Archive for the ‘THE CHAIR’ Category


February 23, 2020

(I have been writing a series of short stories, mostly character studies for a few years from something that I’ve called “The Chair.” A few of them I have posted, the last post was culled from these short studies. This is another one, I’ve been mostly writing fiction the past year, one is a longer story for my son Bruno. Not sure if I will share that one yet.)



A small creak in the wall behind him, the building was settling, it had been since he moved in nearly two years ago—it mawed, croaked and sighed at all times. “It’s a dump” he told his mother over the phone shortly after moving in, “but its cheap and close to work…anyway, what else do I need?” Was he asking her or himself? The sun had bent its light over the small shelf against the far wall, with his half-folded laundry on top of it in a giant clump of colors, he felt the ache again. It was timeless. It was bottomless. It could be terrifying at times, and the suddenness that it brought felt like an airport. Last night when he got home, he pulled the groceries out of the white denim bag after hauling them up the stairs, his hands cold, his knees wanting to crawl into a tub of water but they were already disappointed because the bathtub leaked, and he made an egg with a piece of bread he fried in the pan along with it. After reading and listening to records spin their circles of melody he went to bed and felt the ache. It was worse when he walked in his room, it froze him from inside and he managed to make it to his bed. Stripping off his clothes, he tossed them in the hamper and wriggled in, the cold blankets finding his legs colder than they were. The lonely part of the earth, the one that faced the rest of the dark universe struck him hard when he lived in it, and he would pin for sleep as he wrestled with the slumber that took it’s time, ruffling blankets over his head. Like a child. Until a few hours later he would finally fall into a restless slumber.

Leaving work earlier that night he had turned up the car stereo, music always worked but this time as he waited at stoplight after stoplight nothing within him had changed and he thought of stopping for a coffee or even going shopping although this reminded him of his money issues. Instead he decided that going home, he could make his own coffee, put a record on and lay down if he needed to. But the pang of emptiness followed him and when he put the water on for the coffee, he felt himself say “why even bother” out loud.  When he was younger, he navigated the depression with alcohol, and later, pills which he would wash down with glasses of wine. The only time he drank wine was when he took painkillers, using it as an enhancer, most other times he drank beer and bourbon. Or vodka. Or gin. Anything really, he had realized that certain types of liquor were better depending on his mood or physical state. He did not like to drink whisky or any dark liquor if he had a hangover, it had too quick of an effect on him—it made his body confused. “Do you want me drunk or do you want me tired?” it would ask him as if his own body was a tired lover. Instead he would drink a gin & tonic or a vodka cranberry when the hangover had lasted past six pm, these were more subtle drinks and they didn’t last as long on the tongue. Whisky seemed to waken his taste buds and then nestle in for the night, always a presence. With vodka and gin, there was a softer taste that was also blunted by the tonic or juice, he liked to say when he was drinking these he was not really drinking. He was nursing. It had been many years since he had a drink so much so that his sobriety was an adult, 18 years but in other ways the way he felt inside was as damaged as his liver once was.

Sitting on the couch, he pulled a cat hair off his leg and dropped it on the floor and held his coffee cup in his hand. He was unsure of what to do next, there was a small television in his room but he lost interest in it rather quickly and he could turn on his computer but that too would propel him somewhere he didn’t want to go. Always searching. Next to the couch lay a small stack of books, some had been there for months, they might of well as started paying rent. So many unread words. The words as patient as a tree. Inside a gasp of anxiety, grew up and burst, flooding his bloodstream and mind. Explosions. Grabbing a notebook he started writing, his hand moving across the page as if it were a brush fire, he wrote about memories he was unsure ever existed, he wrote about love that had captured him and how he let it go, ignoring what was given freely in order to slip back into something unexplainable. Confused. He stopped after four pages, noticing the clock he had been writing almost an hour, he wrung his wrist and went into the kitchen for a water. The needle on the record player was pretending it was treading water at the end of the record he had been playing, bouncing up and back every four seconds, he poured himself the water, drinking slowly from the glass and returned to his notebook. He never re-read what he wrote, these were just maps in reverse to try to figure out how he got here, realizing it didn’t change where he was but it did change his perspective on it. He wrote some more, this time managing to corral a childhood memory of his father. They were hiking, somewhere deep in the woods, he remembered hating hiking, and was always on the lookout for poison ivy which somehow managed to latch onto him only to erupt in painful rashes that would stick with him for most of the summer. His father, marching forward, bellowing to him in his deep voice to “hurry up, Pokie—you will not get poison ivy!” This was a lie because he always got poison ivy and every July was a lost cause. “I am hurrying, I want to be careful” he answered back to his dad while scanning the floral surrounding him. Every  step a deliberate move forward or sideways, surrounded by a sea of vengeful green. “You will not get poison ivy, just hurry!” He realized at that early age that his father would never understand him, nor did his father really care. The next few days he had gotten the worst case of poison ivy he had ever had, it was in his ears, his eyes, on his penis and around his mouth, his mother had to take him to the hospital and scolded him for being careless. “Why do you walk in the woods if you know you are going to get it? Your summer is basically ruined for a while, you can’t really go any where in this state.” He looked at the oozing puss from the blanket of bumps across his hands and wrists. He said nothing. “What an asshole,” he spoke to know one as he closed the notebook, closing the memory. It was then that he went to bed.

The next morning his alarm went off, he pawed at the bedside table next to his head, a book fell, then another one and next was a bottle of water, he felt the water dribble over his hand, listened as it spooled out onto the floor. “Shit.” he scrambled out of bed, grabbed a dirty tee-shirt off the floor and started mopping up the water. He damp dried some of the books, cursing to himself and thought of how he didn’t want to go to work, wanting to go back to bed he nevertheless moved to the bathroom, where he peed and then splashed water across his face and neck, then to the kitchen where he started the coffee. He moved to the chair, and he pulled out one of the daily affirmation books that he read without fail every morning, sometimes the words did what they were intended to and nudged him towards gratitude or a calmer space while other times there was nothing and he felt empty reading the words, but it was always worth the effort; something was better than nothing. He nursed the coffee, pulled his legs up on the chair, set the plastic egg timer he got from his grandmother’s house after she died and meditated for fifteen minutes. This was how his days had started since moving in, with nary a deviation unless he was late for work or slept in. Some days it worked and some days it didn’t, and he thought about if there was any correlation with the sunshine on his good days.

There was some floating he felt, his legs folded under him, more memories he tried to embrace and then, breath away. He had found her by her car, lost on the sidewalk and he held her. She shook under his shoulders, quaked and shuddered, she convulsed in his arms. Her voice caught, it paused and then it tugged at his throat and he wept as well. Both of them bawling under the early morning street like  broken feral cats, putting her hands across his cheeks, pawing away his tears. “I’ve lost you, you are on a boat drifting away. Standing in the middle you aren’t coming back.” Kissing her forehead, he whispered, “I don’t know.” Her torso rattled, tears soaked the pavement, pulling her closer he thought “I’m preparing you.” She had gotten in her car shortly after, drove to work, ate her lunch alone that day in a strip-mall parking lot, listening to the same compact disc that had gotten stuck nearly five months earlier. Repeat the ending and the beginning. She called him and he didn’t pick up. She called again and he didn’t pick up again.

After his meditation he called off work, made some more coffee, and then went for a walk. With the sun making silent comments to him, whispering in his ear, trying to turn his thoughts he looked at the mud poking out from the sides of his shoes, felt a cloud making it’s presence known as it cut off the sunlight and finally he sat down. Nothing had changed, and he felt tired. The walk did little, the sun had tried her best but, in the end, sometimes a person’s darkness will swallow the sun. He showered, he put on a record, he straightened his bookshelves, he took out some paper and took his favorite pen, scribbled and put it away. Drank another coffee and a glass of water. Folding his clothes, he carefully put them away and then prepared his bed. In the other room and sat in the chair staring at the glass of water, he smiled ruefully, “time to go sailing.”

Looking. (from Punks Around vol 9)

February 6, 2020

This is a work of fiction, taken from a story I have been working on for a number of years but published in physical form by Punk Around Zine (Vol 9). Partial proceeds from the zine go to various harm reduction programs around the country. I’m used to writing non-fiction, so I’m a bit nervous as this is new for me. I wrote with a few people in mind and a few who didn’t make it. Special thanks to Alexander Herbert, who publishes Punk Around and wrote a fantastic book on the history of Russian punk rock called “What About Tomorrow: An Oral History of Russian Punk from the Soviet Era to Pussy Riot” (Microcosm Press).


“Hey, do you see that over there?” holding a cup of coffee in one hand and pointing with his other hand towards a small group of men huddled at the entrance of an ally across the street. She turned her head and followed his finger, “those men?” she asked. “Nah, look behind them, at those birds sitting on those garbage cans.” In the shadows of the alley there was at least twenty or thirty birds sitting on top of some heavy aluminum garbage bins, that had long ago had the metal sheen thocked out of them, they were bruised and dented—much like the birds that sat on top of them. The birds were standing, bobbing their heads back and forth, silent except for the occasional flutter of their wings which sounded like small decks of cards being shuffled. It looked like every can was covered in feathery movements.

“I haven’t seen anything like that” he whispered.

“There is nothing there, just a bunch of dumb birds sitting on trach cans” she replied, stabbing her fork into a pile of scrambled eggs.

“Look closer,” he gestured towards the alley, his index finger pointing across the table, “see? There, right in the middle, there is an orange cat standing in the middle of all of them.”

Squinting, her jaw hung open, a ball of chewed up egg on her tongue, “oh my God, you are right. That is crazy.” The cat stood tall with the birds, as they shuffled and moved around, the cat yawned and licked one of its paws. The men walked away and the view of the birds plus cat was easier to see. “That’s the damndest thing I have ever seen.”

Reaching under the table she squeezed his knee, causing him to grin on the outside and beam like 200 headlights on the inside.  She rode her hand up his thigh, just enough to make him squirm in his seat and floated her hand back down and gave his knee another hug before taking another drink of coffee. The table floated with love, it could have carried it up and through the diner if they had thought of such a thing. Her eyes fixed on his, a smile, a few blinks, this was all really all she needed to tell him.  His gaze went back to the birds, and the confident cat, the cat that didn’t think about what anybody thought, that she was going to sit with the mother-fucking birds if she wanted to, and his admiration for the cat grew with every moment. A truck honked at a small compact car and the frightened birds all took flight, the cat looked skyward and licked her paws, after a minute she laid down on top of the garbage can and went to sleep.

