2. End of Men

End of Men

C.B. Murphy

THE BOOK: End of Men.

PUBLISHED IN: 2010

THE AUTHOR: C. B. MURPHY

THE PUBLISHER: Zoographico Press, St Paul, MN.

SUMMARY: C. B. Murphy’s End of Men is a satiric tour de force about the ambiguity of identity where art intersects relationship. Inspired by The Magus, the book takes a successful Chicago couple through life-altering experiences ending on an Italian island run by a Warholian student of Aleister Crowley and his Iranian-feminist femme fatale. Adrift in midlife angst, financier Ben withholds the secrets of his wild past from his younger wife Kay. In horror at becoming a suburban “Beige,” Kay longs for her own walk on the wild side. As assistant curator of a feminist-themed outsider art exhibit, the End of Men, Kay contacts Ben’s estranged friends, the narcissistic Gordon and the exotic Shiraz, who run a film school on a Mediterranean island. Their secret is that it is a struggling place where underpaid Eurotrash produce factory art while working as grips and extras on Shiraz’s underfunded masterpieces of neo-feminist surrealism. When the self-styled enfants terribles premier their film at Kay’s museum, Ben’s past crashes through its barriers. Caught in the nether zone of grief and confusion, he accepts an invitation to “vacation” at the island described as an artists’ paradise. In Magus territory now, Ben and Kay become pawns in bizarre psychological games of erotic adventure with the promise of a renewed marriage through the reawakening of Ben’s wild heart. In this swirling circus of eccentricity, Ben’s ability to distinguish what is real quickly erodes as he and Kay become performers in Gordon and Shiraz’s final film, a reenactment of the immolation of Jacques de Molay, the last Knights Templar. As simmering violence threatens to become more than cinematic metaphor, Ben and Kay realize the manipulations have become dangerous.

THE BACK STORY: My first book, Cute Eats Cute, wasn’t originally supposed to be told entirely from a young person’s point of view. That’s just the way it worked out. That character’s voice was so strong “he” just wrote the book. That left me wanting to write an “adult” novel with more serious themes. I had a writing coach once who said (he got this from someone else, I don’t know who) that you find a door you never went through in your life and send a character through. So in many ways the characters in END OF MEN are composites of people from my life (including me) but no one is 100% any one person. I had certain themes that seemed not to easily connect but they were themes from my life. Examples are: art, filmmaking, business, gardening, and occultism. See what I mean?  Most of it I had already researched from living it. There were parts, like placing a section of it on an Italian island that I had to research, especially for the vegetation and so forth. Some of the Aleister Crowley stuff I had to re-research; I had read a lot about him when I was younger but forgot most of it.

I don’t feel like I am when my fingers are flying but as it turns out I am a slow writer. I take my time with first drafts and revisions. So I kind of hate to take this question too seriously. Let’s say “a long time.”  I do believe in writing groups, however. I was in one for a long time and learned how to take criticism. I am still in one, though it’s much smaller and more informal. Sometimes writing groups can be negative, though. I realized there were many people that wrote for a hobby (usually the first chapter over and over) and never intended to finish their book. I don’t mean to say anything negative about that hobby, but it’s a different position than one who expects to finish something and get it out there.

WHY THIS TITLE? I had this title in mind for a long time. Then as fate would have it, another author (Hanna Rosin’s The End of Men: And the Rise of Women) came out right before mine! Her book was a feminist nonfiction take on contemporary society and mine was fiction. But she was moderately famous and I was an unknown. I still don’t know if it was the “right” decision to keep the name or not, but I suspect those kind of polemics date pretty fast and as we know fiction last forever. Plus, Warhol said any publicity (even my accident) is a good thing. My title comes from the title of a feminist art show in the book called the End of Men. So my themes do relate to Ms. Rosin’s though as a fiction writer I take the attitude that watching it all happen is preferable to acting like you know what’s really coming next. Part of my inspiration for the book was John Fowles’ The Magus, so I could have gone a route where I tried to pay homage to that title. But then titles like The Magician (etc) have been overused in books and movies; it would be hard to find a fresh one. Maybe I will someday, as one of the presenters suggested at AWP*—retitle your book and put it out again!

WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT?:  Going back to my list of what the book is about (art, filmmaking, business, gardening, and occultism) I could add: relationships, friendship, and clash of world views. I think many people have to deal with the issue of change in their lifestyles and how that effects old friendships. There’s a film that covered this material pretty well (The Banger Sisters, 2002) but it was strictly a comedy. It did deal with the fact, like my book, Sarandon’s character took the “straight path” and Hawn’s character remained the wild child she was in college. My book deals with similar issue but complicates it into a four- way matrix.

There are two couples in my book — Ben and Kay, living the suburban life style in Chicago, and the unmarried artistic partners, Gordon and Shiraz, who run a film school on an Italian island. Ben was an artsy pal of those two when he was in college, but as he got older he left all that “hippie stuff” behind. But he married a younger woman, Kay, who felt she missed the fun of the 60s and wanted very much to know what happened back then (especially to her husband who is closed-mouthed about it all). To complicate it all, Shiraz is an Iranian trying to meld “modern art” and her dedication to being a “new” Islamic woman. Gordon is an eccentric pill-popping bisexual who believes in the second coming of the notorious “magician” Aliester Crowley. So there. Lots of reasons to read it.

REVIEW COMMENTS:

From Amazon:

Reviewer #1

“His new novel, END OF MEN (published before Hannah Rosin’s book) is as trenchant, funny, and unpredictable as his first book. I could try to synopsize the plot–which snakes its way through the midwestern art world, slithers onto the Greek island where Aleister Crowley once held court, and twists around the necks of gardeners, artists, museum curators, filmmakers, hardboiled businessmen, and narcissists of all stripes– but it hardly matters, because the book is a thrilling roller coaster, not a comforting Sunday drive. Be prepared to have your head turned, your values questioned, and your face occasionally slapped, all while following an array of eccentric characters down strange yet always believable paths.”

 Reviewer #2

The End of Men” has a storyline filled with webs that are skillfully woven by the author, C.B. Murphy. The book evolves around a successful Chicago couple as they go through life changing adventures. He keeps you on the edge of your seat wondering what will be next. As a little twist he adds a little humor. You will get the ride of your life while you are Reading an interesting story filled with characters that you actually want to get to know. The author throws in some history along the way. This is an adventure you won’t want to miss. Mr. Murphy writes a believable story.”

The main characters, Ben and Kay are dealing with problems in their marriage after Ben’s father’s death. Kay contacts Ben’s old college friends. From there it has an interesting mixture of art, sexuality and much more. The author also adds the element of danger to the mix. What more could a reader want?? Just one thing, it will make you stop and think about your values and your life. I would recommend this book to everyone.”

Reviewer #3

C.B. Murphy pens “End of Men” in a plot filled with twists and turns that kept me guessing through the whole book, while throwing in just a bit of humor. He takes you through a truly interesting roller coaster ride of adventure with interesting characters, and a bit of history. Although the characters were different/creative/eccentric, the author always stayed on a believable path throughout the book. A fantastic read and highly recommended for all….just be prepared, it will make you question your value

AUTHOR COMMENTS: “At this stage in my life I am focused on producing excellent work (more than making money of “being famous.”) With my range of interests it’s easy to get confused by multiple projects so I try to focus on the novels as my “main” thing. My primary audience (and best critics) are my sons (both in their 20s now). I write for them and now  with them as Nicolas Murphy is collaborating with me on Bardo Zsa Zsa.

