author bio


Baby Jasmine and the Earthbound Hearse

Except for the newspaper she had rolled up in her hand, ready to slap her dog across the nose for leaving a steaming turd on the sidewalk, Baby Jasmine left the liquor store empty-handed.  In one quick swoop she untied Botchco’s leash from the parking meter, whopped him once on the snout and, with the same newspaper, scooped up the poop and flung it into the garbage can. 
            “I really wanted to read that,” Baby Jasmine huffed.
            It wasn’t odd that she left the liquor store empty-handed.  She’d only gone in there to make sure they had dry Riesling, as she’d developed an elaborate plot to get Ruby, her landlady who was coming over for dinner that evening, to purchase the dry Riesling at her own expense.  Baby Jasmine would cook a fancy dinner for two; then, just before Ruby arrived at 6:30, she would muss her hair and spritz her forehead, cleavage, and upper lip with lukewarm water to give her a clammy appearance, then, when Ruby knocked on the door, Baby Jasmine would materialize at the threshold a flustered mess, and exclaim, “I forgot the dry Riesling!” after which they would hurriedly trot to the liquor store before it closed.  Baby Jasmine would forget her wallet, forcing Ruby the landlady, a sucker for dry Riesling, to purchase the wine at her own expense.  It’s not that she couldn’t afford it, she just thought that a desperate, harried situation like that would serve to bring them closer together.     
            Baby Jasmine tied Botchco to a tree when she stopped at Marco’s Little Butchery to get some veal cutlets.  The boy who worked the counter, Ronny, was a good fifteen years younger than Baby Jasmine, but she had it bad for him.  He had a long, slender torso like a swimmer and these muscular hands that belonged to a man twice his age who had spent a great deal of time hoisting lines on a barge.  Baby Jasmine didn’t think Ronny belonged in a butcher shop.  He should have been standing bare-breasted on a dock somewhere looking longingly out on the glinting water toward a home he’d never find.  Baby Jasmine had some romantic ideas about Ronny that she had developed late at night and thought mildly about acting upon.  She used to imagine it would be “a good fuck,” but had recently come to call it “coupling,” because it sounded sweeter and fleeting.
            “Hello, Ronny,” said Baby Jasmine.  She liked to turn slightly to the left when she said hello to Ronny because her right eye was larger and more alluring.  She would also tilt her head slightly downward to give the impression of gazing from beneath eyelids heavy with unrest.
            “Afternoon, Mrs. Thode,” said Ronny.  “How’s Botchco doing today?”
            Baby Jasmine liked to imagine that Ronny always asked about Botchco first in avoidance of his obvious attraction to her.  She wasn’t wrong to think such a thing.  Owing mainly to the slight Lebanese ellipse of her eye, the fullness of the majority of her features, and the tinge of some nameless accent, most people were extremely attracted to Baby Jasmine, but were soon deterred by her dubious name.
            “Botchco’s just fine, Ronny.  Thank you,” she said.  Then she laid it on thick.  “How are you today, my dear?” letting her voice drop like ice cubes in a heady liqueur.
            Ronny was used to this by now.
            “I’m great, thanks,” he said.  “What can I get you today?”
            “I think you know what I want, Ronny,” she said.  She sort of giggled.  Ronny nodded, seemingly uncertain.  “But I need eight of your finest veal cutlets, please.”
            “Coming up,” said Ronny, and he bounced away.
            Baby Jasmine tried to concoct some innuendo using “cutlets.”  Her all-too-obvious advance with the “tender loin” two days before had missed Ronny completely, or so she thought.  Ronny had picked up on the obvious advance; he knew he had tender loins.  Baby Jasmine considered just writing her number on a scrap sheet of butcher paper just like she had considered doing many times before, only to realize, again, she had no pen.  Ronny returned.
            “Here you are, Mrs. Thode,” said Ronny.
            “Thank you, Ronny.  Just put it on my tab,” she said. 
            Baby Jasmine reached to take the cutlets from Ronny and then held on to them for a moment above the polished chrome casing.  She’d caught his eye and considered making her move then, but really, she couldn’t think of what to say.  She let go and turned away as if she couldn’t bear it any longer.
