My Books

Rosy Release Novemmber 2012
I recently released a new book, Rosy: A Novel, on Amazon Kindle. Right now it's enrolled in Amazon Prime. And this Friday and Saturday (December 7 & 8, 2012) it will be Free. I hope you pick up a copy! Meanwhile, I've posted the first two chapters here. (For added fun: every chapter is named for a song, and the chapter headings are linked to an MP3 download.

“Sweetness, I could eat you whole.”

A rainbow umbrella-hat cruised along the sidewalk toward Sarah. The weirdo underneath it hissed. Before Sarah could stop him, his hand shot out and groped her crotch. She stumbled backward and found protection in the shadows of the theater’s entrance.

“Pervert,” she shouted at his back.

Drawing deeper into the entryway, Sarah glanced at the deserted box office where she’d spent her evening selling tickets to an obscure foreign film starring Laplanders. If reindeer could make it in Manhattan she figured she could too. Her gaze drifted to a poster advertising the upcoming premiere of Car Wash.

The last time her dad called, she told him that she’d broken into show business.
Across Eighth Street, beyond the buildings, she searched a patch of sky, but the only stars she saw were the glittering names on the movie theater’s marquee. The marquee went black. Closed for the night. Standing in the dark, Sarah wished for love, wished for a break, wished her mother hadn’t died.

And she wished Regina would show up.

Catching her reflection in the theater’s glass doors, she sucked in her cheeks and attempted to appear sophisticated. It stunk to look seventeen when you were twenty-two. At her last audition, the casting director laughed, said she was too young to play the ingénue. Sighing, she turned back to the sidewalk and checked out the rush of people.

Back home in suburbia, in another world, lights were going out, but Greenwich Village never stopped. Disco-sequined girls floated by on clouds of marijuana. A guy in a white angel robe sailed past on a skateboard. He was followed by a punk-rocker sporting a turquoise Mohawk, deep in conversation with a time-warped hippie—they entered Jimi Hendrix’s studio. Jimi had died six years ago, but his recording studio lived on—a purple haze of carpet on the walls. A skinny guy stared Sarah down, his junkie eyes destitute.

She glanced at her watch.

Regina was late as usual.

The watch had belonged to Sarah’s mother. Sarah focused on the second hand, but tears filled her eyes and blurred the dial. Her father expected her to leave the city, told her to forget her childish dreams, get a real job and become a secretary or a teacher—take care of him. Sickness stirred in her stomach, the old familiar guilt.

Braving the crowd, she stepped onto the sidewalk.

Someone slammed into her back and offered no apology.

Turning, she saw the blanket man.

He growled, exposing rotten teeth, and drew his filthy blanket over his unwashed hair. His head retracted like a turtle’s. He was a regular at the movie theater. Last week Sarah had pissed him off.

She heard Regina’s screech and scanned the sidewalk. Squeezed into black jeans so tight she could barely walk, teetering on spike-heeled boots, Regina oozed “native New Yorker.” She leaned against a man wearing designer jeans and a sleek leather jacket.

“There you are!” Regina shrieked, her voice more piercing than a siren. Passersby turned to gawk. Breaking from her escort, she shoved past a tourist who attempted to take a photograph. Regina’s breath reeked of alcohol. She motioned to the guy she’d been leaning on. “Come here, Robin.” She turned back to Sarah. “Cute, huh?”

Sarah nodded.

“He’s my shrink.”

“Your shrink?”  Robin looked more like a rock star than a psychiatrist. His green eyes sparkled, and he flashed an impish smile at Sarah.

“I’ve heard all about you.” His voice sounded cultivated, without a trace of New York accent, and his handshake felt strong.

“Good things, I h-hope,” Sarah stammered. The man’s good looks caught her off-guard, but his smile seemed genuine.

Regina gave Robin a boozy kiss then turned back to Sarah. “We met when I was in the loony-bin. He helped me screw my head on straight.”

“That’s good,” Sarah said. Feeling awkward, she elaborated. “I mean, it’s good that he helped you. Not that you were in Payne Whitney. I mean you’re not really—”  

“Nuts? Yeah, I am.” Regina twisted a dark strand of hair around her finger—it seemed shorter than Sarah remembered.

“You cut your hair?”

“Got it trimmed. Don’t change the subject.” Regina’s eyes grew blacker. “If I’m not nuts, why did you call the cops on me?”

Sarah glanced at Robin.

Celebrating Regina’s release had been Sarah’s idea, but she was starting to regret it. After Regina’s mother died, Regina had gone crazy—sleeping with every guy she’d met, downing fistfuls of pills. When Sarah found her passed out in a pool of vomit, she’d called for help.

“We’re all kind of nuts, aren’t we?” Robin said. “Who wants to be normal anyway?”

Sarah smiled, gratefully. “I was worried, Regina. I called because I care about you.”

Regina’s face softened. “I need a hug.” She fell into Sarah’s arms.

“I know how hard it is to lose your mother.” Sarah stroked Regina’s hair.


“Nothing to be sorry for.”

 Regina wiped her eyes. Black rivulets ran down her face, streaking her foundation. “Is my mascara running?”

“You look great.” Sarah offered her a tissue.

“Liar.” Regina blew her nose. “Sarah is my best friend in the world,” she said to Robin. “We met in scene-study class at Herbert Berghof’s studio. She’s going to be a famous actress.”
“I’m honored to meet a budding starlet.” Robin’s eyes danced with amusement.

“If you haven’t noticed,” Sarah said, “Regina tends to exaggerate.”

Regina rubbed her newly reconstructed nose and sniffed. “You are going to be famous. I know it. We Greeks have second sight.”

“You mean, you’re seeing double. How much have you had to drink?”

“Just enough to calm my nerves. Isn’t that right, Doctor?” Regina grabbed Robin’s arm to prevent herself from stumbling. “But I need something stronger, like a lude. You promised.”
Sarah frowned. What kind of doctor handed out Quaaludes? Come to think of it, what kind of psychiatrist went out drinking with his patients?

Robin caught Sarah’s disapproving glance. “I think we’d better take a rain-check on the celebration,” he said. “I’ll find a taxi and take Regina home.”

“Put me to bed on doctor’s orders?” Regina ran her fingernails along Robin’s arm.

His eyes met Sarah’s, offering an apology.

They walked along Eighth Street—Sarah trailing behind Regina and Robin—toward Sixth Avenue. Regina had laughed when Sarah referred to it as Avenue of the America’s; called Sarah a newbie tourist, but that had been six months ago.

When they reached the corner, Robin hailed a yellow cab. After settling Regina inside, he turned back to Sarah. “Maybe we can get together another time?”


His smile lit up the night. With a wave, Robin stepped into the cab.

Sarah watched the stream of traffic until the tail-lights vanished.

Practically skipping, she headed down Sixth Avenue. Warm air embraced her; winter’s edge had softened into spring. Even in this concrete world, she felt life waking, and anything seemed possible.

A wino drinking from a bottle wrapped in brown paper staggered toward Sarah.

Clinging to her shoulder bag she ignored the red light, and like a true New Yorker, stepped off the curb.

As she headed downtown pedestrians grew sparse. She focused on the sidewalk, avoiding cracks as if touching a line might send her into an abyss. Step on a crack, break your mother’s back. The childhood chant played in her head, repeating like a broken record. Step on a crack…It dared her. Lifting her foot with deliberation, she placed it on the cement’s divide. The chant grew louder, drowning out the din of traffic. Tears sprang into her eyes.

“Sorry, Mom.”  

She continued walking, carefully avoiding cracks.

Crossing Houston Street, she reminded herself to pronounce it House-ton. She headed east. When she reached Mott Street it was dark, except for the candy store. Who would be buying candy at this hour? And what kind of candy would it be? But you don’t ask those kinds of questions in Little Italy.

A bell tinkled when the candy store’s door swung open. A man’s silhouette appeared in the entryway, framed by a halo of light. Golden rays poured out around him, like those pictures of saints in the palm reader’s window.

“Hi, Mr. Palumbo.”

“You okay, kid?” He squinted through black-framed glasses. “I got some mail for youse.”
For some unknown reason the mail in Sarah’s building got delivered to the candy store. But again, some things you didn’t question.

Mr. Palumbo handed her an envelope. She wished it was a letter, but she recognized the electric bill. She’d just paid last month’s. Even working extra hours the movie theater kept her scrounging.

“G’night, Sarah.” Mr. Palumbo started to close the door, then opened it again. “Don’t forget, rent’s due Friday.”

“No kidding? Already?”

April Fools’ Day, how could she forget? For some other unknown reason Mr. Palumbo collected rent for Mr. Woo, the Chinese landlord.

“You’re a good kid, Sarah.”

The patch of light went black.

