Sunday, December 29, 2019

Not Even Not Zen 192: My Allegiance

My Allegiance

Come, fill your pillowcase with bricks
and pillow fight with me
while my head is unbreakable.
Fill your arrowheads with poison
and jab between my ribs.
My heart cannot be stopped.

After all the good you have done
there is no way to unmake me your friend.

Encase my feet in cement,
toss me into the bay,
watch me swim back.
You cannot hurt me, cannot lose me.
For you, I am resting
on a bed of needles.
Come, lie down on me.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Not Even Not Zen 191: Second Date

Second Date

When she steps through the front door
and wrinkles her nose, I know it's the smell
of all the old diapers hitting her.
Naturally, the house is a disaster.
It’s never been clean since the breakup.
Her eyes widen at the pile of bills,
porn magazines, and spit rags.  I guess
she realizes I'm having trouble
with all these things at once.

The guest chair crinkles with dried baby vomit.
There must have been a spot still wet
because when she sits down, she squeals
and rises, wiping her skirt.

And look, there’s that pacifier
I've been searching for, down behind the desk.
It’s been missing two months and of course
she finds it in the first two minutes.
She wipes off the dust, a sour look on her face
like she just got a taste
of something she won't swallow.

“At least he seems well-behaved,” she says,
bending to the crook of my arm,
the head of my child.

“Oh yes.  Sometimes.”

Last night, gone drinking with friends,
I had her in a grove of trees behind the bar.
She just bent over and we did it,
me with this woman I'd known for about an hour.
It was romantic and sexy.  She yelled like crazy,
then she laughed as we dressed.
Over the next glass of wine, seated at the bar,
she insisted on a second date.
Now, she holds out her arms stiffly
and gives me the face of fear
as I offer her a baby.

“Are you sure?” I ask.  She nods.
Naturally, my son cries and she tries
to smile, on the edge of tears herself.

“I guess I should get used to it.”
And I think, hey, she's nearly right
but still, she’s getting cocky, assuming I'm in love,
that I want her to stay
just because she's pretty.

“You know, we didn't use any protection
last night.”  She hands him back.

“Hah.  That's sort of how I got this one.”

We both laugh.  But I am holding a baby
over my shoulder and, for the moment,
she is studying me
and holding her one hand in the other.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Not Even Not Zen 190: On the Circuit

On the Circuit

When I'm running in bleak-white afternoon,
sweat glowing on my chest,
love-handles flopping over my shorts,
I remember Moon Pies.

Up the steep hill next to a dairy field,
pickup trucks screaming past,
gusts flapping against my back,
I think of peaceful moments with chocolate and tea.

It's those quiet times in the office,
vending machine lunches at my desk,
three-for-a-dollar peanut-butter bars,
boxes of crullers with soda,
that bring me here;
it's the cinnamon buns, choco-cookies,
peanut brittle, chips, and beer.

Yesterday, my boss said,
"A journey of a thousand laps
begins with a single donut,"
and we laughed over our midday meal
of three pastries each.

But now I run this ribbon of road,
sprinting, fast and fat,
up the winding, white line to my door
past my neighbors, who shake their heads
and laugh at the paradox
of girth and speed.

Then it's collapse in the shower,
satisfied by penance, and later,
I lounge late-night in my comfy chair
staring glassy-eyed at the computer,
slice of pizza in one hand, beer in another,
memory of the circuit behind me,
another thousand laps to go.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Not Even Not Zen 189: Fatty


Hard hands on your soft stomach,
dirt and grease on your shirt
as I pummeled you in the elementary school hall,
not letting you catch a breath,
pistons-in until you were red in the face
and grasping at my fists,
clutching at your stomach
whining for air, for a chance to cry.

Everyone called you Fatty,
even girls teased you,
fifth grader of a hundred-fifty pounds.
But you sat on my brother until he screamed,
made him twist and cry,
wouldn't let him breathe.

The feel of my hands in your stomach,
it was like pushing into foam rubber
in a good, white shirt
and I knocked you to the floor
and jumped on you as you screamed,
snot coming from your nose,
tears from your piggy eyes,
a whine from your lips, a cough,
punched you until I felt
the floor through your huge stomach.

You cried there, face on the dirty tile,
flushed with rage and humiliation
because I had been one of your only friends
and even now I can't say I'm sorry.
You were bigger than my brother, bigger than me.
but failed as a bully and everyone called you Fatty.

Everyone called you Fatty,
even I called you that
and now I can't remember any other name.
I was supposed to be your friend
but I'd never thought about why
you sat on younger kids.
It was only fifth grade and I didn't think.
For that and for not remembering your name,
Fatty -- for those things, I'm sorry.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Not Even Not Zen 188: Imposter


On a pool deck I wandered,
late at night, in a crowd with other swimmers.
We stood, laughing, splashing ourselves
with water that stank
faintly of sweat and chemicals.
I glanced past a red-haired friend
to watch sixty reflections in the glass.

In the black mirror of the shelter wall
it was hard to make out faces
and yet I knew us by our bodies,
our sometimes-awkward motions, strained postures,
and I was startled to see,
among the apollonian figures,
an intruder, a misfit.

