by Brenda Asterino
2004 words

I just can’t shake this feeling that I’m overlooking something. Checking the top of her dresser, touching the hand carved frame of her parents, Netta gently arranged the silver-plated, antique brush and comb her mother gave her when she started her first job. She acknowledged to herself that something was eating at her. Taking a deep breath, she stepped back and quieted her splattering of thoughts and feelings. Flashes of the panic on staff faces started running through her mind, again. Poor Annabelle, she must be very alone and scared or very frightened if there’s been foul play. I pray it isn’t worse than that. “Oh, God, lead us from Darkness to Light.”

Mr. Watson wants to believe she’s fine. Looking up into the mirror, Netta sees the fright in her own face. Is this his denial of reality? “Oh, God, lead us from the unreal to the Real.”

Picking up the brush and running the palm of her other hand over the soft bristles, her thoughts went to her mother. Remembering those maternal encompassing arms so that worry and tension evaporated, comforted her heart. The smell of curry and saffron came back as if her mom was right behind her reaching for another hug. It was hard to think of her mother without also thinking of her father. Children here don’t get that sense of stability and unity. In some ways, her parents were like one person. There was always that solid ground and grounding in her home. They were united in their love for her. Letting go with another sigh, Netta felt more solid herself, more centered.

The pictures flowing through her mind came slower now. Maybe not in the right sequence, though. Mr. McPherson. Jane. Interruptions. Mr. Watson. Phil. Briefcase. Cracked glass on phone. Parking lot.

Phil Bradley’s face came to mind. She reflected on how she softened at his kindness. Her usual shyness seemed to evaporate. The name Annabelle intruded. Everything started jumbling together. Then, ease was replaced by disquiet again. “Staff should be sitting down together and going over all the steps we’ve each been seen or heard and all the possibilities,” she pondered out loud. Who should she approach with this idea?

“Something is just beyond my understanding. But it’s there. I can feel it. Maybe, if we put our heads together. I’m looking over the top of ‘something’.” Saying it out loud brought more energy to do it. Determined, Netta reached for her cell phone.


Troy Martin smiled as he got out of the shower and briskly dried off. He loved being at his sister’s place so he could have more solitude. Giving him time for his own thoughts, he could run through scenarios for his own personal plans. Real world: making plans for work and dreams. My dreams. And being with family that loves you.

Checking himself out in front of the full-length mirror, he flexed those biceps and triceps. Swiveling his upper torso, he regarded his quads and latissimus dorsi, stopping for a pose. Rotating again, he made his pecs do a dance, ala Dwayne Johnson from a few of his movies. Chuckling to himself, fantasies of winning Mr. Universe and Mr. Olympia filled his daytime dreaming. Soon, he’ll have his own superior muscle stack.

Using some of his money earned from around campus, he now had his American Natural Bodybuilding Federation membership. It cost 95 hard earned ones, but it means he had taken the first steps to his dreams. The money he would win in contests would get him to what else he wants.

Dressing in jeans and a tight T-shirt, Troy remembered his most recent chat with his father. “Dad, I’m a senior this year. It’s time I chose my own path in life.”

“Troy, my son,” with special emphasis on my son, “I haven’t been interacting with that dullard headmaster so that you can throw all this away on a body builders trophy. Don’t throw away our career path. I’ve worked hard to get you into the Academy and keep you in it.”

Nearly shouting, leaning toward his father and pointing to his own chest, “I’ve worked hard to stay in Westminster Academy. I did that, Dad. I’m doing that.”

Troy saw his father’s eyes grow wide with surprise.

“That not what this is about. You’ve dissed everything I love to do. The photography, the body building.”

Recovering his composure, “Don’t interrupt me again,” Don Martin stated harshly.  “You still get to do those things.” This time, his father looked at him more pointedly.

“I do those things so I have the money I need to work on my dreams. And the money earned helps Sis,” hesitating, standing straighter, starting to tremble, “your daughter, by the way.”

“She was stupid enough to get knocked up before she got out of college. That’s her fault. Then, she married a loser who left her after the second kid. And no boys, she couldn’t even get that right.” Don Martin walked in a circle around Troy. “Don’t make a mistake here, Troy. This is a chance to get in favor with the man who gave me this job. He’ll help you get into a good college. A job with him will be a sure thing. Hold the course I’ve outlined for you, son.”

Cringing at the word “son” said twice, Troy felt his face heat to beet red even now, remembering this exchange. He unclenched his fists, lowered the toilet seat and sat down rubbing his forehead.

Pushing away the ugly energy from his grasping father who wanted to live another’s life, what should be his own life. The memory of that last talk wouldn’t stop going through his head.

“You can earn part of your own way. It will make a man of you, not just a hideous muscle to look at.” Troy saw the scowling, obtuse face.

