Thursday, December 12, 2013

Thinking Of Self Promotion On Thursday

My friend Matt Potter, one of my top ten favorite mammals, continues to crank out the wonderfulness down there on the other side of Spaceship Earth. Available for sale now (and perfect for gift giving) are the first two volumes of the series '2014', a deeply creative idea that involves a set of interlinking stories, one per day, for the entire year. I am deeply honored to say that the 15th of the month will feature stories by none other than yours truly. It should surprise no one that the stories will include a baseball theme. Continuing to be available is 'Obit', and 'Gorge', and 'Slut', which contain works of mine, and many other works as good or better that do not.

Future endeavors from this corner of the dugout include a book of short stories to be published by that jewel of the Berkshires, Marian Kent's ALLCAPS, and not one but two novels that should be finalized and ready for my adoring public before the Earth crashes into the Sun.

In the world that does not, shockingly, involve me, among the other events of your life, you should make yourself stop in over here if you value heartbreaking clarity and beauty in your blog reading.

And last but not least, my brother from another mother Lance, whose blog continues to be able to beat up my blog, is cranking out novel after novel at a pace that defies good sense, and at a level of quality and sharpness that makes me seethe with envy.

And someday, I may actually write again for simple publication here. Who knows?

Monday, October 21, 2013

VV 100WC: More NaNo-ish goodness

{Velvet Verbosity's 100 Word Challenge, who has a slightly better command of the strike zone than Yasiel Puig, offers up "invincible" this week. I reply with another potential NaNo fragment.}

My brother smiled at me as his son tugged on my hand.

"Unca! Come see! Unca! Come see!," the boy kept saying.

"You still with her?," he said, his voice dripping with condescension.

I pictured Em, the red flush coating her cheeks as tears made tiny pale tracks down her face. We had a screaming match before I left, and I wasn't positive I was welcome back.

"Yes," I said.

He looked down at me, as I leaned to one side, his judgment clear, his pride in his perfect family and beautiful house invincible and pure.

"I see," he said.

TWC 100: Another NaNo Fragment

[Those triple threats over at the Trifecta Writing Challenge pose challenge number 100 this week, using the third definition of the word "phantom". This is yet another potential fragment of a novel I may or may not write during November, which is almost certainly going to be held after October.]

Em looked at me, her body rigid with anger. She was arguing with a phantom, a version of me that I couldn't recognize. She thought she knew what I felt. I wasn't sure if she did. I wasn't sure if I did.

"You're just jealous," she spat. Her hands were moving in sharp, controlled movements, like she was working a heavy bag.

"I told you, that's not it," I said.

"I told you the rules," she said. "I told you the rules when we met. This is the way I am. I'm wired this way. I can't be any other way. I can't be the way you want me to be."

"I love you, Em," I said.

"You don't," she said. Her lip curled, and her brow furrowed with effort as she tried to fasten her bra behind her back. "You like me. You like my body. You like being with me. But you don't love me. This is part of me. This is who I am. If you loved me, you would know that."

"I do know that, Em."

"You don't. You don't, or you wouldn't have even said that. You wouldn't ask me the question, because you'd know what the answer would be." She took her dress off its hanger, arranging the green and tan fabric on her arms.

"Em, I just want...,"

"You want what? A picket fence? Two dogs? A daughter and a son? PTA meetings? A fucking minivan?"

I didn't say anything. I half knew this was coming, but that didn't make it any easier to hear. Em lowered the dress over herself, pulling and tugging until the fabric fell the way she wanted. She slipped her bare feet into tan heels, stamping once on each foot, making the dress shimmer.

"I have to go," Em said, turning to leave the bedroom.

"I love you," I said.

All I got in reply was the door slamming shut.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Once More, With Feeling

"Yesterday it was my birthday-
I've hung one more year on the line- 
I should be depressed-
My life's a mess-
But I'm having a good time." 
-Paul Simon 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

TWC: NaNo Fragment

[ My three piece and a biscuit ordering friends at the Trifecta Writing Challenge give us a page (the 99th) from the OED, and offer us 99 words to wrap around one of the words thereupon, in honor of the 99th TWC. The following is something that may or may not be a fragment from the novel I may or may not write during National Novel Writing Month, which is absolutely positively happening in November. ]

"A baby?," I said. I could not disguise the disbelief in my voice.

"What?," Em said. She sounded hurt. I winced.

"I don't need to tell you how many ways that's a bad idea," I said.

"I know," she said. I could see the pout on her face, even in the darkness.

"But you want a baby?"



"You need me to explain?"


I turned over. Her skin glowed slightly, the light from a power strip on the floor making everything look red.

"A baby with me?," I said.

"Of course," she said.

I swallowed.

100 Word Song: "First Time"

[Our friend Leeroy, who fortunately suffered no ill effects from the government shutdown, and his more biological master Lance present us with the uber heavy "Thunderkiss '65" from White Zombie as this week's 100 Word Song. This story is called "First Time"]

Her palms were sweaty, and she hastily smoothed them on the backs of her thighs. The music was all around her, unrelenting and punishing, the bass making her ribcage rattle. His room was a mad landscape of clothes, papers, books, and everywhere pictures of huge, hairy men who looked like monsters. His voice was in her ear suddenly, his hands at her waist as he guided her towards his bed.

"Isn't this great? It's White Zombie!," he said to her as she tried to pick her way across the floor, her shoes finding spots of floor delicately, her stomach fluttering.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

100 WS: "Taylor Grey"

[ Leeroy, our metal music man, and his carbon based pal and acclaimed author Lance, offer "Poor Places" by Wilco as this week's 100 Word Song. This piece is called "Taylor Grey" ]

She sat on the edge of the bed as if it might explode. His eyes opened.

"Hey," he said weakly. His face was a roadmap of cuts and bruises.

"Hey yourself," she said. "How are you feeling?"

"Like someone beat me up," he said. He tried to smile and managed a wince.

"You're an idiot," she said. "You should have ignored them."

"I could not."

"I can handle myself."

"I know."

"So why? Why take them on?"

"I had to."

"You didn't!," she said. She went to grab him, then stopped.

"Some things can't be allowed to stand," he whispered.

TWC: "Midnight Rambler"

(My friends over at the Trifecta Writing Challenge, who unfortunately put the rent money on Papa's Mustache in the third to complete a quinella and lost it all, present all of Greater Blogistan with a challenge to compose 33 words inspired by the sublime "Sympathy for the Devil" by the Rolling Stones. My contribution, called "Midnight Rambler", follows. )

She watched him, thinking about sin. He washed his hands.

"If you leave, it seals my fate," she said. She was no saint.

"I can't do this alone," she said.

Then he left.

Self Promotion (Slight Return)

Matt Potter, Australia's greatest contribution to world culture since Dave Nilsson and Graeme Lloyd, has for sale a remarkable series of books that inexplicably feature the work of yours truly, most recently "Obit." I am also honored to be a part of the 2014 project, a series of books that will feature a short story a day throughout next year. You can check that series out here.
More regular writing, for good or ill, will appear again soon. Watch this space.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

SPE: "Sorry"

(For the Scriptic prompt exchange this week, kgwaite gave me this prompt: "Page 44 of your favorite book." I gave Cheney this prompt: " I don't know where I'm going, but I sure know where I've been.")

[And we're back, to quote comic Jonathan Katz. Dozens of you, and by dozens I mean three, have noticed my absence from this here space for around about a month or so. No particular reason for this- I've been busy, but who isn't. I've been depressed, but again, who isn't. But I'm back. Hold your applause.]

{Stealing an idea from someone, naming my favorite book is like naming my favorite breath- it's going to be the next one. I'm going with "A Farewell to Arms", and in my edition, page 44 begins with the taxi driver telling Frederic Henry, "It's better to wear him. That's what it's for," in Chapter 8. So, with a nod and a wink towards this book and also Papa's "Snows of Kilimanjaro", here it is. This is called "Sorry"}

Don't get ahead of your blocking, Coach Parker used to tell me. I used to run too far, getting tackled before the blocks could set up in front, turning an 8 yard gain into four or two because I couldn't wait. "Richter!," he would scream in practice as we panted under the merciless sun. "Can you wait a second for the hole to form, ferchrissakes?" I was staring up into the night, wondering how it was I still hadn't learned.

We were on a night patrol, looking to reinforce and see that an area we had already cleared remained cleared. It was a simple maneuver, walking through the village, staying together, rhetorically showing the flag. We came out the other side, climbing up the side of a small hill, when I could feel that I had walked too far ahead of my unit. As soon as the feeling hit me, I half turned and then felt the slap, a crunch in the lower abdomen like a pure, full speed tackle, before I heard it. I was surprised more than anything, and almost annoyed, and then the world turned over and everything went dark.

She was sitting on the porch when she told me, one of those hot, sweaty nights when it never cools off, no matter how late it gets. She was sitting on the porch, talking in low, soft tones, the anguish clear on the edges. I was standing, leaning on the rail, my sneakers flat between her bare calves and bare feet. I remember her belly, bare and pale, sticking out where her tank top gapped, heaving as she sobbed. I remember her finally finishing, her story sputtering to a stop in front of us, the story that she was so sure changed everything.

I could see that I had fallen, and I could hear the sound of rounds headed both ways. My unit was following procedure, taking cover and trying to drive them off so we could recover the wounded. I tensed to try and get up, and then winced when a hot knife of pain reminded me not to. I could hear the sounds of our weapons, then the tinnier sound of theirs. I could see a trickle of water, not even enough to call it a stream, running below me, along the valley and back towards my men.

