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Keke Hamsho and the Falconers: Chapter 1

21 Dec

Keke Hamsho and the Falconers is a serial about Keke Hamsho, an eighth grader at Rindge Avenue Upper School. Keke is also homeless.

Keke Hamsho was late for school because the tent had collapsed for the third time that night and they had to help their aunt and Ahmed put it back up. The winds from storm that had soaked the area kept knocking it down and the earth of the Alewife Reservation remained too wet and soft to secure the tent’s stakes. This time Ahmed used the odd ends of twine to tie the tent off to neighboring pines. As soon as it was up, Keke tore off down the bike path, through the Alewife T station, dashed between the bumper to bumper traffic on Fresh Pond Parkway and then sprinted down Rindge Ave, mud clinging to their purple Keds and bell bottom pants. After checking in at the front office they decided to duck into the accessibility bathroom to clean up before slipping in to Mr. Taulson’s history class. Just as Keke was about to push open the door, the hulking form of Jabari Harris popped out. Keke jumped back.

“Trying to get a peek, perv?” Jabari just stood there blocking Keke’s path. Everyone at Rindge Avenue Upper School knew Jabari Harris, the all everything to be, youth league football standout, basketball star and said to be a near lock to start at wideout on the high school team next year. He was also allegedly a rare eighth grade member of the Falcon Posse, the secret high school club that everyone wanted to be part of and fearful to be the target of. It was practically mandatory to follow them on TikTok and Instagram. A Falcon Posse post mentioning you either earned you friendly back pats in the hall or a week of cold shoulders.

“Sorry, in a rush,” Keke stammered.

“What are you anyway?” the larger student growled in his deep, other side of puberty, baritone.

“A human, same as you,” Keke said as they slipped pass and bolted the door. Quickly they wiped the mud from the sparkly Keds and pick fluffed their hair so that the purple and azure highlights of the blond crop shown with an aura-like effect.

At lunch Keke sat with Hazel and Cal, COVID masks under their chins pulling on their ears as they ate.

“Trade you a half PB and bacon for half your dog,” Hazel said to Keke, knowing how much her friend enjoyed the crunchy lunch treat her mom made.

“You don’t have to,” Keke said.

“C’mon, school dogs are the best, hit me up with that ketchup pack too.”

“Did you hear,” Cal asked, “someone stole Jenny’s favorite squishmallow from her backpack.”

“Jack Skellington?” Hazel asked.


“That sucks, I wonder who the loser is who did it.”

“Hector,” Cal said, “said that Antoine told him he saw the new girl snooping through the bags after coming back from a bathroom break.”

“You know,” Hazel said, “two days ago, my Pockys were missing from my lunch bag, I thought I had just forgot to pack ‘em, but now…”

“And I had several bracelets I was working on,” Keke said, “go missing last week. I thought they fell out of my backpack when I was running to school.”

“Nadja, Nadia? The girl from Tanzania, right?” Hazel asked.

“Nyla and she’s from Ethiopia,” Keke corrected.

“Someone should tell Ms. Franklin,” Hazel said, “I’m going to buy Jenny a new Jack Skellington squishmallow for Christmas and send it to her on the down low, Secret Santa style.”

“At the front office this morning,” Keke said, “Vice Principal Santos was talking to a cop about someone taking the menorah from the ‘Multicultural Holiday Celebration’ exhibit and defiling it with swastikas in the teachers’ parking lot.”

“Haters be hating,” Hazel said.

“Asses be holing,” Cal laughed.“Prolly some bullshit Falconer Posse initiation ritual.”

“Bet it’s you’re boy Jabari,” Hazel said.

“That guy’s just the worst. A bully with a capital B.”

“He kinda hassled me this morning when I was trying to go to the bathroom.”

“When I see him I just walk the other way.”

“That was a mean shiner he gave you on Halloween. Hey Kek,” Hazel said, “have you heard the latest drop from Black Pink?”

“I wish, I dropped my iPod in a puddle during the last rain. I’m still trying to dry it out in a bag of rice, but I think it’s dead for good.” “Here, have a listen,” Hazel said putting earbuds into Keke’s ears and loading up the latest K-Pop hit on her iPhone.