She pulled open the door to her building, and it creaked on rusty hinges. She didn’t need a key. It was never locked. That’s why the place stunk of urine—sometimes she’d catch bums hanging around the stairwell. She glanced around the dimly-lit hallway, but saw no one. A lone light bulb swung from the ceiling. The others had burnt out. The building had no elevator. She hurried up the stairs, humming to herself and thinking about Robin.

By the time she reached the fifth floor, she felt breathless.

Digging through her bag, she found her keys. She undid the locks, one in the doorknob and one above it, then released the deadbolt. Entering the kitchen, she flicked on the light and heard roaches scatter, scurrying into the walls. They didn’t seem to mind that she barely kept a crumb in the apartment. Roaches weren’t picky. They feasted on toothpaste and book bindings.

She set her purse on the counter. The kitchen was large, bigger than the bedroom, but like everything else in the apartment, it was out of date. She opened the old-fashioned fridge and stared at the near-empty shelves. Celery and Tab. Her perpetual attempt at dieting. She pulled out a soda and zipped open the top.

The sound of ringing startled her.

Calls at strange hours usually meant bad news. Like the night her mother died. Reaching for the wall phone with a shaking hand, she lifted the receiver.


“Robin?” She thought she recognized his voice, but wasn’t sure.

“I hope it’s not too late.”

“Is everything okay?”

“It’s just—” She heard him breathing, felt her heart pounding. “I need to talk to you,” he said.

“About Regina?” Images of Regina, unconscious and barely breathing, rushed into her head.

“I think we should talk in person,” Robin said.

“If it’s an emergency, I’d better leave right now.” She glanced at her purse, thinking about the expense. “I’ll see if I can find a cab.”

“No. Stay there. I’ll come to you. Tell me your address.”

Sarah’s heart slammed into her chest as she recited the information. In a shaking voice she asked, “Is Regina dead?”

“It’s not about Regina. I just need to see you.”

A half-hour later Robin appeared at her door.

Two weeks later he hadn’t left.


Sarah couldn’t wait to get home, couldn’t wait to tell Robin about her audition for the Preposterous Players—an avant-garde theater company. The director asked her to read for several roles, a good sign. And she’d had a long conversation with the guy in the box office about how Todd Rundgren’s music had saved their lives. She felt sure they would call her back, proof that the acting classes she scrimped and saved for, the constant auditions—for Off, Off-Off, and Off-Off-Off Broadway—were finally paying off.

Smiling at her good fortune, Sarah rushed past the candy store and smacked into Mr. Palumbo. 

“Where you going?”

“Sorry,” she said, attempting to sneak by him. 

“Come here.”

Remembering the past-due rent, she felt her face redden.

He motioned her into the candy store.

Reluctantly, she followed him. The yellowish linoleum looked about a hundred years old. Dusty shelves of ancient looking candy lined the walls. A couple of old guys leaned against the scarred wooden counter. They stopped talking and watched Sarah as Mr. Palumbo rummaged behind the cash register.

“Your mail,” he said, resurfacing with a white envelope—no doubt, another bill—and a dog-eared catalogue.

She glanced at the cover: Frederick’s of Hollywood.

“That’s not mine.”

“I think it is.”

Mr. Palumbo handed her the catalogue along with the envelope.

“You’re late on the rent,” he said. “Ten days is the limit, kid. Mr. Woo don’t care for slackers.”
The old men sniggered.

“I can give you a hundred dollars now.” She shoved the mail into her shoulder bag, then rummaged around so she wouldn’t have to meet his gaze. “And I’ll have the rest Thursday, when I get paid.”

“I’ll give you a break this time, but you’d better have the money Thursday.”

“Unless she got some other way to pay,” one of the old men said.

The other chuckled.

“None a that,” Mr. Palumbo chided them. “This here’s a respectable establishment.”

Sarah hurried from the candy store, the old men’s laughter following her.  

She pushed open the door to her building and tried to ignore the stench of urine. Someday, when she’d made it as an actress, she would live in a fancy apartment with a doorman like Robin did. He’d described his place to her, and she couldn’t wait to see it: a penthouse overlooking Central Park. Right now, he’d explained, it was under renovation, and he’d had to move out while it was being painted. He’d planned to stay at a hotel, but Sarah insisted that he stay with her. The last two weeks had been magical. Robin had taken time off from work, and to keep him company, Sarah had called in sick twice. That’s why she was short on rent. Every evening Robin had surprised her with Chinese food, Italian, Indian, even pink champagne. Aside from eating, they’d spent most of their time in bed. But today he’d encouraged her to go out for the audition. Unlike her father, Robin hadn’t laughed when she told him about her acting dreams. He said he believed in her.

Sarah bounded up the stairs. Someday, when she was rich and famous, she’d move into a building with an elevator. Or maybe she’d move into Robin’s penthouse.

Lungs on fire, she made it to the fifth floor landing.

Unlocking the door, she called, “Hello.”

She threw her bag on the kitchen table.


 She headed for the bedroom. The beaded curtain made a tinkling sound as she swept it aside. She stared at the empty mattress on the floor, sheets and blanket still tangled from that morning.

He must have gone out.

She went into the tiny bathroom. Something seemed off. Robin’s hairdryer wasn’t lying in the sink, threatening electrocution. How many times had she asked him to put it away? It seemed unlikely that he’d finally listened. She opened the cabinet. No hairdryer and no toothbrush.

She rushed to the closet and pulled open the door. His clothes had vanished.
A sick feeling rose from her stomach and latched on to her throat.

Suddenly her small apartment seemed too large. She felt herself shrink, like Alice when she’d tried to make it through the keyhole. She told herself she was being foolish. Why assume something was wrong? They’d probably finished the renovation on his apartment. Why stay in this dump when you owned a fancy penthouse?

She glanced at the refrigerator wondering if he had left a note.

Maybe there had been an emergency and he’d been called to the hospital. But why take his clothes? Maybe his parents had called from Florida. Maybe they had a problem and he needed to leave town.

Her gaze traveled to the telephone, white and silent on the wall, and she realized she didn’t have his number.

She sank into a straight-backed chair and sat at the kitchen table, the only piece of furniture she’d brought from home. The mail Mr. Palumbo had given her peeked out of her purse. She drew out the Frederick’s catalogue and riffled the pages. Crotchless panties? Who wears this stuff? She threw the magazine on the table, grabbed the white envelope, and ripped it open.

Total due: $365.42. She stared at the phone bill. Pay by April 28, or service will be disconnected.

No way did she owe that much. She checked the name and address, certain there must be some mistake. It was hers all right. She examined the long list of calls: Chicago, Palm Springs, San Francisco. She knew no one in those places.

His name shot through her with enough voltage to light the Twin Towers. Hadn’t he mentioned he was from Palm Beach? She checked the dates. The strange calls had been made while he’d been staying at her apartment. She hadn’t noticed him on the phone that much—unless he’d called when she was out. Still, it was possible that AT&T had screwed up. How could they keep all those wires straight? Stupid phone company. She’d have to chew them out. Robin would have told her if he’d run up the phone bill. They trusted each other, had an understanding. Besides, if he had run up the bill, he’d pay her back. He had plenty of money. Probably wouldn’t bat an eye at a bill of three hundred plus dollars.

He was different from the small town guys she’d known back home. All they cared about was sex and beer. Robin knew about sophisticated things like art, and wine, and music. He’d told her he’d been in a rock band, and almost hit the big time. Once he’d met Led Zeppelin when they called themselves the New Yardbirds. But his parents had insisted that he go back to school. So, he’d become a doctor.

The phone bill had to be wrong.

But where was he?

A steely taste filled her mouth. Her tongue felt dry. Maybe he’d been in an accident. She imagined his fine cheekbones bruised and broken, blood dripping from his sensuous lips, the lips she had kissed that morning.

She pushed the thoughts from her mind.

Of course, he was all right. He had to be or how could he have packed? And he would return. He’d told her they were meant to be together.

She gazed at the ceiling. A crack ran through the plaster, crept down the wall, and slipped behind the sink. She felt the crack inside her heart. She replayed the last week—the things they’d said, the things they’d done. Her father said she was demanding and self-centered, that no man would want a woman who didn’t care about laundry, a woman who couldn’t fold a shirt. She’d told him it didn’t matter; she didn’t plan to open up a dry cleaner’s. But maybe Robin cared.  

Or maybe he had another girlfriend.

Maybe he was sleeping with Regina. She’d asked him about his relationship with Regina, and he said it was strictly professional. Still…Regina had classic beauty, and she was loaded; she got any guy she wanted. And now that she’d been released from the psych ward, Robin wouldn’t be sleeping with a patient. Would he?