“Let’s go” she said, cradling his hands in hers, “it’s so nice out, and we should be in the sun.” “O.K.” he went to grab his wallet, but she said, “I paid while you were looking at the odd cat.”

“Thank you,” he pulled her close, kissed her cheek, smelled her hair and suddenly wanted to nibble on her ear. Outside they walked north, she told him about an antique store she wanted to go to “there is a chest there, an oak one, it looks just like one my grandmother had. She would put all her sheets and the quilts she made in it. I can still smell it, it smelled of lavender. I want it.”

Their hands intertwined, “where would we put it? That apartment is so small, plus all those stairs! Will you start sewing quilts to put in it?”

“Ha-ha, yes, just for you—I will make a quilt out of all your old dumb rock shirts, some might not be suitable for display though.”

He laughed, “you mean like Anal Cunt or the Ass Ponys?”

“Yeah maybe, but let’s look anyway. We can always dream even if it doesn’t happen.” Living in the fantasy future can be better than the present.

A delivery truck barreled by them, the driver fighting gears that ground against one another—they were tired, those metal gears, the driver dressed in brown from head to toe smiled down at the two lovers walking, he had an urge to honk—their splendid moment in time carrying up through the open window, instead he shifted and drove past them. She laid her head against him and he felt all her love from this small gesture, it felt good, but he always had a twinge of doubt. Always. The thrift store was five blocks and change away, with a small parking lot in the back used for deliveries and pickups mostly, it was always crowded.

“Come here, I know where it is” she clutched him tight, pulling him towards the furniture section. He wanted to look at the records and books, he wanted to leave, he wanted to go home and swallow her whole. Her hand tore from his, “c’mon, its over here” laughing as she implored him. Behind a giant glossy dresser, the bottom two drawers covered in Garbage Pail Kids stickers, she stood next to the chest, it wasn’t as big as he thought. It was banged around the edges, the metal lock was scuffed but it looked ok, putting his head against the Garbage Pail Kid dresser, it wobbled causing him to yank his hand away.

“I like it, how much is it?” he asked.

“Ummm, let me see,” she bent down, her legs folding under her, he looked at her butt, all those thoughts came back and he crouched next to her. “I don’t see the price tag” her lip a thinking thin line, “They usually have them on the edge, hmmm, oh here it is. They wrote it on the corner, the dummies—of course in brown ink. Um, it’s $35! We can afford that, and it’s not as big as I thought, I guess I was imagining it as a little girl when I would climb in my grandmother’s when we played hide and go seek.”

“Let’s get it, I think I can just carry it, or we can get a cab?” he offered.

“Nah,” she replied, “Fuck that, I’ll help you carry it.”

They dragged it home, fifteen blocks taking a small break on block number nine to share a bottled water and trade kisses as they sat atop their new piece of furniture, the one that would always echo grandmother’s house and lavender. They pulled and pushed the chest up the stairs, it banged and clumped all the way up, they laughed and rolled their eyes, funny what love can do. If he had been alone and doing it, muffled little ‘fucks’ and ‘god-damnits’ would have slipped out of his mouth, but together it was different. It always is. Inside she grabbed some wood oil and an old rag that used to be a black and orange sock that his big toe finally busted out of one day at work, and she started polishing it, working across the bottom and working her way up. He made some coffee in the kitchen, its’ smell filling the apartment, they had worked hard to make it their own. He dropped some ice cubes in a glass and poured her some water. Walking over to her he put his hand on her shoulder and handed her the cup.

“you are sweet” raising it to her lips, she was sweating.

Returning to the kitchen, noticing that it had started to rain, with a small puddle of water collecting on the windowsill, he closed the window, felt the drop in temperature against his forearms and wiped up the water with the pink sponge from the kitchen sink. He poured her a coffee, rubbing the chill out of his arms, he felt the goosebumps from the rain.

“Hey, come here” she said, peering into the chest.

Removing the tiny silver spoon, given to him by his mother shortly before she died, “I used to feed you Gerber’s from this, I would polish it every week until the light sparked from it. I think it was the only thing you would eat with” she had told him as the memory passed from her lips to his ears, forever to live until he would take his last breath. She died two days later; her head propped up against a mountain of pillows.

“What is it?” he carried her coffee, she looked up.

“Thank you honey. Look at this,” she held up a small black and white photograph. “This was at the bottom, it was folded in half and stuck in the corner, I think whoever had this must have owned a fleet of cats.” She dropped a giant ball of old cat fur on the floor.

He held the photo in his hand, “wow, that’s crazy. Do you see who that is?” holding the photo close to his eyes.

“Yeah, I mean I think that’s him, don’t you?” She stood up and wiped her pants.

“I do to, it’s old though a little blurry but shit, I’m sure that is him. Is there anything else in there?” She shook her head.

“Nope just that. And the hair, there was a shit-ton of hair…I hope it was only cat hair.” She grimaced.

Leaning next to him, she put her arm under his, tracing one of the fingers over the crinkled-up photo. It was bent in several places and the crooked fold where it was crammed under the wood of the chest, but otherwise the picture was fairly clean. It was a photo of a young man, grinning into the camera leaning back on a motorcycle, one hand on the handlebars the other on his left knee. His smile was almost a sneer, his jet-black hair combed back, with a small curl at the top, in the background was a white building, possibly a garage, and some trees. There was a baseball on the ground and what looked like a guitar case on the driveway off in the short distance.

“Yeah, that’s him, it’s Elvis Presley. Motherfuck, what the hell?!” he muttered to himself.

“Wow, do you think it’s his? I mean the chest.” It was obvious this was a personal photo, taken by a loved one, it was an intimate photo. They turned the chest over, looking for a clue.

There was a small white label stapled into the wood, “Wolford’s Cabinet, 220 South Virginia Street Hopkinsville, TN.” Wolford Cabinet was typed in dark gothic letters and the rest was normal typeset.

“Wow, it could be? I have no idea,” he whispered. “I don’t know, maybe it is. I mean my grandmother had this same chest; this is identical. She lived in Bowling Green when she married my grandfather, that was after he got back from Korea. But, wow, I wonder if we have Elvis’s chest—that would be wild.” They turned the chest over again, and underneath the door there was another small label, this one pink and fastened to the side of the inner door, “To Darlene, with love, Bruce.”

“welp, it’s not Elvis’s chest, it’s Darlene’s and I wonder if Bruce knew about Elvis?!” she laughed, and pulled the photo from his fingers, walked to the living room window and set her coffee down on the windowsill. The rain was coming down in waves, with the gusts of wind pushing it forward in intermediate spells, like a DJ pushing the beat, the rain splattered and bashed itself into everything. Fifteen million miniature suicides. She pulled up the old chair that had come with the apartment, sat down and pulled her knees up close as she held the black and white photo close to her eyes, wondering where it was taken, who Darlene was and surprised by her fortune of being able to peer into the past personal life of a King.

She bit her bottom lip as she traced her finger over the top and edges of the photo, sipped her coffee and looked behind her. He was on the couch, one leg on the floor and the other bent at the knee that he was balancing his coffee on, in his other hand he was reading a paperback, the spine bent in half. She followed his eyes as they soaked the words off the page, his crooked smile reacting to the words and felt her draw towards him.

They had met in a basement nearly eleven months ago, he saw her, slide the cold metal chair backwards, it screeched against the concrete floor of the church and sat down next to her. His hands engulfing the small Styrofoam cup, he didn’t make eye contact but just asked her if she minded if he sat next to her. “Sorry, but uh, there isn’t very many seats here, do you mind if I sit here?”

Looking sideways at him, “no, not at all—we all need to sit.” The coffee was bad, and she remarked to him as he scrunched up his face when he took a sip, “nobody comes here for the coffee, but putting sugar and creamer may help, no need to act tough here. The coffee will kill you if you aren’t careful, we use it to weed out the newbies.” He looked at her for a moment, his eyes like a puppy, she laughed and touched his hand, “I’m joking, we don’t weed out the newbies—we need them.” After a minute of silence, nothing had started yet. He went up and poured some creamer and sugar in his coffee and sat down next to her.

“How can you tell I’m new?” he sipped the coffee; it was a bit better but still bitter.

“I can tell, I’m kinda new myself but I’m a retread, so not really. I’ve been coming back for about seven months now, I sort of came and went out for a long time but then, well I realized if I went for too long there would never be another come-again” she stuck a piece of gum in her mouth.

“Oh,” he squirmed a little in his seat, like a cat clawing a pillow getting ready to nestle in, “yeah, I’m new. My first one since I got out, I went to a few when I was in treatment but never one on my own, not like this.” He looked down, speaking more to his chest than to her, “to be honest, I’m scared shitless.”

Scared shitless was a feeling she knew well, it was one she had felt for most of her life, at least the life she could remember, and no matter what, that feeling was always there sometimes as faint as an aspiration and other times it roared like a tornado screaming in her ear, trying to consume her from the inside out.

“Yeah, I can relate” she whispered, “sometimes just learning to sit here helps, I couldn’t even really sit when I started coming, I’d just stand in the corners moving from one to the other during the meeting—I didn’t trust my legs to sit down, maybe I thought if I stood I could leave whenever I felt I needed to. Luckily it hasn’t happened yet.”

He kept coming and he kept sitting next to her, after a few weeks he introduced himself, she had brought him a better coffee from a coffee shop up the street and he stuck his hand out,

“Hi, sorry I’m Jake” shaking his hand.

“Yeah, I know you tell everybody your name when it gets to you.”

“Oh yeah, you’re right” rolling his eyes at himself,

“Um, I forget your name, sorry—half the time my mind is racing and I can barely keep attention.” She noticed his hands were shaking, the coffee spilled out the top of the lid.

“It’s o.k., I’m Mary.”

“That’s right, I do remember, Mary Whositsnexttome.”

“Yup, something like that” she grinned at him.

From there, he would loiter outside the steps leading up to the sidewalk and chat her up as she walked to her car, a light blue Golf that had more dents in it than any car ever should. “This thing is such a reflection of my life” she laughed on one of these occasions as they talked next to it, “but it keeps plugging away, bruises and all.”

After a few weeks she said to him, “you know if you want to ask me out you can, there is no rule against it” she was staring at him hard. “Well, I just thought…they say no relationships for a year” he stumbled over his words.

“Going out for coffee or dinner does not equal a relationship for God’s sake, anyway I think I can make my own choices.”

From there they were together, bumbling through the new lives they were sharing together, sometimes with tears but mostly with laughter. One night as they were making love he was about to cum, she looked up at him, “don’t you dare cry when you cum, don’t you dare.”

