Sunday, October 19, 2014

Short Story - Under His Wing Pt. 2

Here is part two of my short story about gargoyles, Under His Wing. For part one, click HERE.

          The days turned into weeks, and Callie was sitting on her balcony, watching the changing leaves float slowly to the soft ground. As much as she hated it, she was going to have to give some thought into leaving her little fortress. The air was crisp and she pulled her sweater a little tighter around her shoulders. Long ago, she had moved the bistro table over to Roman's side of the balcony. It was completely ridiculous, but she felt better with him standing guard on her balcony.
          Maybe she was finally losing her mind. All this time on the run had taken its toll, and had her resorting to talking to stone statues. In her defense, Roman was the perfect listener. He never interrupted. He let her scream, cry, pound on his chest, and curse the world without a single complaint. He patiently listened as she told him about her history with David. How he had become controlling and abusive not long after they were married. Callie told Roman how she had made plans to run away after he had threatened to kill her the first time. Once free of him, she thought David wouldn't bother looking for her. Callie figured he would just move on and find a new woman to torture. She figured wrong.
          The first time he found her, David beat her so badly, she wound up in the hospital. Callie left there in the middle of the night, as soon as she was able to move. Telling the nurses she needed to stretch her legs a bit, Callie took some dirty scrubs from a laundry bin and changed in the bathroom, keeping her head down and walking out into the dark parking lot. David had taken her clothes, so she went to the 24 hour gym where she kept an "emergency bag." She stayed in a cheap motel until she was well enough to travel. That's when Callie realized that she would never be free. David would never accept the fact that she had left him, and he wouldn't rest until one of them was dead.  
          Roman listened without judging, his stone jaw unmoving in the moonlight. Callie liked to imagine that Roman hated David, especially after she'd had too much wine and her mind began to wander. She would caress Roman's wings and share all her hopes and dreams with him. How she wanted her life to be instead of the nightmare she was living in. How she loved books, and had hoped to use the inheritance her parents left her to open her own book store. Sometimes Callie took out a few of the books she had been able to keep with her and would read to Roman, pretending he liked the sound of her voice.
          "Well, my dear, the wine is all gone, I guess that means it's time to hit the sack. Goodnight Roman."
          Callie closed the book she had been reading and took her legs out of the spot she liked to rest them in the curve of Roman's wing. Leaving her wine glass and the empty bottle on the table, she stumbled into her room. Callie stopped as a sound in the kitchen had her sobered up and on high alert. Eyes darting back and forth, she tried to remember if she'd locked the back door in the kitchen. Surely she wouldn't have been so careless. With the false sense of security that had begun to take over her mind these last few months, Callie had to admit that she may not have locked all the doors and windows downstairs.
          Creeping over to the closet, she pulled out her aluminum baseball bat and made her way silently downstairs. Thankfully, the lights were off, so he wouldn't be able to see her easily. Unfortunately, she wouldn't be able to see him well either. Callie waited until her eyes adjusted before she left the shelter of the stairway and headed towards the kitchen. On her way through, she also grabbed a knife out of the wooden block on the counter next to the gas stove. Every nerve cell in her body was screaming out as she fought to control her breathing, which sounded like a runaway locomotive in her ears. She couldn't give away her location.
          A loud sound to her left made Callie yelp before she could stop herself. By the light of the moon, she could see the shutter that had come loose and was flapping outside the kitchen window. Callie let out a sigh of relief, realizing that was the same sound she'd heard when she was upstairs. The front and back doors were locked. It had become so much of a habit now, that she couldn't believe she had doubted herself.
          Callie still made a thorough check of the downstairs rooms for her own peace of mind before going outside to secure the shutter. Coming back in through the kitchen door, she made sure to lock it behind her. It wouldn't hurt to check all the windows too she thought. After making the rounds downstairs, she trudged back up to her room. As an afterthought, she checked all the upstairs rooms as well. Never hurt to be cautious.
          Satisfied that the house was safe, Callie jumped in the shower. The hot water felt wonderful, and she could feel her bunched muscles starting to relax. She took her time, and gave herself a chance to unwind. The lights were still off in her room when she left the bathroom. Callie threw on some sweat pants and an oversized t-shirt, before going out on the balcony to tell Roman goodnight.
          "Everything's ok, Roman," she told the stony face as she cupped his cheek and ran her thumb over his lower lip as she often did.
          "Seriously?" She suddenly dropped her hands and ran them through her wet hair. "I'm officially losing my mind. It's like that Tom Hanks movie where he's stranded on an island , and he talks to a ball he calls Wilson. I guess you're my Wilson, Roman."
          Callie patted his chest and turned back towards the French doors, silently reminding herself, yet again, that she needed to cut back on the wine.
          "Good night Roman," she whispered.
