Friday 31 March 2023

Bohemian Twist by Bobbi Bowden,double cappuccino

 As she entered the unfamiliar café, Kate glanced at the understated sign in orange, retro-style letters—The Bohemian. She wondered why Maggie suggested this, of all places. But who was she kidding? Not having seen or spoken to Maggie in two decades, she couldn’t pretend to have any idea who her old friend would have become or the types of places she might now frequent.

Kate felt exposed in a way that brought to mind that recurring dream where she would find herself in a public place, only to look down and see not a stitch of clothing. She was tempted to look down now just to make sure. Instead, she pulled her cashmere scarf tighter around her neck. Spotting an open table in the far back corner, she thought, here goes nothing. She sat down quickly, not removing her coat. Were people staring at her? She crossed, then un-crossed her legs. Abruptly, she began to yank at her scarf to loosen it. For a second, she imagined making a break for the door.

The place gave her vibes of one of those hipster joints where one might be subjected to some tatted-up outcast with more metal than sense in her head, dramatically croaking out bad poetry in the name of ‘art.’ Or worse, one of those angsty ‘singer/songwriter’ guys who show up, pull out a guitar and suddenly become Don Juan—the girls he seduces unaware that he resides in his parents’ basement, masturbates to comic books, and lacks essential hygiene. As if on cue, Kate noticed a man in a leather jacket, guitar case in hand, beginning to set up on a makeshift stage. ‘Oh, you’ve got to be fu—’


Standing in front of her was an attractive 30-something woman sporting an ankle-length dress, which Kate felt confident had served as a feed sack in its former life. The slow realization dawned on her. Maggie

Maggie pulled off a puke-green knit cap, out of which flowed the same long, dark locks of her youth, only having taken on some natural wave, likely due to the intermittent silver strands woven throughout.

Doesn’t color her hair. No makeup. Same eyes, only the skin around them older, wiser. What did I expect, for her to still be 17 and dressed in her cheer-leading uniform? Perhaps… What is her style, anyway? Granola? Bohemian? Bohemian with a twist of… what—farmhand chic?

With a wry grin, Maggie said, ‘so do you have me pretty well sized up now?’ When Kate neither responded, nor stood to greet her, Maggie said, ‘may I sit?’

Kate lifted her hands in mock surrender. ‘Be my guest.’

Maggie cleared her throat and took a chair. They each held the other’s gaze for a moment.

‘Why are you here?’ Kate said, finally.

‘Just passing through. I try to make it to Chicago a couple times a y—’

‘Why are you here… in this…’ she fluttered her hands around and continued, ‘this weird place… with me? After twenty years, Maggie. With not a word from you in all that time. I thought you were dead!’

‘Of course, I’m not dead.’ Maggie briefly scanned the room, noticing that a few patrons nearby were now looking in their direction.

‘Well, yes. I can see that now.’ Kate wrapped the scarf even tighter, then yanked it off, crumpling it onto the table. She immediately stood and began fumbling with the buttons of her coat. Muttering under her breath, she proceeded to yank at the coat as if meaning to rip it apart.

‘Are you okay?’ Maggie said.

‘Do I look okay? Feels like a freaking oven in here.’ Kate closed her eyes, drawing in a deep breath and pushing out an exasperated gush of air. She then looked down, deliberately pushing each button through its respective hole, and finally slid the coat over her shoulders, neatly draping it over the back of the chair. She once again sat, smoothed back the sides of her hair, and cleared her throat.

Maggie, amused at the display, but not daring to give herself away, waited for Kate to compose herself. ‘Shall we order coffee?’

No response from Kate.

Maggie waved over a waiter. ‘Two cappuccinos?’ She looked to Kate, who stared back impassively. ‘Ahem, two cappuccinos, please. That’s it.’

Turning her attention back to Kate, Maggie said, ‘I enjoyed your book, by the way.’

Kate was stunned, as she’d self-published the novel under a pen name, and judging by the volume sold, she’d assumed her parents had bought the lot of them. But she didn’t respond. She needed more information.

