Kinsey Feeley is currently studying Creative Writing in Orlando, FL. However, she was born and raised in Missoula, MT. Her favorite pastimes are singing, dancing, and acting. You can follow her on Twitter at @kinseyfeeley.
Hitching a Ride
Sarah slumped on the hood of her old Volkswagen Bug on the side of a Montana highway.
“I can’t believe I’m out of gas!” she exclaimed. “It’s not like I can walk the 30 miles to the nearest gas station.”
So there she was, out of gas, no service, and miles away from anything, really. What the hell was she going to do? Other cars zoomed past at various speeds, obviously not really caring what the speed limit was.
Suddenly, she spotted an old Chevy pulling off the road in front of her. The guy that got out of the car looked to be about 40 years old with long facial hair and curly dark brown hair to match.
“Hey! Everything all right here, Miss?” he asked as he walked over to her.
“Yeah, I guess. My car ran out of gas so I pulled over.”
“Is there someone coming?”
“I don’t think so.” Sarah held up her phone. “No service area.”
“Well, I could take you to the next town if you want.”
“Really? Oh my gosh! That would be so great. I don’t know how to thank you.”
“Oh, we can work something out when we get there. The name’s Earl.” He held out his hand to her.
The two got into Earl’s rusty old pickup, and Sarah couldn’t help but notice that he had one of those hula girls on his dashboard. It was kind of tacky, shaking like crazy as the car sped down the road at 85 miles per hour.
“So how old are you, Sarah?” Earl asked, breaking the awkward silence.
“Seventeen, but I’ll be eighteen in December.”
“Where you headed all by yourself?”
“I’m going up to Flathead for the long weekend with some friends. Everyone else got there yesterday or earlier today, but my parents are super strict about missing school so I had to wait.”
Earl turned on the local country station, and Sarah sat and watched as the trees flew by. Suddenly, a gas station interrupted Sarah’s view through the window. Then a few houses and a grocery store, and a restaurant.
“Umm...Earl? You just passed right through Post Creek. You could’ve dropped me off somewhere there.”
“Oh shoot, sorry.” He pulled off on the next exit, and drove right into the woods.
“Where are we going? I thought we were turning around”
“I know a shortcut through these woods.”
Okay, now Sarah was starting to get a little scared. “We should turn around. Just take me back to Lincoln.”
Earl stopped the car in a very secluded part of the woods. Sarah was sure there was no one for miles in any direction. He gave her a knowing smile. “Get out,” he said.
“I don’t understand. What’s going on? Where are we?”
“Come on, sweetheart. Just get out of the car for a second.”
“Get out of the damn car!” he yelled.
“O-Okay,” she said nervously.
Sarah trembled in fear as Earl crept closer. Her foot met a large tree root and she tumbled backwards, colliding with the hard forest floor. Earl took this opportunity to lower himself on top of her.
“This is how you’re going to pay me.”
She closed her eyes.
Rick Edelstein was born and ill-bred on the streets of the Bronx. His initial writing was stage plays off-Broadway in NYC. When he moved to the golden marshmallow (Hollywood) he cut his teeth writing and directing multi-TV episodes of “Starsky & Hutch,” “Charlie’s Angels,” “Chicago,” “Alfred Hitchcock,” et al. He also wrote screenplays, including one with Richard Pryor, “The M’Butu Affair” and a book for a London musical, “Fernando’s Folly.” His latest evolution has been prose with many published short stories and novellas, including, “Bodega,” “Manchester Arms,” “America Speaks,” “Women Go on,” “This is Only Dangerous,” “Aggressive Ignorance,” “Buy the Noise,” and “The Morning After the Night.” He writes every day as he is imbued with the Judeo-Christian ethic, “A man has to earn his day.” Writing atones.
The Shoes That Fit
You can’t fit facts into your comfort blanket of beliefs. The world has been, is and always will be fucked and if licking the razor makes you so terribly uncomfortable join the masses trying to escape from a lifetime of human regret.
Me? Anita you don’t need my last name. I am a Jewish woman at the ripening age of thirty-six, single, no children, many lovers most of whom I eighty-sixed after sixty-nines. I’m beginning to feel like I have waited too long for far too little.
I’m not sure what being Jewish means to me. Of course born and ill bred from a Jewish mother who loved me but not as much as she found wrong with me. And an ex-hippie long haired father who had a lifelong mission searching for his righteous path of meaningful moments having little to do with me other than the soporific “You’ll be fine baby, just be yourself.”
I am not a religious Jew nor do I participate in any specific cultural events yet there is something which transcends definition like an inner tattoo on my soul of a sandpaper’s oxymoronic comfort within the Jewish stasis of a worried optimist, and if that strikes you as a polarity you’re right because within this world’s toxic confusion there is the ever-present shadow, right Carl? I don’t want to be the one casting shade but it was Mr. Jung, who said “...there is no coming to consciousness without pain...” Ahhh, pain, an imposing shiver seeking a spine to run up, only to be clogged with “You’ll be fine baby,” contrapuntaled by a prevalent invisible throbbing, an inherent challenge to “be fine” knowing that things actually can go profoundly wrong.
I tip-toe the plank of my survivor’s ability to adjust in reluctant acceptance of never feeling at home. Most times ignoring the incessant inner tremor of a dark clawed beast wanting out to commit maim which I keep on a tight leash. Even now. Very tight. I own it all as a badge of survival, which is the Jewish way... blues.
Perhaps I inherited Daddy’s calling spending a good part of my life searching for authenticity. What’s authentic? Total isness. You don’t understand that? Because you’re not authentic.
An orgasm is authentic. But an attached side-effect is what the French call le petit mort leaving me with the contradictory orgasmic expulsion of stored negative energy to an inertia of sadness. No, not sadness, melancholy. “Just be yourself.” But some fucking times the act of yourself beingness sucks.
I kept hearing those fix-it books saying that every human being needs to belong and believe in something that gives their life meaning. So I checked out a synagogue with a Rabbi...not just a Rabbi but this particular Reb Aaron Blumenfeld, in his late 30s, handsome in an old-fashioned way as if he incarnated from a movie star before it became fashionable to be grungy. And to make things worse or better actually he had a low sexy semi-hoarse voice with deep brown eyes that smugly said I am enough, an innate sense of comfortable power. Yes, he was looking good enough to eat. No, I didn’t. Even when he counseled me, ignoring my flirting he said, “Anita, you have to wear the shoes that fit.” Whatever the fuck that means. The shoes that fit! A banality promulgated in a bass voice of importance ending our session with a smug self-satisfied, “Bashert.” Fate. Destiny. Helpful? Not!
The synagogue was unique because it wasn’t set up like the orthodox which separated the genders. Ugh, there is a tyranny in the womb of every religion but then again I didn’t consider my attendance as religious. Just a kind of hanging out and lusting for the Rabbi who was already married and had three children, competing with the Catholics: who will populate our dying planet earth more, Catholics or Jews? Tune in a few decades from now boys and girls, that is if we human beings are alive in the face of what we euphemistically call “climate change.” Change, a cautious word evading the element of happily ever after may just have an ending. But then again we may be relieved of this challenge due to our penchant for wars which is mankind’s unkind pervasive way of life. Rather death.
Is this getting morbid enough for you? Fuck it, it’s my dime so live with it. Since when does a woman need permission to be...to be what? If a man is angry he is often deemed as a righteous warrior. If a woman is pissed it must be her time of month. Or that she needs a man in her life. Or how about she needs to get laid. Why does the world relate to women as a connected artifice to a man? Too many conversations have always been question-marked about hook-ups with a substantial other; seeing somebody? does he treat you good? when are you going to get married? commit or are you afraid of intimacy? Intimacy! What bullshit. All it means is that superfluous ego ridden into-me-see.
I have done it all. Done them all. Lived-with, loved-with, fought-with, exculpated issues of stultification affording me opportunities of lowering my expectations which devolved into settling, compromising, adjusting to the verities of the contradictions a-k-a the human condition which is mortally contaminated. I think I should move to Holland. They have proposed a law that would allow people who are not suffering from a medical condition to seek assisted suicide if they feel they have “completed life” and end their lives with dignity when they choose. I’m not making this shit up.
Does it disturb you when this women expresses herself with banal vulgarity? Do you admonish and judge me as lesser than you, certainly not highly educated, correct? Wrong. I have an MBA majoring in English literature. Ever try and get employment with that degree? How do you want toast with your eggs, sir? Wheat, Rye, French fuck it when some good-looking asshole who grinned at me as if he threw a rolled up wad of paper into the basket across the room. And it was difficult to ignore his overabundance of eau de toilette. Of course he had an earring on his unattractive lobe. He tried hard but was without originality, no individual style. I doubt if he heard of the word élan. A man has to have something other than his two day old unshaven face and intentionally messed up black hair.
He signed for his credit card and asked beyond his smug, “What time do you get off?”
What an arrogant assumption. “Not in your life time.”
“You just aced your way out of a tip.”
I reached over to get his signed receipt and oh so accidentally knocked the glass of water onto his crotch, to which he responded, “Bitch!”
The boss came over, Greek accented Mister Galianakos, apologizing profusely, told cherished customer the meal was free, “She will pay for it.”
I walked towards the door mumbling, “Fuck this,” hearing Mister Galianakos, “Where you going, your shift is no over, I will report you.”
I held up my middle digit, “Report this!”
People work. And get paid for work. Ergo I became a sex-worker. No, I will not indulge your prurient fantasies with specifics involving my work. As an intelligent, educated woman with generous breasts, a butt that looks like and upside-down heart, a generous mouth without a trace of collagen, a face men and two women have called beautiful, I was in a position to choose conditions to best support my vocation within parameters of safety and comfort. Yea ‘n verily an escort (best word of all) has preferences and rules.
Rent a two-bedroom apartment, in a small 3-story building, top
floor, I cannot live with someone over me, in an edifice of upper-class tenants, most of whom have small apartments when they have to remain in town. What do they call ‘em? Pied a Terre or something. I was failing my French class in High School until I gave Mr. Backenstire a blow job. Why two bedrooms? One for business and the other sacrosanct, for ME ONLY.
They must have...say the code when they call. It is a Bulgarian
word a client taught me, “Tzigane 9.” I think it means gypsy. Sometimes I’m into numerology. The number 9 is universal love.
Have a balancer available near bedside and in the small ante-
room. My balancers are two Barak SP-21 Israeli pistols. Not the best
looking but practical. An Israeli client, let’s call him Ori, who is now a regular and a kind of a friend...scratch that. He is a friend. In between smuggling diamonds and other goodies Ori insisted on teaching me the flexibility in functioning because of the double action trigger which is cocked and locked with a separate decocker button. Interesting word, decocker. Would be an apt job description for yours truly. I detest that third person reference “yours truly.” Forgive. My Barak SP-21 (Barak means “lightning” in Hebrew), was, for my profession, a package deal. Ori was, is a dangerous, wonderful dude whom I offered a discount to which he schooled me, “You work, you set a fee. You save your money for one day to no longer work. Under no circumstances do you reduce your fee.”
He took me to the gun range on his motorcycle. A Harley-Davison low rider he boasted and taught me how to lean into the turns. It was an exhilarating ride. At the gun range he ensured that I operated the mechanism appropriately. He had a way of talking, Ori did when he said, “If in a moment that khah Zeer,” [pig or swine in Hebrew], “There is a breaking of your agreement be it financial or behavior that is unacceptable, be simple and firm. Hold the gun steady, make clear it is a matter of life and death. Your life, his death. Warn once, if the schmuck does not do what is required within three seconds, shoot. Three seconds.” The Israeli way.