          "Who the fuck is Roman?"
          Callie knew that voice all too well. She fought to keep the nausea in check as her body shook with the sudden chill of terror that overwhelmed her.
          "No one, David."
          "Don't lie to me, bitch."
          She didn't need to have the lights on to know what his face looked like. The handsome features would be  twisted with a sick rage that he kept well hidden from everyone. She was the only one alive who knew the monster he kept trapped inside that beautiful cage.
          "I'm not lying. It's the nickname I've given to the gargoyle statue on the balcony. You can check yourself if you don't believe me. He reminds me of the ones we saw in Rome on our honeymoon," she said, hoping to pacify him.
          Callie could see him moving out of the corner of her eye. David took a step out onto the balcony.
          "Well, what do you know?" he said, sounding surprised.
          This was her only chance. With David distracted by the gargoyle statue, Callie made a run for her baseball bat that she had left beside the door when she came upstairs. As her hands wrapped around the handle, David's fingers tangled in her hair and jerked her backwards. She screamed, and Davie ripped the bat out of her hands. Even in the dark, she was close enough to see the fury burning in his brown eyes. The shadows crawling over his face made him much more frightening than Roman's stone features.
          David picked her up easily and tossed Callie onto the bed. She bounced once before he was on top of her, pinning her down. He straddled her and held her hands above her head with one of his, using the other one to slap her so hard she saw stars. Normally, Callie would try to beg and plead for mercy at this point, but it never worked. She struggled, but she was no match for him. So this was it. This was the moment she had been dreading. The moment her luck finally ran out.
          His free hand wrapped around her neck and squeezed. When that didn't work, David let go of her hands, so he could use both of his to strangle her. Callie fought for her life. She hit, scratched and punched at every part of David she could reach, but he seemed unaffected by her blows.
          She felt her eyes and tongue bulge. Lungs burning, her face felt hot while her brain and body weakened from the lack of oxygen. Callie's arms felt heavy, and she no longer had the strength to hold them up. The realization that she was actually going to die didn't bring Callie the peace she had hoped for. She didn't want to die. It wasn't fair that David would get away with killing her and go on to live his life the way he wanted to. He never had to live in fear or hide from the very person who promised to love him forever.
          As the darkness closed in, Callie still wanted to fight, but her body didn't respond. She felt light, as if David's weight had been lifted off of her.
          "Breathe Callie."
          The strange voice commanding her was deep and powerful. The words vibrated through her chest, willing her to comply. Callie sucked in a painful gulp of air that had her lungs revolting. Coughing uncontrollably, tears fell unchecked down her cheeks as she struggled to understand what was happening. Had David changed his mind? Was he going to drag out her suffering for his own sick pleasure?
          "I was afraid I was too late."
          That deep voice again. Callie opened her eyes to see the silhouette of wings and large ears against the light shining through the open balcony doors. Even with his face hidden by the shadows, Callie knew it was not David's voice or the outline of his body, but her mind refused to accept what her eyes were seeing. Maybe she really was dead, or unconscious, and her mind was seeing what she had secretly hoped for.
          "Ro...Roman?" she croaked, her voice on fire.
          He turned slightly, and she could see his full lips curl into a wicked smile. "You know, I like that name," he said softly.
          "I don't understand..." She wanted to say more, but her throat would not cooperate.
          "I am not sure I do either," he started, looking out into the night. "This place is strange to me. I do not remember how I came be here. When you touched me that first night, I was..." he paused as if searching for the right words, "awakened."
          "Heard me? All this time?" she asked, keeping her words to a minimum to save her raging throat.
          Roman smiled at her, cupping her cheek and running his thumb along her lower lip as she had often done to him.
          "Every word."
          "Awkward," she rasped.
          He chuckled. "Not at all. I love the sound of your voice."
          Roman looked over his shoulder, and his smile fell away. The fierce expression on his face caused Callie to flinch. He immediately smiled again to calm her.
          "Callie," he said in soothing tones, "you will never have to live in fear again. This I swear to you. When I heard you scream, I fought to free myself from the bindings of the stone. I feared I would be too late, and I almost was..." he trailed off, looking lost.
          "But you weren't." She wanted to say more, but her voice wasn't going to cooperate. Instead, she placed a shaky hand on his thigh.
          Roman pulled Callie up gently and cradled her in his arms. "No one will ever hurt you again. I promise."
          He kissed her lightly on the forehead, and settled her back onto her pillows.
          "Sleep now," he said, brushing her damp hair away from her face
          Callie's eyelids felt heavy as she watched Roman pick up her ex like a bag of trash. David's head was turned at a grotesque angle, his dead eyes empty.
          "I shall return soon to watch over you."
          Once on the balcony, Roman's wings stretched out, and Callie felt a slight breeze as she watched him carry away her pain.

