched in slow motion as the man pulled a 9-millimeter from his waist and leveled it at the back of Dot’s head.

She turned, flinched, and dropped the cigarettes on the floor.

“Pick ’em up,” he ordered. “Slow.”

Mason took a step back just as the pistol swung in his face, inches from his nose. He stared down the barrel, his heart pounding.

“Don’t even think about it, Sid Vicious,” the man snarled. “Whatever you’ve got on your mind is a bad idea.”

The kids stared wide-eyed from the candy aisle. “Is that a real gun?” said Evan.

“Grandma’s about to find out just how real it is if she doesn’t empty the cash register.” He turned the pistol back on Dot. “Now.”

She opened the drawer and began removing the bills. Meager stacks of ones, fives, and tens were arranged on the counter.

Mason looked over at Evan. The boy had a pleading, urgent look in his eyes. He shook his head. Absolutely not.

“Open the safe too,” the man growled.

Dot was shaking violently. “I … I can’t. It’s time-locked.”

Click Clack. He cocked the pistol. “Don’t play with me, you ugly old bag.”

Maddy gasped and covered her mouth. Evan raised an accusatory eyebrow. Both were willing him to act. Do something!

Damn it. He closed his eyes, swallowed hard, and let go. “Hey man.”

The pistol again swiveled in his direction. This time he met it with the shrink-wrapped cardboard case of soup, forcing the man backwards.

The Glock roared. An explosion of noodles blasted through a fist-sized hole in the package, peppering his mohawk. As they tumbled to the floor Mason could hear Dot praying behind the counter.

“The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want…”

The robber fought for his freedom with violent desperation. In the barrage of knees and teeth and headbutts, Mason still managed to hold his wrist with both hands, relentlessly slamming it against the tiles until finally his grip loosened and the pistol windmilled across the floor.

The man shook free and lunged for it but Evan kicked it beneath a pallet of Mountain Dew twelve-packs. When it slid out from under the other side, Maddy scooped it up and ran screaming for the door.

The robber went after her.

Mason dove for his ankles and missed. Still, the contact knocked him off balance and slowed his pursuit. He crashed through the double doors, flailing.

As Mason scrambled to his feet he saw Maddy through the glass. She ripped open the truck door, climbed up in the seat, and pulled it shut with both hands, just as the robber arrived.

He reached for the handle, she slammed home the lock. He sprinted around to the driver side, she scooted across the seat and locked that door too. He looked around for something to throw at the window. Finding nothing, he took a vicious swing.


The glass held. Maddy screamed.

Mason barreled through the doors and charged.

The robber raised his fists to fight but with his pistol locked in the truck he wasn’t nearly as fearsome. Mason ran through his punches, gripped him by the throat and slammed him on the hood of the truck. “Oomph.” Then he pulled him off and slung him stumbling halfway across the parking lot. He noticed the baseball cap on the ground and flung it toward him like a Frisbee.

“The cops are on their way.” Evan came out and stood next to him, crossing his arms. A unified front.

The robber glared at them for a moment, then darted between the gas pumps. A police cruiser cut him off at the parking lot entrance. Doors flew open, guns were drawn.


Slowly, he lifted his hands.

©2018 Sticks & Stones by Malcolm Ivey
All rights reserved.

Sticks & Stones: Chapters 23 & 24

Chapter 23: The King of the Elephants
Her rock was as shaky as her face was stoic. The chair creaked over the hum of the vaporizer. Her bedspread was adorned with bright yellow sunflowers. He sat on the edge with the book in his lap. Meet Babar and His Family by Laurent de Brunhoff.

He turned to the first page. Random crayon scribblings and a small petrified Dorito thumbprint embellished the existing artwork.

“One morning Babar, the King of the Elephants, opens his window. It’s a sunny day.” He held up the picture so his mom could see.

She glanced at the drawing. “I am fifty-four years old. Don’t insult me with these children’s books.”

He turned the page. The family of elephants was on opposite sides of a lake scattered with ducks, flamingos, and a hippopotamus. “You used to read this to me when I was little.”

“When you were little,” she scoffed. “What on earth are you babbling about?”

“Look.” He held up the book. “It’s Zephir, the monkey.”

She rolled her eyes.

“And here’s the little old lady drinking tea with Cornelius. They never tell you her name. Just ‘the little old lady.’ Remember when I used to think she was Mrs. Zimlich? My kindergarten teacher?”

She frowned as if listening to the faint whisper of some long-forgotten memory. Two sticks of recognition rubbed and sparked in her eyes. Hope flared in his.


But like a tendril of smoke, the moment faded.

“Stop calling me that!” she snapped.

He turned the page.