Sarah studied the telephone, the black numbers, and the rotary dial. Deciding to call Regina, she lifted the receiver and listened to the dial tone. What would she say? Is Robin there? Refusing to humiliate herself, she placed the receiver back into the cradle.
She picked up the phone bill, crunched the paper into a ball, and hurled it at the phone. Wait till she got the starring role in the new production, wait till she received a rave review in The Village Voice. Then Robin would be sorry.

Meanwhile, she needed to pay bills. She needed to get groceries. Free popcorn at the movie theater wouldn’t sustain her for long. Even working overtime the phone bill would take months to pay off. And, without a phone, how would she know if she got cast in the new play? How would the director reach her? How would Robin—

She opened the fridge. She’d worked up a sweat, and the cold air felt good. She stared at the bare shelves. Passing on the wilted celery, she reached for the last can of Tab.

♥ ♥ ♥

The telephone woke her.

Forcing her eyes open, Sarah stared into darkness. The clock’s face gloated 5:08. The phone’s persistent ring filled her with dread. Crawling off the double mattress, she struggled to her feet, swept aside the beaded curtain, and fumbled with the receiver.   

“Who is it?”

“Person to person, collect call from Robin for Sarah. Will you accept the charges?”

“Yeah.” Her heart sped, sprinting fast enough to break a record, and she felt wide-awake.


“Where are you?” Her voice sounded hard.

“Sorry it’s so late. I’ll make it up to you. I promise.”

His voice melted her, dissolving her irritation.

“I’ve been worried. You all right?”

“Something came up. I had to leave town—some business in the Windy City.”

“The what?”

“Hold on a sec.”

Robin must have covered the receiver. Sarah strained to hear a conversation between him and someone at the other end. Led Zeppelin blared in the background.

“Robin? You there?”

“Yeah. Hi.”

“Why’d you take off without telling me?”

“You’re angry. I shouldn’t have called.”

“No. I want to talk. It’s just—”

“I fucked up.” His speech sounded kind of slurred.

“Have you been drinking?”

“No. Just tired. Working hard.”

She heard muffled conversation. “What are you doing?”

“What?” He seemed distracted. “Sorry. Sarah?”

She thought she heard a woman’s voice, and her heart screeched to a stop.

“Who’s with you?”

“No one. Just a friend. I’m at this outta-sight apartment on the lake. You should see it.”

“Right.” She wondered what the “no one” looked like. “I’ll hop on my private plane and jet right over.” Sitting down, the chair’s vinyl felt sticky on her skin. “By the way, I got the phone bill and—”

“I had a dream about you.”

“A dream?”

“We’re flying above the ocean, you and me, so high the earth looked like a big blue ball.”

“Did you hear what I said about the phone bill?”

“I’ll take care of it.”

“It’s over three hundred dollars. I have to pay it or they’ll cut me off, and my rent is overdue.”

“Relax. I said I’ll pay it.” Sarah thought she heard giggling. He’d probably met someone rich and gorgeous. “Hey, listen,” Robin said, “Did my father call?”

“No. Does he have this number?” Gazing through the window, past the security bars, Sarah watched the sky turn gray, then lavender. “Are you ever coming back?”

“Miss me?”

“It’s five in the morning, and I’ve got a big day ahead.” She stood, the chair’s vinyl ripping from her back like tape.  I’ve got to come up with the rent, and now I have to pay this phone bill—”

“Would you stop?” His voice got all bed-roomy, “I miss you, Sarah. I miss you a lot.”



Sarah pressed the receiver against her ear, listened to him breathing, felt her heart opening.

“I can hear your heartbeat,” he said.

“No you can’t.” She couldn’t help smiling.

“I feel your heart. Do you feel mine?”

“Maybe.” She touched her chest.

“Our hearts beat to the same rhythm.”

He spoke to her like no one else, words she’d only imagined in daydreams.

“I really care about you Sarah. I love you.”

 She leaned against the wall, felt the cool plaster on her back as heat pulsed through her body. She listened to his breathing and moisture bloomed between her thighs. Her backbone slid along the plaster, until she rested on her haunches—the scent of her desire, ripe and musky.

 “So,” she said, “when will you be back?”

“I’ll be home soon.”

Home. She liked the sound of it.

“You sure my father really didn’t call?”

“Was he supposed to?”

“No.” Robin sounded disappointed. “I just need to take care of a little financial problem.”

Sarah’s ears pricked. “What financial problem?”

“No big deal. Listen, Sarah, do you have a credit card?”

“What?” She stood, her senses on high-alert.

“A credit card—do you have one?”

“Why ask me? You’re the one with money.”

“You’re so uptight. It’s just that I can’t find my American Express card—it might have been stolen.”

“You’d better report it.”

“I did,” Robin said. “But I need cash to get home. I just thought maybe…. Look, I’d better go.”

“It’s just with the phone bill, and the rent—”

“It’s cool. Don’t sweat it.” Sarah felt sure she heard a woman’s voice. “Hold on,” Robin said, then spoke to someone else. “Shut-up! I’m taking care of it.”

Something crashed, and Sarah heard yelling.

“Stop hitting me, psycho!”

“Robin, what’s happening?”

“I gotta go.”

“Wait. How much do you need?”

“What?” Robin sounded breathless.

“How much should I send?”

“A hundred bucks. I’ll pay you back. I promise.”

“Okay.” Her entire stash.

“You’re the best. Can you wire it today?”

Sarah watched herself write the address on the phone bill’s torn envelope, watched the pen forming the letters. Nothing felt quite real.

Robin’s voice drifted through a fog. “Thanks, babe. I’ll see you soon.”

The phone clicked.

She held the receiver, listening until the recording came on. If you’d like to make a call, hang up. If you’d like to make a call…. Finally, the line went dead.

She stared out the window, past the bars, at her neighbor’s laundry, strung up on the crisscrossed lines. Beyond the laundry, she saw the next building, the once-red bricks now stained by soot.

Wanting something to settle her stomach, she opened the fridge. When she had been a child, her mother would give her Coca-Cola for an upset stomach. Coca-Cola had cured everything. But she didn’t have Coca-Cola. Not even Tab. Water would have to do. She found a glass and filled it at the sink, gulped thirstily, filled the glass again and pressed it to her forehead. No way could she go back to sleep.

She wandered back to the table. Set down the glass. Decided she needed air. Reaching through the security bars, she wrestled with the window. Years of amateur paint jobs had glued it shut. She managed to jerk it open, and reveled in the breeze. Trucks rumbled on Houston Street. The sky blushed, promising a fine spring day. The sun’s rays cut through smog to bounce off the neighbors’ windows.

Back home, her mother’s azaleas would be blooming soon, if her father thought to water them. The tulips were probably gone by now. She’d planted the bulbs last fall in honor of her mother. Flowers had been her mom’s greatest joy: tulips, azaleas, and of course, the roses. Last spring, when cancer finally got the best of her, traveling through her bones and into her brain, she would wander through the flower beds, a frail figure lost in a blaze of red and gold.

Wondering how she would pay the rent, Sarah sipped the glass of water. The cool liquid felt good as it reached her throat.

Stooping, she retrieved the crumpled phone bill from the floor. Maybe today she’d call home.

The thought of it made her cringe.

Home was a distant memory, a place that no longer existed. She hadn’t visited her father since Christmas. That visit had been painful. Too many memories. Too many demands. The heavy feeling of guilt as if he blamed her for her mother’s death. Still, for the first time since she’d moved to the city, she felt homesick.

♥ ♥ ♥

Sarah lifted her head from the kitchen table. Sunlight streamed through the open window. She rubbed her eyes, wondering if she had dreamed Robin’s call. The Chicago address, scribbled on an envelope, told her she hadn’t. She got up, opened the refrigerator, and confronted the drooping celery.

Her stomach growled. An overwhelming desire for something sweet lured her to the door. It was a safe bet that she wouldn’t run into Mr. Palumbo this early in the day. He never showed up at the candy store till afternoon. Mornings, he usually hung out at the social club on Mulberry Street. On a fine day like today, the old men sat outside on old kitchen chairs and sipped coffee. As far as Sarah could tell, no women frequented the social club. In fact, as far as she could tell, the social club was pretty unsocial—more like top secret. Another thing you didn’t ask about in Little Italy.

She sprinted down the five flights of stairs, cracked open the door, and cased the sidewalk. No sign of Mr. Palumbo. Breathing a sigh of relief, she headed to the candy store.
The bell tinkled merrily in sharp contrast to the shop’s gloomy interior. She peered inside, relieved not to see Mr. Palumbo. A guy leaned against the counter, blocking Sarah’s view of the doughnuts. His sharkskin jacket had a purple sheen, and a gold chain glistened around his neck. Sarah figured the chain cost more than she made in a month. Of course, lots of things cost more than she made in a month. The man ran his fingers through his slicked-back hair. Sarah felt like she’d stepped onto the set of West Side Story. Officer Krupke was sure to show up any minute.