Later that day after leaving their math session with Ms. Phillips, the learning specialist who helped them stay caught up with the class, Keke saw Nyla coming out of the accessibility bathroom and wondered what they were doing roaming the halls during a class period. The girl locked eyes with Keke but didn’t say anything until after she passed by. “Hey,” she called out.

Keke turned. “Hey yourself. Aren’t you going the wrong way? Don’t we have English?”

“I got pulled out to see Ms. Santos.”

“What for?” Keke asked.

“I don’t know,” Nyla said digging around in her pink, fake leather backpack. She produced three beaded bracelets, the same three beaded bracelets that Keke had lost, except now each one had a little rubber troll charm attached to it. “Want to buy one? Five dollars each.”

Keke was shocked. “I don’t have any money,” they stammered and then demanded, “Where did you get those?”

“I made ‘em.”

“You made them?”


“That’s funny because those look just like the bracelets I make.”

“It’s just beads, anyone can make. If you don’t want one then I’ve got to go.”

Keke couldn’t wait to tell Cal and Hazel about the encounter, but before the last bell she got asked to stay after by Ms. Franklin. “Tomorrow before early release, go down and see Ms. Santos,” Ms. Franklin told Keke. “Also thank you for the lovely bracelet. Here’s a little something for you too,” Ms Franklin said and handed Keke an envelope. “We’re not supposed to do this, so let’s just keep it just between you and me, okay? And have a really happy holiday break.”

The next day at school Keke was still brimming to tell Cal and Hazel about the Nyla incident, but Nyla was sitting too close by and then Mr. Taulson came in. Later, in Ms. Franklin’s class both Nyla and Antoine were pulled out about half way through. As they packed up their belongings and exited, Keke and Cal and Hazel flashed each other wide eyed glances.

At class break Keke was finally able to share the story of the hallway encounter with Nyla.

“She’s so getting busted right now,” Cal said.

“I can’t believe she did that, that’s worse than lying to your face,” Hazel said.

“It was lying to her face,” Cal retorted.

“Their face,” Hazel corrected.

“Right, sorry.”

“No worries mate,” Keke said with a strained Australian accent as they gave Cal a friendly punch in the arm.

“Oh, before we take off,” Hazel said grabbing the hands of each of her friends, “I want you guys to come over for movie night during break. I’m thinking Home Alone 2 or Bad Santa if my mom will let us.”

“Only if your mom makes her awesome seven layer dip.”

“We’ll see. Kek, how can I get in touch with you? Do you guys have a cellphone?”

“No, not really. You can email me on my class PC, but we don’t have internet. I can sometimes get on the wifi from the cafe in the office park across the swamp.”

“Don’t worry, my friend,” Hazel said. “Problems have solutions and no one knows how to kick problem ass better than me.”

“That’s because you got a big one,” Cal chuckled.

“Dude, you just see Kardashian everywhere. You need a new hobby. Seriously.”

When Keke arrived at the principal’s office, the police officer they saw the day before was in with Principal Caldwell and Jabari Harris. Antoine and Nyla were sitting in chairs just outside the door awaiting their turn. Keke was about to check in with the receptionist when Vice Principal Santos beckoned from her office, “Keke, come on in.” As Keke took up the chair on the opposite side desk, Ms. Santos rolled her chair in tight and slid a small manila envelope over to Keke. “That’s a bus and subway pass for you, so wherever you are, and whatever the weather is, you can always get to us. There’s no charge, it’s part of a program the MBTA runs with public schools.”

“Thank you,” Keke said.

“How are things going otherwise?”


“I’m glad to hear that. No one’s bothering you or anything like that?”


“That’s good. I want you to know you can always talk to us. People here care.”

“I know and thank you.”

“Well, have a wonderful break and I’ll see you back here next year,” the vice principal said with a wry smile.

“Thank you, you too Ms. Santos.”

That evening as Keke and their aunt ate cold soup and waited for Ahmed to come home, Keke opened their backpack to retrieve the envelope Ms. Franklin had given them. Inside there was also a small package, one that Keke had not seen before. It was plump and padded and overly sealed with tape. On the front in blue magic marker it said “For Keke” and nothing else. Keke opened the envelope from Ms. Franklin first.