          "Goodnight Roman," she sighed, slipping off to sleep.

Short Story - Under His Wing Pt. 1

When I was younger, I loved to watch Disney's animated series, Gargoyles. 

I'll have to admit that I had a crush on Goliath, but as I was writing this blog, I went back to get some pictures, and wondered what I was thinking? I thought he was more human looking, but he's blue with giant bat wings, really funky feet, big ears, a huge tail, and spike things pointing out of various parts of his body. Plus, he doesn't even have nipples. Weird. That being said, I'm still fascinated by gargoyles, and apparently, I'm not the only one. I found a lot of romance books involving gargoyles. A much improved version, but still based on the mythical creatures. Here are two of my favorite covers. 

So in keeping with my Halloween theme this month, I wrote a short story based on my love of gargoyles. I'm terrible with titles, so until I can come up with something more cleaver, the working title is Under His Wing. Due to it's size, I split it into two parts. 

         Turning the key, Callie walked into the odd castle-like house that would be her home for the next few months. The owner wasn't happy about her refusing to sign a lease, but he shut up when she paid six months in advance. Callie probably should have been a little more careful with her dwindling inheritance, since she may not be able to stay for the full six months, but she couldn't worry about that now.
          The house was a local oddity, a castle right in the heart of mid west farm country. The stone structure stuck out like a green mohawk at a formal cocktail party. Nestled amidst the quaint farmhouses and red barns, the home was built by an eccentric man who did so with love. It was painstakingly recreated from his memories of the place he visited every summer as a child in "the old country." At least, that was the story the new owner told her. For all she new, he just made it up to peak her interest.
          David wouldn't expect her to stay in a place like this, one that drew so much attention. It might take him awhile to find her here; but, in all honesty, Callie was getting tired of hiding. At some point, her luck was going to run out. Hopefully, she wouldn't have to leave too soon. This place had good feel to it. The furniture was well worn and the air was a little thick, but that was easy enough to fix. She opened the windows in the kitchen before going back out to the rental car for the groceries she had purchased in the tiny mom and pop store in town. The woman behind the counter had been so nice. She happily introduced Callie to her son, who looked to be about the same age. He was attractive in his own way, and helped her put her groceries in the trunk. He made it obvious he'd be open to seeing her again, but Callie made it clear she was just passing through. The last man she had decided to take a chance on wound up dead. The police ruled it an accident, but she knew it was David. Since then, Callie made it a point not to get close to anyone.
          She put the groceries away, made a quick sandwich, and set up the coffee maker to turn on automatically in the morning before dragging her small suitcase upstairs. She had spied the balcony from the main road that doubled as the cover for the front porch. The owner said it was connected to the master bedroom, so Callie looked forward to being able to sit out there with a glass of wine and watch the sun set. It was too late for that tonight, but she would definitely have coffee out there in the morning.
          After unpacking her meager amount of clothing, she stuffed her "emergency bag" in the closet along with her aluminum baseball bat. She had put an identical one downstairs in the kitchen pantry next to the old mop and broom.
          Exhausted, Callie put sheets on the bed and couldn't wait to crawl under the covers. A shower would be nice, but she just didn't have the energy. Moving to the French doors that lead to the balcony, she decided to open them for the fresh air. Normally, she would never dream of sleeping without the house being locked down like a prison, but the lure of the night sky was just too appealing.
          Callie silently padded out onto the balcony on bare feet. Her oversized t-shirt blowing slightly in the cool breeze. Putting her hands on the rail, she took a deep breath and smiled.
          Turning to her left, she saw a small bistro table with two chairs. She imagined herself sitting there with her coffee and a good book. It really was a shame she wouldn't be able to stay. Callie turned to the right and screamed. The figure of a man at the other end of the balcony had taken her completely by surprise. She collapsed on the floor and crab crawled backwards until she slammed into the railing. Her heart was slamming in her chest and her whole body was on fire. How could he have found her so soon? Could she make it back inside to her bat before he caught her? Not likely. She would have to use the bistro chairs as weapons, or even take a chance on jumping over the balcony.
          Before she could decide her next move, Callie noticed the large man had wings. Wings? Taking a closer look, she also saw the figure had large bat ears and claws. Callie tried to calm her hammering heart and stop her urge to run. Standing on shaky legs, she made her way to the other side of the balcony to find a huge statue of a gargoyle.
          Callie laughed hysterically as the nervous energy coursed through her body. She hugged the large stone statue and said, "Boy, am I glad to see you. I thought you were my ex-husband, but he has devil horns instead of bat ears," she giggled.
          How she had missed this monstrosity from the road, she couldn't say. The imposing figure of the gargoyle took up a full third of the outside space. The moon cast frightening shadows across the face of creature, but it didn't bother her. Resting her head on the cool stone of his chest, Callie cursed herself for letting her guard down. If it had been David, she'd be dead or wished she were.
          Heading back into the master bedroom, she shut the doors behind her, turning the lock. The thought of fresh air had lost its appeal. Moonlight streaming through all the glass in the doors, reminded her that the lock was a joke, an illusion of security. Callie shook her head. There was no way he could find her this soon. She would have a few weeks at least, maybe even a few months. But for now, she was safe. Collapsing on the large, fluffy bed, the blast of adrenaline was wearing off, taking the last vestiges of her strength with it. Callie passed out as soon as her head hit the down filled pillow.