I would like to learn to write poetry and do some, but I can barely take on any more

I am a student of history and the contemporary world, but unlike many of my fellow novelists don’t feel I have the “answer” which I then weave into my plots. I prefer the idea that everyone holds a tiny piece (some very tiny, obviously) of “the truth” which is the world from their point of view. We are all right and wrong in that sense. This is why I prefer fiction to non-fiction. I think in the end we are locked into our world of being a character in a world of characters. Getting inside of “character” is the most challenging and rewarding thing one can do. Much better than advocating for a point of view that is probably deeply flawed, as they all are.

SAMPLE CHAPTER

Chapter One

Ben stood on the patio in his bare feet, arms outstretched like a scarecrow or Jesus. He was waiting for the sun to warm the red stones, making it impossible for him to remain where he was. This was the ritual he had stumbled onto and performed religiously every day of the month since his father died. He wore what he jokingly (Kay didn’t think it funny) called his work clothes: cut-off jeans like he wore as a kid. Kay had made him agree to put on a shirt when he worked in the front yard.

Thinking of his wife, Ben glanced at the wall of picture windows above him, but the glare made it impossible to see if she was watching him. But she was there, he knew, drinking coffee and worrying about when he would return to his normal life and stop acting strange. She would stand there a few more minutes and then join the commuters flowing out of the houses around them and then he would be alone with his plants.

Morning was the hardest part of the day. The ritual helped. All around him garage doors had been opening and closing for hours. Breadwinners, men and women, but mostly men, were hitting the Kennedy Expressway in their upscale cars—BMWs, Saabs, giant SUVs, and the occasional minivan. The traffic was probably backed up to the Forest Lake exit since six. He was glad Kay’s hours were forgiving, though she took her assistant curator position more seriously than most of those around her.

Ben heard the distinctive roar of the yellow school buses driven by reforming alcoholics while electricians, plumbers and handymen were hitching up their pants, and fantasizing about the lady of the house being a nympho-mom. Hispanic maids hopped out of beater Fords laughing and waving goodbye. Men began spraying lawns with toxic chemicals from vans ornamented with ecologically friendly logos.

Ben knew if he could get through this last hour of the rush, he would be free once again to pretend the world beyond his backyard didn’t exist, especially the world of jobs. Somewhere he still had (as far as he knew) a desk, a secretary, work piling up, and young men eyeing his office hungrily. He was fully aware that by all standards—Kay’s, his secretary Evie‘s, and surely those hungry young men and some women (who had named themselves the Young Turks)—his sabbatical had already crossed over from acceptable grief into questionable sanity. He would have to make a move soon, take a stand.

The patio stones were heating up fast.

His mother, Cass, had told Kay she knew what he was doing. Ben was waiting for her to confront him and shame him into reactivating the Protestant work ethic and “stop messing around with the family’s good name.” She could say something no one else could: “I loved your father more than you, and I’m functioning normally. You don’t see me skipping out on my responsibilities and walking around the yard half naked. Whatever you call this, it isn’t grieving.”

Ben agreed with that in part. This thing he was doing wasn’t exactly grieving, but he didn’t know what it was.  He had read an article, years ago, in one of Kay’s art magazines, about a woman (a dancer or performance artist, he couldn’t remember) who lay on her floor for days until she found what motivated her to move. From there, ostensibly, she rose and created the work for which she was being interviewed. But Ben couldn’t tell anyone about how this woman’s story reminded him of his own. Even Kay would think he was putting her on. He wished he could find what motivated him before something tragic happened.

He had full days planned; he was busy. Once the suburban world completed its shift into daytime maintenance, he became, like them, a service person. He became a gardener, pure and simple, pagan and basic. A laborer. He loved this. But first he had to segue from the porch ritual.

He hated that Kay watched, but he wouldn’t let that stop him. He closed his eyes, rested his arms a moment, and then stretched them out, again thinking of that dancer as she rose for the first time from the floor. Kay officially tolerated eccentricity. It came with the territory of working for a cutting-edge “visionary art” museum, the art of the untrained and the insane. Her job brought her into contact with the near-insane, artists, and staff, every day. Ben suspected the association didn’t help his standing with her. He had always been a counterpoint to that world, the stable one who laughed off the irritating eccentricity of her world and brought home the bacon they lived on.