‘It’s okay,’ Maggie said. ‘I wasn’t angry about the book, and I won’t ask for royalties.’ Kate found the slightest hint of a grin on Maggie’s face. ‘And I approve of the name, Skye. Perhaps it suits me better than Margaret. However, I do find it interesting that it was presented as fiction. Seemed a bit… semi-autobiographical to me.’ She paused, waiting for Kate to look at her. She did not. So, Maggie continued. ‘I do have one question though. Nearly the entire thing consisted of letters you’d written to me. Did you really write all those letters, or was that just a literary device?’

Kate had imagined this moment so many times—of sitting across from Maggie and unleashing all of her bottled up rage—forcing Maggie to understand that her selfish actions didn’t ruin Kate’s life. She wanted to tell her that even though Maggie had tried to destroy her, Kate was somehow able to overcome the betrayal and eventually pull herself out of despair to become a strong, successful, functioning member of society, who never really needed Maggie after all, thank you very much… But in that moment, sitting across from Maggie, Kate was transformed once again into that confused, 17-year-old girl, lonely and insecure, and on the brink of so much worse.

Attempting to keep her voice even, Kate began, ‘I probably wrote you a hundred letters, Maggie. They were my way of keeping you real and of making sense of your abandonment of me. What I chose for that shitty book, which was actually more of a therapeutic exercise, was a conglomeration of all of them. After you left, you—or the idea of you—consumed me. No, devoured me. You’d become my sounding board for everything happening to me, for everything that had ever happened to me. You began to fill every void. Some people talk to themselves. Well, I talked to you, Maggie.

Just then, a rail-thin man in too-skinny, skinny jeans the color of a goat’s ass, materialized out of nowhere and plopped two cappuccinos in front of them, before flitting away. Kate rolled her eyes, then continued.

‘Some days, you were my best friend. Some days you were the cause of everything that had ever gone wrong in my life. You were my imaginary friend, since you no longer existed.’

‘I existed,’ Maggie interrupted.

Kate could feel the flame rising up from somewhere in her chest, engulfing her neck and head. She spat the words, ‘Not to me! I didn’t even know if you were alive. Sometimes you felt like a damned ghost, haunting me. Hell, I began to wonder if I’d only imagined you all along. One thing is for certain, Maggie, it seems you were always my muse, for better or worse.

Maggie cradled the mug of steaming coffee, eyes downcast, absorbing the reprimand, without reciprocating. She worked her mouth into a sad, but knowing smile, as if expecting the verbal onslaught.

Softening just a bit, Kate continued, ‘On the phone, you said you got my number from my mom. When did you have contact with my mom?’

After a pause, ‘Kate, I never stopped having contact with your mom.’

‘What do you…’ Kate’s voice trailed off.

‘Your parents were the closest thing I had to parents. They helped me out of Sandusky. When I turned 18, they were instrumental in relocating me and settling me into a new life.’

‘I’m sorry. What?’ Kate could hear leather jacket guitar guy now crooning in the background, grating on her nerves.

‘I assumed your mom eventually told you where I was living.’

‘Maggie. Oh wait, I’m sorry. Margaret, Of course I didn’t know where you were. Don’t you think I would’ve come found you, had I known where you were?’

Maggie’s face dropped as she could see that Kate finally understood.

‘Oh, I see. Of course. You knew I would come to you, which is why I couldn’t know.’

‘Kate, listen, your parents were looking out for you, doing what they felt was in your best interest, both our best interests. They understood that I had to get away from my parents, my loser boyfriend, my reputation. If I’d stayed, I would’ve just drug you down with me. They wanted more for you. I wanted more for you. Believe me, we did you a favor.’

‘A favor? I didn’t know how to live without you!’ Kate said.

‘Exactly. You just said it all. I was a baby with a baby on the way, abusive parents, no money, no future. Yet I was solely responsible for your happiness. Do you have any idea what kind of pressure that was for me? Kate, listen, you needed your college experience, to branch out, find yourself, all those things that people of privilege have the luxury to explore.’ Maggie took a moment to collect herself. ‘Sorry. I just mean that I knew you had the support system and the means to come out of everything okay. I didn’t know that to be true of myself.’

