The man on the other side of the door

This is a place of unremarkable geometry, of hand hewn beams and reclaimed cabinets, of cotton curtains and poplin tablecloths.There are stout lines built around her silly feminine froth. You might savvy her girlish moods: the bright New Orleans yellow in the hallway, or maybe the baby doll figurines on the bookcase. But don’t forget, this is my home, and it is a place of unremarkable cruelties. 

There are stains in my study that look like ketchup, but are not. There are sudden movements that turn on all the security lights.There is a smell that is barely masked by the nine dollar dirt that feeds her windowsill herbs.

I’ve heard all these sounds before, but this one is closer, and I know why. There is a man on the other side of the door, limping, wet from the chase. He beats on the glass with the heel of his hand. I turn on the porch light because I know. I’ve been expecting him for twenty years, back from a time when my life was fraying. He took the left road and I took the right. I don’t want to see him now — for us to see each other, really — but his t-shirt is torn from armpit to belly, and I swore to him. He is older now, of course he is, but his eyes still show his fury, and mine have turned soft and careless. 

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

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Chicken scratch

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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.

Chandeliers

I dreamed of that ballroom we saw in that movie, you know the one, with the old-timey music that flooded the air, Glenn Miller I think, or maybe Jimmy Dorsey, and those tiny tables that could only fit napkins and two martini glasses (at least our TV trays can fit a Hungry Man Dinner and a biscuit). The couples danced in rhythmic seizures, the war was over or maybe not begun, bright colors and balloons, sweaty but not in a smelly way, and everyone was crazy alive, and they looked like Blondie and Dagwood. Yeah, I dreamed we were dancing, really moving, and we danced the Charleston, hands and grins all over the place, and people watched and they envied our sway, and I looked up and saw elegant chandeliers, and I remember you said we should get one of those for the cabin, and I promised you I would look. And now it’s 4 a.m., I’m online, and honey, I don’t think it would fit in the living room. But I did find a nice set of candles and a Big Band CD collection, and we can dance like stink in the backyard if we want, and maybe drink wine coolers from our much bigger TV trays.

Him

Death is one contentious motherfucker. His name carries your weight and it should be enough. Still, you cannot rise. Dying would be like bathing in someone else’s skin. A hello, a goodbye, a perfect eyelash on your cheek. He lifts his hand and you are parched.

His face

I don’t remember his face. It should be easy, being married for almost 45 years. When we were younger, he was a good looking man; good enough for this stray-dog town. He teased me that he had a string of women hanging from his suit pocket. I guess I never cared for that. He was never that good looking. But he could tell a joke, and he could take one, so I expect I should too.

I don’t remember his face. I recall certain features of it. The arch of his mouth when he smiled. His nose, twice broken, from when he worked over at the granary. His ears, the way they peaked out from behind that mop of hair. I swear, you’d never know he was leaning into his seventies. It was always so bushy, no matter how much he wet it back. He was vain about his hair, but never mind. Everyone has a vanity, and that was his.

I don’t remember his face. I remember his eyes, that solemn shade of green. Something sad about that color, melancholy, though I couldn’t tell you why. That particular green, like summer ready to turn. I can still see him working the garden, harvesting the last of the tomatoes, wearing that damned floppy straw hat of his. He knew – we both knew – he looked ridiculous, but that was our private joke. And when he turned around to face me, those eyes always caught me off guard. “Golly, Mary, you startled me,” he’d say, no matter how loud I approached. And we would laugh.

I don’t remember his face. I recall the scar on his chin, and the wrinkles on his forehead when he worried about things he wouldn’t confess. And oh, how his cheeks felt, so soft and whiskery as my hands tried to smooth them.

I don’t remember his face, but I remember his hands around my throat. The strength of his fingers. Choking and choking until I could taste the darkness in my throat.

I don’t remember his face, but I will. And when he says, “Golly, Mary, you startled me,” he’ll mean it. And I will laugh alone.

***

Note: Just a simple flash fiction piece I thought up on my way home from work tonight. My wife and I been watching episodes of the original Twilight Zone every weekend since Christmas, so I suppose there’s a bit of influence there. Or maybe it’s just me.  This was fun to write — grim, of course — but fun. 🙂

Aim and velocity

You and me, we threw stones at each other. We always have, right? We put enough space between us so we didn’t hurt each other too bad, but, you know, we’ve both developed a pretty good aim. And velocity.

We started, what, when we were kids? Christ, I don’t remember how old we were. Ten? Thirteen? That sounds too old, but ‘kids’ is such a damned dense demographic. You remember that one kid, what was his name, Toby Adamson? Guy with the blunt hair, always wore turtlenecks and pressed slacks? Thought he was a big deal because he carried a wallet and comb in his back pocket? Yeah, you know who I mean. You had a crush on him, don’t tell me you didn’t. ‘Jenny Adamson’ scribbled inside your notebooks, ‘Jenny + Toby 4Evr.’ He didn’t like it too much when I threw stones at him, did he? Curled up like a little girl. Transferred a year later, got the fuck out of Dodge because he was too soft. Probably a cokehead now, or an assemblyman, who cares? I remember you laughed at him after that, right in his face, just before he left. He asked you to that ‘Surf and Sun’ dance in the gym? You called him a pussy, right in front of everyone. He rolled away like a Slinky. And we went back to throwing stones at each other, opposite sides of Breeman Street, laughing the whole time.