"Who is that stump?" I thought,
"that goat, that dwarf,
that bulldog half the height of others,
torso twice as wide?"
I slapped my forhead, amused.
and the reflection slapped itself.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Not Even Not Zen 187: i am a nymph

i am a nymph

i am a nymph from the cave of Diana.
i saw Apollo overhead and did not warn my queen,
blew kisses to Collins
(because he smiled at where i stood).

i am a dryad in a woodless forest.
no one else saw Armstrong take his step.
the plain was bare (except for me)
when Aldrin locked the door to go.

i am a virgin in love with mortal men.
when Irwin came, i touched the small of his back
and did not turn him into a stag.
as Scott walked by, i stole an envelope from his pants pocket,
opened it later, and cried to find it empty.

i was the only bikini on the beach
when Young and Duke drove by.
how i longed for a ride in their buggy!
i would have taken them to the sargasso sea
and taught them how to float
but they did not whistle at me,
did not stop.  those boys.

i am the loneliest girl in the world.
(i pretended not to notice
when Apollo spurned my mistress.)
i would have sold my immortality for a kiss
but no one asked my name.

i sat near the old chariot, waiting,
when the mistress of the hunt awoke,
Artemis with her shield of blue,
lance of darkest night.  she lifted
one eyelid the size of my whole self,
moved her white, anorthosite lips
and asked why i had left her side.

i told her of the mortal men
and their flimsy, clever armor,
their hands like children's mittens,
their bodies like balloons.
i confessed my love and hope
though i feared the goddess's rage.

she did not curse me.
she did not raise her spear to smite the ground
but laughed, instead, and swore to me
they would never return.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Not Even Not Zen 186: Cause for Celebration

Cause for Celebration

Like, sorry for drinking
the last bottle of champagne.
My memory is fuzzy but
I remember I couldn't taste it.

And sorry for fighting
with your friend
who's name I don't recall.
How did that start, anyway?
I have rug burns on my elbows
and a bruise on my forehead.

It's embarrassing that I was sick
although I managed to confine it
to your bathroom, my shirt, and one shoe.
I think I used up
all your paper towels.

Oh, and thanks for the shirt.
I don't remember you giving it to me
but you must have.  That was nice.

I'm happy you're engaged, now.
That green sweater you gave her looked
as good as the ring, which was pretty.
I hope you enjoyed your party
and I hope I did, too.
I'll give you the shirt back tomorrow.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Not Even Not Zen 185: Autumn of Life

Autumn of Life

Take the scythe, it's morning
and the lost, September clouds hang low.
We'll gather corn for breakfast
as the sun burns through the fog.
Crows cry unseen from the mist;
a bob-white answers from the field of uncut grass.

Crack open an ear of corn
and all of nature hears it.
Sparrows hush.  The crows return to perch.
There are golden threads in my hands
and golden strands on the edge of heaven.
The cloud is lifting. 
A gust of cold air blows over.
Here the angels come
to their own harvest.

- Originally published as "Scythe" in Frederick Arts

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Not Even Not Zen 184: That's Okay

That's Okay

When I drink cheap beer and
shiver at the bitterness,
I think of you.
When I wonder about my best of friends,
my late-night talker,
my hand to hold,
it's you.

When I remember bodies together,
not sweaty or sexy,
just cool and naked,
lying on the sheets,
When I recall a head on my arm,
drool on my shoulder,
smell of morning air,
a silky head,
it's you, you.
It's you I think of
when I get lonely.  It's you I think of
when I'm in bed with others.
It was you when a woman rolled close
and asked me,
"What are you thinking?"
I had to leave her,
that woman.

When I go running late at night,
dog panting at my heels,
I feel light because of you.
When I overeat with relatives,
pressed upon with yams and gravy,
I say No more! because of you.
All these years I've remembered you,
so keen and sharp in waking hours and dreams,
and when we met again, your freckles and your beauty and
you're a full-grown woman now and
something in me just fell apart,
so happy and so sad all at once,
and the morning sun behind you,
shining from your bedroom glass,
from all the windows of your house,
blazing and sharp and cutting me;
let it cut, I thought,
and the light from blue-gray eyes,
a scratch, however deep, let it cut.

In your eyes I could see
I had lost you, never had you, except of course
as the friend you forever are,
full of joy and hug and glowing heart,
flowing up through the blue and gray.
It was a little awkward
and when you held my hand I trembled.
I was ill with joy and sorrow that day.
When we turned to leave,
when you closed your car door, I knew
it had been you,
it had never been you.

When my friends asked why I scowled,
when they got drunk with me,
swam with me,
took me on a roller coaster,
upside down through the sky,
it was you I saw.
When they took me to the ocean
and I jumped off the wharf,
they asked me if I felt fear
but no, I felt you.

Across the hundred miles I feel you
and worry you're embarrassed by
my awkwardness that day.
Don't be shy of all my shyness
or pained by all my pain.
Just give me time and all your friendship
and everything will be okay.
I had to write to tell you
everything will be okay
because everything will be, it will.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Not Even Not Zen 183: Boys Nite

Boys Nite

A beer in the car is a good thing,
sweet and cool after a day in the office,
tart, sour, an end to tension,
an invitation to the coming party.

(Don’t crush the cans on your forehead
because your cheeks get wet
and your eyelashes stick.)

So I was wiping my face at the front door,
five cans of a six-pack dangling by a plastic ring
-- and no one answered my knock.
After another beer, I kicked, impatient, walked in,
wandered around the green carpet, hand on hip.
“Hey!”  Noise.  I followed it, descended into a smoky pit
down the stairs carpeted by candy wrappers and spare change.
Halfway to the bottom, I heard laughter
billowing out of the nimbus cloud.

“Hey, man!”

Sweaty, big-bellied friends in t-shirts
are good to have when your pack is heavy;
they lighten the load without being asked.
“Where are we headed?” I said,
because that's always our problem,
and threw the empty ring-tab
onto the overflow of trash.

A committee is a good way to reach decisions,
four mouths moving in unison,
eight arms rising high with the passion of the moment,
feet tapping with energy,
eyes watering from second-hand smoke
until everyone agrees it's been a hard day
and we all need more beer.

So into the car, me in the back,
kicking the suicide passenger in his ass,
making wishes on the change at my feet.
“Why don't you clean this heap?”
someone asks, and the driver explains
floor change is a family tradition.
“This way, I'm never broke.”

At the beer store, we have not quite enough
for a case, so the driver goes back
and scrapes the floor for quarters.
We get another six-pack
and everyone is impressed by his wisdom.

“Love,” the suicide passenger snorts.
“What is it, anyway?”
No one answers.  We crack open the case,
start the engine, and fall into thought.
And I think, This is sort of like love.