Maggie shifted in her chair. After pausing a beat to allow the dust to settle, she tried to lighten the energy and said, ‘Are you going to drink that or what?’

Kate looked down as though she wasn’t sure what Maggie was talking about. ‘No. I fucking hate coffee.’

‘Huh.’ Maggie smiled and shook her head. ‘Kate, our worlds had just become too different. We really had nothing in common anymore.’

‘We had history. History’s not nothing, Maggie,’ Kate said, as Maggie’s name caught in her throat.

‘No, history is not nothing. But it also can’t make up for what’s lacking in the present. You just couldn’t handle what happened with…’ Maggie trailed off, and for the first time, appeared to Kate insecure.

‘What, the pregnancy?’ Kate said.

‘Well, the pregnancy and how you judged me for my choice to… end it. But also—’

‘I didn’t judge y—’

Maggie put up a hand to stop her.

‘What? Kate demanded.

Eyes now downcast, Maggie took in a long, deliberate swig, seeming to study the chemical components as she swallowed. Then, something unexpected. Kate followed a single tear as it slid down Maggie’s cheek. Maggie sniffed and used an index finger to quickly wipe it away.

‘Kate. It took too long to get here, I know. And maybe it’s too little, too late. But I need to tell you something.’

‘What have either of us got to lose at this point?’ Kate said.

Maggie drew in a long breath, then articulated the words, ‘I wasn’t just knocked-up by my loser high school boyfriend. As if that wouldn’t have been bad enough, it was actually something much worse.’

Kate simply stared at Maggie, wondering what other possible option existed.

‘It was… Lou’s,’ Maggie said, not making eye contact with Kate.

Kate stared intently at Maggie, eyebrows scrunched, not seeming to comprehend.

‘Wait,’ Kate said. ‘Lou-cifer?’

‘Yes. He wasn’t just my mom’s mean, alcoholic boyfriend, Kate. He was a really, really bad guy. Evil. You have no idea how much so, because I never allowed you to know. I’m only telling you this because I need for you to understand that I didn’t run away from you. You were… collateral damage.’

Kate was thinking back to all those dozens of nights Maggie spent at her house over the years, more than Maggie had spent at her own. Kate had known Lou was abusive to Maggie’s mother. Hell, everyone knew that. And maybe she even knew that he had pushed Maggie around at times, but what Maggie was telling her now was unfathomable. All she could bring herself to verbalize was, ‘I’m so sorry.’

‘I know,’ Maggie said.

‘I would’ve helped you.’

‘You couldn’t have saved me,’ Maggie said, eyes pleading for Kate to understand. ‘Now, you see that I had to leave, don’t you?’

They looked into one another’s eyes, both imploring to be heard by the other. All the memories, all the love they ever held for each other, the heartbreak, the injustice of it all, whittled down to a collection of blurry snapshots—like something slippery they could feel, but couldn’t quite keep hold of.

Maggie stood, puke-green cap in hand, and pulled her wrap firmly around her trembling body, which now appeared to Kate much smaller and more fragile than she’d remembered. Maggie smiled, but not at all with her eyes. Then she turned to go. She took a few steps toward the door before Kate jumped out of her chair, nearly toppling it. She grabbed Maggie, spun her around, and embraced her friend for what they both knew would be the last time. They held tight to one another for several beats.

Maggie was the first to pull away. ‘Hey, we have history and history’s not nothing.’ Maggie turned, hesitated for a few weighted seconds, then walked out of The Bohemian and back into the frosty world.

Kate scrutinized the odd place, all those eyes on her. She considered how strange life is, how one event or choice will alter every one that comes after, how holding onto one thing that may not even be real or true, can dictate your entire life if you let it. She felt more enlightened, yet more confused, than ever.