He gasped, “sometimes I feel so deeply, I feel on fire.” But he didn’t cry, and they kept making love and they kept going to church basements together, and eventually they moved in together. She had gone back to school, while he worked framing houses and contemplated a return to school. “I need another career; I want to help people” he said one night as they sat on the couch while the stereo played.

“You mean not your current career, the one where you build houses? Or the one where you were a lawyer, that career?”

“Yes, that career, the lawyer one—it was too crazy for me, too much temptation, too much ego—including my own.”

She felt the cushion sag underneath her, “this fucking couch has got to go,” the wire spring had sprung their last spring—the bounce of the sofa had deserted the relic of furniture many years ago. Her bottom sank to the seat. The couch didn’t come with the apartment, but they had dragged it from an alley up the street, checking it for bugs, stains or any other unsavory details. It was a vinyl couch, it looked immaculate with smooth pine legs and underboards, but when a person sat on that one cushion it gave away its age. Which was nearly forty years old. But it looked good, and they planned to get the cushions refitted with new coils.

She pulled his head on her lap, stroking his hair, staring down at his small mouth, lips pursed while he slept, small breaths sneaking out in a three second pattern. She wanted to ride his out-breath across the room, to live on the essence of him, his being—she wanted to devour him and to be devoured. He was a mystery at times, he would forget sections of his life even though he was in his early forties, “it’s all a blur” he would say when she probed him about his past. She knew he was an attorney, but that he lost his job due to his drinking but not because of the drugs, “maybe I did some coke every now and then, but really, in the end it was the booze. I did a bit of everything for a while, but I was able to work—I went through about two years when I was using heroin, it got out of hand—I was hiding it, spending money I didn’t have. I felt like a hypocrite in court, representing people who were using the same drugs as I was, but I had more skills to hide it.” He explained to her he just woke up one day and quit hard drugs, getting sick for a few days but “it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, but I have always been able to battle through things. I went on a trip, used up my last Mastercard and went to the Bahamas for a week. I figured I couldn’t really score there. Anyway, I came back no longer a drug addict but an alcoholic.” She knew this story, they shared this much but the other aspects of his life she didn’t know, and she didn’t know if the exclusion was intentional or if he forgot.

Her own story included alcohol as well, but there was also a lot of heroin when she was in her twenties—she got turned on both ways by an old boyfriend (now deceased). “That was a mess” she thought as she kissed his forehead, “boy, I was fucked up.” She did remember a lot, too much she felt. The abuse, both physical and sexual, she was raped twice—once by her boyfriend’s drug dealer when her boyfriend went to pawn something and left her alone in the dealer’s house, and once again by someone she was using with. “I can’t forget that shit, even if I tried” she told him one night as they laid in bed, their bodies hot against one another. But like him, she felt that alcohol was something she couldn’t beat, although her drug use never completely ended, she would use occasionally—maybe once every four months or so “Just to get a taste,” but it never cost her work or school. Finally, after almost being raped again after drinking and going home with a mutual barfly she had enough. “that’s when I decided, fuck it, I’ll try this way again—the rooms, give them a chance again. So far so good, I don’t want that kind of drama in my life anymore.” She went on Suboxone over three years ago and that was what changed for her, “there is something I don’t like about some of the meetings, and that’s why I need my medication—I could not have done anything else without quitting heroin, it took me over two years to finally quit drinking and my main reason was because I couldn’t afford it—it was stupid, how much I would drink. When someone talks about shit, they don’t know about in the meetings I used to want to gauge their eyes out, but I just take what I need from the ones I respect.”

These conversations happened a lot between them, the parsing out of what worked for each of them. She had also started volunteering at one of the needle exchange sites in town, “I love helping those people, I mean I was one of them—maybe not as bad—I wasn’t homeless, but I was sick a lot.”

He never joined her there, at least not at this point, “I can’t do that yet, I need to make sure I can handle it first.”

The love was deep, all the way through to the beginning of her life, the oldest part of her felt his connection. She wanted to consume him, to be one—a burst of electric energy. But, when alone she questioned herself, which he felt was odd since she appeared so strong, committed to her recovery and her life, this he admired. She felt desperate at times, combing through his past via the internet. One night he came home and found her looking at one of his social media accounts, “what are you doing?” He asked, a bit annoyed, “there is nothing there, I don’t even use those things very much anymore.”

She cried, one of the few times she was tearful with him, “I don’t know what I’m doing, when I can’t feel you, not physically but you know, when I can’t feel you. I guess I want to see if you loved me before you even met me, if there are clues to your past that you needed me.” She paused, one hand clutching the opposite shoulder, “it doesn’t make sense, I’m sorry.” He went upstairs, eventually she followed him, and as he slept, she removed her clothes, and as she held his hand, she masturbated while he slept. They never spoke of it but occasionally she would feel that compulsion to seek his past to assuage their future.

“Do you think we knew each other before?” she was cutting onions up for soup, their scent filled the apartment as she noticed the olive oil in the pan rolling around in hot liquid balls, glistening as they ran from the heat.

“What do you mean? Like in a former life? Or did we meet at some point” he was eating an apple, sitting at the table with magazine in front of him.

“No, I’m not sure how to explain it, there is a part of me that thinks I have always known you. I know it sounds odd, or new-age-y but ever since you sat next to me at that meeting, I felt touched by you. Maybe I’m just weird” she slid the onions into the pan, they sizzled, and their sweetness exploded like a bomb across the kitchen. She could hear him eating his apple in the other room, one bite, two bites, pausing, another bite. “You’re not listening to me.”

“I am, I’m trying to think about what you asked me and how to frame it. Whatever you are making smells really good, by the way.”

She started slicing up the garlic into thin pieces and placed a red pepper onto the open flame of the stove top, she moved to the door and watched him obliterate the rest of the apple, put it down and wipe his hands on his black jeans. “and…? Maybe it’s just my insecurities, I don’t know.” He scooted the chair around, its legs scrapping the floor, and he looked at her.

She continued, “perhaps it’s a need we need, and we can only feel it deep—on a cellular level—that’s where the familiarity comes from and we can’t explain it. I feel it with you, but I also feel shitty when I don’t see you, there is a void even if I know where you are, a sort of low hum of anxiety” he looked at her softly. “Yes! That’s it, except it almost a soft panic when I don’t see you or I’m waiting, it makes zero sense. I wish I didn’t have it, I should be a big girl” she flipped the red pepper over, the skin black and bubbly. “ow, that’s hot.”

Thinking he looked down, “my dad wasn’t around much, I’ve told you this. He was always working, always busy and never at home much until, well he finally split. My mom worked as well, went back to school so we were expected to do well, failure wasn’t really an option nor was taking a day off—everybody worked, nobody sat back for a day, not to mention even an afternoon.”

She was pulling the skin off the pepper now, it was hot and goopy, she slid it onto a cutting board, she hated the slime on her fingers, “go on, I’m listening.”

“So, when I started partying in high school, it helped me relax and I had my first true girlfriend, Angie who I dated well into college. You met her one night a few months ago, at that art thing.”

“yes, I remember—she’s nice.”

“She is nice. I treated her like shit though, cheating and yelling. We fought hard; I don’t know if I told you, but I hit her once when I was drunk. She broke up with me shortly afterwards, I’m so ashamed of myself, of course I blamed her. What a shithead I am” he was now speaking more to himself. “But I never felt solid with someone, it always seemed they were going to leave, or I was going to leave first. This is different but I don’t like feeling pangs of longingness, that food smells delicious.” His stomach grumbled in approval.

“Thank you, maybe you are right, that we need each other in such a way that it’s something that we don’t even know where it began. I am feeling guilty as well.” She paused. “I don’t think I should comb through your past, on social media or whatever—I don’t know what I’m looking for when I do that. Maybe a fear of something from way back will come and swallow me like a fish, and I’ll lose you or lose myself.” She felt herself starting to tear up.

“Jesus” she sighed and washed her hands.

“I get it, I feel the same. Maybe we think our past will fill the holes in our future—for the first time, maybe ever something feels solid in my life. The past has always been like trying to navigate through liquid, or clouds filled with rain. This feels differently, I am trying to tell you everything there is, but stuff keeps coming up—it’s probably having to do with sobriety and trying to be honest.” He got up and kissed the back of her neck while she let the hot water wash over the back of her hands.

(originally appears In Punks Around #9, published 2020, partial proceeds to various harm reduction programs: Providence Outreach, Rogers and Rosewater Soup Company, West Oakland Punks with Lunch and Safepoint.


K. (more from the Chair.)

January 12, 2019

working on several things at once, one is the book to be published sometime in 2019, the other are finishing several stories I have been writing for my kids, and then this, a series of short studies with a furnished apartment as the centerpiece. Some are based on people I know and some aren’t. This is the newest one I’m writing



There must have been at least 100 ants walking across the kitchen floor, they marched after each other in tiny rows, a few would scuttle off the path and then circle back around. They were attacking a small bit of a peach that had fallen on the floor and some bread crust that lay just inches away from the sticky sweet fruit. He moved the chair towards them, scooting it softly across the wooden floor, finally resting just a few feet from them, hands on his knees poking through well-worn jeans, leaning over his face only inches from the parade of insects. A glob of saliva dropped from his mouth, landed like a small bomb in the middle of the ants, splorking two of them who twisted in the gooey mess their bodies contorting as they tried to wrestle free and the rest of the ants just went around the two struggling insects. “How could they help?” he thought as he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, “poor little fuckers, I’m sorry” he mumbled. In the sink dishes were piled on top of one another as if it had become a garbage bin for porcelain plates, coffee cups and Smuckers Jelly jars that he used for drinking glasses, he was growing used to the sweet stench from the sitting water that sat in the cups.

Standing up and stretching his arms out wide, his back loosening as he twisted in the middle of the floor. There was hardly any furniture, just an old love seat his mother had helped him pull out of the alley, a cracked plastic coffee table that had one leg propped up by an old paperback book, the chair and an old tube television that turned on in sighs, it would flash once and take its time gathering up the picture, it took about three minutes for the screen to fully awake and even then sometimes it would only cover half the screen unless he gave it a hard bang on the side.  The coldness of the wooden floor teased the bottom of his feet, causing them to arch up, rocking back on his heels he rolled them forward to suck up all the chill that had settled into the wood. He strode to the window, hands on his hips, he gazed out the window, twisting his waist back and forth, he was getting loose while his eyes followed a woman on the sidewalk pushing a stroller with one hand while holding the hand of a little girl, dressed in a pink chiffon dress that billowed up around her scrunching into her mother’s legs. The mother, daughter and baby moved in starts and stops, a slow shuffle as the girl pulled on her mother’s hand towards a store they had just passed while the mother appeared to want to hurry as far away from that store. Step. Step. Step. Stop. Turn. Shake head. Step. Step. Step. Stop. Turn. Shake head. Throw arms up in frustration. Finally, the girl tossed herself down to the ground, her dress swelled up around her like a miniature candy mushroom cloud. Pressing his nose against the wet pain of glass, he smudged the condensation. He felt his hot breath coming back on his face. As the mother calmed the girl down, appearing to give in and walked back to the store’s window as the girl pointed to something that had grabbed her attention, he couldn’t make out what it was but saw her mother nod and kiss the girl on the top of the head, they turned and left.

