I came across a group of young transients in the graveyard one evening during my break from work.
It wasn’t a regular cemetery, all the bodies buried there were patients from the old State Mental Hospital. It was just an overgrown fenced-off corner of field, a gated square full of flat-stoned names and dates. The state had sold the abandoned hospital building to private contractors, who then had turned the place into modern condo units a few years back. I don’t know anyone who would want to live there.
They didn’t notice me at first. One guy sat against a tall pine tree drinking a bagged forty, a large backpack by his side. He appeared engaged in conversation with a ratty looking girl rolling a cigarette. She had a tattoo of a feather that went from her right shoulder down her exposed pale arm. Maybe she was part Native American. Or maybe in a past life she had been one of these dead mental patients, reincarnated as a girl with a feather tattoo on her arm.
Another guy wearing a black bandana around his neck with a gritty trucker hat came into view, zipping up the fly of his tattered skinny jeans. He joined the other two under the pine tree before he glanced over at me.
“Hey there, buddy,” he called over. “You got any spare change?”
The other two looked over at me, startled. They hadn’t seen me walking by until the other kid acknowledged me. I took a few more steps in their direction, walking through the broken gated entrance.
“Sorry, I don’t.” Looking at the faces I could tell that these kids weren’t much younger than me. The girl had tufts of natural looking blonde hair poking out from the hood of her patched up, sleeveless sweatshirt. I bet if she cleaned up she’d be pretty. She looked up at me indifferently while lighting her rolled cigarette.
“How many times have you been around the sun?” The guy by the tree must have been wondering the same thing about our age. I know he means how many years, but fuck, it’s not the 1960’s anymore.
“Twenty-six,” I answered.
“Damn” said the trucker hat guy. “Not much going on around here for a guy in his twenties.”
“It seems like a cold place,” said the guy under the tree, “Lot of sadness here.”
These guys wouldn’t be impressed about my promotion to shift supervisor at CVS, I thought.
“So you guys aren’t out from over in Smithfield?” I asked.
The trucker hat guy and the girl laughed at that.
“Oh yes, we’re all well versed in the whereabouts of Smithville,” the trucker hat guy chuckled.
“I was just saying that this place reminds of that town in Colorado we camped out at. Where the state guard killed all those coal miners a hundred years ago,” said the girl to the trucker hat guy.
The girl annoyed me. They must have train hopped through town, I realized. Even though they’re probably all from nice families with mom’s paying their cell phone bills while they pretend to be hobos from the Great Depression.
“So what’s up with this place?” asked the girl, finally looking at me with tired grey eyes. “It’s a pretty boring graveyard,” she said. “No statues or nothing.”
I explained to them that it had once belonged to the old mental hospital. That it contained their dead patients, even though the hospital had closed down a long time ago and now the building was lived in by a bunch of yuppies who didn’t mind living in former padded cells.
“So, this is a tard yard,” grinned the ugly trucker hat guy. “Tard Yard,” he repeated, seeking some kind of approval from the others.
“So much sadness here,” repeated the kid from under the tree.
I though about asking them if they needed a place to stay. Where would I have them stay? In the crawlspace above my parent’s garage? I could have the girl with the tattoo stay in my bed.
“Well, you guys take it easy,” I said.
“Keep it real, boss,” said the guy wearing the trucker hat.
I continued on my walk back across the field. I could hear the kids laughing in the distance, their sounds battling against, and then drowning out to the soft buzzing of the summer insects.
Matt Starr, Law Doctor X
Supreme Court of the Universe – H. Rowan v The Fuzz
Drug addiction. Impossible to comprehend for those who haven’t experienced it. Impossible to break for those who have. Society is quick to judge those who are dependent on chemical substances, labelling them as ‘junkies’, ‘baseheads’ and ‘crackheads’, reducing their worth to something subhuman. Yet, those who judge the addicts are oft addicted to junk food, material goods and telling lies. What makes these more tolerable than drugs? Is this a democracy, or a hypocrisy?
In this particular case, H. Rowan v The Fuzz, Harold Rowan, a narcotics user of sorts, is suing the state police force, The Fuzz, for the use of excessive force in his arrest for possession of a banned substance, a case that was yet to go to trial. Rowan’s lawyer, Matt Starr, Law Doctor was hoping to kill two birds with one stone. Then he was going to show up at court and acquit his client of both charges. For those who didn’t know the identity of his representation, one might say odds were stacked against Rowan. There was video footage of the event taking place, testimonies from various reliable witnesses and, in a rant undertaken by Rowan in an altered state of mind, a full confession.
“Alright, it’s perfectly clear to me that Rowan, a complete junkie bum, is a liar. The fuzz have done nothing wrong in their seizure of the product Rowan was carrying and his arrest. But that is not the only issue here. Rowan must be punished for wasting our time. Starting a court case and then not having a lawyer to defend him? I cannot-“ the judge was interrupted.
“I have a lawyer!” Rowan slurred loudly.
“Yeah mate, I’m sure you do,” the judge said sarcastically, dismissing this simpleton’s plain lies.
“I sentence you, Harold Rowan, to death by eating Play-Doh. A tonne of it.”
The judge raised his hammer of law above his head, pointing it towards the statue of lady justice, which stood at the back of the room, as he always did. This time however, lady justice wasn’t there. Matt Starr, Law Doctor was holding the scales.
“What?! Matt Starr, Law Doctor is here?!” The judge exclaimed in disbelief.
“That’s right your honour,” Matt Starr, Law Doctor said as he made his way done the aisle to the front of the court, “I am. And I’m here to defend a man so innocent I caught him slut shaming a naked baby that was being changed in a public restroom when I first met him.”
