He watched, from rocks, the ocean curl its feet around his own. And he, small and wet, and so easy to forget, was just a boy talking to his pet beast.
Not brave, not coy, measuring his smallness and wishing not to be swallowed, but of course, in time, he was, and in slippery heart-sized bites, seasoned for the beast’s appetite.
To burgundy from blue, the sea grew with lunging intensity, darkened with rue. The small boy who dreamed of beyond became a man who dreaded below: the fomenting bones, the furious foams of the dead.
“Bathe your feet here,” said the beast, “you are still young to me.” It was the kindest of cruelties.
He watched, from his room, the ocean curl its feet. And he, in paper slippers, and so easy to forget, was just a man straining to hear his beast say goodbye.
I can see the dead on their faces. It’s in the way they wear their skin, you know: it’s the sorrow that is consecrated to the shapes of their mouths, the unrepaired seams around their eyes. Turn your head quickly and you can see it. It’s no mystery, certainly no secret. But it is a quiet thing, of course. The dead are always on their faces, yes, and I love them all.
Oh, honey, there are shapes beneath these roads. They push me and they drag me, and, God help me, I’m yoked to every mile. I am numb to the drizzled headlights and smudged taillights, the curves, the swerves, the nerves of bumper-to-bumper, the mathematical sinew of the overpasses, the posterboard landscapes, the flat hallucinations of the alpha and omega. Oh, and sweetheart, the construction, the obstructions, the crazy and the caffeinated, they want to pour their horsepower into the concrete while I’m steering left-handed, trying to pry the goddamn plastic lids off the goddamn Styrofoam cups, and honey, I always spill the hot coffee on my fucking wrist.
These have been my nights and days since I left you.
And then I came upon this place: a slender space beside the swagged shoulders of an unmarked highway. I recognized the tarnished ancianos who were waiting for me. There were six men and a woman, and they were sitting in a straight line on the sloped walkway of the Motel Fatigado. A flat line of hands rose to guard eyes against dust and sun. They studied my silhouette for a moment, then resumed their pinched slouches.
An old man dismounted from his chair and approached. He was wearing a shredded straw hat and baggy jeans. His shirt was a clean button-down, faded antediluvian white. He could have been an Old Testament priest soliciting confessions, eager to pore over fresh sin. More likely, he was tired of sitting.
“You have el bagaje? Suitcase?” he asked.
He pulled a packet of folded tissue paper from his shirt pocket, and offered me a cigarette. He told me that Room 8 was vacant and clean. He did not ask me my name. I accepted his tobacco, and he lit it with a wooden match. His hands were narrow and veiny.
He said his name was Cándido, and the woman was called Melancholia. “The new guests always ask about the woman. You see her? The beautiful woman who sits among the dogs? She is clean-handed. You understand? Inocente. She knows magic. You prey on her, you will leave with bruises.”
“Sit with us,” Cándido said. “Melancholia keeps the plastic cups in her room. We have tap water and tequila. Perhaps there is ice. I will introduce you to the others.”
Forgive me for my long absence. I’ve been dealing with some health issues and slowly working on a new novel. I hope to get back into regular posting and visiting soon, so please bear with me. 🙂 – SB
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.
The o’seer of pain dresses in white, his fingers adorned with thorn’d rings, a garland of roses loose around his throat, and he teases a kiss of mercy. Well acquainted, he and I, with his mark purposed to tissue and bone. Look upon him close and his robe is stained, his stance unshamed, his hands filthy from his forge.
Fifty-seven years ago I killed a boy. Tonight, Euart Monroe walked into my room with a Mossberg 510 and a stained hobo mattress and fired a shot into my belly. It should have killed me right off, but he didn’t want that. He wanted me to know who pulled the trigger.
I’m excited to announce that Ordinary Handsome is now available in paperback. It’s an oversize 6.69″ x 9.61″ book with a matte cover and cream pages. Pardon the indulgence, but it really is quite handsome. Weighing in at a whopping 187 pages, it’s got a spanky new cover and even a tiny author photo on the back for your mustache-drawing indulgence. Please check it out and let me know what you think. As always, thank you for reading. — Steve
I got all these feelings bundled up in a snarl, all the should-have’s and supposed-to’s and unfair verdicts of past mistakes. There are all these bricks of grief and regret and wondering if I could have changed just one moment. Just one. And when I try to build something out of them bricks, they crack and shift into different shapes, and then they fall into a heap worse off than when I started. I know Gram was thinking about Daniel. We’d been stepping in and out of his shadow since I first showed up here, neither of us wanting to conjure him up for real. Thinking about Daniel made me tired and sad, cracked at the spine, broke in the heart.
Excerpt from Maggie, now available from Amazon. Many thanks to D. Wallace Peach for her remarkable editing skills. I was under a particularly tight deadline to complete this story, and Diana’s suggestions and thoroughness gave Maggie a little more shine. And I won’t mention all those damned commas. Thank you, my friend.
I could lay it down at a lot of people’s feet, but I lay it down mostly on myself for being foolish and lonely. But like Gram says, it ain’t a sin to be lonely.
“Look at me, honey, look at me,” she says.
I try real hard to shroud the sorrow from my eyes, but she always sees it. I smile and pull her close. Her arms are narrow but strong, and she folds herself around me and I feel the warmth of her old steady bones.
“I’m happy now, Gram,” I say. Just a whisper. “But I really need to pee. I could pee beans right now.”
She chuckles in my ear. “You always was frank. Go use the toilet and then we’ll sit out here. The wind is cool, but I do like Mister Sun this time of day.”
I allow myself a few seconds to enjoy her face. It’s the only face I know that dares show kindness to me, a frank love that makes me shiver inside. It’s a hard face from so many years of living, but I see the mildness underneath. Maybe I’m the only one she shows it to.
“You ain’t redecorated or nothing?” I ask. “You ain’t moved the rooms around so I can’t find the bathroom?”
“Same old,” she says. “Still in the back. Though I do think there’s a new stopper in the sink since the last time you was here. Got that maybe two years ago. Now you git, and I’ll pour us some tea.” She pauses. “The tea is new, too. Bought it just last week.”
I skitter along like the girl I was, right up them steps like I don’t have any gravity in me at all. I ain’t skittered in a long time.