There was a smell stuck in his mind, one of flowers and honey mixed with the sweat of his boy, he remembered the feel of his small shoulders, which seemed so small and fragile, and how he squeezed his sons’ arms and offered him encouragement before he ran out onto the green field. With soiled yellow shorts, bruised knees with mud caked on them as if they were spackled on by a spatula, blades of grass sticking out the bottom of his orange cleats splayed out around the edges they looked as if they had gone to war with the sod covering the field. “Dad, dad?!” yelling as he sprinted off the field, “can you go get my water? I left it on the other side of the goal.” The memory now dissolved into the scent of wet grass, the early morning glistening of the soccer field and small legs galloping from one end to the other. Things moved slowly now, turning his back away from the window, pulling the red cushion a few inches, did three prostrations and bowed to the round red seat, bowed to the sun and sat, legs crossed, hands on his knees. Breathing every memory in then every memory out, with every exhale the exiting thoughts winked at the sun, falling away into nothingness. He shuddered as his mind gave up miniature ghosts into the room.

She had laid her head against his shoulders, her blue eyes sparked as the tears made her face glisten, arms at her side, just being held was almost enough. Almost. Her laugh careening off the sides of his mind, he remembered when he dazzled the most beautiful woman in the world. Effortlessly as if he had been built by the wind and grounded in the sea. His chest rose and fell, he was still except for his chest, sitting and sitting until the pain slowed down. It trickled out in running spurts, in the most inopportune times while he slept, at the stop light, eating a sandwich. Next, she was pulling weeds out of the front yard, a gardener’s grimace cemented to her face as she attacked the stubborn plants, they were tangled around all the yellow, blue and red flowers that struggled to live amongst the aggressive weeds. She waved and went back to grimacing, another thought, another breath to chisel them away.  This was almost a year ago, maybe longer, sometimes memories were piled in his mind like mounds of clothes scattered in the bedroom corner and until someone picked them up, fluffed them ou,t then one wasn’t sure if it was a blouse, leggings or a pair of pants. Not that it mattered, it was gone, all of it except for his dusty mind that kicked up a fuss whenever it felt like it. After twenty minutes he stood up, stretched again letting out a deep yawn and walked back to the window.

The reddish-orange bricks fractured the sunlight in barely discernable yellow hues, the gray mortar between the bricks did their dutiful job of holding the entire fucking building up, working for the past seventy-five years to do just this. Stay put. Clouds cast moving shadows on the wall, the telephone wires swayed slowly as the sky breathed out, everything seemed to breath. There was an emptiness within him, it had grown larger and larger, taking small bites and then larger chomps out of him from the inside out. Soon it would devour him, he knew this for sure and there was nary a thing he could do. Shrugging, he walked back to the far wall, carefully choosing a record album, one that would best describe his mood, he wanted to feel this moment while there were other times he would put a record on to change his mood, he wanted to feel the thickness of his depression as hard much as he could. It was lathered on him like paste, he lifted to dust cover and put the record on, it spun around and around and when the needle hit the grooves, it crackled and came to life as if it had been waiting to sing forever. Adjusting the stereo he paced the room, going to the kitchen, putting water on the stove the blue fire of the burner tickling the bottom of the kettle. Its blue flames licking the metal, he carefully put five spoonful’s of coffee in the French press and walked back to the living room. It went like this for the next ten minutes, a small dance routine for himself until he sat on the small couch and sipped his coffee. There was no place to call home, this much he knew.

The depression hit him when he wasn’t thinking of it, somedays it felt an inch thick and other days, the bad ones, it felt like he was incased in it six feet around him. They were the ones where he was smothered with emotional impotence, it was painted on him with heavy brushes from the inside out.  There were some days when the sadness had settled deep in his chest while he slept like a kitten curled around a person’s legs, on mornings like this making it to the first cup of coffee was a chore, he might have well picked the coffee beans and roasted them himself for the amount of time it took him to swing his legs over the side of the bed. And then suddenly a song would come over his headphones and the depression would fly away like a billion butterflies fluttering in the sky. There were somethings that helped more than others and then there were times when depression was so entrenched, there was nothing else to feel—it had sucked in all the air and chewed in small bits. Gobble. Gobble. This morning as the speakers sucked in and out, small little thumps that smacked out the sounds that slowly peeled away the morass he was feeling, there were fragments of thought that we was trying to pull together, note by note. It was working, eventually he finished the coffee, a slight buzzing in his head as he washed the cup out, the warm water and imitation smell of mint of the dish soap helped him concentrate. It was meditative and was helping.

Upon looking through a small book of photos that spent the past few months collecting dust, speck by speck, his fingers stopped on a photo of her, she was young, her face more roundish—as if the last remnants of childhood retreated to her cheeks holding out hope that she would forever be a child,  only a scent of a young girl on her face, she was smiling, and he knew in this photo he had made her laugh. Her white teeth glowing from a full laugh, the joy made the picture erupt in happiness. She put up with a lot, this went through his mind as he tried to remember where the picture was taken, there were empty beer bottles on the table next to her arm but the background was fuzzy. Maybe twenty years ago? Maybe even earlier? This was before the desperation swept him from his feet, clobbered him inside and foisting him into a sheet of blackness that rolled inside and around him for years. Another photo, probably eight years later and she was full of life, literally, standing in the back yard her body stretched to keep the life growing inside of her comfortable, she was smiling in this photo as well. The brilliance of motherhood danced from her eyes, as a new life for them was about to explode into their lives. He remembered his trepidation about fatherhood, wanting to avoid it altogether, the feeling of doom that he would repeat the failings of his own father was an almost daily trudge during her pregnancy and while it lifted for many years it had returned, making an unwanted I-told-you-so, into his life now—munching into his ear that no matter what he did he would never escape his past even if he was an innocent once. Another photo, their daughter, tongue hanging from the side of her little-girl mouth and she strained to take her first steps, her mother holding her sides, encouraging her with whispers. These were indeed her first steps on her own, she had pushed the little pushcart away and never looked back. He had caught it, stuffing that moment into a picture forever more. Another photo, his son booting a soccer ball in front of the goal, maybe 30 feet from it, his shaggy hair bouncing but stuck frozen in the picture. He must have been six or seven in this shot.

Then a photo of them together, all of them, somewhere on the beach, she on one side of the children he on the other, holding the phone to capture them all. She looked pained and he looked hesitant, as if there was nothing to be captured in this moment, their daughter looked away towards her mother while their son giggled as he pulled down on his arm. Then nothing, there were no more photos. The record abruptly stopped, the needle lifted and clunked its way into the phonograph’s cradle. A small electrical buzz came from the speakers. Bzzzzzzz…..

Outside a fly buzzed around his head, into his ear and the up away from his hand as he tried in vain to swat it away, it teased him, a bothersome moment in a life full of bothersomes. His car had scars up and down the length of it, a dent here, a bruised bumper and of course the cracked windshield, a metal testament to his poor eyesight and shitty ability to focus, it was amazing he hadn’t been killed in a car accident by now. He turned on the car stereo, his phone automatically melding into the car’s system and the music burst around him like aural fireworks, he felt like he needed a drink to match the music, or maybe to dance but it was only eleven am, still to early for both and anyway, he had not had a drink for nearly two decades, this was not the time to start now. He felt everything more acutely now, much more than he did when he stumbled into bars, fell onto barstools, collapsed into bed, and looked in vain for some relief for something that he could never name. His head was shaking back and forth to the music, small bobs up and down, floating on a wave of sound—he’d give anything to be a note of music floating through the air, a vibration that doesn’t hurt but only brings joy. “mother fucker” he thought to himself. There was a memory of the gay bar, where he used to escape not for sex but for music, to free himself from self-consciousness and let arms, hips and feet meld to the music. It was a safe-haven, he went with his dead friend who combatted all of the same things that he had, that is until he lost not just the battle but the war. No more dancing. “I should go dancing” he thought, he turned up the volume. He was now holding his baby girl in his arms, swirling her about the room while she cooed at him, her smile making up for her lack of language, there we melded at that moment, stuck in his mind until his mind would disengage sometime in the future. But not now. Not yet. “Not yet” he whispered softly.

At one point he realized she believed in him, offering him hope and she slid her arm around his back, touching his shoulders and his face, she kissed him softly her eyes lowered—she injected hope and encouraged into his very being, but now, all he felt from her was hopelessness. It had turned into something dangerous for the both of him. He sighed deeply and switched the gears in the car. Touched the screen to the next song and turned into traffic. Alone.

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November 22, 2018



The sheets stuck to her thighs, they were twisted around her ankles as if her bed had turned into a jungle while she slept. Although she was in bed for nearly ten hours, she didn’t sleep well. Tick. Tick. Tick. Her mind clicked every moment like one of those angry old cash registers that sputtered and spit out white receipts except this was her mind and as she lay in bed the evening before she stared straight above her, drawing invisible lines in the ceiling cracks, connecting them to make a variety of shapes. A wheel barrel. An old man leaning forward. A dog. And finally, the devil. He grinned at her in his blotty stare, he was constructed out of five cuts in the ceiling caused by a water leak nearly five years ago. Once she saw the devil she could not un-see him. “Fuck” she whispered. Eventually she dozed off, but not until after she read half a book, drank water, smoked three cigarettes, masturbated, said a prayer she didn’t believe in, read some more, and counted the cracks. The devil stared the entire time. Grinning as only the devil can even if he is hidden in the plaster. She kicked at the bottom of the bed, wrestling with the sheets, they held her ankles as she did “they are trying to keep me in bed” she thought, she could smell the sweat that had soaked her bed while she slumbered. “What is wrong with me?”