“Why was he in women’s restroom? Wait, why did you first meet him in a women’s restroom and not your practice?” The judge asked with a look of sheer confusion on his face.
“First of all judge, that’s sexist. It was a men’s room. Dedicated fathers exist. Secondly, you know my swag, not my story, your honour,” Matt Starr, Law Doctor answered.
Matt Starr, Law Doctor placed his brief case on the table and opened it up, inside were two dead penguins, a tomahawk with the word ‘stone’ engraved in its side, several canisters of body paint and a traditional Native American headdress.
“Matt Starr, Law Doctor, there’s no possible way you could possibly alter the outcome of this case, it’s cut and dried. Mr. Rowan lied and is going to be force fed Play-Doh until he eats a tonne or dies, whichever comes first,” the judge said.
“With all due respect, your honour, shut up,” Matt Starr, Law Doctor said teen-angstily.
The small audience gasped with murmurs aplenty making their way through the room, shocked at Matt Starr, Law Doctor’s contempt of the court. The judge was the most shocked of all, unable to muster a single word for several seconds.
“Your honour, I’d like to call Sgt. Pig, one of the responsible officers, to the stand,” Matt Starr, Law Doctor requested.
“Uh, yes, come to the stand,” the judge stammered.
Sgt. Pig took a seat in the witness stand and took an oath.
“Okay sergeant, where were you on the night of the unreasonably-brutal-beating and arrest of Mr. Rowan?” Matt Starr, Law Doctor enquired, mumbling ‘unreasonably-brutal-beating’ very quickly.
“I was outside the local brothel busting perps for possession,” Sgt. Pig replied.
“So, you’re admitting it was unreasonably brutal?”
“I did no such thing!” Sgt. Pig objected.
“Can I just have it noted that Sgt. Pig confirmed it was brutal?” Matt Starr, Law Doctor said to the stenotype operator who was recording all dialogue exchanged in the courtroom.
“I didn’t say that!” Sgt. Pig cried.
“Let me remind you sergeant, you’re under oath. Next question, say-what-if-you-were-drunk-at-the-time-then-opened-fire-on-a-busload-of-black-school-students,” Matt Starr, Law Doctor said rapidly.
“What?” Sgt. Pig asked, confused and worried.
“Sergeant! I do not have time for your silly mind games! Now, just tell us the truth! Did you or did you not sleep with the judge’s wife?” Matt Starr, Law Doctor yelled.
“Wow. Just wow. Not only did Sergeant Pig use excessive force in the arrest of my client, but he was also drunk at the time, he executed impoverished African American children whose only crime was seeking education in the land of the free and he turned down sexual intercourse with the judge’s wife, which I know she definitely offered! Why, sergeant? Was she too ugly for you? Maybe she was carrying a bit too much weight for your liking? You’ve not only offended my client, the African American community and the judge himself, but also me, for thinking that my precious time was worth spending on talking to you. But if that’s the cost of locking you up for good, then maybe it’s all worth it,” Matt Starr, Law Doctor said.
“None of that is true!” Sgt. Pig exclaimed, suddenly realising he was the one on trial.
“Order! Order!” the judge yelled.
A silence fell over everyone in attendance. Except Harold Rowan who was chewing the flesh off his little finger and muttering obscenities.
“I’ve come to a conclusion. It would appear that Harold Rowan was indeed brutally beaten, resulting in the scabs and cuts all over his arms and his severely deformed face. Not only was he beaten, but we cannot know if he was in possession of heroin at the time of arrest due to Sergeant Pig’s drunkenness. What did you have, by the way?” The judge said.
“I can answer that,” Matt Starr, Law Doctor said, “It was cake mix which Mr Rowan was going to bake for the families of the deceased children who were murdered at the hands of Sgt. Pig.”
“Oh. Yes, the murders. I also find Sgt. Pig guilty of assault, 14 counts of child murder, drunk driving and probable sodomy of the elderly. For these charges I am sentencing you to death by jaws of life,” the judge ruled.
Sgt. Pig’s head fell into his hands and he yelled. Depressed and confused at how the trial was suddenly about him and how he’d been charged with the murders of 14 children who didn’t exist.
“Matt Starr, Law Doctor you son of a bitch,” Matt Starr, Law Doctor murmured to himself before putting on his aviators.
Everybody watched as Matt Starr, Law Doctor walked outside with infinite swagger then grabbed onto a rope ladder that was dangling from a helicopter before flying away into the distance.
Until next time.
Catch the Rain
(The following story was inspired by the Rascal Flatts song “Winner at a Losing Game”. I’ll post the video next.)
The train station was almost empty. Matthew Davis sat quietly watching the cars pull in and out of the parking lot of the restaurant behind the station. He still had forty-five minutes to wait before his train came. He looked at his watch again, and then picked up the newspaper he had bought ten minutes ago. Most people on the platform now were also quietly occupying themselves, and he took a last look around him before lowering his eyes to the front page. More casualties in Iraq. A woman and her child go missing. The Dow Jones shakes itself after the recent rash of poor endings. Storms over the English Channel. The Knicks lose again.
He swallowed the sigh that rose in his throat, and opened the paper to the Lifestyles page. Rental housing booms, house buying busts. He smiled. He had been fortunate to get a good price for his house…the one he had bought two years ago. He’d paid his debts, settled with the mortgage company, and put the rest in the bank. He didn’t know where he would live now, but he could not stay there a moment more.
A woman came and sat down, a little way off, on the platform. She had long black hair, and she was very young. Italian, if that nose was anything to judge by. Pretty, thin, cheerful-looking. Young enough to be his daughter. Old enough to be his “bit of stuff”. He smiled inwardly…maybe that’s what he needed to get his mind of his troubles – a “bit of stuff”. He loved the English and their odd expressions. Right now, he was glad he had been raised in an English household. It was that reserve, that stiff upper lip, which had carried him through these last few weeks. His armor had not cracked, not once, even after that last disastrous evening, when she had finally said the words he had dreaded hearing.
