Little Santa

Joseph looked helplessly from one parent to the other. The news he had just
heard was the most disturbing one he had ever heard in his long eight years.

Of course,
the signs were all there. The heated arguments that ended abruptly in the
minute he entered the room. The nervous glances. The outpouring of kindness. He
got more hugs and kisses than the lady on the telly when he had to go to the bathroom
one night and peeked into the lounge to see what show his parents were

And now
they’ve summoned him to their bedroom, making sure his little brother Greg, didn’t
notice, closing the door and standing ominously in front of him.

“Is it
about something I did?” thought Joseph. At eight his reputation wasn’t entirely
spotless but as Christmas approached, he was becoming a little self-conscious
about his behaviour. Also, eight years of experience made him something of an
expert at covering his tracks. Joseph wished he had Greg with him to give
support, consolation or distraction if needed, and if all else failed, to throw
him under the bus. Desperate times need desperate measures.

But after
some consideration he decided that he hadn’t done anything lately that warranted
the threat of hard punishment.

someone die?” was his next choice of possibility. But surely they would share
the news with his six-year-old little brother? Unless someone had died and he was
the one to inherit. Although he liked the idea of suddenly becoming rich, even he
didn’t believe it.

“Oh my god,
they’re getting a divorce!” he realised. It seemed to be the only explanation.
“They wanna see my reaction before they break the news to Greg.” Of course,
that explains everything! After the first shock he contemplated his feelings.

Lucy from
the class told him that divorce wasn’t half bad. First of all, her parents stopped
fighting after they got separated. She got twice as many presents and sweet for
birthdays and Christmas. She had two birthday parties. Her second mum and dad –
the new spouses – went out thir ways to please her and were way more gullible than
her biological parents. And she got not one but two summer holidays.

But his
hopes were all shattered when his dad said something that was way-way worse than
a divorce or even the death of a distant family member.

“What?” was
all Joseph could utter, his mouth trembling as he was fighting to hold back his

kiddo, it’s the truth” confirmed his mum. “Santa isn’t real.”

“At least
not in the way you thought” said his father trying to soften the blow. “He is
more like a metaphor of love and happiness and fun that comes with Christmas.”

couldn’t take it anymore, he started to cry. At first he was truly desperate but
later he started to enjoy his parents’ agony. I mean, it served them right.
Lying to a poor little kid. Just as well, thought Joseph, he could make the
most of it buy crying until his parents came up with a sufficient bribe.

Star Struck by Marie Mitchell and Mason Smith


by Marie Mitchell and Mason Smith





            I was just finishing my turkey
Rueben sandwich with a side of kettle chips when three fierce-looking Klingons
approached my table in Cincinnati’s Museum Center and seated themselves next to

            While I’m not a fanatical fan of the
legendary Star Trek universe, I do know that Klingons are not to be
trifled with. They are a fictional warrior race whose favorite saying is “Today
is a good day to die.” And they mean it.

            I couldn’t embrace that mantra since
I still had a lot of living left to do. But I figured I had nothing to fear
from these swarthy macho guys since their full battle gear bore the name of a
local costume shop, Heroes and Villains.

            From posters plastered all over the
Museum Center, I also realized these Klingon wannabes were probably here for
the weekend sci-fi cosplay convention. The main feature today is the showing of
one of the most memorable movies, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, with
a special guest appearance by the star, William Shatner, the original
swashbuckling Enterprise Captain, James T. Kirk.

            Feeling somewhat out of place, and
definitely underdressed for the occasion, I took a last bite of my sandwich and
started gathering my things to leave. As I stood to go, a muscular arm rather
forcefully pushed me back down onto my chair.

            “Friend, don’t be in such a rush to leave,”
the first Klingon said as he leaned in so close that I could count the numerous
prosthetic ridges on his forehead.

His buddy on the left inspected my nearly
empty plate with contempt. “How can you eat what passes for meat here on
Earth?” he demanded. “It just sits there—already dead.”

“What you need is a bowl of fresh gagh,”
the third Klingon, a female, advised, flashing me a sharp toothy smile. “But
good luck getting a refund for this pathetic meal out of that tight-fisted
Ferengi food dealer.”

She reached over and snatched one of my potato
chips. “You weak humans are like a Rigelian cow—grazing on food grown in dirt.”
Popping the chip in her mouth, she added, “Ugh, disgusting,” before reaching
for another one.

I’m used to human women denying they’re hungry
before grabbing chips and fries from my plate, saying they only want a
“nibble.” It’s no big deal. But I wasn’t so sure with a Klingon.

Please don’t let this be some kind of twisted
mating ritual.

“You should be eating a warrior’s meal, not
cow food,” Ms. Klingon continued. “Our gagh is best served fresh from
the blood-barrel. But since you’re a human, perhaps chilled gagh suits
your delicate tastebuds better. The cold, live, serpent worms don’t squirm as
much going down.”

