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.
“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


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.
"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.


Steve and Fred sat down to dinner at a local diner.
"My sister got an abortion yesterday," Fred said.
"Is she okay?" Steve said.
"I don't think so. I don't see how anybody could be when they make a decision like that. I know the kids not okay," Fred said.
"You sound upset with her decision," Steve said.
"She didn't talk to me about it first."
"You talk over every little thing with your sister?" Steve said. "You're a little old for that. Doesn't sound like any of your business."
"Maybe," Fred said, "I don't know about that."
"What do you mean?"
"I think something like abortion is everyone's business," Fred said.
"You having some issues with your ovaries you want to talk about?" Steve chided, "Fallopian tubes acting up on you?"
"Don't give me that shit about being a man and having no call about what women do with their bodies," Fred said, "I'm talking about children."
"I just don't think you should have an opinion on something that you can't understand," Steve said, "Do you think your sister is a bad person?"
"No," Fred said, "She's not a bad person. One action doesn't define a person. I do think abortion is wrong and I feel pretty lucky that I don't have the ability to have that kind of temptation in my life."
"Yeah," Steve said, "By now you would have had about three abortions and I would have had at least two."
"This isn't funny Steve."
"I didn't say it was," Steve said, "You going to order?"
Fred hadn't noticed the waitress at their booth. They ordered coffee and omelets. The waitress went to the counter to give the order to the cook.
"I'm not mad at my sister," Fred said, "I'm worried about her."
"It's the law of the land," Steve said, "You have to follow the law of the land. You don't want women having back alley abortions like it was before Roe vs. Wade."
"I don't want women getting hurt," Fred said, "Don't you just get a bad feeling in your gut when you think about abortion. Don't you just get a feeling that it isn't right."
"I do. It's ugly business," Steve said.
"I've been thinking about it for awhile. Even before my sister had one," Fred said, "I used to be pro-choice. My parent's are."
"What flipped you?" Steve asked.
"I'm a Christian and..."
"Don't give me any of that shit," Fred said, "I'm a Christian too AND pro-choice."
"It's not like that. We've been friends for a long time just hear me out. Part of my beliefs about people is that they have souls and are built for eternity. I believe that all children have souls. What I don't know is when those souls are placed in the bodies. I can't tell for sure if a human has a soul when he's a single cell, a hundred or a million."
"What are you getting at?" Steve said.
"I'm a cautious man," Fred said, "I could be wrong and when I get to heaven Jesus will tell me the whole soul thing doesn't happen until about six month's gestation or something. But I figure if that's the case, I was just being careful with something I don't understand."
"So if the soul is there at conception..."
"If the soul is there at the moment of conception, at the moment the tissue becomes viable, then you're talking about a life built for eternity. If that's the case then abortion is the termination of human life. It is big people killing the smallest and most vulnerable of our population. It is someone taking the life of something God has blessed with a part of himself."
"But you don't really know that," Steve said.
"I don't," Fred said, "Like I said, I'm a cautious man."

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

All For Nothing

The phone rang in the middle of the night. The father swore and fumbled for his cell phone and glasses. The mother sat up in bed and rubbed her face.
"Who died?" The mother said.
"Someone better have died calling at this hour," The father said. He picked up the call.
"Hi, I am so sorry to be calling this late. It's your adoptive worker through the county. I know you're not a foster home but we kind of have a situation here. Two boys, a baby and a one year old, just came to us and need placement. We are overrun with children at the moment and don't have enough foster placement options available. Would you be willing to take these two boys?"
The father turned to confer with the mother. Before he was finished with his first sentence she was out of bed and getting dressed. He loved her more for it.
They drove to the social services office. There they were handed two baby boys.
"We tried to clean them up a little," The social services worker said. The boys were filthy. Long unkempt hair snarled and matted the one-year-old's head. The baby skin was an unhealthy white. His body was lean and weak. The father turned him over in his arms and ran a finger over the flat back of the babies head. The hair was missing in a wide circle.
"I don't think they let him out of his bouncer much," The social worker said.
"That's putting it kindly," The father said, "What do we do now?"
"You take them home," The social worker said, "I will be calling you tomorrow to set up a home visit and go over your responsibilities for supervised visits with the biological family. Do you have car seats?"
The father and mother shook their heads no.
"The seats the children came here with are in pretty rough shape," The social worker said, "I can lend you some from our office, but you have to bring them back tomorrow. We don't have any more."
The father and mother took the children home.

