Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Carver And The Nothing Canvas


James parked his rusty Ford Festiva behind the mall where he worked. He cursed as the automatic shoulder-belt arm scraped his shoulder when he opened the door. The latch had put a small tear in his shirt. James cursed again, went behind his car and opened the trunk. He rummaged in the clutter and came out with a slightly rumpled sport coat. Thinking it would be better to look a little disheveled then come in with torn apparel, he put the coat on. James straightened his tie. He would be doing this most of the day since he never got the knot quite right. The knot in his tie always turned a bit inward making the two strands of his tie splay sideways. The effect didn’t add to his neatness one bit. James closed his eyes and rubbed his face. It was going to be a long day.

James got to look forward to another day spent as a customer service representative at the Northrange Savings Bank. Customer service representative was a fancy name for teller. He was basically a clerk. His job was to do the basic functions that a machine could probably do more accurately. James thought that his main function was as a sounding board for customer complaints. His face sometimes being the only one a customer would see when doing business. Customer service is a rough enough job, let alone when a person dealt with another’s money. James tried to rub a wrinkle out of his sport coat. Thinking about the irony of how they expected their workers to dress when they were paid slightly more than minimum wage.

James closed the trunk and went to work.

After work James walked back to his car. The lot behind the mall was empty for this part of the evening. Tonight it was not. There were three men standing in the lot, leaning against one of the parked cars. James thought about going back into work but he kept walking. He cursed himself for being afraid when there was nothing to be afraid of. He became lost in his thoughts as he got to his car and unlocked it. He jumped when he felt a tap on his shoulder. He turned around to see he was surrounded by the men. James didn’t look the men. He looked at the gun on of them had pointed at his chest.

“Give me you money, bitch,” The man with the gun said. “Do anything else and I’ll fucking kill you.”

James’ hands trembled as he pleaded and took out his wallet. He opened it up and saw nothing. The wallet was empty.

“I don’t have any money,” James said. It was at that moment when he remembered a conversation he had with his father years ago. He was smoking a pipe with his dad on the front porch when somehow the topic of debit cards came up.

“Soon you won’t have to use paper money anymore,” James said, letting a long stream of smoke float into the night sky. “Money will be nothing but numbers changing into other numbers. Nothing tangible.”

“I can see that,” His father said, “But you should always have some money on you. I try and carry twenty bucks at all times.”

“Why?”

“In case you’re mugged,” His father said, “Then you have something to give the mugger. It’s either that or they take their money another way.”

“Twenty bucks, huh?” James said.

“It’s sound advice,” His father said.

James looked at his empty wallet, surrounded by three men, and began a pitiful litany of “I don’t have any money” and “Please don’t hurt me.” He thought of his father’s words. It was then that he felt the smack of metal against his nose as the revolver cracked him across the bridge. The pain blinded him. He almost blacked out but was pulled to his feet by two of the men. His shirt tore. James tried to struggle but stopped when the third man pressed the gun to his face.

“Move and I’ll kill you,” the man said.

James didn’t move.

He was hit from behind by one of the men that held him. James landed on the concrete and covered up as best he could when the kicking started. The beating seemed to go on for a long time. The stop was sudden. James lay on the floor for a long time, curled up into himself. Waiting. After what seemed like a long time had passed his opened his eyes. He felt his nose. He sat up and took off his sport coat and rubbed the blood off his face. He got in his Ford and drove home.

When James got home he walked past his roommates and grabbed a bottle of cheap whiskey from the kitchen. They asked what happened to him. He began to cry when he told them. His roommates didn’t know what to say and seemed embarrassed with his tears. So James stopped talking. He went to his room. His roommates went back to their video game. James finished the bottle.

Later James took a shower.

James let the water from the shower run searing hot. He was sobbing quietly. His head was pressed against the wall under the shower faucet. The water hit him between the shoulder blades. He turned the water hotter still. He wanted to burn right through his skin. He wanted to melt. He wanted to die. In his hand there was a knife. There was nothing James felt he could do in this world but fail. He failed as a son to his parents. He failed in school. He failed in life. James notched each day off with nothing to show for it. Nothing that would last beyond the moment. There was just nothing there.

James carved the F in his inner forearm. His blood, thinned by alcohol and flushed with hot water, flowed freely. The knife was only partially sharpened requiring him to slice and slice again to create the letter. He cut the A thinking only about his pain. There was nothing else. He cut the I-L-U thinking about the beating those men gave him behind the mall that evening. They were going to kill him for nothing. They must have known. James had been beaten down by so many people in so many different ways all his life that he knew he was marked. There must have been something everyone else could see about him that he couldn’t see himself. They knew they could beat him. They knew they could hurt him. They knew he was nothing.

James stopped cutting himself and looked at his work. He was tired. He was so tired and lost. He cut the R-E into his arm, not as deeply as the rest. The lines were almost faint for the last two letters. More of a scratch than a cut. James dropped the knife. He sat down in the shower and put his head in his hands. He sobbed. He was nothing. A failure. He tried over and over again to find himself but there was just nothing there.

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Provider - Chapter 10

Chapter 10

Jim had a hard time keeping his mind on his work. He had hidden his feelings of rage over someone harming his son. What he wanted to do was find the boy and tear him apart, then find his father and tear him apart. There was no way to keep the world from harming his son, but he could rage against it for trying. He felt himself obsessing over the fact that his feelings in no way would come to direct action. He remembered what it was like to be a boy and get into fights. Having his father come to his rescue would only make matters worse. When the chips were down he really didn’t know what to do. He would have to play things by ear and try to keep his temper under control. There was no easier way to rile a man than to attack his son. His mind churned on the day’s events as he went about his work. He was more brusque with the customers than usual. He wasn’t much of a conversationalist in general and tonight found him almost completely non-verbal. Even the regular clicking of the bored cover charge girl’s fingers on the door ledge didn’t bother him. After a time he felt his anger meld into a period of self-loathing so intolerable he cursed out loud.
“Got a problem with something?” The cover charge girl asked.
“No,” Jim said. She sighed and continued her endless finger drumming. Jim felt his stomach knot with inner rage. Rage he turned upon himself. He couldn’t keep his son safe if he wanted too. He didn’t even have what it took to keep the boy’s mother around. His wife left because he was no good. That he didn’t make enough money and couldn’t find a stable job were her main reasons. Jim thought her absence was mostly due to the disparity of the life she thought she should have and the one she actually ended up with. Successful business women ended up with successful men, not men like Jim. Even during their brightest days Jim would be lying if inside he didn’t feel this would happen. He was so very much in love with her. Since their relationship began Jim always had a fear that she would see him for what he really was. A loser. He knew that if the rose colored glasses were removed she would come to her senses and leave him. In the end he was right. Self-fulfilling prophecy. God only knows how deep the scars on his child were because of the absence of his mother. Jim remembered the nights and tears in the early days of her departure. Daniel blamed himself. Jim told the boy it was her choice to leave, that it didn’t have anything to do with him. But how could you know if he believed him? Jim looked at his watch and cursed aloud again. He still had a long night ahead of him. Looking down the club hallway he shook his head. Why did the economy have to go bad? There weren’t any good jobs available. Because he couldn’t land a day job he had to leave his son alone in the house all night long. What if something happened to him? Jim would have to carry that blame too. Some protector. Some provider. Some fucking father. Jim clenched his hands into fists. His inner disquiet boiled over into another curse.
“Do you have fucking Tourettes or something? What’s your fucking problem?” The cover charge girl leaned back as Jim turned his face to her with red vengeance in his eyes.
“I’m just having a bad night. Okay?” Jim said.
“Yeah, it’s okay.” She stayed still as Jim turned back around.
“Oh and you may want to skim a little less out of the till. The owner is getting suspicious,” Jim said.
“What are you talking about? I would never…” She mocked incredulous. Jim cut her off.
“Just don’t okay. Just don’t.”

Later in the evening the crowd in the club was picking up steam. Jim heard the alarm on his radio go off. One of the floor bouncers was at the door in an instant to take his place.
“Where is the problem?” Jim asked.
“Men’s bathroom,” The bouncer replied. “You better hurry.”
Jim worked his way through the club as quickly as possible. He turned sideways and pushed his way through the crowds, finally making it to the bathroom a couple moments later. He met the VIP backdoor bouncer on the way.
“What’s going on?” Jim asked.
“Some girls were taking shit about the long line to get in the bathroom. I told them there’s never a line for the men’s,” The bouncer smirked.
“They went in the men’s bathroom?” Jim sighed.
“Yeah. They’ve been in there awhile so I beeped you.” Jim went in the men’s bathroom. The girls couldn’t have been older than twenty five. They were sitting on the sink ledge, surrounded by six guys. The girls were laughing but you couldn’t mistake the nervous looks in their eyes.
“You can use the bathroom if you show us your tits.” The guys laughed and leaned against each other making a wall. The girls shook their heads and plastered crooked smiles on their faces, masking fear.
“Guys,” Jim said. Their heads turned. “Let the girls out of the bathroom. Come on.”
“Just a second man,” Their faces turned sour. “We’ve got something going on here.”
“Come on ladies.” Jim held out his hand and one of the girls gratefully took it. Jim pulled them through the yielding phalanx and to the other side. One of the guys slapped a girl on the backside as she passed. She yelped in surprise and pain. The guys laughed.
“Do you want to press charges?” Jim asked the girl. The guys laughed louder. The girl shook her head. “Bad things happen to girls in men’s bathrooms,” Jim said. “Don’t do this again.” They left.
Jim turned to the guys. “Is everything okay in here?”
“Are you a fucking faggot or something? You don’t like tits?” They laughed.
“I don’t like club patrons being sexually assaulted in the bathroom. It’s bad press,” Jim said. He stepped close to the guy would first mouthed off to him.
“Okay. Sorry, Okay? Now what?” The guy backed down.
“Now you guys wash your hands go back out to the club and have a good time,” Jim said. He turned to leave. He could hear them laughing as he walked out. He went over to the VIP bouncer. He was intently focused on a couple blonds dancing on the club floor.
“Watching women isn’t a part of your job. You need to keep you head on a swivel at all times,” Jim said.
“Whatever. How did the bathroom thing work out?” The bouncer did not take his eyes off the dance floor.