He sensed the duration of this “period” of his was beginning to scare her in a way it hadn’t before. He took a bit of satisfaction in this.  She should have known when they got married that she was getting a strange bird. Hadn’t she bragged about it to her girlfriends (who worried about the ten year age difference) that Ben had an exotic past he would rather not talk about but, nonetheless, was a solid basis for understanding her world? Ben assumed that part of her fascination with him was about the times he had experienced and she had not, the mythic age when masses of people took mind-altering drugs and danced naked on beaches. She did not hide the fact that she wished she had been there. Ben assumed his history somehow stood in for experience she wished was part of her experiential resume. What she didn’t know was that, after the wedding (after impressing her, landing her), he more or less shut up about it, like the World War II vets who killed German boys with their bare hands only to now sit on their porches staring. Ben once overheard Kay say on the phone that Ben was like Jack Kerouac who had worked for his father’s firm on LaSalle Street instead of going home to his mother and nodding out in an alcoholic stupor. He wasn’t totally sure what he thought about that, but he accepted it. Suits and deals grew over his other life like mold covered the forest floor.

Nevertheless Kay’s arty peers saw Ben as a Willy Loman or worse—a Stepford husband tolerable mostly for the paycheck he brought home.  Kay said she didn’t care about the money, claimed she could go low-income and live in a trailer any time, but Ben doubted how easy it would be for her to give up the style to which she had become accustomed, including an Audi with satellite radio. Her own paycheck became essentially petty cash, disposable income; mad money.

Then, out of nowhere came her desire for a baby. Ben wondered if she could still walk away and live in a trailer, dirty-faced toddler in tow.

He tried to force all these thoughts out of his mind. He imagined himself bombarded by subatomic particles originating from the sun: photons, gamma rays, neutrinos, negatively charged ions, and all the new particles so recently discovered their names weren’t even in textbooks yet. These building blocks of the universe converged, passed through or bounced off the electromagnetic field that constituted his body, the illusion of solidity people call flesh. In Ben’s imaginary science film, he saw some particles attracted to his gravitational mass, others deflected. Some were so tiny they zipped through him as if he weren’t there. Some caused changes as they passed through, leaving a barely perceptible burn only an electron microscope could identify. These burns, Ben imagined, would eventually kill him through their encouragement of subtle cell mutation. On the other hand, some rare particles, he speculated, might help. It was not impossible that, in such a chaotic and unknown swarm, one or two could knock out a cold virus or kill evil bacteria. Some things were well beyond science.

Ben felt Kay eyeing him critically from an upper window. He imagined her drinking coffee from an oversized cup she held with two hands. He wondered if he should consider her worry a motivation for changing his behavior. Looking down, she would see a man in his late forties with thinning hair, a slim athletic build (“trim for his age”), and a tan deeper than a grownup should have (given everything we know about skin cancer). She would see a man a decade older than her, but one she still hoped would father her children.

Ben wondered how strongly she was clinging to the official explanation for his odd behavior—that it was all about his father and employer, one and the same, dying a month ago. Obviously it was hitting him harder than anyone expected, especially given the publicly combative nature of his relationship with his father. She might have taken comfort in the fact that Ben was exhibiting some erratic, spontaneous behavior, a precious human quality so valued in the decade she missed. But working against this was his maleness. What did men know about handling grief? Whatever her rationalization for not demanding he take a serotonin uptake inhibitor (dopamine could be the issue after all); he knew her restraint was wearing thin. Lately she had begun to snap at him and criticize him. If he wanted to hurt her, he could say she was doing it like his father, in public. Worse, she had taken to talking to his mother on the phone, perhaps seeking a childhood paradigm that might explain his behavior.

Cass, no doubt, gave her an earful.