The windows were open, all of them in the entire apartment, the two in her bedroom, the one in the kitchen and the three in the living room. All with the hope that this welcoming by the open glass portals would invite a breeze to come in, make itself at home. The slow-poke wind just sauntered by, giving a middle finger to the apartment as she melted inside. Unraveling herself from her bed, she walked to the bureau, her bare feet made a soft sucking noise as they peeled off the hardwood floor. Lifting a lighter to her first cigarette of the day, she stood a few feet back from the window and tried in vain to catch a breeze. Outside, the heat was coming off the black roof across the street in shimmering waves, two birds flew and landed on the electrical wire that stretched in front the building. The longest couch in the word, all made for these fluttering animals. She gazed in the mirror that was attached to the dresser, it was old with a blackness that had set in on the corners as if it were being eaten slowly by mold. She caught herself, turning her head sideways she looked at her breasts in the reflection, turning slightly she studied her hips. Her thighs were dotted with small greenish and purple bruises, “where did I get those” she thought as smoke climbed towards the heavens. A brunette smokestack with bangs. Moving to the center of the room, the cigarette hung like a thin white twig from her lips as she gazed at her body, the mirror only went so far and even by scooting back she was cut off at the knees. Her hair was mussed and she raised her arms above her head, her breasts pulling wide against her chest and ran her long fingers through her hair, tussling it about until if fell in the same manner that it did just before she tried to fix it. “Stupid hair” she thought and walked over to the small table next to her bed. Snuffing out the cigarette, she grabbed a purple rayon robe and slid it over her shoulders and pulled tightly on the string.

The smell of jasmine danced out of the kitchen and as she carefully carried her tea into the living split living/dining room she sang, “see the way he walks down the street, watch the way he shuffles his feet…” her mood was lifting, a small plate of English tea biscuits balanced on the small porcelain cup. Setting the jasmine tea down on the table, she pulled the chair up, it felt as if it was going to collapse under the weight of its own memory and as she scooted the chair in towards the table it made a small groan. “Jesus fucking Christ, already” it wheezed in its own chair way. She flipped through the pages of her book, the crisp white pages felt reassuring at the tips of her fingers,  the transformative powers of the words passed through the stiff texture of the pages. Books comforted her, more that almost anything else, and they didn’t disappoint or betray a person, they didn’t sling insults or raise their voices, they were always home on time, and could create a smile with just a few basic lines of print.

As the smoke circled above her cup, bending her neck back, she thought of a darkness that settled in her gut, deep into the bottom of her being. “Sometimes, I knock against the river but the river just rushes past” she thought as a small bit of sadness escaped from that bottom, it slipped out like a blink in a darkened movie theater. Her heart caught in her chest, the air in the room stopped, for one moment of a moment of a moment, the world stopped. She touched her throat, sliding her hand down her chest and held her thigh. It was gone, the smell of the tea and the faint smell of cigarettes filled her nostrils. She smiled, even this surprised her. Gently touching the table top, it’s wooden surface a highway of small chips and bumps from being moved from one house to another depending on whatever relationship had ended, switch or just for the sake of change. Her grandmother had given her the table when she obtained her first apartment, a tiny efficiency that smelled of cat piss, must and old man. She had scrubbed it out with Clorox, Pine-Sol, and optimistic determination that sprung from setting off alone on an adventure. She hauled the table up the stairs by herself in that first apartment, making sure to not ask for help as her mark would be made on her own, she didn’t want to owe anybody. Anything. To her, owing meant being owned.

“Let me get my truck and help you” her ex-boyfriend offered, “uh, no thank you. I got it” thinking to herself, “he’s just gonna try to fuck me for old-time’s sake.” “Dear, you are going to need help with that table and mattress, or whatever the heck that thing is you are going to sleep on. I don’t know why you just don’t get a real apartment with a bedroom and a bed. You can have the one from your bedroom, your father can take it apart” her mother said one evening while sipping a margarita, Frank Sinatra enunciating in the background. “It’s called a futon, and I don’t want a real apartment, I’m happy with the efficiency, it’s close to campus, I don’t want too much stuff in my life and this will help prevent that” a silent thought sat in her mind, “this is the reason I don’t want your help, always critical.”  Her mother sniffed, “if you only had a larger apartment you would be safer.” “Mother, that makes no sense” shaking her head. “Yes it does, what if some man enters your apartment and tries to rape you? If you had another room to go to you could lock the door. I love this song, do you know it?” Eyes rolling, “yes, of course I know New York New York”.

As she traced the scars along the tabletop, moving her fingertips in and around the indentations, left by the haphazard movements of previous owners, a cigarette burn here, a knife scrap here and a banging fist there, equaled an untold biography of the table. Her mother blended into the migration of her index finger as it glided through the wood, she recalled her mother’s tears behind closed doors, when the muffled moans fell deep into pillows stacked high on her mother’s bed. Remembered how her mother would not exit the room until all the red had left her face, all that emotion had been stuffed away to be replaced by fresh make-up, hair-doo set right and a smile stuck on her face. There were summers when her mother wore white pleated tennis shorts, that failed to cover up the highway of deep bruises that made a map of violence on the back of her thighs. When her mother had too many drinks as her head bobbed back and forth, to suddenly freeze while a moment of truth tumbled out of her mouth, “don’t.ever.get.married. men are scum.” These droppings would erupt suddenly, without provocation then abruptly leave is if they were constructed of water tumbling over itself, a sudden wave that split into the ocean, foaming then disappearing as the water was sucked back into the sea. Regrouping, her mother would swallow deeply, then move on into an easier subject, “well, I can’t believe that Fitzgerald’s would pull Katherine out of St. Mary’s and put her into the public school, I suppose if they want her to turn into a junkie then that’s that way to go. Which reminds me, you need to delete her from your phone book, at least until she gets her act together.” Esther would sit dumbfounded underneath the weight of disbelief, there would be no retort, no discussion of what was really unspoken or the irritation that came with such a swath of judgement from her mother. She raised the tea cup to her mouth, tasting the sweetness of the tea as she tempered the anger in her chest.

She scooted the chair back, put the cup in the sink, walked to the bed room and put on a pair of yellow shorts and a white t-shirt emblazoned with the words, “Coney Island, NY” with a faded ferris wheel in the background. Slipping on brown sandals, the thin white leather straps grabbing fast against her toes, she went back to the kitchen and washed the cup. Drying her hands against her shorts, wiping them along her legs she left the house and went into the sunshine. Hands reaching deep into her pockets, searching for an answer to the restlessness that the morning brought into her fingers, the fabric stretched as she expanded her palm. An unlit cigarette hung between her polished red lips, suddenly she felt alive as the shine from the sun dropped science as quietly as a lamb’s yawn. In the bag that hung on her shoulder was a faux leather notebook that contained scraps and bits of her mind, she recorded like she were an archeologist of her own mind. Tick by tick, tock by tock she logged them down like clockwork every day but never revisited because once they were recorded that was it, you can’t recreate a moment she thought even though she would read words like a locust devouring fields in biblical manner. Pausing by a parking meter, she dug through the pale lemon colored bag, an afterthought of 1960’s fashion, with bold gold hoop rings at each of the straps and fat gold zippers on both sides and in the middle, she pulled out the small royal-blue plastic lighter and lit the cigarette. A couple strolled by with a small baby carriage, the husband turning back towards her with a frown, she shook her head and raised her eyebrows at him, “it’s a free fucking country” her eyes silently spoke. She absorbed the smoke, filling her lungs with nicotine she allowed all of it into her body and closed her eyes. Small islands of contentment, were what kept her sane.

The street was busy, a Saturday brought people out, with the sun sucking people out of their apartments  had liked it had never glowed in the sky before. There was no plan to where she was going but her feet followed route that may well have been grooved from all the times she had walked it. Three blocks north, two blocks west and another four blocks north and she had arrived at a large thrift store. She had a way of shutting out the world, a vision that walled off any distractions that not only kept her insulated but also safe. The sweet smell of pine was in the air as she walked into the store, it was always clean, a shiny homage to the discarded past of the items that filled the racks and white metal shelves. The old woman who worked the check-out line nodded at her, she seemed to wear curlers in her hair nearly every day with her sliver horned-rimmed bifocals balancing on the edge of her nose, held firmly but the silver chain that was lassoed around her ears. Esther waved to her, a small grin splashed across the old woman’s face, she had worked here for years and a gesture of kindness still made the old lady feel a warmth she couldn’t hide. A billion smiles over a billion gestures. Fetching her phone from the yellowed bag around her shoulder she slipped some headphones on, cued up one of her favorite records, “Dusty in Memphis” and proceeded to investigate the racks and racks of clothing. An unending supply of fabric that drew a line from every fashion event over the past forty years, deep blue polyester tops with ruffled collars, wide bottomed pants that hugged the hips as if they were a baby on a breast, and faded stone-washed jeans clogged against one another, resembling a Tokyo sidewalk during rush hour. Everything was blotted out as Ms. Springfield cooed about all the love she had to give, hitting like a soft needle in Esther’s heart as the sound bounced around her ears,  “I’ll never forgive you for what you done, I’ll never turn my back on you for anyone” brought a tablespoon of water to her eyes, she rocked slowly as she eyed skirt after skirt.

Behind her the sound of a young mother with what seemed like a herd of young children, she could hear the woman speaking in Spanish, a flow of words the sounded like a sharp song. Turning, she saw a diminutive woman, holding a baby in one arm, cradling the child in the crux of her elbow, at her feet were two twin children-no more than four, climbing over one another and behind her holdfast to the bottom of her skirt was a child who looked to be five or six. Esther smiled that the young boy, holding his mother’s skirt, causing the boy to smile back. A wide toothy grin that spread across his face as if it were a curtain being pulled open. The mother looked at Esther then down at her child, she smiled at him and then at Esther, a slight nod thanking her for calming the child. Esther looked over the pile of clothes she had pulled aside, a bundle of different colors, and she realized that she didn’t need any of these but her mind was calm, if not for the first time in nearly a week. Her hands felt the different types of fabric, polyester blends, cotton and denim a veritable time capsule of the past forty years nestled on top of her shopping cart. She had painted her fingernails and toenails last night, deep into the night when the restlessness brought her to the foot of her bed, and empty wine bottle next to her bedside lamp, the flicker of the outside lights making small fireworks against her window. She had painted her toes first, creamy white like the inside of a Cadbury Egg and for her fingers she choose periwinkle blue and choose a broach and earrings to match. If she could not make order in her head she could at least make order with her body, her outfit. A way to tell the world, “I got my shit together motherfuckers.”

