Newfoundland cross

The dog — an ugly Newfoundland Dalmation cross who came to us with the usual paperwork (though we determined early on that she was a non-practising Coptic Catholic) — became so attuned to our daily peccadillos that she died the day after Christmas.

Shoshana objects to the holiday reference. [Must you always make it about you, Cotton?]

How so?

[Referring to a holiday that only you celebrate. Not me, not the dog. Ah, well done, you’ve put me in parentheses again. The square ones.]

They’re called brackets. Also crochets. Don’t presume it means anything.

[Splendid. Now could you take them] off me. Thank you.

The dog — formally named Augustinia, but lately referred to as Marigold — is beside the point. She is not our official pet. We have no official pet, because Shoshana and I are not an official couple. She is almost divorced, I am married elsewhere. Our living arrangements are abstract and erratic. Marigold is, I think, a name meant to be ironic. Will someone please kill irony? It’s become a tacky ‘70’s wallpaper.

I called her Marigold because of that splash above her eye. Didn’t it look like–

It’s a silly name.

And Augustinia is pretentious. 

It’s dignified.

Did you ever even look at her? The slobbery jowls, her wet, sad eyes? How did that word even beam into your head when you looked at her? She wasn’t a bit dignified. She was sweet.

She was a functioning poop machine. She peed in geometric patterns across the carpet and pooped in chaotic lumps.

Cotton, she was a dog, not your [wife, not that little sycophant Charlie who wipes your nose and poops in the corner whenever you side-eye him. Marigold was… ah, well, yes, here we are again, exiled in your crotchless brackets.]

Crochets.

[Grow up, Cotton.]

It’s like being chided by Oscar Wilde.

[It’s like being judged by Miss Piggy. You’re being bitchy today, Cotton. This is about Marigold — excuse me, Augustinia.]

Augustinia. Yes. Why such a large dog, Shoshana? She was a mastodon.

She was sweet. She had a gentle presence. Even when she was breaking vases and pooping in the shower. Her eyes.

She killed my favorite shoes. Do you know how much I paid–

Yes, you’ve told me. Many times. And now she’s gone. You can buy new shoes.

 Mastodon.

Yes, she was. But she was ours.

Not officially.

But in all probability.

Cotton?

A tear?

The dog — an ugly Newfoundland Dalmation cross who came to us with the usual paperwork (though we determined early on that she was probably not quite as ugly as we first suspected) — may have become so attuned to our daily peccadillos that she died the day after Christmas. Her heart was very large. Unfortunately large. I wish we had known.

[You miss her, don’t you? Cotton? Dammit, Cotton, not] again.

Unofficially, yes. I miss her a little.

Liars and Thieves: Book Launch for Diana Wallace Peach

Welcome to the launch! Today, I’m proud to present the newest book — Liars and Thieves — by my friend Diana Wallace Peach, an extremely prolific and gifted author of dark fantasy, and a great supporter of independent writers. She’s written a new series, Unraveling the Veil, and I’m happy to shout it out.

Book One: Liars and Thieves

Behind the Veil, the hordes gather, eager to savage the world. But Kalann il Drakk, First of Chaos, is untroubled by the shimmering wall that holds his beasts at bay. For if he cannot cleanse the land of life, the races will do it for him. All he needs is a spark to light the fire.

Three unlikely allies stand in his way.

A misfit elf plagued by failure—

When Elanalue Windthorn abandons her soldiers to hunt a goblin, she strays into forbidden territory.

A changeling who betrays his home—

Talin Raska is a talented liar, thief, and spy. He makes a fatal mistake—he falls for his mark.

A halfbreed goblin with deadly secrets—

Naj’ar is a loner with a talent he doesn’t understand and cannot control, one that threatens all he holds dear.

When the spark of Chaos ignites, miners go missing. But they won’t be the last to vanish. As the cycles of blame whirl through the Borderland, old animosities flare, accusations break bonds, and war looms.

Three outcasts, thrust into an alliance by fate, by oaths, and the churning gears of calamity, must learn the truth. For they hold the future of their world in their hands.

Unraveling the Veil series

Three outcasts, thrust into an alliance by fate, by oaths, and the churning gears of calamity, must learn the truth. For they hold the future of their world in their hands.

Diana, how do you define success?

In all parts of my life: Happiness. We only get this one life; there are no second chances, no do-overs. We are each miracles, here through the perfect alignment of billions of years of evolution, choices, and chance. It’s not a gift to be wasted. Happiness means different things to different people, but for me it’s choosing an attitude of kindness, care, and compassion and acting on that choice. Writing is something that brings me joy, no strings attached.