“Who in the world drew those awful pictures?”

For a moment he thought she was talking about the book but then realized she was staring at his tattoos. He held out his arm for her to inspect. Again.

She raised her eyebrows at the praying hands with a rosary. “Are you Catholic?”

He smiled. “Don’t you remember my first communion? Second grade. Saint Pius? You were there.”

She wavered before pointing at the flower.

“It’s a hibiscus. Just like the ones you planted in the backyard.”

She glanced through the window at the garden outside. “Did I plant those too? I … I can’t remember.”

“Look at these doves. See, right here? They call this negative shading.”

She ignored the birds and leaned forward to examine the woman on his bicep, naked from the waist up. “Is your wife a showgirl?”

He quickly turned his arm. “This is the ocean over here. Peaceful, right? How long since you’ve been to the beach? I could drive you over once I get some new tires on the truck.”

She instead studied Johnny Cash flipping the bird. “My, what an unpleasant man.”

He smiled. “Nah, Johnny’s all right. He’s actually a Christian. He was probably just having a bad day when his picture was taken.”

“Did you take it?”

He shook his head. “But check this one out. Can you read it? It says Ava.”

With a shaky finger she traced the letters on his wrist before looking up in confusion. “But … my name is Ava.”

He patted her hand. “I know. I got it for you.”

Chapter 24: Dorsal Fin Day Care Part One
The backpack was pink and said Frozen across the top in icy white letters. An animated blue-eyed girl in a sweeping gown was steam-pressed below the zipper. Maddy dumped its contents on the porch. A canister of mousse rolled over to where Mason was sitting on the steps watching Evan do push-ups. He picked it up. “What’s this?”

She was busy gathering various hair spray bottles and styling gels, lining them up along the rail. “It’s for your appointment.”

Beneath the river birch, Evan brushed his hands on his jeans after a set of fifteen. Mason acknowledged his progress with a nod. “I don’t have any appointments, Maddy.”

She rolled her eyes, removed her cell phone from her pocket, and pretended to scroll through a busy schedule. “Oh yes you do. It’s right here. See? Mason, two o’clock, Saturday. Hairstyling.”

“There’s no way I’m letting you cut my hair.”

A scuffed pink tennis shoe with Velcro straps stomped the porch board next to him. “I’m tired of doing push-ups and working on your truck all the time. I wanna do something fun. I’m not going to cut it, Mason. Promise. I just wanna style it.”

He glanced at the array of hair care products. “Where’d you get all this?”

“My mom’s bathroom.”

“Hey Mason!” Evan shouted from under the tree. “Are you counting?”

He held up his thumb to the boy. “All right Maddy, here’s the deal. Style it all you want, but the first hint of a snip and you’re going under the hood of the truck. Got it?”

She nodded, a foamy glob of mousse already in her palm.

Across the yard, Evan climbed to his feet and pulled his shirt off. His concave chest and bony shoulders were red with effort. “Fifteen?” called Mason.

He flexed and shook his head. “Forty!”

Maddy slathered his hair with chemicals. First the mousse, then the styling gel, pulling it back, pushing it forward, kneading the tropical-smelling substances into his scalp. No follicle left behind, she hummed an unrecognizable tune as she brushed, mussed and brushed some more, occasionally coming to stand in front of him to inspect her work.

“I usually charge a lot of money for this,” she said as she pulled all his hair to the center of his head like a mohawk.

“Yeah, how much?”

“Five dollars.”

She checked the symmetry of the spikes that ran from his forehead to his neck, using her palms to sharpen the rogue strands into a narrow ridgeline while tamping down the rest.

“Cool, Mason!” Evan shouted. “You look like a gladiator.”

A few finishing spritzes of Paul Mitchell followed by a roaring cloud of Aquanet and Maddy hopped off the porch to admire her creation, snapping a picture on her cell phone.

“Let me see that.”

She held up the screen with a proud smile but he was distracted by the Lexus pulling into his driveway. He stood and walked down the steps. Through the windshield he could see Brooke in the passenger seat. The driver, he presumed, was her boyfriend Blane.

She was laughing as the window came down. “Mason, what in the world … your hair … It looks like a … a …”

“Dorsal fin,” offered the smug voice in the driver seat.

“Yes, exactly.” More laughter. It rose above the violins, cellos and oboes that wafted from the car’s stereo system.

Maddy ran up beside him. “Mommy, I styled Mason’s hair. Isn’t it pretty?”

Her eyes sparkled. “It sure is. Evan! Put your shirt on before you catch a cold!”

Machine gun fire.

“I could style Blane’s hair too,” said Maddy.

An insincere chuckle. “Oho, I don’t know about that.”

