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.
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.
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.
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.
The o’seer of pain dresses in white, his fingers adorned with thorn’d rings, a garland of roses loose around his throat, and he teases a kiss of mercy. Well acquainted, he and I, with his mark purposed to tissue and bone. Look upon him close and his robe is stained, his stance unshamed, his hands filthy from his forge.
Fifty-seven years ago I killed a boy. Tonight, Euart Monroe walked into my room with a Mossberg 510 and a stained hobo mattress and fired a shot into my belly. It should have killed me right off, but he didn’t want that. He wanted me to know who pulled the trigger.
I’m excited to announce that Ordinary Handsome is now available in paperback. It’s an oversize 6.69″ x 9.61″ book with a matte cover and cream pages. Pardon the indulgence, but it really is quite handsome. Weighing in at a whopping 187 pages, it’s got a spanky new cover and even a tiny author photo on the back for your mustache-drawing indulgence. Please check it out and let me know what you think. As always, thank you for reading. — Steve
I got all these feelings bundled up in a snarl, all the should-have’s and supposed-to’s and unfair verdicts of past mistakes. There are all these bricks of grief and regret and wondering if I could have changed just one moment. Just one. And when I try to build something out of them bricks, they crack and shift into different shapes, and then they fall into a heap worse off than when I started. I know Gram was thinking about Daniel. We’d been stepping in and out of his shadow since I first showed up here, neither of us wanting to conjure him up for real. Thinking about Daniel made me tired and sad, cracked at the spine, broke in the heart.
Excerpt from Maggie, now available from Amazon. Many thanks to D. Wallace Peach for her remarkable editing skills. I was under a particularly tight deadline to complete this story, and Diana’s suggestions and thoroughness gave Maggie a little more shine. And I won’t mention all those damned commas. Thank you, my friend.