“Just fine. We got pretty lucky this time.”
“You get too uptight.” The bouncer picked his nose and flicked what he found into a dark corner.
“You’re damn right I do,” Jim said. The other bouncer shook his head.
“What is your problem?”
“I need this job,” Jim took a step closer to the bouncer.
“Sorry man,” The bouncer said. “I don’t see what that has to do with me.” Jim clenched his jaw. His head throbbed at the temples. He snapped. Jim grabbed the other bouncer by the shirt and slammed him up against the wall.
“You tell another dumb girl to go into the guy’s bathroom and I will beat the shit out of you. You will get her beaten, raped and left for dead. Is that something you want?” Jim could felt saliva spew from his words and land on the bouncer’s face. The bouncer winced and tried to push Jim off.
“No man. Shit, let go of me.”
“I need this fucking job.” Jim tightened his grip.
“I get you. I get you.” The bouncer said. Jim shoved him backward against the wall. The bouncer pulled his shirt back into place and looked at Jim with red venom.
“I have more riding on this work than you can ever imagine,” Jim raged. “I don’t need some back door asshole with shit for brains who can’t keep his eyes off the whores on the dance floor fucking this up for me. You keep your eyes moving. You keep the customers safe and do your job.”
“Okay. I fucked up. Sorry. Shit.” The bouncer spat on the floor. Jim shook his head.
“I’m going back to the front.” Jim turned and walked back to his post.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Provider - Chapter 9

Chapter - 9

Jim was cleaned up and ready by the time his son arrived home from school. He was about to light up his pipe when he heard his son enter the house crying. Jim ran to the front door and held his son which only escalated the boy’s sobbing. Jim broke off the hug and dropped to one knee and looked into Daniel’s tear streaked face.
“What happened?” Jim said. His son continued to whimper. He shook him a little and repeated louder. “Daniel, what happened?”
“I got beat up,” Daniel looked the picture of shame. He wiped his sleeve across his face, smearing mucus over his right cheek.
“Who did this to you?” Jim felt anger well up inside.
“Some kids from school.” Daniel dropped his backpack and Jim saw the urine stains on his pants. Jim’s fury drained instantly and he walked his son to the bathroom. He drew a bath and helped his son strip down. Both saying nothing. Daniel stepped into the bath and put his hands over his face. Jim splashed some water down his back from a pitcher and put a hand on his shoulder. His eyes searched his boy over for signs of abuse. After awhile he spoke.
“Are you hurt?” Jim asked.
“No,” Daniel’s voice was barely a whisper.
“Do you want to talk about it?” Jim prodded.
“No,” Daniel kept his hands over his face. Jim didn’t know what to say to him. He didn’t know how to get him to open up. Daniel’s body shook with humiliation. He thought again of Daniel’s mother, his wife, she would know what to say. Jim felt a wave of anger at her for her absence but let it go. There was nothing to be done about it.
“It will be okay buddy,” Jim said. He scooped another pitcher of water and washed the day from his young son’s shoulders, the weight of which seemed heavy on his own. There was no protection from a hard world. Boys should stay small, Jim thought, the bigger they get the bigger come their problems.
“I’m nothing,” Daniel said.
“You’re not nothing. You’re my boy. I love you,” Jim said. Inside he felt like the pot calling the kettle black. One nothing trying to lift up another.
“I’m nothing and I want to die,” Daniel said softly. Jim felt his soul squeeze as if in a vice.
“You don’t mean that,” Jim said. “Don’t say that.”
“I want to die. I hate myself. I’m nothing.” Daniel began to cry. It was an unearthed sobbing that came slow and spent itself long and hollow.
“You’re my boy,” Jim said. “I love you.” Jim dropped the pitcher and hugged his son.
“I want to die. I want to die. I want to die.” Daniel let the litany rise and fall with the rocking of his body. Jim had never felt so powerless. “Fuck you mother,” Jim thought with deep hatred. “Fuck that bitch for leaving us. She’s the one that should die. Not my boy. Not my son.”
Jim rocked holding Daniel in the bathtub. One reeling in sorrow, one with anger. Neither thinking about the other. Lost in themselves and their own miseries.

The evening came quickly. “Do you want me to drive you to school tomorrow?” Jim asked. “I could also pick you up at the end of the day. Save your legs from all that walking.” Daniel shook his head.
“Is there anything I can do?” Jim asked. He felt a little helpless.
“No. I’m okay.” Daniel shut him out again.
“I have to go to work now,” Jim said. He looked at Daniel. He searched his face to see if the boy would be alright with him leaving tonight.
“I know.”
Jim stood up. “Don’t stay up too late.” Daniel nodded.
“Goodbye buddy.”
“Bye, Dad.” Jim left his son sitting at the table.
“Don’t worry about the dishes. I’ll do them when I get home.”
“Okay,” Daniel said. With one last look, Jim walked out into the darkening sky.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Thanking the Damned

“Your mother asked me to stop by,” the pastor said. “Is it okay?”

“There’s nobody else here now,” The man said. “I don’t mind the company.”

The pastor looked at the middle-aged man in lying in a hospital bed. It was late, but the pastor was given a little lee-way from the nurses since the man he was seeing was dying. The man recently had a massive heart attack. There would be no recovery.

“You have everything you need?” The pastor said.

“I don’t need much now,” The man said. “Was going to play golf this weekend. I don’t think that’s going to happen.” The man didn’t move except for his mouth. He was too weak. His words came out of cadence.

“Your mother wanted me to talk to you,” The pastor said.

“I always knew she would outlive me,” The man said. “She trying to get you to convert me?”

“I think she just wants to know where you are with God,” The pastor said.

“She’s worried,” The man said.

“She’s your mom,” The pastor said. “It comes with the territory.”

“She doesn’t have to worry,” The man said.

“You’re saved then? You’re alright with God?”

“No,” The man said. “God and I are far from okay.”

“That’s why your mother is worried.” The pastor said.

“I know why she’s worried,” the man said. “I said she doesn’t have too. It’s her choice.”

“That’s a little bit of a harsh stance against the people who care for you,” the pastor said. “She doesn’t want this to be the last time she sees you.”

“You’re talking about heaven and hell. She wants to make sure I’m in.”

“You don’t have to worry about that,” The pastor said. “God forgives everything. He even forgives a stubborn heart against him. You will rest in heaven. That’s a promise.”

The man raise his eyebrows.

“How many theology classes do you have under your belt?” The man said. “You and I don’t see eye-to-eye on your understanding of free will.”

“You have free will,” The pastor said, “But God can see into your heart and knows what you really want. He knows what’s best for you and that’s an everlasting life with him.”

“That doesn’t make sense.” the man said.

“What doesn’t make sense?”

“Here’s the thing,” The man said. “I don’t see how this can go both ways. I don’t see how everyone can get into heaven. The whole thing wouldn’t make sense. God has promised me free will. If he automatically forgives me and lets me into heaven, then I don’t have free will. I don’t have a choice. I’m choosing to hold God to his promise.”

“You don’t believe in grace?” The pastor said.

“I didn’t say that,” The man said. “I said I was exercising my choice. I don’t want God‘s grace. God gave me free will and I‘m holding him to it. I want nothing to do with him.”

“You don’t mean that,” The pastor said.

“You mean God won’t let me ‘mean that.’ He has too. If he doesn’t, than I don’t have free will.”

“For once in my life I really don’t know what to say,” The pastor said.

“You may as well say ‘thank you’,” The man said. “For the same reason I can say no to God, you can say yes. “

The pastor got up to leave. He hesitated at the door.

“One more thing,” The pastor said. “Why should I thank you for something that is really a gift from God?”

“Well,” The man said, “If everyone did the same thing, you wouldn’t really know if free will existed. How can there be free will if all outcomes are the same? I will be your proof. My ability to say no proves you can say yes. My damnation - your salvation.”

“I just don’t understand your choice.”

“That’s the whole point,” The man said. “You don’t have to understand. It’s my choice. I find myself suddenly minding company. Go away.”

And the pastor did.

The Provider - Chapter 8


Chapter - 8

Jim and Daniel washed the dishes. Jim smoked away at his pipe and hummed a tune. He felt good. His son was looking at him sideways, but he felt too good to allow Daniel to peer pressure him into being dignified.
“I think I’ll look for some day work,” Jim said. He handed over a pot for Daniel to dry.
“Think you’ll find anything?” Daniel asked. His tone a dead match for the last hundred times they had this same conversation.
“You never know. Today could be my day,” Jim said “You and I could be driving matching red Corvettes and drinking Dom Perignon by the gallon in a month.”
“Yeah right. I have to get to school”.
“Are things going okay at school? You don’t talk about it much,” Jim said.
“Yeah. It’s okay.”
“I don’t know whether that means you’re making straight A’s or joining a suicide cult,” Jim said.
“It’s fine,” Daniel said. Jim knew this conversation was over and didn’t push is further.
“Okay,” Jim said. “Have a good day.” He watched his son go out the front door.
“I love you Dad,” Daniel called over his shoulder. The words hit Jim like a thunder clap.
“I love you too son,” Jim said. He turned to the sink and finished up the dishes.

Later that day Daniel was in his history class. The teacher was handing out their latest graded tests. The teacher had the interesting habit of laying their tests face down on their owner’s desks for confidentiality while at the same time, making loud public comments about their scores. When he approached Daniel’s desk and laid his test down the teacher looked at him and sighed.
“Another C. Mr. Average strikes again. Your predictability keeps me sane. Keep it up and I’m sure you’ll be a great used car salesman someday.” Daniel heard the snickers from the other students. He willed it not too, but Daniel could feel his face flushing at the attention. The teacher sensed his discomfort and moved on.
“Mr. George,” The teacher mockingly bowed to the boy sitting in the desk directly in front of his. “You seem to want to grace us with yet another year of your presence. You must love this class to want to take it two years in a row. Would you like me to save this desk for you?” The class laughed but none as loudly as Daniel heard coming from his own mouth. Stepping directly on the heels of his embarrassment, Daniel’s laughter tripped to a higher decibel level than his peers making his voice ring clear amongst his classmates. George turned around.
“What do you think is so funny?” George said.
“Oh, Shush,” The teacher said to George. “Your scores are laughable. If you don’t like being laughed at I suggest opening your book and study.” The teacher walked to the next desk. When he was done handing out the tests he walked to the front of the classroom and began the next chapter’s lesson.
“Hey laughing boy.” Daniel looked up to see George hissing words at him through clenched teeth. “I am going to kick the shit out of you after school.” He turned, looked at the clock and turned back around. “You have five hours until then. I’m going to knock your fucking teeth out.”