Diana’s very creative trailer, well worth watching:

Author Biography

D. Wallace Peach

D. Wallace Peach started writing later in life after the kids were grown and a move left her with hours to fill. Years of working in business surrendered to a full-time indulgence in the imaginative world of books, and when she started writing, she was instantly hooked. Diana lives in a log cabin amongst the tall evergreens and emerald moss of Oregon’s rainforest with her husband, two dogs, bats, owls, and the occasional family of coyotes.

Diana’s Links:

Website/Blog: http://mythsofthemirror.com

Website/Books: http://dwallacepeachbooks.com

Amazon Author’s Page: https://www.amazon.com/D.-Wallace-Peach/e/B00CLKLXP8

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Myths-of-the-Mirror/187264861398982

Twitter: @dwallacepeach

Thanks, Diana, and may you have much success with this new series!

Where we go dancing

Photo by Brett Sayles from Pexels

Me and Fo’ were well-digging since 6:30 that morning — same as every day since the middle of August — at Missus Bryant’s place near the edge of the Tallahatchie, and we looked exactly as what we claimed: gritty all the way under our hats and teeth. Miss Francine, Fo’s older cousin from Chicago, said she was curious about where folks went to dance in Dollar, and he told her, “in our kitchens, mostly. But sometimes in the grass when the night is particularly dark and clear. We take turns at the radio dial — we hope for some Dinah Washington, but maybe come across Buster Benton, or turn it up REAL loud when we finally find Little Richard (if we can find a station that plays him) — and when we’re not dancing, or listening, we watch for stray headlights that might be bringing bottles of Something Special to folks who carry more than just cherry Lifesavers and carpenter’s pencils in their pockets.” And that was the most expansive speech I ever heard Fo’ give, but I was aware that he wanted to impress Miss Francine, and was a little bit infatuated with her besides. He grunted at me when I asked him to explain how anyone he knew would bother with a carpenter pencil when it would be just as efficient to mark a measurement with a sharp stone. Miss Francine turned to me and she smiled her most famous big city smile and she asked me, “Do you dance, Bennett, and not just with scarecrows, but with real girls? I don’t expect you to know how to dance with a woman, so don’t you dare be nervous if you have to say no.” And I said, “Miss Francine, I can dance the ears off a row of corn when I have a mind to. Why, that corn becomes ashamed of itself and wishes it could be half as worthy as old dry cabbage or a leaf of backfield tobacco than have to endure another minute of the spectaculation of my feet.” Fo’ made a sound like the backfire from his uncle Joby’s Massey-Harris. “It’s Friday night, Bennett,” she said. “I suppose a boy like you knows where to find a hot spot to dance, other than a nearby cornfield. Or with an ear of corn.” I blushed. I did not know any dancing place nearby, but I told her: “Yes, ma’am, I do,” and Fo’ leaned over and jabbed a skinny knuckle just below my rib cage. “Boy,” he said, “you don’t even know where to find a working radio in your Mama’s house.” I meant to swat him, but he side-stepped me and I almost fell into the hood of Miss Francine’s Chevrolet, which would have had a ruinous effect after my dance story. “Steady there, corn boy,” Fo’ whispered. “There is a cotton gin barn in Glendora,” I said to Miss Francine, and Fo’ raised his eyebrows. “I heard that they sometimes hold dances there for young people. They keep ice buckets of Coca-Cola and sell them for two cents a bottle and they run a generator for a jukebox.” This was not entirely untrue, because both Fo’ and I heard the story from my sister’s boyfriend Henry, who was only unreliable half the time. We were also told that it was a place for older boys, nineteen- and twenty-year-olds, and that we should stay away from there unless we wanted  to trade our curiosity for a beating. Fo’ was fifteen and I was almost fourteen (but looked older). And Miss Francine was a grownup woman with a car, so I didn’t think it was necessarily a stupid idea. “That’s a stupid idea, Bennett,” Fo’ said, and Miss Francine only shrugged, and that was the end of that. So we spent most of that night behind Fo’s grandma’s house, drinking lemonade and ice water, and the place stood out for me like a sandcastle under a three-quart moon, fading in and out, washing away and retreating under all kinds of wavering shadows. We heard  cries in that still night, or what I thought were cries , and some screams, though I imagined and dreamed of all kinds of things in the days that followed. We heard about the boy the next day. Miss Francine’s brother RickyLee  drove her back home to Chicago soon after. We shook hands and said goodbye, and I could see the relief in her eyes that she’d never have to come back here. I wanted to go with her, and not just because I liked her (I did), but because I wanted to be far away from everything here that was so broken and mean. 