Even now, as he sat quietly looking inward on that train platform, he could feel the sharp bite of her words. Oh, she had been kind enough, and he could see she was sad that she had to hurt him, but he could also see her determination. Nothing he might have said would have made any difference, so he had not tried. All that remained had been to speak his goodbyes and leave.
Suddenly, the pain was unbearable. He stood up, trying to blunt the piercing ache in his heart. The last time he had taken a train had been the first time he had met her. The Cher song burst in on his consciousness unexpectedly. But he could not turn back time, and it would not have made a difference, unless he had chosen to remain in his seat and let her move to another spot.
He walked over to the vending machine and pushed a dollar in. He surveyed the choices, and drew a tired hand over his face. He didn’t really want anything there, but he had committed himself to this course now, and he must choose. He chose a granola bar, and stuck his hand in to retrieve it. It was dry, and hard, as though it had been made back when Noah built the Ark. He walked to the nearest garbage bin and tossed it in. Maybe he needed a drink. He pushed another dollar into the soda machine next to the first one, and pulled a Coke from the slot. It was cold, and though he was trying to wean himself off the sweet drink, he welcomed the sharp tingling on his tongue and the cold wetness against his throat. He tossed the empty bottle into the trash as the train pulled into the station. Time to get on with it…
The apartment was airy, well-ventilated, bright, and held all his furniture comfortably. In short, it was everything a single man could wish for in a dwelling place. He stood at the picture window, looking out over the roofs of the houses across the street. The park beyond that was a study in serenity, alive with lights at this time of day. The microwave beeped, and he walked back into the kitchen to retrieve his ready-made meal. It smelled good, and he carefully removed the plastic covering and threw it in the trash under the sink. He served the meal on a plate, and took his dinner and a beer out to the living room.
A game was on, and he ate slowly, watching the teams fight for supremacy. She loved watching games with him, and they argued moves and strategy. She was tough, smart, wild and crazy. He loved her. He always would. Nothing about their situation had ever been “right”, and yet he had fallen helplessly in love with her – all six feet of her. They had worked side by side for three years, and he knew more about her than he knew about the woman he had promised himself to years before that.
He sighed and shut the TV off. The food was ashes in his mouth – he could eat no more. He threw out the rest, swallowed the rest of the beer, and took another from the fridge. At least he could drink…
Today had been a bad day. When he had asked for a transfer, his boss had been nonplussed, to say the least. No one, not even his best friend, knew of his feelings for her. In the end, that had probably been the best thing he could have done, under the circumstances. His new post was challenging, his new boss demanding, his new hours exhausting. All in the name of forgetfulness.
He sank into the soft cushions of his sofa, loosening the tie at his throat. He had been a bear at work, and his new workmates were beginning to think he was just misanthropic. Well, what the hell, he didn’t care what they thought. He had a day off tomorrow, and he’d take it. It would be the first day off he took in three years. And the irony of it was that this time, he had no one to share it with.
He must have fallen asleep, because when the phone rang, he jerked and sat up. It rang insistently, and he scrambled to get to it, to answer, so it could stop that shrill noise.
“Davis,” he said gruffly.
“Matt, it’s Jerry. Up for a game of pool?” His little brother’s voice sounded unusually loud in his ears. He realized there was background, and Jerry had been shouting.
“Where ARE you? It’s midnight!”
“My place. The guys wanna know if you’re up for a game or two!”
Matt hesitated. He had avoided company after hours these past few weeks, needing to brood silently on his own, without having to explain his mood to anyone. But he was growing tired of his own company. What would it hurt?
“Sure, okay!’ he answered. “See you in a bit!”
The game, when he got there, became four, then five, liberally watered by beer. He was buzzed, and when his brother’s friends finally left, Matt took a sixth beer and sat in the couch across from Jerry, who eyed him speculatively.
“It’s over, isn’t it?’ he said, and Matt’s head swung up.
“What?’ he asked, although he knew.
“You and Sydney,” Jerry replied.
Matt regarded his little brother thoughtfully. “It had never begun, Jer,” he said and swallowed some beer. “It had all been an illusion.” He tipped the bottle to his lips again and Jerry looked worriedly at him.
“You’re in no condition to drive home, Matt!”
“Wasn’t planning on it,” Matt answered. “I’ll crash here.”
Matt placed the half empty beer bottle on the glass coffee table and turned so he was lying on the couch, his legs stretched out before him. He fell asleep almost immediately, a deep, dead sleep.
…Sydney looked at him. He looked at her. Their eyes met, and then he lowered his gaze to her mouth. He wished he could kiss her. Even once.
“We can’t go there, Matt!” she said, seeing where he looked. “We’d hurt each other, and the ones we’re supposed to love.” She looked into his eyes, and he into hers. “Jake loves me,” she said, a pleading in her voice, a needing him to understand.
“You always knew how I felt.” Her voice was desperate, as though she wished it could be otherwise. Matt felt the pain building up inside him as she spoke. It was over now. He had loved her for three years, and he knew he always would. And now he had to leave her.
“Yes,” he admitted, his voice calmer than he felt. “But I hoped against hope…” He saw the sheen of tears in her eyes, and wondered if his echoed hers. He steeled himself to say the words that came next. “I’m sorry, Syd. I can’t live like this anymore. I’ve asked for a transfer. It’s better for me this way.” He swallowed hard, and ended, “Be happy, sweetheart. And if you ever need me, call me!”