She was nervous, tension written across her face, constant worry that I would change my mind and leave. I finally stopped reassuring her as we stood in our finery in front of everyone, her son toddling between us with the rings on a pillow. The day was warm, and the sweat pooled at the small of my back in the tiny white church with the fans that couldn't keep up. I was looking at her, seeing the lines in her face finally dissolve. I knew without doubt that she was the one, and the greatest part of the whole day was watching her see that I meant it.

Her son Benjamin had very solemnly walked up to me after dinner the night before I left. He handed me two popsicle sticks in the shape of a cross with yarn holding them together. "I made this," he said, and I bowed my head. He solemnly came forward and placed the string around my neck. "You wear it when you go," he said, and I had, carrying it with me as it grew tattered and dirty, sweat stained and battered, but always present. I could still reach it with one hand, and I fingered it there in the dirt, listening to the sounds of
my men fighting to reach me, feeling the yarn worn smooth with time.

We were laying together in the night, bodies made wet and slick
with sweat and need in the heat. It was the night before I had to leave. I
was full with the emptiness, the feeling Hemingway used to write about.

"You will come back to me," she said.

"Yes," I said. "Promise."

"And we'll have a baby together?"

"Yes," I said. "If you haven't changed your mind."

"I won't," she said.

I felt my thoughts starting to blur as I waited for help to come. The pain
was a constant background sensation, like a TV playing in another
room. I felt the yarn at the center, where his tiny little hands had
wrapped it tight, and I thought about how tiny and innocent he was
when I left, and how much progress he made every time I could Skype
with them. I tried to listen for the chopper coming, but I couldn't hear it.
There was still too much noise, too much fire coming from the enemy,
and I could picture Benny's little hands behind my neck, and all I could
think was how sorry I was.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

SPE: What I Write About When I'm Not Writing About Dr. Seuss

[For the Scriptic prompt exchange this week, dailyshorts gave me this prompt: "Dr. Seuss is one of my all-time favorite writers.Write a story or poem with Seussian flair." I gave Bewildered Bug this prompt: "You can have it all, just not at the same time and in all the proportions that you may want."-Valerie Jarrett]

(I am having an enormous amount of trouble with this, which is why I decided to call it "What I Write About When I'm Not Writing About Dr. Seuss." I apologize in advance- it's a fine prompt, I just can't do anything with it.)

I don't have anything against Dr. Seuss. Like virtually everyone who raised an American child in the second half of the twentieth century, I delighted in Mr. Geisel's rhymes, puns, and rhythms. They made reading to a child, which can be a trial to a weary parent, into something almost delightful. Seuss books hit that sweet spot that was so rare in those days, the Pixar nexus of simultaneously having something semi serious to say, while entertaining children and also casting a wink towards the adult in the room. (While simultaneously having visuals that could pass for a mescaline trip.)

According to Wikipedia, which we all know is faultless, Geisel labored over his work, making every element as perfect as it could possibly be. Poets, in my experience, are like that- it's such an exact medium, poets have to labor over every sound, every word, to make sure it is utterly right. Or maybe it's just that good authors do that. The work, in Seuss' case, shows. The remarkable "The Cat In The Hat," with less than 250 different words, yet still a perfectly formed little tale, funny and sweet, tense and lovely, is a great example.

I did what I usually do with the SPE this week, taking the prompt in and letting my subconscious chew on it for a bit. I continued on with my week, tossing the idea back and forth like a dog with a tennis ball, but my brain could only come up with leaden, heavy analogies or simple, blank emptiness. I napped. I meditated. I thought. And still, nothing. This is a fairly new experience for me- generally, ideas gather around me like flies at a picnic. Usually, I can grasp onto something, a phrase, a notion, a funny look the librarian gives me, and construct something around it that addresses the prompt, if only obliquely.

I'm not a poet, as my few attempts at doing so have proven beyond doubt. I don't have the patience for it, the laser like focus, the ability to go over it and over it until it not only scans, but it sings. For reasons that even I don't understand, I have been watching West Wing clips on YouTube this week. One of the clips on there was from something that appeared to be a DVD extra or a documentary. In the clip, Martin Sheen comments that Aaron Sorkin's dialogue does that with "words like musical notes". It carries the action, but also sings with beauty and clarity. I don't have that kind of focus. As my work shows, I'm lucky if I can keep my character's names straight.

I think, in order to write with Seussian flair, you need to have a certain amount of whimsy. At the moment, I am seriously deficient, a dark fog of pessimism that has been lingering around my soul for a while now. I could just need more sleep, or to eat better, or to pray to Zeus ( or perhaps even Seuss ) for inspiration. Maybe I'm just intimidated at the prospect of failure. Or perhaps it's simply that I'm not a very good writer. Whatever the cause, I respectfully decline the invitation to attempt to honor the great man with an imitation this week. I can't do it, and I won't dishonor the Exchange with work that won't exceed even my low standards.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

100 Word Song: "After Midnight"

(Everyone's favorite metallic friend Leeroy, and his less logically inclined compadre Lance, offer us Tom Petty, my second favorite Southerner after Lance himself, and his song "Down South", which I had not previously experienced, for this week's 100 Word Song Challenge.)

It was 20 minutes after politeness, deep into the quiet of a sticky night that made sleep impossible. I somehow knew it was him when I heard the knocking.

"Dude," he said softly.

"Laila threw you out?"

"Yeah," he said. He was carrying a small duffel bag with a tan towel looped through the handles.

"You need to crash?"

"Yeah," he said.

I just walked away from the door, leaving him to shut it.

"If you wake the baby..,"

"You'll kick my ass, I know." He locked my front door. "Thanks, man. I owe you."

"Damn right," I said quietly.

VV 100 WC: "Odyssey"

(Velvet Verbosity's 100 Word Challenge got three fewer rebounds than Chris Bosh last night, and this week's word is "Odyssey".)

Alyssa wasn't ready. He was nice, and he was kind, and he had a way of looking at you that made you forget how to talk. They had been talking about it, and he had been asking, just bringing it up over and over until she finally said okay just to make him stop. It felt like a culmination, the end of a journey, the logical conclusion of everything that had happened, but she still wasn't ready. She thought about saying something, but she didn't, just letting him finish. The metal letters on the back of the van said "Odyssey".

Thursday, May 23, 2013

SPE: Light As The Breeze

[For the Scriptic prompt exchange this week, kgwaite gave me this prompt: Take any Leonard Cohen song and write a piece incorporating its lyrics in some way. I gave David this prompt: "The arts put man at the center of the universe, whether he belongs there or not." -Kurt Vonnegut]

{The song I selected was Cohen's "Light As The Breeze", which I am ashamed to say I had not heard of until Billy Joel covered it. This story is also explicit, perhaps more so than anything I have ever attempted. So if you get past the warning, and past this note, and you're still offended, to quote Matt Belknap, "That's on you, man."}

(I hasten to add that, obviously, the tragic events in Oklahoma defy description. Truly an annus horribilus for humankind this year.)

[Bonus points if you can identify the other songs referenced in the piece]

She served coffee all afternoon in black pants and shirt, but came out of the back door after closing fresh and clean looking, tangled hair flowing, a light summer dress rippling in the gentle breeze. The dress lent gravity to her curves, brought out her narrow waist and her long, proud thighs, her wide, defiant hips sloping down to her neat, polished flats, her lines smooth and elegant like a race car. She seemed more herself in a dress, more in tune with the universe. She walked up to me, her duffel bag dangling from one hand, swinging with the motion of her walk. She looked like a model in a magazine. She laughed, a gentle high sound like wine glasses clinking.

She twirled in front of me, as if she were on a runway. "You like? It's my sister's."

"Everything about it is a love song," I said.

As soon as we met, I felt like a man carrying a very full glass of water up the stairs, stepping very carefully, desperately afraid of losing my balance. I knew, from the first moment, that I never wanted another, but she was often skittish, despite my constant efforts. Like a nervous kitten, I had to keep reassuring her that things were safe.

She would remark, "I'm constantly braced for the goodbye, because it's all I've ever known."

We walked home together, talking idly about something and nothing. She was by far the greatest conversation partner I had ever known. She listened avidly, paid attention to what you said and always responded intelligently. Along with being as pretty as a sunrise, she was downright pleasant to spend time with, someone I would want to know even if she didn't let me see her with her clothes off.

After dinner, we prepared for bed.

"Aren't you coming?," she said shyly. I was sitting at the end of the bed, looking at her. It was dark, with city noise in the background and reflected bands of headlights chasing each other across our ceiling.

"I am," I said.

I was aware of her, naked, breathing, inches from me. I felt a kind of overwhelming gratitude for her, for the way she made me feel more human. I felt the knowledge of her, my worshipful love threaded with animal lust, filling my chest, leaving me unable to speak. I put one hand on her calf, feeling the striated muscle, the bristle of hair.

"I haven't shaved in a few days," she said.

I whispered, "I know."

I bent low, feeling like a supplicant, gently brushing my lips on her shin, then leaving small kisses in a row, leading up to the slightly toughened skin of her knee. I knew there was a tiny red scar there, where a childhood bike accident had marked her, and my lips found it. I kissed it tenderly.

"What are you doing," she said softly, her words slurring slightly. I didn't answer, because I was sure she knew.

