The inventor of rhubarb

Look at her, you’d think she invented rhubarb. Rills of juice run down her chin, dribbling onto her fresh blouse. She’s wearing that big semi-toothy grin and holding onto those stalks like they were baby dolls bust out of Christmas wrapping. Golden-delicious sunshine all over her face, and her hair a scatter of blonde firecrackers set off a little too close.

Sometimes I think it’s okay to love her. Mostly I don’t admit it, but sometimes it’s all right as long as I keep it to myself.

Lord, that rhubarb. I don’t guess it’ll ever taste as tart. Even if she didn’t invent it, I don’t think she could ever improve upon it. This is how it should be, how it should always be. But nothing ever lasts, and I don’t think a person’s heart could stand it if it did.

Advertisements

Chicken scratch

enclosed-space1

It’s the same, every night. I reach for the dream, and I’m grabby-fingered, grievous.

The dream– no, she — is my beautiful. The woman, alone, in front of a barn, tossing scratch to the chickens. She wears a faded bluey sundress, and it is judiciously short, judicious sassy, cut just above the knees, threadbare and very old. It is 1960’s Flower-Power aphrodisia. She doesn’t care. She loves who she is, and I’m a bystander. I see her from profile: the tilt of her hips, the slow current of her arms, the equid arch of neck. Her hair is long, and it flows like a fire beside a curved river. This is her, and this is her’s.

The light captures every grain of the chicken scratch, effervescent dust, as it drifts to the dirt. Even in dreams, everything is bound by gravity. The sun falls below the hills, bloody and huge, and she is cast in it, a form too pure to be possessed. Her dress becomes invisible and she is a body radiant.

She turns to me and turns from me, and I understand. And I grieve.

By a shapeless river

We are down to the the naked essentials of soup and soap, a little dietary fiber, and the memory of romantic youth. Oh, our indulgent kisses, the stuttered language of immature desire. Do you remember that? We held hands by a shapeless river and watched the leaves bump into rocks. “When we are older,” I said, “when we are older.” This would be ours, and not just the bridge and not just the warm smell of rain, but this place that was locked inside our heads, and all this stuff that weaved inside of us, the sweetness of eternal us.

And now we are older, and we are still us. But I’m not sure you’re here at all. So many years have been pulled from us.

We are down to the naked essential of this: do you remember? Do you remember us at all?

Pissings from the Hotel Fatigado

And now there is this. The absence of. The angry pissings from the Hotel Fatigado: us and them, man and woman, worn out. We are who we say, and no one hears. Age and nicotine, pills and coffee, inconvenient pauses between sentences. Each step is a step away from who we were. We glide across the walkway in loose slippers, slide our prayers through loose dentures, ride between the bed and toilet with loose bowels. And age, for all its contempt, is what we have left. We own it and abhor it because we have slipped away from purity, and we have scurried between each fear, and we mourn all the wrong choices. We cry in our cluttered, dusty rooms, and massage our aching knees with crippled fingers. We pray for a decent cocktail of cheap pills and affordable sleep. This is where we live and this is who we are. We are together in every objection, and we are together for every rejection, and it will be the same for each of us. We are together, and this is where we live.

Silhouettes

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.

I nodded.

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.”

I nodded.

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.”

I declined.

***

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

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.

Now available in paperback

51QN5rzHUwL._SX346_BO1,204,203,200_

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

Maggie – A novella

Maggie-final

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.

Since the last time

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.