The guy reached into his pocket, and she gained sight of the cake plate: cheese and cherry Danishes, French crullers, and her favorite, jelly doughnuts.

The guy popped a stick of gum into his mouth.

“Juicy Fruit.” He offered the pack to Sarah.

“No thanks.”

He chomped his gum.

She was on the verge of leaving when Mario appeared from the back room, a stained white apron covering the expanse of his stomach. He nodded at Sarah, and so did his double chins.

“Morning, Mario. I’d like a coffee to-go, light. And, um—” She eyed the plastic pedestal. 

“Two jelly doughnuts, please.”

“You gonna get fat.” Mr. Sharkskin cracked his gum.

“What’s it to you?”

“You got a mouth, doncha?”

“So do you.”

She felt his eyes scan her body. Ignoring him, she watched Mario place the doughnuts into a paper bag, and told herself that she’d skip lunch. She rarely treated herself to fresh coffee and doughnuts, but after Robin’s phone call she needed a boost.


She had to get to Western Union to wire him the money. A nagging feeling told her she was making a mistake, but a promise was a promise. Remembering her promise to pay the rent by Thursday, she picked up a Village Voice and flipped through the pages searching for the want-ads. Surely, somehow in this city, she could make more money.

“Careful, coffee’s hot.” Mario handed her the greasy bag. “You taking the paper?”


She felt Mr. Sharkskin’s eyes watching as she left. She might not be skinny, but she knew guys liked her body.

Careful not to spill the coffee, she made her way upstairs. Glad to be back in her apartment, she turned the locks and secured the chain. Everyone said Little Italy was safe, especially for women. That’s why she’d chosen it. Plus, the rent was cheap.

The rent.

Truthfully, she wasn’t sure she could trust Robin to pay her back.

She pulled the lid off the coffee, savoring the steam. She drew a jelly doughnut from the bag, and a flurry of powder fell on her chest.

“Springtime in the Rockies.” Laughing, she brushed away the sugar.

She bit into pastry, her mouth filling with cake and raspberry. She thought of her mother’s raspberries; she’d planted several bushes in the backyard, made jelly every summer.  

Sarah-Sue, why do you keep thinking about the past?

Startled by her mother’s voice, Sarah glanced at the door half-expecting to see her. Her mother always called her Sarah-Sue when she wanted to make a point.

You’ve got to think about your future.

“I miss you, Mommy.”

Sarah downed a slug of coffee, scalding her tongue. She stared at the telephone, thought about calling her father. Maybe this time would be different. 

♥ ♥ ♥

The phone rang seven times before her father answered.

“It’s me.” Sarah pulled on the telephone cord, wrapping it around her wrist.

“Sharon?” Her father always got her mixed up with her sister. Sharon was the good one. 
 She was married, studying to be a nurse.


“Sarah! Had enough of the city yet? Finally come to your senses?” She heard the clink of silverware. He must be eating breakfast, probably two over-easy, since her mother wasn’t there to monitor cholesterol. “When you coming home?” he asked.

“Not just yet.”

He stopped chewing. “Then why you calling? You in trouble?”

“I have a little problem.”

“You pregnant?”


“What have you done now?”

“Nothing, Dad. It’s just the phone bill—”

“I haven’t heard from you in weeks, and now you’re calling me for money?”

“I’ll pay you back. I promise.”

“If you can’t pay your phone bill, it’s obvious that you can’t manage on your own. It’s time you did something useful with your life.”

“But, Dad, I want to act.”

“Foolish dreams.”

“I want to try—”

“Don’t come running to me when you fall flat on your face. Why can’t you be like your sister?”

Tears rushed to Sarah’s eyes. Her mother had understood, encouraged her to follow her heart. “Do you ever think of Mommy?”

The line went silent, but Sarah felt her father, creeping through the cord, strangling her with guilt.

“You there, Dad?”

“Yes. I’m here.” His voice sounded husky.

“Sorry I’m not more like Sharon.”

“It’s time you take off those rose-colored glasses, face reality.”
Reality. People talked about reality like it was something tangible, something in particular, but they all had their own versions. In Sarah’s opinion, reality was overrated. But, in her reality, back home would be a nightmare. No city lights. No possibilities. No hope.

She coiled the cord around her neck.

“I’m sorry that I’m not the daughter you want.”

“Whoring around Manhattan.”

“Don’t forget Brooklyn and Queens.” The cord bit into her throat. “How are the azaleas?”

“The what?”

Freeing her neck from the cord, she said, “I gotta go.”

“I love you, Sarah, but as your father—”

“Yeah. I know.”

She placed the receiver back into the cradle.

Pressing her face into her hands, she leaned her elbows on the table. Her eyes fell on The Village Voice. She opened the paper and found Help Wanted: Career Opportunities.
Administration Assistant: must type 50 words per minute…That was out. Her typing sucked. Employment agencies always made her take a typing test. As soon as the timer started her fingers froze. It wasn’t fair. Men weren’t required to take typing tests. There were lots of jobs that she could do, if someone would give her a chance.

Her eyes skimmed the column. Comptroller. What was that? It sounded like her father: a man who wanted to control her. She imagined a red-necked guy in overalls carrying a tank of poison, eager to annihilate pests. But that was an exterminator, wasn’t it? Maybe she could be an exterminator. She’d gotten good at killing roaches, showed them no mercy. She’d been known to crush the little buggers with her bare hands.

She kept looking.

Dancers wanted: Go-Go, no experience necessary. $12/hour plus tips. Make over $500 per week. She kept reading. For appointment call Joe Fame at Talent Galore. Joe Fame? Talent Galore? You have to be kidding. Still, five hundred dollars was about what she made in a month at the movie theater—let alone one week.

She imagined herself dancing, wearing silver spangles and white Go-Go boots, kicking up her heels like she’d seen on that TV show, Hullabaloo, when she was a kid. She could hop up and down, like those girls did, swinging her hair in a circle. All those years at Miss Tinkler’s ballet class would finally be put to use. Best of all, she’d really be in show business.

She studied the unfamiliar area code. Taking a deep breath, she dialed.

Hetaera Release December 2011

Hetaera, part one of the Agathon's Daughter Trilogy will be published next week. Here's a sneak preview:


Wind swept down from the acropolis, driving dust along the narrow lanes past sleeping houses, slipping through bolted doors into the Master’s bedchamber. On this dismal night, even the House of Agathon offered no barrier against the winged god of death.
Hestia drew her shawl close around her shoulders, gazed across the chamber. The oil lamp sputtered, casting shadows on the ceiling, and darkness crept across the old man’s face.
“Come closer,” he called out, clutching at the bedcovers, struggling to lift his head. A rasping cough strangled his voice. He stared at her as if witnessing an apparition.

“Rest,” she said.

“I have wronged you.”


Hestia dipped a cloth into a bowl of water infused with thyme to stem the fever and mopped her Master’s brow. Since the onset of his illness, the furrows in Agathon’s forehead had grown more pronounced, and lines wrought by years of laughter sagged into a frown. The battle-worn face she loved so well, craggy as the hills of Athens, seemed possessed by a secret grief.
He regarded her with stark intensity. “If I should die this night—”

“Don’t speak of death.”
Groaning, he rolled onto his side. “Do you hear them howling?”

“The hounds of Hades. I hear the splash of Charon’s oars; the icy waters of the Styx lap at my feet.”

Despite the late hour, despite the impending rain, Hestia considered sending for the physician; the remedy Doctor Baraz had prescribed didn’t seem to be working. She moved quickly to the doorway, waking the injury she’d received as an infant. Pain shot through her ankle.

“Where are you going?”

“To get the Despoina.”

“Don’t wake my wife. Melaina needs her beauty sleep.” Agathon struggled to sit, his breath shallow and rapid.

In truth, Hestia felt relief. The prospect of waking the Despoina held all the charm of opening Pandora’s box—except no hope lay hidden at the bottom. Only wrath. Yet, the feverish glitter of Agathon’s eyes made her uneasy. She walked back to the bed and touched his forehead. Heat rushed through her fingers, the pulse of life escaping him.
“You’re burning up.”

“If only I could sleep.” Agathon closed his eyes, but he looked far from peaceful.

Hestia wiped her eyes, warding off her tears.

Melaina claimed it was disrespectful for a slave to show emotion. Slaves, Melaina said, were meant to blend into the furnishings, stay hidden in corners, like a chamber pot. Despite her effort to stop them, tears escaped her eyes. How could she prevent herself from crying for the one person in this world who had shown her kindness? The person who had saved her life.
Agathon’s eyelids fluttered open, and the soul she loved peered out. “Get some sleep,” he said.