            “Have a good day, Mrs. Thode.  Hope you enjoy the cutlets.”
            “Thank you, Ronny.”  She paused and looked slyly over her shoulder.  She was about to say, “I can’t wait to get your cutlets in my mouth,” or something like that, but Ronny was already helping another customer.

The thing was, Baby Jasmine hadn’t always been Baby Jasmine.  There were things she liked about being Baby Jasmine, yes, but really, she wanted to do away with all that and just go back to being Wendy.  This is why she wanted to have dinner with Ruby the landlady.  Ruby was one of those folks who somehow managed to slink away into the shadows and ultimately into obscurity even though she was so high in demand (mostly by her tenants) and so heavily relied upon (because of the shoddy plumbing).  Baby Jasmine had been trying to have Ruby over for dinner for months and had finally succeeded after catching Ruby out at the grocery store perusing the abundant selection of dry Rieslings the Munchie Mart had to offer. 
“I’m a sucker for dry Riesling,” she’d said. 
Ruby was in her mid-thirties as well and, although she was attractive, successful, assertive, yadda yadda ya, she was single and, despite the whole reclusive bit, she seemed happy.  Baby Jasmine wasn’t the type of individual to pry into someone’s personal life, but that was her exact intention with Ruby the landlady:  to pry.  Because Ruby was so successful, attractive, etc., Baby Jasmine was a little nervous as to how the dinner would go, especially with her, Baby Jasmine’s, semi-celebrity status. She just wanted to talk to a normal person about normal shit without any qualms or apprehensions.
            Baby Jasmine was not a sex symbol per se though she almost was, which she feared would make the humble Ruby feel inadequate.  Hopefully Ruby wouldn’t notice.  But Baby Jasmine was, without a doubt, one of the most prominent emblems of romantic love, anno domine.  Before Carl, her husband, hopped on that rocket and sallied forth toward the stars, before Carl, the international hero, touched down on the moon, before Carl, the lone lunar miner, got lost on the dark side of that dusty, barren satellite, she had just been Wendy Thode:  College Graduate and Astronaut’s Wife.  But with Carl Thode’s final and internationally broadcasted transmission of, “I won’t be coming back.  Tell Baby Jasmine I love her,” before he traipsed into hollow darkness forever, Wendy was gone and Baby Jasmine took her place as soon as they flashed those mocha-hazel eyes on the TV screen.  Carl had called her Baby Jasmine on their second date, when her perfume smelled a little like jasmine.     

“I forgot the dry Riesling!” said Baby Jasmine as she materialized at the threshold, all flustered and clammy.
            “That’s okay,” said Ruby the landlady.  “I brought some!”
            “Oh,” said Baby Jasmine.  “Well, come on in.  I’m so glad you could make it.”
            “Me too,” said Ruby.  “Hardly anybody ever asks me over for dinner.”
            Baby Jasmine wanted to say how that probably had something to do with her being so reclusive, but she didn’t.  She also wanted to reveal her elaborate plan for them to overcome the Riesling obstacle together, thus sealing their friendship through minor tribulation, but she didn’t.  That would have been weird.
            Ruby gingerly stepped inside and began shirking off her overcoat, revealing an out-of-season, thigh high sundress and cleavage that dove and dove and dove.  Baby Jasmine credited this dolled-upedness to her semi-sex symbol status and Ruby’s probable feeling of inadequacy.  “So, listen,” said Ruby.  “I don’t mean to be awkward, but I just wanted to go ahead and get this out of the way.”
            “Okay,” said Baby Jasmine.  “You don’t have to feel awkward around me.  I’m just a regular gal.”
            “Well, I just…am I supposed to call you Baby Jasmine?  I don’t want to call you Baby Jasmine.  It just feels so odd.”
            “Well,” said Baby Jasmine.  “You can call me Wendy.”
            “Wendy!” said Ruby.  “That’s my mother’s name.”
            “Oh, good!” squealed Baby Jasmine.  “We have something in common!”