“What, Dad? What are you saying? I’m earning the money for the extra things. I just ask you to help Sis. You’re always bragging about making in the high six figures, but I have to bust my butt for scholarships. And that is okay, too. For God’s sake, Dad. For Sis’ sake, Dad. You should be helping her.”

Troy took deep breaths to calm himself. He felt sickened to his soul. Only after he started high school did he start understanding how his father had played around on his mother. Even when she was dying. And, later, Troy realized that the reasons there wasn’t enough money to get extra care for Mom in her final days was because Dad was spending the money on other women. Shaking those thoughts from himself, he turned his attention to today. He’d gotten better at that over the years. Turning his attention on something else besides his father.

Troy saw his father look at him again, continuing about his sister, “Well, what the hell are you helping her for? It doesn’t hurt you to earn your way. And you know I pay alimony to three ex-wives now. And number four will be happening soon.” Don moved closer to him. Troy watched the man who fathered him, someone he really couldn’t fathom. And he felt his stomach churn. “I have hearty appetites, son.”

Tired of replaying this memory that robbed him of hope, Troy rubbed the back of his neck when he thought about having finally said something to his Dad to shut him up. “You know dad, that free scholarship isn’t free.”


Watching his sister chop up vegetables for a near meatless soup, Troy made a mental note to pick up some organic chicken when he went for the other ingredients for the cookies.

“Troy, I just want to remind you that if you want me to make more cookies for you, you

are going to need to get the ingredients. You’ve been asking for increasingly more batches almost every month now. Please leave a note on the refrigerator every time you want another batch.”

Hey, Sis, I know how hard you are working from home and then, also, all the responsibilities with the girls. Is it too much for you to do? Do you need me to pay you more?”

Helping out with basic house repairs and putting up a swing set for the kids just wasn’t cutting it. He would have to find ways he could help her with more things, share more of the money from the cookies with her. Maybe, he could get a part-time job at the commons. Sometimes, they let the students, especially the townies, take some food home.

Troy watched her face as she turned to him from the countertop to get some potatoes. He realized he had never seen her when she wasn’t in motion. In motion for the girls. Hard work to make money. Always doing something to help him. And it was all taking its toll. She looked extremely tired, fatigued was a better word. More like bone weary, as Mom used to say. Dark circles under her eyes were looking almost purple.

“Troy. I appreciate your help around here. And you help with putting the girls to bed is a huge help. But I do need you to go for the ingredients. You’ve been mixing in some of the flavors with the flour for me, that saves me time.” And one more motion for him, she smiled.

“Just make sure you don’t use the flour for anything else. Okay?”


“Trompe, Trompe, Trompe, my feet were marching
Zoom, zoom, zoom, the picture shows.
Below the fat bird’s bed
If you will use your head
Room measurements revealed
What so long has been concealed.


Fort Landers Daily Mail
Fort Landers, WA
by Alex Porter, Staff Editor

Judson Trompe, carrying a book on gothic architecture, was seen running around the park-like grounds at 3 a.m. Outside, by a water fountain, he reportedly cavorted and recited his own poetry. Dancing with the book held up, as if a dance partner, he spun and moved into a slow waltz as he embraced the book to his heart. With a failed attempt at the refinement of earlier ages at Westminster Academy, his ascot was askew, barely tucked into his antique smoking jacket, witnesses claim. His leather, fur-lined slippers were seen sliding off. “It was hard to tell whether it was liquor or a clog in an artery,” reported a source unnamed. His poetry was worse than usual, albeit stated, according to witnesses, in a very calculating manner. One staff member suggested this was a reaction to medication. School officials for staff comments could not be located.

Security was called. It has been reported that it took them thirty minutes to arrive as there was some confusion as to who was on duty and where the crime scene tape was located. No tape was used as Professor Trompe was then found back in bed with one slipper missing. Security could neither confirm nor deny this report to this newspaper as to the event nor the sequence of the event.

Tenured Professor Judson Trompe has been a math instructor since before the present staff had been hired, so no one is quite sure how long he has been with Westminster Academy. While the school is commenting, “No comment,” many students have suggested on promise of anonymity that Professor Trompe gives his grades according to behavior favorable to Professor Trompe. No clarifications were forthcoming. Some students claimed they heard him say, “The mystery is with the feet.”

Board members assured parents and community that this will be investigated with the fullest vigor of Westminster Academy until the veracity of the witnesses and the event are uncovered. They also added that Professor Trompe has been an active member and sometimes a leader in all current trainings for staff. He is considered “a diamond among the staff lineage,” stated another unnamed Westminster Academy Board member.

Many calls were made to this newspaper from approximately 3:10 a.m. through 4:30 a.m. this morning.