I mean, I have no idea where we're going
and neither does anyone else in the car
and really, it doesn't matter.
If I could stop time, I'd stop it in the car,
with this beer to my lips
and we'd never have to get anywhere
because for us, man, that’s the problem.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Not Even Not Zen 182: Interstellar Waste

Inter-Stellar Waste

The boss was lizardish,
green and brown with a criminal record
but a regular guy, easy to work for.
He led the boys, Click-click and Dave,
from planet to planet;
and they picked up the crazy junk
no one else would touch;
neutron stars, strontium, powerful politicans,
acids, plague victims, antimatter,
and the odd corpse of a robot
which had failed in a bid for world conquest.

Click-click was the handler,
a black bug who hoped for better things,
like an end to Dave's abuse.
He begged to drive the truck but
the boss said "No, pilots need opposable thumbs.
It's in the union contract,"
so it was Dave who wove them through the web
of space and time, bottle in hand,
stubble on his jaw, complaining about his girlfriend,
wondering where his life had gone,
a thousand years off course
before anyone noticed.
They had to stop for directions twice
before they found the dump.

After Dave backed up the truck
and they jettisoned the load,
the boss swung them into orbit,
turned the oxygen to its highest,
and got them stoned on sweet air.
They felt like pals, then.

Click-click told them he would go
back to school for his degree.
The boss said, "Scum.
We're all just scum."
Dave stared into the black hole and
wondered aloud where everything had gone.

- Originally published in Beyond magazine

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Not Even Not Zen 181: Old Rhinoceros Face

Old Rhinoceros Face Comes

Old rhinoceros face comes to her
in love, though he is from another star and she
is a plump, heavy-jowled gardener
always on her knees, breasts hanging down,
dressed in two or three shirts,
who speaks only Spanish.

Every day he comes to her,
ridiculous in his hot-blue spacesuit,
and brings her flowers
which she has never seen before.

Pinwheels and double-diamonds, half-hearts and bubbles,
hanging ivy which floats, hydrogen in the peduncles,
plants with crude, petal-blue eyes,
ones that sing like birds from their thick, brick pots.
She cries, "Vaya, vaya," spurns them all,
but still he comes.

She shakes her coal-black hair, wipes dust from her cheek.
He swings his arm around in circles.
He has no elbows.
Inside the crystal helmet his crinkled grey skin
grows white as he raises his voice.  He implores her,
bends down on a joint which is not a knee,
but she is firm.

"Nunca," to his proposal, "nunca" to other planets,
to gray-green skies, gnarled constellations,
to broken moons of silver, rings like a crown
-- "no, nunca" to spires on spaceships, to hopeless romance.
She is too old for all that
though, once, when he tried to give her a rose,
she smiled.

- Originally published in Beyond magazine

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Not Even Not Zen 180: Memory's Cluttered Garden

Memory's Cluttered Garden

Back on its tarnished hinges
The gate of memory swings.
My soul wanders into the garden
And stubs my toes on things.
Stooped, I inspect an old nightmare.
Why did it once seem profound?
It's detritus from drug-addled college.
Who left this lying around?

Why do we save the tripe and debris?
Why not just laughter and bon ami?
The puddles of tears, the sweaty sheen of fears
Mar the landscapes of our memory.
Mental frost rots treasures on the vine;
Embarrassment over enlightenment burns;
A carefully tended rose withers on the stem;
Crabgrass grows over tender ferns.

We feed our blossoms wholesome water
And showers of laughter every night
But the sad truth of the garden is
Memory's buds flower stronger with fright.
Still this is an Eden of blossoms and surprises.
Still this place is precious and pure.
Pure what, I don't know, maybe pure clutter,
Or purely accident.  The past is unsure.

I swear I'll clean up the back yard
Some day when there's not so much rain
I'll weed out my memory's begonias
And plant fresh roses again.
For now I shut the gate of the garden
And turn my back on its noise
For it's better to live with the clutter
Than waste time with yesterday's toys.

-- A response to an old poem by Ella Wheeler Wilcox.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Not Even Not Zen 179: Truth Magic

Truth Magic

She turned over on the pillow and said,
"It's bad karma how we met.  All the
feelings of anger from others ...
aren't you afraid?"

"No.  It's good magic how we met."
He didn't even look up from his book.
"That was long ago, you unknowing,
in the hall between classrooms,
your smile innocent,
bright with joys of life."

She said, "You know what I mean.
We kissed and the world hated us
and everything fell apart."

"I know something stronger than karma."
He took off his glasses.
"I know the strength of doing right,
of caring, of love.  I know we tried
to keep everyone from harm.
That's what protects us."

She stares at him glancing at
the pages in his book.
He looks up.

"We've lit fires in the rain,
kept each other warm in the stream,
kissed each other awake,
sung songs in the darkness,
and loved each other out of sickness.
Love protects us."

“There are a lot of powers in the world
that some people call magic.”
At last, he closed his book and rose.
"But all we have to worry about
is the divine spirit between us."

-- for Diane, 1994

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Not Even Not Zen 178: Not More

Not More

Your affections are such a bore
I will not love you more and more.
You make me wobble, life unsteady.
My emotions are too strong already.

I won't grow fonder then each day
like I won't smile and I won't play.
I'll resist those darts from cupid
for I've no wish to look more stupid.

I'll won't grow my love like I won't grow a beard
'cause facial hair is just too weird.
I won't do it.  I won't fall
in love with you much more at all.

Our mooney eyes are much too dumb.
Our holding hands will make me numb.
From the love cup I won't drink.
I'll fold my arms.  I'll never blink.

Your mother's milk is just a lipid.
My hugging you is just insipid.
I won't let my soppiness surge and seethe
Like my heart won't beat and lungs won't breathe.

-- Eric Gallagher, for Diane, 2008

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Not Even Not Zen 177: A Bandit Accountant, 30.2

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Don't Trust Anyone Over

Scene Two: Drinking It All In

That evening, Denario ate his meal in the common room of his inn. He sat facing the door.

In an anxious way, he looked forward to the arrival of the wizard. Part of him wondered if he should go out into the streets and search for the fellow. Another part of him wondered why he liked the drunk at all. There was no good reason for it and quite a lot to be said against keeping his acquaintance.