Brooke’s voice turned serious. “Mason, do you think you can watch them for a few hours? The sitter is at a soccer game this afternoon.”

He was already shaking his head. “That’s probably not a good idea.”

“But you’re watching them now.”

“It’s different when you’re right down the street. And anyway, I thought you didn’t trust—”

She glanced at Blane. “Well, I do now, okay? We’ve had this conversation already.”

“It’s just too much responsibility. Too many things could go wrong.”

Nervous smile. “Mason, you’ll be fine. They’ve already eaten lunch. I’ll be back before dinner and my number is in both of their phones in case of emergency.”

He hooked his thumbs over his belt. “How much do you usually pay your babysitter?”

She hesitated. “For a couple of hours? Maybe twenty dollars.”

“I’ll take forty.”


A manicured hand reached across her, extending a hundred dollar bill toward the open window. A Presidential Rolex peeked from the cuff of his sleeve.

Mason bent to make eye contact.

Blane winked. “We may run a little overtime.” Then his face hardened. “But if anything happens to Ethan or the girl, I will personally make sure that you never see the light of day again.”

“Wow, no pressure,” Mason smirked, marveling at this new variation of good cop, bad cop. Story of my life.

“All right,” said Brooke, “there’s no need to—”

“My brother’s name is Evan!” Maddy shouted. “Evan and Madison! That’s our names!”

As if on cue, Evan took a running start and leaped on the front bumper of the Lexus, simultaneously flexing and firing off rounds from his invisible M-16 a la Schwarzenegger in Commando.

“Evan Aubrey Tyler! Down! Now! Do you want me to spank you in front of Mason?” She turned to Blane. “I’m sorry. He’s not always like this.”

The attorney forced a thin-lipped smile. “Medication is definitely something I’d consider.”

Mason pocketed the money. “Well don’t worry about Pete and Re-Pete here. They’re in good hands.”

Maddy looked up at him. “Who’s Pete and Re-Pete?”

“I’m Pete,” said Evan. “You’re Re-Pete.”

“Hey, that’s not fair. Why do you get to be Pete?”

“Because Pete’s a boy’s name.” Evan flexed his skinny biceps. “Plus I’m the oldest.”

The car began to back out of the driveway. “Call me if you need anything,” said Brooke.

They stood watching as the Lexus accelerated down the street. The dorsal fin, the ponytail and Commando, each lost in thought.

“Asshole,” Evan finally said.

Mason waited for Maddy’s standard reprimand, “that’s not nice,” but it never came.

©2018 Sticks & Stones by Malcolm Ivey
All rights reserved.

Sticks & Stones: Chapters 21 & 22

Chapter 21: Hiccups
The sleeping bag smelled like pine straw and bug repellant. Despite three washes, the persistent odor remained. He kept it near the fireplace, close to the sliding glass doors, so he could see the moon and stars at night and awaken with the sunrise.

He had read only a few pages of the book when his eyes grew heavy. The hypnotic sentences of the author, along with the soft rush of the central air conspired against him. He was out before he could dog-ear the page.

“Hello? Mason?”

He opened his eyes. She was sticking her head through the front door.

“There you are. Mind if I come in?”

He sat up in the sleeping bag. “Brooke, right?”

“Brooke Tyler,” she said, stepping inside and holding up a Styrofoam tray. “I brought you a peace offering.”

“Would you mind turning around for a minute? I need to get dressed.”

She faced the door. “Where’s your furniture?”

He walked naked across the carpet to where his clothes were drying on the bannister. His exaggerated shadow reflected on the wall.

“Storage,” he said, pulling his pants on. “I’m used to a minimalist lifestyle anyway. Okay, all good.”

She turned and offered the Styrofoam. “It’s a Portobello mushroom with artichoke salad. From Miguel’s. Hope you like vinaigrette.”

He had no idea what she was talking about.

She glanced at his bare chest and hiccupped. “Sorry. I had a little wine with dinner tonight. Blane took me to Miguel’s. Did I say that already?”

He took the food to the kitchen.

“Hey look!” she said, following. “I remember this table. Fran’s yard sale, right?”

He nodded, a little embarrassed.

She pulled out a chair, raked in his last hand of solitaire, and began shuffling the cards. “Oh I miss playing spades. David and I used to play against KC and Lindsey every Friday night when we were living on the base. Do you play?”

“Spades?” he said. “I think every prisoner in America plays spades.”

She hiccupped again. “You’re not a prisoner anymore, Mason.”

He leaned against the refrigerator, trying not to smile. Contrary to previously admitted evidence, there appeared to be a human soul dwelling behind the pissed-off-soccer-mom mask.