I asked if he utilized the three second rule. His eyes which usually were a cool neutral transformed to emotional heat. He breathed deeply a few times, then, “Me and Miryam...she was my superior, a great fighter, an even better lover.” He shook off the personal and continued, “There was an old woman in a burka, she approached slowly with what appeared to be a painful limp, shoulders turned inside as if the world’s burden was too heavy. She approached. Miryam spoke in Arabic then Hebrew. She told her to stop. The woman behaved as if she did not understand and kept walking slowly and yet with a purpose as her heavily rounded body limped toward us. Miryam warned her again, holding the rifle aimed at this stumbling old lady in a black burka. In a second that haunts me forever the burka ceased stumbling and ran into Miryam exploding their lives. I still have shrapnel in my shoulder. Since then, three seconds, no discussion.”
In respect but curiosity I quietly asked if he subsequently acted on his three-seconds rule. He nodded and mumbled, “Too many times.” He walked to the door, turned, “I have commitments,” and left but I still felt his presence. Ori is extremely good at becoming quietly powerful.
I hear your question. Have I ever used it? Most times I just had to brandish the beauty aiming the barrel at the crotch of the offender reminding said gross-man I know how to use it and if he does not disappear himself AFTER leaving the substantial fee he will subsequently be at a severe dick-loss. It always worked. Except twice.
Once a beautiful South African. You immediately assume he is black, yes? No, this South African was a white male, deep blue eyes, skin tanned from awarded prizes as a professional world surfer. He didn’t think I would use it as he reached out to grab the piece. I pulled the trigger and knocked him across the room with a gaping, bleeding hole in his shoulder. The choice was to call the police and both of us be busted including his marriage to a famous high end fashion model, or call Manny.
Another time when playing past it was not an option. A new client tried to...I do not do anal...he would not accede to...things got difficult...he tried to rape me...from behind...I broke his grip and got the Barak aiming it not at his naked dick but his heart, panting I warned him, “No more!” He grinned like an evil jackal, “Yes, more,” he uttered as his dick bobbed in his advance. Three seconds.
Ori and Manny came, did a prayer, Kaddish I think, their intoning respect---even for this dead swine of a man---was hypnotic as they reached into their pocket, retrieved and put on yarmulkes rocking back and forth:
“God, filled with mercy, dwelling in the heavens' heights, bring proper rest beneath the wings of your Shechinah, amid the ranks of the holy and the pure, illuminating like the brilliance of the skies the soul going to his eternal place of rest Amen.”
Ori made a call, told me to leave and not come back for two hours. When I returned the body was gone and all traces of blood and refuse were not to be seen. Out of the chaos, order. The Israeli way.
Ori had introduced me to Manny. Manfred Emanuel Shwartzman, a defrocked doctor because he prescribed too many feel-good Oxycontin and other don’t-worry-relievers, although, he assured me in his charming East-European accent that he still had access to what he called, softening-the-edge-relievers. He is also in profound love with me. I, too, in my way but not his, love Manny, thirty-two years older than me and lives two stories down. His voice often implored, pleading...contradicted by his saddened humorous eyes knowing my answer to his importuning us to move to a big patch of land in Big Sur which he owns along with guns, gold, potassium iodide, antibiotics, batteries, water, gas masks from Ori’s contact with the Israeli Defense Force, just in case the world decides to implode. “Come bubby, let me take care of you. I’ll get a monstrous big TV that connects with the world and even give you the remote. Talk to me, bubbeleh with your yes of course.” As if a deliberate break for a sitcom commercial his cellphone played an old fashioned song, “Let me call you sweetheart.” Manny smiled apologetically, looked at the cell, nodded in obeisance, swiped and, “Yes, Ori...” As he listened his demeanor changed from that sweet loving man to a chilled being of purpose. When he ended his call he said, “Ori wants to meet with us.” Not as an invitation or explanation but a simple statement of no choice.
Manny and Ori sat facing me in a somber silence. Their deportment, demeanor, bearing was of such import I felt as if something profoundly secretive or dangerous was about to take place. I was not wrong.
They looked at each other and then nodded. Ori started, “How do you feel about being Jewish?”
I was startled by this question and inadvertently broke out into giggles only to see their faces were not amused. I stopped in respect and shrugged, “Come on guys, what’s up?”
Manny intoned, “Ori asked you a question. What does it mean to you to be a Jew?”
“God,” I nervously uttered, “I’m a Jewish woman because my mother and father are Jewish so I am Jewish. What’s going on guys, come on, this is some serious shit so clue me in.”
They looked at each and nodded again.
Ori talked. “Last month, on a Tuesday afternoon in Tel Aviv, two murdering suicide bombers destroyed a children’s school murdering 32 children, 6 to 12 years of age, four teachers, Moishe, a Janitor I went to school with, seriously wounding 18 more, six of which are on the critical list, four will never walk again, and three blind for life.”
Manny mumbled, “The village from where these son of a bitch bastard child murderers are from...they celebrated their martyrdom as a holiday. A holiday! 32 Jewish children for God’s sakes!”
Ori put his hand on Manny’s shoulder as an expression of empathy, “We destroyed the village.”
They looked at me expecting something, some response other than the cliché of which I was guilty, “That’s horrible. Insanely horrific. But what does that have to do with me?”
Ori, “He is here. In this city. Planning to inflict harm on American Jewish children.”
“How is that possible?” I asked. “If he, whomever he is, is here why not...”
Manny, “There is no proof that the Americans will accept even though the Israelis have definitive information because Ori’s crew intercepted...”
Ori interrupted, “Abdul Hassan Al-Hamdan...”
Manny interrupted, “Read what he said to his followers.”
Ori nodded and as if it was etched inside his forehead closes his eyes and spoke, “Abdul Hassan Al-Hamdan’s edict: This war is yours. Turn the dark night of the infidels into day, destroy their homes, their schools, their children and children’s children, make rivers of their blood.”
There was a thundering silence in the room. I felt the impact as they each looked at me with an expectation beyond my comprehension. “But can’t you share that with what, FBI, CIA, whatever so that son of a bitch is either arrested or thrown out of the city, our country?”
They said nothing for too long. And then Ori looked at me, his eyes were what...cold, humorless, actually frightening.
“We do not want him out of the country.”
Manny, “32 children murdered by that...”
Ori put his hand on Manny’s shoulder into silence. Manny nodded and acquiesced.
Ori said simply as if calling for a check, “We intend to kill Abdul Hassan Al-Hamdan.”
I looked at each of them, knowing that somehow I was to be involved in this...this what? Kill someone? Yes, I would not be upset if Abdul what’s his name disappeared from the planet but...this was not going down well with me.
“Okay...okay...kill that motherfucker, yes, but Ori, Manny, obviously you are calling on me for something that I don’t know if I am not only qualified for but emotionally equipped. So talk to me in very specific words and either I will say yes or no and we will make like this conversation never took place.”
“Abdul Hassan Al-Hamdan,” Ori said as if his name was a heinous poison, “He is a man. With a man’s needs. He will be given your phone number and code: Tisgene 9. He then will...”
“Wait wait, hold up, cease and desist. Please guys, what that son of bitch pig of a man did...”
Manny, “And intends to do...”
“Was, is...look Ori, Manny, yes I am a Jew but I mean, what I’m trying to say is that I hate, deplore what he did but...oh God, my English major just popped, Thomas Jefferson, ‘The tree of liberty must occasionally be watered by blood.’ I feel like I’m losing it. This is not working for...look, I am close to the edge, guys, so if you expect me to...I am not the one to...Jesus Christ guys, listen to me a Jew calling on Jesus...I’m just an escort trying to get over...I have never been political, religious or anything resembling...what the fuck are you guys talking about?”
Ori talked as if he was going over a to-do list retrieved from a magnetized note on the Fridge. “He will come with two men. At 4:30. They are very prompt.”
I blurted. “4:30. Perfect. Forty-three is literally a terrorists number, fanatic doctrines will create religious wars and chaos. Unquote. Ori, how do you know this?”
“We have a way.” He continued, “ They will first inspect your
apartment. Look in closets, under bed. Then they will leave you alone with him but they will stand outside your door in the hallway.”
“You’re talking as if I agreed to this which I most definitely have not, Ori, Manny, please... I don’t believe I am up for this.”
Manny reached into his pocked and took out a series of photos, handing them to me. They were shots of the school blown up. Children dead. Bleeding. Crying. It was more than I could stand. I pushed them aside. Manny spoke very quietly, “He plans to do this in America, darling.”
I threw the photos on the floor. Manny retrieved them. I walked around the room feeling like I was miscast in a bad crime movie. I looked at Manny who continued to hold up the photos. One particular was of a little girl maybe 9 years old, blood pouring out of her ear, tears streaming down a blemished cheek. “Put that away, god damn it, Manny!” I burst into tears not able to eradicate the little girl’s bleeding image. I turned to them in anger, “What the fuck do you expect me to do?”
Ori said, “They will insist that your door be unlocked.”
“Which is good,” Manny said.
Ori continued, “Entertain him until we enter and do what has to be done.”
“And the two guards outside?”
“You do not need to know the details.”
“You’re goddamned right I need to know every fucking detail to something I have not agreed to and doubt that I will...”
Manny put a hand on Ori, his way, “Yes, you have a right. Before they even come there will be equipment and signs about walls to be painted in the hallways. We, Ori and me will enter wearing stained workers’ uniforms, with paint cans and brushes...”
Ori slammed, “We will quickly kill those two and...”
Manny, “Enter and kill him. You have to do nothing.”
“Nothing,” I mumbled. “Just entertain until...Oh God, are you for real? Suppose, I mean suppose those two don’t go down easily...suppose while I entertain which is a good a word as any...he hears something and you know that son of a bitch pig fuck will have a gun or something to kill me and...”
Ori silenced me with a gesture, “Under your pillow will be taped a gun, barrel free, trigger free, you can pick up the pillow and without trying to detach it, just aim and shoot.”
Manny entreated, “That is just a precaution, darling. We will have silencers. Ori is experienced. Ori will be in your apartment before Abdul Hassan Al-Hamdan is even aware that something is awry.”
“Awry,” I murmured, “...quaint word for...oh God I can’t even think, talk, say...a gun taped to the underside of my pillow! Where did that come from?”
Ori smiled, not a smile of joy but of cognition, “Elmore Leonard. A great American crime writer. It was in his book of...”
I exploded, “From a book! Elmore Leonard was a great writer, I know, I read him, his work has been done in movies, TV but it’s fiction. Help! Fiction. Are you guys crazy! From a book you expect me to...”
Ori snapped, “Enough! Either you agree or do not agree. We will find some way to stop Jewish children being murdered. Believe me, we will find a way. With or without you.”
Manny uttered, “In honor of his murdering 32 Jewish children and ruining the lives of countless others they named an Arabic school Ahmad Abdul Al-Hamza education for Arab children.”
Their silence was like a suffocating device demanding what I could not fulfill. I was freaking out.
“I am an escort, not a killer. Men can fuck their way to oblivion on my body but I...I am not one to arbitrarily just...listen, Manny, Ori, please, I am not what you’re looking for, I am an escort, a prostitute, a hooker, a whore who turns tricks god damn it I do not have the balls to outright kill someone who is not threatening me and yes I know about those children but...I’m sorry. You got the wrong girl. I cannot do it. No, please, I just can’t.”