Daniel left school at a fast trot. He neither looked right nor left, just picked his legs up and put them down. The rest of his day at school was a half remembered dream. His anxiety rose with each passing hour. When the final bell rang, Daniel found himself almost running out the door. Sheer panic of the coming fight battled against the anvil like middle school peer pressure to look cool and not stand out. It was all for naught anyway as he almost ran right into George before he saw him. George had four of his friends with him making a veritable wall that pinned Daniel to his position. Daniel didn’t run. He felt his mind race at light speed while his frame stayed nailed in place. His body drawn, hands in pockets, under the sneers of George and his friends.
“Well. Look who’s trying to run home. Couldn’t back up your fucking mouth?” George’s friends laughed.
“I don’t want to fight,” Daniel said quietly.
“You don’t have a choice.” George pushed Daniel backwards. His hard and awkward fall was cushioned by his backpack. Daniel lay prone on the ground, frozen in fear.
“Get the fuck up you coward,” George yelled at him. Daniel’s submissive figure only seemed to enrage his attacker. George kicked him in the side. Daniel moaned and rolled on his stomach. George felt the excitement wane from his friends at Daniel’s lack of fighting spirit. He ripped open Daniels backpack and chucked his papers and books out into the street.
“You fucking asshole! Get up and fight me! Damn it!” George roughly turned Daniel over and saw he was crying.
“Please stop. Please don’t hit me again,” Daniel sobbed. George cupped his hand over Daniel’s nose and mouth. Daniel struggled and choked. George looked up at his friends who all looked really uncomfortable. He released Daniel, stood up and spit in his face.
“Pussy,” George said. He walked away with his friends.
Daniel slowly got up from the ground crying and coughing. He gathered up his papers and books from the street. Other children from the school walked past him. Not helping him. Not looking at him. Daniel felt the indignity of the assaulted. Fighting is accepted as a part of youth and the young get away with things adults would be imprisoned for. His broken spirit was accentuated by the uncomfortable wetness and stain widening on the front of his jeans. He held his backpack in front of him as he walked home. At some point during the fight, he had wet himself.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Provider - Chapter 7

Chapter 7

The morning found Jim in his car looking down at his worn shoes. Jolting his body into action, he dug into his pocket and brought out the rumpled twenties. He opened the window and dropped the bills onto the pavement. “I don’t need your fucking charity. You’re the loser.” He said with vehemence. Dignity slightly restored, Jim put the car into drive. His son would be waking up soon and would be hungry for breakfast.

Jim cleaned up in his bathroom. Looking at his face in the mirror revealed more of the same dark and grim countenance he had begun to regard as normal. He shaved off his wiry stubble, rinsed his hands and drew them wet through his peppered grey hair and brushed it into place. He ran the water ice cold and splashed it aggressively on his face. He looked at himself in the mirror. The face looking back at him was clean, clear and not unhandsome. Feeling like a new man, Jim went back into the kitchen and prepared breakfast. He cracked a couple extra eggs and laid our a few more strips of bacon than normal. Today he was going to eat breakfast with his boy. The sun was beginning to rise. The smell of crisping bacon wafted in the air. Jim put on a pot of coffee and lit up his pipe. Fragrant vanilla flavored smoke filled the air. As he turned the eggs in the skillet he smiled.

“Hi dad,” Daniel said. He looked at the spread on the table and moved into his chair.
“Hey buddy,” Jim said.
“Are we having company for breakfast or something?”
“Not unless you have one of your girlfriends in there,” Jim said. Daniel laughed and the father felt his heart surge with delight. How long has it been since he heard the boy laugh? He thought. Weeks. It had been weeks. He sat down across from his son and dug into his eggs. His son was eating too. Bacon first, then onto the eggs. He ate his food one section at a time. Nothing like his father who didn‘t care if his foods mixed. No, the boy was more like his mother this way. Thinking of her made his stomach knot and he lost his hunger. He shoved the pain deep and forced himself to take another bite of toast. This morning was going too well to allow his illogical crave of her presence to waste it.
“You’re hungry today,” Jim remarked, wrenching his thoughts back to his boy.
“Yeah. The food is good,” Daniel stared a moment into his plate. He stuttered and suddenly blurted out “I know you work all night and are probably really tired by now. You don’t have to cook me breakfast everyday. I could just eat a bowl of cereal or something.” Daniel’s eyes darted up and met his father’s for a moment, then looked back down.
“I like to cook for you,” Jim said.
“I know,” Daniel said. “I just don’t want to add any more pressure.” The boy trailed off and dropped his fork on his plate. His countenance darkened.
“The only pressure cooking eggs is that they might burn,” The father joked.
“I’m serious. You don’t have too!” Daniel said. Jim saw the earnestness on Daniel’s face. He couldn’t help himself, he was a bit giddy from being tired and he kept joking.
“But I’ve seen you cook. It’s downright scary,” Jim regretted it as soon as he said it. His jest seemed to sting Daniel.
“Listen to me!” Daniel yelled. “I know you work all night and look for work during the day. You don’t sleep. You don’t need to do this for me.”
“Okay. Sorry. Okay. Seriously, it’s not hard for me to make you breakfast,” Jim said. “I feel a little guilty having to leave you alone every night and it’s really one of the only times I get to see you. It’s for my benefit really. I just like spending the morning with you. Okay?”
Daniel sat sullen for a moment. “Okay,” He said and picked up his fork. They resumed in silence.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

These Four Walls

I've never done good thingsI've never done bad things
I never did anything out of the blue
Want an axe to break the ice
Want to come down right now


It all comes down to Cheerios and those four walls. He was awake. He would rub his fingers over the mesh of his port-a-crib. Faster and faster, he would rub until his fingers burned from the friction and his senses ran into overdrive. He would hesitate for a moment and let those feelings pass, then rub again, over and over and over. If he stopped rubbing everything would stop. There was nobody to talk to him. There was nothing in the crib except a soiled blanket. There used to be a yellow and pink stuffed bear as well. Like the ones won at a carnival. But he had thrown that out days ago and nobody had placed it back in the crib with him. The silence was too much of a void so he would rub and rub and rub. The mesh wove patterns of light as his fingers raced back and forth. Millions of rays played a frantic game of light and shadow. Sometimes he would get lost in them. He could get so involved that he would just stare at the little holes. Those were the best times. It was like he wasn’t even there.

A girl my age went off her head, hit some tiny children
If the black hadn't a-pulled her off, I think she would have killed them
A soldier with a broken arm, fixed his stare to the wheels of a Cadillac
A cop knelt and kissed the feet of a priest, and a queer threw up at the sight of that

Sometimes he would scream. There was delicious times where he found his voice. He would sound loud and louder. The air would expel from his lungs. His muscles would tense with the joy of it all. It wasn’t for any sort of purpose. Just to sound was enough. The volume was ecstasy in his ears. He could push everything else away with the sound. He would close his eyes tight and a torrent of white and black spots would dance in the darkness behind his eyes. The sound would sometimes bring something else. Something beautiful or painful. It was only a matter of time. It all comes down to Cheerios and those four walls.


I'm an alligator, I'm a mama-papa coming for you
I'm the space invader, I'll be a rock 'n' rollin' bitch for you
Keep your mouth shut, you're squawking like a big monkey bird
And I'm busting up my brains for the words

Sometimes she would come. Staggering with eyes closed from light and pain. Heavy hands would land on the frayed edges of his port-a-crib. She would regard him and he her. If only he could stop screaming for a moment. But he found that he could not. He could just scream and scream. Sometimes she would tell him to shut the fuck up. Sometimes she would hit him. It made no difference. The screams would come from somewhere inside of him. They were as regular as breathing and as normal as his beating heart. There were the moments of silence. Sometimes a hit would come so hard that screaming was impossible from the incredible jar of the strike and the spots in his vision would become swirling stars and dazzling explosions of sharp pain. After, there was a tingling numbness as he sucked in air, Though not enough for another scream. Focus came back as often as it did not. When it did, she was gone. It all comes down to Cheerios and these four walls.


We live for just these twenty years
Do we have to die for the fifty more

Sometimes when she came it was different. She would coo and pick him up. His body would tense against her touch. So much in his little body wanted to press into her. To feel her skin. To be close to her. There was something in her touch that repelled him as much as it drew him. He found himself fighting against her, pulling at her hair, biting her. Sometimes she would throw him back into the crib and be gone again. Sometimes she would place him on the ground on his back. She would take off his foul and dripping diaper, clean him and put on a new one. She would tell him that he smelled like shit. She would say he was disgusting. She would tell him she wished he was dead. He couldn’t look into her eyes. There was so much he didn’t like to see there. He would lay on the floor, let her clean him, avoid her eyes and concentrate on the touch. It all comes down to Cheerios and these four walls.

So I turned myself to face me
But I've never caught a glimpse
Of how the others must see the faker
I'm much too fast to take that test

Sometimes he would drop. Legs just didn’t work after awhile. He would lay very still and look toward the ceiling as it spun and spun and spun. She would lounge on the couch and pick her nose. Sometimes she would forget to take the needle out of her arm and it would bob with the motion of her hands. She stared and stared, smiling all the time, nothing behind her eyes. He would cry sometimes. The pain would make him cry. There was something missing. She would drift off the couch and move to the kitchen as if in a dream. She would get the yellow box and float back toward him. Then the rain would come. Small tan circles poured into the crib, bouncing off his face, arms and body. He would open his mouth and some would drop in. They crunched when he worked his jaw. Delicious. Salvation. He would crawl through his stained and foul crib and eat every one he found. Sometimes she would only drop in a little. The best times where when the yellow box would fall from her fingers completely and it would all be his. He would sleep after eating. When he awoke, he found his legs worked again and he could stand up.