Kate desired more than anything in that moment, to still have her mom. She longed now for the chance to tell her mom, Thank you. Thank you for loving me enough to do the hard things to protect me, knowing the pain it would cause. Thank you for taking care of sweet Maggie, who wasn’t even your child—for giving her a chance at life, knowing it could come back on you. Thank you for holding all of those secrets for us, because you knew that’s what was best for everyone. I hope that before you left this world, something I did made you proud of me, too.

Leather-jacket guitar guy was now belting out, ‘Here Comes the Sun.’ A little on-the nose, Kate thought. Just then, he glanced over, catching her eye, flashing a smile. She turned to look behind her. Nobody. She looked back to him. He winked. She blushed as she picked up the mug of lukewarm coffee, studying it, then took a reluctant sip.

‘Hmm…’ She examined the remaining liquid and allowed herself another swig, then swallowed the rest in a few long gulps.

‘It’s good. It’s really good,’ she said to no one in particular. She found herself laughing out loud, then covered her mouth, aware of the concerned looks. Then came the tears—hot, sloppy tears. She gave in and let them come. After all, she didn’t know these people, and she wouldn’t be back here. Or maybe she would…  

Too-skinny, skinny jean guy spotted her emotional outburst, and the speed at which he came to be standing in front of her was truly confounding.

‘Are you okay, Ma’am?’ His concern seemed genuine.

‘I’m okay. I’d just really like another one of these, please. Make it a double.’

About the author  

 Bobbi is a graduate of Indiana University Bloomington, where she resides with her partner, two teen daughters, and two neurotic dogs. She can often be found walking, reading, journaling, or connecting with her small, trusted circle. Her work has appeared in Shorts Magazine & Bright Flash Literary Review


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Thursday 30 March 2023

The Library by NT Franklin, single malt scotch, neat


Joe sat in the library, or what used to be the library. He glanced around at the bombed-out shell of the building and cried.

‘Why?’ He asked to no one. ‘A library. What type of savage bombs a library with a missile? Clearly a civilian target.’

Joe navigated around the overturned desks and stared at the empty shelves. No books. No staff. His happy place, his safe place, was gone. Blown up.

Joe looked at his clenched fists and tried to relax his tense shoulders. He closed his eyes and looked toward the heavens. His promise to his mother rang in his ears: ‘No, I promise I won’t take up guns and fight.’

Each room was the same. Furniture strewn about and no books. Joe plodded toward the exit and a spray-painted image caught his eye. It was the image of a book, and from appearances, hastily done. Next to it was 910.202.4.


Joe knew the Dewey Decimal System inside out; 910 was geography and travel. He arrived at 202 4th avenue and was greeted by Abby, his favorite of the library staff.

‘Abby, the library’s blown up and the books are gone.’

‘I know, we moved them.’

‘Moved them?’

‘Yes, to here. We’re underground in this abandoned parking garage.’

Joe looked around at the lines painted on the floor and the scratched-up concrete columns. ‘You could have asked for help; I’d have gladly pitched in.’

Abby shook her head. ‘We decided amongst ourselves that it would be staff only. We couldn’t take any risks.’

‘Risks? On me? When did I become a risk?’

‘It was just easier to keep it in-house,’ Abby said.

‘I see.’

‘I was really hoping I’d see you again.’

‘I promised my mom I wouldn’t join the military.’

‘I suppose scoliosis has something to do with her wishes.’

‘I promised I would not pick up a gun. She’s gone and I must keep my promise.’ Joe hung his head.

Abby smiled. ‘I’m glad you’re here now. We’d love some help putting the volumes in order.’

‘Where do I start? I don’t see any books.’

‘Come with me, down two levels. I’d like you to start in the room with the 000 books.’

‘Ah, computer science.’

‘The room has dozens of computers all online. There are other people in the room now.’

‘Cool. I’m pretty good with computers and I’m rather familiar with much of the library’s holdings of this topic.’

Joe hummed to himself while walking behind Abby down the dark stairs. ‘Wow, the stairs look like they’re not used recently with all the litter on the steps.’

‘Yes, Joe; that’s kinda the idea.’