“Most humans can’t eat more than one or two
bites before the rest crawl out of the bowl,” the first Klingon added to this
revolting image with a roar of laughter.

Dress to Unimpress

Dress to Unimpress

By Lucia Paul

Matchmaking is a tricky business. One person’s dreamboat is
another person’s sinking ship. Might I suggest giving some thought to how you
dress for the journey.


When I got divorced years ago, my younger child attended an elementary
school which was a very traditional community. Divorce hadn’t begun to rear its
ugly head among the 30 and 40-something parents. I was one of the lucky first. I
started gently going public with my news and took two close friends to lunch. I
said that I had something serious to discuss, and they squealed, “You’re
pregnant!” When I shared, that no, I was getting divorced, they both cried. One
of them, Joanne, bravely wiped her eyes, blew her nose and said, “Well, when
you’re ready to date, I have the man for you.” I thanked her and explained that
as I had not even moved out of the house, perhaps I should wait a bit.


  “You have five
children under the age of seven and you haven’t been out of the basement in nine
years, how do you know a man?” My other friend asked Joanne.


  “He’s known my
husband for years. He’s divorced and I just feel like you two were made for
each other.” She sniffled a bit. “And he looks just like Fabio.” Fabio, if you
don’t know, was an early 1990’s romance novel cover model and margarine
spokesperson. Joanne had gone from crying at the news of the demise of my
marriage to finding my dream man in ninety seconds. On my short list of
physical types, Fabio fell under Liam Neeson but above Donald Trump.  As a soon-to-be single mom over 40, I didn’t
feel I could be too choosy. So Fabio it may have to be at some point for a
date. I was happy to learn that someone thought I had some potential in the
dating world


I settled into my new life and started dating. Occasionally,
I would ask Joanne about Fabio.


   “I had Don give him
your number the day after our lunch. He hasn’t called?”

Almost a year had passed at this point, and Fabio had not
called. Maybe his hands were covered in margarine and kept slipping from the


In March, Joanne called, “I am taking you to Don’s office St.
Patrick’s party and Fabio will be there!” At this point, I was a bit peeved
with Fabio. She said she’d call back with details and we could drive together.
The night before, she called to say that her mother would be babysitting from 11
to 1, so she would pick me up at 10:30.


“At night?” I asked. I was under the impression that the St.
Patrick’s Day festivities would be in the evening. Having been back in the
dating world for over a year, I knew nothing said, “Desperate Lady,” like
showing up at an office party before noon to go on a blind date.

I am your soda and my fate is inevitable… A study in miscommunications. Hopefully.

family and I have been steadily ordering more and more from food delivery
services that pick up from local restaurants. It’s a time saver and not a bad
deal. If you get their annual pass the main visible extra cost beyond food and
tax is usually the tip. I appreciate the speed of the deliveries and efforts of
the drivers so I always tip well. When the delivery app calculates a certain
tip, especially on a small order, I’ll usually bump it up.


the record, no, I don’t think that makes me wonderful. Really, I’m only telling
you about it because it is relevant to the story. But, certainly, doing so can
be considered just a little bit consciously kinder and more considerate than one
would otherwise have to be. That too is relevant to the story.)


few other points that may be relevant to the story. One, I am currently
suffering from a bout of COVID, and, having not eaten too much for a couple
days, a big fast food meal seems especially comforting and appealing at this
moment. For some of the same reasons, I order a coke rather than the
unsweetened ice tea I usually order. I am really looking forward to that rare
kick of cool sweetness on my dry throat and tongue.


place my order and it arrives quickly as usual, as my barking dog alerts me. I
go to the front door to retrieve it. As you may be aware, it is standard
operating procedure for the delivery driver to text you a photo of the food to
prove that it was delivered. At this point, I have not yet seen the photo the
driver sends. It is the main photo above. Go take a look if you haven’t yet. It
is quite relevant.


pop quiz. So to speak. What do you think is going to happen to the coke and the
food as soon as someone inside the house pushes open the door? You can kind of watch
it happen in your mind’s eye, in dramatic slow 
motion, as if the photo was an actual video, right?


yes, as I innocently and eagerly open the door to retrieve my lunch—invisible,
of course, from my vantage point— the coke (my precious!) inevitably tips forward,
spilling and flowing all down the porch like a caramel-colored river. The food also
pitches forward, and what isn’t wrapped (French fries mostly) becomes porch
chow as well.


as I said, I have COVID. I am wearing a mask and three day old clothes. My nose
is stuffed, my eyes are tearing, I am hungry and I want to eat. What I really,
really DON’T want to do is start sweeping and mopping my porch, but I actually
just painted it and I don’t want it to stain. So I do.


I mop, I think to myself that if I wanted to play a trick on someone, I would
leave their soda and food exactly where this driver left it, a booby trap waiting
for them to open the door and, with delicious irony, be party to the
self-destruction of their own lunch.