She let him hug her…and he did not want to let her go.
Matt woke with a start. He was shivering. He was exhausted. His head hurt. His heart broke…again.
And it was raining…
Copyright © 2008
It’s past five and the day is slowly inching towards evening. I love this time of year, though. When “early evening” exists. Over the winter the day seems to slam its brakes into night immediately, without warning. Each minute after the sun halts itself over us feels darker than the last and it’s ominous and foreboding. It’s terrifying.
But today is different. I’m walking down Main and the sun is still high enough in the sky that I still feel warm even though my pants are rolled up to my knees and my shirt sleeves are up past my elbows. There are people walking their dogs for a quick shit before they have to go to the bank or a friends house and there are people being walked by their dogs because their overwhelming loneliness tells them that someone will become enamored by their puppy and stop to talk to them. I refuse to be one of the people that stop and ask, can I pet your dog.
Over the bars and restaurants, apartment windows hold themselves up. Men and women hang outside of them taking celebratory drags of their cigarettes, cats lay on the sills swaying their tails in rhythm with the wind, potted plants peek their leaves out trying to catch bits of sunlight. I slow my pace and remember a friend of a friend works at the coffee shop around the corner and it would be nice to say hello.
The owner of the establishment greets me first. He has a look on his face that tells me he wishes I wouldn’t show up so often and take so many free iced coffees. My friend of a friend hands me a coffee and we walk out together. He has thirty minutes until he gets off of work. I tell him he can find me at the bar down the street and he says he’ll stop by before he goes across a bridge and back home.
The sun is still in the sky and I watch it slowly move lower and lower like it’s burying itself underground. I wish I had the same talent. To disappear from sight but still exist in everyone’s mind. I am narcissistic that way. I roll my pants back down to the ankle and start heading down Main again and the tables on the sidewalk are filled.
Everyone is trying to enjoy an early dinner so they can feast while watching the sun descend into the earth. I try not to blow smoke in their general direction but it fails. Ash lands on a woman’s plate and she’s disgusted. I don’t slow my pace, I am still looking at the star in the sky.
When I reach the bar, I realize my friends have not arrived yet. I wonder if it will be just the two of them or if more people will show up. I think about leaving early as I chug my two-dollar Pabst. I buy another one and continue that thought.
The sky is now orange and yellow and red. The sky is on fire like it should be and I wish I was melting away. The older people in the bar are talking about sports, work, and women they haven’t met yet. They are oggling the bartender and she knows it but she needs the tips so it’s okay with her. She smiles, she has more heart than I do. I pay another two dollars and give her a five dollar tip. She is stronger than I am.
I step outside for another cigarette and hope that this is the moment my friends decide to turn the corner. The sun is receding faster now. The colors of the sky have dissipated and it is becoming a navy blue. I can see the sparkles of some stars but the light pollution is too much. The cacophony of sounds: the cars passing by, the conversation, the laughter, the collective deep breath of the smokers outside, they distract me from myself.
And I realize, there is nothing happy about this hour. Not anymore.
May 25th, 2013. USS Kearsarge
Sgt. Garcia and I went up to the “Steel Beach.” It’s an event the ship holds where we have a picnic of sorts with burgers and hot dogs on the flight deck. This time they even flooded the well deck for the crew to swim in. I missed that though, because I overslept. When we came up the ramp to the flight deck, the heat was like a punch to the face. I hadn’t seen the sunlight in roughly four days. It took my eyes a while to adjust. The sea was quiet as a lake. We got our food and sat down, looking out at the water.
“Damn! That’s hot!” Garcia said. He could’ve been referring to the seat, which was a million degrees from being directly under the sun, or the girl about to sit down at the table next to us, whose long, blonde hair danced gently in the wind; whose beauty demanded the attention of every testosterone contraption in the vicinity.
“Oh, my god!” she said, looking at us, “How’d you guys deal with the heat?”
-“It only burns real hot for about a minute.” I offered, but she kept trying and quickly standing back up because she couldn’t withstand the pain.
-“Or, you could go grab a paper plate and sit on that.”
“That’s a good idea.” She said, walking away.
“And Castro saves the day…” Garcia said, smiling.
We finished our food and left the flight deck. On our way, Garcia mentioned that one of the clowns rolling around in beach tricycles kept looking at her and wondering if she was looking at him.
-“He doesn’t know anything.” I said, “She’s very beautiful, and she knows that. And women like her- they only ever look at men who she notices aren’t looking at her.”
the perfect euphony of his hands. a soft maestro charming her rusted harmonies and coiled melodies. she would open her mouth slightly and find reassurance in nursing from his pliant probing. his fingers could be everywhere. there was the conviction of his broad palm. she had heeded other conductors, other appendages, and in those moments her first instincts had been to fold in on herself, a flower that could not understand a moderate cold snap. this was different. the merest touch and the sea floor would inhale the dark ocean light followed by the swollen roil and churn of waves before giving way to a stranded calm on tranquil shores. the concept of death had frightened her since the first plucked strings of understanding as a child, but lying beside him, engulfed by him she could at last understand the allure of a body finally at rest, safe at harbor.
the lambent matrix of their flesh. the compulsion to detach and reattach. exploring various permutations, like trying to tally the infinite number of possible combinations among multiple categories one by one while purposefully renouncing a simpler mathematical formula. there was an integrity in taking things slowly. the sum alone could never be as compelling as the manipulation of the constituent integers by themselves. together they explored the depths of space and often found themselves lost among the stars light years from home stranded in exile plotting a course decided by chance rather than reason or a rudimentary understanding of astrophysics. having their head in the heavens their feet upon the shifting sands their hearts trapped somewhere in between gave the fleeting impression they could have it both ways.