Down two floors, Abby opened a nondescript door and said, ‘Here’s the room.’

Joe took a step in and stopped. ‘They’re no books in here, Abby.’

‘I know, Joe, I know. These are the best and brightest computer people in the area. None of them are in the military but they all want to contribute. Guns aren’t the only weapons, you know; wars are fought on many fronts.’

Joe stared at the tables set up with computers and tangles of wires snaking along the near wall and hanging from the ceiling at each computer station.

Abby walked to the end of the table and put her hand on a monitor. This station’s for you, Joe. What do you say?’

He surveyed the room and computers, then turned toward Abby. ‘In.’

Abby nodded. ‘Introduce yourself around.’ She pointed toward a young man wearing a knit hat. ‘That’s Chad. He’ll help get you started.’

Joe hugged Abby. ‘Thanks.’

Abby backed out of the room and closed the door.

‘Guns aren’t the only weapons,’ Joe whispered to himself.

About the author 

NT Franklin writes cozy mystery short stories, nostalgia short stories, and Flash Fiction and has over 140 publications on numerous sites. He writes because he can’t fish or do crossword puzzles all the time. 

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Wednesday 29 March 2023

Taken for a Ride, by Peter Richardson, cortado - something with a kick

 Tom was pleased to see the official rickshaw stand. He’d read about unlicensed rickshaws overcharging, or worse. Five rickshaws were lined up waiting for passengers. He quickly crossed the road and headed towards them. He was lucky, there wasn’t even a queue.

‘Mister, Mister.’

A strange multicoloured rickshaw rolled along beside him.

‘Mister, you want a ride?’

Tom looked determinedly ahead without acknowledging the man.

‘Special price for Yorkshire man.’

That made Tom look up. How had he known Tom was from Yorkshire?

The rickshaw rider smiled. He was a thin man, coloured a deep bronze by the sun. He wore a faded T-shirt that looked a several sizes too small. Its tightness highlighted the man’s taught muscles. Tom looked down, inspecting the man’s legs. The bulging calf muscles reassured Tom of the man’s credentials as legitimate rickshaw rider.

He looked up. The man was smiling in what he probably thought was a reassuring manner. Tom was about to wave him away when his eyes fixed on the flat cap. He was sure the man had been wearing a gaudy baseball cap like every other rickshaw rider in the city. But now he could clearly see that he was wearing a sensible herringbone cloth cap in black and grey.

Tom’s body reacted instantly to the comforting sight and it wasn’t until he was sat in the rainbow striped faux leather seat that his mind had worked out how ridiculous it was to wear a hat like that in heat like this.

The rider pushed hard on the pedals and slowly gathered speed. Tom expected to see disgruntled faces as they passed the official rickshaws but instead all five drivers turned, smiled and give a small round of applause.

Tom leant forward

‘Ahem, excuse me sir. How much?’

‘Special price. Special price for you young sir.’

‘Yes, but what actually is the special price.’

‘One story.’

‘For how far?’

‘To the end.’

‘I’ve only got dollars. How much is one story in dollars?’

‘A story is priceless and has to be given away.’

‘I’m sorry sir. I don’t understand. I think you should stop.’

‘No stopping now young sir. It is too dangerous. Once a story has started it gathers momentum and cannot stop until it is complete.’

He thought about jumping out, but they had gathered more speed than he imagined was possible. The man didn’t seem to be straining but the ground was flying past. They were heading down a slight hill so that explained it. Ahead the ground rose and they would have to slow down. He would be ready to jump.

They started ascending but there was no drop in speed. If anything they seemed to be going faster. He thought it must be to do with momentum. Rickshaws were heavy and once started were hard to stop.

They seemed to be heading out of the city. He’d wanted a rider who knew the sites and could take him on a tour of all the famous places. He’d been warned. Why hadn’t he listened to what he’d read? Unlicensed rickshaws could be dangerous. They charged whatever they liked and didn’t always take you where you wanted to go.

‘What do you want from me?’ said Tom.

There was no reply.