          The next morning, Callie groaned as the sunshine bored through her eyelids. It took her a few minutes to shake off the confusion and remember where she was. She was surprised to find she felt safe for the first time in a long time. Maybe it was the fact that the place looked like a castle that could be defended by medieval knights. She sighed. There were no gallant men in armor to protect her. She had to rely on herself.
          Swinging her legs over the side of the bed, Callie got up and walked out onto her balcony. Stretching in the sunshine, she could smell the coffee brewing from the kitchen below. Taking a deep breath filled with dark roast, Callie flopped into the bistro chair, feeling more peaceful than she had in the last five years. Maybe he wouldn't find her here. Maybe this time, she would be safe. She ran her hands through her own honey blonde hair. David would never expect her to look the way he remembered her. Over the last five years, Callie had changed her appearance so often, she forgot what it felt like to look in the mirror and actually see herself staring back.
          "Good morning," she flung over her shoulder to the gargoyle as she made her way back into her room and down to the kitchen for some coffee.
          Filling up her mug, she grabbed an apple and a some peanut butter before heading upstairs and back onto the balcony. She arranged her little feast on the bistro table and stole a glance and the stony statue to her right.
          "I don't know how you haven't fallen through this balcony. You look like you weigh a ton. No offense," she chuckled.
          Callie stood up and took her coffee cup with her for a closer look at it. As gargoyles go, he wasn't as scary looking as some of the ones she'd seen on her honeymoon in Rome. That was a lifetime ago, and she shook her head, trying to erase the memories and focus on her new gargoyle friend. He was definitely big. Actually, big was a bit of an understatement. She ran a hand over his massive chest and down his well defined biceps. His stone abs rippled down, disappearing behind a small garment of sorts. The gargoyle's chiseled thighs peeked out the other side of the stone cloth, tapering down to strong calves and feet with claws like an eagle. She sighed.
          "You know, you aren't half bad looking, well, except for the claws, bat ears and wings." Callie laughed and reached up to tweak his nose. "Since we're going to be roomies, I guess I should give you a name," she paused, tapping her finger on her bottom lip.
          "I know! I'll call you Roman! Rome is the first place I ever saw real gargoyles outside of books," she paused in thought. "Yes, I like it. Roman it is," she hugged the cold stone figure and smiled appreciatively until a white spot on his wing caught her attention. Leaning over, she saw that a bird had left its mark. "Gross."
          Callie walked back over to the bistro table and grabbed her napkin. Running into her bathroom, she turned on the tap and dampened it before returning to the statue. She scrubbed the gargoyle until every bit of the bird droppings were gone.
          "There," she stood back, admiring her work. "Now you look handsome. If you're going to be seen with me, you need to look good."
          She chuckled, cupping his face and running her thumb over his full lower lip.
          "You're the perfect companion, Roman. You look good, and you know when to keep your mouth shut."
          Callie spent the rest of the day getting the house in order. It wasn't too bad really. A little dusting and vacuuming and the place looked...happy. She sunk into the couch and tried to understand her strange attraction to the castle. The owner told her that the people of the town had made numerous attempts to have it torn down once the original owner died. He had no family, and the people said it was an eyesore that should be removed from their quaint little corner of heaven. Maybe she felt as out of place here as her new home seemed to be. They were both oddities just trying to survive.

Read Part 2 HERE

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Nightmare Alley - New Online Horror Magazine

I love October. Not only does the weather finally start to cool down a bit, but fall is amazing. I love all things autumn from the changing leaves, to pumpkin lattes, to comfy sweaters. It's also the best time for horror and Halloween.

I share my passion for all things spooky with my long time friend and fellow author, Thomas Amo. He released a horror anthology called Midnight Never Ends in April of this year. He meant it as an homage to Rod Serling and one of our favorite shows, Night Gallery. Although, when I read it, I told him that book was more like the evil love child of Rod Serling and Quentin Tarantino. It has all the suspense of Rod Serling with the over the top gore of Tarantino. Definitely a fun read! It's currently on sale for 99 cents on Amazon, which is a steal!