Their silence was almost accusatory. They looked at each other, nodded, and left without a word.
I cancelled appointments. I did not sleep well. Knock on my door. I opened it to an obviously distraught Manny. “Are you alone?”
He entered, “Turn on the TV. News channel.”
I did as he asked...no, not asked, directed. Knowing something awful had...
TV COMMENTATOR: We are facing the Al Nafoorah restaurant where you see two dead bodies and one wounded man. The dead person in a grey suit, which is now covered with blood is Abdul Hassan Al-Hamdan, an overt agitator whom Israeli’s claim heinous crimes, alongside one of two dead body guards. The other body guard is wounded and as you can see being attended to by paramedics. Jimmy Allisford is on the scene. Jimmy what can you tell us.
Thanks Glen. The guard and other witnesses said a man on a motorcycle, no description just a helmet and dark glasses, allegedly shot these men. The guard says he is sure he wounded the alleged assailant on what he thinks was either a Honda or a Harley...
Hold it Jimmy, I am just getting information, we will cut to Carla Hernandez outside a 7-11 three blocks from Al Nafoorah. Carla can you hear me?
Yes, thank you, Glen. This is Carla Hernandez outside the 7-11 where witnesses tell me that the body you can see lying next to the Harley Davidson, looks like a low rider to me, my boyfriend has one. This motorcycle that crashed...he...allegedly the assassin of Abdul Hassan Al-Hamdan, he is not identified and carrying no i.d’s but we can tell y you that he is seriously wounded and...I am just getting information that he is dead.
Manny turned off the TV and just stared out into the agony.
“Oh God,” tears streamed down my face, nose started running. “Oh, God, Manny, Ori is dead, Oh God.”
“Yes, Ori is dead,” Manny somberly droned.
I felt as if...”I am sorry...I just...you can’t blame me, I had no way to...oh, God, Manny.”
“My teacher, Rabbi Herskowitz in Poland said no matter the path of your choice it will culminate in death so while you are alive, choose wisely.”
I grabbed a tissue to wipe the tears and snot and just sat on the floor in my desperation. “But losing Ori...”
“They will know that killing Jewish children has consequences.”
I barely whined through my grief, “Ori is dead. Was it worth it?”
He spoke, “Yoter tov hameeta me’hakalon’.”
“What does that mean,” I quietly asked as if I was intruding.
Manny said, “Death is preferable to dishonor.” He stood, walked very slowly to the door, turned to me. ““I am leaving this city.”
“Want some company?”
“I’m afraid not, darling.”
“Are you sure, Manny. I think I, we could make it work.”
“No. Too much baggage.”
For some bizarre reason I recalled the handsome Rabbi’s words, “Anita, You have to wear the shoes that fit.”
Michael Marrotti is an author from Pittsburgh, using words instead of violence to mitigate the suffering of life in a callous world of redundancy. His primary goal is to help other people. He considers poetry to be a form of philanthropy. When he's not writing, he's volunteering at the Light Of Life homeless shelter on a weekly basis. If you appreciate the man's work, please check out his book, F.D.A. Approved Poetry, available at Amazon.
Hungry, Homeless and Belligerent
The line was already building up for a free meal by the time I reached the Light Of Life Rescue Mission. The stink of cheap wine, and roll your own cigarettes permeated the air.
Chris buzzed me in like usual. The greeting was cordial, warm hearted. After years of drugged out, alleged friends, only out for themselves, I was amongst noble, altruistic people out to make a difference. I've come to prefer them over the self-obsessed human beings of the past. I even accept their tight-ass proclivities. Shit, I almost feel like a Christian.
The volunteers sign-in sheet was within reach. After signing in, I realized how many Christians screwed up this week. They must've been sinning their biblical asses off to the point of decadence. There's almost never more than three volunteers for dinner. This particular day, there were six, including myself.
I met one in the hallway on the way to the kitchen. She stared at my tee shirt which simply displayed the word OFF like it was some type of mystical symbol.
Usually I wear my Black Flag tee shirt. It says Slip It In, and has a picture of a promiscuous nun on her knees with her arms wrapped around a pair of naked, hairy legs. It's my weekly attempt at being ironic.
Anyway, after a few seconds I said to the woman, "Hey, what's up?"
"Um...not much", she replied. "I don't mean to stare, but I'm enchanted by your shirt. What's the word OFF eluding to?"
I told her it's something I'm trying to get.
Her I love Jesus eyeballs pierced my lost soul as she said, "Yeah....are you a Christian?"
I beat her to the punch by saying, "I'll pray for you" as I made my way up the hall.
See what I mean? Another tight-ass. Nothing was learned by the final judgement.
I had fifteen minutes to kill before the feeding began, so I wrapped a white apron around my Caucasian body. Unfortunately, my white-privilege was nowhere to be found. After that I made my way through the side door for a cigarette.
A few residents were out there puffing away on bottom shelf tobacco, conversing back and forth over conspiracy theories that were outdated, and down right boring. One of them asked for my opinion. I told him I'm nothing but an ignorant Trump supporter. Don't waste your time on me, bro. Instead of sticking around for the inevitably of this debate, I made my way for the door. That's when I ran into Sal. The man in charge.
"Sal, what's going on? I'm here to help. Exploit me."
He laughed as he said, "That'll work, Mario. We're gonna be feeding a hundred men tonight. I need all the help I can get. Follow me."
We walked together through the hall. Provisions were lined up on the walls from charitable organizations like Trader Moe’s. Residents were coming and going, trying their best to move on, free of addiction, Christ in their hearts. There's a success story here once a week of someone who graduated from the program, attained a job, and managed to keep it together. Jesus does save, don't let the philosophers mislead you.
The dinning area was crammed, packed with volunteers. The feeling of solidarity I've come to crave, was now undermined by competition.
We all held hands in a circle, as Sal gave the daily thank you Jesus prayer to start off the feast. The monologue was fluent, strong and direct. Amen.
This is the point where confusion prevailed. All these volunteers were destined for collision. Far too many people in a tight space.
What was I to do? I didn't travel from the South Hills area of Pittsburgh for nothing. Altruism for me is euphoric. I needed my fix.
Nobody was at the entrance door. I asked Sal if I could have that position today, since we're over-staffed. The job was mine. This is when my good intentions took a turn for the worst.
It was a motley, almost formidable scene at first sight. Homeless men were sleeping on the concrete floor, a few were sleeping on what little room was left on the bench. They were arguing, bickering and fighting over discarded cigarette butts. A little pushing an shoving was going on in the back. Serenity must've taken the day off.
I felt apprehension begin to creep its way into my fragile soul, so I did something about it.
"Hello," I said. "I'm your main man, Mario. How ya doing?"
Nobody replied. They gave me dirty looks instead. How ironic.
"Gentlemen, the food will be served in five minutes. What I need you all to do right now, is please get in a line."
This simple task turned out to be a calamity. A few guys allegedly hopped in front of other people when I turned around for a split second to handle some sign language with the other volunteers.
What you have to understand is, I'm all alone outside of the dinning room, in a long homeless tunnel, separated by a locked door on my right, and a Plexiglas window located directly behind me. We use this window to communicate via sign language. When someone is finished eating, and the next warm plate of food is served, they flash a finger or fingers to let me know how many men I should allow in. It's literally me verses them. The odds are horrendous when compared to how many volunteers are working inside.
"What the fuck are you doing?" screamed some bitter bum I've never met before. "This motherfucker hopped in front of me! Aren't you gonna do something about it? Do your fucking job, man!"
"Yeah. This is fucking bullshit!"
"You ain't shit, Motherfucker! You ain't shit!"
All of this was directed at me. My first day on the job.
"Fuck this guy!" screamed another hungry, homeless citizen. "He don't care. He's just another God damn resident!"
"Listen up!" I demanded. "I'm not another resident. I happen to be a volunteer. You guys need to stop screaming at me. It's my first time working out here. Gimme a break. I live to learn. This is a learning experience."
"Fuck that!" screamed another hungry man with a charming personality. "If you're fucking scared, just admit it!"
I looked him dead in the eyes, and said, "Scared of what? Who? You guys? The gentlemen I've traveled to help out? No, I don't think so. Calm it down."
That's when some other guy tried to push through me to get to the door. I stood my ground, and pushed him back.
He screamed in my face, "I gotta use the damn bathroom!"
"It's gonna have to wait," I said. "Get back in line!"
He continued to swear at me until he went back to his original spot.
I was pissed off, frightened and working up an appetite. This reminded me of my gang warfare days, many moons ago. It's been awhile since I've placed myself in a volatile situation, and I must say I've missed the action. This is when my balls dropped, completely. Monologue followed.
"Listen up!" I said. "I'm not the Gestapo. If there's a problem in the line, you gentlemen need to work it out amongst yourselves. My job is merely to open this door, and supply you with a free warm meal. Stick up for yourself!"
It felt great to say that. And the power trip was invigorating! I understood at this point, how cops tend to go in with good intentions, and end up abusing their powers. Control is like a drug.
Sal came over to unlock the door. I called the first twenty in line to begin the feast. The same bitter men who were screaming at me a few minutes before, were now enjoying a hearty meal on the house.
Sign language persisted, but it wasn't fast enough for some. The complaints were endless, totally unnecessary. All I kept hearing was, "Man, I'm fucking hungry! What's taking so damn long?" My patience, which was mostly depleted already from wasting away in country jail, about seven years back got the best of me. I ended up telling the guy who wouldn't relent to calm the fuck down.
"You're getting a free meal, bro! What the fuck else do you want?"
This only exasperated the situation. He fired back, "Man, who the fuck you talking to like that? I will fuck your ass up, bitch!"
This guy was a total ingrate, plus a pain in the dick. Just another typical American citizen with entitlement issues. The nerve of this bastard infuriated me. I ended up making an example out of him.
"Congratulations, asshole! You're banned! You've been awarded a garbage can dinner for one! Now take a walk!"
"Motherfucker, you can't do that!" screamed the man who just lost his meal ticket.
"I just fucking did! Leave now or there's gonna be a problem!"
"Damn right there is, if you don't fucking feed me!"
"Alright, fuck this!" I said. "You're going down!"
That prick grabbed his plastic bags, and made his escape before I could put my fists to good use.
"Anyone else?" I asked, like an evil dictator from eastern Europe. "Well? Is that all, nobody else wants to fucking try me?"
It was like I hit the stop button in that moment. Control was available, waiting to be seized. I seized it like Fidel Castro. The only thing missing was a Cuban cigar.
There wasn't a single disturbance after that. The finger action kept up for another half an hour or so, until the last hungry man was served a warm meal. I honestly believe we all left that day with a feeling of fulfillment.
Liesl Nunns completed a doctorate in Classical Languages and Literature at the University of Oxford in 2011. She co-edits a literary journal, Headland, and works in arts administration and has work published in Southerly, Hawai'i Review, Two Thirds North, Takahe, Print-Oriented Bastards, Ember, Terrain.org, and Hippocampus Magazine. She lives in Wellington, New Zealand.
In their Belgravia bedroom, the Stanley boys were flying towards a collision of sorts.
‘4 April 1933,’ The Guardian was spread over Wally’s lap. ‘Everest conquered from the air! They’ve done it, Arun, they’ve done it.’