‘A story? You want me to tell you a story. Is that what you want?’

The man seemed to relax. He appeared to have stopped pedalling and to have settled down on the bike’s saddle as if on a comfortable arm-chair in front of a fire in a cottage in the Yorkshire Dales with a small glass of brandy in his hand. At the same time his legs span round at a furious pace and the ground sped below the rickshaw’s wheels.

‘Start at the beginning,’ he said.

Tom gave a snort of laughter, ‘Once upon a time…’

‘Good. Good. A fine start.’

There was a pause.

‘Look. I don’t know any stories.’

Tom saw the man raise an eyebrow even though he was looking at the back of his head.

There was another, longer, pause and then Tom started to talk.

‘When I was a boy my dad told me that if you put your mind to it you could do anything you want. Be anything you want. Go anywhere you want.

He was wrong.

The world is not like that. I tried. I really did. At school I ran my hardest and never came better than third. I studied hard and never got better than a grade B. I mixed all the right colours but my paintings never looked real. I sang well enough but never made the choir. I acted in every school play but never got the lead.’

The rickshaw had slowed and was moving up the hill at a more traditional pace and then came to rest on a bend where they could look down at the city and its embracing harbour.

Tom saw multicoloured sails flapping in the breeze. That’s the kind of thing he’d tried to paint. Later he’d moved on to a camera and although the photos were good enough they never quite captured the essence of the place. The editor of the online travel blog seemed happy enough with them.

‘It has always been like that. I’ve always got on all right but never been at the top. Never been first.’

‘And is that what you want?’

The man stood up on the pedals and pushed. The rickshaw slowly edged back onto the road and up the steep gradient.

‘I had a girlfriend once. I’ve had more than one actually, but only one that mattered. She knew what she wanted. She’s in London. That’s the place to be if you want to work in fashion.

'I don’t mind London, but I wouldn’t want to live there. I like the people. You get all sorts of people, but they’re all out of place. They’re all Londoners, even if they come from Marrakech, or Madrid, or Mombasa. You don’t see the real people. Not unless you’re lucky.’

The rickshaw stopped in front of a small building that looked like a temple built for children. It had classic Ionic columns, with their scrolled capitals, which were easy to inspect as they were at head height.

There was no door. Tom bent down and entered the cool interior. He could just manage to sit on the stone bench without his head striking the roof.

‘What is this place?’

‘It’s a one-man temple. A cathedral you would say, but not quite on the scale of your York Minster. It was built in 1974 by a man called Ahmed. One day he had a vision of building a great cathedral in the sky. Something that would inspire people and bring them closer to God.’

‘But why so small?’

‘Have you ever carved an Ionic column from stone? It takes time. Ahmed was one man. But Ahmed set his mind to it and his mind said, ‘Are you mad? You’ll never build a cathedral at this rate.’ Ahmed realised that he could carve six small columns in the time it would take to make one large one.

And voila! A one-man cathedral, completed by one man, in one life time.’

Tom emerged back into the bright sunshine, ‘That’s a sad story.’

‘How so?’

‘Ahmed didn’t achieve what he wanted.’

The rickshaw rider helped Tom back into his seat with a knowing smile.

‘You are right. The cathedral was not what he planned. It wasn’t a grade A. It wouldn’t win in a race against your York Minster.’

The rickshaw dropped over the kerb back onto the road and started to speed up as it descended the hill.

‘But you are also wrong.’

Tom looked back and through the dust thrown up by the wheels the tiny cathedral looked full size. In a photo you wouldn’t even know that you had to stoop to enter.

He turned meaning to ask to stop for photos, but instead he shouted urgently to stop because of the speed.

Stunted trees flashed past. The front wheel seemed to bounce off the ground as if it was part of Santa’s sled readying itself to take to the sky. Ahead was the first of the many hairpin bends.

‘Stop. Stop.’

The rider wasn’t stopping. He was pedalling frantically as his legs tried to keep up with the enforced pace of the ride.