“We should get together and play sometime, me and Blane and you and…” she looked up at him. “Do you have a girlfriend?”

He shook his head.

“Oh, I was thinking maybe the woman with the Mercedes.” Another hiccup. “Wait, you’re not … are you gay?”

This time he did smile. “Last time I checked, I wasn’t.”

“You should get on a dating site. That’s how I met Blane. I could even help you with your profile.”

“And say what?” He sat down across from her. “Recently released ex-convict seeking short term relationship with unannoying woman? I doubt I’d have many bites.”

She smiled. “You’d be surprised.”

“No thanks,” he said. “I’m old school when it comes to things like that and, anyway, I’m not in a rush.”

“How old are you?”



What did that mean? “How old are you?”

Hiccup. “That’s a rude question. I thought you said you were old-fashioned.”

He watched her as she shuffled the cards. He guessed she was thirty-one. No older than thirty-five.

“I’m thirty-nine,” she said, her eyes touching his.

He continued to study her after she looked away. Her blond hair was pulled back into a braid, revealing a graceful neck that seemed to melt into the smooth, sun-kissed skin of her delicate shoulders. Her hazel eyes shined like gold in the dining room light. Her pink tongue darted from her mouth glazing her lips with a coat of moisture. It was the most sensual act he had ever witnessed.

“Why are you staring at me?”

The spell shattered. “Oh, I was … ah, just waiting. I mean, I thought … didn’t you say you were here for something?”

She stopped shuffling. “I wanted to apologize.”

“For what?”

“For being so nasty to you.”

He frowned. “You haven’t—”

She silenced him with a hiccup. “Yes, I have. I was just worried about Evan and Maddy. You have to understand, I’m a lioness when it comes to my kids.”

He stifled a rising smile with a grave nod. Although she was no doubt telling the truth, her words were saturated in wine. A lioness!

“But I trust their judgment. I know that sounds reckless coming from a mother, but I do. They’ve just been through so much and they’re both highly intu … intuit … intuicious little human beings. Intuitative?”


“They’re not stupid, just inexperienced, you know? And for some reason they like you. I won’t lie, it’s so good to see Evan do boy things like push-ups and working on your truck. There’s a lot of estrogen in our household.”

He leaned back in his chair. “Boy things? Don’t underestimate your daughter. That’s one tough little seven-year-old girl.”

“I’m so worried she’ll grow up to have daddy issues. Evan’s already acting out in school. You have no idea how difficult it is to be mommy and daddy.” She wiped a tear with her finger. “I’m dreading having to talk with Evan about the birds and the bees.”

He thought of the drone spying on his topless neighbor. “Oh, I wouldn’t be too concerned about that.”

She chewed her lip. “I just wish they liked Blane. Things would be so much easier that way. He’s so kind and patient and worldly and cultured. Have you ever listened to Vivaldi?”

Mason shook his head.

Hiccup. “See what I mean? And tonight he ordered our dinner in French. French!” She fanned herself with her hand. “I’ve dated a few times over the last five years but never anyone like Blane. He’s just so … different.”

“Well, he’s lucky to have you.”

She looked up. “Do you think you could talk to Evan and Maddy the next time you’re working on your truck? They might listen to you. Maybe you could convince them to give Blane a chance.”

He laughed. “I doubt that. I couldn’t even convince them to leave my driveway. They’re pretty stubborn. I wonder where they get that from.”

“Their dad.” She stood. “I need to get home. I told the sitter I’d only be a few minutes.”

He walked her to the door. “Hey do you have any old children’s books? Like the one with the elephant?”

“The one with the elephant… Babar? Sure. But you might lose some cool points if you try to read to my kids. They lost interest in books the moment they logged on to the internet.”

“Oh it’s not for them,” he said. “It’s for me.”

Chapter 22: Photographic Documentation
Imminent rain. The air was thick with the smell of it. Clouds raced across the monochrome sky, bathing the earth in a swarm of shadows.

“The whole can?” said Evan.

“Every last drop. Hey Maddy can we snap a photo of this?”

She aimed the cell phone at her brother. “Another one?”

He nodded.

“But why?”

“Photographic documentation, my friend.” He accepted the depleted gas can from Evan and tossed it in the bed of the truck.

She wrinkled her nose at the unfamiliar words. “I thought you said you hated cell phones and computers and future stuff.”

“I do,” he said. “That’s where you come in.”

She showed him the screen shot of Evan gassing up the truck.

“Brilliant, Maddy. You’re a master at capturing the moment.”

She smiled her incisorless smile, glowing with pride.

“I wanna see,” said Evan. “Hey look at my muscles, Mason.”

