Hope in the Night

On a long walk at midnight my eyes struggle to make sense of mysterious shapes in the scant moonlight. I make my way up a partially paved and partially earthy trail at the edge of suburbia. The ascension a metaphor for the personal mountain I climb.  Will I climb a mountain and turn around? The trail leads to an old abandoned church. It is in complete disrepair. A rusted chain-link encircles the edifice. Dry tall patches of, what I imagine is straw-colored, long grass spring up from unimaginable crevices. I think of a photo I once viewed of Mission Neustria Senora de la Soledad.  Soledad means solitude. It was once a shinning beacon; a spectacular oasis along the El Camino, a glorious theater of conversion. I saw it in a sepia tone photo at its nadir. It sat simply as pile of decrepit adobe and obvious fierce reclamation by mother nature.

On my long walk I contemplate suicide. Not in earnest, just the sappy ‘woe is me’ kind of flirtation that cowards dabble in. A dilettante of death, I smirk. I click my heels up the paved path, partially rutted out so my feet every now and then sinks in the soft earth. I make out the outline of the church and even in this scant moon light can see glints of moons-rays reflecting in the remaining busted out portions of glass. The lot is pitted with potholes and huge bulges of of thick black chunks of pavement heave up where mother nature is irrevocably reclaiming her skin.

On the periphery of the lot, shapes come and go with the inconsistent light of the moon. It filters in through the ironically robust redwoods that hem in the lot. My eyes struggle to make sense of mysterious shapes that fringe the open space.

Overhead the black cold firmament is punctuated with tiny lies of light. They hang mockingly. Just then it registers. An ethereal yellow (a yellow like the teeth of a wild rabid wolf) glows from windward side of the dilapidated church. Who pays the electric bill out here? I ponder. We naturally gravitate to the light. As I do now, as I must. I hear a crack from somewhere in the surrounding trees. Ice takes over my veins. I freeze. There is an undeniable crippling futility in this sort of paralysis. One is unable to even make the needed gesticulations of life— let alone the planning and scheming to “make-it” in life.  I am sure one of these grotesque menacing shapes I see in the darkened spaces between the trees will manifest itself into a moving mysterious being that will in short order, reveal glistening eyeballs tucked in a crazed contorted, countenance of a rapist, or murderer or robber or a better yet a trifecta that has come to help me along with my cowardice.  My personal deus ex machina. The sound is not followed by any other thumps, cracks or crashes. And I begin to feel the stirrings of my nervous systems communicating once again with my muscles. I continue to make my way toward the unnatural glow. A singular carriage-house lamppost casts an ethereal yellow spotlight on a small struggling animal.  As I move closer the wind blowing over its short wispy matted in spots fur, clues me in. It’s a possum. He is writhing in his death throes. The pungent odor of death smacks me in the face. It hits my nostrils like a boxer delivering a swift blow straight on. I am obedient to my olfactory hinge to my left and proceed to vomit. The splattering breaks the quietude.

Morbid curiosity at work, I regain my composure and move in even a little closer. I take a few steps more and am just hovering over him now, like the mocking stars in kind. I make out that his (I assume its male) back end is crushed. I surmise he must have dragged him self some distance as a trail of organic glistening material leads to his catastrophic injury. It’s like Haley’s comet in freeze frame. He's been run over. I must be a genius. I think to myself what intelligent sleuthing! Then I quickly chastise myself and think any idiot could see what’s happened here.  His guts spew out of an unnatural orifice and glisten beautifully in the anemic light. The only shining part of this tragic scene.

I bend in for an even a closer look. Accepting the odors of burnt hair and pungent gamy animal blood. I once ate a deer that my step-dad shot and slew over the hood of his 75 station wagon. He brought it home, a proud trophy that we beheaded and skinned and consumed. It was sweet, wild and gamy. The scent permeated my pores and clung to my hair for days following. Just then amazingly the possum’s opaque black little beady eyes meet mine. It must be I think, one of those moments in life where language and even species barriers carry us both to a higher understanding of existence. He begins to tremor. Perhaps I can save him? I rationalize, nobody is that dumb to think that. Yet of course I know better. I realize I am smirking over this animal who is gazing deep into my eyes. I think of a pantomime practiced in the art of his gesticulations. In my minds eye, he in his chalky-pale face, melodramatically feigns death throes. His mouth down-turned like like Melpomene.