She looked for a room to try the clothes on, there were lines in front of all of them, middle aged women with ankles bloated from carrying children, laundry and groceries up varying flights of stairs over the past twenty years, teenage girls blowing bright pink bubblegum in between words that tumbled out of their jaws like rain from a gutter, and a few other women, shifting on anxious legs, scanning phones or talking to a few people around them.  A family of immigrant children huddled around their mother, she shooed them along like ducklings and they soon stood in a line behind her. All these spoke about the weather, about what they ate that morning about dead-end jobs. Taking her place in the queue she stared ahead, counting her breaths she wanted to read and pulled a small slim paperback from her purse. Soon enough a room opened, and she entered the tiny changing room, her bright white toenails making a contrast to the grimy linoleum floor in the changing room, she tried hard not to set her bare feet on the filthy floor. She decided on two blouses, a skirt and a white three-quarter jacket whose inside was a faint black and white checkered pattern.  In the end, with her items tucked into the small burlap bag made from a reconstructed bag of coffee beans, she felt a fraction bit better, the needle had moved from empty to full in terms of her emotion. So much had happened she thought as she stepped of the curb to cross the street, the green light singling her to cross, it went like this all the time, her body following direction while her mind spoke of something else, a chatter that dipped, waned but never quite disappeared. He had called roughly a month ago, telling her that he would call her the next time he was in town, promising to meet her for tea or a drink, “anything, you want to do. I’ll be there for five days.” He had arrived and left, never called although she knew he was in town by his posts on social media, there he was in a crowded bar surrounded by people that looked familiar if just by their outfits, and the drinks they held in their hands. Props for the twenty-something crowd, another one of him on a ferry, the city in the background as if he were posing in a post card. She had reached out, sent messages, left a few voicemails and in the end waited while anticipation ate her whole from the inside.  She knew she felt those voicemails more than he did, even if they sat silent in some electronic vacuum.The weeks since then had stretched out a like an elastic band stretched too far, until brittle it lost its flexibility and broke, and each day had limped to a tired close while she battled the night with books, wine and music. She searched for him in the white spaces between the words she read, the dancing sentences calming her but he still went missing, a void in the middle of her life.

The sidewalk had emptied in just the hour she had been shopping, it almost felt like a scene from a movie for her, perhaps at the ending credits, for the next two blocks she passed nobody just shops and restaurants all of which had people sitting by the windows, sipping specially made-drinks, just for them and inside she saw their laughter, the chatter they made, the clinking of the silverware all went unheard as she walked in her quick pace. Her headphones were on, as a deep voice man warbled a cover of Pavement’s “Here” which made her feel even more isolated. She stepped sideways and missed a splatter of red and brown vomit that had exploded on to the concrete the night before, a monument to somebody taking fun over the line, filling their gullet with enough vodka and pale ales to cause his body to push it out the most efficient way it knew how. After spilling the previous seven hours onto the street his friends pulled him up by his armpits, pushed him into a cab and let the night see him home. Turning the corner, the music had switched now, it was a single trumpet and a dead man singing about regret and all the thoughts that swarm around such thinking. This afternoon, realizing she was unmoored—the ache in her chest was physical, and stretched up into her shoulders, down her arms and settled into her elbows. It affected everything yet there was nothing wrong with her, she knew this, she was careful about what she put in her body, choosing her food carefully, no meet, no dairy and her vices were cigarettes, a few glasses of wine and a joint in the evening.  A chasm had opened inside her, with every step she took, she suddenly stopped. Across the street a woman was screaming, long arching shrieks, her face so filled with anguish it appeared to be melting from the inside out, her voice cutting over the music. There, in front of a small shop under the yellow awning, dark mold creeping up its side, with the words BEER, CIGARETTES, FOOD written across the sides, was a man who lay with his hand over his face, a pool of blood circling his head, it was growing slowly like dark red liquid pillow around his head. There was no noise, no movement from him, only the seeping of himself onto the sidewalk, above him the panicked woman, arms extended, bent with hands held upwards as if she could summon the power of the sky into her palms. Her face a picture of torment, everything was still for a moment, she clicked the music off and the only thing she heard were the wails, and birds singing in the background. Seconds slipped by, as it time were an escalator, she stepped off the curb towards the woman wanting to touch her, to provide some comfort and suddenly two people ran out of the store and a young woman ran down the stoop next to the store, they were all yelling and coming to their aid. She stepped backwards, turned and kept walking. The music started again.

Songs provided emotional galoshes, as she waded into her inner swamp, a brown and gray muck that never seemed to go away, at times she felt safe—with the protection of song, of marijuana and the countless books of poetry she held like crucifixes while at other times, she looked for invisible vines to pull her out of an internal bog but oftentimes these were not vines at all, they were serpents. The inside of her legs felt weak, her feet moved forward while her throat went dry, a dizziness flickered on and off like a fly against a window—her pace quickened while she searched for a place to sit, anywhere would do as long as she could let her mind grow quiet. She could not hear the clicking of her shoes against the sidewalk but the sounds from the sole of her shoes presented a certain confidence that she had no idea she had, the clack of the heels were an announcement that Ester could not hear as the sounds from the phone flooded her ears. Her short dash to a bench a heroic act for those who were lucky enough to see it. Settling into the hard seat, it’s wrought iron construction was fastened to the concrete, nothing would make it move. She sat down carefully, glancing at her phone for a moment she tucked it into her lap. Staring up at the pigeons that fluttered around her, their wings making the sounds of a shuffling deck of cards, and she reached into her purse and pulled out some plastic packets of saltine crackers and tossed them in front of her. Smiling as the birds swooped in and gobbled them up with pointed beaks, crowding out the others who wrestled for the food, in a moment she turned inward. Her hands were shaking, the wrapper from the crackers slipped from her fingers, floated into the air as a rare gust of wind swooped in. The world was narrowing as she tried to remain calm. Sweat made small rivers down her back.

Eyes were focused on the asphalt in front of her, the sounds of birds, traffic and conversation sunk into the background as if they were swallowed by the concrete, reaching into her purse she fumbled for her cigarettes, holding the blue crumpled cardboard box, knocking the top of it against her wrist she stopped. Held her hand as she noticed it shaking, she held it as if she were muffling the sounds of a baby, so alarmed at the shakiness in her fingers. Closing her eyes, she was able to pull a cigarette from the packet, and slide it into her mouth, lighting it with eyes still closed she leaned back. Her chest heaved while she held the cigarette as if it were a buoy and she was being attacked by white capped waves, her other arm draped across her chest, holding herself so she wouldn’t explode. “What the holy fuck?” she thought, as she continued working on the cigarette, she felt the sweat rolling down her back, writing wet lines into her skin, her legs felt limp. Remembering a moment that would roll around every once in a while, an unwanted guest that dropped in at the slightest opportunity, she could see the light between the bottom of the door, half an inch from her cold fear to the terror on the other side. The television was chattering a noisy clatter, the sound of canned laughter from somewhere else, finding a blunted path to her ears, she pulled the covers up. She made herself small, she was smaller than a memory, a tiny speck in a field of white cotton sheets and camouflaged vinyl sleeping bag, it felt sticky against her but she was small she was certain nobody could find her as the sheets protected her. The television blathered on in the other room, her back hurt, as did her elbows and her shins, she was bruised she knew this—she always bruised easily even when she played volleyball in gym class, her legs would resemble the burnished colors of a Gerhard Richter painting, she could only guess what she looked like now. She feared the light from the other room, it meant he was home, if she listened carefully she could hear the floorboards creak under his feet, sounds muted by the green carpet that smelled of cat piss, she didn’t know what was worst the smells of the carpet or the musty vinegar odor the whisked off of his body when he climbed on top of her. Swallowing, she felt the dryness in her throat, she felt tiny but the sound of her swallow felt like an earth mover, “Shhh,” she reminded herself. “mam’e are you o.k. Hey, are you ok?” Somebody was in front of her, opening her eyes she saw an old man with a dark blue beret and what appeared to be the largest eye-glasses she had ever seen, he looked like an owl. “Are you ok?” he kept asking. “Honey, she’s probably just resting” and old woman in a canary yellow peacoat was saying to the man, the old woman’s wrinkly hand on her husband’s shoulder, “oh my God, look at her nails!” she felt herself thinking. Indeed, the woman’s nails were at least an inch long and painted a raspberry red. “Yes, I’m fine thank you. I just felt a bit faint…maybe I ate something that didn’t agree with me” her voiced trailed off, she shook her head to wipe any former thoughts clean, smiled at old-nail-lady, “thank you-you are very kind. We need that in the world.”

This is from a collection of short stories, this is fiction but I have filled in the lines for someone(s) I have known. IMG_0828



The Chair, part II: April

March 19, 2017

I have been trying to squeeze in writing, it has been difficult with the sways of fatherhood, work and other obligations. My goal in the coming months is to finish a story I started two years ago for my daughter, continue writing on these short stories with a discarded chair at the centerpiece and hopefully, the normal stuff I write about.


She was scrubbing the floor, her knees wet from the spill that had run up into the hem of her white skirt, small bursts of purple weaved their way up the pearl colored fabric, making wine soaked canals up her thigh. “Well, this outfit is ruined” she said to herself, pushing the large yellow sponge across the wooden floor as small soap bubbles climbed shortly and then burst in soft quiet explosions, winding their way up the now sopping sleeve and teasing her elbow. Eyes scrunched together, her face a pained grimace, she pushed against the wood with all her might, as if she could clean not just the floorboards but also all the anger and frustration from within her. The wine bottle lay in pieces, shards of dark green glass in a small wet pile of burgundy, she had slid them carefully with a wet dishtowel. After years of cleaning up glass, April had become an expert. The window in the bedroom was open, bringing in the shouts of children, the slow roll and gasp of diesel trucks and the small chatter of her neighbors.