“If I sleep who will care for you?”

“You’re a good girl, Hestia. A bit strong-willed, but intelligent.”

His words brought more tears.

“When the rains are over,” she said, attempting to compose herself. “And as soon as you regain your strength, we’ll visit the acropolis; make an offering at the Pantheon.”

“Pour me some wine.”

“Perhaps you need another dose of the physician’s medicine.”

“No more. It tastes bitter.”

“The Despoina opened an amphora of your favorite wine. I’ll add some honey to the wine and you won’t notice the medicine.”

“Don’t treat me like a woman—”

Hestia knew better than to argue.

Pain bit her ankle; it always did at this late hour. Favoring her left foot, she reached the sideboard. She poured wine from an earthen pitcher into a drinking cup then added water and a dollop of honey—the last of the supply she had gathered in the autumn. Soon it would be time to reopen the hives and discover if the bees had survived the winter—but now that Diodorus had returned from military service the bees would be his chore. Hestia admired Agathon’s son; Diodorus care about important things like the natural world, philosophy and mathematics. She glanced at Agathon to make certain he wasn’t watching before reaching for the vial of tincture. She dosed the wine liberally. Limping toward the bed, she offered him the cup.

“Your ankle pains you,” he said. She busied herself straightening the bedcovers. “Hestia, look at me.”

His face was blotchy, ravaged by fever. Though the physician insisted his illness wasn’t plague, the servants whispered otherwise. Day and night they lit fires and made offerings to the household gods, mumbling excuses why they couldn’t sit with him. Laundry needed to be done, bread had to be baked, spring cleaning was past due. Even the Master’s wife kept her distance. Hestia saw no lesions, no swollen glands, no sign of plague—yet Agathon’s condition worsened.

“Drink,” she said, “and you’ll feel better.”

“Stop fussing. Sit.”

She drew a goatskin stool close to the bed and sat, hands folded in her lap.

Agathon sipped the wine, made a sour face, then set the cup on the bedside table. He reached for her hand, small within his sturdy paw, and squeezed her fingers. “Remember the day we climbed the Hill of Nymphs?”

Not long ago, after another stormy night, she and Agathon had ventured out to wander through the sacred olive grove. Sunlight danced through rain-drenched leaves.

“I remember,” she said. “I asked you what Socrates says of love.”

“And I said you’re too young to ponder that subject.”

“Seventeen is hardly young, Master.”
“Time passes swiftly.” A frown tugged at Agathon’s mouth. He reached for the cup of wine, but didn’t drink. “According to Socrates, there are two varieties of love—the higher leads to harmony, the lower to destruction.”

“How can you tell the difference?”

“If you can answer that, my darling girl, you’re wiser than Socrates.” His eyes appeared troubled. “Can you find it in your heart to love an old warhorse like me?”

Hestia stared at her lap, unsure of what he wanted. Unsure of how to answer.

“My question upsets you.” He grabbed the cup of wine and drank. His eyes peered at her above the cup’s rim. “Give me your honest opinion—at this late hour of my life, can my soul be purified?”
“Your soul is pure. Your life has been exemplary—”


She interlocked her fingers, observing their redness and how the knuckles blanched. Weighing her words, she said, “I believe all souls to be eternal. Therefore, the hour can never be too late for a soul’s redemption.”

“By the gods,” he said softly, “you’re a match for any man, any philosopher, even Socrates.”

“You flatter me.”

“I speak the truth. You take after your mother, golden curls, and eyes as blue as the Aegean.”
“My mother preferred me dead.”

“Who told you that?”

“The Despoina.”

“Melaina?” Agathon shook his head.
“Your wife says my mother chained me to a hill—left me, as an infant, to die of exposure.”

Agathon took a gulp of wine, his hand shaking. A cough took hold, deep and guttural. He tried to hand the cup to Hestia, but the wine spilled. A crimson stain crept across the bedcover—not only wine, but blood.

Hestia removed the cup from his trembling hand, her own shaking as well. Her eyes met Agathon’s and she gazed into his heart. The cup slipped from her hand, crashed on the tile floor, and shattered.

“You knew my mother, didn’t you?” Her gaze reached deeper, unlocking his secrets. “You loved her.”

“Yes.” He stared at her, stricken.

“Tell me,” she said.

“Tell you what?”

She released him from her gaze.
Bending to collect pieces of the broken cup, she sorted through disparate emotions—sorrow for her Master’s illness, anger at his reticence, loneliness. As she stood, she felt light-headed, as if she were falling into a dark well. Who would find her? Who would notice she had gone?

His voice came from far away, calling her into the present.

“I’ll get another cup,” she said.

She moved toward the sideboard, felt his eyes follow her. The amphora felt slick against her palms. Her back to him, she poured medicine into the wine, added a large spoon of honey. She wanted him to sleep, wanted him to close his eyes—so she couldn’t see into his heart.

She handed him the cup, and Agathon drank deeply, his face flushing as the medicine took its course.

He wiped his mouth, settled into his cushions.

“Her name was Olympia.”

Olympia,” Hestia said, the name forming on her tongue, swelling like a wave and crashing in her gut.

“Give me that box.” Agathon pointed to the bedside table.

She handed him a bronze box inlaid with colored stones.

Agathon opened the lid, drew out a ring. Gold glittered in the lamplight, sending shivers through Hestia. He pressed the ring into her palm, and a flood of images followed, each vying for her attention: a man crowned by a diadem, a woman dressed in flowing robes. The man slipped the ring on the woman’s finger. The ring was worth more than a slave could hope to earn in a lifetime. Holding it between her thumb and forefinger, Hestia marveled at the workmanship. Twin serpents intertwined to form the symbol of eternity, ruby eyes flashing fire.
“Read the inscription.”
“To Olympia from Agathon,” Hestia read. And then a month, “Boedromion.”

“A golden day in autumn, a day sacred to Dionysius—the day of your conception.”

“How would you know?”

“Have you not guessed?”

She stared into his eyes, afraid to speak the truth she saw.

Agathon reached for her hand, but she recoiled, her thoughts and feelings churning. When she spoke, her voice came out as a whisper. “I am your—”


“And my mother?”

“Died giving birth to you. I was here, in Athens, when I received the news.” Agathon sank back into the cushions.

Hestia turned the ring in her palm, feeling the weight of the gold, the weight of Agathon’s words. Of course, she’d been abandoned, a bastard and a girl. Unwanted children were often left out in the elements to expire.

“Why did you save me?”

“I couldn’t bear to see you die. I sought you out, plucked you from your chains.”

“And kept me as your slave.”

“I couldn’t claim you as my own. Melaina wouldn’t...”

Her eyes met his. His face seemed to be melting, like a wax mask left out in the sun. His mouth moved, but his words were drowned in the roar of questions rushing through her mind. She wasn’t the first bastard to be born to a wealthy Master, not the first child to be unclaimed. It was a common story. But she had trusted Agathon. Gorge rose to her mouth, molten rage that stung her throat. She swallowed, forcing down her anger.

“Forgive me,” he said. “Forgive an old man.”
Blue veins lined his hands, carrying his blood. Her blood. The blood she had been denied.
“Who was she, my mother? A slave?”

“A goddess. She belonged to no man.” Agathon sighed heavily, closed his eyes.

Hestia studied his ravaged face and saw her own. She reached for his shoulder, shook him. “Olympia who? From where?”

He mumbled something.

The shutters clattered. The wind had ripped them open. She glanced at the high window. Clouds drifted over the moon, smothering its light.

She turned back to Agathon, knelt beside his bed. Tears streaming down her face, she pressed her cheek against his chest, listened for his heartbeat, and heard only the rattle of the shutters.


Dawn brought the wail of servants, but Melaina shed no tears for her dead husband.

After consuming a substantial meal of goat cheese and barley bread, she rinsed her hands in the washbasin and splashed her face. Leaning over the water, she pulled the corners of her eyes, tightening the fine, webbed lines. Thanks to a paste of lead and limestone, which she applied religiously, her hair remained jet-black. Despite her fading beauty men still found her appealing, and she expected Agathon’s wealth to enhance her attractiveness. According to the law she would inherit nothing. Even her dowry, still held in trust, would be controlled by her son. But Diodorus was an idealist. He had no mind for business, no desire to advance himself. He had proved himself as a soldier, serving as a hoplite in the Spartan uprising; but Agathon had ruined their son’s desire for practical pursuits, encouraging the boy (though he was twenty Melaina refused to call him a man) to follow Socrates—a half-crazed philosopher who wandered barefoot around the agora spouting gibberish. When Diodorus wasn’t spewing nonsense he spent his time studying insects, rocks and other worthless objects.