I watch the ripples change their size
But never leave the stream
Of warm impermanence and
So the days float through my eyes
But still the days seem the same



“I have to shit,” She said. “Oh, man I have to shit so bad. Where’s the fucking bathroom? I have to get to the fucking bathroom.” She stood up and wobbled grotesquely, bumping against the wall as she staggered to the bathroom. “Shut the fuck up,” The man would say. “You’re just coming unplugged from all that shit you do. It has to happen sometime.” The man laughed and laughed. The child rubbed my fingers over the mesh and watched her. “Go and get some more shit,” She said. “I think I will,” The man said. “I don’t want to be around when you take a super dump anyway.” He walked out of the house and closed the door. She pulled her pants down and slumped onto the toilet and shuddered. The child rubbed the mesh on the port-a-crib. The child tried to leave and get lost in the light, but it wouldn’t let him. He had to watch. He had to be there. “Oh, shit. Holy shit,” She said. She lifted her body off the toilet and it tensed as her body shoved forward. A baby dropped from her vagina, cradled in a wet weave of afterbirth. The tiny body thumped on the bathroom tile. She stood there looking down at the baby. The umbilical cord snaked into her. She pulled on it like it could be unplugged from her body. The tiny baby cried. So did she. All of a sudden the flickering light from the mesh caught The child’s eye and he was lost in the sparkling light. He could feel the heat from his fingers rubbing back and forth, faster and faster. It all comes down to Cheerios and these four walls.

Time takes a cigarette, puts it in your mouth
You pull on your finger, then another finger, then your cigarette
The wall-to-wall is calling, it lingers, then you forget

The Provider - Chapter 6

Chapter - 6

Jim could tell it was around midnight by the constant line of people filing into club. He took each I.D. and dropped it in the photo box. Jim didn’t look too closely at the authenticity of the cards. Just taking the I.D. and documenting it with a photo let the club off the hook for allowing in minors. As long as he took about ten fakes off the customers a night the police stayed off the club owner’s back.

“You can’t come in,” Jim said to a man who stood holding out his I.D.

“Why not?”

“We have a dress code that doesn’t allow tennis shoes,” The man looked down at his shoes and back at Jim.

“These shoes cost two hundred bucks,” The man’s face scrunched into a sneer.

“They do not coincide with our dress code. I’m sorry you cannot come in,” Jim said. The man quickly mounted an offense.

“I fucking come here all the time. I spend good money here,” The man scoffed. Some shouts of ‘hurry up’ or ‘get the fuck moving’ were heard from the customers waiting behind him.

“I’m sorry,” Jim said. “I cannot let you in. Our dress code is defined clearly on the sign outside.”

“Look at your fucking shoes,” The man said beginning to redden at his cheekbones. His voice raised in pitch and scalped each syllable. “You’re wearing ten dollar K-Mart brand, homeless man shoes. Do you get off on turning away successful people like me at the door? You fucking loser.”

“Sir, I’m going to ask you one more time to leave.” Jim looked directly at the man. Jim had allowed more warning in his voice than normal. Jim’s face, however, remained impassive against the twisted rage bestowed on the other man’s countenance.

“Fucking fine!” The man dug his hand into his back pocket and ripped out his wallet. He tore out a couple twenties and threw them into Jim’s chest.

“Here!” The man said, “Now you let me into this club you fucking asshole! I hope you fucking choke on it.”

Jim looked over the man’s shoulder at the next person waiting in line. “May I see your I.D. please?” The person stepped forward and handed her license over. Jim checked the date and dropped it in the photo box. He handed the card back to her and looked to the next person in line. Soon the flow into the club was going at its normal pace. The irate man glared at Jim. He looked down at the dropped twenties that were now being crunched underfoot. He finally left, shoving through the line. When there was a momentary break, the cover charge girl leaned and whispered in his ear.

“He’s right about your shoes,” She said, “They look real cheap.”

Jim looked down at the dirty and rumpled twenty dollar bills on the floor. He kneeled down and picked them up, putting them in his pocket. Jim looked back up at the cover charge girl. She smacked her gum and drubbed her fingers on the half-door railing. There was disdain behind her passive, regarding eyes. Jim pretended to ignored it, but it hurt. As he stood up, a group of guys entered the club loudly. They had the confident swagger of those well oiled with liquor. He was about to check their I.D.’s when he noticed one of their party had on a pair of worn sneakers.

“Excuse me sir,” Jim said. “I cannot let you in the club.”

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Provider - Chapter 5

Chapter - 5
Jim parked his car a couple blocks from the nightclub where he worked. He walked the darkening residential streets. Hitting the main drag was like emerging from dark tangle of jungle into a blinding shoreline. The flickering sheen of the neon lights reflected sickly off his skin. The lights drove away the darkness and with it the stars. He descended the stone, semi-damp basement steps and opened the club door. The club’s d├ęcor was Hindu Religious symbolism mixed with Tribal iconography. Jim referred to it as“religion in a blender.” There was nobody in the main hallway. He pushed back a tapestry to reveal a hidden closet door which held the broom for him to sweep the steps. Jim walked out the door and back into the night. He swept the stairs quietly and quickly. He swept away the fatigue of his body. He swept away the anger at this being the best employment he could find and it wasn’t enough. The past due bills hung heavy on his conscience. It was a slow burn. Falling ever further behind. It wasn’t a question of if the bottom would drop out, but when. Everything untended eventually failed. Jim thought of his house. The were several repairs past due. Leaks that began as a small dot of stain on the ceiling became larger with each passing week. He thought of his old furnace and water heater. Either one of those going out would finish him. Jim thought it would be justice for a life misspent. The economy failed and took the working class with it. It was his responsibilities to his son that made him hang on. Failure was the eventuality. Jim chose the graceful collapse, instead of the hard and fast implosion of many in this area. His work finished, he walked back into the club. Jim peeked around the hallway to nod to the bartenders and servers who were congregated in the main bar area.

“How are you doing man?” One of the bartenders smiled and waved to him.

“I’m good,” Jim said. I’m going to open up.”

“Okay,” The bartender turned back to the others. Jim was by far the oldest member of the staff and felt an inability to relate to his younger colleagues. They looked at him with a kind of dread. To them, this job was a stop-gap. It was a cool college job they could get nostalgic about in later life. Jim was a walking nightmare to them. He was their reminder to go home after closing and finish homework, complete degrees or marry well.

Jim went back to the safety of the empty hallway. He flicked on the lights and put out the dress code sign. He turned to see the girl who collected the cover charge skipping down the hallway. Her spike heels clicked loudly on the concrete floor. Jim thought she look like a walking skeleton. Her pale, stretched skin was further accentuated by a slathering of harsh bright whorish makeup.
“Hi!” She said brightly as she snapped open the door to the small closet sized room that would serve as her spot for the night. She flipped open the cash-box and counted its contents. She finished and snapped the box closed. She turned toward Jim and drummed her lacquered red fake nails on the ledge of the half door. He could already feel her boredom beginning to darken her exterior. He couldn’t help but take it personally. Jim knew he was hard to talk too. He never had anything to say. The more he though about something interesting he could say, the less came to mind. Every night was like a first- date failure with this girl.

“How are you doing tonight?” He asked her.

“Fine,” She said. She stared directly at him and continued to drub her fingers. She left her mouth hang open after saying “Fine,” Waiting for Jim to expound on the conversation. Jim thought she looked like a cow who’s forgotten a mouth full of cud.

“Did you have a good day off yesterday?” Jim said. She nodded and gazed off longingly down the empty hallway toward the main bar where the interesting people worked. She shut down. Jim shut down. The both of them waited in silent awkwardness for the customers to begin arriving.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Provider - Chapter 4

Chapter - 4
Eventually the school day ended. Daniel arrived to the sanctuary of home. He put his backpack down in the middle of the entryway floor with the careless neglect relative of all middle-school aged children. Daniel moved to the kitchen and popped the top on a warm can of generic cola. His father wasn’t awake yet. Daniel’s hunger pangs won out over the empathetic thought of letting his father sleep.

“Dad, I’m home,” Daniel said. Jim stirred on the bed, sat up and coughed. He looked up at Daniel with a dazed, glassy-eyed expression, which he rubbed away vigorously with both hands.

“So you are,” Jim said. “How was school?”

“Fine,” Daniel said. Jim reached out and patted Daniel on the elbow in a gentle show of affection. The schedule of the house was an awkward cycle. A system that Jim was having difficulty getting used too. One’s day was always ending while the other’s just beginning. There was never the comfort of having the whole family home, in bed and safe. One of them was always waiting for the other, trying to sleep while one they loved was out in the world, away from the sureness of home and family.

“Good.” Jim said. “That’s good. Are you hungry?”

“Yes,” Daniel said. Jim massaged his palms over his face. Moving his arms stirred up effluvium and Jim wrinkled his nose at his own smell.

“Is it okay if I take a quick shower before I make us some dinner?”

“Yes. I can wait,” Daniel said. He walked out of the room. The father scratched his chest absently for a few moments. Then he rose from the bed and went to take a shower. His body beginning to awaken with the rising moon as Daniel’s energy waned with the setting sun.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Provider - Chapter 3

Chapter - 3

Daniel walked around the clustered gatherings of other children as he made his way up to the middle school’s front doors. No one paid him any notice. He passed among the cliques like a shoeless man treads upon broken glass. He longed to be a part of a group but didn’t know how. Making friends, being interesting, conversing and bonding? These qualities were held for granted by the socially successful, seeming to effortlessly make people like them. Daniel was moved by their ability of influence and control. Daniel assumed failure, brought on by a life of public implosion. Attaining the doors, he pulled the metal latch and walked inside. He turned smartly to the left, entering the stairwell. Reaching his hand far up the banister, he pulled and leaped taking the steps two at a time. His shoulder bumped into a couple boys who were descending to the main floor.

“Damn it!” One of the boys yelled. Daniel froze on the landing, like a penitent waiting for the scourge. He was turned and pushed roughly against the stairwell. The railing bit vengefully into his side. The violence of the attack didn’t scare Daniel as much as the fact that he had no idea who this boy was.
“Watch where the fuck you’re going fag boy!” The enraged kid spat the words into Daniel’s face. The violence was explained with that one condescending word. Daniel felt better knowing the abandon of the assault was due to his own reputation proceeding him. This other boy must have known the fact that he could wield the fury of God without any chance of retaliation. “If you want to fight I will fight you at any time!” The boy said. His friend laughed, looking at his buddy with lustful reverence.
“I don’t want to fight. I don’t want to get suspended,” Daniel whimpered. He felt his body melt, muscles loosening and drooping under newly heavy bone. He become completely submissive. Yielding in wait for the aggression to end. The boy let go; sensing his prey defeated.
“If you touch me ever again, I’ll kill you,” The boy said. He and his friend left, descending the stairs and congratulating each other on their misuse of another human being. Daniel waited for his heart to slow down and breath to calm. He continued his climb up the stairs. His body scurried the hallways like a fretful rodent, trying to remain invisible, trying to meld into the walls. Daniel made it into his first class of the day. His teacher didn’t look up from his desk while hailing him.

