Unhappened Stories

I often wish I had made the effort to enjoy music with my grandmother when she was alive.  On lazy days my vinyl treasures blast Tommy Dorsey, Glen Miller, and Count Basie, with singers from that era.  I wonder what facial expressions grandmother would have made, what tapping of a foot or shake of a finger.  I crack a bittersweet smile.  A slippery clarinet reminds me how I might have entertained her back then, if only I’d practiced more in high school band class, or explored beyond my age-accepted genres.

I’d ask, “Why does that man’s voice wiggle like that when he sings the last word in each stanza?”  She’d say, “That was the style in those days,” meaning, “… in my days.”

She’d add her sweet soprano to Marlene’s voice, somewhere between alto and a place exotic.  I’d smile, my gleaming eyes telling her how relevant her music and her passion remain.  “I never really cared for Dietrich, but the boys sure loved her.”

“What boys?” I’d ask – wondering if she meant one of her husbands, or my uncles – looking for a story.

“The ones that came home after the war.”

But I never was much for listening to stories back then.  Wasn’t big on sitting still and paying attention to older folks, even my grandmother.  That is why this story never happened.

… Long Live the King

I nudged the lever with the outside of my wrist to to turn the water on in the upstairs bathroom. I was careful of the cheap tile counter top. Lord knows how tough it is to get any kind of dirt stains out of the grout, worse with blood, I was guessing. A whirring sounded in the pipes from the ground floor and, before I could trace its path, it was drowned out by the spurt of water, a projectile from the pressure and sheer gravity, shooting from the ridiculous, tall faucet, down into the drain with no stopper. The sink basin in this room reminded me of the camp sinks out at Bunyan Park, as deep as it was round with just enough room to rest a severed head. That startling thought made me wince.  “Where the hell did that come from,” I wondered; I hadn’t severed anyone’s head.

With my elbow, I slowly pushed the lever down to lighten the stream; I needed to avoid a splatter affect on the mirror when I washed my hands. The mirror. Shivers rippled from my core as I caught sight of the naked woman staring up at me.  Were the eyes questioning or accusing? “It couldn’t be helped,” I heard the whisper, and for a moment thought it had come from the woman, standing now, her mottled hands carefully dangling over the opposite basin ledge, away from the water.

I had buried that little girl – the one that believed she’d fight fire-breathing dragons some day … with swords of truth. Silly little girl thought she’d be president. She was dead, as dead as all my victims, and buried along with them on federal land. It was land that was likely to be bargained out of its sanctified landmark status and placed in the hands of the corporate dirt-bags that own this country.  Dirt-bags that would drill for oil and gas in the years to come. Sooner or later someone would dig there, and when they did, my secret would be discovered. That was actually my plan. Not really a plan, per se, since it all happened reflexively. More like an after-the-fact resolution.

Several had died earlier that night: the feisty little girl, a beautiful park ranger, Stephen King … As my mind raced through the tick marks of things that remained for the doing, I stopped just long enough to ask myself whose blood this was on my hands. I couldn’t remember. Did I even know?

The liquid soap foamed out a lather that smelled sickly sweet, like honey.  It mingled in my nostrils with the iron tang of the blood that seemed permanent there; I nearly blew chunks. Committed to the sink, I couldn’t spin around to the tub and get the solid bar soap now. “Evidence,” I repeated over and over again in my head, swallowing the lump in my throat. I massaged the soap into aged hands, frowning at how much they reminded me of my mother’s hands.  Had they been this weathered before?  Would I ever have noticed if not for this terrible night?  Pink rivers swirled around the drain and disappeared.