I felt the softer skin of her thighs under my lips. I could smell her. I could taste her. I could detect her sweat, and the citrusy smell of her moisturizer, and the almost salty smell of her holiness. I coveted everything about her, touching her skin with my lips and my eyelashes as I roamed higher. She slid her thighs apart, shivering once as she felt me getting closer to her. Being so close to her was physical, but it was also a spiritual union. I wanted to consume her like an offering, commune with her physical body, praise and give thinks. I thought about that line from the old song, about the delta, and the alpha, and the omega. Delta means change, and triangles represent a trinity.

Her open legs were a triangle, and I kissed gently up each thigh, feeling the womanly fleshiness bend gently under my touch, getting closer and closer to where I wanted to be. I knew the fat was stored to feed a possible pregnancy, and I wondered silently if that lay in our future. Reproduction seemed a miracle beyond my comprehension, but even though she never spoke about it, I knew somewhere in her psyche, the question had to linger. I used my tongue to explore, finding the sweat and the grit that a full day of life left on her skin.

She wasn't making much sound, but I could register her breathing as it quickened, the shifting of her weight as she moved. I loved pleasing her, much more than I loved receiving pleasure, because it felt like a way I could repay the shattering, relentless joy that I felt when I saw her. I was finally there, at the center of her, finding her triangle, parting the waters, exploring and kissing and opening her body's essence up to me like a flower. I dove as deep as I could, enveloped in the smell of her, the realness and the nearness and the wetness covering my face. She never screamed, but she hissed, the air coming between her gritted teeth in huge gulps.

I knew what I needed, and I could tell she was ready and I drank deeply, inhaling her, hitting the spots I knew from experience, gathering into a rhythm of touch and lick and kiss that we had established. I was a pilgrim at her temple, and I served eagerly, and I was rewarded as she bucked and clawed at the sheets, finally gathering in a full body spasm, her hands finally on my hair, finding my jaw and lifting me away from there, bringing me up towards her, finally pulling me close and giving me a long, slow kiss, our bodies sprawled together, side to side, her face reflecting joy and fulfillment as the twitches faded away.

"That was fine," she said, gasping. "But why? Why now?"

"I don't know," I admitted. "Sometimes I just feel like I have to give thanks."

"Well, you're welcome," she said, her voice thick and slow. After a few minutes, I heard her breath slacken into sleep. I smiled into the darkness, watching the lights play on the ceiling.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

SPE: What I Heard

[For the Scriptic prompt exchange this week, kgwaite gave me this prompt: "Run away home". I gave Sinistral Scribblings this prompt: "I'm so tired".]

{I may be completely off the mark here, but this is poetry. I guess? Maybe? Whatever it is, it's called "What I heard.")

What I didn't hear:
"He's no good for you."
"You're too young."
"You're just doing this to spite us."
"He's not going to stop drinking."
"Having a baby won't fix him."
"Watch him? Again?"
"When are you coming back?"

What I heard:
"Why don't you shut up?"
"Get away from me."
"Make that kid stop crying."
"Leave me? You wouldn't dare."
"I only drink when you're bitchy."
"He would be better off without you."
The sound of sirens on the onramp.

Monday, May 06, 2013

SPE: "Yes."

(For the Scriptic prompt exchange this week, Steph gave me this prompt: A couple has chosen to get married, but they are not marrying for love. I gave kgwaite this prompt: "He was experiencing the resentment of those who discover that, despite their own grave condition, the world goes on about its business, heartless, without even so much as a long face." -Tom Wolfe)

I couldn't find a place to park that wasn't next to a police car, because the only place to park was the lot behind the municipal building where they kept the unused police cars, snow plows, and street sweepers. So I gave up and pulled into a spot next to a menacing looking cruiser, black and white and bulky. I hadn't done anything wrong, but I still felt a frisson of guilt when I looked at it. Sara was quiet beside me, looking between her feet at the floor mat. There was a discarded wrapper from a McDonalds straw on the floor. She seemed to be looking at it, hoping it would tell her something.

"We're here," I said weakly.

"Yes," she said. She kept staring. She had black flats on, her leather covered toes pointed and sharp against the gray carpet. She had a long dress on, which made her uncomfortable. She kept picking at it, adjusting it over her hips and thighs. It fit fine, I thought, but she seemed unhappy with the fabric somehow. She wasn't a dress person by nature, and she was fidgety, like a toddler in church clothes.

"We should go ahead in soon," I said.

"Yes," she said. We had spent days discussing it, tossing the ideas back and forth before we went to our different jobs, rearguing the points on the phone before bed, then starting over again the next morning. The question evolved from can we, to should we, to does she want to, to do I want to. None of the answers were completely clear. We knew what our parents wanted: that much, out of all this, was clear. I had picked her up at home, and we had made the seven minute drive in silence. She had finally consented, her voice faded from all the hours of conversation, late last night, and I spent the morning getting the papers together.

"You know you don't have to do this," I said. "If you don't want to. I've thought about it, and I'm ready. At least as ready as I can possibly be. But I'm not forcing you. If you want to wait, we can wait. If you want, we can cancel the whole thing. If you don't want to, we won't. OK?"

"Yes," she said. It was warm in the sun, but still cool under the enormous oak where we parked. The engine ticked as it cooled. A police car pulled into the drive, driving in front of our car and parking around the other side of the building. There was a female officer driving the car, and she seemed to relax when she saw the tie knotted around my neck. Sara was still looking down, staring at the straw wrapper. She put both hands on her forehead, and then pulled her bangs back away from her face. Her face still seemed puffy from crying. There had been a lot of that. I tried to smile at her.

"Are you ready? We can do this, or we can do this later, or we can never do this. But I'm ready. This is a huge step, and I'm ready to take it with you. I want to take it with you. I want to spend the rest of my life with you. I think this is the right thing for us, the best thing for us, and for our future. I know that we both regret what happened, but it's too late to worry about that. It's happening. I want to do this. Come inside with me. Please? Will you?"

I felt a twinge of nervousness in my gut. I had said that I loved her, said it over and over until she semi playfully demanded that I stop. "You love being in love," she said to me once outside of a Burger King. "It's fine, and it's sweet, and it's flattering to be on the other end of all this attention. But it's not love. You don't love me. You love the idea of me, and that's not the same thing." But I did, I wanted to be with her forever. She was prickly, and difficult, and odd, and she could be moody and cold to me. But I couldn't fathom the idea of her not being in my life, and I couldn't be happy when she was upset. I was confident that I could win her over. I'm nothing if not persistent.

"Yes," she said. I opened the door gingerly, then closed it. I watched her emerging from the other side. She moved gently, delicately, her face framed in shadow and a lingering curl of blonde from her bangs falling over one eye. She wore her hair short, almost like a boy, which I hated, but I still found her beautiful. She closed her door, and walked to the front of the car. I stood beside her, looking at her face, which is still looking down at the pointy toes of her shoes. I could see a tiny bulge at the waist of her dress, but I couldn't tell if it was there before this happened or if it was new, because she didn't usually wear clothes that hung like this. I didn't care if it was- she was perfect no matter what- but I wondered. I put my hand on her forearm, slipping it down towards her hand. My heart ached with heaviness and regret and a sort of foreboding. I had the paperwork we needed in a manila folder she took from her father's filing cabinet in my other hand. She plucked at the side of the dress, releasing a wrinkle that now lay flat on her hip. I wanted to embrace her, but I was afraid that would set her off again.

"Let's go in," I said. My mouth felt dry. I didn't know what else to say. I was afraid she would cry again, although I wouldn't really blame her if she did. I was afraid she would say no, but I shared that fear with a healthy amount of panic that she wouldn't. It had been a whirlwind of emotions, an exhausting ten days of highs and lows and hugging and crying. I wasn't as ready as I thought, but I was as ready as I was going to be. It was one of those situations where the decision was bad, but all the alternatives were worse. That's a terrible reason to decide anything.

She took my hand.

"Yes," she said.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

SPE: Backwards Day

[For the Scriptic prompt exchange this week, Diane gave me this prompt: "It's Backwards Day!".
I gave FlamingNyx this prompt: "the girl with the tortoiseshell glasses"]

He watched her make her way across the room towards him, maneuvering with feline grace around the other tables. He stood as she approached, looking her up and down for the first time. Elin wasn't wrong- she was quite a beauty. She had long legs, a tiny waist, and a brilliant smile.

"Are you Robert?," she said cheerfully.

"I am," he said. "You must be Julia."

"I am indeed," she said, finally reaching his table. He stood up, pulling her chair out, and she sat, smoothing her flowered dress under her thighs. She crossed her legs, focusing her gaze on him as he sat again. The waitress, a blond with jealousy burning in her eyes, hovered nearby.

"Do you want a drink?," he said.

"Sure," she said. "Zinfandel?"

"Certainly, ma'am," she said, turning her head slightly to look at him. Her round face looked pinched by her hair, which was pulled severely back.

"Draft beer," he said. "Iron City."

"Of course," she said, moving off like a ghost, leaving the menus behind.

"So," he said.

"So," she said, giggling softly. "Elin told me all about you."

"Well," he said with a chuckle. "I'm not sure how I should feel about that."

"Oh, you," she said. "She didn't say anything bad. She thinks you're a great guy. You're just not right for her, that's all."

"That's comforting," he said. "She was sweet. It just wasn't working, you know?"