            “Was your mother named Wendy as well?” said Ruby.
            “No,” said Baby Jasmine.
            “Well,” said Baby Jasmine after a moment.  “Dinner is almost ready.  We’re just waiting on the rice.  Let me go check on it.  Feel free to look around,” and she hopped around the corner and into the kitchen where she promptly took a swig of white rum she had cleverly disguised in a mason jar labeled “Vinegar.”  She popped a peppermint in her mouth.
            Ruby walked around the smallish apartment inspecting the walls, the mantlepiece, the coffee table for signs of Baby Jasmine and her lamentable life as the wife of a missing astronaut.  She found no such sign.  Baby Jasmine had done away with most of the magazine covers, newspaper articles, plaques, fan mail, etc., having stashed them away a year or so before in an old hickory footlocker in her mother’s attic somewhere in the humble plains of Illinois where astronauts’ wives come from.  Ruby wasn’t entirely surprised by this lack of regalia, understanding the need for some seclusion, some forgetfulness, some normalcy, though she sort of hoped to find a Carl Thode shrine or a telescope pointed forever at the surface of the moon. She did not find these things.  She only found several watercolors of a quaint little house in the woods, and a dog whose collar had a little metal bone dangling from it, indicating that he was Botchco Bean Thode who belonged to Carl and Wendy Thode.  Botchco sniffed at Ruby and wagged his stump of a tail.  Ruby scratched behind his ear.
            “Dinner’s ready,” said Baby Jasmine, setting two plates on the dining room table. 
            “Oh, good,” said Ruby.  “I’m just about famished.”
            “Just let me get the wine glasses,” said Baby Jasmine, hopping once more into the kitchen.
            “I’ll help you,” said Ruby, though Baby Jasmine did not hear her.
            Ruby popped her head through the kitchen door and found Baby Jasmine nose deep in a jar labeled “Vinegar.”
            “Oh!” she said.  “I’m so sorry…is that vinegar?”
            Baby Jasmine’s mocha-hazel eyes were pinioned wide and rum dribbled from the corners of her lips.  She swallowed hard and wiped her mouth with her forearm.  
            “It’s rum,” she said.  “I swear.”
            Ruby inspected her for a moment.  She would have been skeptical, but she too had done something quite similar when she first met her ex-husband’s parents years before, only she had opted to hide whiskey in a flower vase in the upstairs bathroom in the cabinet under the sink.
            “It’s okay,” said Ruby.  “I had a couple Manhattans before I came over.”
            They sort of chuckled.
            With the ice broken, Ruby and Baby Jasmine sat down to a nice meal of veal cutlets, rice, gazpacho and dry Riesling.  It was the first time that Baby Jasmine had really been able to connect with anybody since Carl Thode’s last transmission, and she cherished the fact that Ruby avoided any mention of paparazzi, celebrity flings, gentleman callers and the moon.  On the other side of the table, Ruby was happy, for once, not to talk about leaky faucets, lost keys, ex-husbands and being a recluse.  It went swimmingly.  Somewhere in their conversation they discovered that they had an affinity for poker and, eager for the night to go on, Baby Jasmine pulled out the cards, poker chips, a pack of stale cigarettes, and a mason jar labeled “Vinegar,” and the two started in on a game of Texas Hold ’Em.
            Just as the rum was really having its effect, Baby Jasmine went all-in and Ruby pulled out three queens.  Baby Jasmine had two nines and two twos.
            “Fuck,” said Baby Jasmine.  “I really thought I had you.”
            “That’s what I said to my ex-husband,” said Ruby. 
              Baby Jasmine stared at her for a minute, unsure of how to respond.  But then Ruby threw her head back in uncomfortably crazed laughter, so Baby Jasmine started laughing too.  They laughed and laughed until Ruby noticed what time it was.
            “Oh, Christ!”  shouted Ruby.  “It’s almost midnight!”
            And with that, Ruby hopped up and lunged for her overcoat, then for the door.