Wally was a flight enthusiast. The model F.R.O.G. Mk IV Interceptor fighter beside his bed soared into all his dreams. Bap-bap-bap, he sent down the Red Baron in a flaming spiral. Spsshh, he landed his seaplane after a Transatlantic flight. Out would climb Wallace Stanley, British hero. The crowd would cheer, the enemy would cower.
Arun too dreamed of flying. In his bed, four feet away from his older brother, he was in another world. He leant into the breeze as he propelled his canoe along a river flanked with tall trees; he smelled horse and grass as he galloped along a rippled stretch of a prairie; he felt the shimmer of heat against rock as he watched a circling eagle. Flying, through all of it flying. Leather and war paint and feathers.
To think of that as his ‘real home’ was a guilty secret. He loved Mother and Father, he even loved Wally. But his parents never spoke of where and how and why, and so he never asked. Maybe they were fearful he would grow up to be a great warrior like his people before him. A great warrior would be a hard thing to have in a son, he thought.
And so the past lay quiet as a quilt.
But his brother would, at choice moments, remind Arun that he was adopted.
Just one example of many: Wally’s face had been a picture of beatific kindness as he had handed over a scuffed cricket bat into Arun’s possession. ‘I’ve got far too tall for it, you know. Your family must have been short.’
Wally continued, his tongue tripping over the more difficult words. ‘Lord Clydesdale, Colonel Blacker, and Flight Lieutenant McIntyre set off early yesterday in the Westland planes on what was intended to be a trial flight. But the wind conditions turned out to be so favourable that they went on to Everest, circled the summit at a hundred feet above it, and were safely back again at Purnea soon after eleven.’
Arun felt for the book under his pillow. Every Boy’s Pictorial Guide: American Indians. It was his most prized possession, a gift one Christmas, his parents’ unspoken acknowledgement of his heritage. It formed the sole resource for the colours and shapes of his dreams. Familiar as family were the almond eyes and sleek hair of the braves, dark like his own. But the fringed trousers and triangles of teepees and the jewellery of bone were strange, so that his heart gave a twist within him.
He’d built himself a little tomahawk out of a pencil, two knucklebones, and some strong glue. It, too, lived under his pillow where it might follow Arun into his dreams: a sign to his fellow Indians that he was prepared to learn.
He did not remember anything of his life with the Indians, before his new family brought him to London. Sometimes he heard a bird outside his window, and thought for a second that he might remember a rich green space, hot and close. But then the robin would fly off down the street, taking the fleeting impression on its little wings. Sometimes the noise of traffic in the night would wake him with a start, and for a moment he would half-remember the sounds of a struggle, the cry of a woman. But she was not there, and he was not sure that she had ever been there. He tried to remember being inside a teepee, tried to find its poles and smoke flaps in the files of his memory, tried to smell smoke and hide.
‘Purnea.’ Wally scrolled his eyes back up the article. ‘Purnea. That’s in India, isn’t it? You must know.’
Arun blinked his confusion.
Wally resented the blank face of his brother. He understood Arun’s silence as denied entry into the sacred heart of the family. The division was one that Wally could never fly over, no matter how brave and clever he was. His brother was the chosen one, the one that truly belonged to his parents’ memories of the Indian Civil Service, of their former life half a world away. It was a word on Wally’s birth certificate, but it was a stamp on Arun’s soul.
‘You’re a lucky boy,’ Mother had explained to him once when he had asked about the Calcutta orphange where they’d found Arun. ‘You were born into everything that he would never have had.’
Wally was nearly ten now. He was nearly a man. He could feel the implication of his mother’s words. Luck was not noble. It was not something that brave and clever men earned, it was just something that anybody could have. Just as a child was something that luck could bring to any couple, while an adopted child marked his parents out as benevolent and cosmopolitan.
But luck was an asset for a fighter pilot. Up there he’d show them, he was special too. He would be the chosen one, for every secret mission. He would be the interesting one, seeing countries more exotic even than India.
‘Why, Wally?’ Arun was stalled at Purnea. ‘Why must I know?’
‘Why do you think, dummy?’
Wally threw the newpaper at his brother, and Every Boy’s Pictorial Guide tumbled on to the ground between them. Wally rolled his eyes. Arun was obsessed with that silly book about Indians.
For the first time Wally thought to make a joke about Indians and Indians. And then−but surely not. Laughter bit at his insides. Could Arun really think−?
Arun watched the book on the ground slowly flipping its cover closed, a farewell.
Wally had his ammunition. He had his first high priority target. A joyful breeze took his wings.
Norbert Kovacs is a short story writer who lives in Hartford, Connecticut. His stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Squawk Back, Darkrun Review, Ekphrastic, Corvus Review, Down in the Dirt, and Scarlet Leaf Review.
TO AID YOUR SON ON A DATE
Lucien Dulsmere often gave his friends advice over their problems: whether on raising children, confronting stress, or managing friendships, it usually came to some benefit. A father and son got along more amicably, a man saw his work less as a threat, two friends got over an argument. Lucien tried to make it as easy as he could for his friends to listen to him. On occasion, he gave them money to carry out the costlier things he suggested: a dinner to reconcile a married couple, a gift to an upset colleague. He was a well-off business entrepreneur and could do it, in fact never asked to be re-paid. But Lucien did not always direct people the best way. Once he advised a friend to move his business from downtown; the friend did, lost most of his customers, and nearly went bankrupt. Lucien did not like to think of the mistake afterwards, since at least one reason he gave advice was to feel he was in the know.
Until his wife Donna changed, Lucien Dulsmere was an enthusiastic, cheerful husband. He loved to see his wife in the mornings, her hair blowsy when she awoke and walked for the upstairs bathroom. He kissed her every day on leaving for and returning from work and did it with genuine good will. He indulged her with presents, vacations to sunny, warm locales, and wardrobes of her choice. "For my bella Donna," he said once giving her a bracelet with pearls. Donna seemed happy for his various forms of adulation.
However, Donna soured as she aged. She developed a bad habit of complaining and nagging, the onset of which Lucien never understood. She claimed he arrived home late from work hoping to avoid her; she would not listen to his reasonable excuses, that he had needed to meet a deadline. She came to dislike his friends and claimed they gossiped about her; he asked her why she thought it and she made up absurd reasons. “I heard you egging them to on the phone,” she claimed. She said he admired another woman’s looks when he hardly looked at anyone else. He became miserable at hearing his wife complain and kept from her to avoid it.
After months of this trouble, Lucien discovered Donna unable to speak coherently one Saturday afternoon. He had an ambulance come and take her to the hospital where she was admitted to the psychiatric ward. The doctor there said she had the signs of a major schizophrenic disorder. “Medication may help her some,” the doctor explained, “but more would depend on her response to psychotherapy.” Unfortunately, Donna did not respond much to the therapist or even Lucien’s encouragements. She descended to great depths of bizarre behavior, some that suggested the interference of illness and some a deliberate will to be malicious. She yelled and screamed if Lucien asked help at minor tasks like moving small furniture. “Don’t ask me to do that trifling nonsense,” she said.
Donna started to drink. Lucien returned home from work many days to find her on the living room couch with a glass of whiskey, her face red and eyes lazy as she stared at the TV. "I have a headache," she claimed at those times and demanded to be left alone.
Lucien expressed his dismay at her awful state. "Honey, what's happened to you? You never were so."
Donna replied that the liquor dulled her pain and that he wanted to keep her from "being soothed." If he persisted that she needed help, she stalked off, cursing him.
Under the assault of her wretched temper, Lucien forgot any hope of loving Donna. In fact, he tolerated her only because she was unsound and could not be responsible for all she did. He was relieved when she at last died after a several day bout of binge drinking.
To drown his misery over Donna, Lucien Dulsmere became closer to his son, Tom. Mr. Dulsmere thought Tom a quality figure, and felt he would have believed it even if he was not his parent. Tom had a nicely mesomorphic body, dark curly hair, and handsome, dark eyes. "He's the type people enjoy looking at," Lucien bragged once to a friend. Lucien liked that Tom seemed rather well-adjusted, too. He had shown an endearing friendly streak even as a child. He did not hold back when the neighborhood boys asked him to games of Frisbee or touch football up the block. Tom could be also serious when it was demanded; he was an excellent student and had succeeded both in high school and at Wesleyan. Right out of college, he had gotten a job at a large insurance corporation in Hartford where he had been promoted to mid-level manager. Tom had a knack for success and it did not seem to spoil him. However, Tom was not all confidence and good impressions. He had a persistent guilty streak, even taking on blame that really belonged to others. He had passive moments where he forsook his best interest, sometimes to his aggravation. Lucien believed these only minor issues in his child's character. Altogether, he believed Tom well rounded and able to connect with any desirable person he chose.
In the half year after Donna died, Lucien observed his son show interest in different women. He wanted his son to be happy with them and avoid anything like the pain he himself had gone through with Donna. He decided therefore to help his son secure a woman who would commit to him. Lucien felt Tom’s current girlfriend might be the right one for this. Lucien knew little of Suzie Queene, but he saw her physical attractions, her fine black hair, her doe-like eyes, and her fleshy pink lips raised a spark in his son’s eye. Lucien understood that she was very interested in his son; he had seen how she wrapped her hand in Tom’s and kissed him on the sidewalk at the end of their second date. He believed moreover she was her his son's professional equal with her marketing specialist role at a financial firm. Seeing so much bode well for the union, he thought to help Tom make the match. What Lucien had in mind was to give Tom an allowance to indulge Suzie. Lucien trusted Suzie would love to be treated handsomely on the money. If it works, Lucien told himself, she may think it even easier to commit to and love Tom than she seems now.
One morning into Tom’s third month with Suzie, Lucien slipped his son fifty dollars in large bills across the table as he was finishing breakfast. “Take your girlfriend somewhere nice on that.”
Tom lifted his eyes toward the money but looked away disinterested. “Dad, I have enough to take her out. I don’t need that.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. You can go somewhere on it better than you would otherwise.”
“No, I’ll be fine without it.” Tom placed the money back beside his father and went on eating.
Lucien smiled when the young man picked up his face again. “You are being too modest. It’s not like I’m going to miss the money.”
“I know. I didn’t think you would.”
“Well then, what can be the trouble in doing a little extra for her with it?”
Tom fell silent, eying the table top. He toyed with a leftover waffle on his plate. At last, he reached for the bills and shot them into his front shirt pocket.
“Take her somewhere nice on it,” Lucien said.
When Tom returned after his date that night, Mr. Dulsmere came downstairs and found him on the couch, doing a crossword. “Well, how was it?” he asked. “What happened?”
“We went to Zoe’s and had a nice dinner. We talked.”
Lucien smiled. “What did you two talk about?”
Tom shrugged. "Just things.”
“My work, her work.” Tom looked down at his crossword.
After a long pause in which he hoped Tom would say more, Mr. Dulsmere said, “Well, I’m glad you enjoyed yourself.”
Tom did not answer nor lift his head as he filled in a word on the page in his hand.
I think he’s shy over her, Mr. Dulsmere thought, going upstairs. I knew how that was with Donna—at least, when we were younger.
Tom continued to meet Suzie over the next two weeks but reported little news of it to his father. Lucien was restless over this lack of information and trusted a second indulgence had come due. He mail ordered expensive presents to Suzie’s apartment, a blue, well-cut dress (with a certificate to have it tailored, if needed) and an oversized box of chocolates. With these gifts, Dulsmere included a short personal note of affection: Sweets for a sweet, it read, followed by his son’s name. He told Tom about sending the gifts soon after he had. He explained before Tom got too defensive that there was no reason to feel embarrassed about the presents. “She will like you all the more for them,” Dulsmere insisted. "Women like these gestures. Whether you did them or I."