Melaina counted on her son’s disinterest in financial matters. With any luck, Diodorus would leave management of the property to Lycurgus, Agathon’s business partner who had been appointed Kurios, protector of the family. Diodorus needed guidance.

Melaina gave her face a final splash.

Now that Agathon was on the road to Hades, she vowed to put an end to her son’s foolish pursuits. She planned to push him into politics. But for now, it would be best to entice Diodorus out of Athens. Not forever, just for one year.

One year would give her time.

She clapped her hands, and a slave parted the curtains—a new girl, dark skinned with strange markings on her face, waves of dots across her forehead and cheeks, the result of scarification. No Athenian woman would mark her face in such a barbaric way. Melaina could not recall the girl’s name.

“Come here.”

The slave mumbled something in a foreign language.

“What did you say?”

“Nothing, Despoina.”

“Don’t stand there, gaping. Fetch my chiton, the black one.”

The girl looked at her blankly, as if she didn’t understand. Melaina pointed to her cedar chest, one of several that stood against the wall. The girl moved lethargically. With maddening sluggishness, she opened the chest’s lid and pulled out one carefully folded tunic after another. Melaina guessed the girl came from some backwater in Africa. One of Agathon’s strays. The house was full of untrained slaves that no one else would put up with.

Melaina sighed. “Do I need to find the chiton myself?”

“Is this what you want, Despoina?” The girl dragged a large rectangle of cloth from the chest and brought it to Melaina.

“Custom demands a widow’s clothes be drab, but black is not my color.” Melaina fingered the finely woven wool. “Makes my complexion appear sallow.”

“Yes, Despoina.”

“You don’t have to agree with me.”

“No, Despoina.”

Melaina rolled her eyes. Yes, no. Could the girl say nothing else? “What’s your name?”

“They call me, Calonice.”

“Calonice, a good Greek name.”

“My Igbo name is Adisa. It means one who sees clearly.

“Fascinating. Be careful how you drape the cloth.” Sucking in her stomach, and holding out her arms, Melaina readied herself to be dressed. Unlike her last maid, who’d had years of practice—and had, inconveniently, died—this girl was obviously a novice. Standing on her toes, the girl attempted to drape the cloth.

“Not like that.” Melaina caught the wool at each shoulder so it could be pinned in place. “Don’t use those brooches. Fetch the others, the gold set with sapphires.”
The girl gazed at her, like a sheep.

“Blue stones.” Melaina nodded toward her jewelry box.

“The brooch the rich man gave to you?”

Melaina’s eyes shot to the slave. “Who told you that?”

“No one, Despoina.” The girl busied herself with the bronze box.

No one. There were no secrets in a house full of servants. “And fetch the matching earrings.”

Mumbling to herself the girl fastened the brooches at Melaina’s shoulders as Melaina slipped the heavy earrings through her earlobes. Intricately wrought and exquisitely designed, the brooch and earrings far exceeded any gift of Agathon’s.

The brooch jabbed her shoulder.

“Clumsy girl!”

“Forgive me, Despoina.”

Melaina slapped the slave. “Get out!”

The girl rubbed her cheek. If it were possible, her eyes grew darker. Muttering something that sounded like a curse, she left the room.

Relieved to see her go, Melaina rubbed her shoulder. She inspected the deep scratch where the heavy pin had gouged her and wondered if the wound had been intentional.

Feeling the beginning of a headache, she massaged her temples.

Soon Agathon’s sisters would arrive, interfering women twenty years her senior. Sometimes she felt so alone. She had no one to confide in, no one she could trust. Locked away, within her house, like all proper Athenian matrons—forbidden to go out, unless under a man’s protection, not even to the marketplace—she sometimes wondered if a slave’s life might offer more freedom.
There must be some escape.

She thought of Lycurgus. He’d chosen to remain single, not because he didn’t care for women—the gods knew that was not an issue—but for other reasons.

Using a length of silk cord, she girded the long tunic at her waist, allowing the excess fabric to form an overdress, the latest fashion. The chiton fell to the floor in graceful folds, showing her body to its best advantage. Of course, Lycurgus would attend Agathon’s funeral. In many ways he was the opposite of Agathon, brilliant with a dangerous reputation, a statesman with his choice of women. Melaina prayed he would find Agathon’s wealth an aphrodisiac.
Besides her dead husband’s money, what did she have to offer?
She reached for her bronze mirror. The handle had been cast in the form of Aphrodite, goddess of love. Such a fickle deity. Melaina squeezed the handle till it cut into her palm. These days, she preferred Athena, goddess of strategy. Or even better, Hecate, goddess of the moon and magic. She admired Hecate’s elusiveness.

Holding the polished bronze to her face, she pursed her lips, then parted them. Receding gums, but pumice mixed with vinegar kept her teeth passable. She smiled at her reflection. Agathon had been a popular member of the council, known for his philanthropy. His funeral would bring a throng and, naturally, all eyes would dwell on the bereft widow. But she had no intention of remaining a widow for long. She picked a bit of barley from between her teeth.

She glanced toward the window, a small square in the white plaster. A shade tree blocked the sun, but warm air crept through the open shutters. Already half the morning gone, and so much to do.

She opened another cedar chest and selected an indigo himation. The color negated the drabness of the black chiton and brought out the luster of her hair. She wrapped the shawl over her left shoulder, bringing the end around her back and across the front of her body, before draping the tail over her left arm.

Despite the expectations of society, she would ignore the custom of shearing her hair. The dark tresses, highlighted with henna, remained one of her best features. Solemn faced, as the occasion merited, she left her chamber and sedately descended the steps leading to the women’s courtyard. Agathon would have made do with a ladder, but she had insisted he build a stairway. He’d been tight about important things, while lavishing on foolish projects—housing for paupers, public assistance for invalids and indigents—a waste of money.

Of course, no one in Athens valued the opinion of a woman. Unless she was a courtesan. Melaina couldn’t understand how the opinions of hetaerae were respected while those of obedient wives were not. Sometimes, she wished she were a Spartan, though she’d never give voice to such a blasphemous idea. Spartan women were educated, almost as well as men. More importantly, they were permitted to own property, and, while their husbands were off fighting, the women controlled the purse strings. Here in Athens respectable women were close to prisoners.
Melaina walked through the colonnaded women’s courtyard, past the kitchen where slaves prepared a midday meal. The smell of lentils and onions, mingled with the scent of bread, wafted through the door, then drifted toward the courtyard’s open sky. She glanced at the kitchen’s adjoining bath, empty at this hour, and continued walking past the altar dedicated to Hestia, goddess of the hearth.

Anger caught her step, and she nearly tripped—ridiculous that a slave should share the name of a goddess, a name assigned by Agathon, of course. As soon as possible, Melaina swore she would change Hestia’s name to something more appropriate, Ptolemais, for example, a name which meant warlike and rude. Smirking at her jest, she entered the men’s courtyard.

An offering of myrrh smoldered on the altar of Zeus, the scent smoky and resinous. Melaina peeked into the andron, a room forbidden to proper women such as she, where men gathered for symposiums—discussions of politics and philosophy fueled by large quantities of wine. She thought she might find Diodorus lounging on one of the couches that lined the perimeter, but the room was empty. She wondered where her son might be. Often in the mornings he used the men’s courtyard as a gymnasium, but today there was no sign of him.
Two slaves, on their knees, worked their way along the colonnade, scrubbing the mosaic floor. Melaina approached them, and the men quickly stood, the youngest nearly knocking over a leather bucket of water.

“You missed that corner,” Melaina said.

The young slave, a boy of about fourteen, kept his gaze focused on the floor. The older glanced to where Melaina pointed and started toward it with the bucket.

“Wait,” Melaina said. “Have you seen my son?”

“The Master went out early, Despoina.”

Hearing the slave refer to Diodorus as Master threw Melaina off. “My son,” she said, taking a moment to recover, “the Master went out where?”

“I don’t know.”
“He wore a hat and boots,” the younger slave said.


“Yes, Despoina.”

“Get back to work,” her tone sounded sharper than intended.

So, instead of offering her support, Diodorus had gone out, in boots, of all things—probably traipsing through the countryside, instead of honoring his mother.

Had a son ever been so selfish?

His place was here, with her. The guests would be arriving and she needed him.

Wringing her hands, Melaina wandered the perimeter of the courtyard. Sunlight played across the paving stones, and the walls offered protection from the wind. Now that Agathon was gone, she saw no reason why the courtyard couldn’t be put to better use than as a gymnasium and place for men to congregate. She imagined tearing up the slabs of stone to create a protected garden for her herbs.

But first she had to bury Agathon.