They found that boy’s body, the boy they called Bobo, and what was done to him, I can’t describe, and I won’t. It made me give up on learning how to be a boy. All at once, the idea of being foolish for the sake of being foolish seemed so badly foolish, and I ran from it fast. Me and Fo’, we stopped being boys right away. We gave up on digging wells for thirty-cents a day for Miss Bryant and her ilk, and spent a lot of time trying to figure out what kind of men we wanted be. Some days it still matters, I guess. I asked Fo’ years later what his grandma thought about us staying in her backyard that night. “Don’t think she stitched the two things together,” he said. “ But she was always kind about you, in spite of you sometimes being a world-class fool. ‘You boys act properly around Miss Francine? Ricky’s girl?’ ‘Yes, ma’am,’ I said. ‘We amused her plenty. She’s a nice girl and we were very respectful.’ Granny nodded, like that was what she expected. Then she rubbed her eyes, like she was suddenly weighed down by a lifetime of tiredness. ‘Nice is good, Fo’, she said. ‘Being reliable is good. But taking care of one another… making each other feel safe in the other’s company. That is especially good. And you are good, Fo’ You are especially good.’ And then she told me an old story about a dance contest she entered when she was a girl. I heard the story a hundred times before, but this time it gave me shivers, Bennett. You know? It still does. We could have gone dancing at the wrong place that night.” 

That was the only time we ever cried together, and it rained down hard out of our eyes.

Caius

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we sleep above the roots
our legs knotted
our hands folded
beneath us
listening for the weeds to rinse
from our ears all
the twitches of the road

we have seen all there is,
you say,
and we will eat
what first must be blessed —
old hamburger meat
and flour tortillas from torn plastic bags
behind Trader Joe’s,
a feast for boys who first learned how to crawl
on a dirt kitchen floor

these things we must see
these things we must know:
these fallow graveyards the shape of oceans
these gravel pits filled with factory-defective coffins
with cracked lids and split silk liners —
deep discounts
for the dead on a budget

i see you run towards me in your sock feet your
leathered arms pumping
as if you were still a
child
as if I had the strength
to catch you in my arms

do you remember the
summery brine of sweat and rain
that dribbled down our faces
when we were boys
and did not think to be men
until much later

she has her chores, you said,
and I am one of them

brother Caius
you have become my chore now,
and I have become yours

Photo by Kat Jayne from Pexels

Ruby, my dear

woman-girl-evening-kitchen-4058703

(Inspired by Ruby, My Dear by Thelonious Monk)

She has forgotten the beats
of her lightness
the circadian rhythm of rest
of motion
of rest

each passing morning presses into her belly
and each passing day cinches around her hips
and each passing night brails across her breasts
and each passing year reaches a suffocating end

the years, Ruby, my dear, the years,
you’ll know that cry
when it finds the lowest
part of your heart,
sets its roots there
and
that cry is a lot like a cigarette ember
that sparks through your bra and bites
into your skin
or maybe it’s like that Alabama belt buckle
that cracked its weight
against your bare thigh
and dropped you to the kitchen floor

and made you notice the crumbs
you missed
in your rush for a quick smoke
outside

Ruby, my dear
you’ll recognize that cry when it holds you down
and you’ll carry it with you whenever you fall into
another broken moment,
forced to hide your grace
in a rush to be any place else but here

She forgets the name of the man
who pours her husband’s afternoon pints
in an unmarked barroom
somewhere downtown.

She can’t stand to hear the push of her name
leave his mouth

— Roooooby — he says and

she feels reduced to that sound he blows through his lips
every time he
comes around.

He is a peculiar fellow: tall,
narrow of bone, dressed in a way
that seems so elaborate
for a man who carries that kind of grin.

If we had stayed in Georgia, she thinks.
if we just left those few heartbreaks behind us
we might still be fine.

But here, in these shallow rooms
of petulant conversations
there’s just this constant rhythm
of widening fault lines
thrumming through the air
and not-so-hidden resentments
behind every rushed goodbye kiss

The avocado-colored bed sheets
she bought them for their 30th
two years ago
are already unthreading, bleach-stained,
or bourbon-stained,
depending on who you ask
and how drunk he is

the plumes of disinfectant
settle on the cupboards and
matching countertop appliances,
on the cuffs of the olive-green work shirts
he drags across the kitchen table
every morning when he drinks his morning coffee

the residue leaves a stain you hope he won’t notice
but he always notices
and he will always tell you
about him noticing, and when and why

but he won’t take a sick day
just because of a goddamn cold
so you end up counting the cough syrup spoons
and goopy yellowed tissues he tosses
on y’all’s TV trays
over the long weekend
when you were planning on sitting outside
and smelling the air,
maybe planting a small box of herbs
inside the dandelion courtyard
that he never mows

and she sits on the edge of the bed,
broken down to her essential parts,
box spring and mattress both removed,
both ruined.
The frame is not a comfortable sit,
but when the man tells you to wait,
you wait because
she has been trained to defer,
and has come to dislike that about herself.

She forgets the name of the man
who will deliver her new bed
and she does not wish to re-learn it
every time he
comes around
whistling her name in a single sour breath

— Roooooby — he says.

Ruby, my dear
Years, baby, years, all those beaten-down years
and those beats of neglected lightness are done.
Do you know it’s okay for you to leave now
Do you know you don’t have to rush now?

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

Appomattox

skeleton-fish-museum-fish-bones-9365

Photo by Skitterphoto from Pexels

Sarah, the sky that overlooks you and me, it opened up again today. The light that fills up the dogwoods is the same that curdles the cemetery gardenias. This has become summer once more, so you probably remember how things are colored, and then erased, without me telling you.

We have taken to planting crops again after last year’s calamitous conditions. Mostly it is cabbages, but also some acres of hay for the last two horses. You should see their shaggy stances, the hollowness of lean shoulders, the awful grief in their countenance. They will be confiscated by the army soon, Pa says, if we can keep them out of rifle range.

Lord, a soul can grow tired of salt pork and dooryard plantain, and sometimes you need to take a meal with neighbors (the Sowers, do you remember them and their dour Baptist leaflets?) to affirm you’re not being poor alone. The men will likely share homespun tobacco, the women will exchange recipes, the boys (and Alice) will tear up the yard grass with their raw feet, because that is the nature of this life.

We are each blessed in our own way, according to Pastor Paul, who joined up the fight last summer. Have you seen him? He promised he would write, but so far he has not, not yet. 

“Maybe he was killed,” said Cousin Ivy.

Do you remember sassy Cousin Ivy, from the Elridge side of the family?

 

 “Maybe they ain’t found his body yet, so he ain’t on any list of the dead,” she said. 

“Maybe you don’t know nothin’,” I told her. 

“Maybe he’s too busy fighting to be writing. He got any kin around here?” 

“No, don’t think so. I think he’s from Miss’ippi someplace. Seems like he was a solitary sort of preacher.”

“Maybe he found himself a woman, and she’s more interesting than writing back a letter.”

“Maybe you don’t know nothin’,” I said again.

“You ain’t very romantic, are you?”

“I never said either way,” I said. “And what if I ain’t, what’s it to you?”

“Then you are a bother to me,” she said. “Hand me another nightcrawler, these muds ain’t biting today.”

“That’s because you tore up the top of the river with your poor casting,” I said. “You, being a girl, don’t know how to properly fish for muds.”

“And you, being a boy, don’t know how to properly shut your big ole mouth,” she said, and she thumped me hard upon my ear.

I pretended it didn’t hurt, and that raised a smile from her, so we settled back companionably, and we cast out and didn’t say much for a little while. 

“Your pa mention the war to you?” she asked. 

“Little bit,” I said. “Not much. He wanted to join up, but his leg….” 

“You almost sixteen, ain’t you?” 

“Yeah. Couple more weeks.” 

“Gonna join up?” 

“Yeah. If they’ll take me.” 

“You don’t look too weak,” she said. 

“Stronger than you.” 

“Probably not. But they ain’t taking girls. Not yet.” 

“Maybe not ever,” I said. “That just don’t sit right with me.” 

“And why not?” she asked.

“I’m not trying to be smart, Ivy,” I told her. “I just think it’s… it’s too mean a thing for a girl, that’s all. War is just plain mean.”

“I can be mean,” she said.

“No, you can’t be. Not that mean. I’d rather go instead of you.” 

She looked at me, curious to my serious. “You ain’t mean enough, either, Cousin Jim.” 

Something grabbed hold of her line, and she tugged hard enough to hook it. She was laughing the whole time, and I didn’t want to think about the war anymore. It was a big ole mud– at least six pounds, I’d say — and it would feed her folks well. Then I hooked one, and, after a while, she pulled in another two. I could smell the sweat on her neck, and I swear it was perfume, the smell of gardenias.

And now the hounds watch me and Pa settle in for the night. I slouch next to him as he smokes, and he watches me scrape the fishbones from his supper plate into the weeds. The dogs whine. They have already fed. 

“You been spending time with your Cousin Ivy?” he asks. He is hitching up his trousers and he tucks in his undershirt after they are hitched. 

“Been with her today by the river,” I tell him. “She caught three and I brung in two.” 

“You know what I mean, Jim.”

“Daddy, she is my cousin.” I ain’t called him Daddy in three or five years. “She is also a dependable friend.” 

“She is your cousin twice removed, a cousin to a side-cousin. You are allowed to be with her, if she is your preference.” 

Charlotte-Bee, our eldest hound, howled at something near the barn, but that dog is half-blind, so we often ignore her.

“Weren’t planning,” I says. “To be with her, I mean.”

“That side of the family is slow,” he says. “They ain’t deep thinkers, is my best way of saying it. The girl herself may not be slow, but she has inherited their dispositions. Probably she will turn mean. Her daddy has that meanness, you know that. And you ain’t exactly a boxful of cleverness yourself, boy. She would have you eating out of a flower pot and drinking out of your shoe if you was so inebriated by her femininity. You understand?” 

“Daddy, she’s my cousin,” I say again, for emphasis. “And she don’t look at me that way.” 

“But you look at her that way, yessir, and if your Mama was still here, she’d already be ironing the wedding napkins and sprucin’ up her hair for such an event.” 

“Ain’t no such event to participate in,” I say, and he spat into the weeds, hitched up his drooping britches, and no more was said about that.

Sarah, the rain fell again today, exhausted, and its silver collected in our big pond.

An orange beach bucket on her 12th story balcony

low-angle-photography-of-orange-concrete-building-under-blue-1436190

i. Alleluya
She sang
Alleluya for my mother
Alleluya for her husband
Alleluya for my father
Alleluya for his wife

ii. Songs for an audience of one
She sits as close to the sun as she can pull herself
in her Vaillancourt patio chair
an orange beach bucket beside her feet
Allah opp, motherfuckers, she yells
and then she laughs
and then she sings
in a sterling voice:

I am a girl disguised as kindness
between the camera and the water
my heart beats greedy raindrop beats
you see me but cannot see me,
it ain’t that easy.
You never could, mama
You never could, papa
You gone now, to each other
All gone now, I suspect,
but you can’t see me at all just yet
you can’t see me at all just yet.

She sees me in my fold-up lawn chair
fourteen-ninety-five on sale from Sears
three summers ago
with a can of Fresca in my good hand
untethered headphones in the other,
my naked legs a cry for help
and she waves at me, and smiles anyway,
drops her hand into the orange beach bucket beside her feet

Allah opp, motherfucker, she yells
and then laughs
One more for my audience of one
and in a sterling voice, she sings:

I am the mother of the children
who never knew me
who dream of unfading skin, glowing
unpaved roads that lead me
here to where they will never see me,
we all bleed the same without knowing it

and she drops her hand into the orange beach bucket beside her feet
and she is silent for a while
alone on her 12th story balcony
and I wave to her, tentatively
from the 12th story balcony
from a separate building
but she does not wave back
and it all feels hollow
except for her.

iii. Nightjar
We see each other from our distant places
above the spaces of plague and dissidence
almost every day or every other day she is there
just there
whenever she chooses and she sits
in her expensive coiled chair

and I lean back into my sagging lawn chair
and she sings and she chants and sometimes there is no rhyme
but there is a steady beat in her voice, strong enough
to open other tenants’ windows.
I am her only real audience, I think.

I cannot clearly see her face
I can feel the smile she sends me sad and disquiet
and I listen, never speak, because that is how she prefers it.

She wears a colorful modest skirt and blouse each time
and now I wear my best slacks, freshly pressed and laundered
every night
for her,
and a button-up shirt
and I brush my hair
and wear proper shoes and I sit and wait for her to show
and sometimes she comes out
and sometimes she does not
she is like a rare nightjar
and sometimes we both sit in our respective chairs
and say nothing
and sometimes she leaves without singing
and I sit a while longer
until the cold air brings me back inside.

Photo by Todd Trapani from Pexels

The nineth part of a sparrow

(Adult language and sexual themes)

Thersites: Lo, lo, lo, lo, what modicums of wit he utters! his evasions have ears thus long. I have bobbed his brain more than he has beat my bones: I will buy nine sparrows for a penny, and his pia mater is not worth the nineth part of a sparrow. This lord, Achilles, Ajax, who wears his wit in his belly and his guts in his head, I’ll tell you what I say of him.

Troilus and Cressida – William Shakespeare

woman-s-face-3196977

Chorus: Yes, she, Lucy Finn, not known for her patience or statecraft. She is celebrated for her fearless interpretations, intolerant of theater critics, New York rib joints, men generally, ex-husbands particularly. She is esteemed, but not beloved. Now dying of some awful viral scourge, probably. Fevered, alone, reminiscent in her grief, with a beautiful and dead Venezuelan boy locked up in the spare bedroom, occupying too much of her attention.

Lucy Finn: Help me, Victorio, I believe I am dying.

Victorio: Rest, dear Lucille. Shall I bring you your cigarettes, or would you prefer a magnificent ripened orange? You have not told me what mood you’re in.

Chorus: (Snorts). Lucille? Victorio was her first husband, and the only man who would ever call her that. She despises that version of her name. People would compare her to that other redhead, that vaudevillian redhead, the one with the television program. Not a real actress, not by any measure. Only Victorio could call her by that name and make it sound so erotic. 

Lucy Finn: That fancy gin you bought me. Over crushed ice, please. With orange peel? My throat is so dry.

Victorio: Of course. 

Chorus: Lucy recalls Victorio has been dead for nearly thirty-seven years. A suicide. He liked the young boys, had a fondness for them, and she caught him in the back of their Lincoln Town Car, his soft brown fingers stretching a condom over a fifteen-year-old boy’s semi-flaccid cock.

Thersites:  Prithee, be silent, boy; I profit not by thy talk; thou art thought to be Achilles’ male varlet.”

Lucy Finn: I loved that role. I was born to play it. And god-damn those critics who said it was not a woman’s role. It was an actor’s role. God-damn them all. I should have won the Drama Desk Award that year.

Davison Petre: You were volcanic, my love. You were Lawrence Olivier if Olivier were a woman. 

Lucy Finn: Or if he could be me, and a much better actor.

Davison Petre: Really, darling? You’re too much for your own good. What are you going to do about that dead boy in the bedroom? This is the middle of April, my sweet, and that corruption is practically in full blossom.

Lucy Finn: I don’t know, Davison. Could you help me? I’m really not feeling very well.

Chorus: Davison was really not there, of course. They divorced almost two years after Troilus and Cressida finished its brief Broadway run. It took them that long to realize they were not particularly tragic, just two semi-real people who did not like each other very much. Davison finished his career as a character actor in minor network sitcoms and movies-of-the-week. The last time Lucy heard from him, he was working on a memoir he hoped would be picked up by Random House. He was one of the first ‘celebrities’ to succumb to this new and outrageous virus. That was nine days ago. Sometimes Lucy forgets she was married to him.

Lucy Finn: Davison?

Daniel Large: I don’t know who that is. Was he an actor friend of yours?

Lucy Finn: He was… yes, something like that. Have you come here to help me with my little problem?

Daniel Large: Honey, I’m your big problem now. We signed a contract, remember? Branson, Missouri? That little theater gig you were supposed to headline? “Shakespeare and the Romulans”, or whatever it was called? You never showed up, and I gave you a lot of advance money. And now the devil has come for his due.

Lucy Finn: I don’t know you! I don’t remember you! I don’t think I would do such a thing. I’m practically retired now. I’m practically a legend now. Why would I ruin that? Why would I do something so foolish and… and so meaningless? I was the best Thersites, no matter what the reviewers wrote. I should have won for that performance, instead of Jessica Tandy for whatever bullshit play she was in. Poor dear, she was a pity-win, don’t you think?

Daniel Large: You asking me? Look here, you signed the papers. Old broads like you, I know you need your fancy boys and gigolos to help you believe you’re not past your best-before date, but sweetheart, you’re way past that now. You’re practically expired. You gonna get on that bus, or do I have to drag you there myself? And Jessica Tandy won for The Gin Game that year, and she was glorious.

Lucy Finn: You… you’re… you are not a very nice character. In fact, I would say you’re a cliché . This is not a 1970’s detective show, when that kind of acting was so commonplace. This is real life. You don’t belong here anymore.

Daniel Large: Ain’t nothing real about your life, lady. What about that boy in your spare room? Is he even real? Have you checked on him lately?

Thersites: “I would thou didst itch from head to foot and I had the scratching of thee; I would make thee the loathsomest scab in Greece. When thou art forth in the incursions, thou strikest as slow as another.”

Chorus: Daniel Large was an unemployed actor she met in 1997. He volunteered as a stagehand in a Trenton, New Jersey production of Henry VI, Part II. Lucy was cast as Eleanor, Duchess of Gloucester. He was a large man in many ways, and Lucy took him to her bed throughout the entire run of the play, which was four performances. She was not even certain if ‘Large’ was his real name, but he was, and she enjoyed him, and never saw him again. She played the role of Eleanor indifferently, and can remember only one of her lines:

Eleanor, Duchess of Gloucester: “What say’st thou? majesty! I am but grace.”

Lucy Finn: There are no small parts of me that do not ache for some comfort. To be held and reassured, and, yes, solaced by a perfumed whirlwind of adoration. You are all gone, all gone. If I pass, when I pass, it will be a surrender, not a walkaway, and none will remember me, by name, by scattered fortunes. The playbills have all faded, all cinders and dust now, inhaled by a morbid breeze. God-damn it, Roy, why did you send them away? I was ready! The wigs were freshly powdered, my contours smoothed and colored, the Bard’s words leaning strongly against my lips,  ready to rush… or walk… or tumble artfully in their proper exclamations of grief and submission. I was ready to go on! Roy! Why did you shutter the lights and empty all the seats?

Roy Alabaster:  None were seated, my dear. None! A few stray tickets, perhaps, collected by collectors to wipe their bums or freshen their ruined beds, but they were all taken by plague, all but a few who wander their rooms, starved for pity, seeking light, seeking better dreams than what currently adorns them. There are no lights to shutter, it is all gone dark now.

Lucy Finn: But what of the boy? Did he not attend to me? Did he wish to bear witness for me? I am blameless for my husband’s sins. There is no boy locked within that room, it is his ghost. Tell me so, I plead with you. There is no boy!

Roy Alabaster: Though you are not innocent, your reckoning will be kind, m’lady. T’is true. There is no boy, but for the one you project your own darkness upon. That boy ruined you as he himself was ruined. But he is gone, and now you too can rest, and peacefully, dear Lucy. Most peacefully.

Lucy Finn: Thank you Roy. You have been a good and kind manager to me. I think our business is done here now. I wish you well, old friend. May we both see clearly beyond our fevered imaginings, as we glance upon whatever truth rests beyond us.

Chorus: And Lucy slept, and she dreamed of certain things, and none of them could harm her.

Chorus: But wait! There is still the matter of  the beautiful and dead Venezuelan boy locked up in the spare bedroom, now occupying none of her attention.Lo, lo, lo, lo, what of he, dear friends, what of he?

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood from Pexels

 

Cinnamon Suites

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Suite 1

Evelyn-Jean Jones knows she does not look like that beige-blonde girl on page 28 of her brother’s Field & Stream October issue — the page with the below-the-fold advertisement for Kodiak boots and, apparently, women’s shorty-shorts — the magazine he keeps buried under his collage of college brochures — the brochures he broodily ignores when he comes home from JFK #3 Collegiate High School — the school he enters every morning as if it were a trench filled with mustard gas. He hides that magazine with that girl on that page underneath all the constricting thoughts in his life: the colleges that don’t really care if he attends them; the unremarkable grades that seem flat to everyone but his parents; the girl he likes who sits beside him in homeroom and advanced trig, and who likely walks to each of her classes with the standard-issue High School Richter scale to measure anxiety due to: pimples, grades, assorted teenage cruelties, and a thousand different oscillations of bad vibrations such as: being measured for every pound of flesh, every bead of perspiration, every drop of blood she sheds that must be so obvious to absolutely everyone. She does not wear Kodiak boots, but she does wear Dollar Tree sandals that will soon need Krazy Glue to keep the insoles from snapping down the hallway like a pre-teen boy’s trail of farts. This is a thing that boys do, and if she has a brother, he has already confirmed this to her.

But back to Evelyn-Jean: she knows who she does not resemble, and that is Miss Page 28. However, she is generally unattached to the idea that this is who she’ll always be, and there’s a pretty good chance that all the big changes are pending. Fourteen years old, and she may already be wise. She does not pretend to be smarter than she is, unlike her bro, who thinks he could be the next Ian McEwan or maybe Ralph Ellison (urmm, thing to consider here, and I’m hawking this from Sister Oprah: my dude, maybe you should be the first you instead of some watered-down version of someone else. She never EVER says my dude, not even when she’s mainlining M&M’s and maintaining a wicked weekend Mountain Dew rush, but Coolio over there is a special case, an inert exception to that particular rule, so you go on ahead and be the new Edgar Allen Duck if that’s gonna be your next performance-art thingy, my dude).

Evelyn-Jean has met the girl to whom her brother is enamored (– is that word still up for grabs, or has it been permanently preserved in amber by Miss Jane Austin and her Lady Avengers, strictly reserved for suitably cotillion’d adjectives / so the loud-mouth’d verbs can leave now, okay? –) and she is a slight and pretty thing, in a vague CW teen vampire victim sort of way. Blonde, but not Page 28 blonde, casual no-name denim, not-too-blousy blouses, freshly-washed face, clean nails, yes, my lord, she will do as a bridesmaid, but not as the main course. The Chosen Girl knows who Evelyn-Jean’s brother is, probably, but other than the slightly hesitant name recognition attached to the face, he could be anyone to her: an actor in soft-focus to the left of Jason Priestley in a “90210 Reunion Special”, or an enfant terrible from one of the lesser state senates recently depositioned for three counts of Awfully Stupid. Is he your brother? Tell him I said hi, I guess. Oh, the burn of immortal love, bro, but you’re almost seventeen, so this is not your real life yet, unless it is, in which case, so sorry your soup is cold and we’re all out of those cinnamon bread sticks you like so much.