I scrubbed underneath and around my cuticles with a manicure brush I kept by the faucet; I wondered if the bristles would melt like the rest of the plastic when I tossed this in the burn barrel where the rest of my clothes were likely ash by now. Dark lines framed my nail beds. I couldn’t tell anymore if it was the blood or the dirt. I flicked the water drops, now clean, from my hands several times into the sink and swung around to the tub. A hot shower would ease my nerves and the steam would help rid the lingering scenes from my air passages. scratching the shampoo into my hair and scalp might complete the work on my fingers too. I replaced the towel on the rod with an old beach towel from the linen closet. That would burn too once I was finished.

Stepping into that shower was like entering a deep, restful sleep. I felt almost instantly relieved, as if it was all over. I let go and let myself forget for awhile. “At least until the hot water runs out,” I thought. As hot hit cold on the ceramic at my feet, steam billowed up around me and I drifted back to a time before – when the little girl lived, I was in love, and King was my hero.

By Rémi Dubot (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Fight with a Clock and Reality

At first glance, it was nothing special.  An open floor space of living room, dining area, and kitchen shared a floor of burnt orange Tuscany tiles; a wall of windows covered in cloth beige blinds smudged the room’s colors with filtered sunlight.  A worn area carpet covered the majority of the living space, tufts of cat hair unevenly adorned the geometric patterns of maroon, blue, and shades of tan and brown.  A rustic wooden chest that served as a coffee table was covered in the mundane piles that accumulate when long days at work strain shoulders and and weaken backs: a pile of bills unpaid, a crumpled napkin, a magazine untouched for months, and a plate and fork abandoned.  In this dull setting, the hum of a distant refrigerator and the meticulous ticking of a clock lingered just outside the temporary force field she had developed around the perimeter of her zero-gravity chair.

On her knees, a piece of technological wonder balanced beneath her quick fingers – their stodgy dance establishing a dominance across the MacBook Pro’s keyboard.  This time-machine could envelope its owner in a temporary gap, folding a very small fraction of the fabric of time and space, and permitting a person to cease from the present existence.  The field enveloped her, blocked cares and concerns about schedules and obligations as she poured alternate realities onto a screen.  Like Alice and her mirror, the Time Avoider yearned to escape into the black and white world displayed on the flat screen, the curves and sharp points of the letters beckoning her even as the chill of the room crept around her cone of separation.  A purr erupted from the land of the dinner table as her work phone signaled a meeting reminder.  Defeated, she pulled the screen shut, the transparent panel simultaneously dropping to the floor, ushering in the sound of car tires on gravel, birdsong from the front yard trees, and the incessant poking of the ticking clock – bullying her to the shower and then to work.

A Meditation on Shadows

The rain poured out of nowhere like the soothing brush of hands against the skin of the house, strengthening into a rake of tiny hailstones so as to scratch the apparent itch in the metal roof tiles and mossy skylights.  Tendrils of hail – pin pricks to a nasty rash – buffeted the house and sparkled in tiny bounces off the deck rails giving testament to their purposeful pressure treatment for a bored, lazy, and docile home.

Shadows appeared where before had been rays.  Dark over light – was something winning, and why hadn’t I been notified of the war?  Or was it just a contest?  Is there a difference?  Actually, shadows aren’t the equivalent of darkness; sometimes shadows are like a blanket over your lap as you sit in a comfortable chair on a Saturday afternoon.  Sometimes shadows aren’t foreboding.  Sometimes they keep the chill of real darkness from touching you.  Not exactly the absence of light – shadows – but the shade before pitch black, more like a softer pallet for the eyes to travel … giving more credibility to the surfaces, more notice for the edges of things.

Maybe that’s how it should be in good literature.  Bright lights spotlighting specific issues should be used sparingly to avoid overexposure, to help the eyes and soul adjust to the scenes of the crimes, or the scenes of love, the scenes of neglect and stupidity, the scenes of victory and salvation.  Shadows are magical in that regard.  Like running fingertips over piano keys softly, not producing notes of music in a traditional way, but accentuating the moment and exploration along with the silent words formed and forming in the mind.  Touch and sight combine with history and experience and flow in ink from the other hand, fisted around a pen, forming the story as it should be told.