Tom smiled quietly at his parent. "You think very kindly of her. I might have done the same sometime. It was a nice gesture."
Lucien walked into the other room. He will like that I gave those gifts soon enough I bet, he thought, much contented with himself.
However two weeks passed and he did not learn how Suzie had taken the gifts. Rather than be disheartened, Lucien suggested to Tom that he and Suzie have an intimate dinner in the Dulsmere dining room.
“I can arrange the details," the father said. "I promise to see things done the way she likes best. I will cook for you. I'll make an excellent meal.”
Tom seemed reluctant. “You don't have to. I can order out for something and eat it here. I guess I'd like to.”
Lucien considered why his son should be this hesitant over his plan. Well, he does know her better than I do, he admitted. Tom could arrange things as he and Suzie like better than I could. I bet that will make them happiest.
Tom arranged for the date at home then. He ordered in Italian food and brought Suzie to his family home in his car. As they ate lobster fra diablo in the dining room, Dulsmere came downstairs to see how things went. He found the two, young people talking, Tom at the table’s head, Suzie at his right. Tom leaned toward her with an attentive but half-dazed expression. Suzie was speaking the words to some story very quickly.
“Hello, you two, I thought to stop in,” Dulsmere said. "How are things going?"
“Just great,” Suzie said to Dulsmere while continuing to look at Tom. She seemed to be soliciting a look from him.
Tom turned a wide-eyed and suddenly blank expression toward his father. “Everything’s okay.”
“I hope you are enjoying your dinner. You know,” Dulsmere said, pointing at Suzie, “I suggested he have the dinner here.”
Suzie brightened. “We do enjoy it, thank you.”
“Yes, we both do,” Tom added. He lowered his eyes to the table.
Mr. Dulsmere noticed Tom’s discomfort and tried to be more enthusiastic. “What did you think of the wine I left for you?”
“It was great. Just what we wanted.”
“Well, isn’t it good to be eating at home? It’s more close and friendly than in a restaurant.”
Dulsmere heard the reserve in his son's voice and did not dawdle to say, “Well, I hoped to put some light music on for you both. I thought it’d sound nice after you ate. If you don’t mind…”
Dulsmere put a smooth jazz CD to play on the stereo in the adjoining room and, despite sensing himself out of place, smiled at Tom and his date as he left them. I have a feeling, Lucien thought, climbing the stairs, he didn’t want me there. Perhaps because he had wanted to be alone with her. I guess I wouldn’t have liked it if some sixty year old man with grey hair barged into one of my dates when I was young. If Tom had wanted to be alone with her, then I have reason to trust they are getting closer. So, Dulsmere retired to his room with happy feelings.
Five days after the home dinner, Dulsmere arranged to meet Tom at his workplace. Dulsmere explained he wanted to “talk" with him. He came in fact ready to give Tom a hundred dollars to spend on his next date; the parent had kept silent about it to catch his son by surprise. The two met at the eatery in Tom’s office center. Dulsmere eased into announcing his gift by asking into Tom’s workday, his opinion of his company’s success, and so on. He then inquired after Suzie. “I haven’t heard much about her in the last week. You’ve been talking with her?”
Tom’s eyes dimmed and fell as he drew a heavy breath. “The truth is I haven't been doing well with Suzie.”
Dulsmere crinkled his brow. “Not well?”
“I’ve said nothing about it seeing how you felt, but things have reached a point I don’t know how not to say it anymore.”
“What’s the problem?”
“Actually, there are a few problems. I have discovered that she’s never happy with anything and feels she has to say it. Once it was not getting a raise; another time, that some friends weren’t talking to her.”
“Are you sure she’s not just trying to get your sympathy? When people hurt, they like to get sympathy.”
“No, it’s not like that. When she complains, she says I should be doing things so she doesn’t feel as bad that she failed at things. But when I do, she never thinks it’s good enough. She makes an issue of those gifts I’ve passed along to her.”
“What could be wrong with those?”
“She claims the dress was not what she likes. Nor the chocolates. She wouldn’t talk to me after she got either present. I don’t like that kind of attitude."
Dulsmere kept silent and still. Hadn’t Donna turned bad after years of getting special sweet gifts—the clothes, the vacations?, he thought. Hadn’t those gifts come so easily in my enthusiasm also? He considered all Tom had said and decided to keep the hundred dollars.
A few nights later, Mr. Dulsmere was reading in the living room when he heard his front door open and slam shut. Tom came into the room pouting.
“I couldn’t believe Suzie tonight.”
“How is that?”
“She had to know everything I’ve been doing at work. I was supposed to go into all the tiny details for her.”
“Like I had to tell her about everyone I talked with at the office. I was supposed to repeat every word.”
“She expected you to?”
“When I didn't, she seemed to think I was holding back on her. Just what I can’t guess. I wound up making up stuff so she wouldn’t keep at me.”
Dulsmere was disturbed. He remembered the suspicions Donna had when she changed. “I’m so sorry to hear this, Tom.”
“That wasn't all though. When I told her I talked with my friend Cathy at work, she forbid me to meet her anymore. I’m only friends with Cathy, but Suzie makes like Cathy is my second girlfriend. It doesn’t feel good to hear.”
Dulsmere sensed his son was in choppy waters. He thought to help things with some of the advice he liked to give. He hoped it would smooth things out.
“You know what’s been going wrong, Tom?” he said, smiling. “Suzie needs to see you can be firm. Insist on some mutual respect. Say that you understand she has her wishes but that you can’t accommodate her in all things, just like--”
“Suzie won’t listen,” Tom interrupted. “When I ask that she listen, she says I'm at some ploy.” Tom left the room leaving his father open mouthed and speechless. Why did he walk out?, Dulsmere thought. How can all this be happening?
The problems with Tom's relationship literally arrived on Dulsmere's doorstep two days later. Tom brought Suzie home with him after their date that night and took her into the living room to talk by themselves. Dulsmere, reading in his library, let them be. However, the pair's voices, hard and angry, came to him down the hall inside of ten minutes. Dulsmere walked over to the threshold of the living room to learn what was happening. He found the two arguing fiercely.
“I don’t see what the big deal is,” Tom yelled.
“When we fetched our coats to leave, you put your hand on my breast in the cloakroom.” Suzie’s voice shot into shrill indignation. “If anyone else had come, they would have thought we were out of control.”
Lucien gaped. She was speaking of his son, he realized.
“I hoped you'd like it,” Tom said. “Forgive me for trying so hard.”
“Was I to like it when you flirted with those other girls? When I caught you talking to that blonde at the bar when you said you were fetching a drink?”
Lucien was stunned and stared at his son. Who was to blame for their troubles now?, he wondered, Suzie with her harping or Tom for flirting? Lucien recollected his wife Donna's episodes of accusation, her attacks on his character.
Tom looked coolly on Suzie. “I don’t regret flirting with those other girls,” he said. “In fact, I think a relationship should be more than this bickering. I don’t want to wait for someone to like me while she judges and condemns me every time she can. So, I’m going to find someone else. I’m going to be different with her and everyone else.”
Suzie stared, her face paled with fright. She stammered, “I never thought you’d attack me. You were so polite and kind. I thought you had my interests at heart.”
“Well, I’m not going to be kind or consider you in that way anymore. I’m sorry to say it.”
Suzie left the house without giving Tom a reply. Mr. Dulsmere retreated then from the living room threshold to his bedroom upstairs, sad and forlorn.
In the morning, Mr. Dulsmere told Tom his regrets about Suzie. “I never thought things had gotten so bad as they did.”
“Well, I’m rid of her and glad of it. I will move on.”
Mr. Dulsmere crinkled his brow. “You aren't going to go after someone this soon after breaking with her?”
“Actually, I am. Didn’t you hear Suzie say I was seeking a new girl even on our last date? I’m going to a friend’s party to find someone tonight.”
This news repulsed Mr. Dulsmere, who hoped his son would reflect before pursuing a new partner this soon after Suzie. But Tom gave him no chance to object; he left for work and did not return until too late at night to talk.
In the next months, Tom met woman after woman, more than Mr. Dulsmere could track. Dulsmere saw them in glimpses, photos, described in words, the one woman following the next with flashy speed. Blonde, brunette, redhead; white, dark-skinned; some shy, some seductive; some intense, some mellow. Tom ran through them and easily forgot their ties when he sought someone new. Mr. Dulsmere was beside himself at Tom’s new behavior.
What was it Tom wanted in acting this way?, he pondered. Who was Tom becoming? Why was he running from one woman to the other so fast? What was happening to him? Mr. Dulsmere indulged his indignation awhile by thinking Tom’s new relationships were flimsy, transient events that he would come to regret. He told himself at the same time that he was considering his beloved son, someone he knew had long been a well-mannered and thoughtful. Tom would not pursue the women to kid them. Dulsmere believed there was a more complex, substantial reason behind his son’s new interests.
So, Dulsmere watched and listened to Tom and felt he discovered what his son wanted. Dulsmere learned that on some dates Tom took a woman to several places. Once, he brought a blonde named Brittany to see a boxing match in a pub; then the two went on a walk through a boutique lined street. Another time, Tom took a Leticia to New York and they went at random through the Theatre and Fashion Districts. Tom met women with unusual characters, proud women who were at the same time friendly; serious women who could be flirtatious; thoughtful women who had random quirks; ambitious women capable of sudden warmth. He met women willing to try new things rather than do what they always felt easy and comfortable. Mr. Dulsmere found Tom was happy dating these women; in fact it gave him a new energy he never had shown. The young man sought romance for itself, not for form’s sake or to satisfy anyone else. Lucien confessed it was good fortune after his trouble with Suzie Queene. Mr. Dulsmere wished, in the long run, that Tom would find happiness with someone and stick with her. But he knew there was yet no guarantee of that to satisfy Tom in his quickly passing connections. So, he smiled on Tom’s new inconstancy, as if it was part of a child’s game that would be ridiculous to judge.
After many relationships, Tom did find a young woman Mr. Dulsmere thought he might commit to. Paula was a tall brunette, a friend of a friend from Tom's corporation. She was fun, adventurous, and open-minded among other positives, Dulsmere gathered in listening to his son. Tom praised her to his father unlike the many other women he recently had seen. "We connect," he said. "She understands me. I don't know who else has relationship-wise deep down. I like her for who she is."
One day at breakfast, Tom told his father his plans to take Paula to New York for the weekend. Mr. Dulsmere smiled at the news and passed him two twenty dollar bills across the table.
“Go and treat her on that once you’re in the city.”
Tom did not touch the bills. “But Dad after all that happened when you…”
“I know. But you're convinced Paula is not Suzie.”
“I have. But let me cover the rest of the expenses for this weekend. The trip is my idea after all and—”
“I will not sabotage you again,” Mr. Dulsmere said and re-pocketed his money. He respected that his son knew best--at least about Paula.
Anthony Johnson is a writer whose favorite genre to work in is horror. He is currently studying Creative Writing at Full Sail University. After taking a very long break from the writing world he is hoping to take a passion and turn it into a fun and lifelong career. He is a currently a member of the Nebraska Army National Guard and likes to spend his free time running, taking care of his dog Missy, spending time with friends, and can be occasionally be spotted at a local open mic comedy night. He can be contacted at any time at email@example.com.