He tapped the boy’s skinny bicep. “Very impressive guns.”


“Not that kind of gun.”

Maddy pulled the hem of his shirt. “But why do you want me to take pictures of everything?”

He ran his fingers through his hair and considered the two faces staring up at him awaiting an answer. “Okay, so you guys know that when I was a little bit older than you, I got sent away for being bad.”

“Armed robbery,” said Evan. “I saw it online.”

Maddy shook her head. “Not nice.”

“Damned computers,” he muttered. “You’re right, Maddy, not nice. Not smart, either. It cost me thirty years of my life.” He glanced at Evan. “That’s what guns got me.”

“Was it scary in there?”

“Absolutely,” he said. “But to answer your question about the pictures, the whole time I was in, everyone else had photo albums of family and friends and memories. I didn’t. So I want to make sure that never happens again.”

“But you’re not gonna go back to that place,” said Maddy. “You’re not bad anymore.”

“That’s right, I’m not,” he said. “But just in case.”

Thunder cracked and echoed across the sky.

“You guys need to get home. Your mom will blame me if you get struck by lightning. Her boyfriend could have me prosecuted for negligent culpability and I’d be back in the scary place before we finished taking pictures.”

They stared at him in silence.

“That was a joke.”

“I hate Blane,” said Evan.

“Come on, man, don’t be too hard on the poor guy. He must have a few good points, otherwise, your mom wouldn’t give him the time of day.”

“He’s pretty,” said Maddy.

“See Evan? There you go.”

“And he smells nice.”

“Mmm, nothing like a sweet-smelling man.”

“And he’s rich!”

“Well that about seals it for me. What about you, Evan?”

“Blane sucks.”

“Okay, so before you guys go,” he reached in his pocket for the keys. “Evan? Would you do us the honor? It’s been thirty years since I heard that old 350 roar.”

They climbed inside.

Evan glanced at Mason.

Mason nodded.

He turned the key. The truck coughed, spasmed, and stammered to life in a cloud of exhaust.

“Woohoo!” cried Mason. “Give it some gas!”

Evan found the right pedal. Vrooom.



“Maddy? Are you getting this?”



©2018 Sticks & Stones by Malcolm Ivey
All rights reserved.

Chapter 20: The Face of Technological Advancement

Sticks and Stones Kindle Ready Front Cover JPEGThe door chimed. A heavyset bald man in shabby clothes was at the counter scratching off lottery tickets as if his mortgage depended on it.

Dot looked up at Mason and eyed him with routine suspicion. He was used to it. In one of her gossipy rants at the mailbox, Fran Vickers of the neighborhood watch had let it slip that Dot’s husband, a bigwig at the power plant, left her for his younger secretary after thirty-five years of marriage. “Poor thing. Wouldn’t even take any alimony. Must be hard starting all over at the age of sixty. Hasn’t been to church in three months.”

Mason smiled at the uptight store clerk. “Hey Dot. How’s it going?”

Her lips twitched, Dot’s version of a smile.

The heavyset man shouldered past him, muttering under his breath as he banged through the doors. Mason watched as he sank into an old station wagon and shrieked out of the parking lot in a blaring cacophony of heavy metal.

“Sore loser?”

Dot shrugged, tidying up her counter.

He walked over to the ATM, already intimidated. It wasn’t just the confusing digital display and touchscreen keypad, even the size of the thing was imposing. Like some robot linebacker.

He rambled to Dot as he tried to make sense of the monstrosity. “So remember a couple of weeks ago? When I almost gave you a heart attack running through the door? Turns out it wasn’t a bat that was chasing me after all.”

He pulled the ATM card from his pocket and stuck it in the slot. It immediately spit it back out. He frowned. “Know what it was? You’re never going to believe this…”

Another try, another rejection.

He glanced at Dot. “It was a drone. Swear to God. I was under the impression that drones were, like, military weapons but apparently not, because an eleven-year-old boy on my street is flying one around like a chopper.”

He slapped the machine.

Dot flinched. “Oh!”

“I’m sorry,” he said. “Can you help me out over here? I don’t understand this damned thing.”

There was a heaviness in her steps that Mason knew all too well. Sadness has a walk. Thirty years of living among the broken, of being broken himself, made it easy to recognize.

He handed her his card. “Might be defective. I got it from the same lawyer that gave me those counterfeit bills … kidding.”

She shook her head. The machine accepted the card and the display changed. “Type your pin here.”

“It’s 1970, the year I was—”

“Sshhh!” she hissed. “You don’t tell people your pin. Type it. Right here.”

He touched the numbers on the screen. Four asterisks appeared.

“Are you withdrawing from checking or savings?”

He reached and tapped the box marked Savings.