“Daniel, do you have your homework done for today?”

“About half of it,” Daniel said. He dug in his bag for his paper.

“Half isn’t finished. That‘s not what I asked. I asked you if you had your homework done.”

“No. I didn’t have a chance to finish it last night,” Daniel found the paper a held it out to his teacher. He waved it away.

“I also didn’t ask you for any lame excuse you had for not finishing your work. Did I?”

“No,” Daniel said.

“You disrespect me and my classroom by not finishing your work. Do you know that?” The teacher asked.

“I didn’t mean to disrespect you,” Daniel said. The teacher looked frustrated and finally regarded Daniel.

“It’s not what you meant, but what you did,” the teacher said. “You disrespect me and my class. Get out.”

“Get out? Can you do that?” Daniel said. The teacher sighed.

“Get out. Apathy doesn’t have a place in my class.”

“Where will I go?”

“I don’t care,” the teacher said. “I just don’t want to look at you.” The teacher got up from his desk and moved toward Daniel. He didn’t touch Daniel but used his body to coax him backwards enough to shut the door in his face. Daniel could hear the class laughing as the door closed. At a loss, Daniel sat down in front of the classroom door for the first hour of his day. He tried to finish his homework while he sat but didn’t understand it. Eventually he gave up. He spent the rest of his time daydreaming about jamming a pistol into his teacher’s mouth and asking the fuck if he would like to try and kick him out of class now? He imagined the teacher fouling himself while gagging from the large metal barrel. He saw himself removing the gun and forcing the teacher to show him how to do the homework. “Was that so hard, you humiliating fuck?” Daniel would ask right before he pulled the trigger.

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Provider - Chapter 2

Chapter 2

Daniel walked to school. His movements resembled a frightened rabbit traveling amidst the smell of a fox. His eyes jerked to his surroundings, flashed right and left, returned to center, then around again. Daniel moved his long legs by kicking out awkwardly from the knee, giving him a slightly cocky gait. His shoulders rounded in, hands slammed into pants pockets gave all viewers the outward impression to leave him well enough alone. Daniel tried to overtake the walk to school with fast movement and unapproachable personal stance. His gait contradicted itself, showing him to be both hard predator and easy prey. During one of his quick glances, he saw a boy from his school. The kid, Daniel knew his name to be George, was sitting lazily on the sidewalk. His legs outstretched into the street, a mundane unsafe practice yet one Daniel would never consider doing. Daniel feared and revered the boy’s tough exterior. George looked and acted all of the bully. He had a rough, hard bitten face, dirty clothing and an eye that searched out weakness. Daniel worked his body into forced nonchalance but his pace quickened without him meaning too.
“Hey faggot,” George called to Daniel as he passed. He didn’t answer. The first time a kid in school called Daniel faggot was over three years ago. It was in the middle of a paper presentation he was giving in English class. The name struck Daniel like the shock of cold metal pressed to flesh. He stuttered, lost his place and ultimately froze. The teacher, asleep at his desk, was no lifeline. Tears had come then. Any laughter from the class fell silent at this social faux pas that bordered on high treason. Daniel had stood there for several minutes, crying in front of his peers, only to be saved by the bell tolling the end of class. The other kids left like new murderers, silent, fearful, smirking. The name had stuck, now most of the kids in school referred to him by that hateful slang. Most days Daniel was hailed by faggot more than his given name. Each time he heard it, it shoved Daniel further into himself. Nothing in his body told George he noticed, but George knew he did. George knew it hurt him. It wasn’t that George thought Daniel would come over to him when called. It was enough to bait the wounded fish with a severed worm.
“Hey you! Fag boy. Come here,” George called to him again. Daniel didn’t answer. He kept moving. The first abuse of the day took its pound of flesh and readied itself for the upcoming feast. Daniel felt a hard hand slam down on his shoulder, roughly turning him around. “I know you can hear me Fag boy. You ignoring me? I should have to walk my ass over to you to get your attention?”

“No,” Daniel said meekly. His body stiffened as George gave him a smart slap on his left ear.

“Maybe you hear me a little better now?” George said.“Pick you head up so I can slap you on the other side.”

“Please don’t hit me again,” Daniel said.

“Pick your fucking head up before I decide to punch you instead of slap you.” Daniel looked up. The second slap was harder than the first and rocked him. Daniel’s legs buckled. “Stand up bitch. You’re not hurt.” George hefted Daniel back to his feet. “You gonna make me walk over to you again?”

“No,” Daniel said.

“You gonna answer me when I call you?”

“Yes.”

“That’s my bitch. Off to school you fag bitch. I’m sick of fucking looking at you.” George took one hand and shoved Daniel in the face. Daniel stutter stepped, spun and returned on his way to school. The rest of the walk was spent in the fantasy of smashing George’s face in. Watching his teeth clatter on the concrete. Driving hard kicks into George’s ribs, feeling them bend and break. He dreamed of George begging for forgiveness as landed punch after punch into his face. “I will kill you George,” Daniel thought. “I’m going to kill you”.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Provider - Chapter 1


Chapter - 1


“Good Morning,” Jim greeted his son warmly. The smile on his lips countered the low affect of his face. His was the vacant countenance shared among the viciously underemployed. The only work his father could find was bouncing at a basement nightclub downtown. The breakfast and sweet pipe aroma didn’t hide his father’s reek of cigarettes, sweat and stale alcohol. That odor clung viciously to his dad every morning from a night in that damp bar. His father had worked there for several months now and the longer he worked there the smell made an ever more permanent presence in his pores. Daniel stuck his face closer to his plate to get away from it. He tried hard to keep his nose from wrinkling in disgust. His father worked a hard job, making hard money for them to live on. There was no one else. Daniel shifted. His chair creaked shrilly.

“What an injustice!” Jim said, “I’ve never seen a seat complain so loudly at such a small weight being applied to it.” Jim smirked at his wit and took a long pull off his pipe. He tried to meet his sons eyes unsuccessfully. His looked seared into the boy, yearning for one flash of those youthful, steel gray eyes from inside the brown tangles of hair. Jim let the unshared smile drop from his face. Daniel sat. He stared at the spread of food set before him. The breakfast was placed in neat piles on the plate. Jim felt a rush of pride at being able to provide his son such a meal. A home cooked, hot breakfast was a tribute. The silence bothered him. He decided on asking a question that he was sure would elicit a response.
“Do you want coffee?” He asked.
“Yes. Thanks,” Daniel said. Jim got up and fixed the cup of coffee. The black luster in the mug was lost in a swirl from a heavy helping of cream and sugar. Just the way Daniel liked it.

“I don’t know how you can stomach this,” Jim said, “You can’t taste the coffee under all this other crap.” Daniel drank the cup hot and fast.
“Do you want some?” He asked.
“No you go ahead and finish off the pot.” Jim poured the rest of the coffee in Daniel’s cup, rinsed off the yellowing carafe and placed it back in the coffee maker. Daniel drank the coffee without extras and grimaced.
“I’d better get going.” Daniel said. He got up from his reproachful chair and wavered in place. To Jim, it was as if he were waiting to be dismissed.
“Do you need anything?” Jim asked.
“No.” Daniel said. Jim knew he should say something. Could he risk saying he loved him? He couldn’t remember the last time he told Daniel that singular phrase of intimacy. Jim was at a loss. He couldn’t bring himself to verbalize what he felt, there was no reason why. It was what it was. The palpable silence bit deeply.
“See you make it to school on time.” Jim finally blurted. Daniel unfroze and nodded assent. Jim caught a glimpse of Daniel‘s eyes rolling. He inwardly cursed himself. The boy was never late for school. Another spent morning climaxing in a useless directive from a failure of a father.
“I’m going to go,” Daniel said, “See you tonight.” Daniel picked up his backpack, turned, and walked out the front door. Jim sat at the kitchen table ignoring his food. His body nourished by the steady gnaw on his self-loathing. Jim inhaled smoke from his pipe into his lungs. He held it there until it hurt and exhaled a long stream of smoke into the kitchen ceiling. Jim felt better after this self abuse rebuke to his behavior. Abruptly, he stood up and walked across the pea green living room carpet to the front bay window. He looked down the street and saw Daniel. The boy was a half block up the street and walking at a good clip. Jim noticed his sons hunched shoulders. His drawn in torso. Daniel walked like a hurt boxer protecting his wounded vitals. So hunched, he moved stiffly, without confidence. “He looks a lot smaller than he really is,” Jim thought as he shut the blinds. Sighing and feeling suddenly weary, he went to the bathroom to wash. Jim looked in the mirror. Dark circles and baggy skin complimented the black stubble of beard. His eyes searched lower. A few spots of blood were plain on his shirt collar. The blood was his own. Spilled by a bar patron whose reasoning capabilities were drowned in clear, fiery, aqueous Vodka and smashing fists. He cursed himself again for not checking his appearance before the boy woke up.
Jim tore his gaze from the mirror. He gripped the pedestal sink with a moment’s rage that shook the plumbing violently and threatened to tear the porcelain from its foundation. Adrenaline dumped, he stood still for a few moments and looked again into his grizzled face in the mirror.
“Fuck you for a fool.” His voice cracked as he spoke into his pained reflection.
Jim took off his shirt and threw it in the hamper. He left the bathroom, went into his disheveled bedroom and fell into the rumpled quilts on his bed. He was asleep within moments.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Saying Goodbye