“That’s a bit dramatic little fellow!” I say out loud.  I break the silence with billows of steam streaming forth from my all to chipper spirit considering the circumstances.  My tone of voice startles me as I too recognize the the unplanned mockery underpinning my comment.

I’m not sticking around for the unplanned pathos elicited by witnessing the last dying gasps of an animal.  A feather in my cap. I imagine me at some point in the future. I am in a cocktail dress at some pretentious party, where foie gras is served. I’m bragging as I relate this little gem of a story between sips of a 2014 Chateau d’Yquem, belaboring the point that I shared some cosmic connection with a dying possum.

I think of Albert Camu and his mythical essay. The absurdity of it all. In the blackest of nights with this dying ember of intermittent glow and life— I turn and walk away, heading toward the wilderness. I let him die alone. And return to my own illusions of hope.


By Toni Orban January 1 2017.

microfiction: The Ex.

The Ex.


I hear the door shut. That familiar creak and sucking thwack. "Hello?" My ex calls from the ground floor, with a question in his voice. A question that a woman knows. She feels it in her toes. It vibrates her bones--even across rooms and floors around bends and through doors. I dab on the last bit of unctuous gloss and butterflies escape my lips as I part them. They flutter and crash into the broken fogged reflective looking glass. I creak down the stairs. Our eyes meet, searching. And though our love, smoggy and opaque and writhing in its death throes, he wants me. 


Confessional Essay: The Atlas.

The Atlas.

We all are walking paths. No, I mean you. You are not walking on a path—you are the walking path. I once heard it said that we are all books. Everyone is a story, said Maya Angelou. I can relate to Ms. Angelou, as she was a renaissance woman, like me. A consummate dabbler. She was a poet, essayist, memoirist, freedom activist, divorcee, actress, recipient of fifty honorary degrees, and burlesque dancer. The woman knew how to reinvent herself. But I think she was always searching, traveling. Being a pathway.

I had a jolt of recognition today. As I was coming out of Robert’s Market a group of cyclists swooshed by, their androgenic auras exuding from their muscularity. Their thick-thighs were pumping the pedals. “Whoot-whoo,” I hear a wolf whistle. What? Was that for me? It dawned on me that I haven’t been whistled at in years—okay maybe decades. I have been wearing more spandex as of late. And was concomitantly finding satisfaction and revulsion at gawking eyes. Now after the note attention at times is simultaneously solicited and rejected. I had been a personal trainer for nineteen years and competitive natural body-builder for nearly two decades, and well generally kept my self in good shape. I have a plethora of spandex. I have a neoprene and Lycra cache as well. Most of it not touched for years. I can’t imagine myself crammed into half of it. Even the best of us can’t stay at the peak of fitness perpetually. After all, after the peak…it’s all down-hill. As the whistling cyclist gained momentum with his pack now down-hill themselves on Woodside road, he looked directly at me and with one hand raised to his lips blew me an air-kiss, and emphatically followed up with, “Bellisima!”  I thought he looked Italian. Maybe he’s simply learning Italian using Rosetta Stone so he can dupe the ladies into his façade of attractiveness. The spandex and the smoky-eye are paying off. Okay not really. The attention rings hollow in reality.

Cold Novembers.

On a clear cold day in fall, just before the insanity and inanity of the (American approach to) holidays, my husband of twenty-three years surreptitiously packed up and cleared out in a mere five-hour window. My twelve year-old daughter and I had gone to the city. She is a budding actress and I indulge pretty much any and every interest she entertains: She does musical theatre, dance, voice, piano, guitar, voice acting, theatre camps, plays, musicals— you get the idea. Isn’t this what “good” parents do? We are to facilitate interests, “see what sticks” and in doing so we are partners in their success. Or that is what we are to believe. Are these air-traffic controller schedules done out of fear or love? “Failure is not an option” a cultural mantra.

On this particularly cold clear November day, I pecked my husband a farewell. He was uncharacteristically still in his sweatpants at 10 AM this Sunday morning. We perfunctorily drove the usual route to the Voice One studio in San Fran. I was till relying on GPS voice nav, (The British tart coquettishly commanding: “in a quarter mile turn to the left and stay to the left”). Perhaps she attended Voice One. I was feeling a bit lame relying on her yet again for guidance, as I’d gone this road many, many times before. The trip to and from was rather mundane. Little did I know the Y-split juncture in my own road waiting around the corner.