Ring! Ring! Ring. The sound of the doorbell startled her right off the couch. She had been engrossed in the bright flashes and loud noises of her Xbox for hours. Looking down at her phone she saw that it was one in the morning. Who the hell is that, she thought to herself. Making her way to the door she remembered arguing with her mother, when she first moved to the city, about how there wasn’t actually as many creeps in the city as she thought.
Trying to peer through the impossibly small peep hole she couldn’t see anyone outside. These damn things are useless she thought. Slowly creeping the door open she stuck her head outside looking around ready to slam the door shut. Fully opening the door, she leaned out to get a better look. Still no one.
Taking one more step out the door she felt her foot brush up against something. Looking down she saw a small box with one thing written on the top, KELLY. The air seemed to get heavier and the hairs on the back of neck stood up. She hadn’t ordered anything. Why would she be getting a package at this time of night anyways?
Taking one last look around she picked up the box and went inside making sure to lock the door behind her. Striding quickly across her living room into the kitchen she sat down at her table and opened the box. As soon as she took the lid off she dropped the box like it had send an electric shock into her hands, and the pictures of her spilt across the table.
This has got to be a joke. Spreading the pictures across the table she noticed something peculiar. They seemed to be taken farther away, and progressively got closer. A picture of her in her Prius at a stoplight. A picture of her walking into her office. A picture of her walking into the grocery store. A picture of her playing her Xbox…that had to have been taken tonight. She was wearing the same outfit and playing the exact same game.
Suddenly the back of her neck tingled like a thousand different pairs of eyes were watching her that she couldn’t see, and she felt a little scared about all the lights that she had turned off throughout the house. Going through the house she turned on every light, and made sure all the windows and the backdoor were locked shut.
Intending on calling the police she rushed back to the living room, but couldn’t find her phone on the couch. I could swear I left my phone here.
“Did you like my gift?”, a male voice breathed into her ear. Screaming she swung her elbow behind her as she turned around and caught air. There was no one else in the room.
Heart racing, she looked around the room. The hallway and kitchen lights were off. Sprinting to the switches she tried to turn them on but they wouldn’t do anything.
“It’s just us now,” she heard the voice whisper again. All the power in the house went out. Jumping across the room back to her front door she tried to undo the bolt, but it was jammed. Icy cold fear washed over her, and she made a beeline up her stairs. This is why I’ve always kept that Glock in my dresser.
Ripping open her top drawer she immediately wanted to get sick. Her gun was gone. Attempting to run out of the room she felt something grab the back of her shirt, and toss her back hard into the dresser with what felt like supernatural strength. Pain like she’d never felt before shot like fire through her hip. It had to be broken. What’s happening to me?
Shooting seemingly out of nowhere in the darkness a large, inhuman looking hand shot out of the darkness, and grabbed her by the throat. “Why’re you running?”, the voice said, “I’ve got another gift for you.”
The hand shoved her onto the floor. She tried to fight back, but the figure was so monstrously strong she couldn’t shake it off. She never got a look at its face, but she laid there for hours after the figure had slinked out of the door.
As it left the lights seemed to flicker back on as it passed by, but they could’ve all turned back on at the same time. She wasn’t paying much attention as she just stared up at the roof. The sound of one of the doors going out of the house never came to her, but once the sun started to come up she assumed she was alone again.
She made her way back down the kitchen. A framed picture of her on the ground had the box and pictures she had left there. Mom was right about the city, she thought as tears started to stream down her face.
Mike Hantman lives in Fairfax, Virginia. He recently completed his MFA in Creative Writing at George Mason University and is currently teaching and writing. In his free time, Mike can be found hiking with his dog Jayne or hanging out with family and friends.
Try to Have a Life Worth Living
Leighton had faded out of the conversation taking place within this seemingly intimate and fully formed gathering of art patrons, and was now trying to discern if the cancer story that Ellen was telling was about her dog or her son. He wanted to convey the appropriate amount of sadness. The occasion seemed too formal for this to be a human cancer story. Still, the way she was emphasizing, was dragging down her words, it could be. He heard the name Skip tossed around and wondered if this could really be a human name. Timothy was almost on the verge of tears, hunching over with small red eyes- some people do get attached to animals. But Alexandra was grinning along. Could she really miss the blatant social cues as to the nature of this thing? Was she completely tuned out? Leighton drooped his eyes just slightly.
He put on a shallow sympathetic smile and held on until the story ran its course. After it had, after the dull quiet that followed, he took himself up to Ellen’s side and simply, quietly, touched her arm and accompanied this with a warm and deep smile. After that he went to make himself another drink.
He snuck into the kitchen and poured himself some scotch from the liquor cabinet, hoping no one would notice. Jim would think it was rude for Leighton to drink scotch, seeing as how it wasn’t available to their guests, but Leighton worked quietly and quickly, thinking he could pass the drink off as a Jack and Coke or some other thing. The undiscerning wouldn’t notice. He could use a good scotch.
He strode out into his living room, circled around a few of the guests, and then moved over to the spot on the wall next to the painting of red streaks overlapping green and blue spheres. He sipped his scotch and surveyed the people drinking, talking, gesturing with their hands, leaning over one another, placing the careful arm on the shoulder, the subtle glances towards the rest of the crowd, seeing who else was around, the other things they could be doing. Derrick, Fiona Weinstrum’s new boyfriend, looked at him sharply, quickly, through the crowd. He had been eye- fucking Leighton so hard and so frequently throughout the night that Leighton didn’t know what to do with it anymore.
At first this seemed like a comfortability thing- let’s show people how comfortable I am with my sexuality and your sexuality and everyone’s sexuality that I’ll throw you a glance, just to keep things even. For a brief moment, Leighton had actually entertained the possibility that there might be some legitimacy to his glares, but now it was just vanity. You’re attracted to other men right? How can you not be attracted to me? He was preposterously good looking from a catalog, more cardboard cutout than actual human, to the point where he wasn’t even attractive, just fascinating in an odd way.
He kept his spot on the wall and continued to sip on his scotch. He noticed Jenna as she sidled up to his position, a kind of excitement around her mouth, widened lips, her eyes darting from corner to corner. He smiled at her. She leaned into him and took a whiff of his scotch.
“What?” he said flatly.
“I have to take a shit,” she said.
“So take a shit.”
“I don’t want to shit up your bathroom,” she said.
“I don’t think you will,” he said.
“There’s all these people,” she said. “I don’t want to be the one to shit up the bathroom.”
“I don’t know what to tell you,” he said.
“What was pink in hue and crescent like the fertile moon?” Leighton whispered.
He was standing at the back of the room as Miranda Strousse recited her seventh poem of the night. He could barely make out her face between all the crowded heads standing in front of him.
“I think she was describing her labia,” Jenna whispered back.
“Why do older women always talk about their junk?” he whispered again, softly.
“Poets and such,” he said.
“Guys talk about their dicks,” Jenna said.
“Yeah,” Leighton whispered. “But as they get older they’re discouraged from it, or they stop. The older the woman gets, if she’s a writer or an artist, the more her privates become a topic of discussion.”
The man in front of them glanced backwards, not with a harsh look, more curious, but the effect was still dampening to the conversation. Leighton pulled back, he put his arms in front of his body and clasped his hands together, standing upright and closing his mouth. They waited a minute or two.
“Liberation,” Jenna whispered to him as she leaned over one last time to finish off the dialogue.
The last inaudible beat of Miranda’s poem was spoken and she looked up, bobbed her head slightly, and there was a light sound of applause, almost like tapping. Jim got up and thanked her, said she was great, and welcomed Jeremy Bernstein up to the front. There was more light applause. Jim stepped back into the crowd and made his way back to Leighton.
“Are you gonna go up?” Jim said quietly to Leighton over the poets opening words, pinching his arm.
“I’m not sure,” he replied.
“You could read that one about the trees,” Jim said.
“Maybe,” Leighton said.
The two stood next to each other silently.
“I think we’re almost out of beer,” Leighton whispered to Jim.
“We’re fine,” he whispered back.
“I might make a quick run.”
“To where?” Jim asked.
“Just the Korean market down the street,” Leighton said.
“Japanese,” Leighton said.
“Then what?” Jim said back, still keeping his voice low and firm.
“I don’t know,” Leighton said. “Korean beer.”
“Do you think people will drink it?”
“It’ll be fine I’m sure,” Leighton said.
“Just try to be back before we get to Hilda. I think you should read that one about the trees,” Jim said.
Leighton smiled at him and nodded.
Sarah stood on the yellow braille bumps at the edge of the platform. She closed her eyes, she opened them, she looked for the car, for the small beams of light that would appear from the tunnel, far down the tracks. She edged herself closer and closer to the side of the platform, breathed heavily, looked down at the rails. She could hear the car coming, hear the rumblings, the engine, feel the force of its movement. She closed her eyes and tried to picture something peaceful, some sort of peace. She felt the wind rush through her hair, the gravity of the train as it sped by. She was almost in tears. When she felt it stop, she opened her eyes and looked into the car crammed with people, she stepped in.
Leighton admired the dim lighting in these kinds of places. It’s remarkable how much of a feel, how much energy the simple ornaments of one’s surroundings can have, what it can tell you. This was no doubt, in part, why people moved here, because in between hot spots and yoga studios there were sandwiched things like Korean groceries with musky aromas and sad lights. It was humbling in a way, grounding- brought one back to earth from whatever intangible sense they pursued in their cultured lives.
He surveyed the beers, unable to pick one out that seemed foreign enough, sophisticated, cultured enough for his guests. OB, Cass, and Cafri all had low- end qualities to them, to their names and their packaging. Jespi had a certain feel to it, the bottles were interesting and the name had a ring, a foreignness, an exotic quality, but he couldn’t tell if this was superficial, would come off as gimmicky. Leighton searched for the word to describe this- he knew there was a perfect one, but it escaped him, as words had done with further frequency as of late.
He stepped outside of the store and looked across the street at Sables, a nice and somewhat overpriced bar that he had been to a few times. More dim lighting, but with tinges of neon and slick wood paneling, a different feel altogether.
“You don’t like the painting?” the woman said to him, smiling, self-assured.
“It reminds me too much of nothing,” Leighton said, sipping his scotch.
He had made himself comfortable at Sables and struck up a conversation with a young woman with curly blonde hair and a small black dress who smiled too much. Carroll, he thought her name was.
“I like it,” she said, looking back at the canvassed red and white circles mounted behind the bar.
“Well it’s pleasant enough,” Leighton said. “But that’s the problem, it’s just pleasant, it’s not…” Leighton brushed his hand back through his hair and took another sip.
“It’s like a Pollack or something- pleasant vacancy to crowd around.”
“You don’t like Pollack?” she asked him.
“Not so much that,” he said. “But art today, so much of art, is just, it’s a representation of art but it isn’t, well, it isn’t there. It’s circles and squares with no real meaning that represent culture, they represent an affinity, affinity for art, but nothing artistic in itself.”
“I think it’s pretty,” she said. “It’s just nice I think.”
“It is that,” Leighton said, toasting the painting with his glass.
“But,” he began again. “I mean, look at Gauguin, or Van Gogh, or even Picasso for all his theoretical bullshit. There’s something beyond form there, beyond statement, it’s something, well I don’t know, tangible, or quintessential, or curious, maybe not that, but essential maybe.” He sat, his arms folded across each other, gripping his glass with his left hand, waiting for something to click in his mind.
“Well you definitely have an opinion,” she said. He smiled at her.
“So what do you do?
“I’m a poet,” he said, his head stumbling around as he sipped.