Atticus sat in the front row at his mother’s funeral. His mother lay in a cheap-looking green casket fifteen feet in front of him. Her funeral was supposed to start fifteen minutes ago, but nobody had showed, so Atticus asked the proceedings to wait. The clergy member he paid to give service sat outside the room in the hallway drinking coffee. Every few minutes he would peek his head in and ask if he should begin service. Atticus didn’t like the way the searching look the man gave him.
Atticus stood up and walked up to the wooden podium placed left of his mother. He looked at the empty seats for a moment, began to speak, then faltered. “This is stupid,” He thought. He was about to sit down when the clergy member walked back into the room. He sat in the front row and put his folder in the chair next to him.
“Looks like you’ve got something to say,” The clergy member said.
“It’s silly. There’s no one here,” Atticus said.
“I won’t lie to you, I’ve seen a lot of strange stuff in my calling, but I’ve never seen a whole funeral where no-one showed up,” The clergy man said, “Who are we waiting on?”
“I don’t know.”
“They’re going to need this room again sooner or later. If you want to get started you’d best do it now. I don’t think you really need me to preach to you, although I will if you want, I think I’d be of best service to listen,” The clergy man said. Atticus nodded. “You’d best get started.”
Atticus gripped to podium with two hands then dropped them awkwardly back to his sides. He could get the words out.
“Just start talking,” The clergy man said, “Let it kind of flow out of you.”
“My father told me that the two most important relationships in your life are to God and then your spouse,” Atticus said, “He used to tell me when I misbehaved that I shouldn’t make him choose sides between her and me, because he would pick her every time. He loved her very much. I don’t remember them fighting at all. They stayed married until he died. Most people don’t stay married anymore. I could always tell their relationship would make it. It would have been the worst shock of my life if they had gotten a divorce.” Atticus shook his head. “Is this okay?”
“Just keep talking,” The clergy man said.
“When he died it was like I lost two parents,” Atticus said, “I never knew any different than when they were together. My mother was always with my father. I never thought of her as a single person. She was always Mom. I don’t even think our relationship ever got past when I was a child. I kept growing but she didn’t allow our relationship to grow. I remember her saying things like, ‘The best times were when your father was alive and you were small.’ I didn’t know what to say about that. It was like she made a choice of where she was comfortable with me and that’s where she stayed. Time’s a bitch though, it doesn’t allow for anything to stay the same.”
“That’s not all, is it?” The clergy man said.
“No,” Atticus said, “Sorry I said bitch.”
“It’s okay.”
“I think part of her not changing was that I wasn’t a very good person. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I had no real plan for my life. I had a way of messing things up. I was barely eeking by and my life was ending one day at a time. I don’t think I’m a very good person. I don’t think I’m worth very much. I don’t think anyone will give a shit when I’m dead. My mother probably thought the way she did because when I was little my life had endless possibilities. The older I got, the more my useless reality began to set in. I’m nothing. Why would any Mom want a nothing for a child?” Atticus frowned.
“What happened to your mom?” The clergy man said.
“I don’t know,” Atticus said. He began to cry.
“You said you were the one who’s supposed to die alone,” The clergy man said, “How come she’s the one?”
“I told you I don’t know,” Atticus said, “I kind of lost track of her, you know? I got older and moved out. I got a job. I didn’t call, write or visit much. I just kind of lost her. I don’t know what she did every day. I don’t know who she spent her time with. Why she’s alone at her death? I don’t know.”
“What do you think about that?” The clergy man said.
“I think that maybe I’m more like her than I may have thought,” Atticus said, “Maybe I’m just as guilty of not wanting our relationship to grow past what it was. I know I was bitter when my father died. I had my own life and didn’t want to be saddeld with taking care of her. She was always very touchy when I saw her and I’m not that kind of person. I think she always knew this but would invade my personal space anyway. It was like she thought she had a right to hug and kiss me just because I was her child. I didn’t have the courage to tell her I was uncomfortable to her face because I didn’t want to hurt her feelings. However, I think she used that to her advantage too! Her personal space blitzcrigues made me avoid her all the more. It’s very complicated.”
“Where are you going with this?” The clergy man said.
“I feel like I’ve failed in my life again. Just another link to a long chain of fucking up. Here I am at my mom’s funeral and there’s nobody here. I should have known this was going to happen. I should have known my mother was alone.”
“Maybe,” The clergy man said, “She’s not totally alone. You’re here. She’s not even really ‘here’ anyway. Was your mother a Christian?”
“I think so.”
“Did you ever go to church with your parents when you were a child?”
“We went to a Methodist church for awhile,” Atticus said.
“What happened?”
“My family was real involved with the church,” Atticus said, “We were there almost every Sunday. They left because a lesbian couple wanted to have their adopted baby baptized in the church and the church wouldn’t do it.”
“So they left?” The clergy man said.
“They did. They didn’t think the child should suffer for the parent’s decisions. The church may have a beef with what the parent’s were doing, but they shouldn’t have an issue with a baby,” Atticus said.
“What did you think about that?”
“I used to agree with my parents,” Atticus said, “It just doesn’t make sense to not baptize anyone, especially a baby. When I got older and thought about it more, by having a baptism with a lesbian couple in the front of the church the church is making a pretty huge public statement. I can see both sides of the issue. I still think they should have baptized the baby. Love the sinner, right?”
“It would have probably taken a lot of courage on the part of the church to do that baptism,” The clergy man said.
“Anyway, they left the church,” Atticus said, “They never went back. My father told me that you don’t have to go to church to be a Christian. Do you agree?”
“I think that could be true. There really isn’t any perfect formula to becoming a Christian. It all boils down to a person’s personal relationship with God,” The clergy man said, “Do you believe in God?”
“I think so,” Atticus said.
“You either do or you don’t,” The clergy man said, “Would you come down here please? It feels kind of odd talking to you standing up there behind that podium.” Atticus walked over and sat in the chair next to the clergy man. He continued, “Where your mother is now is between her and God. If I were you I would feel confident that he is taking care of her. It sounds like you and your mother both faltered a bit in your adult relationship with each other. There’s nothing you can do about that now and it will do you no good the suffer yourself about it. Say goodbye to your mom. Make your peace. Get your ass in church and get on with things.”
“I will,” Atticus said, “should I pay you now?”
The clergy man looked around the empty room. “I don’t think I would feel right taking money for doing this. Show up in church, any church, and we’ll call it even,” he said.
“Okay,” Atticus said. The clergy man patted him on the shoulder, got up and left.
Atticus stood up and walked over to his mother. She didn’t look like he remembered her. Her skin shined and a plastic kind of way. Her flesh looked sunken. She was thin. Atticus didn’t know whether this was from the funeral director’s preparation of her body, or if she’d lost weight before she died. Atticus thought she was wearing too much make-up.
“Goodbye mom,” Atticus said. He thought he should kiss her, but couldn’t bring himself to do it. Randolph, the funeral director, spoke softly to him from the door.
“I hope everything was satisfactory,” he said, “I hate to do this but we are well over time to begin the burying ceremony. May I begin preparations to move your mother?”
“I’m done here,” Atticus said. Randolph walked in and gently closed the coffin lid. Atticus tried to keep in his mind his last look at his mother as the shadow of the coffin lid passed her face and shut her away forever.
“I won’t be going with you to the graveyard,” Atticus said.
“Everything is prepared. Are you sure?” Randolph said.
“I think you took advantage of me,” Atticus said.
“I only did what you asked. Nothing more. Your mother couldn’t have had better care upon her passing. What else would you have had me do?”
“Forget it,” Atticus said, “Enjoy my money.”
“I regret this conversation,” Randolph said, “I really do.”
“I hope you so,” Atticus said. He walked out of the funeral home and made the miles slowly home on foot.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Write me a Happy Story



He pulled the living room rug over to one side of the room and let it drop crumpled next to the wall. He pulled the couch away from the far wall and pushed it across the room. He pushed the love seat against the sofa so they touched, facing each other. She was already laying on the couch. He flopped next to her on the loveseat. They kissed and hugged each other close. He looked at her face. Every inch of it he knew so well. He’d fallen in love with her in high school. They were now nearing their mid-thirties and had almost lived together longer than apart. It was a comfortable feeling. Their lives and personas had changed very much over the last several years, but they changed and grew together. He liked to tell people the only thing that remained consistent in his life was his love for his wife. Everything else was smoke.
“Write me a happy story,” she said, “You always write sad stories.”
“No,” He said.
“Don’t be like that,” She said, “Write me a happy story and make sure it’s not a happy story where ninety-nine percent of it is sad and then there’s some happy twist at the end.”
“I’ll just tell you one and save the trouble. Once there was a guy who wanted some soup. He went downstairs and made some in the Microwave. He was happy. The end.” He tried to kiss her but she turned her head.
“You’ll have to do better than that,” She said, “I don’t think you even have the ability to write one.”
“You don’t have to try reverse psychology on me,” He said. He hugged her close.
“Write me a happy story,” She said, “I want one.”
“I’ll think about it,” He said, “You’re beautiful.”
She ignored him. “Write me a happy story,” She said.
(Once upon a time there was a boy that was enjoying the sight of a new girl in his church’s youth group. A sign-up sheet was being passed around and the boy took her phone number off it. He informed the girl he was taking it. She shrugged. Three weeks later this boy was at his friend’s parent’s house and found the phone number in his wallet. He called the girl and she invited them to come over and watch a movie with her and her friends. When the he and his friend arrived at her house, she didn’t remember which one he was at first. (She still likes to tease him about whether or not she made the right choice.) They left her house to go rent a movie. The boy and the girl got in the back seat of his friends’ car. The back seat wasn’t very big and the boy had to lean way over to get inside. She grabbed him as he entered the car and hugged him. She didn’t let go the whole way to the rental place. That’s where he fell in love with her. She didn’t fall in love with him until later, but that was okay.)
He kissed her again. They didn’t have much time together alone now. There were three little boys in the house that took up most of their time. The one-year-old liked to scream and pull them apart when they hugged. The only real intimate time they had were the hours from 8:30 to 10 and even that wasn’t set in stone.
“The world is a happy place you know,” She said.
“I know,” He said, “You make me happy.”
“I doubt it,” She said teasingly, “You are always so dark.”
“That’s because I’m a parent,” He said.
“I want a story for me,” She said, “Write for me.”
“No,” He said.
(Once upon a time there was a man who bought an engagement ring for his girlfriend. They had been dating for a long time. Everyone who knew them couldn’t think about one of them without the other. It had been assumed for some time that they would get married. The man didn’t assume anything. He was terrified. He was going to propose to the girl this upcoming weekend and he was making arrangements for the perfect opportunity. He was sitting in his room of the lower half of the house he and two of his friends rented for an obnoxious amount of money. His friends were attending the local college and student’s were fleeced by the landlords of the area. The man wasn‘t going to school at the time. He was working. He had saved long and hard for the ring. It was a paltry diamond with even smaller diamonds spread out in waves of silver. He‘d paid for it in ten dollar bills; every last cent of his savings. He knew it was the style she liked. (He wished he could have gotten something nicer, and still does to this day. He doesn’t think she would trade it now, even though they have the money.) He set the ring on the bedspread and wrote out plans for the weekend, for the perfect time and place to ask her. She lived a couple miles away, so he didn’t have the slightest idea that she was about to barge into the room looking for postage stamps. Which she did.
“Do you have any stamps?” She said.
He just looked at her. She saw the ring. The perfect plans went out the window. He got down on one knee.
“Will you marry me?” He asked. He was never more painfully aware of how little he had to offer her than at that moment. He had nothing but himself.
She looked shocked. She stammered.
“I have to go,” She said, “I have to think about it.”
She left. The man sat back on his bed. He didn’t know what to think. He sat there for over an hour. She called him and asked him to come over. She said to bring the ring. He did. Her apartment was empty of roommates. Candles were lit all over. She lead him over to the couch. He went meekly. He never felt so small and powerless in his whole life.
“Ask me again,” She said.
“Really?” He said.
“I just got off the phone with my mom,” She said. “She asked me how long I was going to make you wait. She said you weren’t going to wait around forever.”
There was a pause. She was patient.
“Ask me again,” She said.
“Will you marry me?” He asked.
“Yes,” She said.
The man and his wife held each other as they watched a movie. They kissed. She rubbed his neck.
“You’re tense,” She said, “Are you thinking about my story?”
“I have an idea,” He said. He had no ideas.
“You make everyone cry with your stories,” She said, “Stop making everyone cry. Write me a happy story.”
“I’ll try,” He said.
(Once upon a time there was a man. He was trying to write a happy story for his wife. It was not an easy thing for him to do. It took real effort. There were many ways for this story to go wrong, but he wouldn’t let it. This story was going to be happy. He began writing the story when he woke up in the morning. He wrote the story when the sun’s rays broke the night as he rolled over in bed and hugged his wife. He wrote the story with every moment of his day. Every action he made and every word he spoke to anybody was in some way a tribute to her and the man he wanted to be for her. He wrote the story when he kissed her goodnight. And thanked God that he had been blessed with another day with her in his life. Every day was a story he was writing for his wife
and it was going to be a happy one.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Tagger