Nevertheless, it was a relief to see a silvery-blue robe in the common room doorway. Denario's moment of doubt about the robe color was followed by recognition as Dumford poked his face into the relative gloom and glanced around. The accountant sprang to his feet.

“Dumford!” he shouted. He pushed aside his bench and thumped across the floor to give the wizard a brief hug and a shake of the arm. The wizard, who had looked wary coming in, relaxed. He chuckled and returned the greeting gesture.

“You know,” the wizard said. “I was hoping to find you here. This is usually my night to have a drink farther down the street. After you finish your dinner, do you mind a walk to there?”

That sounded dangerous. It was Oupenli at night.

“Not at all!” he heard himself say. So began another evening of drinking.

This time, he let the wizard get a head start. The young fellow, who was probably several years older than Denario but who seemed the same age or less since he was bereft of responsibilities, drank his mix of fortified wine and beer. Den stuck to a mild ale. His brew was so light that he could see through it to the bottom of his cup. Plus, he was careful not to look at the bottom of his cup too often.

The two of them started in about schools again. “They encourage people to be lazy and not learn for themselves!” they concluded more or less together. From there, the conversation took a mathematical turn and ended up in the area of maps. Although Dumford was not a map hobbyist, as other wizards were, he was an enthusiastic amateur. He understood the term 'topography.' He had tried his hand at chartomancy and, although he had been rather bad at it, he had seen that it was similar to other forms of magical tracing. The main differences were the use of geometry, which he had liked, and the extensive calculations based on geometric perspectives, which he had not.

Denario took mental notes. His guild had barely considered chartomancy. Yet he could see that there was an opportunity for surveyors and calculators to join in, at the least, and perhaps true accountants as well.

“And how are you feeling, today?” Dumford jostled him, elbow to elbow. His grin looked impish. “You were a bit wobbly yesterday. Did you manage to book your coach trip?”

“Four days out.”

“Ah, well. That's not too bad. Any more letters from your girl or from your apprentices?”

The accountant leaned back. So he had told the wizard about Pecunia. Or had he? Perhaps he had mentioned Carinde instead. She was the one sending letters, after all. It was a pity that she was practically a child. It was also a shame that Pecunia, a mature and beautiful woman, had ceased writing to him. Either way, Dumford probably had gotten the wrong idea.

“Nothing.” He put the ale to his lips. A thought re-occurred to him. It had been bothering him all day. “I've started to get nervous about my apprentices.”

“So you've said.”

“No, I mean, worried that they might hate me.”

“That's crazy talk.” Dumford waved and arm and sloshed his drink. “After all you've been through to get back to them?”

“They don't know any of that. All they have to think about is that I have returned months late. I have failed to send a third of the money from the job. It could look like I've robbed them or that I've eloped with my lady. Maybe they've gone hungry because of me.”

“Don't think like that,” Dumford ordered.

“I can't help it. And what about Spioniladro or Filchi? They are the current masters of my guild and they are against my counting house, I think. Maybe the masters have stopped teaching my boys. I was railing against the school, I know, but the youngest one still needs it.”


“And maybe Master Winkel’s cousin has dropped by and found that my boys have been living in what is no longer Master Winkel's property. Maybe he would threaten my apprentices with eviction. A lot of bad things might have happened. And they would be all my fault.”

“All yours? Don't you have a partner?”

Denario finished his drink. He sighed and thought.

“I do. Curo is okay. Still ...”

“Don't think too much. Apologize when you get there. Then tell them a bit of your story. I haven't even heard the whole thing, myself, but when you tell it, they'll soon be the ones apologizing. To you.”

Den laughed. It seemed so impossible. But it was a happy thought and Dumford chuckled at it, too.

Not much later, as they strolled from inn to bawdy house, the accountant patted his vest. He felt a lump and remembered that he had brought his blue coin with him. He had pocketed the magic darts, too, with the idea that he could show them to the wizard and explain. Since it was getting late in the spring, there was still daylight left, even after supper. It would not be a bad time for it. But as he fumbled for the coin, he lost his nerve.

He wanted Dumford to take it away. If anyone could cast a Send spell, this was the man. Captain Vir deserved to have his proof of royalty returned to him. A wizard like this one could surely do it. Then the matter would be off of Denario's conscience. But to explain his reasons would be to confess to treason of a sort or, at least, to his association with a known criminal. There was also the fact that he would appear to be waving around a coin on a darkening street.

Even more important were the darts. He didn't try to reach into his pouch for them. Showing off gold seemed worse than showing money. The tale of the how he had come by them would take a while, too, especially with the drunken, happy interruptions.

He got around to it eventually. He sat in what Dumford had described as a bawdy tavern and found that it was, to his relief, not a whorehouse but merely an overly-jolly bar where the servers were wenches in suggestive clothes that showed not only their ankles but a glimpse of their bodices. Fires burned in three hearths and torches sputtered on the walls. Two men at arms patrolled between the benches. They seemed to have their eye on a pair of unruly but unarmed knights. This was exactly the sort of place that Master Winkel had forbidden his apprentices to go. It wasn’t that such establishments were dangerous. The food was expensive.

Winkel didn’t even like these taverns when someone else paid. Years ago, one of the duke’s men had treated everyone in an officer’s tent to drinks and food in a place like this north of the city. Winkel hadn’t been mad about the red-head wench flirting with Buck, who was only thirteen at the time. That had seemed harmless enough. But Winkel had winced every time a round of drinks got paid. He really had not been able to enjoy himself seeing someone spend four times the price he thought was proper.

“What’s so funny?” Dumford asked.

“Didn’t know it showed on my face. I was thinking it was too bad that my old master isn’t here. Do you ever wish for things like that? To see old wizard friends?”

“A few, actually. The best ones were the misfits and oddballs. In fact, I’ve been thinking about Tim since you mentioned him. He was an odd duck and he was angry an awful lot of the time. But I liked him.”