They reached the corner. Tom hung on tightly. The wheels on one side tipped up. He leant his weight against them. The rider leant into the bend and miraculously they were safely in the middle of the straight section of road heading down the hill.

Down the hill towards the second hairpin bend.

‘What are you doing?’

‘We are going to be the first. The first to descend with no brakes.’

‘You’re going to get us killed.’

‘It is possible that we may be the first rickshaw to fly. Although the flight may be short it will still be the longest.’

‘You’re mad.’

‘Is it not right to aim to be the fastest? The first. The biggest. The best.’

‘No. No. Not like this. No.’

‘How so?’

‘Please slow down. I don’t want to be the fastest. I just want to get down.’

The hectic speed had gone. The rickshaw was suddenly sedate. Tom looked back. Even the dust was settled and undisturbed.

‘Ahmed’s cathedral was not the biggest but it has certainly inspired many, many people to come closer to God.’

Tom was silent until the rickshaw was safely back on the city streets. They approached the rickshaw stand and stopped by the side of the road.

‘I feel that you have been teaching me something,’ he said, ‘but I’m not sure what it is?’

‘Teaching? Me? No sir. I am just a rickshaw rider. I am no teacher. My life is no lesson. I get up each morning. I ride all day and sleep all night. I have friends. I have family. I have food. I have fun.’

‘And is that what you want?’

‘A fine question young sir. It is what I have. And I can’t see what’s wrong with that.’

Tom walked past the five plain rickshaws.

‘You want a ride?’

‘No I’m walking.’

‘A rickshaw gets you there quicker.’

‘Walking is fast enough.’

Yes, thought Tom. It is, isn’t it? I don’t need to get there faster. I don’t need to get there first.


About the author  

 Peter Richardson is a writer based in Leeds. His stories often take you to unexpected places.

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Tuesday 28 March 2023

“DADDY KAYE” by S. Nadja Zajdman, a stein of mead

The pellet with the poison’s in the vessel with the pestle; the chalice from the palace has the brew that is true… Danny Kaye in and as The Court Jester, 1956.


On Wednesday, March 4, 1987, seventy-six-year-old David Daniel Kaminsky, known to the world as Danny Kaye, died.  Four years earlier, he contracted hepatitis as a result of receiving tainted blood during a transfusion while undergoing heart surgery.  Kaye’s clown’s heart succumbed at four in the morning.  

            I remember when he was hospitalized.  In the dead of winter, at three am, I woke with a start.  In order to fill the disturbing silence, I opened a radio just in time to hear the hourly news; “In Los Angeles, Danny Kaye undergoes heart surgery…”

            Six weeks later, my father was dead.  I’d never known a world without my father, and I’d never known a world without Danny Kaye.  They were born six years apart and died four years apart, short of a month, of hearts so full that they burst; both, on a Wednesday.  The two men were manifestations of the same spirit.

            I first saw Danny Kaye on his weekly television show in the early nineteen sixties.  I was eight years old.  It was a revelation.  Here was someone as warm and fresh and funny as my father.  The identification was so powerful that I took to calling him “Daddy Kaye.”  When I was twelve, my parents purchased tickets for me and my little brother for a matinee of Kaye’s one-man show.  He was past his prime; on the last of his world tours.  No matter.  I was entranced by Kaye’s dancing fingers, his twinkling eyes, and his witty rubber face.  Later, I cut out the program cover and tacked it on the outside of my bedroom’s closet door, where it hung for years.  Whether I was practising piano or reading in bed, Danny Kaye was always winking at me.  Eventually, my mother had him laminated.  Today Kaye is perched on the wall above my computer work station.

            In the days before streaming, before DVDS and even before video, in my early teens there was a series of old MGM features being screened at a local cinema.  Two of the movies being shown were those of Danny Kaye.  There was a suggestion box in the lobby.  With an assortment of multi-coloured pencils and the forged handwriting of non-existent fans, I demanded more Danny Kaye.  I got it, too.  I was a creative writer, even then.