Mark looked down at the boy from the top of the club steps. Mark watched as he took out a spray can and tagged the club door. He was done in a matter of seconds. Just a couple flicks of the wrist and the hiss of aerosol. The boy turned to leave and saw Mark. Mark was over six feet tall and nearing 300 pounds. He filled the stairwell. The vandal looked up at him with a frightened expression. Mark placed the kid to be about sixteen years old. His time manning the door of the nightclub made him a wiz for guessing people’s ages. Most of the time he knew he was about to be handed a fake ID before a customer reached for his wallet.
“Go inside,” Mark said. The boy hesitated for a moment, then opened the door and went into the basement nightclub. Mark followed a few steps behind. The club lights were on. It was nearly four in the morning. Bar backs were refilling stock. Waitresses were cleaning off tables or counting tips at the bar. Bartenders were reconciling the registers.
“Go over there,” Mark said to the boy. He gestured to a group of men all in black. The club bouncers had already finished their duties and were hanging out in the raised VIP area, drinking beer and laughing. The boy meekly walked over. Mark was a few steps behind.
“What have we got here?” Stan asked. He was the club owner. He was over-skinny and pale. His thick black hair was plastered to the back of his head with gel. Mark saw the gleam in his eyes. Stan liked his Martini’s and by Mark’s estimation, he’d had more than his fair share.
“The tagger,” Mark said.
“What?” Stan asked.
“This is the kid who’s been vandalizing the door,” Mark said.
“That’s him?” Stan pushed back from the table. “That fuck! I’m going to kill him.” Mark and the club bouncers stood up and surrounded the boy, who had been meekly studying his feet. Mark went over to the bar. The bartender stopped counting his register and handed Mark a beer. Mark reached for his wallet, but the bartender shook his head and went back to counting the register. Mark took a long pull from the bottle.
“You’re the asshole who thinks he can do whatever he wants with my door?” Stan yelled at the boy. Mark saw that Stan was inches from the boys face. “Answer me!”
“I’m sorry,” The boy said.
“Sorry doesn’t cover the hundred bucks I’ve been spending every time I have to get that door refinished.” Stan said.
“I’m..”
“Shut the fuck up,” Stan said. “Do you have money to cover all the damages you’ve caused to my club?”
“No.” The boy said. Mark looked at the boy. He seemed so small when he stood in the middle of the huge nightclub security men. Mark thought Stan looked like and angry Mosquito.
“You don’t have the money,” Stan said, “I guess we’re going to have to take the payment out of your ass then.”
The front of the boy's pants darkened as his bowels released. The bouncers laughed. One pushed the kid from behind and he fell to the floor where he lay prone.
“Stand the fuck up,” Stan said. The boy didn’t move. One of the bouncers lifted the kid up and settled him on his feet. The boy was crying. “Don’t think you’re tears are going to help you. You didn’t have any tears being a baddass outside as you tagged my door.”
Mark drained his beer. “I think you’ve made your point Stan,” he said.
“I didn’t ask your fucking opinion,” Stan said.
“He’s just a kid,” Mark said.
“And you’re going to be fired if you don’t shut the fuck up,” Stan said. He turned angrily toward Mark. “You want this job?” Stan said, “You think you can do this job? This is part of it. Taking care of trash like this. I'm going to take care of him myself.”
“He’s crying. He’s wet his pants. I think he gets the picture,” Mark said.
“Go home Mark,” Stan said.
“Okay, I’ll go home,” Mark said. He got up from the bar and walked over to the bouncers he gently pushed into the group and grabbed the kid by the shirt. “He’s coming with me.”
“You take him out of here and you’re fired,” Stan said.
“What do you want me to do,” Mark said, “This?” Mark slapped the kid hard across the face. The kid let out a shriek and would have fallen if Mark didn’t have a good grip on his shirt. Stan’s face went white.
“What the fuck are you doing?” Stan yelled,.
“This is what you want me to do?” Mark said. He slapped the kid again. The kid’s shirt tore in Mark’s grasp. Mark hefted the sobbing child to his feet.
“I didn’t say hit him,” Stan said, “I just wanted to scare him a little bit. Shit.”
“You scared him enough,” Mark said. “I’m leaving and he’s coming with me.” By now the bouncers had stepped back from the scene making a wide circle. All other activity in the club had stopped. Every eye was on Mark, Stan and the boy. The boy had a small line of blood dripping from his quibbling mouth.
“Okay, Mark,” Stan said. “Get the fuck out of here and take him too. I don’t care. Just make sure he doesn’t come back or it’s your ass. Shit, Mark you’re fucking crazy.” Stan went back to the VIP area and called for another Martini.
Mark looked at the other bouncers for a moment. They wouldn’t meet his gaze. He took the kid back to the front door and shoved him out of it. The boy stumbled up a few steps and looked back down at Mark.
“I’m calling the police,” The kid said.
“Really?” Mark said. “You should be thanking me.”
“For assault?”
“I thought you’d rather take a few slaps in the face,” Mark said.
“He wouldn’t have hit me.”
“Yeah, you looked pretty sure all covered in your own piss and whimpering like you did,” Mark said. “I don’t know what ‘taking payment out on your ass’ means to you. But liquored up like Stan was I wasn’t sure he meant a beating.”
The boys face went pale. Mark pulled a tobacco pipe from his pocket and lit up the bowl he'd packed hours before. The tobacco tasted sweet. Smoke smelling of Maple and honey filled the air.
“If I was you,” Mark said, “I would go.”
The boy walked up the club steps and vanished down the street into the brightening horizon.

College Boy

It was closing in on Christmas time. The College dormitory was nearly empty. The semester was over and most of the students had gone home to their families.
James was still there. Still in his dorm room. He was cold. The campus had turned down the heat in the dorms. The frigid winter bit right through the concrete walls. James' college experience had lasted four and a half months. One semester. His grades were all F's and one D. This was his last night in the school. His father was coming to pick him up in the morning. A mere eight hours from now.
James smiled and shook his head as he thought of the one passing grade he'd earned. It was for his Friday morning English class. The class met very early. James drank almost every night, but Thursday nights were when the huge drinking parties happened. He spent many a Friday morning English class hung over to the point where he felt like dying. For some reason he went to the class. He wondered why he'd bothered doing that. He never showed up for any of his other classes.
James looked down at his stash of liquor. Some of his friends gave him their leftovers before they left. He had a half bottle of Vodka, about a fifth of Tequila, two beers and one bottle of pear Woodchuck Cider. Jame opened the bottle of Vodka and drank deeply. He looked around his dorm room. Nothing was packed. His posters still hung on the walls. His clothing scattered the floor. Nothing was done.
He knew he should get to work on it. He knew he should have had this done by now. His father was coming to pick him up soon. For whatever reason, it didn't really matter, he didn't do anything. James sat and drank. James didn't sit on his bed or any of the room's chairs. He sat in a little moving wagon. It looked like a furniture dolly, except built with three walls. He'd moved it up to his room three days ago to put all his stuff in for when he moved out. He thought of his father.
James remembered a phone conversation with his dad the day he walked away from his parent's car and to his new life as a college student.
"I shouldn't be calling you the first night," His dad said.
"It's okay dad," James said.
"I just wanted to tell you how proud I am of you. After I gave you a hug, I watched you walk away from the car until I couldn't see you anymore in the crowd of students. I can't describe it very well. I'm just proud."
"Thanks Dad," James said.
James shook the memory from his head. He drained a beer in one long gulp. He threw the empty beer can against the wall. He picked up the Tequila.