She nodded. “How much?”

“A hundred dollars,” he said. “I bet you think it’s weird that I can’t operate this thing. Technology isn’t my strong suit.”

She smirked as if to say ATM machines are not exactly the face of technological advancement.

Five crisp twenty dollar bills whisked into the slot. He pocketed them along with the receipt. “Thanks Dot. Next time I should be able to do it on my own.”

Her look said, It ain’t rocket science, but her mouth said, “Here’s your card.”

He lingered a moment. “Dot, there’s something … look, I don’t tell everybody this, but the reason I don’t understand drones and camera phones and ATMs is because I’ve been in prison since I was eighteen, okay? I’d appreciate it if you kept that between us, but if I ever appear a little lost, well, I wanted you to know why.”

Her eyes softened. “I already knew.”

“You did? How?”

She nodded toward the cul de sac. “Fran Vickers.”

©2018 Sticks & Stones by Malcolm Ivey
All rights reserved.


Sticks & Stones: Chapters 18 & 19

Sticks and Stones Kindle Ready Front Cover JPEGChapter 18: The Negotiator
She checked the kitchen window for his car. Not yet. She went to the stove to taste the cream of corn, stirring it and adjusting the temp, before opening the oven to check on the turkey. Maddy was right under her every step of the way.

“Madison, please!”

“I’m just helping, Mom.”

“Go set the table,” she said. “Evan! Turn your game off and come down here.”

“He’s not eating,” said Maddy.

“The hell he isn’t.”

“Mom, you said hell. That’s not nice.”

“Sorry,” she said. “Evan! Now!”

“He said he doesn’t want to meet Blane.”

“Maddy, you need to call him Mr. Barrington, okay?”

“Why? Mason’s a grownup and I call him Mason.”

She pinched the bridge of her nose. “Can we please not talk about Mason tonight?”

Evan appeared in the doorway. “What about Mason?”

She looked up at the ceiling, willing her anxiety away.

“Are you finally gonna let me play with him?”


“Why not?”

“Because he’s a convicted felon and you’re eleven,” she said. “Listen guys, I need you to be on your best behavior tonight. This means a lot to Mommy.”

Evan smirked. “So you can impress Blane?”

“Evan, please. It’s Mr. Barrington, okay?”

He crossed his arms. “I’ll be on my best behavior if you let me do push-ups with Mason.”

“This is not a negotiation,” she said, removing the cranberry sauce from the refrigerator and slamming it on the counter. “I’m the parent. You’re the child. You do what I say!”

The doorbell rang. Evan ran down the hall and flung open the door. The sound of his invisible machine gun filled the house.


Blane threw up his hands. One held a bottle of wine, the other a bouquet of flowers. His smile was uncertain. “You must be Ethan.”

“His name’s Evan,” said Maddy, ever the little hostess. “Mine’s Madison. Happy Thanksgiving, Mr. Barrington.”

“Yeah, Blane, happy Thanksgiving,” said Evan. “Is that your car? I like trucks. How many push-ups can you do?”

“Well, at the club we generally use the Nautilus—”

“I can do forty,” Evan shouted, dropping to the floor for a set.

Brooke stepped across her grunting son and kissed Blane on the cheek. “Hi.”

He frowned at Evan as he presented her with the flowers. “Certainly a rambunctious little chap, isn’t he?”

She fought to maintain her smile. “He is. Can you excuse us for a sec?” She reached down and seized Evan’s wrist, pulling him across the foyer tiles to the downstairs bathroom. “Madison,” she called over her shoulder, “will you put those flowers in the kitchen for Mommy?”

She slammed the door. “Evan, you know how much this means to me. Why are you doing this?”

“Because I don’t like him! He’ll never take Dad’s place!”

“Shhh. Hold your voice down. You’re humiliating me.”

“You said you valued my opinion.”

“And you agreed to give him a chance.”

“I did. He sucks.”

She grasped him by the shoulders. Her husband stared back at her through his eyes. He was such a miniature David. From the slope of his forehead to the length of his lashes to the flare of his nostrils.

“Evan, can we just get through tonight? Please. For me. Blane is a lawyer. You’re my evidence. Evidence that I’m a good mom.”

“Will you let me do push-ups with Mason?”

She exhaled. “One hour. That’s it.”


She rolled her eyes. “You know what? Fine. But I’m putting you on medication.”

Chapter 19: Sticks and Stones
Laughter. He looked up from under the hood and saw his neighbor, Tammy, holding hands with a tall stranger in tight yellow jeans.

He shook his head. Tight yellow jeans. Times had changed.