“Oh!” Denario stood so fast, he sloshed his beer. “That reminds me!”

“You lost something? A coin? Your pants are on fire? I assume we are playing charades by the way.” Dumford kept guessing while Denario set aside his cup, patted himself down, peered into his pouch, didn’t find the leather case, patted down his other side, and looked into the same pouch again.

“This.” He thumped the white leather case onto the tabletop between them.

“You keep a pouch inside your pouch? You must be an accountant.”

Denario knew the reputation of his profession as far as being fastidious. But he didn’t know what to say about it. He decided just to move on.

“I’ve got a set of magical darts,” he whispered.

Dumford set down his drink. It took a lot to do that. Maybe he had a premonition.

“I need to return them. Did I get to tell you how I met Tim? I think I tried.”

“No. I didn’t hear.” Showing more self-awareness than Den had expected, Dumford added, “I may have interrupted.”

“It was in a tavern with a dart board, a bit like this one. A bit rougher, though. Dirt floor.”

“No bar maids?”

“Uh.” Denario managed, with a few stops and starts, to unload his jumble of a story. As Dumford later told him, the pieces came out in the wrong order. It took a different kind of wizard if to reassemble them mentally but, in a moment or two, Dumford started to chuckle ask the right sort of questions.

“Do you think Tim understood the math?“ he said.

“I’ve often wondered. Sometimes, no. But at other times, he gave me this look.“

“I think I know it.”

When he got to the end of the story, Denario stressed that the cases had looked identical. It was something that he and Tim had both been nonplussed by. It was a confusing and almost but not quite amusing detail.

“It sounds like Tim saved your life, maybe.”

“I don’t think I was quite certain of it at the time, but yes.”

“And you picked up this dart case of his anyway.” Dumford leaned his head in the direction of the wrap. The dwarfs had oiled all the leather in his gear including this, so it was probably cleaner and glowed brighter in the candlelight than it had ever when it was new.

“I passed by it. Then I recognized it a second late and realized that I must have forgotten my darts like a fool.”

“Like a panicked fool.”

“So I circled back to grab them. Tim saw me do it. He nodded. I’m sure he thought the same thing that I had.”

“But he had managed to put away his darts? That is the part I don’t quite understand.”

“I didn’t explain it to you. But I have thought about it. They are magic, as I said. I wonder if Tim could have trained them. They are nearly alive.”

“Oh, I doubt he could teach them anything. They don’t work quite like that.”

With a flash of irritation, Denario paused, hands on hips. The wizard was probably right, though. The ways in which magic seemed to give inanimate objects a sort of anima, a spirit, was not a matter than accountants could even guess.

“When he grabbed his staff to do his real magic, he didn’t have the darts. Whatever he did was very quick. I’m sure he didn’t have to think about it. The darts obey commands. So I think that he threw them back into the case. Do you know what I mean? It would be almost a reflex for him. He would know what he meant. The darts would understand and go.”

Dumford was silent for a moment. He took a swig, noticed that he had neared the bottom of his goblet, and waved it high for the barmaid to notice. The plump woman nodded at Dumford from the other end of their common table.

“That is a shrewd guess,” he said. He tossed back the rest of his drink. “For a dabbler in numeromancy, you have a good sense of how magic should work.”

“Thank you, I think. Anyway, I was going to show you the darts but I suppose that's not necessary. Plus, it's a bad idea to show them in public.” He lowered his voice. “I suspect that they are made of gold.”

Dumford snorted. “Robbery? Is that your worry?”

Den nodded.

“I could kill everyone here by accident.” The wizard's left hand stretched out, clasped down on the leather case, and pulled it close.

“Wait!” Den hissed.

“Oh.” Dunford‘s fingers found the correct end of the wrap and flipped it open. “Darts. Not what I was expecting."

Den leaned closer. Dumford’s hand obscured his view. “What do you mean?”

“Nice darts.” The fingers completely unrolled the leather. “Eagle-feather flights. Steel tips. All very expensive, I’m sure. But not magical.”

Denario slapped himself on the forehead. “I brought the wrong ones.”

“On the plus side,” Dumford said as he rolled the case back closed, “I find your confusion about the cases to be even more believable.”

“I’m very sorry, Dumford. I didn’t mean to waste your time. I only wanted to know if I could hire you to do a Send.”

“Good gods! That’s a very expensive spell.”

“I’m sorry to hear it. But the darts aren’t mine. I’m sure that Tim misses them terribly. It’s worth something to me to return them.”

“You said they were gold. It’s worth more for you to keep them.”

“But they’re not mine.”

“You are not even tempted by them?”

“Not really, no.”

The attendant, Sally, filled Dumford’s goblet from a glazed stoneware pitcher that seem to be reserved strictly for him. She glanced at the accountant's nearly full ale and gave him a knowing wink. Then she shook the pitcher and, noticing that what remained would not fill the next goblet, she carried it back to the bar.

“I am finding the honesty of an accountant to be disturbing.” The young wizard bent his head so that his expression was hidden from the candlelight.

Den put his fists on his hips. “Why?”

“No idea.” The curly hair shook from side to side. “Anyway, there was no need to show them. You were right about that. I was well acquainted with their appearance from your story. Gold all the way through. Even gold flights. There's a bit of impurity pushed out, by magic, to the tips. But that just makes them more durable. And each one is stamped with a D in the shaft.”

Denario hadn’t mentioned all that. Maybe he had said more than he remembered last night.

“Yes, D for darts. I thought that was the silliest part of the magic, although it is really very clever aside from that.”

“No.” He lifted his head at last. He gave Den a sad smile. “D for Dunford. You see, I made them.”

Denario sat down. He closed his eyes, fingertips pressed against his eyebrows and temples. It all made sense. He had already been sure that Tim had hired someone more sophisticated to cast the spell.

“He was rich, at the time, for Tim.” The wizard leaned back in his chair, the foot of the goblet propped against his stomach. “His caravan had come in safe. His boss had paid Tim with two real gold pieces and then he let Tim choose a bonus from the mule bags. Tim chose a granite slab that the caravan had carried for two trips without finding a buyer. The problem was that it pinged to the touch like it was hollow. So it was probably a sort of secret box, except no one could figure out how to open it.”