            On a business trip to Toronto, my father found a recording of the soundtrack to the film Hans Christian Andersen, and a double album filled with musical monologues and tongue-twisting patter songs going back forty-five years.   My father handed me the records and scratched his head.  Nu, ein Gott und ein Danny Kaye.”  I can still reel off, by heart, the lyrics to Anatole of Paris and Tschaikovsky.

            When I was fifteen, my mother took me down to New York and Broadway to see the musical comedy-drama Two by Two.  Kaye played the bible’s Noah as a beleaguered Jewish patriarch harassed by a demanding God and equally demanding children.  Just before the houselights dimmed, over a loudspeaker a disembodied voice intoned, “Ladies and gentleman, there will be a change in the program tonight…”  I gripped my mother’s hand, and I think I heard her heart stop.  An understudy was replacing Joan Copeland, who played Noah’s wife. (In real life, Joan Copeland was Arthur Miller’s sister.) I released my mother’s hand, and we both began breathing again. 

            At the curtain call, Kaye singled out a young actress in the cast, and brought her downstage to say hello to her parents, who were in the audience that evening.

            Two years later Kaye was back in Montreal to receive an award at an Israel bond dinner.  Through back channels, my mother wrangled a ticket for me. Imagine, I got to spend an entire evening watching Danny Kaye eat!  I also got to attend the kind of function which was one of the prime targets of my father’s merciless mockery.  This particular evening outdid even his wild satire.  It was an Anti-Semite’s Delight of boorishness and vulgarity.  At the end of the evening, Kaye rose to give what one assumed was going to be an acceptance speech.  Instead, he launched into a maniacal impromptu monologue parodying the idiocies of the evening.  He was screamingly funny.  Everyone was howling so hard that they failed to recognize how savagely they were being insulted.

            Two years later, Kaye returned to give a benefit concert with and for the Montreal Symphony Orchestra.  I couldn’t attend because I was out of town.  I got in the same evening, and in the morning read how Kaye had entered from the rear of the Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier auditorium, tossing batons at the two-thousand seat audience.  And I missed it.

            I have thought it would be interesting to compare notes with Danny Kaye’s daughter.  People would tell me what a riot it must be to live with my father.  They did not perceive the underlying fury that fuels greet satire, nor that this radiant form of outrageousness is also a form of transcendence.  The difference between a village idiot and a court jester is awareness, and these two jesters were shrewd enough to mask their brilliance in controlled lunacy, knowing that in a mad world, playing the madcap is the most creative way of staying sane.  When I’d be asked what my father was like, I’d answer, “An East European Danny Kaye.”  The parallel took on poignant irony in the TV movie Skokie, when the zany who occasionally took on dramatic roles, here, played a Holocaust survivor.

            My paternal grandfather did not have the foresight of Dena Kaye’s—or perhaps it was desperation.  Mine was a merchant in Poland; hers was a tailor who’d emigrated from the Pale.  My grandfather stayed in Eastern Europe and most of my ancestors were murdered there.  When Kaye’s father was becoming a star on Broadway, mine was hiding in Central Asia.  They entered each other’s orbits but once, at an Israel Bond Drive in 1949, when the refugee from Hitler’s Europe approached the American entertainer and shook his hand.  Struggling to carve a new life in a new land, my father shortened it, but he left my mother, my brother and me the legacy of laughter.  It is the same legacy his American counterpart left to the world. 

            My father wasn’t famous, and the only celebrity he knew was as a Pied Piper to his children and their friends.  When David Kaminsky died, I fantasized that when he reached the place my dad called The Other Side, Abram Zajdman was waiting at the gate to shake his hand, and this time he would be recognized as a kindred blithe spirit, and a chorus of jiving angels would be snapping their fingers and flapping their wings, while Louis Armstrong wailed on his trumpet as rapturously as he did in the film The Five Pennies, and what mischief and merriment there promised to be as these two saints went marchin’ in.  

About the author 

 S. Nadja Zajdman is a Canadian author. In 2022, she published the memoir I Want You To Free (Hobart Books, Oxford) as well as the story collection The Memory Keeper (Bridgehouse Publishing.) 
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