A sideways kiss

I stroked his beard, and hoped for a sideways kiss. He was distracted, like before, and he barely noticed. He was thinking what his life would be without his burden. It was a hard thought. The things he would miss, and the things that brought us here. The crumbled stepping stones between then and now. And then he looked at me and wiped the drool off my chin. His eyes were kind.

The false healer

red

The disruptions and insults to the body. The sensual and the suffering. Why, we have a pill to make the prick hard and the mind soft; their hollow voices, their petty vices, coarse from curses, bated with sarcasm, and I see the pain, the empty meditations of bone and grievous tissue; I make no issue with what they feel, their raving appeals for healing. The fluidity of blood impaired, knotted skin disparaged, the wounds of age gathering, gathering. Can I fix them or must I trick them into thinking they are fine, aging like wine: sometimes bitter, but sometimes magnificent. Do they see the lie in my eyes, or do they continue, blind to the maleficence of time? I heal with a curl of my lips and a softness in my voice. Be well, I chant, be well. And they curdle nonetheless.

The man on the other side

Salted wounds and things that look like ketchup stains, but are not. A siren cry from down the street, a streaming, screaming sound that turns on all the porch lights and opens dark curtains.

I’ve heard the sound before, sure, but this one is closer, and I know why. There is a man on the other side of my door, limping, wet from the chase. He beats on the glass with the heel of his hand, with curses in his mouth that fall away like curls of wood from a plane. I turn on the porch light, because I know. I’ve been expecting him for twenty years, back when things were fraying, and he took the left road and I took the right. It’s an insult to see him now, for us to see each other, but his scrawny yellow t-shirt is torn from armpit to belly, and the whiskers on his jowls have turned white. He is older now, of course he is, but his eyes still hold onto the fury, and mine have turned soft and careless. There’s no romance in violence, I learned that from Rosa, but Klegman never had the comfort of a shared bed, only a dismantling temper to keep him warm.

Richard,” was the only word he had to say, and I knew it was time.

Planting

N1407P51003H copy

The burial was at the flat scratch of land next to Wilkinson’s homestead. Properly fenced and mended, it was even sparser than the surrounding acres. Thomas Weatherby from Poke Methodist did the service, said nice things about Jeremiah. He was also in charge of maintaining the grounds. He kept it nice and trim, tossing the dead flowers and replacing them with new ones when appropriate.

He was a trim and dour looking man, with clean iron-gray hair and unflinching composure. When it came to dealing with death and the digging of graves, he was the man who was called upon.

I am sorry for your loss, Missus Windover,” he said in his reedy voice. “Life is hard without a husband. Will you be moving on?”

It was a thing I had hardly considered. I knew I could not maintain the farm on my own, but I had not thought of any options. The bank still had papers on the land, and the crops were withering. The soil was almost exhausted. I was resigned to stay put until I was forced out. There were no options, other than back-breaking labor that I was not prepared to endure.

I don’t know yet, Thomas,” I said.

The land is a hard thing,” he said. “Some things are easier to plant than others.”

If that was his dry humor, it fell flat, and was buried alongside Jeremiah.

Excerpt from A Very Tall Summer – Coming Soon

Upon froth

It was a place of familiar geometry, of beams and varnished cupboards, of starched curtains and ivory table linen. Stalwart lines built upon froth. It was a place of curled shadows and dust that glistered over window panes, and of unremarkable cruelties.

He kept a small wooden box of wedding rings at the bottom of his bedroom cabinet, under the winter blankets. The rings were his gift, and he was a generous man.