Flower Power

Flower Power

This year for my birthday I requested “something personal” as opposed to say a steam iron or toaster oven. What I dreamed of was a day at the spa, an unlimited shopping spree, or a romantic getaway. Instead of those obvious choices, my loving husband presented me with a gift certificate for a full week of personal training at the Sunny Day Spa.

His gift sent mixed signals. Was I getting flabby? Losing my sex appeal? Or did he win the certificate at a poker game? I overlooked his insensitivity when I read that the personal trainer was to be – ripped biceps himself, Dan, the owner.

Dan is Sly Stallone, Pierce Brosnan, and Daniel Craig rolled into one gorgeous package. Back in the day, Dan was a linebacker for the Georgia bulldogs – a favorite subject for photographers, especially the female ones. Every part of his physique is taunt, tan, and totally yummy.

Without wasting a moment, I hurried to the mall and purchased a sports bra with matching yoga pants two sizes too small. No tummy bulge in front of Dashing Dan. Are there sport girdles? Of course, one outfit wouldn’t do for a week, so I bought one in every color. Then I need shoes – several pairs to look the part. So what if I racked up a few hundred dollars at Macys, Adidas, and Jared’s. Nothing sportier than a tennis bracelet?  Besides, I was miffed at my husband about the gift certificate thing.

6:00 A.M. Monday. Unusually early but here I come. Fortified by caffeine, I pulled into the parking lot where Dan, the Adonis of trainers, greeted me with a blinding smile straight out of a Crest commercial. He whistled at the hot pink latex number I’d chosen and gave me a tour of the day spa. We began with sit ups. I discovered that it is impossible to suck in your stomach while doing crunches. I just know this week is going to be wonderful. Dan’s motto today is “Don’t be a lazy Daisy.” So cute!

6:15 A.M. Tuesday. I am sore in unmentionable places. Only by incredible will power I crawled out of bed, smeared on Ben Gay, poured coffee into my travel cup, donned outfit and drove to the gym. I smiled through gritted teeth when Dan asked me to lie on a bench. Imagine my surprise when he placed an iron bar in my hands. As if that wasn’t heavy enough, he kept putting more weights on it. Only the scent of his Tuscany cologne pulled me through the agony. Today’s motto is “Don’t bump your nose, Rose.” Corny! But cute.

7:00 A.M. Wednesday. My body is one quivering nerve. My teeth itch. I have a hernia in my tennis elbow. I can’t turn my head to the left, so the journey takes twice as long. Dan’s perky voice grates my nerves. He said my screams on the treadmill disturbed others. After a cool down, Dan led me to a machine invented by someone who never heard of an elevator. 

The Marriage Contract

David and I married each other in order to save $1.00. I know we sound like cheapskates who trivialize the sanctity of matrimony, but let me explain. 


Back in the 1970’s, we met in a New Jersey grocery store. This wasn’t a “meet-cute” encounter. It was more like an Asian-immigrant-finds-another-Asian-immigrant-in-a-mostly-white-suburb situation. I was a toddler perched in the child seat of my father’s shopping cart when he heard someone speaking Mandarin. He raced over to the next aisle and spotted a Chinese woman (David’s mother) chatting away at a little boy (David) sitting in her cart’s child seat. My mom and David’s father soon joined the serendipitous meeting and from that day on, our parents were close friends. 


And David and I were buddies throughout childhood and adolescence…but never dated. In fact, together we discussed our crushes on other people. We served as each other’s trusty sounding board when we needed to analyze and vent about girlfriends and boyfriends. For example, during one of David’s torturous and seemingly never-ending relationship with a high-need girlfriend, I often had to talk him off the ledge and talk some sense into him. 


The summer before our senior year of college, we both found ourselves single. One night when we were out eating in ice cream, David suddenly stared ahead—spoon poised in midair—and somberly declared, “I’ll never get married.” Then, as if he’d never said anything somber, we resumed gossiping, polished off our desserts, and drove back to our respective parents’ houses. 


Inspired by his statement, though, I hastily scrawled a joke agreement between us: when the first person marries, the other person must pay $1.00 to the person getting married. The $1.00 would not only add insult to injury, but also symbolize the payer’s singledom status. Then I mailed the note to David.


A few days later, in the mail I received from David (who was applying to law school and practicing writing legalese) the following typed document: 


David S. Mao

[his home address at the time]


Helen Cheng

[my home address at the time]


Be it known that the above two parties have entered an agreement based upon an oral contract decided upon on the night of 26 June 1989. 


The outcome of this agreement will decide which party shall owe, in all accordance with the law, the other party the sum of one United States dollar, payable in either cash or check.


This agreement shall be decided upon when either party makes known his or her intention, and completed this intention of the sacred vow of holy matrimony. The undersigned party knows the rules and regulations governing this mutual wager, that there shall be no devious or underhanded methods that may in any way cover up or hide the fact that either party has participated in the above ceremony without the knowledge of the other party.


This agreement shall be void only of agree upon by both parties and in the presence of an unbiased third party.