The old fuel pump was attached to the engine block by two parallel bolts and thirty years of inactivity. He loosened it with a 9/16 socket wrench and set it on the radiator. He was about to install the new one when another wave of laughter hooked his attention, this time closer and more childlike.

Two eyes popped over the right front quarter panel, then two more.

“No way,” he said. “This isn’t the hangout, guys. You know your mother doesn’t want you down here.”

“Evan talked her into it,” the little girl explained.

He glanced over his shoulder. Down the street he could see the blonde sitting on her porch, arms crossed, watching.

“But we’re not allowed to go in your house.” She held up a cell phone. “And we have to call 911 if you act weird … and run.”

He shook his head. “You have a cell phone? But you’re only what, eight?”

“Seven,” she said. “When I turn ten I’m getting a smart phone like Evan. His can do everything. Mine can still take pictures though. Say cheese.”

He turned his head. Too late. The back of her phone said Maddy in purple bubble letters.

The boy was holding his up too. “Mine records video.”

Mason fitted the new fuel pump on the bolts. “Well listen, I’m honored that your mom let you come down here and…” He glanced up. They were still aiming the phones at him. “…and film me. But I’ve got work to do and honestly, I don’t think it’s a good idea. So you need to leave.”

The boy leaned in over the engine. “What kind of work are you doing?”

He ignored the question, tightening the bolts with the socket wrench.

“Yeah,” said Maddy. “We can help.”

He stopped and glared at her, summoning his most malevolent prison yard stare, one he had practiced and perfected over the years. “This is man’s work. Greasy. Sweaty. Bloody. There’s no room for little girls under the hood of this truck.”

“Yeah,” said Evan. “Man’s work. Go home, Maddy.”

“Little boys either,” he growled, leveling his gaze at her brother.

“That’s not nice,” said the girl, lip quivering, face reddening, eyes filling with tears.

Mason had dealt with a lot of things in his life. Heavy things. Stabbings, riots, solitary confinement, Alzheimer’s. But in that moment, he was totally unprepared for the tears of a seven-year-old girl.

He dropped the wrench on the engine block and hurried around the front of the truck. “Wait a second. Hold up. Where’s the tough little girl who didn’t cry when she skinned her knees out there in front of the mailbox?”

She stared down at her shoes. A tear fell on the driveway between them. “You’re mean.”

“Nah, not really,” he said, “I was just … I was just testing you.”

Her voice was barely audible. “Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will break my heart.”

He frowned. “That’s not how I remember that saying.”

Her brother rolled his eyes.

“Come on,” said Mason. “I actually could use some help with something.”

He lifted an eight-foot piece of cut garden hose and three paint buckets from the bed of the truck. “Either of you guys ever siphoned any gas before?”

They shook their heads.

He popped the gas flap and unscrewed the cap. “Take a whiff.”

Maddy wrinkled her nose.

“What is that?” said Evan. “That’s not gas.”

“Not anymore. Turpentine. It’s what happens when gasoline sits for thirty years. So in order to get this old dinosaur running we need to get that stuff out of there and replace it.”

“Why don’t you just buy a new car?” said Maddy.

“Because they don’t make them like this anymore. Plus my mom and dad bought it for me when I was sixteen. It has sentimental value.”

“Sentimental value,” she repeated, testing the words.

He handed her the hose. “So here’s what I need you to do. Can you feed this into the gas tank? All the way down. Just like that … good.”

He turned to Evan. “All right, man. It’s on you. I want you to blow.”

Evan stepped forward, unsure.

“Go ahead, dude, straight into the hose. Perfect. Hear it bubbling?” He took back the hose. “Okay, this is a thirty-gallon tank. The dash says we’re half full. So that’s like, what, twenty gallons?”

“Fifteen,” said Evan.

“Testing you,” Mason smiled. “And those buckets are one gallon each. So what I’m going to do is draw that stuff up into this hose, get it draining good, then as each bucket fills, we’ll dump them in shifts, fifteen trips, like a relay race.” He glanced at the girl. “You take the first one.”

“But where should I dump it?”

He nodded toward the side yard. “Back behind the river birch, in that big box of sand.”

“What’s the river birch?”

“The tree with the cool bark.”

He knelt beside the truck and began to nurse the putrefied petroleum up into the hose, sucking hard enough for extraction but carefully, so as not to get a mouthful of turpentine. Once he felt it surging, he tipped the hose into the first bucket. Glug, glug, glug, it filled quickly.

“Ready Maddy? Take off! Evan, you’re on deck.”

At the midway point of the second bucket, the hose dripped to a stop.

“What happened?” Evan asked.

“Hose probably wasn’t deep enough in the tank.” He withdrew it partially then fed it in again.

