A good man

I used to be a good man. There are memories, strong, of sitting on the porch with Marcie. We drank sweet tea from jelly jars. The porch was cluttered with flower pots and lawn chairs and Marcie’s rainbow of flipflops. I rested my hand on her thigh and we watched the alfalfa fields shift in the wind, like feathers rising from water, and imagined shapes in the chameleon clouds. Sometimes I plucked dandelions from the lawn and tucked one behind her ear. She laughed, then scowled, then laughed again. Eventually, the sweet tea became bourbon, and the laughter became the deepest part of our summer nights. We were young, so young. I remember I wanted her and she wanted me, and then somewhere, somehow, we became poison to each other. I was a good man once, but that might just be a dream, a desire for long-ago soundness.

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The hive

The streets were never lush, let’s get that out of the way. But there were wide leafy canopies in the summer. There was the slanginess of pavement, the jangle of noise. There were twilight games of kick-the-can, there were men in khaki shorts who camped in canvas lawn chairs, talking baseball and air conditioners they couldn’t afford. There were delivery trucks belching their way to McLaughlin’s corner store. There were stacks of newspapers tied down with yellow rope on the corners of Briar and Chatham Streets. Here, yes, there was a vivaciousness of people populating their hive, and if you turned your head you might miss something. The ice cream truck came by every Wednesday at two o’clock, chiming the illusion of magic, and kids scrambled for nickels and pennies before it drove away, soon, too soon, hurry! There was the familiarity of time and light, and those well-trod paths between screen door and street, and kids burst from the doors wearing the same homogeneous tennis shoes. Everything about it was home, an insulated place of being and belonging. And then it fades, fades like the heart, fades like that first awkward kiss, fades like the wooden seats of a swing set. It never leaves, but it’s never the same. You come back twenty, twenty-five years later and it’s an old photograph that doesn’t line up with what you know. It’s choking weeds and peeling vinyl siding, and the voices are different, the names are different, the contours of familiarity are different. The bones have shifted from what you remember. It’s lonely, but maybe that’s okay. Still, though, it aches to recognize that it’s all gone and that the only place where it survives is in your head. And remember: the streets were never that lush.