April was twenty-nine, a waitress at the corner diner she had arrived home early this morning after closing the diner down and walking her girlfriend Louise home. She had spent the night at Louise’s home, comforting the older woman whose son had passed away just a month ago in the jungles of Vietnam. “I hate to be alone, oh how I hate it. He comes to me you know, in my sleep. I can see him at the foot of my bed, he’s just a child. Always dressed in his orange and white stripped-shirt and denim jeans. It’s as if he just came in from playing a ball game, he doesn’t say anything, just stands there and looks at me.” Louise continued, “a part of me wants to yell out, while another wants to reach out and touch him, I know he isn’t there. The other night I sat up straight in bed, I leaned forward, and could smell the grass off of him. New cut grass, the kind they only make in the summer and I breathed him in. My little boy, I could smell him, he was right there and I knew I should not move. If you challenge a dream, it will come crashing down.” soft elongated tears rolled down her face, “I reached out to him and there was nothing there. All I heard was the clock ticking in the kitchen.”Louise took a drink out of pearly-white chipped porcelain coffee cup, the sweet bourbon burned her throat like a soft bee sting. “Well, the next night I dreamed about him, and we were driving the old Chevrolet Kingswood we had, the green one. I could hear him prattling on in the backseat, talking about the Indians and how Rocky Colavito was going to be the greatest ball player out of Cleveland. Oh, he could talk baseball for hours. Then he grew quiet, there was nothing, I looked in the rearview mirror and the back seat was dark. I’m not talking backseat dark, or closet dark, I’m talking dark as in a feeling—this was pitch black. I called his name, Eugene? Gene, are you there?” She took another small taste from the coffee cup, paused and continued, “So, I turned around and looked for him, and he was there. Although, he wasn’t my little twelve year old anymore, it was Gene alright but it was the Gene who left for the war, he was dressed in that brown bomber’s jacket he used to wear but he was covered in blood. There was so much blood, it dripped off his head, like spilled paint. And, and he….he just looked at me, his eyes were still little Eugene’s eyes. You know how soft they were, but they were just so sad. It was as if he were asking me why did this happen to him? Of course I woke up, I cried of course. I’m mean who can fall asleep after that?” Louise was crying again, “Well hell, I can’t sleep anymore since that dream. Sometimes, a person just wants to be held. It’s been so long since someone touched my shoulder, held me close. Gene was the last one, y’know, when he went off to war. He hugged me so tight my bones almost rattled loose, I think he knew that this would be it. That was what, over ten months ago?” April looked at her friend, as the nighttime shadows climbed over one another, making patterns of dark pinwheels across the ceiling and walls. Louise whispered, “almost a year, it’s almost a year and it hurts just as bad as it did when I found out. Maybe more, knowing it doesn’t go away not even a dent.” Even though Louise was fifteen years older than her, they bonded over their sameness and struggles, both had men who walked out on them. April of course, had no children and had been struggling with her own loneliness but could relate to Louise whose husband, himself a victim of war had left her and Eugene when he was four. She would get postcards from him occasionally, from Chicago, or even as far away as Billings, Montana—small bent, colorful cards of skyscrapers or canyons, with his scribble on the back, “thinking of you both, how’s my little tiger doing, sending money soon, Jack.” Of course the money never really came, maybe once a year an envelope with a ten dollar bill and another brief note. And then finally they never came, just came to a trickling close.  Then nothing as if that television show was cancelled.

April could not relate to the loss of a son, even a grown son at that, but the loss of a man she trusted in made her skeptical of men in general, although there were times in her past while in the clutches of emptiness she gave herself freely to whomever was paying her attention. Louise had eventually fallen asleep, with her head on April’s lap, her hair wet with tears and the empty coffee cup stuffed between the red and orange couch cushions. April had left gently, putting a pillow underneath her friend’s head and tiptoed out. The sun was splitting the darkness, a small crooked sliver of light on the horizon, as she heard her footsteps echo off the sidewalk and wet asphalt streets. It had rained during the night, a soft shower that made the early morning feel new, just hatched and she smiled to herself. As she grew closer to her apartment she felt the unease rise in her stomach, knowing he would not understand and would suspect the worst. Bracing her body for his insults, he would not listen to her pleas, and she couldn’t have called as the phone bill went unpaid last month. He never hit her, unlike some of the previous men she had, but his words fell on her ears like sledgehammers his roar echoing through the apartment and he would inevitably break something, a fist in the door, a plate against the wall or a window punched out. The last time she was late, after picking up extra hours at work, he accosted her when she walked through the door, flinging her against the wall, his beer soaked breath heavy against her cheek. He split the wall next to her head, with a fist the size of a boot. This was the closest he had ever come to hurting her, he left right afterwards, himself in tears. He was sensitive and would weep at the drop of a hat, get three drinks in him and turn on the water works, nobody would have guessed this tall, sculpted man, who unloaded trucks for a living would cry like a toddler when upset?

Her footsteps clacked against the concrete floor as she waded into her sense of gloom, growing thicker with every step, she felt tired from the lack of sleep but also a sense of purpose after helping her friend but now it was slipping away, in small increments with every clack and echo of her shoes the good feeling was now awash in dark trepidation. The floorboards wheezed slightly under her feet as she put her front door keys into the lock, keys jangling while she held her breath. The door swung all the way open, softly hitting the wall of the entrance. The room was dark, with the exception of the soft morning rays of sunshine splashing against the kitchen floor, they stopped just into the living room as if the kitchen and the living room was a deep sea. He was sitting in the chair, his head lowered almost below his shoulders, the small dining room table filled with bottles, at least eight bottles of beer and two bottles of wine. The room was filled with smoke, from the one cigarette after another that he sucked in with almost every tick of the clock.

“I can explain” she said brightly, her lilting voice breaking the darkness as she wrestled her keys out of the door, her purse dropped to the floor as she heard his cracked voice booming from across the room. “Sure bitch! Go ahead and explain! Fuck you!” his voice was hoarse as it caught against his flem-y throat. Taking a breath in, building up a moment of courage she turned, “no really, I can. Louise needed to talk and I stayed with her. George, I didn’t do anything else.” Slamming his right fist on the table, sending several empty beer bottles clanging against one another,                                                                                 “Fuck that bitch! You have responsibilities to me, to THIS HOUSE not some whore who can’t get her fucking life in order!”

“It’s not like that, Jesus Christ, George her son died, she’s all alone.” April put her purse down on the soft couch across from the dining room table, she noticed that the flowers on the end table had wilted, drooping towards the floor, she needed to throw them out. Later. As the light shown against his back, he appeared almost ghost-like, an apparition of anger she could feel his eyes burn towards her, his pupils small and drunk. “What did I say about using the Lord’s name in vain!!? Maybe you are the whore? Maybe you are a whore with Louise??! Fucking slut.” Half risen from his chair, he sat back down, and quiet enveloped him. Hesitating, counting four breaths, “George, she is very sad, her son died—she has nobody, just works at that shitty diner and drinks a little bit to cope. I can’t imagine what she’s going through, there is nobody else. Only you.” Stepping slowly she removed her jacket, and tossed it upon the purse. The table was quiet, and in a moment she heard his soft muffled cry, a part of her broke while the other part grew annoyed at this man-child. She grew close coming up to his side, his massive shoulders moving as if there were floating on massive waves, as she reached out and touched his left arm, her small thin fingers lightly tipping the soft fabric of his shirt. He made an almost indecipherable motion, head flinching just a breadth, and in a moment the yawn-like wail of his animal sounding bawl. Clutching his shoulder with her left hand, her right hand now gently petting his back in small circular motions she tried to pull him to her. She was tired, she felt the full weight of the long night now, all the compassion she had given Louise was now almost as dry as the desert in June, but she understood her role, had played it over and over so now it was her default. She could hear his tears dripping onto the table and she kissed his head softly, motherly and with a tenderness he had always yearned for. His hair smelled of sweat, cigarettes and the musty scent of being un-showered for nearly a week. His essence was sickly sweet, the pungent balm of drunken loneliness, the smell was of a barren man. Her lips touched him gently, and she told him she loved him.

Another long pause, then he knocked his head back, slamming against her teeth and knocking her backwards, she awkwardly caught herself, circling her arms beneath her and stumbled. “Get the fuck out of my face!” with a giant motion he upturned the table, the bottles smashing into a pile, the half empty wine bottle bounced against the wood floor and its remnants slowly chugged out, creating a small purple puddle. He towered above her, looming like a cat with a mouse in its paws, his breath came out in huffs, deep wheezes, with  blazing eyes, his mouth turned to a scowl—she took a few steps back, her feet unsure of themselves as she unconsciously raised her right arm in protection. She was focused on one large purple vein that was pulsating on his neck, it looked like a small snake stuck under his skin, trying to break through. He raised his left hand, fingers balled in a fist and glowered—she flinched and suddenly more tears flowed down his face. She thought he looked like a sad little boy, one part of her heart broke for him while the other nine parts cowered in fear and disgust. “Fuck this!” he finally stammered before bolting out the door, she heard his large boots on the stair steps. The clatter of his soles soon diminished as was out of earshot. Placing the soft bottoms of her hands perfectly in her eye sockets, she comforted herself. The weight of exhaustion overwhelmed her for a moment as she slunk to her knees. After a few moments, she collected her thoughts, went to the kitchen and grabbed some towels to commence the cleaning up.

Her hair had been tied up, a haphazard bun stacked upon her head and now, several strands broke loose and swung softly against her face as she pushed the rags against the floor. Her elbows were sore and occasionally she had to brush some of the hair away. After she cleaned up, putting the glass carefully into the green metal wastebasket, the towels into the caramel colored hamper and changing her shirt which had begun sticking to her sweaty body, she made herself some coffee on the stove top. She stood silently and watched the water slowly boil, small bubbles rising and bursting to the top, soon the water quivered and came to a boil, when she lifted the pan slowly and poured the water into a paper towel filled with coffee grounds. The water trickled through the towel and into her cup. She recalled how her father made coffee this way, “the hotter the water the better the coffee” he would say every time he made coffee. This made her smile, a flat grin creasing her face, it was her first smile of the morning. Walking into the other room, she set the coffee on the small table, turned on the radio and sat down on the hard chair. As she leaned back, staring at the ceiling, she hummed softly to the music, singing along with the music, “in your voice I hear a carousal…”

The Chair, part one.

January 28, 2017

I started writing a story about the life of a chair, over Thanksgiving. This is a work in progress, and I’m not sure where I’m going with it. Thoughts would be appreciated.


part one.

Sunlight jabbed through the dust filled curtains, in windmill fashion as the large gray cloud battled the sun for space. Bright waves of white almost appeared to peel off sheets of brown from the large mahogany chair. As the wave dispersed, a sheer glean would slip into the wood, a momentary slickness the dissolved into the thick wooden chair. If the chair could, it would have sighed or groaned under the waiting and crushing memories of its past. The front legs rested atop a frayed rug, worn thin with pacing feet, intermediate dancing and of nervous feet digging deep into its woolen fabric, while the back legs rested on a pine floor, whose stain was just an echo of what it once was. The polyurethane had been rubbed down by years of neglect not only of the apartment but also of the various in habitants. The scars of dropped cigarettes pocked the rug, almost perfect black round holes that sizzled for a moment and extinguished by the yellowed fingers of its owner, while the pine floor had black stains that could easily be mistaken for knots in the wood instead of the carelessness of a shaky hand.