Doctor Baraz had been summoned in the middle of the night, waking Melaina from slumber. No wonder she felt a bit tired this morning; she hated having her sleep interrupted. The doctor had declared the cause of death was hemorrhage. Too late for bloodletting, Melaina thought, unless posthumous leeching might benefit Agathon in the afterlife. Like most Athenians, Melaina didn’t care for Persians on principle—after all, they’d nearly destroyed the city—but she had to admit they excelled as physicians. Doctor Baraz had taught her many things about remedies and herbs. Best of all, he refrained from asking too many questions.

Agathon’s corpse had been removed to a curtained antechamber adjacent to the entrance of the house. He rested on a bier, draped with a checkered cloth, his feet facing the door to allow his soul a swift departure. His head had been encircled with crimson anemones. According to legend, when Adonis—the mortal youth adored by Aphrodite—was slain by a wild boar, the bereft goddess sprinkled nectar on her lover’s lifeless body and windflowers sprang from his blood.

Melaina stared uneasily at the remains of her husband. The dead don’t speak, she assured herself. If Agathon had guessed her secret, it no longer mattered. She slipped a coin into his mouth, payment for Charon, and placed a coin on each eye. Securing a strip of linen under his chin, she tied it tight, so his jaw would remain shut.

The task of preparing the corpse fell to her. Agathon’s sisters would have helped, but Melaina couldn’t tolerate their meddling, their endless chatter. She preferred to work in solitude before they arrived. She washed the corpse with seawater, humming as she worked, her thoughts turned to a brighter future. Now that Agathon was gone she had full reign over the house, the storeroom and the wine cellar. As soon as custom allowed, she would speak to Diodorus, encourage him to hold a lavish symposium. Her heart quickened at the thought of her son entertaining the leading citizens of Athens. A nod from Pericles could ensure his future in politics. The idea of Pericles visiting her house, drinking at her table, set Melaina’s heart racing. She reminded herself that the house belonged to Diodorus, and women weren’t invited to symposiums. Not respectable women.

She gave Agathon’s leg a final swipe with a damp cloth. Servants would dress him in funeral robes and crown him with a gold diadem. But first she must anoint his body to ensure that his soul departed.

Collecting her basket, she walked through the recessed entryway where slaves were sweeping the mosaic floor and hanging wreaths of myrtle over the lintels. Athena peered down from the frescoed ceiling: independent, strong, sprung full-grown from the head of Zeus, a battle-cry upon her lips. Melaina reminded herself to offer a substantial sacrifice to Athena—a goddess worthy of devotion—in honor of her husband’s death, and as insurance for her own future.

“Good morning, Despoina.”

She nodded at Therapon, an old fool of a slave.

He lifted the front door’s iron bolt, his arms quivering, as if the bolt’s weight were too much for him. Melaina breathed in the crisp air of early spring. She descended the steps that led to the narrow street, busy at this hour with workmen pushing carts and pedestrians on their way to the agora. Turning away from the street, she walked to the back of the house.

Agathon’s dogs, whining for their Master, waited by the stables. Not sleek hounds a person might take pride in, but strays and mongrels like the rest of Agathon’s household. Beyond the stable the terrain became arid hills and scrub. Kicking away the dogs, Melaina entered her garden. Not a patch of kitchen herbs like the one maintained in the courtyard, not a plot of vegetables useful for cooking, but a deciare measuring ten by ten meters, and brimming with medicinal herbs and flowers. The sun peeked over the terracotta rooftop, warming her back, burning off the morning dew, and releasing the pungent scent of rosemary. With satisfaction, Melaina regarded the array of plants she’d coaxed from the rocky soil. Although her garden wouldn’t reach its full glory for a month or two, last night’s downpour had done her plants a lot of good. She checked the rain barrels, glad to note the replenished supply of water.

Using a finely honed knife, she cut fragrant sprigs of thyme for purification, lavender for protection. Herbs used in ritual had to be treated with deference. She knelt beside a bushy row of yellow flowers and set her basket on the paving stones. Artemisia, named for the goddess of the moon, would allow Agathon’s soul safe passage to the underworld. She cut handfuls of the yellow blooms and set them in her basket.

Groaning as she stood, these days her bones ached in the mornings.

Ignoring the keening dogs, she re-entered the house.

Her son’s house, not Agathon’s.

She removed her muddy sandals, handed them to Therapon, and padded across the entryway’s mosaic—an intricate design of red, yellow, blue, and white stones, depicting an array of sea creatures—one of the finest in Athens. Her heart swelled with pride. Diodorus was now Master of the House of Agathon. His fortune, and hers, shone brighter than a comet.

Spots danced before Melaina’s eyes as she slipped through the curtains and stepped into the annex. Compared to the courtyard, the workroom seemed dark. She considered calling a slave to bring an oil lamp, but decided against it. She preferred no interference. No well-meant mumblings of condolence, no reflections on the swiftness of her husband’s death.

No unwanted observations.

Setting her basket on a table, she glanced at her husband’s corpse. His eyes flashed and her heart jumped. Pressing a hand against her chest, she told herself it was nothing, just the play of light on the coins.

Again, she wondered if he’d guessed her secret.

Using a pestle, she mashed the greenish-yellow artemisia flowers against the mortar’s rough stone, releasing their unpleasant odor. But the smell didn’t bother her.

Herbs were reliable, unlike people. People could be unpredictable.

She thought of Hestia. Thanks to Agathon, the girl didn’t know her place.

Melaina dipped her finger into the flower paste and brought it to her lips. She recoiled at its bitterness, recoiled at the memory of her marriage. She had come to Agathon at age fourteen—the usual age. He was twenty years her senior, a hero returned from the wars. She’d known nothing of the world and even less of men. She had tried to be a good wife, tried to please him. She ran an efficient household, kept the larders well stocked. But they’d had little in common. More often than not, he found reason to travel far from home. Like Jason had done to Medea, Agathon had strayed, leaving Melaina for another woman. But what recourse did she have? A woman’s word held little weight against a man’s.

Small wonder she had come to rely on another. At first, Lycurgus had sent messengers, offering in Agathon’s absence to be of service regarding financial matters. Initially, Melaina refused his help. But Agathon’s departures grew more frequent, and the bills kept mounting. Weeks turned into months. Meanwhile, Lycurgus remained persistent—and delightfully charming. Though a woman of her stature was forbidden male visitors, it was deemed acceptable for her to meet with her Kurios. A woman could engage in no transactions involving property valued over a week’s supply of barley. Someone had to pay the bills, see to business in her husband’s absence.

Naturally, she’d come to rely on Lycurgus. And, like a Spartan wife, unable to conceive with her own husband, she’d bedded her husband’s closest friend.

Having been away for six months, Agathon returned to find Melaina four months gone with child. Of course, she’d claimed the child was his, padding her belly to appear further along and avoiding his caresses. Agathon never questioned his paternity. Diodorus arrived two months later than expected, and Melaina paid the midwife well to claim his birth an anomaly.

She might have spared herself the trouble, spared herself the expense of bribery, because Agathon hardly noticed her. He spent his time lost in ideas, constantly scribbling and reading or giving money to the poor. Yet, sometimes she sensed he’d guessed the truth. Sometimes she caught him staring at the boy—wondering, perhaps, at his sculpted nose and high forehead, so different than his own. But if Agathon suspected the child wasn’t his, he remained silent. After all, Melaina had produced the mandatory heir, leaving her husband free to roam. And roam he did. After the boy’s birth, claiming to have business in the north, Agathon embarked on yet another extended journey.

Melaina crushed more artemisia with her pestle, pounding the fern-like leaves into a pulp, mashing the yellow flowers, as she thought about her marriage.

After a year of absence Agathon returned—not alone, but bearing an infant in swaddling. His whore’s. He’d pleaded with Melaina, begged her to raise the baby as her own, but she’d refused. A mistake, in retrospect. Agathon hired a wet nurse who stood guard over the infant day and night, leaving no opportunity to send the evil Ker to her death.
Melaina pushed away the memories, focused on her work. With quiet concentration, she added the flower paste to an earthen pot of wine that simmered on the brazier. Taken as a tonic, artemisia acted as a narcotic, inducing sleep. Used to anoint a corpse, the elixir ensured the slumber of the deceased would be eternal; it had the same effect on those still living. As she stirred the brew with a wooden spoon, the vision of her son’s future grew vivid—a golden path leading to the acropolis. She would walk beside him.

With help, all her dreams were possible. And that help would come from Lycurgus.

For twenty years, she had held their secret. For twenty years, she’d played the martyr, putting up with the bastard daughter—a constant reminder of Agathon’s infidelity; and her own.

But that would change.
She bent over the brazier and blew on the embers, inhaling the artemisia’s intoxicating fumes. Sweat beaded on her forehead, ran into her eyes, and stung. Feeling faint, she removed the concoction from the brazier. Steadying her knees, she searched through her basket and found a stick of rosemary. She held it to the glowing coals. The smoke would dispel evil spirits—dispel Hestia, the Pandora who wreaked havoc on the house.