“He worked out the puzzle.”

“Not really. He’s too impatient for that. Fortunately, the slab gave way to the simplest opening spell there is.” A slight incline of his head acknowledged an unspoken point. “Obviously, he hid that from his supervisor.”

“And inside there was more gold?”

“There was a flat sheet of it. Tim hired me to make a magic cup out of the sheet. You know the type. He wanted the cup to always refill itself. That’s a fairly easy spell but it takes more power than Tim can manage.”

That seemed right except for one detail.

“You were hired to make a cup,” he pointed out.

“We had a few drinks.” Dumford shrugged. “While we did, we traded ideas about the vessel, whether it should have a handle like a beer stein or whether it should have etchings like a chalice. He decided no to both options. Then we considered the commands it might need to take and how Tim could transport it without getting his bags all wet. The problems that arise from having a constantly filling cup seemed to get more complicated the more we talked. Also, we both knew the spell would unravel if he hit a low-magic area. Would that be dangerous? We didn't know. That's why we usually leave such spells to the unseen professors.”

“What if it fell on its side? Would it flood the room?”

“Like that, yes. The magical cup needed more safeguards than we had originally thought. We shot a game of darts while we talked. Then we shot a few more games. Tim kept losing. He got mad about it, too.”


“You can see where this is going. We got sloshed and Tim demanded magic darts.”

“And you created them on the spot? Just like that?”

“No, I got blindingly drunk first. We argued about the darts over a pair of bottles of wine, I remember.”

Dumford cast his gaze upward for a moment, as if trying to recall anything more about that evening. After a minute, they both realized there would be no such revelation.

“You know, I’ve got the darts,” Denario offered. They were not with him, unfortunately, but he did have them. He pointed in what he believed was the direction of his inn. “I’ve got some money, at least for a while. Do you think you could Send the darts to Tim?”

“No, absolutely not.”

“Why not?”

“That’s a spell that doesn’t work right. For anybody.” He made a rude noise with lips. His head shook. A curly locked dangled down below his eyebrow. “Only the most sophisticated of wizards even come close to getting it right. It might as well be a non-functional spell.”

“Then why does it exist?” Now that he had a better feeling for the algorithmic nature of magic, his sense of outrage about any deviation from its logic was strong. “Why would anyone write it down?”

“It must’ve worked for one wizard, once. Or for a witch, I suppose. Whoever it was, they thought they understood something about how the world moved. Maybe they didn’t. Or maybe the world started moving differently since then. Anyway, it doesn’t work.”

“But banks use it.”

“They’re faking.” Dumford leaned back on his bench. He slumped with his right elbow on the table.

“How could they? Why?”

“The how of it is easy. There are any number of ways. Message spells work. So do drawing spells. I am sure that some bank wizards, who tend to be very specialized, are good at illusions. They can create the illusion that your precious painting or your lucky crystal has been Sent. If it’s important, and you have paid enough, they can even put your item on a coach to be delivered to a different bank branch in secret. What they actually transmit is the illusion. Then, if they need to, they make good in reality.”

Den thought about the why of it. The problem was, there were too many reasons including simple human stubbornness. But the principal reason, surely, was that no one wanted to admit a weakness.

If Dumford was right, the Send spell had stopped working. However, banks had advertised the service for twenty years. If some of the businesses thought that others could still Send objects, they would naturally want to cover up their deficiency. They would pretend to offer what they thought any other lender could offer.

Plus, if you had told a duke that you could Send his octarina across the sea, you might want to appear to do it rather than risk death by saying no.

“Well, if messaging works and casting a Send does not, can't I return the darts to Tim anyway?”

“What does a message spell have to do with it?”

“You could create a message from me to him saying that I have left the darts in a sealed bank box and giving the details about which one. Tim guards the caravan routes, so his job will take him back to Oupenli at some point. Then he can pick up the darts from the vault.”

“I don't trust a bank.”

“Well, I don't either, really. But I need to do something to get the darts to Tim. That's the important thing.”



They drank to the idea. They drank to other things, as well. The accountant knew he wasn't losing track of his drinks, only six so far, but he had to try harder not to lose track of the time. Two men-at-arms in leather jerkins started singing. They kept returning to the same sailing song, which was confusing, especially since along with it, Dumford returned to the same subject of discussion, which was his grudge against alchemists. Denario felt like the evening had started to go in circles.

Fortunately, the bar maid seemed familiar enough with the subjects of Dumford's tirades. She ignored him, filled his cup repeatedly, and in time brought him a note scribbled on a much-abused paper fragment.

While Dumford opened the folded scrap to read, Den caught a glimpse of the writing. He couldn't say why but he assumed the note had been composed by a woman. There weren't many females of less than noble class who were taught to write, of course, but a few figured out the concepts for themselves. There was something about the nearly illegible, looping scrawl that made him think that was the case in this instance.

“What does it mean?” Dumford complained to the bar maid. He carefully folded the paper.

“You know very well what it says,” she answered.

“If these words are her true intent, why won't she come to see me?”

“She says it's nothing against you, love. She doesn't want to be seen by anyone right now, not in public. That means not even with you.”

“Especially not me. It's my fault.”

“Don't be silly. Are you listening to either of us? It's nothing against you. That's what she keeps saying. Ah, I knew that this was going to be the way of it. I knew you would go on. She does not hold a grudge against you. You warned her.”

“But then ...”

The wizard lowered his voice. He hunched in at the shoulders as he drew nearer to the bar maid. Since he seem to want privacy for his conversation, Denario picked up his darts case and pushed it back down into the pouch of his belt. He scanned the room, searching for something to do while his friend chatted, and at that moment he noticed a couple of players at the dartboard.