Dust fluttered through the air, small bits of shed skin, hair, grime, and cat hair from a generation ago, swirling in haphazard motions the sunlight acting as a silent traffic cop to the flecks of the past. The air was parched, as faded as the room itself, almost a relic of itself if the room were full people would be breathing it in, coughing against the heavy stagnant air as if they were coal miners. Along the far wall, opposite the widows and beaten formerly red but now faded pink couch sat like a rock carved over years by trickling water although instead of water it was the stoic loneliness that would have created this sad piece of furniture. If it were an animal, it would be shot to be put out of its misery. The bottom buckled from the past weight of bodies clinging tight to flickering television screens, to the slight anticipation of the next card played and always, always the next cigarette to be smoked. The cushions were so imbedded with the stench of cigarettes one could think that the fabric itself was created from the ashes of spent yellowed cigarette butts.

Above the couch, hanging bent but in proud defiance, as if it were saying “the room is bent not me” a small painted picture of a rural landscape made a muffled announcement that the room once held hope. A field of swaying grass running up a small hill with a white farmhouse sitting atop, a group of grouse flew in the blue sky, the watercolor was discolored from the years of cigarettes and the small film of dust that blanketed it with so much oversight of the years. An end table was at one end of the couch, a single shade-less lamp stood proudly with its naked bulb a literal beacon for the past inhabitants of the apartment.

Staring into his glass, as if the center of the universe dwelled at the bottom of the brownish liquid, it would attach itself to his insides like oil, slowly sucking the power of his liver, his stomach and throat. “Jesus Christ, fuck…I almost out. Fer fuck’s sake,” ashes flicked off the end of the cigarette that dangled from his cracked lips. Squinting, he peered closer in as if eyeballing it would make another splash of whisky appear, “somabitch, that cunt drank it all!” he murmured and looked down at the bottom of the chair. A gallon bottle of Jim Beam was at his feet,  not a nary of drop of the corn mash was left in the bottle, with a nudge he toppled the bottle, “damn!” Pulling himself up, his green custodial pants crackling with every movement he made, he stood up, stretched his arms wide, which was going to be the most exercise he would do today he turned and moved towards the kitchen. With every step he mumbled, small curse words tumbling out of his grizzled gob, his amber teeth biting down hard on every word, the frustration being taken out through his jaw. Pulling his a brown coat from hook in the kitchen, itself almost rent useless with holes within holes the pockets emptied into the nether regions of the coat itself, he felt in his back pocket for his wallet, it too was worn thin not from overuse but from neglect as he never had more than $50 at a time. A reminder of the bleakness of his life erupted every time he opened it, like a flutter of wings but these of despair would shudder out when he opened it up. “yup, I got it.’ Already thinking he only had $20 left for the weekend, he breathed deeply, a small but discernable wheeze sprung from lungs that, unbeknownst to him was being feasted upon by cancer. He turned to check the light and on the counter a small pint of whiskey sat unopened with a small note. “Roy, sorry I got lost in your drink. I hope this helps, Love, Pauline.”  A small cracked smile spread across his face, his yellowed teeth peeking behind cracked gray lops as he slapped his thighs in relief. “That wonderful little bitch, I owe you Paulie!” he stretched his head back and cackled to the ceiling.

Placing withered hands on the cracked Formica counter top, whose split endings had started rolling up their own ghosts some past inhabitants ago, Roy bent his head down, thinking hard, a small sliver of saliva covered the cracked lips, his right hand, unsteady as it was took its time and he wiped his mouth clean and opened up faded white cabinet above the counter. The cabinet was flecked with small bits of coffee grounds, teeny dots of tomato sauce that boiled unattended below it, and smudged with grubby hands. It, like the rest of the kitchen had been neglected for years. He pulled out a tin of tuna and a red box of saltines, placing them on the counter he gathered up a plate, knife and several packets of mayonnaise he had slipped into his pocket from the deli downstairs he then opened the freezer, cracked the half full tray of ice cubes and made himself a drink.

Roy sat down hard in the chair, his lower back sent a few grumblings up his spine into the base of his neck, “god-damn back” he winced as he centered the sea-green food tray in front of him. He had moved the chair over to the dilapidated brown card table, itself so worn from age, slightly bowing in the middle, appeared that it was unable to hold a deck of cards let alone a tray of tuna fish and crackers. Roy bent his head and mumbled a short prayer of thanks, more of grunt of air than anything, he made a quick dash of the cross, sipped his Jim Beam and water and shoveled a cracker in his mouth. Crumbs tumbled down his chest and stuck to the stubble on his chin, which he brushed off with his sleeve.  Eating slowly, Roy blinked with each bite, he swiveled to his right, leaned down and picked up the small transistor radio that sat on the floor. Picking it up, he turned it over in his hand, the hard plastic was still sturdy nearly forty-five years after he bought it as a teenager from the proceeds of selling Grit newspapers. A faded “Big Red Machine” on the back still intact, so many years after Joe Morgan splashed a single to center field to rob the Red Sox of a the World Series crown. Turning the knob, the small radio burst into static life, the soft sounds of Bread, Gary Puckett and the Union Gap combined with the soft stroll of Bent Fabric, Paul Mauriat and Harper’s Bizarre would flood the room for the remainder of the day, lost songs that gave life to Roy’s pock-marked memories. A fascinating juxtaposition of this hardened man with a soundtrack of a lightness that never existed for him.

The whiskey burned his throat, while calming his nerves as he cleaned his plate whistling to the songs coming from the other room, songs that he had heard hundreds if not thousands of times before. The sun danced off the greasy kitchen windows, casting sidelong shadows across his brow, he smiled to himself, poured another drink and sat down again. The afternoons drifted by like this, one after another a succession of emptiness that fell far short of what he had dreamed of when he was a young boy in the small town picket fences of Ohio, the secrets that stacked up like firewood along such innocent street names like Maplewood, Prairie View and Meadowlark Lane were buried deep as if they were smoldering dry leaves that had tried to burn for half a century. There are memories that can’t be excavated, that are so ingrained, buried so long and so deep that they have deconstructed into the soil and dirt of consciousness. He blinked twice as the sounds of “Wedding Bell Blues” brought his mind into focus, for a moment the feeling of unease that grappled him so many years ago felt as real and present as the fading stench of the tuna fish.

The woods were just off the end of Brushberry Street, a small cut-through a patch of tall fern bushes , that hedged against Mr. Studer’s ivy covered brick house, and one was already in the woods, with most of the light blotted out by the far-reaching branches of maple and oak trees. They stood against a small wooden fort built with cast aside lumber from the newly constructed housing complex that had replaced a swath of former train yards where blackened train cars transported coal that had laid dormant for millions of years just fifty miles south of here, but now the mines were shuttered up, a testament to science and that in the end billowing blasts of smoke did indeed cause the environment to choke and wheeze in its own natural way. “Well, now what?” Roger looked directly into Roy’s eyes. Roger was four years older, his cousin by Roy’s father’s side. Standing a full six inches taller than Roy with thick sideburns that made his sixteen-year-old frame appear much older, he was a menacing site, even for a younger cousin who looked up to him. “I dunno” uttered Roy, looking away from Roger’s eyes and into the dirt. A small black spider was slowly wrapping a paralyzed insect in it’s soft, sticky web. Roger inhaled deeply off his cigarette, “you better decide if you are gonna be a man or a pussy, now is the time.” Roy, looked at Roger, his eyes filing with tears—“I don’t know, I’m not sure about this. I think I need to go home.” Roger spit on the ground, tossing the cigarette butt at Roger’s feet, “prolly you’ll  just be a pussy then.” Looking into the small doorway of the fort, Roy could see the large hollow shell of snapping turtle that Roy had dragged from the creek. Flopped over backwards, the head of the turtle, hung upside down, the large sharp hook about its mouth pointing skyward, its golden eyes staring into nothing, it smelled, a pinching stench of rot came covered the area. “I dunno, I’m going home.” Roger suddenly appeared in front of Roy, glaring into Roy’s eyes, Roger stuffed his hands down Roy’s pants pinching his penis and testicles hard enough to make Roy wince out in pain, “yup, just what I thought a pussy!” he seethed through clinched teeth. Roy could smell the nicotine and beer on his cousin’s breath. “I bet if I yanked hard enough, I could turn this pussy into a prick!” Roger snarled loudly into his younger cousin’s face, he tugged again and Roy broke free, “I’m going home!” his tongue stuck in his throat, slashing his arms into his older relative, he darted into the small path and ran as hard as he could. “run you little faggot, run!” he heard behind him.

Stumbling into the path, not thirty feet away he bumped into Jessica Lynn Brumfield, a dark haired girl of fifteen who lived on the other side of the woods, she had moved into the new complex just a few months prior. “hey Roy, what are you doing here?” she stepped back from him, “I’m on my way home, I didn’t know you lived near here?” She was dressed in the red and white colors of the school, the sweater emblazoned with the word, “Knights” across the top left breast. “Nuthin’, see you later Jessica” is what he wanted to say but instead he hesitated, turned around  and looked into the thick thistles then suddenly ran past her, as he heard her behind her lightly singing the “am I ever going to see my wedding day…”

All these years later, even with his cousin long dead from a gun-shot wound to the head, as he climbed out of an office window the song still stung like it did so many years before. He carefully collected the remnants of so many cigarettes he had smoked the days before, piled them in soft brown mounds, and discarded the cottony butts into a spent coffee can, and proceeded to roll the next couple of cigarettes that would carry him into the evening.  On the radio, Maryilnn McCoo continued to coo to her lover, her so far away words being sung into the mist of memory, Roy sniffed and lite a half made cigarette.  Outside the sun had dipped below the apartment buildings across the street, the sky had turned into a smudged watercolor that was left in the rain, smears of purple, pink and blue stretched across the sky, smoldering colors hell-bent on making their last moments of life memorable ones. Roy leaned his head against the small kitchen window, he placed his two hands firmly on the edge of window sill, and pushed hard. The window caught and then gave way, thrusting small curls of yellow paint upwards, “lazy assholes painting the windows shut, what do they want people to die of heat stroke” he muttered and more bits of ash flicked on his soiled shirt. By now, after hours of day-drinking, his head danced a little bit, thoughts swimming as if they were in a draining tub, filled with clouds and gray water. There was no clarity to be found tonight. Roy, poked his head through the window, the thick air of daytime had been sliced into by the cool air of the evening. Squinting into the coming darkness and streetlights flickered on, a small choreographed dance of white lights chasing the shadows away over the concrete and asphalt carpet of the city. Closing his eyes, sucking in the deepest breath his ravaged gray lungs could hold he let out a yell, a holler that almost stopped the traffic below. His voices bellowed high and low, filling the street as if a massive gust of wind had climbed over mountains and oceans. A few passerby’s stopped in their footsteps and looked skyward at the old man whose gnarled face with the tuft of gray and white hair, literally howled at the moon.