"Oh, I know," she said. "My last relationship ended like that. Everybody's still friends, but you know when it isn't going to happen, for whatever reason. Personality, or habits, or physical things, or who knows what. I read this article that suggested that even people's smells have to be compatible. Lots of things can go wrong."

"True," he said. "There are so many obstacles, it's a wonder anyone makes it work."

"That's so right," she said. The waitress came and silently delivered their drinks, hovering for a moment again.

"Would you like to order, or...," the waitress said.

"Not quite yet," she said, and the waitress drifted away. He snuck a glance at her as she walked away, her full hips twitching under a long black skirt. They both sipped their drinks and set them back down again.

"So how did my name come up?," he said.

"We were just talking. You know how girls talk. I knew she wasn't seeing you anymore, and we were going on about how awful men are, know. She told me what broke you two up, and how, otherwise, you were such a great, sweet guy. "

"How much did she tell you?," he said. He took a longer sip from his beer.

"Oh, she told me."

He made a face.

"Oh, don't," she said. "You don't think we compare notes? We talk about that kind of thing. We're no worse than men are."

"I don't know anyone who talks like that," he said softly.

"Oh, you do so. All men are like that. Look, I'm not going to lie to you. She told me what happened, and it intrigued me. I've never had that problem. And I don't think it's a coincidence that I've never been all that satisfied with anyone. So how about it?"

"How about what?," he said slowly.

"My place is about 3 blocks from here. Let's skip lunch and see what we can...see," she said. She finished her wine, her tongue darting out to sample a drop that lingered on her lips.

"I don't know."

"Oh come on," she said. "It's every guy's dream. I'm taking precautions, don't worry. And Elin knows me, I'm not usually like this. I just kind of...I don't know...I have to know. I want to know. I'm not asking you to do anything more. You can leave afterwards and never speak to me again if you want."

"Doesn't say much for my humanity, does it? Makes me into a thing," he said.

"Oh, cut the crap, Robert. You objectify women all the damn time. I saw you looking at the waitress as she walked away. Spend an hour, satisfy my curiosity, and then, if I'm as bad as you seem to think, you'll never hear my name again."

"Feels mercenary. Cold," he said. "Like I don't matter."

"It's a simple transaction, hun." She opened her clutch and took out a gold credit card. "I'll even pay for the drinks. Follow me home, show me what it's like, and you can go about your business. And I'm pretty damn good, if I do say so myself. And even if I'm not, as my ex Lee liked to say, the worst one you've ever had is still pretty good, right?"

"Aren't there other ways to...ah...get you what you need? Like with,"

She giggled again. "I have a drawer full of those. Believe me, if that was all I needed, I wouldn't be here today. The real thing is...different."

He looked at her, then into his beer, watching the glimmer of the bubbles in the amber liquid.

"It doesn't feel right," he said.

"Oh, please," she said. "You sound like Elin, for God's sake. Who cares how it feels? It will feel good, and then you're done with me forever. If you want."

He didn't say anything.

"You know you want to," she said. She motioned to the waitress and said brightly, "may I have the check? Our plans have changed. " The waitress moved away.

"I'm tired of talking about this," she continued. "I'm going to go outside and make a phone call." The waitress came back with a black portfolio. Julia withdrew a big black pen, wrote something on the reciept and signed it with a flourish, handing it back to the waitress. The waitress glanced at it.

"Thank you so much," the waitress said, turning and walking away. He watched her leave again.

"By the time I'm done on the phone," she said, "if you're not outside, I'll assume your answer is no. And that you're a fool." He didn't know what to say, so he didn't say anything. She got up and walked away, gliding on high heeled shoes with a skinny ankle strap. He looked at his beer again and took another long sip. He didn't know what to think about, so he thought about the waitress, and he wondered if she talked that way with her friends. Then he got up and left.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

SPE: One Shoe

{For the Scriptic prompt exchange this week, Sinistral Scribblings gave me this prompt: "An irregular hiatus." I gave kgwaite this prompt: "There is no quality in this world that is not what it is merely by contrast." -Herman Melville}

It was a local holiday, but not a national one, so Patriot's Day, the annual celebration of the battles of Lexington and Concord, still faintly gives off the aura of skipping school to me. I went into my office in the morning, because I knew there were some who didn't know or care about our quaint local traditions. No one wanted me for anything in particular, so I puttered around for a bit, then locked up and headed back out. It was a fine day, warm in the sun, with winter's chill still lurking in the shadows. I took off my tie and stored it in my briefcase, then started walking. I didn't have anywhere to be, and I didn't feel like doing anything useful.

I wandered towards Boylston, knowing that the enormous crowds of the "real", Olympic level finishers had probably thinned by now. I made myself do this every year, even though I had less than no interest in running myself, partially out of habit, and partially out of a genuine envy of the unimpeachable, unnegotiable achievement of running 26 miles on an April Monday. It didn't mean anything- it didn't cure any diseases or feed anyone who was hungry. But it meant something, if only just for one's self. I wanted to have their ability to point to something enormous, something monumental, and say, "I did that."

I walked away from the finish line, up the street until the group thinned out enough for me to see. The runners were still coming, singly and in small groups, and we gave them each polite applause. I found a slight rise, a small tree rooted in mulch with tiny decorative cement blocks around the perimeter. I set my briefcase down between my feet, and watched the progression. There was an irregular hiatus between applause breaks, a gap between groups that was sometimes seconds, occasionally a full minute.

I looked at a trio of three college girls about 10 feet in front of me, talking animatedly with one another, stopping each time a runner came by and they heard the wave of cheering. I had been watching students for decades, and I watched the threesome interact, looking for the leader. There was always an alpha, and the tall one, with the waves of brown hair and the long skirt and leggings, the big, fertile hips, and the pointy flats, was in charge. I couldn't hear what they were saying, but her two friends, a mousy brunette with short hair and a cute chunky girl with long dangling earrings, were deferring to her. She shot me a look, then turned back to her conversation.

I almost chuckled, because she had no idea how harmless I was. It was a feeling that had been chasing me around for months now, the gradual gathering irrelevance of my continued existence. I felt in my bones the Darwinian dismissal- my time is done here, and all I have left to me is a continuing slide into degradation and senescence. It is over for me now, watching the young ones stretch in the sun, perhaps discussing men, or poetry, or art, or nail polish. They were alive, fully present, their whole lives in front of them, the front line soldiers in the world, due to push out babies and form companies and write long poems with complicated meter.

My head was turned, and I was clapping for a runner just passed and looking for the next one before I turned my attention back to the trio of lovelies. There was a wave of air, an intense shove on my back, like the feeling of a subway train leaving the station but a hundred times stronger. When I was conscious again, I found myself on the ground, my ears ringing like I was at a concert, with bitter grit and smoke and chaos around me. My first reaction was annoyance, since I was on the ground against my will.

I was sprawled out, my shirt now filthy with dirt, my pants torn. I could hear very little, all sound deeply muffled like when being underwater. I felt wetness on my leg, and looked down to see a decent sized scratch, bleeding freely but nothing that soap and water and a gauze pad wouldn't fix. Something had exploded, something very close to me, and from my perch on the ground, I could see cops and firemen and people in marathon shirts hauling aside the barriers. I saw faces frozen in stunned masks of fear and rage, and then a cop's face, big and beefy like in a detective novel. I couldn't hear what he said, but I read lips well enough to be able to croak out a demurral.

"I'm, I'm OK. Come back to me- help the injured first."

The cop nodded and his face was gone. I brought myself to my knees, checking my extremities for damage. I was hurt, but nothing that would cause any alarm. I thought about trying to call someone, but with my head still ringing, I wouldn't be able to hear them anyway. I picked up my briefcase, which was dented by something, but hadn't gone far from me. I was a little woozy, so I immediately sat down again, my knees high, my hands now resting on them, my head down. I tried shaking my head to clear it, but still the cotton wool stayed in my head.

The street was a mass of police and fire engines, flashing lights and people wandering without any clear purpose. There were windows, jagged and smashed, in the buildings behind me. I could see people walking and running away from the street where I kept sitting. Another fireman, a pleasant faced woman with her hair pulled back in a bun, came up to me, her smudged face creased with worry.

"I'm OK," I said again. "Just scraped. Someone needs you more, I'm sure."

She walked away and I saw a single shoe, one of the flats the leader of the trio was wearing, sitting on its side on the street. There was dirt and debris and a spot of blood on the leather, and it was alone on the blacktop amid the madness. I hated the incongruity of it. I hoped that she was alright, that she was sharing an ambulance ride with her two comrades, scared but laughing as the adrenaline wore off. The shoe was out of place, there by itself, and I thought about getting up and getting it and trying to find her, and I kept thinking about that until the cop with the fat Irish face came up again and insisted I be taken to the medical tent.

Monday, April 15, 2013

SPE: "An Eye For An Eye"

{For the Scriptic prompt exchange this week, kgwaite gave me this prompt: "What would you give up?" I gave Venusmoon this prompt: ' "The time it takes to get something done is the time it takes." --Mandy Patinkin'}

What would I give up? I feel like giving it all up. Once again, I am staring at a blank document, a lovely little prompt, meant for me to conjure up a work of imagination and beauty, staring me in the face, while all I can think of is far off death and destruction and blood. This time, the tragedy came from my ancestral home, Boston, where bombs exploded in the crowd at the Boston Marathon today. And again, I am stunned, numbed into silence and grief and a heartsick anger. It's easy to feel helpless. Again, there is precious little I can add. As I write these words, very little is known about what or why or who, as if there can be a possible why. I've turned off the television and turned away from social media out of raw, burning frustration, unable to make sense of the rumors and half truths and earnest pronouncements. Unable to make sense of anything, really.