Inside was a folded piece of paper and a gift card to Whole Foods. The computer printed text on the paper said, “Use this to get yourself a cherry pie for Christmas Day. I realize you probably don’t celebrate Christmas, however the sentiment remains. There should be enough for a turkey or a quiche to serve as an appetizer before you gorge on that cherry pie.”

Keke looked over at their aunt and smiled warmly.

To open the other package Keke needed Ahmed’s rusted jackknife to cut through the gobs of tape. Tucked inside a fold of bubble wrap was an iPhone and a pair of ear buds. Keke knew right away it was Hazel’s phone by the glitter covered pink case and purple PopSocket grip on it. On the face of the phone was a Post-it note with the number “7070″ on it. Keke tuned on the phone and punched in the code to unlock it. The phone said it had one new message from “Mom.” Out of curiosity Keke opened it, but all it said was “Call me.” Apprehensively Keke put in the earbuds and called.

“You got it!” her friend exclaimed.

“Yeah, but why?”

“Well now I can tell you when to come over and besides, my mom has three phones, plus you can now listen to K-Pop over the break.”

“Weird, but thank you I guess. Why did you not just give it to me at school?”

“You know me, weirdo to the max. Plus would you have taken it?”

“Good point.”

“So did you hear? It was Antoine who was stealing the shit…”

“Language!” Keke could hear a woman’s voice shout in the background.

“…and selling it to other kids. He probably sold your bracelets to Nyla who had no clue she was selling you, your stuff back to you.”

“She could have told me when I called her on it.”

“Who knows, she’s a quirky quacky duck.”

“I dunno, I kinda get where she’s coming from some. Her parents might not speak English and probably have a hard time finding work.”

“Don’t go all Debbie Downer on me. The day after Christmas, mark it down, save it, oh and can you do a sleep over? I’m now thinking Avatar or a Harry Potter movie fest, but…” Hazel now whispers, “…if we can close the door to the den, maybe we can put on Squid Game, cuz I know you love all things Korean.”Hazel giggled. “Because my mom knows we’re both into K-Pop she’s talking about making something called mandu soup.”

“It’s dumpling soup. I’ve never had it.”

“Me either.”

After Keke hung up they gave their aunt a big hug before crawling into their sleeping bag to listen to K-Pop. They knew in the morning they’d have to go to the hipster cafe in the industrial park to charge up the phone. It was a pretty good day and hopefully there would be more like it.

…to be continued


26 May


They were on their way to buy wine and cheese and pick out a movie at the video store. It was his first time meeting her parents and he wanted to impress them even though she had said they were the cause of all her problems. He didn’t know what her problems were; she was tall, angular and adored. He had worked hard to gain her favor after they met on a whitewater rafting trip. He took her to arty movies that he thought were like the ones he had heard her talk about and cooked her the kind of dishes he saw in the magazines on her coffee table. She took him camping and skydiving and they made love in the woods on moss covered logs and rocky outcroppings overlooking the city.

“Alcoholics and liars,” is how she described her parents. He expected horrible people, but they were nice and welcoming during the brief five minutes they popped in to drop off their bags. “Maureen says you have great taste in movies,” her mother said giving his arm a gentle squeeze, “Why don’t you pick something out for us.”

They sailed down a country road past artfully masoned walls and immaculate lawns. There wasn’t a rogue leaf anywhere.

“Here! Here!” she said tapping on the dashboard frantically. “Turn here!”

He swerved hard right, the font wheel left a muddy rut across one of the manicured lawns. The Corolla skidded back onto the road and righted itself.

She tugged on his sleeve. “See that house up there?”

Up a long rolling lawn dotted with boulders sat a large stucco structure.

“A murder happened there, about three years ago. A doctor and his wife, who had just moved here from India, got hacked up by their own meat cleaver.”

“God that’s grim,” he said, “I hope they got the guy.”

“They did, but they shouldn’t have,” she said explaining that a boy she knew from school who grew up in the house and was abused by his alcoholic father, had gotten drunk and broke into the house. “They couldn’t figure it out for a long time,” she said, “but he was trying to get clean and said something at an AA meeting and somebody went to the police.”