the imagined sangfroid of her contentment. obeying his touch would conceal the words for which her ears would patiently await. he could not seem to arrive at a fully formed sentence. the words would sound right but the tone was off. his adam’s apple seemed a more honest indicator, often between gulps seen trying to block him from saying something it knew he could not honor. the words would rattle through the pipes but never quite escape without some manner of collateral damage. she had learned to save questions for moments when his eyes regained a specific opacity. his voice had a rough quality after he had polished off a quarrel of drinking, as if the sandpaper of his tongue was too coarse for words made of tissue. the hidden hinges of her heart needed the oiling of his calm reassurance but her mind was having such difficulty arriving at a translation that could soften the original glottal deception of his labile elocution.
the handsome debris of corrupted consonants and vain vowels. more like fondling the integrity of emotions. chaos taunts order. prolongs pretending. intermissions would involuntarily tame the monotony of his explanations for the compulsive bouts of abstinence. after days of smoking and drinking and gratifying they would need lulls to navigate the boundaries of their compromised rectitude as if the wastrel passage of time could help them regain control of their contumacious compunctions. the better to deny the various infections wrought by dancing to music designed by master composers meant to encourage mere mortals to confuse perception with sentiment. her paranoia was one such parasite. meanwhile, guardian angels continue to blow whistles of warning that regrettably remain one pitch higher than her ear can discern.
Say My Name
I got the most boring name in the world – John. Almost everyone I met got the same name, but at least they have a second name. John Michael, John Paul, John Vincent, John Everything. But me? I’m just plain ol’ John. But as if calling me John is the hardest thing, people would call me with different names. Johnny, Jon-Jon, Jay-Jay, Juan, J. Johnny Boy. It drives me crazy, hell yeah it makes me want to cut everyone’s throats – Johnny Boy, for pete’s sake? But I let the raging, grade school boy me get used with those nicknames up until I reached college. No one really knows my real name, they all thought that John is short for Johnny or that I have a second name. One time, my classmates all called me Mark, believing I’m John Mark.
I asked my mother why she didn’t come up with a much planned and thought of kind of name. She said my father’s name was John, but she’s not sure what came next after it. So, for sentimental reason, she named me John. How I hope I was able to meet my father and tell him how I feel like an accident. How I feel so nameless even if I have the name of half the population of the world. How I feel so incomplete with just a name – without knowing my father’s surname, without my own father, without knowing who I really am. When mother went with another guy she met in Hong Kong, she never went back here in the Philippines. She sent me a letter, apologizing for her need of love and promising me that she will still send me money. I wrote a letter back, saying “Don’t forget to ask the guy’s surname.”
I then met this girl and she calls me John. Just plain John. It was the first time I felt that somebody knew me for who I really am. It was during in our social dance class, and our trainer assigned her as my partner. She asked for my name and said “Nice meeting you, John.” with no other questions asked, with no suggestions for a nickname. We would eat lunch and walk up to the jeepney terminal together. We would tell stories about our childhood and our secrets about the professors we love to hate. A good company, that girl. One time, she invited me to have dinner over their house. She introduced me to her parents and to her brother. They seem to like me; they didn’t even asked awkward questions and threatened me with to stop hanging out with her. No, no confrontations like those. It might be because I seem very quiet and very reserved, that they didn’t see me as someone who might put their daughter into danger. I’m glad too that they allowed me to come to their house almost every day, without posing the question “Are you courting our daughter?”
Because I am sure as hell that I won’t.
One afternoon, when her parents were still at work, she told me that we should go to their house to “practice”. Being used with it, I went with her. When we reached their home, she said she’ll cook something for our merienda. I stayed by the living room, flicked through the channels and switched the TV off when I failed to see any interesting shows. I walked around the house and went outside to sit by the garden. Then I heard someone singing – a deep, solid voice of a man. It was her brother, sitting by the veranda, strumming his guitar, singing a song I’ve never heard before. He stopped when he noticed I was watching him and called me. I went beside him and asked what he was playing. He said it was a song he wrote. He scratched his head and smiled, saying it was the first time someone heard him singing the song he wrote. He continued singing and at the end of the song, he asked “You like this?”
I answered that I like this. This. And I fell in love with him, and now you can call me Joanna.
The astronomer never received guests anymore. Looking at his vein-wrinkled arms, the astronomer thought they looked brittle, as if sculpted from some corroding obelisk. His old friends, all scholars and townspeople, had already passed away. He remembered fondly their talks of leaving this country and returning home to retire. But everyone knew they had more people here than back home. People in the homeland don’t live as long as people here. So his friends were gone and even the astronomer’s daughter was off some place far away. She could even be in heaven for all he knew.
As for the astronomer himself, he never had much desire to travel or leave; he had the very depths of the sky to live in. And besides, his friends were here and he had his daughter. He used to look at her, radiating warmth between his bony arms, and think to himself, “Even I have a daughter;” he would think, “Even I.”
When she was young, the astronomer’s daughter would sometimes come and sit on his lap as he worked in his observatory. He would tell her about the stars and how each dot was like a sun. She asked him how come they’re so small, if they are suns. He told her they are very far away. In fact, he added, they are so far away that we may only be seeing their light. A star may be gone already but the light it radiated could still be traveling to here and giving an impression of life. So, then, his daughter asked, if we kept moving away from the star, could it live forever? And he told her, It might live longer but it would only grow smaller. He wondered if she had listened to him.
One clear autumn night, the astronomer let his daughter look into the telescope, and then, for some reason, that particular time, she wouldn’t let go of it. She told him the sky looked so beautiful and that she wanted to find some place just like it on earth. She looked intensely into the sky where some lights were dead and some alive but all still warmly bright. With the whole morning ahead of her, she said to her father the astronomer, “Please, don’t let the sun rise tomorrow.”
