Waves

Photo by Aviv Ben Or on Unsplash

We witnessed the waves as bystanders, watched them spill into limestone gulleys, and we waited for something different this time: a new color, perhaps, to percolate from their churn, or for the sun to gild the shore with a little more gold.

You pilfered persimmons

  • but only for the seeds

from Missus Mead’s trees

  • she can only eat one piece of fruit at a time

unless she slices them for pies

  • then I will inform her of the deed

but if the trees grow elsewhere, will they even be hers?

  • they will be closer to the water

such a long walk from her orchard

  • they will grow in her memory

but they were still pilfered

  • and now I fancy strawberries

Your words do not weigh enough, my father said. We need to build you up. You know how to use a walkie-talkie, right?

I couldn’t make sense of what he was saying. Words don’t weigh enough? Walkie-talkie? I had just finished high school two weeks earlier, was about to turn 18, and he signed me up to work on a road crew. With muscles unleavened and shoulders like butter knives, I didn’t think that was a good idea.

But to look at him, even casually, you knew the word ‘no’ was not an option. His dimensions were broad, but, you would think, unremarkable; his face, a modest clay, was a little too plain without benefit of finely-tuned details. Chin, just so, maybe slightly too flat, but not insubstantially so, though his nose, a scintilla too blunt for a man who, you would suppose, possessed a diminished sense of smell; a broad forehead, yes, shaped for good hats, like a fedora or a gray felt Homburg. And eyes: well, that’s what would stop you from thinking him average or dull. Dark green, swamp green eyes. Curious eyes, but not yearning or imploring. You would conclude: here was an intelligent man, but wait, also a troubled man, but no, pointedly philosophical, brutal, vivid, imaginative. You never knew his temperament before he spoke, and the man was not a talker. His voice was naturally soft, but it carried, and it made you interested in what he had to say, made you crane your neck so you could watch him strip the words to their plainest enunciation.

So ‘no’ was not a choice. I joined a work crew as a flagman on my eighteenth birthday.

He wrote:

You craved the wild fruit of Pompeii, you exclaimed

and as a young man, i sought it

there was no such flora in northern California,

so of course in Sausalito, i just bought it.

I was to be put to rest in the second cheapest coffin he could afford. They haggled, Mr. Bueford D. Weill, Jr. and he, but the words ‘dignity has no price tag,’ put him off.

“That I should kiss my son’s cheek and lay my hands square on his shoulders is all the dignity he requires,” my father said. “He was not a ‘mahogany and antique bronze finish’ kind of boy; planks and sturdy bolts and a comfortable mattress would do him fine. He respected a dollar and a firm bed. He won’t think less of me, because he’s deceased, of course, but I think he might respect me, even dead, if I did not have to forgo a mortgage payment for the sake of a fluffed pillow and half a chesterfield.”

It was agreed, then, that I should be put to flame, and whatever residue remained of me  be poured into the lake or, more likely, latch onto a substantial happenstance of a come-along wind to play-along with my ash.

I don’t know what I thought of this much fuss, with all corporeal appetites for sight and such no longer of any interest to me. I was waiting for him, I think, to say goodbye in a way that would end all complications between father, son, and whatever ghosts wound between us. A simple, even clumsy,  goodbye, would be fine, but he held onto his grief with both hands. 

My dream had a beginning, he said. We walked along a canopied path, prolific with beach grass and the skeletons of striped bass, and we were the same age. I could not feel the warmth of the sand, but I told you it was warm and you agreed, yes, it was warm. And then it was gone, all of it, except for the water, and it was gray and filled with stones. I told you it was cold, and it felt cold, and you said, yes, it was cold. You gathered persimmon seeds, my hand reached to receive them, and I woke up holding nothing.

And I told you that a Buick Skylark ignored my Stop paddle and sped past me, filled with boys my age, and they all wore the same cartoonish grins, shiny with spit and noise. I waved, frantic, to Ronny and his crew, who noticed the car, of course, and I was reprimanded by Mister Douglas Hawkes as we stood beside his pick-up truck. What else could I do? I memorized the license plate, but what else could I do? I forgot that I could speak, that I could yell, I only waved, waved like a dunce, as if I could command the waves to relent.

And my father, still dreaming, said, I dreamed of something that became nothing, and that was the beginning of our goodbye.

A patchwork of cotton flowers

The only breeze that blew through Nannie Dee’s front yard carried a miasma of malt liquor fumes and hyacinth perfume, Millicent’s step-mother’s favorite and thereby unavoidable. Nannie could count the number of real Christians in her front yard with the fingers on one hand, and the rest of them could have the back of the other one. Still, she would be polite. She would offer refreshments and compliment them on their new shoes (or their new blouses, or their fashionable ties, if they bothered to wear one), and her countenance would not change. This was Millie’s day, and none of their frowny-face pantomimes were going to change that.

“She’s with God now,” proclaimeth Judith Meyers, the new-ish teacher who taught Millie ‘Northern History’ and was likely from someplace like Boston or Newport, but who had tamed her accent to fool the local folk. Oh, she probably came from good stock, alright, raised in some third or fourth generation Italianate style home, on her second marriage at the tender age of thirty-four, and, no doubt, already eyeballing her next Mister. There were stories about her, but Nannie Dee would be charitable: “Thank you, honey, God bless.”

Next up was Courtney Everding, Millie’s Academic Advisor, and her husband Darryl, a stately-dressed cowboy-type — a mustached goober, really — and the man who most likely raped Millicent. He was currently squeezing a sausage biscuit to death. “So sorry for your loss, Missus Dee,” she said, and offered her a hug. The goober nodded, distracted by all the young women wandering the yard. Millie’s friends.

“Appreciate the kindness,” said Nannie, then whispered: “And if you was to cut your husband’s throat and cock when he falls asleep tonight, I would gladly alibi you without any complaint from my conscience.”

Missus Everding acknowledged her with a crisp nod as her husband squeezed that biscuit until crumbs started to fall on his shoes.

Next up didn’t matter. They were all cotton flowers from the same patchwork quilt around here. Oh, she would judge them in her old-style way, everyone did that, always judging each other until that judgment didn’t even matter any more. This was Millicent’s day, and if Nannie Dee — the girl’s grandmother, after all — made a sour face for just the tiniest of seconds, it wouldn’t be more damning than if her dentures had slipped a little. And who would fault her for that?

“God bless you, honey,” she heard herself say to a boy who rode over on his tractor. She would complain to his grandfather tomorrow, because the boy tore up a small patch of her sweet alyssums. Things like that did not sit right with her. Boys had to learn early, or look at all the trouble they’d cause later. “Give my best to your mama, you hear?”

Touch/Either/And/Or/Adoration

A big thank you to Suzanne Craig-Whytock for publishing my latest flash fiction, Touch/Either/And/Or Adoration at her brand new literary magazine, DarkWinter at darkwinterlit.com. Please pay a visit and check out the other works (fiction and poetry), and feel free to add something to this growing publication. Suzanne is an award-winning Canadian author, and she’s extremely talented and funny. Also check out her must-read hilarious blog, mydangblog. Thanks for reading.

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.

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.

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

nightfall
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.

%d bloggers like this: