Comes the rain

Boyd Henry over there, he watches me. I have never seen a child so committed to watching. He is four years old and seven months. I love him, Lord, but his intensity wears on me. He plays with his toys under the porch, and the dried-up mud and boot grit falls on the back of his neck. He flours up the dust, and it powders most of him, but his neck gets it worse. He shows me his dusty palms when he sees me seeing him.

Lorianne is on the porch with him now, and her hands are curled around his small shoulders. I’m grateful that she loves him, because Boyd Henry is different from most. He is my gift, he is my surprise.

Today is wash day, the day I float away. Watching Boyd Henry makes me lonely to think there was a time before him. It makes me lonely whenever the wash water from the cotton pillowcases drips onto my arms, because it bears the same coldness and travels down the same paths of my skin as it did last week, and last month.

Nothing has changed, except in the small ways of loneliness, and in the smaller ways of fading.

The sheets and towels are to be washed first. They need to hang before the rain catches them. The wind has swelled up, and it tugs at my kerchief like a kite. Boyd Henry stops wiggling in Lorianne’s arms, and he watches me as I adjust the scarf. He is already dirty, and he will turn into mud when it starts to rain. She wipes him down with a washcloth when she can.

The woods beyond the hayfield are generously leafy because of the rain, and there are some mornings when their greenness becomes transparent in the sunshine.

And so I rise.

I see the shape of a man come forth from these trees, and it is an unblemished shape, clean and handsome. I wonder if he is a good man. It will take him a long time to reach my doorway.

At first, his stride is strong, and he walks with purpose, but after a few steps, he begins to founder. He struggles with the slope of the field and the softness of the soil. He is still just a shape to me, too far to notice his features, but even in the distance I see that he is tall and narrow-chested. With each step, his left leg falters. He clutches it and continues. I cannot see his face, but I can see his pain.

The crows,” says Lorianne, and she points to the selfsame field.

There are a half-dozen crows on the other side of the field gate, and they glide low to the ground. Abruptly, they ascend, like barn swallows, and there is a strenuous fold and unfolding of wings. Their constructs are not made for elegant flight, and they rise in an awkward lurch, and nearly collide with one another. They repeat the design again and again, moving further down the field each time, flexing their wings in evident agony, until they disappear below the standing hay.

Lorianne’s face is serious, but she giggles at the strangeness of it. “Why were they flying like that, mama?”

I don’t know,” I say. “They might be warning us of a bad storm.”

Or it might be a bird illness. Or it might be they were not crows at all. I don’t say those things, of course, because it will cause her to worry. But I don’t know why they were flying like that.

***

It’s not a hard thing to do, to leave a place where you don’t belong. The things you walk away from, the pictures and trinkets and combs, they are just the scraps of our presence. There will be new things, and they will probably be the same things, but with different thoughts behind them. There will always be things to gather for our tables.

I left my father’s house when I was young, and then my grandmother’s when I was done being foolish. This place has become my truest home. I came here when I married, and I have stayed here since he passed, six years ago. This land belonged to his family, and then to him, and now to me. If it would bring him back, even for a minute, I would leave it behind. But it is my children’s home now, his daughter and my son. I lease out the work fields and I raise my children the best I can. I keep my pictures and trinkets and combs in a box carved from gopher wood, under my bed.

***

The rain is hard, as promised. We sit inside our little living room and listen to the tin roof percussion. It is a loud and drunken sound. Lorianne has her box of crayons on the rug, and she hunts for the right shade of rain. Boyd Henry watches her, and he peels off the papers, one color at a time. She digs into a plastic shopping bag for another coloring book, and she moans, quite theatrically: “Oh, my goodness, have I done them all?”

I stare at the wood stove and the slow tangle of flame: how long will it keep us warm, how long will it give us light?

And the rain, it still falls, five days in.

He wears  a white shirt, sweat-stained, wrinkled. His hair is black, tousled, but thinning. Gray eyes, uneven teeth, a weary shrug of shoulders. Just let me sit down for a minute, he says.

He said, “There will be rain. You will need two of everything. One plus one.”

“I have two,” I said.

“The rain will be hard,” he said. “And it will last. Forty days, at least.”

Boyd Henry, over there, he watches me watching him. And Lorianne, she loves me in my fever, loves me in my worry,  and in my rain.

His hair is black and tousled. I have two children who are surviving the rain. And my boy, he watches me, and I watch him back. But it is harder to see him, because we are becoming blurs in the rain.

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Thursdays

What day was it when they put up the swing rope? It was a Thursday. No reason to remember that, it didn’t mean anything, but David remembered. Elani was excited. She was always excited when she was at the creek. It was, maybe, the only place where she could be herself. She was the speaking water, full of splashes and exclamations. It could be exhausting, being with her, but David was always smiling, or outright laughing. Even Efrim laughed, and he didn’t do that often. She brightened everything. And it had nothing to do with silliness. She was all splash and chatter, with hardly any silence between them.

And when she was still, the world became still, and those moments left echoes.

Like a fridge over troubled daughter,” she sang.

What?”

It’s a song I heard,” she said. “Honestly, David, don’t you listen to any good music?”

I don’t think those are the words,” he said.

I know that. But don’t you think mine are more interesting? I mean, what does that even mean? What’s troubled water? And why a bridge?”

***

There are crows in the back field, behind Jimmy’s Grill. Jimmy has no imagination beyond perfecting his Manhattan. Thursday night, all-you-can-eat wings night, and the place is grim and gray. The neon does it no favors. Twelve-month Christmas lights droop from the ceiling, and the jukebox cooks in the corner, steaming 50’s rock and roll.

Gin?” the bartender asks her, as if it’s a real question.

Elani nods, and she can still hear the crows over “Kansas City”.

The outside sounds are soothing. She can hear her real nature in their dimness. The fog of old music in the background, the craunch of gravel as another truck pulls in. A song, a shot, or many, and the flatness of background conversation that has nothing to do with her. She, always laughing or cringing, the polar parts of her. She has to be strong, crush the anxious, bury the worthless. Music, a drink, and left alone. These are the things she cares about.

The door swings open, and in walks another cowboy, complete with hat and rogue mustache. He’s gray at the temples, wearing the requisite ninety-dollar Calvins, the L.L Bean shirt fresh out of the wrapper. Oh, and the imitation snake skin boots. Of course. More East Coast than Eastwood. A whiskey-drinking son-of-a-gun ready to stir the ladies.

He ambles towards her when he sees her looking, a big grin on his face, and she says: “No thanks. I’d really love to break your heart, but no.”

Why did they always think they knew what she wanted?

Honor

call me old-fashioned

A perpetual yesterday dressed in ash;

grief, do not whisper but lay hard upon my breast, 

and ache, yes, as I reach for my faith.

Death’s sore words are set upon the tongue, but keep her, Lord,

for mercy, yes, and love.

***

In honor of my mother, who unexpectedly passed April 14/18. And I, in another country, mourn her.

Ordinary Handsome, et al.

Published works, synopses, and reviews. Thank you.

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Ordinary Handsome

Fifty-seven years ago, a young man named Euart Monroe came back home. Only two people knew what happened to him. Years later, the man responsible for Euart’s fate is paid a visit. But is it Euart’s ghost? Or is it the boy grown up seeking retribution? Welcome to Handsome, OK, population 883 and fading. It’s a place where some men bury their mistakes, a town on the edge of becoming a ghost.

“…the writing is textured, rife with precise detail, stunning imagery, and raw emotion. Baird is a master at finding the perfect word and painting a picture that shifts and clears with each new perspective.” 

“(Baird’s) writing is exquisite, the subject matter is temporally relevant, and there are characters to both pity and loathe. Ordinary Handsome, in its grit and precision, tells of extraordinary misfortune and strife.”

“Ordinary Handsome takes you through the fragmented life story of a dying town, told from the perspective of its soon-to-be ghosts. It grips you from the very beginning and stays with you long after you’ve finished reading. I absolutely recommend this book.”

Ordinary Handsome (e-book) is available here

Ordinary Handsome (oversized paperback) is available here

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A Very Tall Summer

“It was a very tall summer in 1957, and I’ll tell you why…”
And so begins the most terrible summer for Charlotte Windover.
She and husband Jeremiah began a new life together surrounded by a wide expanse of a corn and sky. After years of brutal disappointment, she finally resolves to change her life. When Jeremiah is suddenly killed at an abandoned homestead, life becomes more isolated and harrowing. And with the threat of random fires being set by a mysterious figure known only as Croy, Charlotte’s life has become even more desperate.
In a land of big skies and small dreams, A Very Tall Summer is the tale of a woman’s resolve to overcome her broken past, and at any cost.

“Baird is a master wordsmith, painting a vivid world of sound and motion, rife with feeling, and deadly in its inevitability.”

“Baird’s use of language is both elegant and gritty. It is layered and often unexpected; and it makes something striking out of an otherwise simple story. He uses his skill to pin you to the page in a way which both pleases and disturbs, creating a kind of cognitive dissonance which will both repel and compel you. A keen observer, he will activate all your senses, sometimes in ways you wish he would not. You will find you are unable to turn away from the taste of sweat and the crunch of cartilage.”

A Very Tall Summer (e-book) here

A Very Tall Summer (oversized paperback) here

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Maggie

Maggie Day is a pregnant young woman who escapes to the only place she’s ever felt safe. As she copes with past tragedies and trauma, she is guided by her grandmother, who helps her discover courage and self-respect. Maggie is a tale of love and strength, and of overcoming the wounds of a dark past.

“Baird is a master of ‘voice,’ capturing the unique beauty of each personality through their thoughts and words. In a rural world of poverty, self-sufficiency, and few prospects for change, emotions run deep and rich with insight, honesty, and love.”

Maggie (novella) is available here

The Motel Fatigado

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’m 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 poster board 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 you left me.

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, a faded antediluvian white. He could have been an Old World priest soliciting confessions. 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,” he said. “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 plastic cups in her room. We have tap water and tequila. Perhaps there is ice. I will introduce you to the others.”

I declined.

***

(My apologies if this looks familiar. It’s a revised version of something I posted in early October, and it’s a piece that I’m really drawn to. I’ve been struggling with writerly insecurities and self-doubt for quite some time, but this has been in the peripheral for awhile… I think I’m finally ready to chase it down. Thanks for the indulgence, and thank you always for reading. — Steve) 

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.

The good girl

Compelled to stir the ashes, of what was cruel, what was unadorned. And still I reach for those extinguished minutes and years, and walk into the smoke, shoulders broke, bending to grief’s provocation, aroused by what could have been.

Elani was the most gifted of us, but it was hard to watch her subtract herself from happiness. She was the good girl, the kind girl, the quiet girl who leaned into the shade of a river birch while others swung from ropes and imprinted the water with their thrashing bodies.

She was not destined for great things, and she did not pursue them. The current ran deep, and she found comfort in her aloneness and sandpapered memories. She had no quarrel with pain. She reconciled it as the great truth of life, and saw strength as a punch in the belly, holding back the yelps, damming the tears behind waxwork eyes.

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.

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.