 

Suite 2

Evelyn-Jean Jones knows her brother does not look like that photograph on page 17, second column and above the fold, of the old obituary notices –a jejune black and white shot cropped from a blown-up photo from a lousy yearbook capture of him and his Math Crew celebrating whatever it is that math geeks celebrate when there are still Math Girls in the room: probably Batman, or a Skywalker, or a particularly cute cosplay. He did not look like that at all / so ill-defined / when he died, and Evelyn-Jean hurried past him so she wouldn’t have to remember what remained of him. That was a thing she would never say to anyone, not to any future husband / child /  god, should she ever go looking for that particular character again.

hand-holding-a-flower2 (1)“Ya’ll don’t know how this feels,” she says at her graduation. “You can push them all together, all them black and white newspaper dots, and still not see him. Not for what he did in his three-and-a-half years of high school, not for what he did outside the hallways and classrooms. But that ain’t the whole him. What he thought, how he felt — they shoulda called me up, I had real pictures of him. Good pictures. He was a real, real kind boy, an urgent kind of boy, and I teased him about it, and he brooded over my words, because he knew I was right. When he laughed,  it was a real thing. That boy could laugh when he wanted, and a lot of time, he did not want to. He felt all his moods, and he tried to be generous with them when they were good, and sometimes he failed at that. But we knew him. I knew him, his folks knew him, and they knew him to be a real sincere boy. His hurt was real, and he had a hard time showing it off to others. But I knew him. He was not as average as he thought he was. He would have been a good man, given a chance, given a few more years. But I guess you can’t put that into three paragraphs and a  show-nothing photograph taken by a ten-dollar camera, can ya?

“I did not stare at his gravesite. Why would I do that? Nothing there everlasting. And there ain’t no stone there to read, and there won’t likely be one until there’s money for one, because that’s the way those things get done. But it’ll get done. He’ll be remembered, stone or not. The preacher read things from his bible, and they were good and pure words, for sure. Words about faith and resurrection and the humble flesh we all wear. But the flesh ain’t all. I’m not a preacher, and you’re probably all tired hearing about such things right now. I’m not, but I am his sister, and I care about such things. I care about his spirit and about being one of the owners of his memory. Let me tell you what I saw as I stood there weeping, listening to the wind, listening to the spoken words, listening to myself weep and asking myself, and asking hard: why? Why him? Why was it my kind, uncertain, curious brother? Why him? Gunshot, ya’ll. Three times. Because he was carrying a pencil case and not a handgun. Why him? He was probably thinking about — and y’all listen to these words — he was thinking about / not doing about — asking a girl he liked to the senior prom. That was his big thing, his big deal for the day. Knowing him, it was probably his life commitment for that month. Just thinking about: Should I ask her? Maybe I’ll just stay home. Or should I just go ahead and ask her? That was the way he thought. Contractions and uncertainties. Should I have peanut butter on my toast or cinnamon? Should I write poetry or study for that math quiz some more? Should I, could I, if I. I get tired imagining the travails and the traveling those thoughts had to take, all those back roads and blind curves. And thoughts were what he had. And thoughts were taken from him, and taken from all of us. And now I’m the same age he was when he was taken. I ain’t been shot yet, but I may be, same as you. Same as any of us. Because we’re all hurting, but we’re all strong. And I think of my big brother, and I think, I know that boy. He wasn’t perfect, but at the same time, he was. I can’t be the only one who knows that.

“And I stared, not at his gravesite, but at the field across the way. A field with a lot of cows and… I think I saw a few goats. The dirt was reddish and raw, with the last of winter finally draining away. But there were long paths of laid-down hay, kind of in a swirling and rambling pattern, according to where the tractor had dragged the bales. And the cows were eating the hay, and the goats were with them, eating the grass, and I thought: that’s where we should all rest. In a cinnamon colored field with others not like us, but just like us, who want to be friendly with each other and share what’s good. And I liked that my brother’s place overlooked such a place. It gave me hope for all the disquiet we feel. Maybe that kind of place is our real home, and not some gold-plated stone road full of mansions and riches, but a place of tough grass and stubborn soil, and calmness, always calmness, always slow and relaxed, with plenty of time and space to think about the space we have and the time we have to share it. I like to think that whenever my thoughts turn hurtful and blue.”

Suite 3

“Damn,” Evelyn-Jean Jones says to her partner. “I don’t know how that boy could stand the taste of cinnamon on everything. Both the girls seem to like it, though, and I’m glad of that. Now, don’t be getting any of that stuff near my cereal bowl, you hear?” And then she smiled without knowing she was smiling, remembering him.

Photo 1 by Engin Akyurt from Pexels
Photo 2 by Raphael Brasileiro from Pexels