Anger on the Other Side

[This is what happens when you follow the sage advice of other writers and force yourself to write non-stop for ten minutes on a day when you don’t feel like writing.  You jump onto the first thing that enters your mind and riff.]


Unplugged UpI’m cold in a cold house with lukewarm tea.  I sit here listening to a rotating vinyl disc with the voice of a man I don’t know speaking truths I’ve not lived (other than vicariously) and a cat circling like a shark.  My hands are cold.  The tips of my fingers are ice cubes.  The edge of my ass cheeks are frigid.  The only reason my toes aren’t cold is the thick wool socks in Sherpa lined slippers.  But I’m cold through and through.

What is reason or the value of retrospect in such a cold place – in my body – in my soul?  Could a monster named Jasper conquer here if his only weapon was fire?  I think not.  The timer beep-beeps – over and over … the song moves on and the next one begins; yet I sit here freezing.  I suppose that’s an exaggeration since hypothermia hasn’t lulled me to sleep.

There isn’t a breeze in the house – just no warmth.  Not physically and certainly not metaphorically.  I burn with frigid anger.  Like frostbite – it takes my appendages and blackens them, breaks them, until I cannot walk.  My vision blurs and the cold mist of dry ice vapor envelopes my heart until it is no more.

Perhaps in an alternate universe where planets revolve around a golden sun of plasma bubbling flares of radiant light out across the nebula – perhaps in that universe my anger would burn like fire.  But not here in this universe where we count backwards and swirl around the absence of light – this black hole we call our sun and core of our system.  In this universe I burn with that anger which is not solid liquid but is beyond ice – a whirling dervish of skin ripping vapor that depletes the air of anything you would find breathable in your place of space-time.  I’m cold in a cold house and I sit here and feed off this daily dose of nerve numbing power – anger.

I Dreamed I Was Harry Nilsson

UnpluggedWriting2If I could just get in front of a microphone and grow a beard I’d be a hit.  They’d drink their beers and fruity concoctions and hear tales in stream of consciousness rhyme, like ee cummings with no capitals.  Maybe I’d strum some guitar strings or pull out a harmonica for a bluesy bridge with soul, or a tangent of hardship so heartbreaking everyone would pull out packs of Marlboros and light up.  Then when the song ended, me and the band all covered in sweat and tears, we’d open our eyes and look across a silent crowd – all of them inhaling deep thoughts and pondering the “what was,” and the “what ifs.”  Then they’d let out a long slow release of memories and bittersweet clouds of hope and appreciation and we’d sneak out through that smokey mist of fame.

And in an equilibrium of thought and emotion, they’d all mash their burning stubs on plates of half-eaten chicken wings, or drown them with their fears in unfinished amber and cherry-red oceans of anxiety tonics no longer needed.  And they’d just get up and leave because they’d know there would never be a performance like this one again and although life is not fair, it’s still mostly good.

After that, I’d shave my beard and drift into some other form of heroic social work.

Squirrel Noise Avoidance


How to escape – through a door, past shelves, leave the light off and feel my way – until laughs and voices become murmurs and static with muffled volume rises and falls and darkness becomes the womb.  Will I find you there?  Will you share secrets again and fill my breath with excitement and what is close to truth without church and rules, judgements and eyes – looking, staring, noses being picked?  Please?

Here I am.  Now I’ve scraped my finger on the old metal shelving like grocery store isles.  A little worse than a paper cut.  Not sticking that in my mouth.  Could be germs from God knows who and when.  Don’t know if my immune system would hold up to such a challenge.  Just wipe the blood on my jeans and press a pool into my pocket edge, side seam – where there’s more material.  Yes – now it’s stopped – with everything else – so focused on me now – no one around.

Can’t say there’s shadows here – too dark and not cold, but not hot either – even with the coffee I just finished ten minutes ago – no hot flashes for me.  Where’s my truth?