“Sounds like they did the right thing.”

She slapped the dashboard. “That’s not the the point, godammit!”

“Okay, then what is?”

“AA’s all about recovery and having a system of trust. They violated that trust. It was wrong.”

“C’mon, Mo, it’s not like attorney-client or anything like that.”

“He was getting help, he was finally clean.”

“What are you saying? That his recovery is more important than their lives? That it justifies murder?”

“I didn’t say that.”

“Well, then, what?”

She slumped hard against the passenger door. “You just don’t get it, do you?”

The Corolla crested another hill. Below he could see the neon blue from the video store. He wondered what he should pick. He knew he had to choose wisely.



(published May ’19 in Everyday Fiction)


21 May

The Long Island Literary Journal May 2018

“We did this to ourselves,” Jonesy said sliding bullets into a tarnished old .38.  Besides an aluminum baseball bat and a barn full of rusted farm implements, it was their primary means of defense, one they had yet to use, but the expectation was that things were to only get worse. It had been eighteen months since the ban went into effect, fourteen since the MOAB was dropped on a so tagged hot-spot in the Middle-east and five weeks since the dirty bombs went off in Boston and New York.

Stan watched Jonesy cautiously in the rearview as he guided the dinged-up Dodge Charger along the roadway marred by frost heaves and years of neglect. He knew little about his passenger other than he was elusive when it came to questions but seemed to know much about the western hills of Massachusetts and Connecticut and how to get the most from the woods. Just five days earlier he had drifted out from the tree line under the weight of a large backpack. Stan was prompt in his effort to dismiss the intruder, and felt he had matters in hand until Echo appeared on the back porch with a bottle of pop in hand.

 “Maybe he can help with the generator?” she interjected casually, “We might need that hunk of junk after all.”

Stan wished to protest but knew his wife was probably right just like his mother was when she had the massive crate delivered to the farmhouse in the tense months following 9/11. “If anything like that ever happens again,” the matriarch chortled while drinking a saucer full of cheap scotch when she could easily afford better, “you kids just jump in the car and head to Weathervane Farm. I’ll have everything there for you.” Stan found the notion of buying a farm in Western Massachusetts when his parents lived in Connecticut a complete waste of money, though Church View did turn out to be a good central place for Worthington holiday gatherings. His sister lived in Chicago and made the dutiful trek east twice a year with her ever growing brood.  It was perfect while it lasted and now, his mother’s paranoid ramblings about the future of mankind boomeranged back from the beyond as shards of prophetic wisdom. Stan’s only regret being that he wished he had set up the generator back then when she had wished it.

The car hit a pothole and a bullet slipped from Jonesy’s hand. “Steady mate,” he said cooly as he retrieved the projectile, “Be a shame if Bulla put a hole in your seat.”

That coy air of amiable aloofness bothered Stan. He knew he was alone in that regard.  The others taking refuge in the place his mother had so affectionately rebranded ‘Manure Manor,’  didn’t share his scrutiny. Little Jade was delighted by the coins pulled from her ears at dinner that first night, and afterwards Jonesy toiled under Echo’s direction in the kitchen, sharing wine and laughs late into the evening. Even crabby old Rosemary appeared susceptible to his charms granting Jonesy great deference before launching in with her bristly opines and demeaning insistences. Each morning, Stan expected the man hidden behind aviator sunglasses and a fine beard, to disappear back into the woods, but at night, when dinner was served, he was there at the table as if he has always been.  The tenor of the manor had shifted. There was less control, more spontaneity and things got done. Jonesy was fit and able, a rising commodity as networks fell and the availability of shrink wrapped sustenance waned.

“How much we got?” Stan asked. Continue reading


3 May
Originally published in Web del Sol in 2007


The smell of dried piss and mildew gave way to the sweet, pungent tang of sweat. She was close, almost at the point of no return. A quick look around the cramped tiled room. Even the sallow, brown grime crusted on the lip of the urinal and soggy wads of tissue by her knees weren’t enough to shake two hours of martinis and tequila shots at Sonsie. She didn’t look up as she customarily did with Rob, but began, absent of guilt or further hesitation.