I don't know why some things affect me more than others, exactly. If I can be said to hold one principle more or less sacrosanct, it is that blood should not be shed unless one is really, really sure there isn't another way out. And this is a principle that gets violated constantly, and new mourners are created all too regularly. Grief is not tangible- it can't be weighed. Aurora is not more tragic than Columbine, and Boston is not worse than Sandy Hook. "Each man's death diminishes me, for I am involved in mankind," John Donne urges, but that isn't really true. Sandy Hook shook me more than most because it was children. Today gives me a nasty knock because at heart I am a Bostonian- those are my streets. Those are my people.

Yet I know intellectually that Iraqis and Palestinians and Israelis and French and Belgians and Ugandans love their children, too. But as Jeff Foxworthy pointed out once, we see so many awful events all around the world that they kind of blur in the mind- we see if any Americans were killed, and then we turn the page and read Dilbert. People around the world die for horrible reasons because of drone strikes and car bombs and plane crashes and the simple, stupid grinding slaughter that American cities serve up to their lower classes in a grisly buffet.

We are a violent people, and we live in a violent world with a violent culture. I have consumed mass media right along with everyone else, and I have undoubtedly watched thousands of portrayals of murders on television, in films, and during video games. I have paid thousands of dollars in taxes, some of which has gone to buy bombs and missles and bullets and mines, some of which have no doubt blown off an arm or a leg or a finger or a head of someone who never did anything to me. In that sense, there are no innocent people any more. We're all in it, up to our eyeballs in the gore and the blood and the muck.

Nothing can excuse or explain what happened today. I don't have any answers, no one to blame, no path out of the woods. The butcher's bill grows ever longer, and the charnel house that the 21st century has become got a little bit bloodier today. But I find myself going back to the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, whose words caused a sensation during the 2008 campaign when President Obama's former preacher was said to have made "anti American comments" in his sermons. I remember hearing one passage set to music and played on Adam Curry's podcast at the time, and thinking that, while uncomfortable to hear, I couldn't dispute what the man was saying.

I don't know who did this, and I don't care. I don't know how to prevent things like this from happening, and neither do you. But I do know one thing: As Gandhi is supposed to have said, and as Martin Luther King did write, "an eye for an eye leaves everybody blind." If we respond to our grief and rage with more killing and violence, I am certain I will be writing this essay again.

"We took this country by terror away from the Sioux, the Apache, Arikara, the Comanche, the Arapaho, the Navajo. Terrorism.
"We took Africans away from their country to build our way of ease and kept them enslaved and living in fear. Terrorism.
"We bombed Grenada and killed innocent civilians, babies, non-military personnel.
"We bombed the black civilian community of Panama with stealth bombers and killed unarmed teenage and toddlers, pregnant mothers and hard working fathers.
"We bombed Qaddafi's home, and killed his child. Blessed are they who bash your children's head against the rock.
"We bombed Iraq. We killed unarmed civilians trying to make a living. We bombed a plant in Sudan to pay back for the attack on our embassy, killed hundreds of hard working people, mothers and fathers who left home to go that day not knowing that they'd never get back home.
"We bombed Hiroshima. We bombed Nagasaki, and we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon and we never batted an eye.
"Kids playing in the playground. Mothers picking up children after school. Civilians, not soldiers, people just trying to make it day by day.
"We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and black South Africans, and now we are indignant because the stuff that we have done overseas is now brought right back into our own front yards. America's chickens are coming home to roost.
"Violence begets violence. Hatred begets hatred. And terrorism begets terrorism."
-Reverend Jeremiah Wright

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

SPE: The Way It Should Be

[For the Scriptic prompt exchange this week, Mark G. gave me this prompt: "Show your devotion to me."
I gave Anna this prompt:' "It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society" -Krishnamurti ']

Marie Gallagher liked her routines. She got up at the same time every morning, she took care of her bathroom needs, she washed and changed, she cooked herself an egg and made toast, and then she neatened and straightened the rest of the morning. There wasn't much to straighten any more. The children were gone now, along with Frank, dear sweet Frank, who looked up at her 14 years ago and complimented her cooking, as he always did, belching as he pushed away from the table, then went into the family room and passed away silently in his recliner, his open eyes staring at "Wheel Of Fortune" while she washed dishes, oblivious, in the next room. Those nice handsome young men from the ambulance told her there was nothing she could have done, and that tiny little Indian doctor said the same thing at County General, her perfect round brown face full of sorrow, but she never believed them.

Marie prayed about it, prayed as she puttered around, cleaning and recleaning. The house didn't get dirty the way it used to, Marie both loving and hating the mess and the chaos and the glorious noise of the toddler grandchildren years ago. Of course, they grew older as time went on, the daughters silent and moody, the sons muted and out of place without Frank to balance the energy in the house. Marie prayed that her Frank had gone to his reward, that he was as decent a man to the Lord as he was to her. She prayed that she had done right by him.

Frank's death felt like it opened a trap door under her feet, suddenly responsible for a world full of things she didn't understand, a world of cable bills and municipal taxes and annuities and wills and probate court. Thank the Lord for the girls and their husbands, Lisa's dark, intense Richard and Wendy's placid, fat Steven, who came in and explained and reexplained how it all worked, where the circuit breakers were and how a cell phone worked and who plowed the driveway and who to hire at tax time. She felt the tide nipping at her ankles, but eventually, with the kids' help, she got it all down pat.

The kids didn't come by the way they used to. Which was fine- it was time for her beautiful daughters to raise their own family units, to become stars in someone else's sky. They had both chosen well, nice respectful husbands with good paying jobs who loved their kids with a depth and intensity that Marie's generation never got from their own fathers. It was time. It was the natural order of things. The grandkids had choir and art and band and football and soccer and the school play and the prom, and that was the way it should be. Marie had her routines, and that was fine by her. That was also the way it should be.

After "The Price Is Right," where that pudgy comic had replaced tall suave Bob Barker, she made herself a tuna sandwich, then ate it in front of the noon news carnival of maladjusted criminals and crooked mayors. Marie cleaned up zealously, then napped in front of the soap operas whose storylines she could never follow anymore, finally waking up with that nice Katie Couric, always talking so gently to those confused looking young starlets with the long beautiful legs who all looked alike.

Then, after the final applause died off on Katie's show, she knew to turn to channel 267, where
she knew Pastor Benny was waiting. They repeated his service at different times during the day, but this was Marie's hour to spend with him. Pastor Benny talked to her the way no one else did, not the nurses at Dr. Burns' office, not that nice round hipped girl at the pharmacy who always remembered her name, not anybody in her life. Nobody answered her concerns, listened to her fears, made her feel wanted and necessary, like Pastor Benny.

When Lisa saw the repeated entries in her checkbook one day, she asked her what "B.H.L.H" stood for, and she made up something about a church appeal for Bosnia, and that seemed to satisfy her younger daughter's curiousity. Marie didn't want anyone else to know about Pastor Benny, because Pastor Benny was hers, and she didn't want anyone interfering with her rhythms. Pastor Benny filled her heart with joy, and that was a feeling she seldom had since Frank died.

She watched intently as the service began, the organ playing, the choir in their identical purple robes making a joyful noise, and then he came out from the side of the stage, the parishioners cheering and crying out, steady clapping suddenly dissolving into a roar. Marie watched the camera focus on one woman, a large Hispanic woman with an enormous bust who was crying big fat tears as Pastor Benny came out, bathing in the love and the devotion of his flock. His church was enormous, every inch luxurious carpet or glittering chandelier, and his crowds filled the room, making Marie swoon with how much power there was coming out of her television.

"My people, my children," Pastor Benny said, his hair slicked back, walking across that huge stage in a gray suit that fit him perfectly. "Welcome. I want you to come together with me today, come together with me and make God's love manifest in the world. Now, my children, my people, I want you to join with me, join together and show your devotion, in Jesus' name, show your devotion to the world, show your devotion to the Lord, and show your devotion, my children, show your devotion to me." An address flashed on the screen, and Marie reached for her glasses so she could write it down, even though she knew Pastor Benny would show it again.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

SPE: Strike Three

[For the Scriptic prompt exchange this week, Kirsten Piccini gave me this prompt: "Your power over me is diminishing because while you hate, I love." --Please use this sentence in your piece..I gave kgwaite this prompt: "I am not at all concerned with appearing to be consistent. In my search after Truth I have discarded many ideas and learnt many new things." --Mahatma Gandhi]

The table was long and flat and black, an imposing reminder of the important decisions made in this room. Contracts were negotiated here, corporate empires formed and shattered, high level crimes covered up or exposed. Big things happen here, the room said, and you wanted to fall into a hush, in awe of your surroundings. A pretty woman in a dark green skirt set a glistening pitcher of ice water onto a tray in the center of the table, where glass tumblers were already waiting.

"Mr. Hanigan will be right with you," she said officiously, before turning to leave the room.

"I'll wait outside," my attorney, Alison Wainwright, said. I watched the two women leave the room, Alison's tiny strides behind the secretary's long legs. She looked like the other woman's baby sister.

The glass door closed silently behind them. It was impossibly clean, looking somehow thin yet soundproof.