“Really?” her eyes widened.
“Well,” he said. “If you can call yourself…” he stopped. “I’m more of an editor really, I work for a magazine.”
“Oh,” she said. “That sounds nice.”
“It is,” he said, sipping his scotch. “It is.”
Leighton looked at the small, olive-skinned girl a few stools down. She was sulking, her head tilted down, staring at an empty beer. She had a sense of weight to her. He hopped over a few stools.
“Let me buy your next?” he asked, a casual smile accompanied by a sense of inebriation, a charming- out-of placeness.
“Oh, thanks,” she said, feigning a smile that still came off as a frown. “I’m Ok though.”
“Come on,” he said. “I’m not trying to hit on you or anything, you just look like you could use some company.”
“Really, I’m fine.”
Leighton raised his hand and signaled the bartender.
“Another, um, what’re you drinking?”
“I don’t really care,” she said.
“How bout a Yuengling?”
She continued to look down.
“A Yuengling for um…” He looked over to her, his eyebrows raised. She remained stoic. Finally, after an uncomfortable wait, she glanced over at him.
“Sarah,” she said.
“A Yuengling for Sarah,” he said merrily.
The two waited in silence as the bartender brought over her beer, placed it on the bar over a red napkin, and left silently.
“Cheers,” Leighton said, raising his scotch. She tilted the tip of the bottle ever so slightly, to which he gave a fully exaggerated thrust of his glass into hers, a loud clink, and then a large wave of his arm that feigned a ricochet. He took a large sip.
“So what do you do then, um?”
“Right, I knew that. What do you do Sarah?”
“What do I do?”
He shrugged. “These sort of things have to start off somewhere, and there’s something to the basics of conversation, y’know, they’re necessary for a reason, don’t you think?”
“I guess,” she said.
“So then how about it.”
She placed her hand on her forehead and massaged it slightly.
“It doesn’t have to be a grandiose thing,” he said. “Not even your occupation or whatever, just something.”
She took a small sip of her beer.
“I’ve been telling people that I’m a poet,” he said, leaning into her space.
“I go to school,” she said.
“American,” she said.
“Oh that’s what, near Maryland.”
She took another sip.
“I thought you looked young,” he said. “Are you even old enough to be in here?” he said with a grin. “It’s Ok, I won’t tell. So, um, what do you study up at old AU?”
“I’m in communications,” she said.
“Ironic,” he said lightly. There was no reaction.
“So what?” he went on. “Like newspaper, commercials, media?”
“I was into film for a while,” she said.
“For a while?”
“Just like, film class and stuff. I guess I’m still in them.”
“Well sometimes things kind of run out I guess.”
She was quiet again.
“You see any good ones?” he said. “Any good films?”
“We did a lot of surrealist stuff,” she said.
“What, like Bunuel, Fellini?”
“I don’t know,” she said.
“You like em?”
“No one does,” she said. “There’s like, one girl in our class.”
“ I can see that,” he said. “Those films can be a bit… messy perhaps, or maybe, well you know.”
After this came abrupt silence. Leighton drummed his fingers on the bar and whistled quietly, looking around the place.
“Jenna?” he said, recognizing his friend walking across the room.
“What are you doing here?” she said as she stepped cautiously towards the bar.
“Probably the same thing as you,” he said.
“I had to go to the bathroom,” she said.
“God, you’ve been holding it in all this time?”
“Why are you down here?” she asked.
“I don’t know, who knows?” he said with an impish smile. “Here, take a seat, have a drink with us.”
Jenna slowly took a seat next to Leighton.
“This is, um, Sarah,” he said, gesturing to her. Sarah looked over without a smile or greeting of any kind, then returned to herself. Jenna nodded slightly.
“Sarah was just telling me about her school,” Leighton said. “She’s an Eagle, I think, is that what they have over at American?”
“I think so,” Sarah said quietly.
“She thinks so,” Leighton said.
“You’re in college?” Jenna asked.
“So what are you doing all by yourself on a weekend?” Jenna asked,with a sympathetic tilt of her head towards the girl.
“I don’t know,” she said.
“Oh come on,” Leighton said. “What brings you all the way down here to U Street? Are you meeting someone?”
“I just kind of wandered down,” she said.
“A long way to wander,” Leighton said.
“I took the metro.”
“Well yeah,” Leighton said. “But there’s still the question. Why are you wandering all the way down here, y’know? What brings a young individual like yourself down to this bar on this evening? Of all the places and things to be doing.”
“I guess…” She pulled her elbows back from the bar and curled her fingers into the wood paneling. Leighton looked at her with anticipation.
“You guess what dear,” Jenna said.
“ I was thinking about killing myself,” she said.
Leighton’s expression turned blank. Jenna leaned in and put her hand on her chest.
“Really,” Leighton said, softly, squinting his eyes, trying to discern if this was some kind of verbal jab or joke, an unwarranted counterstrike against him.
“Oh honey you shouldn’t…” Jenna said.
“It’s not really,” Sarah began. “I mean I was just thinking.” She sighed. “ I don’t know why I told you that, I’m sorry.”
“Shit,” Leighton said again before taking a large gulp of his scotch and dropping the glass back onto the bar.
“I’m sorry,” Sarah said. “ I should…”
She looked around the bar, pressed her hands down on the wood and began to arch herself out of her stool.
“Now wait,” Leighton said. “ Ok look, I know this isn’t the type of conversation that, well, look, that you mean to have, but it’s there now, so we can at least, I mean it’s out there so now the least you can do is let it…”
She looked at Leighton with puzzled eyes.
“I mean we can keep things moving can’t we? And maybe…” Leighton pressed the back of his hand his mouth, a contemplative look on his face.
“You shouldn’t do something like that honey,” Jenna said. “There’s reasons to live. Life can be so full if you want it to.”
“Now hold on Jen,” Leighton said. “I know where you’re coming from but, Sarah back me up on this, I don’t think sentimentality is the right thing here. It just rolls off in cases like this. I think we need to address the issue, the thing at hand here, and probably just, y’know… Sarah am I right here? You don’t want to hear about flowers and true love and birthday parties do you?”
“Not really,” Sarah said.
“Ok then,” Leighton said. “Now let’s tackle- and no offense here, I know this must be painful for you and all, so no offense- but you, well you’re young and all, and you probably have some terribly foolish reason for wanting to do this. Or thinking about it.”
“I don’t know,” Sarah said.
“Well?” Leighton finished off his scotch.
Sarah sat quietly, stoically, as if she was looking into herself, bargaining with her reasons and qualms over what she could say, why this was now happening and what could possibly come of it.
“Well I guess it’s…”
She paused as Leighton moved his head towards the bartender. He put his hand up and gestured for another scotch. He turned back to Sarah. She looked down.
“Go on,” Leighton said.
“ It’s just, I mean it’s hard to explain really,” she said. “It’s just a grayness. Like things don’t matter anymore, and I just don’t really see the point in things. It’s like I’m waiting for this release or something, I’m always bored and I feel fed up and I just want things to be differen,t but they don’t change, so maybe they should just end.”
The bartender brought Leighton his new scotch, removing the old glass. Leighton leaned back and took a sip. A few moments passed.
“I have to say that’s not as foolish as I thought it might be,” he said. “I mean you have some legitimacy there. I thought your boyfriend dumped you or you didn’t get good grades or something. You know kids can be so stupid about things, but there’s some maturity in that, you have something I think.”
Jenna sat beside Leighton, a worried look in her eyes. Still she didn’t intervene, she simply sat,hooked on the situation, some sense of hope floating around her. Sarah was looking down again.
“Not that you should in anyway kill yourself, but I think you might have a point there, but it’s not... I mean it’ll unfold you know?”
“Have you thought about seeing a psychiatrist?” Jenna asked. “Maybe getting on some medication or something?”
Sarah shook her head.
“Maybe you should,” Jenna said.
“It’s a good point,” Leighton said. “And yes I think that is a good place to go from here, but still, I think we need to deal with the situation in this context, here in this bar. We need to get you there I think. Or maybe get you to getting there.” Leighton went on. “ What’s life like for you? What’s your life like that this is happening?”
“It’s Ok,” Sarah said.
“Come on now,” Leighton said.
“Really honey,” Jenna said. “You can open up if you want to.”
“No really,” Sarah said. “It’s not that my life is that bad, I mean not bad bad. I have friends and I go to parties sometimes and I can have fun. But it’s just this thing where it’s like, I just don’t think anything matters anymore. I just don’t want to face one more day of this … ”
“Do you date at all?” Jenna asked. “Do you have a boyfriend or anything?”
“Yeah,” Sarah said, taking a sip of her beer, her shoulders flexing and then finally loosening just a bit, a modest swing in her being, a sense, finally, if only slightly, of having a presence.
“I went out with this guy for a month or two,” she said. “It was fine.”
“What do you mean fine?” Jenna asked.
“He was a jerk,” she said. “But he was, I don’t know, he was fine, but we never really connected.. He was nice sometimes….”
“But that’s something,” Jenna said. “That’s reason enough to keep going, small things like that.”
“But that’s kind of the thing,” Sarah said. “I sit in class and my mind wanders and I look at the other people, and it’s just the same old, same old shit. I thought things would be different here. I feel more and more useless and I get the idea that I could disappear and it would be fine. Like tonight, I just kept thinking about ending things, like I could just throw myself in front of a train and that would be it. Fine, y’know?”
There was another pause, Jenna pursed her lips thoughtfully. Leighton spoke up.
“This is kind of another thing, but, first off you shouldn’t throw yourself in front of a train.”
“Agreed,” Jenna said.
“I mean that’s a horrible way to do it,” Leighton said. “Do you know that train conductors, there’s a thing with them, they feel tremendous guilt when they see a body fly into the car.They practically explode all over the windshield. It’s really a horrible thing to do to someone. And then it messes up a ton of people’s commute.”
Sarah looked at him, wide - eyed.
“If you’re gonna do it find some pills or a bathtub or something quiet at least. Not that the people who clean those tubs are whatever, but they have services for that at least, and I mean, do they even have bathtubs at college?”
“Lee!” Jenna said in a harsh whisper.
“You shouldn’t do any of it, I’m just saying if you do…”
Jenna smacked him on the shoulder.
“Sorry, sorry,” Leighton said. “But I’m making a point here.”
He sat back and let his eyes wander. He stumbled then readjusted himself on the stool.
“Well, what is it?” Jenna asked.
“It’s about the train,” Leighton said.
“Maybe you should just drop that,” Jenna said.
“No, It’s Ok,” Sarah said. “I’ve never actually thought of that.”
“Well there you go,” Leighton said. The two women looked up at him.
“There what goes,” Jenna said.
“My point….” he said. “She’s not…” He turned over to Sarah. “You’re not really thinking are you?”
Leighton stayed quiet. He took in Sarah’s appearance again, for a moment. This time he noticed something that he had sensed before, but that now felt stronger, different, almost threatening. It was the calmness in her, the almost smug indifference that was hiding something else. Something about her began to haunt him, a vague presence that masked some deep current of emotional distress. This other thing that couldn’t breathe, that was, maybe, he speculated briefly, clawing its way out from her depths, and in that pain the search for release. But this was all presumption he realized. It was a stab at something - ultimately it seemed to be too well- hidden for any real judgment.
He looked back towards himself, towards the center of the bar and his almost empty glass.
“I had another point,” he said. “Just listen to me for a second here and I’ll get to it, but hold on.”