Maddy came running back. “The river birch does have cool bark!”

He was about to restart the siphoning process when Evan said, “I wanna try it.”

Mason raised an eyebrow. “I don’t know, man.”

“I can do it.”

He shrugged and passed him the hose. “Okay. Just remember, when you get it coming up, back off and stick it in the bucket.”

Evan put it to his mouth, puffed and breathed, cheeks hollow, eyes wide behind his bifocals, until the brown fermented gas was spilling down his chin. He coughed, spat, heaved. “Ughck!”

Maddy giggled and snapped a picture. “Wash it out Evan! Hurry!”

“Come on, man. The faucet’s over here.”

While he was supervising the rinsing, a hand tugged his shirt. He looked down at the girl. “Yeah?”

“What’s that tree behind the river birch?”

“Crepe myrtle,” he said without looking.

“What about the one by the fence?”

“The stuff growing on the fence is Confederate jasmine. The big tree is a Cleveland pear.”

Evan removed his glasses and cleaned them on his sleeve.

“Did you already pick all the pears?”

He shook his head. “It doesn’t grow pears.”

“Weird,” she said, snapping a picture with her phone. “How do you know so much about trees?”

“My mom taught me.”

She sighed. “I love your mom.”

He glanced at the empty chair beneath the river birch. “Me too.”

©2018 Sticks & Stones by Malcolm Ivey
All rights reserved.

Chapter 17: Adolf the Blonde

Sticks and Stones Kindle Ready Front Cover JPEGHe played solitaire at the table, munching on dry ramen noodles and humming along with the radio. “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” As he listened, it occurred to him that Nirvana was not even a band yet when he was arrested; now they were playing on the classic rock station. He shook his head.

The practice of measuring time against pop culture was a deeply ingrained pattern for Mason. Over his three decades of incarceration, child stars grew up and flamed out, sex symbols grew old and became activists, world leaders ascended to power and died, empires collapsed and resurrected, compact discs rendered cassette tapes obsolete only to join them in extinction soon thereafter. High school phenoms became college phenoms became first-round draft picks became first ballot Hall of Famers … all while he languished in the time capsule.

He knew that the concept of time was supposed to be illusory. All the great minds from Einstein to the Eastern gurus to David Foster Wallace had said as much. But it sure didn’t feel like an illusion when he was serving it.

Nirvana faded into the Black Crowes. He cycled through a losing hand of solitaire, reshuffled and dealt again. He had just laid his fourth ace when he heard a knock on the front door.

He turned down the radio and with the bag of ramen, walked barefoot across the carpet, shaking noodles into his mouth on the way.

Another knock, louder this time.

He checked the peephole. His heart sank. There beneath the porch light, hands on hips, stood Adolf the blonde, mother of two.

He opened the door. “Yeah?”

“Armed robbery? Aggravated assault? Seriously?”

He stared down at her. “Can I help you with something?”

A crease appeared between her eyebrows. “Yes, you most certainly can,” she sputtered. “You can … put a shirt on!”

He leaned his head back and shook another helping of dry noodles into his mouth, crunching them as he spoke. “Anything else? Something neighborly perhaps? A stick of butter? A cup of milk?”

“How could you?”

“How could I what?”

“How could you rob an innocent person at gunpoint?”

He shook his head. The neighborhood rumor mill was already churning. Might as well get the truth out there before I’m portrayed as some salivating serial murderer.

“I was a senior in high school, fell in with some wannabe thugs. They robbed a check cashing place across town. I drove the getaway car. It cost me thirty years of my life. But I paid my debt, day for day. Now I’m just focused on doing the best I can with the time I have left. Does that answer your question?”

She opened her mouth then closed it.

“Good,” he said. “Thanks for stopping by.”

He moved to shut the door. She stopped it with her high heel, yelping in pain from the impact.

“Are you okay? Those shoes don’t look like they’re made to stick in doors.”

“I’m fine,” she said, grimacing. “Listen, my kids—”

“I understand.”

“No, you don’t. Their father, my husband, is … deceased. There’s a hole in their lives that…” She began to cry. “I can’t fill.”

He didn’t know what to say. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay,” she sniffed, mascara running. “I’m okay. I just … I saw the way Evan was looking at you the other day. Maddy, too. Look, I’m sure you’re a really good person, but I can’t allow … I just, I can’t.”

“I get it.”

She turned and hurried down the porch steps. Her heel caught in a crack in the concrete, turning her ankle and almost causing her to trip. When she recovered, she glared back at him as if it was his fault, then limped off into the night.

“Nice dress,” he said, watching her go.

©2018 Sticks & Stones by Malcolm Ivey
All rights reserved.
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