"Are you banging her yet?," Darlene said, her lip curled with contempt. My soon to be ex wife was already sitting in one of the soft chairs, looking up at me. We were in her attorney's office, so she probably felt invulnerable. She had a cruel streak that came out when she felt like she was on solid ground. It was one of the many things that had emerged over the course of our relationship.

"I'm not sure why you would care."

"You don't think I care about you, Stephen?"

"We're here, aren't we? Why do you think we're here?"

"I told you I want another chance."

"I know. But I've seen that movie before. Remember the last time you asked for another chance? And the time before that? Three strikes and you're out. You know the rules."

Her face fell when I said that. It was mean, needlessly so.

"That's not fair, Stephen. Not fair at all." She was looking down, her voice soft. I could see her cleavage down the neck of her flowery summer dress. "Why do you do that to me?"

"Do what, Darl? Bring up what you did?"

"Yes, Stephen. Why do you do that? I said I was sorry."

"Yes, Darl. Twice."

"I hate you, Stephen. I hate you when you're like this. So mean."

"I'm sure you do. It can't be easy to be reminded. See, that's the part that drives you crazy about this, Darlene. Your power over me is diminishing because while you hate, I love. I love you, Darlene. I've never stopped loving you. We have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that we can't live together as a married couple. I've made my peace with that. You can't stay faithful. That's insulting, but I have made my peace with that, too. But fundamentally, I still care about you. I want you to be happy, even if it isn't with me. You say you hate me, and that's not nice for me to hear, but I'm a big boy. I can take it."

Darlene's eyes were wide. "Please," she said mockingly. "please tell me more about what I think."

"You can do that all you like," I said. "It doesn't make it untrue. You say you hate me, but fundamentally, you're angry with me because you can't play the victim. All your life, you've waited for men to hurt you. And they have. And when they have, you've been able to play your favorite role, the wounded martyr, the delicate flower, wounded by faithless, treacherous man. And your friends rush in to console you, poor Darlene, why can't she find a good man? And then you found me, and I wouldn't hurt you. So that wouldn't feed into the negative self image you spend so much time maintaining, would it?"

Darlene smirked up at me. "You tell me. You're the one who understands so much about me."

"It doesn't. So you started acting out. First in small ways, then in bigger and bigger ones. Then, finally, the ultimate betrayal. Why? Why were you determined to sabotage our marriage? Deep down, Darlene, you can't stand the fact that I love you. It makes you question the way you have lived your life. So you hate, Darlene. And I love. And that, fundamentally, is why we're here."

The door glided open silently, Alison being followed by Darlene's attorney, a tall, trim man with an iron jaw named Ryan Hanigan. He looked at me, a man sizing up another man, primal instincts coming to the fore.

"Are we interrupting?," he said jovially.

"No," Darlene said firmly. "No, you are not."

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

SPE: You Give Love A Bad Name

[For the Scriptic prompt exchange this week, The Fiction Vixen gave me this prompt: "And with that, she shot him." I gave kgwaite this prompt: " 'We gain no wisdom by imposing our way on others' -James Lee Burke "]

{I don't know why I insist on doing this, but caveat emptor: the following contains adults doing adult things with other adults. And furthermore, as always, let me remind you that the opinions expressed herein are those of fictional characters, not of the artist himself.}

"Come right in!," a voice called out from somewhere in the enormous, high ceilinged space.

"I'll be right there!," it said again. She stepped out of the rickety looking old fashioned elevator, but it stayed where it was, as if inviting her to change her mind. Her low heeled boots made a gentle rapping sound on the hardwood floor. The space yawned in front of her, exposed pipes and huge windows with tarps and paint and canvases spread everywhere. The room smelled of chemicals and paint and onion soup. She set her bag down, her practiced eye already measuring angle and light and shadow in the huge loft.

She heard a toilet flush, and the sound of water running, and then he came around the corner, drying his hands on a wad of paper towels.

"You must be the young lady from...," he said, his voice trailing off. He reminded her of Johnny Depp's father from that pirate movie, his hair uncombed , his face a wrinkled mess of tanned leather, his clothes sloppy and disorganized, an untucked dress shirt that used to be white over black jeans with a hole in one knee and no shoes. He walked like an old man, each step uncertain.

"Art Week, yes," she said quickly. "I'm...,"

"Never mind, sweetie. I'll never remember it anyway. I'm only doing this because Claire told me it would help the show. But I can't imagine how. Those rich fuckers will either buy it or they won't. I'm sure a spread in Art Week won't matter worth a damn." He coughed twice. "But that's not your fault, doll. Do you have a place in mind? By the window, perhaps?"

"Yes," she said uncertainly. Clearly he wasn't entirely out of it- the window was the perfect place, with the filtered light and the shadows. His instincts were sharp. "Let's start there."

He walked over to the window, the sunlight still streaming in, fighting its way into the room through decades of grime. She assembled her gear and followed him, marvelling at the way he looked, already beginning to think about arrangements.

"Do you need me to pose?," he said.

"Not really," she said. "I'll let you know. Just act naturally."

"As Carl Perkins used to say," he said, smiling to himself. "Do you mind if I smoke?"

"It's your home," she said.

"Thank you," he said. "So many people are so uptight these days. Do you smoke, honey?"

"No," she said.

"Why not? Aren't you afraid your boyfriend is going to stop fucking you if you lose your adorable little waist?"

She looked at him, shocked, as he moved canvases aside so she could get a good angle against the window. She thought about the locked door, and her cell phone, miles away in her bag all the way on the other side of the room. She felt a prickle of fear, sweat suddenly forming at her temple. He didn't look that strong, but she suddenly felt very alone with him. He saw the expression on her face and stopped.

"Oh, relax. Does Anna still give out assignments at that rag of yours?"

She pictured her photo editor, Anna Thomas, her short boy's haircut, unsatisfied frown and untucked men's t shirt. "You could stage the resurrection for her," a coworker said once, "and she would complain that there were too many cherubim."

"Yes, she's still there."

"She didn't tell you about me? I propositioned one of her people back in the 90s. She called me up right afterwards and told me if I ever did it again, she'd cut my dick off. And besides, I'm too old for any of that. I don't think it works anymore."

She stared at him for a moment. Neither of them knew quite how to proceed.

"So what do you do? Work out? Starve yourself? Probably some of both. Am I right?"

"Yeah," she said uncertainly. "All my friends do."

He shook his head slowly. "Of course they do. Everyone wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die."

She wasn't sure what he meant by that. She could still feel her heart pounding.

"Do you know what's wrong with your generation? Of course you don't. No generation does. Mine certainly didn't. You people never have any fun. That's your problem. Do you have any idea what thanatos is? Of course you don't. Nobody gets properly educated anymore. Thanatos is the death force. The personification of death. The death drive. It's the other half of eros. It's the only thing that gives anything meaning. You beautiful young people, with your nonfat lattes and your spin classes and your yoga, you think you're never going to die."

She stared at him. She wanted to be far away from him at this moment, distant from this strange man and his stupid art, sitting with Andrew, listening to him complain about his boss over a plate of takeout Thai food. She didn't want to think about dying.

"You don't," he continued. "Everyone thinks my work represents something, takes a stand for something, is anti war or anti poverty or pro gay rights or some such crap. You know what it is? You know what every single thing I've ever done is all about, you with your pretty little boots and your trim hips and your tiny little breasts that you wish were a little bit bigger? Every single thing I have ever done, every painting, every sculpture, every painting, every sketch, is a scream into the void, a way of saying that I'm here, that I existed, that I mattered, that I made the world different. That's all my work represents. It's just a way of saying that I count, that even when I'm dead and gone, when my bones are ground to dust, when I'm as dead as Caesar or Napoleon or Van Gogh, that dammit, I was here. And I did something."

He put out a cigarette, then quickly lit up another and took a drag before he continued.

"You don't understand. You think I'm talking a bunch of crap. What could this pathetic old man possibly know about anything? You just want all this to be over, so you can go back to your apartment and bang your boyfriend. Bang him silly, and bang him until you forget about the fact that I was young once, and I used to be beautiful. They used to line up, the art students who wanted a shot with me. We'd drink wine, and we'd talk about love and sex and art and death and we'd fuck as the sun came up. We didn't think about death then, either. It's not like I blame you. You're young. How could you possibly know? I didn't."

"It's all about death, honey. All of it. And all the drinking and smoking and carousing and writing and painting and humping in the world doesn't change the fact that it's coming for all of us, sooner or later. No matter how many crunches you do, no matter how soon your boyfriend proposes to you and moves you out to Mount Kisco and knocks you up, he's going to keep working 80 hours a week, and eventually he's going to find a 20 year old with stars in her eyes and you're going to be staring into the eyes of Thanatos, divorced with two kids and nothing to depend on but some pictures you took of an old painter when you were young and perfect. Then you'll see what I meant. Nothing is real, honey. It's all about the end. We're all bags of meat, moist robots who have delusions of grandeur."

"You don't know anything about me," she said defensively.

"I don't?"


"You're probably right. You shouldn't listen to foolish old men. Well," he said, clearing his throat. "We might as well start."

And with that, she shot him. She shot him standing, sitting at his drafting table with blank paper in front of him, smoking moodily, staring at a silent television. She shot him staring at a silver piece of pipe, as if it was about to explain God to him. She shot him lying on his couch, his hands folded over his chest as if he were in his coffin. She shot him reading the new Tom Wolfe novel, and she shot him drawing her portrait, a quick pencil sketch on a piece of shirt cardboard.