Recently, he told me that he wanted to start a horror magazine called Nightmare Alley. I was absolutely honored when he offered to feature my books in the first issue. I thought it was a nice idea, and Thomas is very talented, but I have to say, I was blown away when I saw it. He did an amazing job! He scored an interview with Lauren Ashley Carter and gave shout outs to some cool websites like The Slaughtered Bird. He has articles on Rue Volley and her Hellhound series as well as Michelle Muto, the bestselling author of The Haunting SeasonClare C. Marshall contributes a very informative piece about publishing. There is also a creepy story called Fairytale by Latashia Figueroa, author of This Way Darkness: Three Tales of Terror.

Nightmare Alley has a little something for everyone who loves horror, including information on books, television, websites, and movies. If you're interested in advertising opportunities, the prices are very reasonable. Send requests to Thomas at

So check out the first addition of Nightmare Alley HERE. It's a free online magazine, and be sure to stay tuned for upcoming issues!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

#Horror Movies - Fabulous to Just Say No

My love of horror started at an early age. From the moment I read Dracula in junior high school, I became fascinated with all things creepy. Maybe it's the allure of danger or the amped up shot of adrenaline. Whatever it is, I love it!

The first horror movie I saw was the original Halloween. Because of the rating, I was too young to see it in the theater, so I had to wait until it came out on television. My mom wouldn't let me watch it, so I had to be sneaky.  That movie scared the bajeebees out of me! I remember wanting to look away, but I just couldn't. I had the blanket pulled up to my nose, peering over, wide-eyed.

I couldn't get enough. I was addicted. I watched every horror movie I could find. Eventually, I came up with three horror categories: "Fabulous!" "Fun/Funny/Campy" and "I want that time in my life back."

Some of the original movies I put in the Fabulous category in no particular order (and this list is by no means complete): The Shining, Scream, The Omen, Psycho, Carrie, Black Christmas, When a Stranger Calls, Halloween, No Vacancy, The Exorcist, The Silence of the Lambs, Let Me In, Misery, The Ring (Spoiler Alert! Loved the suspense right up until the goofy thing crawled out of the television, which made me laugh).

Fun/Funny/Campy movies are horror flicks that are fun to watch, but don't really scare me (my daughter says there is something wrong with me, could be...). For me, these include the low budget horror movies, campy horror, and most of the slasher movies. Some of the flicks in this category include: Zombieland (super fun!), Evil Dead 2 and 3, Stake Land, Nightmare on Elm Street series, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Sean of the Dead, An American Werewolf in London, Grindhouse, From Dusk Til Dawn, Fright Night, House on Haunted Hill, The Legend of Hell House, Dawn of the Dead, Drag Me to Hell, The Cabin in the Woods, House of Wax, and the original monster movies like Dracula, The Mummy, Frankenstein, The Blob, The Wolf Man, etc.

Bwahaha! "Yer dead and you don't even know it!" (remake line)

The "I want that time in my life back" AKA "Movies I can't unsee" are neither fabulous nor entertaining. These movies usually include all the gore with no humor or suspense and rely on cheap gimmicks to "startle" viewers, which is not the same as scary. Some movies in this category include The Hills Have Eyes (all of them, just gross), the Paranormal Activities movies (snooze fest), Bubba Ho-Tep (great premise, but even the great Bruce Campbell couldn't save this stinker), Shock Wave (a movie that almost turned me off low budget horror movies, with genetically altered underwater WWII German soldiers we fondly named Gemermen), Christine (I know, John Carpenter. I just couldn't get into a killer car), Leprechaun, the Chucky movies, and I could go on...

I want those 89 minutes of my life back.

Let me know your horror story! What are your favorite horror movies or scenes?

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Cover Reveal: Inhale the Night by Ben Ditmars

I am thrilled to have Ben Ditmars on my blog again. I am a huge fan of his poetry. If you love poetry as I do, check out his other collections and books on his Amazon author page HERE. Ben's latest collection is called Inhale the Night, and I can't wait to get a copy! It's available for preorder on Amazon HERE. He was also kind enough to share several poems from his upcoming work.

Inhale the Night

Join Ben Ditmars, author of Night Poems and Haiku in the Night, on his final journey through the Midnight hours. Explore and breathe with him as night descends and stars emerge into new memories. Through free-verse, epic, and haiku poetry, some roads are darker than others....

Release Date 10/10/14

Excerpts from Inhale the Night:

Infinite Regression

We are liars
And eternal
Grazing at the
Surface of a star
In our non-static

If She Calls Tonight

If she calls tonight
I will forgive myself
And love as blindly
As I have before.

Tags: poetry, books, night, love

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Monday, September 22, 2014

Divorce After Death. A Widow's Memoir by Concha Alborg

Before I start the series of blogs about my trip to Pennsylvania, I'd like to share a new book, Divorce After Death. A Widow’s Memoir by Concha Alborg. Concha was born in Spain and emigrated with her parents to the United States when she was in high school. She currently lives and writes in Philadelphia, where I was traveling. She has written several books and has recently left her position as a professor at Saint Joseph's University to write full time. You can visit her Amazon author page here. Below is the blurb and an excerpt from Divorce After Death.