A Note.

There was a note. As we entered the garage where we built our home-gym something was vaguely unsettling. Something a bit off—I honestly didn’t register it what it was. Oblivious sometimes, that’s what we are.

As I approached my office there was a note. It was sitting audaciously on my desk. There it was— immaculate black bolded cursive written on crisp white paper: FOR “TJ.” Baffled I unfolded the pristine sheet. The note matter-of-factually and legally embellished explained his exit. There were these reasons and those reasons… and financial obligations. There were these arrangements and those. The venomous spats were mentioned: He always claimed me a walking soundtrack to Kill Bill, a kick-ass ballsy heroine who whips ass on men. A tongue that could give a Ginsu knife a run for the money, slicing through pipes, pies, cans, fruit and flesh. He was my hero. In this instant I imagine him a Hollywood action hero, walking nonchalantly from a fiery explosion nipping at his heels. He grins and walks away unscathed.

Boom! I collapsed to the floor and sobbed uncontrollably. Pitifully. Then a dull ache developed in my epiglottis and large veins pulsed at my temples.

He cleared out, a silent rumination forms. I gathered strength to get off the floor, red-swollen-faced with sticky gooey thick saliva mingled with cosmetics to see the bright, yet stricken face of my little daughter. She held out a hand her tiny hand to hoist me up. We hugged so tightly I felt I was smothering her. After moaning several, “Whys?” I bucked up. I muttered, “It’s going to be okay.”

I lift up. I fly. I float. I feel my middle-aged hips vibrate as my left leg begins to hinge, my femur and its musculature gaining against gravity angling for a parallel line to the French Oak floors, now with one foot off the ground. I take a step.

As we gather our bearings, we silently tour the house. He took it all: guitars – all fifteen of them, every book and magazine from his library/guitar lounge, his gym equipment (that was the vague feeling I had back in the garage). He took the local artist’s paintings that we purchased together, even the one with farmstead scene. It was a surrealist piece. It was a painting of a rustic-red reclaimed wood-barn mysteriously floating above the landscape. There it was just hovering over the dirt path below. He doesn’t even like barns. He took everything and anything that could be a material reminder of him, that is other than the furniture and the house itself.  His closet was as empty and void as a house just sold and just cleaned by a team of meticulous maids, ready for the next occupant.



Robert Frost.

As I take in the change, Robert Frost perpetually pops into my head. Something about an old road, a windy road, a road not taken?

Aha! The Road Not Taken. Is it his road? My road? Are we all solo on these roads, delusional that two cars meet up, take a highway out for a few thousand miles with beauteous scenery flying by and surprises up around the bend, only to one day reach a Y-split and motor on different ways. Is anyone every really on the same road with anyone else?


Wasn’t he the guy who led a revolt against his father and was forced to bear the world on his shoulder? What load does he carry now? What load did he relinquish?

Atlas makes me think of maps. They are a rarity these days. I am referring to good old paper maps: Sanborn maps. I mean the kind of maps that blocked your entire view of the scenery flying by. The kind that dads or husbands ignored as their wives unfolded, rustled, turned incessantly and kvetched: “You went the wrong way!”  Maps that sparked squabbles on which way to take. “All roads go somewhere,” said my father once.

We become static on our paths at times. Itinerancy beckons.  We want freedom from weighted down monotonous patterns. As Lord Tennyson put fire to the heart of that ultimate wanderlust: Odysseus in Ulysses:

How dull it is to pause, to make an end,

To rust unburnish'd, not to shine in use!

As tho' to breathe were life! Life piled on life

Were all too little, and of one to me

Little remains: but every hour is saved

From that eternal silence, something more,

A bringer of new things

To be stationary is to rust. It is not to shine. To stay in one place can make you believe that may be all there is to life. A man’s midlife crisis is real. It is not only a reflection of fretting the downslide after his zenith, it is also about stasis. There may be a deeper impetus for purchasing a 500 horsepower engine. There is more to that desideratum. Men want to move like they used to.



Midway— noun. An area of sideshows, games of chance or skill or other amusements.