She shot him until her camera signalled that it was full, and then she took the elevator downstairs. She took the train back uptown, then sat in a Starbucks near her apartment and transmitted the photos to Anna, then took the rest of her tea upstairs with her. She shut her door, ignoring the mute stare of her roommate Maggie, and stared at the surface of the tea until her eyes started to blur.

To Paraphrase Rahm Emanuel...

...which This Blog seldom has cause to, never let a chance for self promotion go to waste. Matt Potter, my friend and a friend to all sentient beings, has caused to be born onto this fragile Earth "obit.", a book about a man what never was, Webster Allen. This fictional New York lawyer has his life story told through tales created out of whole cloth by none other than yours truly as well as scores of other much more talented writers. (All tales penned by me are entirely new to readers of This Blog, having appeared neither here nor anywhere else.) If this sounds like your particular brand of vodka, please click the link embedded in Mr. Potter's name and buy scores of copies. Or just one. Your call.

Monday, March 18, 2013

SPE: "Flying"

[For the Scriptic prompt exchange this week, Anna gave me this prompt: "It was a joy just to see her fly." I gave Debbie this prompt: "Getting everything you want has nothing to do with anything." -Thom Yorke]

"Why don't you see if Tom can do it?," I heard as my heart sank. My wife was trying to include me, constantly assuring her daughters that while I wasn't Daddy, I was someone, and I could occasionally be of some use. Jessica knew I ached to help, and while we all felt our way along in this new world family unit, she was always trying to shoehorn me in. I appreciated the effort, but I couldn't shake the feeling they just didn't want me there.

Marissa was there, standing at the door of our bedroom, her body half hidden by the door as if she didn't want to be seen. The older one of the two girls, she had her mother's impervious outer walls and sheltered, soft center, with the red, tangled hair of a Pixar heroine and the temperament that went with it. I was pulling my shoelaces taut, ready for a post workout afternoon of chores and televised sports.

"Uh, Tom?," she said softly.

"Yes?," I said. It was like defusing a bomb with her. Hormones and all that didn't help, but there was another anger there, a rage against the universe that nothing ever seemed to quell. I never knew quite what to say, so I kept my statements even and neutral.

"Can you...uh....can you rebound for me? I need to shoot." Marissa was determined, against all odds, to make the high school varsity as a freshman. She seldom admitted to wanting anything, because wanting implies weakness, that there is something lacking.

"Of course."

She disappeared from the door without a word. I tied my sneakers tight and followed her downstairs. I raised my eyebrows at Jess as I walked by, who caught my eye and gave me a quick thumbs up before returning her focus to her younger daughter and her struggles with math.

It was a pleasant day, still warm with the shadow of fall sneaking in along the sides. I heard the familiar echoing bounce of the ball on our driveway. Marissa, her hair pulled back, was bouncing the ball with grim determination near where the free throw line would be. She shot me a look as I walked out, already impatient to start.

She pushed a shot up from her waist, and it bounced away hard from the backboard. I nearly winced at her form, all full of mismatched effort and strength. She kept shooting, and I started fielding the errant bounces and feeding them back to her, strong bounce passes so she could shoot again without pausing. She was tall, almost as tall as me, but newly so, her brain still unsure where all of her limbs were. She was not content, frowning as the ball bounced away, hard and graceless.

After 8 or 9 straight misses, I said softly, "Would you like a little advice?"

Her hair was beginning to stick to her shirt, her cheeks red with exertion. "OK," she said uncertainly.

"Hold the ball like you're going to shoot," I said, and she did. I adjusted her form, getting her to hold the ball out away from herself. I recalled my ancient time at Dave Cowens' Basketball School, all the drills about footwork, about clean releases and flipping the ball off of your fingertips. I gently guided her elbow into the right position, correcting her when necessary. Her mouth was set grimly, but she followed my advice.

She kept shooting, and I kept retrieving the errant ball and feeding it back to her, keeping her rhythm going. The ball started making a different sound, the lighter, gentler ring of a shot that was carefully placed. The shots started to fall then, her first make greeted with a half smile and an open mouth, and then the swish of more baskets falling.

She was getting her feet underneath her, going up strong, seeing the ease that jumping gave her. She went up straight and strong, flicking the ball instead of forcing it, her elevation making it increasingly easy to make shots. I watched success reinforce good habits, her joy at each made shot increasing as I slipped the ball back to her for another try.

I encouraged her to move around, letting her brain make the calculations automatically, the different angles and trajectories subtly adjusted. I reminded her gently to keep her arms out and her head up, to let her body gain the muscle memory of successfully jumping. I started to sweat, marveling at her energy, her hair whipping around in dark ringlets now, leaving moisture behind in the air like a boxer.

I kept her going, watching her face tighten with effort and try to hide a small smile as she made shot after shot after shot. I cheered her, trying to tread the line between praise and sucking up. She was gliding now, her body moving elegantly in space, the sweat equity paying off in practiced, smooth grace. I could see her colt thin legs moving with assurance and strength. She was getting it.

"Lunch!," my wife called from the doorway, and Marissa was gone, her last shot falling with a puff through the white netting, her confidence so high she didn't need to watch it. I caught the ball as it fell through, watching her take the steps in one long bound, her ponytail. slick with sweat, trailing behind, a last reminder of the effort expended. I felt certain I had taken a step closer to her, even though she would probably never admit it.

It was a joy just to see her fly.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

SPE: "It's Alright Ma"

{For the Scriptic prompt exchange this week, Stacey gave me this prompt: "Bills to pay."
I gave Kirsten Piccini this prompt: ' "I have found that...imagination sometimes has to stand in for experience." --Steve Martin'}

(To steal an idea from Esquire's Charles P. Pierce, optional soundtrack for this blog post here.)

[In a departure for This Blog, to steal Mr. Pierce's locution, this is a nonfiction piece.]

"Money doesn't talk, it swears."

I open my bank account web site with a hollow nausea in my stomach. It's never a pleasant process, paying the bills. It falls to me because, well, it's my job. I hate it less than my spouse, so I do it. Every household has tasks that have to be done to keep the family unit functioning. Some are merely annoying, some are time consuming, some are physically hard. Like Rita Rudner points out, at some point things become your job, and this is one of mine. Paying bills isn't hard, just mentally exhausting.

The math is simple enough. A second grader can add and subtract. To add and subtract larger numbers, it's simply the same operation, iterated over and over. It's simple, at its core. Money in, minus money out, equals what is left. There are mildly complicating factors- repeating automatic payments for car insurance, gym membership, tuition. But even those complications are locked into my brain with cement- the first of every month is a bad day, the 20th is another rough one. I expect these bumps in the financial road, one anonymous computer talking to another in the night, money disappearing in one place, reappearing in another, teleportation made real, with Mr. Scott nowhere to be found.

I have been paid, throughout my life, in weekly or biweekly installments, each allotment arriving on schedule, my employer deciding my worth and pumping in my lifeblood, each pay period a tiny gust of wind into my sails. Silently, another bank computer blinks somewhere in Phoenix or Boise or Charlotte and suddenly, my account swells, another expression of gratitude for my toil, my aching legs, my ruined feet. Not a lot, but enough. Enough to keep me coming back. Not so little I quit for greener pastures, not so much my employer spirals into insolvency. Just enough.

I've tried to imagine what it must be to be a comedian, or a musician, or an author, sudden paydays interspersed with long, fallow periods where you must wonder, like a stranded sailor, if another breeze will ever blow. I would be rendered insane with the insecurity of it, I think, but then I realize you can get used to anything, so I would probably get used to that. So much of life is what you can endure. And also, you can ask former employees of Lehman Brothers how insecure security can be.

It's the ultimate sin, the final taboo. People would rather show you their genitalia than their bank statement. We don't talk about what we make, my employer reminds me periodically. As far as I know, they have no means to enforce that provision, save perhaps for firing me. And they may do that anyway. To reveal what you make is almost pornographic, a revealing look at you, the way we measure how we're doing, the way we keep score. What you're worth is what someone decides to pay you, period. Nobody wants to show their hole cards. We're all bluffing, pretending we are worth more than we are.

LeBron James is paid a little less than $200,000 per regular season game this year. Someone has that money, and they have decided he is worth it, therefore he gets it. (And if the man who paid it to him didn't recoup the money in t shirts and hot dogs and tickets and foam fingers sold, he surely wouldn't get it.) To paraphrase the great baseball writer Bill James, "Would you rather the owners just keep it?" To argue that LeBron James shouldn't be paid five or ten times what a teacher or a garbage man makes is to argue that the rain shouldn't be wet. It would be convenient if it were, it would be helpful, it would be nice. But it isn't so.

I don't want it to be this way. I'm no Communist- I like buying a meal at a restaurant as much as the next person does. But your worth as a person isn't the same as your earning power. It shouldn't be. People are capable of artistic achievement, selfless devotion to others, acts of greatness and beauty and sensitivity and gorgeous, unvarnished truth. You can't buy a hug (at least, not a sincere one) or a child's laugh or a sunset or the smell of lilacs. Money is not the central value of human life. But when you're balancing your checkbook, it sure seems like it is.

I hate money. I hate the way it makes me feel, I hate the way I can't seem to grasp it. I hate the way I never seem to have enough of it. I hate the way it disappears, the constant feeling of robbing Peter to pay Paul, the constant slippage, the feeling that you are that old plate spinner on a variety show. Always behind, always filled with insecurity. I should be able to manage this, but I can't. It's just math. But the numbers never say what I want them to say, what I need them to say. They never say that I'm OK, that I can rest easy, that I can buy a 5 dollar used paperback without being consumed by guilt, that I deserve happiness, that I am a good provider, that I am making it. The numbers never say that I'm good.