Sonsie was more to Jennifer’s suiting. Open and inviting. Men wore pressed oxfords and women didn’t streak their hair an ungodly red that looked like spray paint. That’s where Sheila led the party after Cosmopolitans atop the Prudential and caviar and salad nicoise washed down with champagne at the Four Seasons. Through it all Jennifer had to wear the white chiffon veil that flopped into her face with each roast incited guffaw.  Continue reading

The Wait

20 Mar
Published in the Open Window Review in December of 2012.

The Wait

Ten years ago my sister bled out on foreign soil. Her soul is now part of the land she tried to protect. The cause of her demise? The military of a nation our country holds as a close ally. To add to that insult, a judge in that country has just excused the army from any wrong doing.

For one long decade, my family has suffered and prayed for closure. My parents spent their life savings on attorneys and trips to the Middle East trying to exact justice for Anna, to prove that she did not die in vain or in the stupid accidental manner that the Israeli government professes. It was all they did every day for ten years and now it has ended in the most vapid and insensitive way that only widens the hole and makes it bleed more.

Anna was ever the idealist, quick to take up a cause and fight wherever she saw injustice. She was born with a short leg and a lazy eye. The weak and the poor were her kin and her mission. As a Girl Scout she worked in a soup kitchen and visited the elderly after school. During college she set up a literacy fund to help educate inner city kids and get them scholarships to college. She did this all with a smile and a humble heart. She never wanted any recognition or thanks. My father said she had no limits, and no matter what she did, the world would be better for it.  Continue reading

The Season that Almost Wasn’t

20 Mar
Published in Slippery Rock's Literary Journal, SLAB in 2007.

The Season that Almost Wasn’t

For thirteen years I’ve been a Red Sox season ticket holder, though last season, which began with a tantrum, almost was the season that wasn’t.

It was the third Sunday in March, and like every third Sunday in March, we were to gather at Jim’s apartment in the South End to divvy up the tickets. A decade ago, when the South End was still gritty and Jim lived in a cluttered split-level, this process had been easy. There were six of us, and four seats (Section 41, Row 17, Seats 20-23; perched atop the upper lip of the concourse entrance, they were the best cheap buckets in all of Fenway, a short hop to the beer stand and nothing before you but a railing and more legroom than anywhere else in the park, except perhaps the luxury skyboxes), but over the years, things became complicated. Jim upgraded to a penthouse loft. His girlfriend’s father moved to New Hampshire, bequeathing us (Jim, the pool) two pricey box seats, and, as Jim’s entrepreneurial ventures started to take off, it was not unlikely to find one or two new guys at Jim’s on that third Sunday in March. They essentially amounted to generic, J. Crew goons with over-starched collars, who got in because they fed Jim’s bottom line. I was never consulted about such additions, and hated paying double for two cramped slots under the batter’s net (and the rules of our draft deemed you had to pick them) when I could be out in the spacious wilds of the bleachers. By 2004 we had six seats, seventeen shares, a complicated draft process, and rules, on top of rules, on top of rules. In short, the one-hour booze fest had blown up into a three hour, consult my wife on the cell phone, pissing contest.  Continue reading


20 Mar
Included in anthologies from Grub Street and Thieves Jargon.


Always wear a condom, even with your girlfriend. Go easy when hazing the freshmen, you never know who’ll be covering your blindside for the home opener. Never talk back to the coach. Take the cocky shit from the black guys that make you look good when they streak down the field. Never be boastful to reporters. Floss. Always be polite to recruiters; treat each like they’re the first. Never smash the mailbox of any of the businessmen who pay for the Friday night lights—and never, ever, fuck one of their daughters, like Charles Ray did; he ended up with a busted knee cap and lost his scholarship to College Station. Try to stay in state. Don’t go double A. Feed Ma’ each morning. Wash her sheets if necessary. Make sure Mrs. Vasquez gets her dinner while you’re at practice. Call Tilson at the end of the month and remind him to send the money he likes to forget about. Stretch. Hit the weight room before lunch, but don’t lose any flexibility in your throwing arm. Slide for first downs. Only dive if the game’s on the line. Don’t get into fights—drunken has-beens, jealous wannabes and jilted  Continue reading