Ben had decided that today was the last weekday of his grief sabbatical. Should he tell Kay? Monday he would go back to work, all this Tarzan-in-the-garden nonsense behind him. He couldn’t just blurt it out, though. It had to be the right moment. He was ready to be a man in the world again, to put away childish things. He was motivated.

Ben heard a click and then the sound of metal sliding against metal as the patio door opened. He turned to catch a glimpse of Kay’s long white leg protruding from a blue kimono. She touched her big toe on the red patio stones as if she were testing bath water. She was not dressed for work. Since when had she started acting like the others at the museum, not caring about arriving on time? Everyone over there was always coming from or going to something: therapy, Pilates, traffic court, or volunteering for some utopian cause they assumed the museum would agree with.

They’re so hot!” she said. “How can you stand out there in bare feet?”

I just dance around every few seconds. Wait and see.” Ben raised his index finger toward the sky and wiggled his butt. Kay laughed. Ben felt relief. He wasn’t so crazy that he forgot how to make her laugh.

Wait—my coffee,” she said, disappearing.

She returned wearing flip-flops and then moved tentatively out of the dark interior of the house, shielding her eyes from the sun. She carried her yellow latte cup in one hand and a cordless phone in the other.

Should’ve brought my sunglasses,” she said, laughing self-consciously. It was an old joke—her simultaneous disdain for, and need of stuff, lots of stuff.

Embroidered snow cranes flashed from the back of her blue kimono as she closed the sliding door with her foot. She liked to make a show of honoring Ben’s obsession about keeping the house cool. 

You can do amazing things with those feet,” he said, surprised she wasn’t dressed yet for work.

She walked toward him, squinting, holding the phone like a visor.

God,” she said, handing him the phone. “I almost forgot why I came out here. It’s Evie.” She nodded at the phone.

This startled Ben. Evie was his secretary. Hadn’t he made rules about accepting calls at home? Or had he just thought he had and no one called? At the moment, Evie represented the world he had been avoiding, the hapless ambassador of MM&O. She had called once before but it had to do with where to put his father’s personal things. Evie could have called Cass, but Kay understood and had dealt with it.

Ben grabbed the phone, trying not to glare at Kay. “Evie!” he said with slightly manic gusto. It came out stronger, crazier, than he expected. In the second before she answered, he wondered if it was really her. It could be a prank by one of the Young Turks who coveted his office. Could it be something Kay was in on, something she cooked up with Cass to jar him into reshouldering his responsibilities?

When Ben heard the sound of chewing followed by a rapid swallow, he knew it was Evie.

Um, Mr. Wolfe?” Evie asked in a breathless voice.

Ben had forgotten how sexy she sounded on the phone. Her voice always made him think of women in old movies. She was addressing him more formally than usual, which might foreshadow the seriousness of her mission. Certainly there must be new power configurations coalescing since Joe the Wolf died a month ago. In the eulogy, J.P. had said the old man had died at his desk, kindly leaving out the fact that someone found him face down in his lunch. Ben remembered wondering if one of the Young Turks might have done it. They were amoral enough, but there had been no sign of a struggle. Perhaps the reason for formality was simple: Evie was afraid of talking to her old boss, a man everyone (even Cass who prowled the office) said was acting mad.

You can call me Ben, Evie.”

Ben. Yes,” she said, “I’m so, so sorry for calling you at home, but…”

It’s okay, Evie,” Ben said. “I know this has been hard on you, too.”

You do?” she asked with sudden enthusiasm. “J.P.’s been great to me. He’s been giving me all kinds of, uh, new things to do.”

Ben frowned. J.P. was an enemy. He wasn’t exactly Ben’s boss, only Joe had had final authority over Ben, but J.P. had to report to management the results of everything Ben did or attempted. Thus, functionally, Ben had answered to J.P., hidden power structures aside. Ben had assumed J.P. hid his resentments (and subtle affinities with the Turks) behind enlightened management phrases like “circle of trust.” In Ben’s opinion, J.P. had advanced mainly because he knew how to enhance his persona with business vocabulary and character-building sports vacations.