And then things got serious. We’d go inside our houses and put iodine on our cuts, then go back outside and hold hands downtown and maybe neck in the theater. No, no ‘maybe’ about it. We were all over each other. Remember that? We were hot stuff back then, weren’t we?

Then we grew up. Childhood sweeties. Dangerous sweeties. But we were careful. Gotta hand it to us, we never got caught. Drinking behind the Odeon Theater, or in that alley behind Kresges, fumbling with zippers, sliding out of our jeans, smashing Coke bottles on bricks. We were running with scissors and no one ever figured it out. When we were old enough, we got married on the sly, shocked the hell out of everyone. And no one. We were too young, that was the bitch, wasn’t it? It wasn’t that we shouldn’t get married, but not at eighteen. Hell, we were in a hurry. Always in a hurry. Because it might not last. There was too much fuel to burn, and we burned hot.

Forty-two years. Damn. Did you ever think time could be so slippery, that the flames could be smothered so easily? And angry. Why were we always so goddamn angry all the time? We always threw stones at each other, but sometimes they weren’t stones. Sometimes they were words, sometimes open-faced slaps. And we weren’t always careful how hard we threw them. Sometimes they were deliberate and dangerous, because, you know, we learned how to aim, we learned velocity.

And now you’re laying there and it’s quiet. I guess there’s background music coming from one of the other rooms, some dignified noise, but I don’t hear it. I don’t really see the people coming in the door to shake my hand or shovel some meaningless words into my ears. I just see you and me, throwing stones at each other. For so many years. And I’m so sorry that the last stone was the last stone for you. I thought we were both tough enough, but I guess toughness fades over 40-plus years. We would have laughed about that when we were kids, wouldn’t we? If we knew that that kind of aim and velocity could be so dangerous. We should have been more careful. I don’t think anybody really knows how vicious it can get.

Twenty-two crayons

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You line up your crayons according to the shades of the sky. Red and orange, of course, but before them, black and gray. You’ve worn those colors down to smudges of wax on the tablecloth. Is that what you see, more darkness than light? You won’t say. There are others, of course, but the paper peeling is less with the bright colors. There is harlequin green and cornflower blue, and those gaudy pinks I used to tease you about, the ones that matched your old summer blouses. You never use the quiet colors, not to blend, not to soften those coarse, bleeding shades. Should I worry? Every morning you line up the same twenty-two crayons, so do you expect to use them all sometime? You haven’t yet, not even frivolously. Am I to blame for replacing them when you’re finished? You won’t say.

Balazar

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They call me Balazar. I do not know why. I am old. Irrefutably old. And oh, how the years have poured through me. I have plucked the flesh of the immortals, scarred the tongues of those who speak my name, plundered their bones. I have wept for the stains I leave upon their torn breasts, but my tears are not sincere. I am not cruel. My work is fast, my appetite fierce. I watch them. They do not see.

They call me Balazar. I do not know why.

Boys

Our pale naked chests caught the moonlight. We were primitive mammals, drinking from her pool. Unsentimental, there were no aftermaths to consider, no consequences to chasten our arousals. Freely belligerent, we scraped the raw off mountains and ran roughshod over untidy hearts. We did not care. We were boys.

We cured ourselves with thought and shame, and retreated from Pan’s doom. But not all; some joined his legion and drink still from the pool, naked boys in aged skin.

Gram

The placidness of doom. That’s what my grandmother called it. I didn’t understand it then, but I do now. It is in that moment when fear of the inevitable comes to light. “Gram,” I said. “How can you be calm when the worst is happening?” She would not say. Maybe she did not know how to explain it because it hadn’t fully come to her yet.
She knew inevitable. She had seven grandchildren and four of them were born out of wedlock. Back then, that was a black mark upon her name, but mostly it was against her no-account kin. Gram knew those children would grow up, get tangled in their own messes, and move on to face whatever dirtiness still lived inside them. None of them were worth a damn near as I can tell, but she loved us equally.
She lived most of her life as if she were lifting sacks of grain, toting us from one place to another, always tired, but not yawping about it. She kept lifting us up and setting us down in a comfortable place, even if that place wasn’t as comfortable as we would have liked. Her heart would break every time one of us left for good, or got jailed, or made pregnant, or turned out as worthless as she expected. She carried us the best she could.
Every Sunday morning, she would spread us on the living room floor and tell us Bible stories after breakfast, about Moses and Jesus and Job. I think she liked Job most of all, because it was like a mean joke you were allowed to tell. Job was a man who kept slipping on the banana peels God set before him, but he didn’t cuss his troubles. He went on stepping on those dang peels and he didn’t turn mean. Even a boy like me could figure out what she was saying: it was the placidness of doom. Everything will turn out all right if you don’t bare your teeth. It was a good story, and some of us learned it better than others. I reckon I took it to heart.
After the Bible stories, she would parcel out the Sunday funny pages. We would not snatch them from each other, or scatter the papers, or holler “my turn, my turn”. We would read them carefully, and then retell the funny parts in funny voices. Gram would sit in her ladder-back, hands on her knees, lean forward, and watch us laugh. I think that was her most favorite time of day. The inevitability of doom, for her, was far away in those moments, though surely she knew it was waiting on her, and for the rest of us. But there was calmness in her eyes. She didn’t call it doom. She called it life, and sometimes it could be good.

Thank you for reading, and may you have a calm and fruitful 2017