Sitting in his lonesome observatory, the astronomer thought of where his daughter might be and clasped his hands together. He joined his trembling arms and wished with all his might to hear her ask of him again, please make the night live forever.
Do You Trust Your Friends? (Part 1)
Quit ordered another round of drinks. Yes, the man’s name was Quit, which made him the angriest sonofabitch on this earth. It also made him one of the savviest, earning him the obscure title of Assistant Controller at the same place Flint worked. The two met at some point early after Quit’s arrival, from there an odd friendship developed and carried out a full year to this point: together at a bar, Quit was strung out from something he wouldn’t tell and Flint was in no mood to drink.
The drinks came and Quit turned to Flint with his glass raised, a thin smile on his stubbled face. Flint raised his glass, wishing Quit would just tell him what the hell was bothering him. This uncharacteristic behavior was a little unnerving and the alcohol wasn’t helping.
“You have to help me drop out of town.”
Flint lolled his head and knitted his brows, thinking this was a little too dramatic for him on a Monday night. He drained his glass and stifled a retch.
Quit continued. “I’m serious. Like, soon. Maybe next week, I think.”
“What happened?” Flint set the glass down.
“You know Vera, the girl that works in accounting?”
Yes, Flint knew her. She was very bawdy and lovely woman of thirty who wasn’t afraid to speak her mind. They struck up a brief and confusing relationship that culminated with her leaving for another man. He never took it personal and through that they kept in touch. He just hoped she didn’t hook up with this crazy character named Quit.
“Yeah, things are bad.” His voice was shaky and he flagged the bartender.
“I didn’t know you two were an item.”
Quit chuckled. “You’re the only other person that knows.”
“OK, so what happened?” I couldn’t really care what happened between them, but I wouldn’t rule out things getting a little physical.
“Well, we were at her place.” The bartender arrived with another drink for Quit, which he rapidly knocked back and grunted. “Things were hot and heavy—we were all over each other—but then she gets cold.”
Flint rolled his eyes. “You didn’t, I take it?”
Quit shook his head. Flint wanted to smash the man’s head into the bar and get the hell out before he knew too much, but it was already too late to walk away from this one. He flagged the bartender.
“How bad is it?”
Flint gasped. “Is she pressing charges?”
“She hasn’t told anyone, I don’t think.”
“Are you going to surrender?” Flint didn’t need to ask. He knew Quit too well.
“Are you kidding?” Quit sputtered. “That shit’s, like, a felony, isn’t it?”
Flint got up from his stool and laid a couple of bills on the counter. The lousy sonofabitch looked lousier than Flint had ever seen before, with his long hair coming undone from the band keeping it back. The man’s eyes blindly searched the bar top in front of him. His mind was working on a way to get him out of this.
“I’ve got a trip coming up this weekend,” Flint said after putting his wallet away. “A not-on-the-map location in New England, all weekend. I get back Sunday, and if you haven’t decided to turn yourself in then I will. If you’re still around, that is.”
“You’d turn me in?” His eyes were wide with surprise. “But I thought we were cool.”
“I don’t dig on rape, Quit.”
“Neither do I!”
“You have until Sunday night.” Flint curtly saluted Quit and turned to leave the building.
At the time Flint got the call, he and Sara hadn’t been communicating. They weren’t in the throes of a fight or even mad at each other, but for whatever reason just stopped talking.
For Flint, it was the overwhelming suspicion Sara cheated on him. However many times was irrelevant Just (the thought of) once was enough to put his passion to sleep. He loved her beyond measure, and the night he got home late from a concert to find on Sara’s night stand the very pin he saw on one of her co-workers when they first met. At the time he thought the pin made him look like an uppity douchebag, but seeing it by itself on his nightstand made him want to upend the entire bedroom with rage. The next morning it was gone.
Three months passed. Flint never mentioned it and Sara never brought it up, though each day a wedge drove them further and further apart. And so fell apart the relationship until their time together was a hilarious dog-and-pony show—all smiles to the public, a rotting, black void between them.
It was on one of those countless nights spent not talking to each other Flint’s cell phone rang and displayed a number he didn’t recognize. Assuming it was some Hindu-accented telemarketer, he answered with the intent to give the bastard a piece of his mind.
“Take me off your damn call list, you hear me?” Flint found the most gravelly voice he could muster. “I want nothing!”
“It’s me, Vargas!” blurted a small voice on the other end. “Trujillo, remember?”
“Yeah, from college. It’s been a while.”
“A while” was the understatement of the year. Vargas Trujillo was a psychopath and a fiend in college, hosting parties Flint was sure had become legends spread across campuses nationwide. The bastard was obnoxious, and if you didn’t like it—go fuck yourself. He disappeared halfway through the final semester before graduation without a trace, and while there were some colorful stories about the reasons why, Flint was sure they didn’t come close to the truth.
“Yeah,” Vargas answered. “Been doing real good lately.”
“As opposed to… bad?”
“There were some hard years.” Vargas mumbled a reply. “Had a girlfriend, lost her, nearly starved to death in New York, clawed my way out of a hell of a shit hole.”
Flint paused. “That’s—I’m glad to hear it. Can I help you with something?”
“Yes you can.” Vargas’s voice was all smiles. “Are you doing anything this coming weekend?”
This couldn’t be anything other than a famous Vargas request. Even after ten years he sounded like the way a greasy coin stings the taste buds on the tongue.
“What do you need?”
“I got a place up here in Massachusetts, near the Berkshires, that could use some sprucing up.”