Concha Alborg didn't think that anything could hurt her more than the death of her husband from cancer, but hours after his death she learned how wrong she was. Within days of being made a widow, she discovered that her marriage and her husband were not what she had envisioned. In Divorce After Death. A Widow’s Memoir, with a unique point of view, due to her bi-cultural background, and a self-deprecating humor, she takes us on a personal journey. Her strength and determination to build a new life led her down a path that allowed her to reject the veil of widowhood and instead embrace a life of happiness, love and acceptance.

Old Men Look At Me

It isn’t funny, of course, when men stop looking at women. After a lifetime of whistles, looks and a few fresh comments, which used to bother me since I consider myself a feminist, now the men I like don’t look at me. It’s more than that; they don’t see me. I’m off their radar screen; I’ve become an invisible person. If that isn’t depressing enough, I’ve noticed that old men not only look, but also stare me down.

I know; old men are men too. I should be writing this in Spanish, since political correctness is less strict in my native language. We can still say la gorda, la rubia, la negra, and nothing happens. While in the United States, there is hell to pay if one says “the fat one” (unless she is the one who sings last), or “the blonde,” and heaven only knows what would happen if we were to say “the black one” and with good reason. I have an aunt who says that one of her granddaughters is feíta, which would be inconceivable to an American. Imagine a Gringa grandma saying: “One of my granddaughters is a bit ugly.” Never!

So, let’s agree that old men are men, but not the ones women want noticing them the most, never mind if we are feminist or not. Besides, since I’m closing up in age to the gawking geezers, I’m allowed to speak about them, and old women too, if I want to. I don’t have to say “senior citizens.” In other words, I’ve become an older woman myself; a woman of a certain age, even though I would be offended if I were to be called an “old lady.”

If I go to New York City, I can tell immediately how men look at women intensely there. Maybe that’s because it’s full of foreigners who tend to be more aggressive. Men in the big city don’t only look at women; they stare straight into their eyes, like a good bullfighter in Spain would look at the bull. In Philadelphia, founded by Quakers after all, men are not so forward. If they look, it’s on the sly, unless you are in one of the blue-collar neighborhoods, and then it’s every woman for herself.  Even in The Big Apple, I’ve noticed that older men are the ones looking at me the most. But heaven help me, nowhere else is this more obvious than at the Jersey Shore.

Ocean City, New Jersey, for example, is fast becoming a retirement community, attracting all kinds of old people who come for the sun and the sea. Even though it’s close to Philadelphia, a cosmopolitan city, as some would say, and Atlantic City, a bigger attraction, Ocean City has a personality all of its own. It’s a long and narrow island, which serves as a barrier for the ocean, joined to the mainland by two bridges. The open side, facing the Atlantic, is full of wide beaches, with white sand that forms large dunes, giving the houses facing the sea some privacy as well as beautiful ocean views. The waves, though never like the ones in the Pacific, can be big enough for surfing during high tide or when a storm is brewing. On the bay side, there are no waves or beaches. Only the tides going in and out let on that it’s also the sea. The bay is formed by canals shaped like fingers that hold the island in their grasp. These canals are full of summer homes with private docks, each at a different angle. There are only two or three public marinas for intrepid sailors coming from other shores or for locals of lesser means, like myself, who don’t own boats.

For several years, my family had a place in the middle of the island, at its widest point. It didn’t face the ocean nor had access to one of the bay channels, but we were in front of a wildlife refuge, where migratory birds stop on their way north or south, depending on the season. With a pair of good binoculars, we could see the ducks’ nests and the tiny cranes after they had broken their shells and were wobbling around in the marshes.

I tried to go to Ocean City often, not only during the summers to enjoy the beach, but during the entire year, when there are fewer people around, to recharge my batteries. There I could write in peace or read to my heart’s content, lying on one of the decks, even if I had to cover myself with a light quilt when the sea breezes were blowing. When I had academic work to finish, or if I had to grade or research a paper, it was easier if I could do it close to the ocean. I wasn’t born on the Mediterranean for nothing (as Joan Manuel Serrat says in one of his songs).

Ocean City is not always as idyllic as it seems. Each year, there are more poor Hispanic immigrants working for a song on the island, doing all kinds of dirty tasks on the expensive homes: painting windows and shutters since the sun and the sea air are so hard on the wood, patching up the roofs that rot easily with the humidity, planting flowers, mowing the lawns, taking awnings up and down and moving furniture on and off the decks. I remember talking to a Mexican man from Oaxaca who was making an outside shower for the downstairs neighbors. At first he didn’t even want to speak to me. Then he told me that he left his family behind in his country. He was sending them money until they had enough to join him in the States. I didn’t ask, but I guessed that he was in the States illegally and that’s one of the reasons he didn’t want to speak to strangers. Also, it was probably the reason people were taking advantage of him and paying him low wages.