            “I’m so sorry, Wendy,” said Ruby.  “I completely forgot I have to be somewhere.  Thank you so much for the wonderful dinner.  We’ll have to do it again sometime.”
            “Oh,” said Baby Jasmine.  “It’s no trouble at all!  I had a wonderful—”
            And the door slammed shut.
            Baby Jasmine tossed back the last sip of her rum and Coke then glanced over at Botchco who was thoroughly asleep on the little mustard ottoman.  It took a moment to focus, what with the rum.  She was a little disappointed, sure, but Baby Jasmine was more or less pleased with the way things went.  She didn’t get exactly what she wanted out of the evening with Ruby, but she was fairly certain that things would progress from there, that she could easily work her way into the woman’s confidence and finally ask what it took to live a secluded life.  Baby Jasmine felt good.  She thought she’d go for a walk.
            “Up, Botchco!  UP!” she shouted.
            Botchco sprung up like a cat.  She put him on his leash. 
            Botchco led Baby Jasmine around the empty block, past the post office, past the Munchie Mart.  She’d traveled this route countless times after Carl’s final transmission, and spent many nights after that plodding these sidewalks at about that time.  The paparazzi made it hard to get out alone.  Sure, it had been three years since Baby Jasmine had become a public figure, but she still liked to go out late.  It gave her time to think.  Sometimes, if Botchco was willing, they would head down to the river on a clear night and look up at the lovely orb that swallowed her only, beautiful love.  Sometimes she would write him letters and fold them into exquisite paper airplanes, flinging them sorely into the damp night air, knowing they’d never make it.  Sometimes she would talk, as if talking to a yawning grave.  Sometimes she cried, cutting glances over her shoulder, waiting for flashbulbs to interrupt her evening or weirdos to approach stealthily with chocolates and roses.  At the intersection Botchco turned right.  The river was to the left.
            As Botchco relieved himself against the trunk of a small oak in front of Marco’s Little Butchery, Baby Jasmine didn’t notice the dim light falling across her feet.  She didn’t even notice that she was in front of Marco’s Little Butchery; that is, not until Botchco flung his boxy head back and howled at the window. 
            “Hush,” said Baby Jasmine.  “You’ll wake up the whole neighborhood.”
            Botchco was a good dog, so he shut his yap almost immediately, looking up at Baby Jasmine with those soft, watery eyes that had been with her through all “the shit,” as she called it. 


It had been difficult for Carl to get on the rocket.  There was the horrible emotional weight, the nagging thought that he might never return, the undesirable conjecture that, if he were not to return, his only, beautiful love would never bear his children and she would probably—because he knew her so well—seek out the affections of strange men to fill the void he’d left in her life.  He hoped it wouldn’t come to that, and he knew that the Lunar League had supplied him with the many various necessary and unnecessary means to return safely to earth, but still.  Carl had found it superfluous to cram all that equipment in the smallish orbicular capsule, feeling that he needed only his High Excimer-Flux Argon Laser drill to do the initial dig and a couple freeze-dried lunchlettes to keep him going, but the suits at the Lunar League insisted.
“It’s a matter of public approval,” they’d said.  “If anything goes wonky, we don’t want to be able to say that we didn’t try.”     
“Fine,” said Carl.  “But I don’t see the point in having a harpoon gun with me on the moon.”
            “Take it just in case,” the suits said.
            Carl had been on the moon all by his lonesome for a week and a half before he needed to use the harpoon gun.  Sure, there had been the transmissions with Home Base on and off—they’d even let him speak with Wendy a couple times, candidly, of course, as all of it was broadcast worldwide.  This dig was a big deal.  But really, it had been tough on Carl, being up there alone like that.  It reminded him of a time when he was younger, when he and Wendy had just tied the knot, when he was alone in a kayak out in the bay and got caught up in a storm.  The gale only lasted for ten minutes or so, but Carl really, honestly thought that was the end, being at the mercy of nature like that.  Then, at least, he would have had a terrestrial burial.  There were no lunar undertakers.  He had that feeling all the time.     