James woke up to the harsh sound of the dorm phone ringing. His head hurt. He could barely open his eyes. The phone clattered to the floor when he tried to pick it up. He nabbed it off the carpet.
"Hello?" James said.
"Hi," His dad said, "I've been trying to call you for awhile."
"Are you on your way?"
"I'm here," His dad said.
"What time is it?" James said.
"It's after ten. I'm coming up."
James got dressed in a hurry. He was very much still drunk. He stumbled and fell while trying to put his pants on. He grabbed some toothpaste and squeezed a bunch in his mouth, swished it around and swallowed. His dad knocked on the door. James opened it.
"Ready?" His dad said.
James felt like his dad could see right through him. He knew his dad could smell the alcohol and the stink of the unclean room. The stink of his failure.
"I'm ready," James said. He felt like he needed to be sick.
"Are you packed?" His dad said. James grabbed a canvas bag and put his clothes in. He grabbed his computer.
"That's it?" His dad said, "What about your posters? What about all your other stuff?"
"I don't want it."
"You're going to leave all your stuff?" His dad said. "Once we leave the room, we're not going to be allowed back in. The guy who moves in here will get it all."
"Let's just go." James said. He and his dad walked out the door and down the hall to the dorm elevators. They took the elevator to the parking garage in the basement level. They got in his dad's van and drove off for home.

His dad stopped once for gas. When he went inside the station to pay, James opened up the car door and threw up on the ground. They didn't speak much on the way home. James told his father he was tired. It was a lame attempt to explain his hangover. His father didn't say much at all. His father didn't ask him what happened. He didn't ask him what he was going to do now. He didn't even seem like he was angry. He just drove the car.

His dad pulled into his driveway and they got out of the car. James took the computer and his dad helped by taking the bag of dirty clothes. They walked up to Jame's childhood bedroom and put the things on the floor. James crashed on the bed. He waited for his father to say something. His father watched him at the door for a second, then turned off the room light and left. James could hear him walking down the stairs. He remembered his dad telling him how proud he was of him. He remembered his father saying how he watched him walk away until he melted in the crowd of students. James lay in his childhood bed. He needed a drink.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Prodigal

The dad sat smoking his pipe on his front steps. His son drove up, his car clanged and shuddered, as he pulled into the driveway.
"The Alternators going," The dad thought.
The son got out of the car. Every time the dad saw his son he was surprised with how old he looked. His boy was thirty. Definitely not a boy anymore. His son had dark, almost black, hair combed and gelled in place. His features were softer than his father's. The dad thought he was more like his mother in that way. Thinking of his wife made the dad happy she was out running errands. Having her here when the boy showed up made things more difficult.
"That's probably as it should be," The dad thought, "I don't think I ever handle this right."
The boy got out of the car and walked over the grass to his dad.
"Hi dad," The boy said.
"Hi," The dad said. The boy looked terrible. Unhealthy. His skin was pockmarked with zits and scabs. His eyes were sunken and black. The dad thought his son was missing some teeth too, but the boy was a soft talker. His mouth never opened wide enough for the dad to be sure.
The boy toed the ground for a minute.
"Can I have a smoke?" He asked.
"Did you bring a pipe?" the father said. The boy shook his head no. The dad took out his tobacco pouch and handed it to the boy, who put it in his pocket. "Try and remember to bring the pouch back later."
"I'm in some trouble dad," The boy said.
"What do you want?"
"I want some money." The boy said.
"You remember our fishing spot?" The dad said, "You and I used to spend long weekend mornings there. Caught some catfish and talked away the morning."
"Lake number three," The boy said. He rubbed his face. "I need money dad."
"What do you need money for?" The dad said.
"I'm in trouble. I was kicked out of my apartment."
"For what?" The dad asked.
"I lost my job."
"When did you lose your job?"
"A couple weeks ago."
The dad took a long pull from his pipe. He watched as his son leaned on one foot then the next. His son picked his nose.
"Do you still play baseball?" The father said, "I remember you used to have a great throwing arm. Do you still hang out with those guys?"
"No, I don't play that anymore," The son said. He was agitated. "I haven't played that in years. Are you hearing me? I lost my job and I don't have a place to live."
The father nodded. "I hear you," He said.
"Can I stay here a few days?" The son asked.
His father said nothing.
"Dad," The son said, "Can I stay here for awhile?"
Everything inside the father screamed 'Yes' like a chorus of Angel's heralding the coming of Christ. He bit down on his pipe. "No," The dad said.
"No?" The son said. loudly. "What am I going to do?"
"I don't know," The dad said.
"What the fuck dad? I'm your son. I'm in trouble. I'm begging for your help."
"You know what they call me in town?" His father said softly.
"Always with your fucking tangents," The boy said, "I don't believe this. What do they call you in town?"
"Enabler," The dad said, "They call me enabler among other things. I don't let it bother me too much. In some ways I think they're right, but most of the time when someone calls another person something derogatory it's because they don't know what the hell they're talking about. I doubt they know how hard it is to say no when your children are in trouble. I'm learning how. The trouble is I tried to raise you right. I did all the right things but sometimes that isn't enough. Your kids get older and become adults. Adults make their own decisions. The trouble with parents is that they never see their children as adults. I look at you and see the little boy I love."
The boy kicked a piece of gravel.
"I'm hungry dad," The boy said. The dad pulled out a half-sandwich wrapped in plastic from his pocket and handed it to the boy. The boy took the sandwich and put it in his pocket. "Can I stay here for just one night. I just need a place for one night."
"Do you remember going to Sunday School?" The dad said.
"I remember. You took me there almost every week," The son said, "I also remember a story about the Prodigal Son whom messed up royally and his father took him in a helped him. What kind of dad does that make you?"
"Some men are better father's than others," The dad said.
"What the hell is that supposed to mean?"
"Some men are better than others. Some sons are better than others," The dad said.
"You're going to shut me out, not help me and now your lecturing me on top of it? Fuck you."
"I've kept my part of the bargain," The dad said. "I've done my part. I've helped you find jobs. I've given you money. I've taken you in time after time. You always blame someone else for your problems. You take no ownership of them. You don't think about what you're doing with your life and how it kills me and your mother a little more each day."
"I'm fucking leaving," The boy said. He stormed over to his car. The father stood up on the steps.
"Your Sunday School teachers messed up your lessons," The dad said, "There is no repentance without a change in behavior. The Prodigal son came back to his father a changed man. You are no different. I can help you, but it won't change anything about you. You have to change yourself."
"Fuck you dad. I hate you." The boy tore open his car door.
"Son?" The dad said. The boy grimaced, but hesitated before getting in the car.
"What?"
"Your Alternator's going," The dad said. He sat back down on the steps. The boy got in his car and tore out of the driveway.
The dad tapped out his pipe and patted his pockets for his tobacco pouch. He remembered he gave his pouch to the boy. He put his pipe in his pocket.
His wife turned her car into the driveway a few minutes later. She got out of the car.
"Hi honey," She said.
"Hi," the dad said, "The boy stopped by."
"Where is he?" The mom asked.
"He's gone," The dad said, "He's gone."

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Jason of Astor Park

The boys and girls playing at the park saw him limp toward them. He was more than a block away. It was Jason. He had dirty blond hair. His malformed face turned toward the sky. His slack-jawed smile, plastered and permanent. He howled as he walked. The children climbed high on the playground equipment, spreading out to keep from getting cornered by the man. The girls screamed and so did some of the boys. Stories of Jason raced through their heads as he crossed the street and headed into the park.

-Jason was hit by a semi-truck as a kid and his parents found him hanging from a telephone poll.-
-Jason has weird diseases and you’ll end up like him if he drools on you.-
-Jason caught a kid alone in the park one day and raped him behind the clubhouse.-
-Jason is a retard that killed his mom…Jason is homeless…Jason died and came back…Jason has AIDS…Jason escaped from an insane asylum…Jason…Jas…J…-

And then there he was. Jason Hooted loudly at the children he’d treed on the playground equipment. Today was different than most days. Today, Jason had brought with him a red wagon. The wagon was filled with magazine clippings that were held down by a brick. Jason gestured sweepingly to the wagon and the children. His voice garbled nonsense. Spittle flew from his mouth and dripped down onto his clothes.

Some of the braver children would drop down from the playground equipment and Jason would chase them. He smiled, laughed and howled breathlessly as he attempted to catch each taunting child. Sometimes, while they ran from him, the children would grab a handful of wood chips off the playground floor. Once back up in the safety of the equipment, they would throw the chips at Jason. It never made him mad. He would laugh. The children never knew why he didn’t climb the equipment. He just didn’t.

Most of the time Jason would stalk around the children until he got bored. Then he would leave, going back the same way he had come. Not today. Today, one of the children, a girl, fell off the equipment and landed on the ground. She cried. She had skinned her knee. Jason sat down beside her. His smile had gone. It was the first time the children saw him without it. His mouth formed a large O. A large gob of drool dripped down his chin. His eyes showed concern.

Jason picked a Dandelion and handed it to the girl. She slapped it away with a shriek.
Jason tried to put his arm around her. She screamed and turned away from him.
Jason sighed and began to play with the wood chips. Sometimes he would glance at the crying girl.

While Jason was sitting with the girl a couple of the boys dropped from the playground equipment and took Jason’s wagon. They rolled the wagon away from the playground about a hundred feet to the park’s small wading pool. It was Autumn and the shallow pool had long since been closed down for the season. The fence surrounding the pool wasn’t very high. Sometimes the children would climb the fence and roller-skate and skateboard in the empty pool.

It took all three boys to lift the wagon. They dumped the wagon into the pool. They had to stand up on their tiptoes to do it. The wagon landed with a loud clang. Magazine clippings blew everywhere. The boys laughed and ran. The children on the playground cheered.

Jason stood up. He’d covered his ears at the noise. He saw his wagon in the pool and limped over. The children dropped from the playground equipment and went home. It was supper time.

One of the children looked back at Jason as he went home. He saw Jason standing at the fence. Jason had both his hands pressed to the chain-link. His face was pushed so far into the fence that it seemed like he would pass right through. The boy heard Jason Howl. It was higher pitched than normal. It sounded worried. The boy thought he sounded like a dog.

The boy walked backwards home. He watched Jason. Jason walked around the fence of the wading pool once, twice, then he sat down. He howled again. The sound was long and very sad. Again, the boy thought about how closely the sound resembled that of a dog. Tomorrow he would tell his friends that Jason’s mom had sex with a dog. He would tell them Jason’s mom had sex with a dog and that was how Jason was born.