On another occasion, I noticed that in the big Super Fresh there was a Chinese food section (and I’ve never seen an Asian on the beach), a Jewish food section (the phonebook is full of names like Cohen, Segal, Ruben) and aisle after aisle of Italian foods (they must be the ones with the biggest appetites). But despite all the immigrant workers beautifying the rich folks’ homes, there wasn’t a decent Hispanic section. Not one to mince words, I asked for the manager and told him outright that there was some discrimination going on there. It wasn’t that same summer, but now there is an entire area with Goya products, which happens to be a Hispanic company based in New Jersey itself.
Every morning during the summer months, before I started to write, I went down to the beach for some exercise. If it wasn’t too windy, I would ride my bike on the boardwalk, all the way down to the lifeguard station. My problems could start right there. We all know that older people suffer from insomnia, and they wake before the sun comes up. So, even in the early hours, most of the benches that line the boardwalk are occupied by gaping old men. They would realize right away, despite failing eyesight, that I was no spring chicken, but that I didn’t look bad for my age, either. At least I could still ride my bike, which most—if not all of them—stopped doing a while back. If one of them was almost completely bald, with those big dark glasses specially made for cataracts, I was vulnerable. And if I saw some other poor guy with a limp and a metal cane shining under the sun, I needed to watch out. The big fat ones, with Buddha-like figures, also would stare my way. The most dangerous were the well-preserved ones, who thought they were still debonair. I’m pretty sure that I saw one winking at me.

Did they think that I was their age? Did I look like I belonged to the same senior club? Was I not wearing riding shorts with a cute matching visor? I knew that I have some spider veins in my legs, but I was certain they could not see those from where they were sitting, between my speed and their eyesight. Yes, I dye my hair, but what did they know about that?

At night, Ocean City changes. The old folk must be at home watching TV or maybe they are in bed already. But the young crowd that was quietly sunbathing during the day, families with children of all ages, newlyweds who can’t afford to go anywhere else on their honeymoons, all would converge on the boardwalk. Given my thirst for knowledge, I had to look up the word boardwalk in the dictionary. It’s defined as “a promenade, especially of planks, along a beach or waterfront.” Truly, a boardwalk is something unexplainable. It’s part carnival, part arcade, part food court, part shopping mall. It’s full of movie theaters, dollar stores and shop after shop of the most ridiculous souvenirs, T-shirts and general junk. And all this without a single bar or a club, because Ocean City was founded by Methodists, who were even stricter than the Philadelphia Quakers and forbade alcoholic drinks, and the laws have remained unchanged to this day.

My husband and I almost never went to the boardwalk, especially if Spanish relatives were visiting. It would be unimaginable. How could we explain that it’s against the law to sell beer or to have a glass of wine with dinner? How to rationalize a beach without pubs or discos? I have to confess that on the few occasions I’ve been to the boardwalk with my daughters or American friends, I’ve enjoyed myself. Once Peter and I went, and we ended up in an arcade full of instant-photo machines, where, in a booth, we could fabricate a child to one’s likeness. Since I already had two daughters from an earlier marriage, we decided to have a son. That’s right, for ten bucks! First we had to answer a questionnaire as if we really were to adopt a baby. We had to decide his ethnicity:

“Should he be Hispanic or plain Gringo?” I asked only half jokingly.

“Well, he should be a mix, don’t you think?” answered Peter without missing a beat, as usual.

“Fine. What about his hair color?” That being one of my pet issues.

One by one, we answered all the questions about eye color, size of the nose; even his age was specified.

“He should be at least twelve,” said Peter. “That way we can leave him home alone.” And we immediately agreed.

Then the “daddy” got in front of the camera, followed by the “mommy;” obviously a sexist machine. I have no idea what would happen if two people of the same gender wanted to have a child at the Jersey Shore. You waited five minutes and out came four passport-size pictures–just in case you want to travel with the kid, I guess. I was half-way emotional, as it well should have been with my first-born son.  No sooner did we see our son, than we loved him already, although he was “feíto,” a tad ugly like his dad. He turned out with a nose identical to his father’s, too large, particularly for his age, with dreamy hazel eyes, from that side of the family, too. The bangs and his hair color were definitely mine; somewhat unruly and of an artificial mahogany shade. We named him Benjamin, given his last place in the family, and because it’s a name that can be pronounced almost the same in English and Spanish.