Flint was about to reply in the negative, unsure he wanted to spend any amount of time with someone he hadn’t seen in a decade and who he considered to be the king of party animals. But then there was Sara, blithely watching her TV show, sprawled on the sofa with an exquisite combination of humor and sadness on her face.
“Count me in,” Flint said at length. “I’ll need directions and times.”
I saw you on the street today and it was sad
The way I averited my gaze
the way I felt ugly
the way I could feel my face melting off my cheek bones onto the sidewalk
like candle wax.
I think about how different my life is now
how difficult it is for me to function how I impulsively use
food to fill voids inside of me
that I never
realized were there.
As I write I smell the stale of my body on my sheets, in my bed, under my fingernails, between my teeth. My broken down horemones that don’t produce that sweet smelling stuff that used to come from my pores and coat all the worst parts of me. Not anymore.
All that’s left is broken bottles empty wine boxes cigaret butts in the bottoms of used glasses strewn about my apartment. Lentils crusted in a bowl clean laundry has been in a pile on the empty half of my bed for weeks. I feel broken. As if I have forgotten how to be unbroken. But this is a lie.
You reflected the best parts of me and your secrets were so large they left mine in your shadow. I became an expert at pretending the only problems in life were the ones like yours; the ones that people don’t survive without scars. permanent damage to personality traits.
Your life made my problems feel small and insignificant in the wake of all your pain, all your razor sharp truths.
I saw you on the street today and I wanted to ask how you were holding up where you were living if you had been eating well if grandma donna was alive; all I could manage was to watch my face drip down my bones like candle wax and harden in droplets on the floor.
and painful like
trying to embrace
with closed eyes
while holding machetes.
The Astounding Mr. Ess (Prologue)
The first time I traveled through time was amazing.
I discovered two things that day. One, that time travel was possible. And two, it’s possible to change the past without affecting the future.
People think about time travel like it’s linear. They go from their point in time, to an earlier point, and if something changes back there, it changes where they came from. But the reality is, if something in the present is different when you get back, then it’s not the present; it’s a different present.
Some of this overlaps with the idea that there’s an infinite number of universes out there. That time you forgot to tie your shoe, and you tripped? There’s a universe where you never tripped, because you remembered to tie your shoe. That universe is so slightly different, but different nonetheless.
On the same note, there’s a theoretically infinite number of universes where you did, and didn’t remember to tie your shoe. For example, there’s a universe where you remember to tie your shoes, but forget to wear a jacket, and it rains. There’s a universe where you forget to tie your shoe, but you don’t trip until slightly later, when your crossing the street, and you get hit by a car. From there, there’s an infinite number of possibilities as to which bones were broken, whether or not you left there paralyzed from the waist down, and even that you don’t survive the impact at all.
So when you travel back in time, only to return to your own timeline, you haven’t really changed anything at all. Perhaps your actions in the past create a parallel universe, branching off from your own. Perhaps, by going into the past at all, you can only be in another universe’s past, and it’s been predetermined that you are to have been there, and changed something. I mean, you’re not supposed to be in the past, so just your being there is displacing some air, or leaves, doing something to change things just from being there, anyway. Equally likely, what if your time traveling is really only going sideways, to another universe, where the present there, is just like the past in your universe?
You get where I’m going with this? If not, you’ll catch up.
So like I said, the first time I traveled through time was amazing. But the second time? The second time destroyed me.
Lay down with me. Take my hand underneath the sheet that covers us both and never let me go. I will kiss each finger softly as I succumb into the abyss of blind love. Run your fingers through my hair and kiss my forehead. Kiss my lips and take my pain away. Hold my head as if you do not ever want to let me go. Pull me so close even air could not pass through. Be with me; whisper all the things I want to hear; lies or not, I don’t care. For once, let me be the fool; let me drown into this euphoric illusion. Pour everything in me—may it be love or lust; gentle and passionate. Please, let me believe before the rays of the sun seep through the drapes, that I was once loved by you. I promise to leave softly as you sleep peacefully on the bed we once, and never will share again.
I think it is the things just unseen that are the most beautiful.
Like songs that whisper to you across a conversation, the ones that you stop listening to the chatter for, and instead sit and stare intently at the sound to hear every other note. Somehow the music is more wonderful this way, sharp with the newness of mystery, and within the room you and it flirt coyly, shyly, hidden by the indifference of others.
Like dreams that you forget upon waking, and only remember days later, and by then you find the time has leant its confusion to the pictures, by then you find yourself unable to tell if it was a dream or some dim and disparate memory from the blur of childhood. And you enjoy the slightly disordered thoughts, the wavering uncertainty, it lends a tone of colour to your day, as if you aren’t quite sure that you’re still dreaming.
Like a waft of long hair that flickers above the crowd on a bright day, and its tendrils catch the light just perfectly, before settling down to serenity amongst the ruffled plumage of bobbing heads. You wonder if you should follow her, perhaps to tell her about the difference that she made to your day, or perhaps only to see her face, but something in you decides that it would be a bad idea. That it would ruin the majesty of the moment, as if finding that such hair grew from the head of a human would be a disappointment to you.
It is these moments that define the hidden beauty in our lives, the beauty that slides gently from our minds when we think of roses and sunsets and vivid green eyes. But I think that it is these moments that are the most beautiful.That they gain something magical from lack of human attention.
Letters to Imaginary Lovers
If you tell me you enjoy lying in bed with eyes half closed listening to the background noise of people going about there lives outside your window then I will love you.
If you tell me that you lie awake at night thinking, hoping, that you will dream of love and - just this once - you will remember it all when you wake then i will love you.
If you tell me you struggle to get out of bed each morning and once you have finally made it outside you long to be back inside the warmth of your covers then I will love you.