            In that week and a half, Carl had touched down, established contact with Home Base, and set to work with his trusty HEFAL drill, scouring the lunar surface for trace particles of Malleable Neutrinium, an indestructible and infinitely useful clay-like element which would, theoretically, if they could find the stuff, completely revamp the way the world worked.  It was a heavy burden, sure, but one that Carl was willing to take on and one that Wendy supported him in, being that he had the greatest God-given talent for digging since the mole.  Carl knew he had the gift, and so did anyone that had ever seen Carl do something even as small as pull a pit from a peach.  But, in that week and a half, Carl had found nothing.  Nothing but dust and rocks and dusty rocks.  It was depressing, really.  Carl called Home Base.
            “There’s nothing here,” he said.  His voice hit a fervid pitch.  It scared Wendy when he said it.  She’d never heard her husband like that. 
            “What do you mean, Carl?” asked the suits.
            “What do I mean?” he shouted.  “You pricks sent me up here to find Malleable Neutrinium, and there’s no fucking Malleable Neutrinium!  I’m up here standing around with my dick in my hand and there’s not a single speck of the shit on this entire goddamn rock!”
            “Watch your language, Carl.  You’re being broadcast worldwide,” said the suits.  “Besides, our reports clearly state that there is Malleable Neutrinium on the moon.  You’ve seen the reports.”
            “Fuck being broadcast!” said Carl.  “And no there isn’t!  I want to come back!  I’m coming back!”  Carl breathed heavily into the teeny little microphone caulked inside his helmet.
            “Carl, listen,” said the suits.  “We didn’t want to have to tell you this, but—“ then they paused, conscientious of their being on the air.  “But, you’re going to have to go to the dark side.”
            From where Carl was standing at that moment, perched atop a dusty, oblong boulder for better reception, he could see the shadow some fifty yards off, which was, and he knew it all too well, the dark side of the moon. 
“You never said anything about the dark side,” said Carl.
            “Well,” said the suits, “we didn’t want to have to tell you.  We thought—what with your expertise and all—that maybe you wouldn’t have to go there.”
            In that week and a half on the moon Carl had skirted around the dark side, coming close to, but never venturing into the shadow.  There was something ominous, foreboding, even fatal about looking into that blackness.  He didn’t see any point in going there.  From what he’d been told, the moon was full of Malleable Neutrinium.  It had seemed like an easy enough job, what with the decent pay, the tax breaks, the dental plan, etc., but this was too much.
            “We really need you to do this, Carl,” said the suits.  “It’s the whole reason you’re up there.  You won’t receive the dental plan if you back out now.”
            “Give me a minute,” said Carl.  “Just give me a minute.”
            Carl Thode shut off his microphone, hopped down from the oblong boulder and skipped his way across the moon’s dusty surface toward the orbicular capsule.  With a heavy heart, he piled on his shoulders everything that he could, knowing now why the suits had sent it all with him.  He grabbed a stash of freeze dried lunchlettes, the Trilo-Vactant Scanner, air canisters, the harpoon gun, the lights and tri-pod, the Helion Erector, a pen, several charges of Nitron-d, and finally, the HEFAL drill.  Carl turned his back on the capsule, lumbering toward the shadow.
            A picture of him and Wendy was taped to the inside of his helmet just next to the microphone.  He wished he could have held it in his hand and stroked it lovingly, maybe kissed it, maybe shed a tear over it.  Carl considered that the suits at Home Base had no idea what the dark side of the moon was to someone witnessing it firsthand.  They had no idea what they were sending him into.  All they knew was that it meant a loss in radio contact and having to operate solely by artificial light and intuition.   Sure, he had no idea what he was being sent into either, but he knew it wasn’t good.  Carl was the type of guy who wouldn’t let you down and, being that earth was depending on him, Carl felt a great obligation to follow through with this. 
            He stood with the shadow falling just across his toes and all he could see was blackness.  It was a tangible blackness.  He held his hand into it, and the hand disappeared, swallowed up.  He pulled the hand out and reached to his side.  With a clumsy, shaking finger, Carl initiated radio contact with Home Base.
            “Boys?” said Carl.