Here it is. You are forty-nine. You notice the extra weight you’re carrying. You notice skin looking like an overused glazed tea-cup with a thousand minute fractures. Brown spots, like old pears congeal on your forearms and creep upward. You realize the bitter funk and ungrateful attitude you’ve accumulated and directed toward life. You’ve done yoga, meditation and you still want to slap someone. Men have real midlife crisis. Pop-media gloms on this topic. It sells. Celebrity breakups make good headlines. Fluff on a male A-lister cheating with a nanny makes good profits. Let us dub it a midlife crisis. It becomes talk show fodder. It is a topic so trite and a term laymen bandy about such that no one believes in it. It’s applied to any middle-aged guy that cheats on his spouse, buys a new sports car, starts working out, or buys new skivvies. But there is more to it. It is a personal crisis. Some people simply dismiss it as pseudo-psychological jargon: Midlife crisis, Ha! Kevin Spacey aka Lester Burnham in American Beauty is a mild version of some of the stories I have heard form these Woodside women. It’s really like any town, I suppose.


Turnpikes were originally defense mechanisms for towns in antiquity as a defense in sudden attacks. Turnpikes allow for a departure, or rather retreat from the road you were on.

It’s been four months since “the note”. As I contemplate the road not taken I imagine my self frozen floating above the Y-split— peering down through a penumbral haze, just hovering, just wondering. I lift up. I fly. I float.












A Short Fiction: The Interview

“Hey you must be Cash,” she whisked in the the loggia of The Daily Grind coffee-house.

She shook his hand ceremoniously. He gave a vague nod and the corner of one side of his lips turned up.

“I took the liberty to order a head,” he said with authority. She didn’t bother to ask what

she was having. She took a seat the cold lattice work of the steel bench chilling her buttocks. He took note of her designer frames. A brand a bit beneath him, yet clearly an expense for her.

“So how long have you been in on the market?” He eyes her over and through the thickened end of his water glass. Distorting her features.

“Oh, I have been looking for about six months now. It’s a tough economy.” She mouthed.

He had a sudden pang of lust noting her swollen lips. He thought of his admin assistant.

The barista with an enormously looped bun atop her head, a nose-ring, lithe arms, tremendous breast and whale-tale tattoo delivered the mystery coffees with a pleasant “Here you go.” Cash’s eyes focused on her rear as she retreated to the coffee bar.

“Well as you know from my résumé. I received my degree at UCFCA in internet marketing, but feel very confident in the overlap of of internet marketing and brick-and-mortar marketing. They coalesce particularly now because of the transition that most business’ engaging in. That is capitalizing today on the internet. Specifically, in direct marketing with the use of email distribution, text, website traffic, social media blitz and so on, in lieu of tangible promotional materials. I am savvy with creating spreadsheets for analysis and feel comfortable directing others on my team to create pre- and post-campaign analytics. That way we can transition direct marketing for your store from antiquated methods such as: fliers, catalogs and newspaper: those old mediums are out of date.” She laughed. (Cash thought of his wife).

“I am familiar with audience tracking also. I can set that up and determine what works for the store. We can even look into customerization?” She probed, lifting an eyebrow.

He was on the hook. Cash wondered if Serena was any good in bed.

Serena took a sip of her coffee. It was a mediocre blend and cloying.

“Wow, you really know your stuff,” Cash did a one-eighty, as he was wont to do in conversation. He took the opportunity to turn the interview into his “good-guy” rant. (He had already decided to hire Serena prior to the interview: a fait accompli. Now he could talk about himself. He had already had her meticulously investigated and résumé scoured over prior to the unexceptional coffee). Thus the meeting this sunny and clear afternoon, moot. He conjunctively hoped maybe he could get her in the sack— in future. But that was later, right now he needed profits. And at this very moment he needed to build his reputation.

“You sound like you will be a great help, a good addition to the team. Business is down about 30% and we need someone like you to pump us up. Being the owner of the shop--You can’t imagine what it is like, my entire life is poured into this store— my livelihood in constant jeopardy and just a few missteps of some rogue employees risks the whole ship capsizing. I’ve struggled for years being the nice guy choosing not to fire, even when they aren’t pulling their dead weight. I’ve got a family to support you know, but some of these young bucks— my salesclerks don’t understand that. I keep them on board long after I should, well say most of my colleagues. I’ve got to toughen up and get resourceful to boost sales, other than relying on my salesclerks to drum up business. That’s why were here,” Cash mused.