If you tell me of your days and nights.
Of the time you wept alone in the cinema and no one would look at you.
Of the time you swam naked at the beach and no one would look away.
Of the time you missed your parents so much you drove 400 miles in the middle of the night to see them.
Of the time when you had no food in the house and none of the local restaurants would deliver to you because of the mountain of trash in your garden.
Of the time you punched that guy standing behind you in the checkout line because he wouldn’t get off his phone or stop swearing at whoever was on the other end.
Of the time it rained for 10 days straight and the gutters got clogged.
Of the time the old lady next door lent you a ladder to climb up on your roof to clean the gutters and you slipped on the wet tiles.
Of the days you spent in hospital and no one came to visit you.
Tell me your story please and I will love you.
I know almost nothing of you.
If you don’t want to I understand,
I’ll love you all the same.
There are mornings like this that when I wake up, I immediately look for that familiar presence of my mother. I look for that soft and pricking voice covering the stairways at 9 while she was cleaning our home and lecturing me while I’m asleep. You see, I can always feel my mother’s eyes behind my back though I don’t know if she is just watching over me or watching me and waiting for me to do the wrong thing. But this morning, she was not here. It’s Saturday and my mother’s not here when I trotted down the stairs, there was no one. The doors are locked, there’s cold food on the table and no one’s home. Just me. These are the kinds of mornings that I get too afraid of myself because I know that the door of sadness has just been opened and it is just waiting for me to sulk in it. Funny, I thought there are just a few things that can scare me. Like clowns and dolls and a sea of people but here I am thinking that I am alone again in this dark and lonely place inside of me. There is just no manual on how to overcome these kinds of loneliness, there’s no manual on how to break free from these chains that always remind me that I should only love myself and live only for myself. I don’t want this feeling. I am just afraid. Afraid that even my family will get tired of me and leave me too. Just like everyone else.
14. I’d lost it a year earlier and had already moved on to the next, and the next after that. One day my mother was shopping when, an aisle over, the second girl I’d been with muttered to her friend, “That’s Fredrick’s mom…Yeah, yeah, he was the one I was with last summer, the one with the big dick.”
My mother called me into her bedroom and paraphrased what she’d heard. I nodded. She asked if that girl had been my first. I figured the shock was enough already without saying I’d been at it for a while, so I just nodded again and left.
I went into the basement to paint. I heard talking upstairs, then footsteps. The door to the basement opened and my father came down. He was clearly embarrassed. He was not a man to talk about things too much, especially when they were literally called the Talk. Staying on the stairs, already half-turned to go back up them, he said, “You know everything already, right?”
The old man let out a sigh of relief, barely holding back a proud smile. One of only a handful I can remember—he thought I was queer for the longest time—and said, “Okay, good; lemme know if you need any condoms.”
I nodded. He grinned, “And, uhh, what that girl said at the store. That runs in the family,” he said, puffing his chest slightly.
He quickly went back up the stairs and was gone. He never even made mention of the fact that I was in the middle of painting a naked woman covered in ink splatters.
Sherlock Holmes and the Fourth Wall
“Watson,” said Holmes, “I’ve uncovered something rather strange. My evidence has been pointing now for quite some time to the fact that we are fictional.”
I smiled, certain that he was having a joke at my expense. “Well, I know you haven’t always approved of the writing style in my reports of your exploits, but I think that’s going a bit far …”
“No, you misunderstand me. You are not the author of those stories, but the first person protagonist. We are fictional, Watson. Think about it. You must have noticed, as I have, how the details that I detect seem to fill in as I explain them, how inadequately described you are. There has never been a good opportunity for the author to describe you, because you are written in first person, and thus do not observe yourself. It’s quite obvious really. I don’t know why I didn’t spot it sooner.”
“Holmes, this is ridiculous. Even if it is true, which I doubt, what do you intend to do about it?”
“Why, find the author, of course.”
The cab came to a stop at El Camino Real and Avenida Granada, “How much?”, I asked. “It’ll be $15.64.”, he said. I handed him a twenty and stepped out of the cab. I could smell the Pacific as I stepped out, but I could also smell smoke and booze. I hadn’t had a drink in six months, not by choice, it was my first night back in the country. I’d seen things in the last few months that Stephen King wouldn’t dare dream about. I was a stranger in my own bar again, I hesitated through the threshold. Should I fall back into this so soon? My plane had just touched down hours ago. Yes.
I looked into the parking lot and saw her civic parked there with the same sticker on the rear window, a smiley face that read, “Have a nice day!”. I could hear the waves crashing onto the earth in the distance. I thought of the homecoming my battalion just had, and all of the families and loved ones waiting for them in tears. I thought of how I walked away alone and asked to borrow someone’s phone to call a cab and a hotel near my bar; how I checked into my room and took the longest hot shower of my life before I set out to get drunk and forget the last six months. This wasn’t my first rodeo, I had done this before.
I told myself that I had a goal on my first night back, I need to drink 16 drinks tonight, for those who died while I lived. I didn’t need sex, I didn’t need good food, or someone to love me, or hold me, or cry over my return. I needed to honor the memory of those that didn’t come back with me, and this was the best place to do it. She didn’t remember me or my usual drink even though I had been a steady customer for months.
So I drank, and no one remembered me, but I remembered, and I drank.
I woke up the next day underneath a San Clemente Pier to the train running by, and the Pacific waves crashing in on me.
I called a cab to take me back to the hotel room I hadn’t slept in. “How much?”, I asked. “$16.23”, he said. I swiped my card, and I took the second longest hot shower of my life. I smoked in the hotel room, because I didn’t give a fuck about the cleaning fee.
And I drank.
I haven’t stopped since.