He took his cup with him to the throwers row, an aisle between benches. On the way, he saw that the players had average skills at best, some good shots mixed in with haphazard ones. The board had been carved out of elm and soaked every night to keep it soft. This was a more traditional board than the cork ones but Denario did not like how elm wood never closed back up. It tended to develop pitting over time, sometimes developing holes as big as a fingertip.

He sat and he watched.

The players noticed Den. The tall one shifted to study him. After all, he was close and wearing his red accounting vest. It would have been hard to ignore him. From their hush conversation, they didn’t take him for a hustler, so they seemed to be discussing whether they wanted to challenge him to a match when Dumford strode up. He had finished his conversation with Sally and no, he didn’t want to play, thank you. He turned down the offer of darts. He grabbed Den by the shoulder and said that he wanted to drink more. Quickly, too.

Back at their table, Den found that he could not keep up. He could not even pretend. Instead, he tried to console his friend over the loss of a sweet girl, “perhaps the sweetest in the world,” no, definitely a saint, perhaps a saint double, no, “at least four times a saint and twice a martyr besides.“ All the while, Den struggled to figure out what was going on. He forgot about games of chess, darts, and cards, forgot about his overdue tax report, even about his apprentices pining at home for him, all so that he could wonder what the world’s most tolerant, sweet girl had done to earn the title of martyr. Definitely, she had not died, so it was something to do with magic.

If the wizard were drinking to forget, it seemed to work. The process got a temporary assist from Sally. She commented that an alchemist had dropped by earlier to demonstrate his fireworks powder. That got Dumford to snipe about how such things were just for show. Sally replied, yes, that was the point, wasn’t it. The alchemist had made two sales from his table, one of them for a fireworks celebration to be held by the Bastard Prince of Four to Six Islands, a kingdom in the Expedient Sea where the islands moved and on occasion, went missing. That was not much trouble by the standards of the area so the island kingdom held a rather respectable place in sea commerce.

“Didn’t I do a job for that prince?” Dumford‘s gaze narrowed. “He’s loaded with gold and gems.”

“Maybe. Anyway, love, the fireworks are free and they will be right in front of the Four to Six Islands embassy just two days out.”

The wizard sighed. “She loved fireworks. Loves. She still loves them.”

“It will be dark.”

His eyebrows rose. Dumford leaned away from the table. “Do you think there's a chance?”

“I'm willing to take her a message if you want to try.”

Dumford composed his reply in a scrawl so illegible that it was a wonder that he didn't flunk out the first time one of his professors spied it on his desk. However, he did express himself in less than a minute, not an easy task with a grubby quill. He squeezed the folded paper scrap into Sally's hand. Then he returned to his drinking. After an hour, during which they debated the geometric principles of cartomancy, Den noticed that Sally had changed the mix of beer and wine for the wizard. Dumford's cup got filled with a dark brew that smelled like rye bread.

The young fellow hardly noticed.

He continued to interrupt Den's math with jokes, some of which had to do with how geometry applied to women. Den hadn't heard most of them before. The one about hemispheres made him chuckle.

“That takes multiple spells at once," Dumford explained while he was still on the subject of tracing curves. "Of course, some folks consider it cheating. Not elegant enough. But take a Send, for instance ... I could improve the accuracy ... I would have to cheat a bit ... mash three spells together. Maybe I could do it with two ... yes, I think that would work. It could be that some of the bank pretenders are doing it ... no, financial wizards can’t manage two spells at once. Still, I could do it easily.”

“You could?”

“Am I the only one who could be cheating like this? No, I’ll bet the professors do it all the time. The real ones, anyway, the unseen.”

This fragment of thought got Denario excited to return the darts to Tim. However, when he rose from the bench to get them and start the job, Dumford grabbed his sleeve.

“Don't leave me,” he said.

Den sat back down.

The minutes of talking turned into another hour, then probably another. The boistrous men-at-arms left without causing a fight. The darts players tipped their caps as they departed. Draughts players came, set up a board, exchanged bets, lost and won. A musician sat on a table and strummed on her lute. She led the audience in a dozen bawdy songs until someone paid her two tankards of ale, which was enough to shut her up for a while. Around them, the hearth fires started to burn low.

“So you can't really Send the darts back to Tim." Denario couldn't help thinking about it. "But you made them. And even if you can't quite directly Send, you have a cheat in mind. You have some other way to give them back.”

“Who said I can't Send? That's ridic ... hic ... ridiculous!” The wizard pounded his goblet on the table. “That’s not even a master spell. I'd do it for free but it would have to be when I'm sober.”

Denario thought about this for a moment. Had the wizard already forgotten his method of cheating at the spell or was he referring to it? Did he really need to be sober? How often did that happen?

The next time that Dumford took a pull from his beer, Den's fingers crept across the bench.
He grabbed the wizard's money pouch, which he had left out. It was awfully light. With a sigh, Den dropped it down on the floor between them, out of sight and hopefully, out of mind.

“Aha!” The wizard grabbed Den by the arm.

“What now?” The wizard had noticed, apparently. Maybe the pouch had been protected by a spell. That's what Denario would have done with his possessions if he were able to use magic.

“Darts back to Tim.”


“We have to do it. We agreed.” Dumford's head wobbled. “I've thought of another way. A better way. No casting. Well, yes, casting. Ha ha. But of a different sort.”

That sounded promising even if it ended up being the same cheat that Dumford had invented earlier. “How?”

“Can’t say.” The wizard cast a suspicious gaze at the drunkards and tradesmen around him. “Shouldn't, anyway. I'll have to show you.”

That sounded less promising. “When?"

“Don’t let me forget.” The wizard leaned back and took another long swig.

“Oh, yes.” Den took a deep breath. “Of course.”

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Not Even Not Zen 176: A Bandit Accountant, 30.1

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Don't Trust Anyone Over

Scene One: Independence

“There has been a change in seating.” The manager, a tall fellow with a scar above his lip and a willow stick in his mouth, ripped the receipt from Denario’s hand.