"Money can't buy me love"

Thursday, March 07, 2013

SPE: "It's All Too Much"

{For the Scriptic prompt exchange this week, Debbie gave me this prompt: Use these sensory words in a piece: cool, yellow, fresh, sweet, and crackle. I gave Anna Ellis this prompt: "It's funny how everything was roses while we held onto the guns." -Guns N Roses}

The condensation beaded up on the side of the cool glass, the drops racing each other down the side to the growing pool of moisture on the counter. Diet Coke, plenty of ice, a slice of fresh yellow lemon, and a splash of whiskey. Or two. I could see Sophie's head from where I was standing, her fluffy red hair exploding from the neat ponytail I placed it in this morning. I didn't like her watching television, but the color and the sound kept her attention for a few minutes.

I needed a few minutes. A few minutes without the yammering, the howling hole of need and want that was torn from me a year and a half ago and now sits, enraptured, purple and blue light playing over her perfect, even face. She looks just like my sister, my sister with a hint of my husband's strong chin and deep blue eyes. She's a head turner, far prettier than me, the kind of little girl that strangers stop to look at, with the unruly crimson hair that folklore promised would pay off in a ferocious temper.

I took a sip of the drink. Sophie's dinner was cooking, while I mixed cookie dough, piling the mush on top of itself in the large bowl, stirring and stirring to give myself something to do. I thought about spooning a load into my mouth, but I knew how that would end, a rush of delirious taste, joy and intense sweet flavor followed by guilt and a crushing depression, weeping in the bathroom while John sleeps blissfully in our bed. I shifted my weight uncomfortably, both hips hurting from a long day walking around in heels. No position felt comfortable. I longed to sit, but tomorrow was Friday, and the big cookie sale was Saturday, so I had to be ready.

I thought about Evie, perfect blond Eveline with her runway model looks, thousand dollar purses, and abs that seemed to spring back seconds after her kids are born. The way she asked me to make cookies, the implied answer already embedded in the question like a bomb. "You are making the chocolate chip, right? 8 dozen should do it, I think. Oh, thanks so much, hon!," she said, already clicking off onto another call before I could really form a thought.

"I'm too tired," I thought to the silent air after her call. "I'm too worn out from holding up work, and marriage, and this hurricane of mess and love and joy and anger," I wanted to say now, staring at my daughter, her thoughts miles away in a world where blue dogs yelped and salt and pepper shakers talked with a French accent and answers were found in notebooks. The oven pinged and I moved to remove her dinner, chicken nuggets and macaroni and carrots she wouldn't touch.

I had to arrange it the way she wanted, each third of her Elmo plate holding a single dish, nothing touching, her drink not too cold, her food not too hot. My father laughed and called her "The Tyrant", and we all laughed because that's what you do when a grandparent said anything because grandparents are joyful and fun, right? The remark cut into me, though, especially when I started turning it over, late that night, sitting by myself at the dining room table, drinking red wine, realizing that he was exactly right, children were tyrannical. Their demands were absolute, they could not be negotiated with, and everyone suffered if you defied them.

I picked up my drink, taking a long swallow, setting it down on a wrapper from a bag of chocolate chips that gave off a crackle. I had to change the oven temperature for the cookies, then begin setting trays full of cookies in there, tray after tray after tray, denying her repeated requests to try one, rushing her through bathroom and brushing teeth and changing into pajamas and brushing the hair and bed, battling at each stage until I am nearly senseless with rage and guilt.

And then John comes in, tired from work but full of affection, sweetly tucking Sophie in, then turning to me, expecting passion and love and sweat and the girl he married, looking for a champagne flute and getting an empty, cracked cup. It's all too much, I thought, hearing George Harrison sing it in my head. "It's all too much/for me to take..."

"Dinnertime, Sophie," I said.

"OK," she said with practiced annoyance at my interruption. .

OK? I thought, feeling my emotions redline like I was driving in first gear. I felt the hot bubble of anger in my throat. Do you have any idea what I have given up for you? What I do for you? What you made me? And I'm interrupting your precious program? The words formed, enraged sentences and obscenities forming in my head. I took a step towards her.

Just as suddenly as it started, it broke like a wave across my forehead. Of course she doesn't know. She's one. How would she know? She's all sensation and want, and she's still a little surprised the world is still there when she opens her eyes in the morning. I undid the bottom button on my blouse, which was uncomfortably tight across my middle. I looked down at her, watching intently as the clues are revealed, knitted together to answer the question posed at the beginning.

I let a breath out, then took another deep draw on my drink. O Sophie. Love of my life, despoiler of dreams. Tyrant, dreamer, imagined foe, red headed wonder. She turned to look up at me when the program broke for commercial. She didn't ask for any of this. I was deeply unworthy of such a perfect, pure love.

I heard the front door open, and the sounds of John coming through the front door. "Daddy!," she yelled, bolting from her seat and dashing for the door.

Yes, I thought, hearing the joyful cries, her high screech and his low rumble. Daddy.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

SPE: "She Came In Through The Bathroom Window"

[For the Scriptic prompt exchange this week, The Baking Barrister gave me this prompt:' "Do you know how to say 'peace' in Italian?" he asked. "No, but I can say 'I love you' in 12 languages," she replied.'
I gave Kirsten Piccini this prompt: "How could I forget?"]

"Do you know how to say 'peace' in Italian?," he asked. He was doing The New York Times crossword, trying to ignore the silent phones they had placed in the center of the table. They were having a late breakfast, soft croissants with butter and jam, strong coffee, and reading. She was seated opposite him, her face in a book of Lorrie Moore short stories. She didn't want to look at the silent phones either.

"No, but I can say 'I love you' in 12 languages," she replied. They were dressed, but just barely. He was rumpled and unshaven, wearing an untucked blue dress shirt over dark jeans with black basketball sneakers. She wore leggings and soft suede boots, with a t shirt and a long cardigan over it all. Her hair was pulled back into a sloppy bun, one rebellious curl hanging over her eye like a comma.

He had urged her to come out for breakfast, arguing that the walk and the outside air would do them good. He also observed that a little activity would distract them from the call they were both waiting for, the call that they both lusted for and feared. He finally won the day by pointing out that there was precious little to eat or drink in the house. They dressed quickly and decamped for the nearest coffee shop, a faux retro place that pretended to be old and dark, but wound up just looking like it was trying too hard.

"Oh? Which ones?"

"French, Spanish, Italian, Greek, Mandarin, Cantonese, Danish, Tagalog, Basque, and Arabic."

"That's only ten."

"Well, English, too. And American Sign."

"Oh. What possessed you to learn that?"

She took a sip of coffee. "College. We did a project one year, where we tried to make a video with "I love you" in as many languages as we could find. I just found it fascinating, and I just decided to memorize as many as I could. I used to know over 30."


"Yes, really."

"You never cease to amaze me."

"I'm glad," she said. He took a bite of croissant and started chewing it. She returned to her book. The phones did not ring. Their coffees continued to cool. She got up and added some more cream to hers. She sat back down, crossing her legs again. People came in and out of the coffee shop. Kids chewed on sugary treats. Dogs waited outside patiently for owners to return. Time passed.

"Tagalog," he said.

"What?," she replied.

"Say 'I love you' in Tagalog."

"You don't believe me?"

"Just say it," he said.

"Mahal kita."


"Ana Behibak." A woman with very pretty eyes, her hair covered, turned her head to look as she said it. The woman continued past with a bottle of water and a banana.

"How do I know you're not just making these up?"

"You don't believe me?," she said, her voice betraying a little hurt.

"I just don't know whether or not these are real."

"My word isn't enough?"

"Of course it is," he said. "I'm just giving you a hard time."

"Well don't," she said.

They sat together. The phones didn't ring. He finished his coffee and got up to get more.

She watched his easy physical grace over the top of her book, something that was once so appealing. He played baseball at a high level at the university where they met, until a slide from an Iowa State baserunner destroyed his left knee. He still carried himself like the star he was, and it made her stomach hurt to watch him now. Other women watched him when he moved, their eyes following him, then darting back to her and probably finding her wanting. She stared at the phones, willing them to ring. She wanted to know, whatever the answer was- not knowing, being suspended between the two poles, was killing her.

He came back and sat down. She watched him return to the puzzle, tapping the point of his pen on the paper.

"Mandarin?," he said.

"Shut up," she said as she got up from the table. She closed her paperback and put it into her bag, and grabbed her phone.

"You don't think I'd tell you?," he said. "When they call?"

"Shut up," she said. She walked into the back and went into the bathroom, closing and locking the door of the stall. She stood there for a moment, thinking about the call that hadn't come. She wanted to throw up, more for the mental purgation than the physical relief. She thought about a movie she saw once where someone made an escape through a bathroom window, then she thought about that Beatles song. She looked down at her flawed body, too small breasts and too large thighs and sweaty and matted and gross and bitter and nasty and pure, focused fuckedupedness, and she suddenly saw herself getting away from him, away from this, away from it all. She'd take all the pills in her handbag if she didn't believe she'd probably get that wrong too.

"Didn't anybody tell her?," she sang softly to herself. "Didn't anybody see?"

Nobody told her, she thought. Nobody saw.