J.P. said you would approve,” Evie said. “Of all I’m doing, I mean.”

I’m sure I will,” Ben said.

Kay mouthed, what’s wrong? from her wicker lounge chair. She sipped from the latte cup, managing to look spaced-out, competent, and worried all at the same time.

Nothing, Ben mouthed back. But Evie’s conversation was stilted, her chewing restrained.

Is something wrong, Evie?” he asked.

I got another memo–from Mr. Maher?” Maher was Human Resources—they called him The Worm behind his back. “You got a memo,” she clarified. “It sounds kind of bad. He said you had used all your vacation time, and the policy on medical…”

I know all about that,” Ben said. “Email him back that I’ll be in on Monday.”

The chewing sounds stopped. There was no sound at all from the other end of the phone for several seconds. Then the chewing sounds started back up, faster and louder.

Oh. That’s, um, good,” Evie said without even making an effort to act. “Can I, um, tell anyone?”

No,” Ben said. He was winging it. “It’ll be a surprise to the others when I come in Monday morning. Maybe I can catch someone rifling through my desk.”

No one’s been–” Evie started and then seemed to get the joke and forced a sexy little laugh. “I’ve been protecting it. Grrr.”

Ben looked at Kay expecting to see surprise, shock, possibly anger. But she wasn’t even looking in his direction. This was not how he had planned to make his announcement, though it occurred to him now that he hadn’t even thought how he would make it. Just not like this.

Kay was staring straight out, unblinking, toward his garden. He put his hand over the phone and said, “I’m sorry, I meant to tell you earlier that I was going back.”

She nodded at him and tightened her mouth.

He sketched a quick scenario. Hadn’t Kay been talking to Cass on the phone lately, more than they ever had? Maybe they had cooked up something. Maybe Kay handed the phone to him knowing exactly what Evie would say. If she knew that Evie had shocking news, she might have assumed it would be disturbing enough to shock her husband into returning to work. The convoluted possibility frightened him.

Evie had been talking for a minute or two. She was saying something about his project, Legacy Planning, the one everyone hated but he knew was right. The project would position MM&O for the next decade of demographic shifts and market uncertainties. But it had to get past Joe the Wolf and his Young Turk syncophants. And now Joe was dead.

You gave me tons to do on it,” Evie said. “That research and retyping…” She choked. Whether on her carrot or on emotion, he couldn’t tell. “J.P. said that project won’t be getting off the ground any time soon, so I needn’t bother doing the research and the type-up. He said maybe they would make a new department for you. You’d be the head of it. Isn’t that great? But by then he said I would probably be a broker…” She talked faster as if she wanted to get it all out in one breath.

Take a breath, Evie.” Ben glanced at Kay. He had the impression she looked away quickly.

J.P.’s kept me so busy,” Evie said, clearing her throat loudly in his ear. She sounded like a daughter at college telling her dad about a new course she was taking. “He said I could start working on my broker’s license and that some client contact, under his supervision of course, would be good training.”

Ben stifled his reaction, not wanting to leak anger. “Have you been talking to my clients?” he asked.

Some, yes. J.P. said someone had to help you out, and they knew me. He took some of the harder ones and gave them out to some of the boys.” The Boys was a somewhat nicer way people referred to the Young Turks. Ben’s best clients had been handed out to the Turks. He heard some of his own breath release itself slowly, a football crushed by an SUV’s tire.

J.P. said someone had to reassure them that the firm was here working for them. I only talked to the old ladies, the ones who liked you.” She chewed faster, sounding famished. “I didn’t tell them to change anything.”

Good.”

J.P. did that.”

Bad, Ben thought. “Interesting,” he said.

In a pleading voice Evie said, “I tried to call you, but you never answered. Oh, and your mother was here.”

My mother? What was she doing there?” Ben felt his jaw tighten.