Serena tipped the cup of her mediocre sickly sweet cup of joe taking in the dregs myopically viewing him, clearly. She knew it was bullshit.

Cash ran his manicured hands through his hair, “You’re hired” he succinctly stated. “You can meet with Sam my assistant” whom he was clearly banging on the side by the minute changes in his mien, “Monday morning 9 AM sharp and welcome aboard the ship.” With that he stood, all six feet of him, un-cranking his wiry but muscular legs and turned on his heels, spying the barista with tremendous breast slinging espressos as he left.

Serena stood up stretched her back, and was happy to have a job.


Short Fiction: A Clean Slate

I laid my cobalt parudessus next my arid rolly. Another intransigent discussion with my lover. He’s stormed out into the roily and rutted Paris rues. Perhaps heading to rue St. Georges. Do I care? Oui. Me, just a bit of rejectamenta. I am no Lise! I am no Diana. Diana the huntress, I am no Huntress. Yet surely we are all hunting for love. He has found his. He caresses his brushes more tenderly then me surely. The intimacy with your subjects your connection with color, I see it. You give yourself so freely and evacuate your sexual energy in frissons of color. Your love effervesces from your hands, from your essence creating hues superior to natures. Yet, how natural your subjects’ fusion with the very same nature. I head to the kitchen and make my self a cup of tea. Perhaps I’ll lace it with laudanum. Oui, if there is any to be had for me. You are morsel, I tell myself. What kind of girl at twenty-seven traipses about with a popsy companion from Bordeaux to Rome? That’s what Augustus would say, “You haven’t the constitution for such a physical adventure.” I can hear him now echoing dear mother. Oh Augusta how I do miss your guiding spirit.  

The kettle blows steam and whistles an impatient tune. I pick it up and scald my hand. I need a buffer. That is what I need. Indeed, a buffer! The water sloshes into the porcelain, over the leaves they swirl and color the water immediately staining it brown. I look into the leaves for answers. The steam only billows into my face as I exhale. Soi-disant that is what you are. The Slade is no match for the École. I am no master. You could teach me. I can remain your muse and lover. I can’t bear the rejection, no! Perhaps, I should toss my self from a barbican. That would make a bloody splash in Le Figaro.  Then my fame may taint yours. Top yours, Ha! No, perhaps not. Perhaps I can go more humbly….just a sharp razor quickly across the wrist.

No. I should have stopped in Asnières. I should have stayed in Toulousse. Dorelia oh you were always so much independent than I, your love flows freely, unbounded. Mine so perfect, so precise. So controlled. My brushes, my hand, do the same. Yet the recognition eludes me. The female… Ah she is so frail. No match for the masculine essence that pours out onto the canvas, or that wroughts the forms from alabaster or marble. Bronze to wily for the feminine hand to wield. That masculine ejaculation has no parallel. Oh Dorelia! So much more open to the ménage a trios. The acquiescence to a single soul, this is the trouble with me! Oh fie! The attachment so strong, that is my weakness I ‘spose. Maybe it is the trouble of the middle. Yes, it’s the mediocrity of the middle child that curses a soul. The filtered sunlight seeps through the kitchen window, revealing spots and imperfections on my hands and paint grimed in my nail-beds. The light shows the worn edges of the table and the thousand tiny fractures of the tea-cup. I turn my face to the unnatural radiance and catch a quick glimpse of the deep creases around my eyes. Entropy that is what it is. All is moving toward disintegration. Perhaps I could walk to the Seine this very eve when it is black and misty— and sink my self into oblivion. I could have been the bijou, the little smudgy treasure— glossy unctuous oils stroked tenderly on your canvas. No! I am as fragile as the medium you first imparted your creations on. I am bone china.

He is the aesthete, consorting with the fellows on Montmartre and the Salon. Burning through muses as one does a book of matches on a blustery night. I am no match for an arriviste. Your palette effulgent, gleaming and bright dovetails your esteem. My interior reflections shaded over by the dim rooms I choose to dwell. The light without follows me not. The external is not where I dwell. The internal light is dim, but examined.  I take a sip of the tea, sweet now on the tip of my tongue. I swallow. I pick up my pen. I put it to clean crisp white sheets of paper. Farewell, my love. Farewell, Paris. I am moving to Muedon.