Reflexively, Den tried to snatch it back. He got his fingers on it, much to the manager's surprise as well as his own. When he had it pinched between his thumb and forefinger, however, he was faced with the prospect of tearing the paper in two. The manager's fingers were stronger than his. A struggle wouldn’t do him any good. He let go.

After he did that, the manager's posture softened.

“Sorry,” he said. He leaned closer to speak more softly.

“You just told me that berth,” Denario complained.

“The man behind me,” the manager hissed, rolling his eyes in the direction of a customer wearing a breast plate, a yellow sash with a blue emblem, and sword, “Comes from the Baron of Block Helm. The baron's lesser coach has lost a wheel. He will not wait for the repairs. Instead, I have been told that I must hire out one of our coaches to him. He does not care that many packages and six passengers will be delayed.”

“How was it decided?”

“The baron's man took a look at my list and he scratched out six of the lowest ranking names.”

No doubt the names were of common tradesmen like Denario, the sort who traveled as a consequence of their businesses. The accountant felt slightly better for not having been singled out, at least. He had spent enough time away from big cities to have forgotten this aspect of dealing with nobility. He considered his prospects in a protest.

“Don’t even try to talk to him.” The manager shook his head and grimaced.

“Right.” This is why he still wasn’t good at card games. His intentions had been plainly read. “I’m lucky they didn’t wait until I was seated and then yank me out. I would’ve said something and it would’ve ended badly.”

“I lost a tooth for talking back to a knight, years ago.” That explained the willow stick in his mouth. Most people who chewed willow did it to ease tooth pain.

“When is my ride?”

“The next open seat is in four days. That’s the mail coach. It leaves before dawn. Can you do it?”

He had an alarm candle at the inn. He nodded.

“There will be no nobleman up so early to take your seat. Plus it’s the county mail, so only a duke, marquis, or the count would be able to commandeer the coach.”

“I’m sold,” he said.

The tall fellow grinned. With a come-along wave of his arm, he walked the receipt over to his standing desk, which was a plank fitted between seams in the mud brick wall of the stable. It had a tumbler of ink on one corner and a ratty quill. He picked up the quill.

“Got something to do in town?” He began to scribble.

“I've got a report to finish, yes.” It was for the wrong baron, else he could hand it over in person. But he would have to finish writing it, first. Despite several drafts of the report, every page he had fussed over so far had had unacceptable gaps. Each time he got to his discovery of the waylaid coach, those bodies laying in the road, he had stopped and written no further. Truthfully, he had broken down in tears or in rage. But he felt that he could get through it now.

“If you walk a block south, you'll find the Halberd Inn. They’ve got a desk. Tell them that the carriage house sent you.”

Denario thought that sounded like a good idea. However when got there and he peered through the door flap into the hall of benches, tables, and clean straw on the floor, he saw that the single desk was taken. What’s more, a question to the barkeep revealed that the inn did not keep ink. You had to bring your own.

So he ended up at the bank. There, they had lots of desks. They offered free ink to customers. Plus, Denario had been their highest paying customer this month. He was not of the gentry or noble class, so the clerks could expect to talk with him without a lot of bowing and tugging on their forelocks. Sure enough, the clerk Rutger greeted him warmly. When Den described his project, the young fellow swept a surface clean and fetched a chair. Two other clerks stopped by to chat. One of the senior clerks, taller than most and more elegantly dressed, although in the same black trousers and white shirt, had to pretend he didn’t care. He had to maintain his superiority, apparently. The attitude lasted about an hour. Then he stopped by to have a break. He asked if he could watch the accountant fill out the report. The reading of it interested him enough to keep him in his seat. The fellow left, at last, only when his manager made an appearance.

“This is an independent tax audit?” The bank chief hovered, hands clasped behind his back. “Those are only commissioned when someone needs to prove their good behavior.”

“It was commissioned by the mayor of Ziegeburg.”

“So it is destined for the Baron of Ankster. Very lofty.” He stirred. His hands became visible for a moment. “Will you be leaving a copy on file?”

“Your other branch offers a same-day copyist service.”

“It requires a day's notice in our branch, sir.”

“Very well. I will require the service of a copyist tomorrow afternoon. It is indeed my plan to store the final audit report here with you.”

“You mean the copy.”

“No.” His fingers balled into a fist around the quill. He heard his voice grow a bit stern, as if he were addressing someone who was pretending to be stupid. “The copy will be sent to the baron. The original will stay here. I will leave instructions saying that duly authorized men … or women, if he employs any as clerks … may read the original here. No one will be allowed to take it. Not even the baron, you understand.”

“We will follow your orders faithfully, sir. The baron may protest but I understand quite clearly. The original is for verification. However, will you permit the baron to make further copies?”

“Yes. They are to be made only by a bank copyist or bank wizard.”

For a moment, the manager beamed. It was startling to see his brownish teeth show as he flashed a smile. The expression was gone in an instant.

“If you will permit,” said the man. “I will have one of my clerks draft a letter of instruction for your approval tomorrow.”

“That will be fine.”

In all, Denario thought, it was probably the most satisfying interaction anyone had with the manager that day, perhaps that week.

Monday, September 2, 2019

A Nerd in a Warrior Culture - Twenty-Eight Chapters

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Thirty-Two Minus Thirty-One

Chapter Root Two Squared

Chapter Pi, Roughly 

Chapter Two Pair

Chapter Full Hand

Chapter Half Dozen

Chapter Fourth Prime

Chapter Two Cubed

Chapter Three Quarters of Twelve

Chapter Binary Two

Chapter Red, Green, Yellow

Chapter Square Root of Gross

Chapter Baker's Dozen

Chapter Pair of Sevens

Chapter Fifth Triangular Number

Chapter Twice Eight

Chapter Seventh Prime

Chapter Third Semiperfect

Chapter Normal Magic Hexagon

Chapter Score

Chapter Octagonal Number Three

Chapter Pi Times Seven Approximately

Chapter Smallest Non-Twin Prime

Chapter Four Factorial

Chapter Right Hypotenuse Squared

Chapter Sporadic Groups

Chapter Three Cubed

Chapter Second Perfect Number