He put his hand up and signaled the bartender for another scotch, then drank the last remaining drops from the bottom of his current glass. He composed himself, his arms bent at his sides, his hands grasping the side of the bar. He took a breath and then looked back towards Sarah.
“ Let me ask you,” he said. “And just follow me for a second. Just tell me do you like poetry? Is there any poem you like? And something real – there’s a whole other thing I could get into –“
“Not really.” Sara tore a small pieceoff of the label and was tearing that into smaller pieces.
“Well, do you know what my favorite poem is?”
She shook her head calmly, keeping her eyes sterile and unfocused.
“Right, why would you? It’s this little thing from this woman I met a few years ago who’s barely been published, who I’ve tried to get, well, people don’t get her so much, but it’s just this little thing that most people have never read and never will, but of all the stuff that’s out there, it’s my favorite.”
“Ok,” she said.
“Are you talking about Ruth?” Jenna asked him.
“Patricia O’Connell,” he said back.
“You should talk about Ruth’s piece,” she said to him, huddling into him slightly, creating a sense of privacy.
“The one about Paris,” she said. “And the rocks.”
“I don’t think that’s really it,” Leighton said back.
“It’s uplifting,” she said. “It’s got some light in it.”
She looked at Leighton, as he cringed and shook his head.
“It’s just that you’re getting a little dark,” she said. “You can get dark sometimes, Maybe…”
“Just, I think I have a point here,” he said. “It’s the one about her hands, and you know it’s so…”
Leighton looked back towards Sarah, sitting nicely on their periphery, silent and calm and therefore all the more frightening. He suddenly felt woozy and took a deep breath and another sip to keep himself together.
“So this poem,” he said. “The one that nobody reads, it’s just about this woman’s hands.”
Sarah gave a quick, obedient nod.
“She’s old, her hands are gnarled, she can barely hold a pencil. Well she looks at her hands, and she really looks at them, and I won’t do it the disservice of trying to recite it, but she really sees her hands, all the little marks and lines that make them up, and she thinks of how they were formed, and all the little moments and actions that created them, every little line –all the pieces that were woven together to form the fabric of her life.”
Leighton paused for a sip and continued.
“And she realizes that she’s coming face to face with so much of her life through this moment, through just seeing, really seeing her hands. But inspite of the pain and the disfigurement, she knows that this moment will never come again, and she stays in this reality as long as she can until it fades. And every day, every week, every month – inspite of the pain - she opens her eyes and walks out the door. She chooses to be part of this world.”
He waited for a second or two until she gave another brief nod.
“And that’s something,” he said.
Sarah continued to look at him, twirling strands of her hair, shredding the label into 50 little pieces, scattering them across the bar.
“Ok,” she said.
“Are you getting anything from this?” Leighton asked.
“I guess it’s that there’s little moments in life,” she said.
“Well, Ok,” Leighton said. “But are you, I mean is this getting at anything? Do you kind of get something from this?”
Sarah rubbed the back of her neck.
“ I mean it’s nice but I think, it kind of sounds like something you’d tell to someone to keep them from, well…”
“Well that is in fact what I’m doing,” Leighton said. “And not to put you off but a person doesn’t walk into a bar and tell someone that they’re gonna throw themselves in front of a train if they don’t, in some small part, want to be talked out of things.”
“Maybe we should talk about something else,” Jenna said. “ Change the pace a little.”
“Well wait just a second,” Leighton said. “ Sometimes you have to get a bit hard with things like this, you can’t just avoid it, you have to know what’s there.”
Jenna looked at Leighton sternly, still trying to communicate something compassionate, but now with urgency. He replied to her with a soft look, something that seemed to know, that had a knowledge of some sense of pain.
“It’s Ok,” Sarah said. “You can keep going.”
“What I’m getting at here is, look, not everything you do turns out the way you think it should. Her poem will never be read by nearly as many people as it should, and she put in much more effort and pain into writing it, into just being able to write it, than she’ll ever see in any sort of return.”
He stopped and took a a deep breath. He wobbled, falling backwards and then gripped the bar and pulled himself upright.
“Things get broken and sometimes they get fixed. But no matter what happens, life goes on and rearranges itself. Sometimes beautifully. And my point here is that if you don’t pour yourself into it, it’s not worth much.”
He stopped for a second as the bartender brought over his drink, he pulled the glass up, circled it around his mouth, and then let himself put it back down on the bar before taking a drink.
“It’s just a shell,” he said. “It’s empty by itself. It looses some vibrancy, that veneer, whatever it is, and you just feel like, like you’re going through the motions without, well, without that excitement. So what is the point then you ask?” He tapped his glass against the bar.“The point is get involved, make it your own. You take what you do, even though it miight just be a pretext, and you pour yourself into it.’
“That was nice Lee,” Jenna said, putting her hand on his shoulder. Leighton leaned in for a moment,quickly turned towards Sarah and pulled back when he realized how close he was to her actual face.
“Is any of this, is it clicking at all?”
“I guess,” Sarah said quietly. “A little bit.”
Leighton kept his gaze pressed upon her.
“It’s just, it’s not really…” she stopped herself and look back down at her beer bottle.
“Well, look,” Leighton jumped in. “It’s a metaphor I guess, maybe it should be more, but I think in metaphors and that’s what makes it…”
As he sat another beer in front of her, Sarah started to speak.
“I mean it just seems like…I just feel like I’m wasting time. I just want to be someone or somewhere else, ” she said, and then trailed off once more, fighting back tears.
“Do you want me to give you the meaning of life?” he asked. “ I can only say so much before…” and he stopped.
At this Jenna leaned in.
Leighton continued to look at Sarah, at the modest tone in her appearance, even in this slight confrontation she seemed unmoved.
“ You have something that’s pushing you and hurting you and you don’t know what to do with it so your instinct is to give up.”
He took a large gulp of scotch, bringing the glass above his jaw line. There was a liquid sliver left in the glass when he put it back down.
“But things change” he said. “They turn into something else if you stick with them. This thing that you can’t stand could turn into something great, or maybe not, but you don’t really know do you?”
Sarah turned her head away, and then back to him again, altogether avoiding him, but not directly confronting him either.
“That’s life,” he said. “That’s what life is, these little things you can’t see, these ups and downs, these moments. The bumps in the road and the beauty of a day...”
“Ok,” she said.
“And well,” Leighton said. “Do you want something out of life? It doesn’t just come. It isn’t handed to you on a plate...and it will never be the thing you think, it’s just…”
There was another pause. He looked at his glasss, turned it around and brought the last little drop up to his lips.
“It’s a pile of shit that flowers grow from,” he said. “And if you don’t want that …if you don’t want that, then maybe…”
“Ok,” Jenna said, loudly and firmly, the faintest glimpse of kindness still lingering in the back of her voice.
“Why don’t we just change the subject?”
Leighton’s face started to droop and his breath was heavy with fumes of alcohol. “I think if you can find it…”
Jenna patted Leighton the back. “Ok,” she said. “Do you mind if we talk for a little bit? Me and Sarah?”
Leighton paused.He looked up at Jenna wearily and then back down at his drink. He smiled, first to himself and then back at Jenna. He turned to Sarah, giving her a slight nod and grasped his glass in his hand and then stumbled off his seat and slid over to Jenna’s place while she walked around him.
Jenna sat down and gave Sarah a warm grin.
“So tell me,” she said. “Where are you from, do you have parents or family in the area?”
There was a pause as Sarah adjusted herself. Leigh noticed her air of dread and perhaps confusion give way to a sense of grace, of socialibility. As subtle as the change was, Leighton was still taken aback by how quick it happened.
“Well, from Connecticut, originally Maine,” she said. “But we moved when I was pretty young.”
“That’s nice,” Jenna said. “Where in Connecticut?”
Leighton continued drinking, as he sat at the edge of conversation. Jenna asked questions and Sarah answered them, in increasingly warmer tones and longer takes. Jenna went on about other things too - Leighton had trouble following. The air became warm, warmer, and the night faded.
He was happy with this for a moment but fears settled in. Had he been eloquent or sincere enough? Had he added to her anxiety by failing to find the right words? Things were light now, but there can be diminishing returns with lightness, with levity, with happiness when that happiness comes in the form of relief. Things return, and could a person, could she, withhold those things? This was a question, he supposed, that he couldn’t answer. Even if anything of his had stuck, even if it had been eloquent or beautiful, it still could easily fade, still could be pushed out at a moments notice by this thing that encroaches, that dread, those feelings that he saw in her, that he wanted to grab hold of and shake down and make bare and visible and, well, so it goes. A reprieve for now, and perhaps that was a good thing, a fine thing. But there was still, and slowly and gaining, a feeling of darkness in the back of his mind that this thing wasn’t over- of course it wasn’t, these things never were.
Leighton stumbled back into his apartment to find it empty and a mess. It hadn’t been cleaned, at least not well. He stuck his head into the bedroom to find Jim passed out, face down with his socks still on. Leighton went into the kitchen and looked at all the dishes piled up at the sink. He was tired and drunk, almost too drunk to stand up straight, but he approached the dishes anyway, in an attempt to not have to deal with the mess, at least not the full force of the mess, tomorrow. He turned the water on and began to grab plates from the counter and scrub them. He couldn’t see how dirty these dishes truly were, his vision spotty and his head cloudy and dim- sometimes he saw spots where there weren’t spots or thought a plate was clean only to find more dirt on examination. Regardless he scrubbed, he scrubbed hard and then his resolve weakened, and then he scrubbed more until he zoned out and he was just rinsing plates with no real effect. He was trying to get through the pile but he was tired. He looked at the dishes stacked next to him on the counter- there were a lot. And he looked up at the ceiling and sighed.
Tyra Graham is a creative writing student in Orlando, Fl. In her free time, she enjoys riding her skateboard and playing with her cat. You can follow her on Twitter at @tyra_graham.
It was an ordinary day for Luna. She ran from room-to-room chasing her cat, Bello, to clip its nails. They were to the point of curling and had torn through almost anything she pawed.
In the midst of her chase the doorbell rang. She went to open the door only to find no one there. Befuddled, she closed the door. She walked in the direction to the kitchen, and it rang again. Again she found nothing there. She slammed the door angrily, thinking some of the kids in the neighborhood were playing some game.
The doorbell rang one last time. She swung the door open and looked down to find a box instead of a small child. Thinking it may belong to her parents she brought it in. The box was rugged. It looked as it may have been through a few trips before making it here. The sides had what looked like claw marks. What an odd box, she thought to herself.
She sat the box on the floor next to the couch and went back to looking for the cat. She looked in her room, her parent's room, and the kitchen, but Bello wasn’t in any of them.
“Bello,” she said.
She tried to listen for the bell that’s on the cat’s collar, but she didn’t. She sighed deeply and leaned on the marble island. She heard her cat’s meow come in the living room. She raced there to find her cat floating in the air, and the box was torn open.
“Bello, what did you do and why are you floating!” she exclaimed.
She slowly maneuvered towards Bello, and tried to catch her, but the cat moved further from her.
She picked up the box and a black substance oozed from it. She shrieked and dropped the box. It continued to leak on the floor, and her cat started to cry. She glared at her at and said, “Hush.”
She swiftly opened the lid and found a cross and a note. The cross was silver, and it held some weight to it. It had random swirls and dents in it. She lowered it and read the note aloud.
“Once the cross in this box is touched, you shall spend an eternity in the air.”
She sighed and flopped on the couch and thought to herself, All I wanted to do was clip my cat's nails.