Mumbling a prayer to Hecate, Melaina ran the smoldering rosemary over her husband’s corpse. She studied the nose broken in battle, the rough-hewn mouth that seldom spoke to her.

From a funerary flask, she poured olive oil into an alabaster bowl, then added the artemisia. She dipped a scrap of linen into the oil and ran the cloth over the soles of Agathon’s feet, circling to the left to release him from this world.

“Go quickly,” she said.

The doorway’s curtain swayed.

“Who’s there?” Cloth in hand, Melaina ripped open the curtain.

Hestia hobbled away, as fast as her lame foot allowed.

Melaina hurried after her. “I told you to scrub the kitchen hearth. If you’ve finished, the chamber pots need emptying. Remember, I’m your Master now.”

Hestia turned to face Melaina, her expression defiant.

“Your son is Master of this house.”

Melaina’s hand came down on Hestia’s face, leaving a red mark. She hadn’t meant to strike, hadn’t meant to lose herself. She’d meant to exhibit self-control, but the girl was impertinent. Hestia should be falling to her knees, begging forgiveness. Instead, she stood her ground, her eyes—bluer than a bruise—penetrating, invasive.
Melaina stepped back from the girl, aware of servants watching, listening. Summoning her most commanding voice, she said, “I’m sorry I slapped you, but you drove me to it.”

The girl rubbed her swelling cheek. “I drove you to hit me? I didn’t know I had such power.”
Melaina raised her hand again. “I’m warning you. Today I have no patience.”

“When do you ever have patience?”

Melaina’s hand shook as she lowered it. Her eyes remained fixed on Hestia. She found it impossible to look away. The girl was a sorceress, just like her whorish mother. “Now that Agathon is dead, you answer to me,” she said. “Blood follows blood, and you take after your mother. But you must change.”

“According to the Master, my mother was a goddess.”

Melaina’s throat tightened, her breath catching in her chest. She grabbed Hestia’s wrists, locking her fingers around the delicate bones. She dragged the girl into the curtained annex, pointed at the corpse. “He won’t protect you now.”

Melaina stood, triumphant, watching with satisfaction as Hestia’s stance grew limp.

Reaching out her hand, the girl stroked the dead man’s face.

“Don’t touch him,” Melaina said.

Hestia bent her head in supplication, tears gleaming in her eyes.
The display of grief annoyed Melaina. “You will leave this house after my husband’s funeral.”

“My father’s funeral.”

“What did you say?”

The girl’s probing eyes met Melaina’s.

Heat drained from Melaina’s body, replaced by icy clarity. Hestia knew. Agathon had told her. “You have no proof.”

Hestia turned to leave.

Melaina followed her. “What proof do you have?”

Before the girl reached the doorway’s curtain Melaina caught her by the arm. Tripping over her weak foot, Hestia stumbled. A small object fell from the folds of her chiton, rolled across the tile, circled once, and came to rest with a clinking sound.

Melaina tried to snatch the gleam of gold, but Hestia reached it first.

A ring of intertwining snakes glinted on her finger.
Sickness gurgled in Melaina’s stomach. “Where did you get that ring?”

“It belonged to my mother.”

“Give it to me.”

“This ring is proof of my bloodline. My father gave it to me.” Hestia’s eyes, disturbingly placid, like the sea before a storm, gazed into Melaina’s.

Melaina licked her lips, noticing that they felt parched. Confronted with the girl’s vibrant youth, she felt her body shriveling. With annoyance, she noticed Hestia’s slender form beneath the folds of her robe. Despite her defect, men would find her attractive. She’d bring a good price at market.

“Give it to me.” Melaina reached for Hestia’s hand. Her fingers brushed the ring, and sparks flew from the gold. A jolt of heat rushed through her body, and she cried out, “It burns!”

Hestia watched, calmly. “The ring belongs to me,” she said.

“That ring proves nothing except that you’re a thief.” Melaina sucked her scorched fingers. “If I claim you stole it, you will be stoned to death. But that would be a waste. Rather than see you dead, I prefer to sell you to the highest bidder.”

Hestia’s eyes darkened to a blue as deep as lapis. Like whirlpools, they sucked Melaina in.

She grabbed Hestia’s hair—annoyingly yellow—and yanked the girl against her chest. Hestia tried to scream, but Melaina clapped the cloth soaked in artemisia over the girl’s nose and mouth. With patience born of suffering, she waited for Hestia’s knees to buckle, for her body to grow limp, for the accusing eyes to close.


Vestal Virgin Release December 2010

       Vestal Virgin—suspense in ancient Rome

Elissa Rubria Honoria is a Vestal Virgin--priestess of the sacred flame, a visionary, and one of the most powerful women in Rome. Vestals are sacrosanct, sworn to chastity on penalty of death, but the emperor, Nero, holds himself above the law. He pursues Elissa, engaging her in a deadly game of wits and sexuality. Or is Elissa really the pursuer? She stumbles on dark secrets. No longer trusting Roman gods, she follows a new god, Jesus of Nazareth, jeopardizing her life and the future of The Roman Empire.

• New York Times bestselling author Terry Brooks says,
“A writer of real talent, a promising new voice.”

• New York Times bestselling author Tess Gerritsen says,
“Suzanne Tyrpak weaves a spell that utterly enchants and delights. Her writing is pure magic.”

            • A torrid tale of love, honor, and sacrifice pitted against horrific acts of murder, betrayal, and depravity.  Rife with intrigue and brimming with exquisite detail, Vestal Virgin is a deftly paced masterpiece of historical fiction.  I hope Tyrpak is planning another foray into this ancient world . . . and soon!
— Eldon Thompson, author of The Divine Talisman


The author has given us a diverse cast with each one being well rounded and written to perfection. The story is rich with history and will hold the reader's attention to the end.
Rating: 5 Kitties - Socrates' Great Book Alert
--Socrates' Book Reviews

With a fluid writing style, Suzanne Tyrpak has created a gripping tale that immerses you in another time and culture. From the very beginning, I was pulled into the storyline.
--Mother Lode Book Reviews

  There is a tension throughout that is well worth savoring, a sort of dread that fills the reader as things start to go wrong.  -- Alice Y. Yeh  (5 Stars) --Stimulated Outlet Book Reviews

5 stars from Red Adept Reviews:
This book begins with the poem, “The Silent Dead” by Catullus and perfectly sets the stage for the beginning of this most inspiring and heartbreaking work. The heroine is Elissa Rubria Honoria, Vestal Virgin, sister of Marcus and Flavia and object of evil desire by the nefarious Emperor, Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus. Perhaps we have all heard tales about Nero, but now, through Elissa’s eyes, we will see him from the viewpoint of one of the most sacred women of his time, a Vestal Virgin. --J. Lynn Read the whole review here

Dating My Vibrator (and other true fiction) is a collection of nine true and almost true short stories all based (unfortunately) on my own experience: dating, divorce, desperation—all that good stuff. After nineteen years of marriage I was thrust into a brave new world of dating: online, offline, standing in line, listening to lines. And I have survived to tell these tales. CAUTION: if you’re contemplating divorce, these stories may convince you to consider marriage counseling. If you’re out there dating, chances are you will relate. OMG! Here’s a scary thought: maybe you’ve met some of these guys. Names have been changed to protect the guilty.


"Pure Comedic Brilliance" --J.A. Konrath

"Alternately hilarious and heartbreaking"
--The Durango Herald--Ted Holteen

"the writing style was terrific" --Red Adept Reviews, Honorable Mention

Nominated "Best Romantic Comedy--2010"

"a great way to spend a couple hours and compare notes (if you have had to date after divorce in the modern age)."
--The Romance Reviews

Amazon Barnes&Nobel Smashwords
Ghost Plane and Other Disturbing Tales is my latest collection of short stories, available in all eformats for .99 cents. Several stories are based on my own experience working at an airline. The rest were inspired by my own insanity.

Take a ride on the Ghost Plane: eleven twisted tales about life, love and insanity, eleven tales that explore the dark recesses of hearts and minds. If you’re afraid to look in the mirror, read no further, because in these tales—you may meet yourself.
Scott Nicholson says: “Horror can hit you in the gut or mess with your head, but at its best it can reach into your heart as well. And these tales reflect perhaps the biggest horror of all—that we are alive, and this life is full of pain and death and love and sharp edges.
Enter this circus, and let Suzanne show you why horror is the greatest show on earth
This collection of eleven short stories is comprised of three segments: Airport Stories, Hot Flashes and Gothica. The stories range in length from 100 words to over 3000. Word count approximately 15,000—about 55 pages.