            “Yeah, Carl. Yeah.  We’re here.  Where’d you go?”
            “I had to get my things,” said Carl.  “I’m about to head in.”
            Home Base exploded.  “Oh, Carl!  That’s wonderful!” they said.  “Okay, so, you realize you’re going to sacrifice radio contact as long as you’re in the shadow, so be sure to get back in touch with us just as soon as you come out, alright?”
            Carl nodded.  His breath traveled through the microphone and wrapped itself around all of earth.  They heard his stifled sob.
            “I won’t be coming back,” said Carl.  “Tell Baby Jasmine I love her.”
            Home Base went quite.  “Carl?” they said.  But he’d already turned off his microphone. 
            When he stepped into the shadow, his body and tools fully immersed, Carl turned around for a glimpse of earth, but found that he was faced by nothing but darkness.  He knew he wouldn’t find his way back.

When the battery for the lights and tri-pod went dead, Carl ignited a charge of Nitron-d, then another, then another, working rapidly by its faint green glow.  The HEFAL pulsed smoothly in his grip, churning out layer after layer of cold, dead dust.  There was something comforting in the laser’s violet glow and the way it worked silently, steadily, efficiently.  It reminded him of Wendy, somberly painting in watercolors by candlelight the home they would build together when he touched down.  There in the dust, as the last charge of Nitron-d began to flicker out, the HEFAL coughed up three small rocks, each the size of a lodestone.
            “There you are, little guys,” said Carl. 
Knowing that, even if he tried and tried, he would never find his way out of the shadow, Carl dutifully cut the cable of the harpoon gun on the blade of the Helion Erector, pulled the pen from his front pocket, and took a deep, deep breath before he unclasped his helmet.  With thick-gloved fingers, Carl pulled the picture from the inside of his helmet and, by the dying light, he quickly wrote:
                        I found it.  It’s here.  I love you always.
He wanted to pour his heart out but, given the circumstances, that had to suffice.
            Carl took one last look at Wendy’s mocha-hazel eyes, then balled up the picture and wedged it in between the Malleable Neutrinium, forming the chunks into an impenetrable shell around the last correspondence he would ever write.  As his lungs expanded and his eyeballs bulged, Carl tied the Neutrinium to the harpoon with the severed cable and, just before his body atomized, he fired the harpoon gun toward what he hoped would be earth.


Three years later, after having just witnessed her new friend Ruby having a good fuck on the counter in Marco’s Little Butchery with Ronny, the boy she’d had an unrequited and almost-pedophilic crush on for a year or so, Baby Jasmine and her dog Botchco sat alone on a bench beside the river around 2:00 a.m..  There was no sound.  There was no movement.  Normally, at such a melancholic point in the wee hours, especially after such a visceral and gut wrenching scene as the one viewed through the front window of the Little Butchery, Baby Jasmine would have written a note to her long-gone husband and sent it on paper wings toward the moon, but she had forgotten her pen. 
            She would have said something aloud had she not felt so ashamed, so she sat quietly, gazing at the moon with her watery mocha-hazel eyes, wondering what the world would be like with her husband still around, wondering if Malleable Neutrinium would have done what they thought it would do, knowing that she would probably feel like this for a long, long time.    
            Botchco chased dream-rabbits.  A shooting star coursed briefly across the sky and burned out almost immediately.  Baby Jasmine saw it and wished only that things were different, but she didn’t put a lot of stock in wishes, especially under such serendipitous circumstances.  She kicked Botchco awake and turned to head home.  Behind her, somewhere out on the glinting water, not far from where she’d been sitting, a white-hot harpoon seared through the water’s surface and plunged deep into the muddy riverbed below amongst dozens of soggy notes folded into paper airplanes.  She didn’t hear the tiny splash.

Author Bio

Russell HehnRussell Hehn received his MA in Literature  from Clemson University in 2009.  He is currently a landscaper in South Mississippi where he lives with his tomato and banana pepper plants.  His previous publications can be found in Holy Cuspidor, McSweeney’s, and Pindeldyboz.

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