Over the next several months the children's health improved. The hair grew in on the back of the babies head and it formed better to a proper shape. When the baby first entered the home his crying was soft and with disinterest. The father said it was because the baby didn't think anyone gave a shit. The mother told the father not to swear in front of the baby. Now the child squalled with fury. His screams sounded beautiful to the mother and father. The screams meant "I exist! I have worth!" The father said he liked the child better when he wouldn't cry. The mother scolded him.
The one-year-old began to babble instead of scream. He still panicked whenever he saw food and grabbed as much as he could get his hands on. In company, he went from lap to lap pointing and screeching for whatever the person was eating. The father said it was probably the only way the kid used to get any food was to beg it off whomever was eating. The mother agreed.

The children had their visits with the biological family. The mother and father could only watch as they fed the children soda, ice cream by the ton, candy and worst of all - apple juice.
"Please don't give him apple juice," The mother would say, "It hurts his stomach and give him a rash that bleeds. His skin is so fair."
The biological family gave him juice anyway.
The baby cried. The biological family called him fat and spoiled. They told him he was rotten.
The one-year-old would be so up from the visit that he would scream and scream in the car all the way home, through the evening and into the night. The baby would be so overwhelmed that he would just fall asleep until the visit was over.

The father and mother lost sleep. The children were never on a regular schedule. Visits were held during nap times. The children were handed back from day-long unsupervised visits with words of - "The kids didn't sleep all day. Only little cat naps." The children would scream through the night.

The Mother and Father prayed that the children would stay with them. They could make them a good home. They would be good parents to them. They wouldn't hurt them. They prayed for it every night.

It wasn't an easy way to live. The Mother and Father's marriage suffered from the emotional roller coaster their lives had become. Their finances strained. Their lives seemed not their own; run by court dates and supervised visitation.

Ten months passed, then twenty. The children grew up strong in the father's and mother's home. The court hearing for permanency placement arrived. The children's biological mother and father didn't follow the courts steps on how they would get their children back. The father and mother went to court looking for a miracle. Two miracles. They didn't get it.

"The children are to be reprimanded to the custody of the maternal grandmother," The judge said.
The father's heart broke. The mother's heart broke.
The boys were taken away by the social worker. The children were going back to the home they were taken away from. A trailer which already housed five people. The boys would make seven.
"Why did we care for them only to have them be taken back to where they were abused?" The father said.
The mother didn't answer.
"You know they are just going to hurt them again. What the fuck is the point to all this?" The father said.
The mother didn't answer. She started to cry.
"These boys were with us for twenty months," The father said, "That means nothing in the grand scheme of things. Especially with them being so young. We did nothing. A week of starving and slaps back in that fucking trailer will ruin twenty months of our love here. Fucking pointless!" The father shook with rage, then sat down by his wife and they both cried.

Years passed. At first the mother and father thought of those boys every day. After awhile those times where the children passed their minds stretched to weeks, then months. Now the mother and father were old and memories of the children came as sad, unexpected surprises. It reminded them that a person cannot forget anything about their lives, everything eventually churns to the surface sometimes.

The father died. He entered heaven, greeted friends and family long passed on. Every once and awhile the father would spend some time with Jesus.
"Hi," the father said, "I'm the guy that slapped you five on the way in. Bet that doesn't happen too often to you."
"More often than you think," Jesus said, "What do you want?"
"How are my sons?" The father asked.
"They are okay," Jesus said, "They are on Earth."

The mother died. She entered heaven, greeted friends and family long passed on. Every once and awhile the mother would spend some time with Jesus.
"Hi," the mother said, "I'm the wife of the guy who bothers you all the time."
"You long suffering woman," Jesus smiled, "What do you want?"
"How are my sons?" The mother asked.
"They are okay," Jesus said, "They are on Earth."

Time passed. The father wasn't sure how much, but it felt like a lot. He went and talked to Jesus.
"Hi," The father said.
"Hi," Jesus said.
"I feel like I've been here awhile," The father said.
"Make yourself comfortable," Jesus said.
"How are my sons?" The father asked.
Jesus frowned and looked at the father with heavy, sad eyes.
"Where are my sons?" The father said. "Where are they Jesus?"
Jesus began to speak but then stopped. The father stared hard at Jesus then, in fury, ran to where God was. The father came to the place. He looked at God and was so filled with awe, love and understanding that it took all his will power to tear himself away.
He found Jesus behind him.
"Nothing," The father wailed, "It was all for nothing."
 The father found out that even though Jesus wipes away every tear in heaven, it doesn't mean that we won't cry.