Cleaning out Mr. Joe’s desk.”

Damn her! Ben thought.

Has she started sending out memos yet?” Ben asked. It was an old joke that Cass would be like those women who stepped into their husband’s job of senator or governor the minute he died.

Evie giggled then hiccupped. “Damn,” she said.  When Evie was upset, she hiccupped.

What else?” Ben asked.

Is your wife still near you?” Evie whispered.

Kay sat up in her chair as if on cue. She made a display of looking at her watch and tapping it as she got up. There were the legs again, kicking out of the kimono. Ben waved.

No,” he said to Evie. “What?”

I found something,” she said. “Before your, um, mom did.”

Uh-huh?” Ben said, smiling toward Kay as she walked toward the house.

Some kind of note about money. It’s, um, a note from your wife,” she said. “Handwritten.”

To?” Ben wondered how he could be so clueless as to ask this. But Kay was not a sneak and if she was it meant he knew nothing about her. The note could be to anyone.

To Joe the…” she said then giggled. “Your dad. He wrote something on it, too. It’s hard to read, but…”

Okay,” Ben said, flashing another smile at Kay who was walking slowly across the hot stones. She lifted each foot unnaturally high but didn’t pick up her pace. She watched his face over her shoulder.

He wrote ‘The end of men’ and put two dollar signs after it,” Evie said. “What do you think that means?”

That’s fine, Evie. Just put it in a special place for me to read later. You did good. Just a second, Evie.” Ben covered the phone and turned to Kay. She stood at the open patio door, one foot raised, doing an impression of a lawn flamingo. She squinted back at him.

Everything’s going to be okay,” Ben said to her before he noticed she had raised her index finger. He wondered why he was reassuring her and not the other way around.

Ben put his hand over the receiver. “What?”

Your mother invited us for dinner. I said yes. She’ll be so happy about you going back.”

Okay,” Ben said to Kay. But Evie took it as a goodbye and hung up. He had more to say to her or ask her but couldn’t remember what it was.

Ben returned to his thoughts on subatomic particles. If this were the last day of his Tarzan vacation, he didn’t want to think about Evie and Cass and J.P. for the rest of the day. He especially didn’t want to think about Kay and his dead father passing notes.

He heard a knock on the window and turned around. Kay, now dressed, air-kissed him through the glass. She was holding up something. It was the Australian aboriginal fertility doll Cass had brought her from Hong Kong. She was kissing it and rubbing it.

Ben nodded and smiled.

He didn’t understand women, not one bit. How had she made this jump? Now that his crazy period was over, did she assume he wanted to have sex again and get back to serious baby making and that this time things would be better, and everything would work like it was supposed to? Why had he stopped liking sex anyway? Kay rubbed her belly with her hand as she tapped the wooden doll on the glass.

Maybe she’s trying to tell me something, Ben thought. Something she’s afraid to tell me in person. Could she already be pregnant? When had they last made love? Could it be his?

He tried to imagine himself like J.P. with a picture on his credenza. He would be holding his child swathed in Patagonia microfleece against a backdrop of Aspen.

Ben smiled and turned back to the garden. Not only did he not understand women, he didn’t understand men. He didn’t understand anything except plants and they were easy: sun or shade, wet or dry, clay or humus. No, even plants were not easy. He shut his eyes and imagined being bombarded by the very tiniest subatomic particles originating from the nucleus of the sun. These mystical particles imparted self-knowledge, and some were rewiring his brain while others repaired his libido.

And the gods of the garden said it was good.

WHERE TO BUY IT: Amazon.com

PRICE:

$9.99 paper

$4.99 kindle

CONTACT THE AUTHOR: charleybmurphy@gmail.com

twitter  @CharlesBMurphy
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writersbridgebridgebuilder

Recently retired after 35 years with the News & Advance newspaper in Lynchburg, VA, now re-inventing myself as a novelist/nonfiction writer and writing coach in Lake George, NY.

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