The strangest part was that both of his “half-sisters” hated him from the start. The two of them said that he was very ugly, that his hair was like a girl’s and that his skin looked green. I have to admit that he did have an olive complexion as do I. Our daughters made us promise, since they were familiar with our sense of humor, that we wouldn’t frame Benjamin’s picture and place it on the mantle, and that we wouldn’t show him to anyone:
“Please, please, please, he’s such a nerd!”
When Peter was first diagnosed with cancer, he loved coming to Ocean City. Here he could rest in peace (no pun intended) and, since it’s so flat, he could still ride his bike without turning blue. But eventually, he wasn’t strong enough even to climb the stairs to our second floor unit. Before he died, I decided to sell the place. I would have enough responsibilities keeping up the townhouse in Philadelphia. It turned out that the downstairs neighbor, who had our key, had already shown our place to an acquaintance of his—a young widow with three small sons. I could only imagine what her situation was like in anticipation of my own widowhood. Never mind that I was pissed at my neighbor. I didn’t know whether to call him a vulture or to thank him for his foresight. I felt better once I found out who the new owner would be.

As it is customary at the Jersey Shore, we sold the condo completely furnished, linens and all. I only brought home some personal knick-knacks and a set of Mikasa dishes with the shells for my name and the seagulls for Peter’s (Concha means “shell” in Spanish and Peter’s last name sounding like the bird). I had to give them away later because it just made me too sad to be reminded of our cozy summer place.

Before the closing, I went back alone to our home in Ocean City a few more times; those were emotional days. I was aware of how much I would miss that place, but it didn’t compare with the bigger loss I would be suffering in a short time. I remember bargaining internally with myself. Perhaps if I sold the beach house, Peter would miraculously heal, and I could keep him for a while longer.
One of the things I loved best about Ocean City was going down to the beach an hour or so before sunset and strolling by myself at the water’s edge. Often, at that time, the beach was virtually deserted. The children and their moms would have already left; the young crowd would probably be getting ready to descend on the boardwalk to hang out, and the old folk would probably be at home watching reruns on TV.  There was enough light to enjoy the view. The pinkish clouds would join the deep blue ocean at the horizon. They had a unique color at that time of the evening: hues of purple, orange and pink with a touch of grey. Instead of old men, the birds would take over the beach. The seagulls were quieter and more pensive than during the day, and they stayed closer to the water. The sandpipers also would come down in the evenings, and the sparrows would fly low over the dunes. Sometimes, the moon had already made an appearance sitting low and coming out of the waves. If it was late enough, the first stars would be showing up, too.

On the very last day I was there, I was so distracted observing all this that I didn’t notice a man approaching me. He was against the light, so I couldn’t see him well, but he was tall and barefoot, like me, dressed in light colors with a sweater over his shoulder, in case the weather cooled. He didn’t have a lot of hair, but it was carefully combed, rather stylishly.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to frighten you,” he said gallantly.

“No, no. You didn’t. I was just distracted,” I answered.

“Do you come here often? I think I’ve seen you before.”

And now he was closer to me, and I could see that his eyebrows and mustache were of a silvery shade.

“Yes and no,” I tried to explain.

I told him that I lived a few blocks from the beach, next to the wildlife area, but that I didn’t think we had ever met. He said that his house was on the bay side, on one of the channels, but he liked the open sea better at this time of night. He told me about his neighborhood. 

“It’s like an American Venice, don’t you think?”       

And I smiled because I knew that there is a summer festival called “Night in Venice,” another unique spectacle of Ocean City.

We said goodnight right away; it was getting dark and I didn’t like to get back home late. I didn’t tell him that I was really saying goodnight and goodbye, that I would soon be all alone, ready to talk to tall strangers on a beach, no matter how obvious their pick-up lines.

Since that evening, I realized that old men not only look at me, but are now prone to start a conversation, if I give them a chance.
About the Author

Concha Alborg was born in Spain during the difficult years after the Spanish Civil War and went to school in Madrid until she emigrated with her parents to the United States, where she finished high school. More than any other event in her life, this move defines who she is, an immigrant living between two cultures. She may seem Americanized to her Spanish relatives, but she is from another country as far as her daughters are concerned. Although Concha fits well enough in both cultures, a tell-tale Spanish accent marks her speech as well as her writing.

Concha Alborg earned an MA from Emory University and a PhD in Spanish Literature from Temple University. In addition to numerous academic publications on contemporary women writers, she has been actively writing fiction and creative non-fiction. Recently, she left Saint Joseph’s University, where she was a professor for over twenty years, to write full time. She has published two collections of short stories: Una noche en casa (Madrid, 1995) and Beyond Jet-Lag (New Jersey, 2000) and a novel, American in Translation: A Novel in Three Novellas (Indiana, 2011).

Concha Alborg lives and writes in Philadelphia. See more information about the author at