Archive Page 2

june 1K

1991

Ray was sixty-five and pinning his daughter’s bed sheets to a clothesline – the bed sheets of his daughter who died last night.  Sobering, he thought, was this year, in which he retired from the paper company and lost his only child.  She was forty, his daughter.

He met his daughter at her work every day for lunch, and one day she said, “I’m pregnant.”

“But you’re thirty-nine,” he said.

“I already decided,” she said, “to keep it.”

She did.  And they continued to have lunch every day.  And he went to child-birthing classes with her.  He rubbed her sore back and shopped for a car seat.  He assembled the baby’s crib, and that’s when they decided she should move back home.

Home was over a hundred and fifty years old, on ten acres, and big.  Ray lived there alone, until his daughter got pregnant, and then she moved back in with him.  They painted the nursery yellow.  On the way home from the sonogram, they stopped at the hardware store and picked out a pale pink for the nursery’s trim.

When it was “time,” she was forty, and he drove her to the hospital and held her hand for eight hours.  When she named the baby Samantha, he leaned over and kissed both of their foreheads one at a time and cried a little.

“That’s the second time I’ve seen you cry,” she said.

The other time was when she got married, he thought.

The nurse took Samantha away, and his daughter slept, and the nurse and a doctor came back to tell him that there were potential complications with his daughter’s recovery.

He brought his daughter home, and she tried to nurse the baby for a couple of days, and then she hemorrhaged one night, and Samantha became Ray’s baby.

Ray thought about all of this while he pinned his daughter’s washed and bleached bed sheets to the clothesline, and he knew he couldn’t linger much longer because he wanted to be there when Samantha woke, and he vowed to always be there.

1994

Ray was sixty-eight and pinning his three-year-old granddaughter, Sam’s bed sheets to the clothesline.  Last night she wet the bed again, but he had had his fill of diapers.  Three decades operating the corrugating machine had rendered his fingers taught.  The clothespins were fidgety little alligator mouths that snapped when they slipped from his fingers.

The job done, Ray scanned the front pasture for Sam, who he’d last seen chasing a butterfly.  Butterflies know no boundaries, he thought, and Sam was trotting toward the railroad tracks that trace the eastern property line.  Panic struck his chest, and he ran east.  The uneven ground was not friendly to his knees, and if he fell, he thought, Sam may never be found.
He remembered his vow to always be there for her, and that day he was.

Butterflies loved the weedy goldenrod that grew wild along the railroad, and Ray scooped Sam up and took her home for a snack and wondered who would take care of her if not he.

2003

Ray was seventy-seven and pinning Sam’s washed and bleached bed sheets to the clothesline.  Though he tried, he couldn’t recall how his ex-wife had handled this day with their own daughter.  Sam had showered and eaten and ran out for the bus quickly this morning, and long after she’d left he discovered the spotted bed.

Sobering, he thought, as memories of his daughter’s death knocked around his heart.  A clothespin slipped from his fingers and snapped the air like a startled alligator.

2007

Ray was eighty-one and draping Sam’s sheets over the clothesline.  She was sixteen, and before last night, he hadn’t seen her for two weeks.  Last night she stumbled into the house, banging around, startling him.  He opened her door and found her passed out in a puddle of vomit.  He leaned his cane against her dresser, then himself against her dresser, and he cried.  He cried because he was tired but even more because she was home.

It was a long night but nothing a bucket and a glass of water couldn’t fix.
The next morning he stiffly awoke in a chair by her bed, which was empty again.

2009

Ray was eighty-three and laying awake in bed.  The front door closed.  Footsteps scaled the old staircase and creaked into Sam’s room.  He couldn’t remember the last time she was home.  He didn’t blame her and was here for her, even if he couldn’t get out of bed and tell her.

God had given him a healthy, sturdy body that had got him where he needed to go, until tonight.  I think it’s done, he thought.  It didn’t seem fair that he didn’t have the strength to say goodbye and say that he would most likely die tonight and to please not leave him lying there another month or two.  And then he cried, not because he was dying but because of the thought of Sam finding him after months of nature’s cruelty.

And then his door creaked, and his heart skipped.  That girl of his came into his room quietly and quietly knelt at his bedside.  She slid her hands around one of his and looked into his eyes.

“Grandpa you’re crying,” she said, and she cried too.  “That’s the second time I’ve seen you cry.”

You must remember that night when you were sixteen, he thought.

“I remember,” she said and leaned over and kissed him on the forehead.  She laid down next to him and put her arm around him and said, “Thank you.”

Sam was eighteen and pinning Ray’s washed and bleached sheets to the clothesline.  She vowed to keep the land and the house and fill it up with people she loved.

She strolled along the eastern property line, along the railroad, until she came to a patch of goldenrod.  She knelt among the butterflies and picked the wild, yellow flowers for the funeral that afternoon.
june1K

may 1K

may 1K
Ben is thirty-four and a tattoo artist known for his lettering.  People are always surprised when they first meet him.  They scan his blank skin – his clear arms and neck, not a tattoo in sight.

“Worse than a bald hair stylist,” Ben always says, and courteous laughter pushes the moment along.  Works every time.

He’s six-foot.  Dark-haired.  Fit.  Non-smoker.  Social drinker.  Conscious eater but not strict about his diet.  Loves breakfast.  So much that he has a breakfast ritual.  Was in a good relationship for three years, but she ended up leaving him because she couldn’t take the morning ritual.

“I hate smelling like bacon every day,” she’d say.

Or, “It would be nice to sleep in just once.”

Or, “The sun rises every day, Ben.  It’s okay to miss it once in a while.”

True.  But it’s important to him.  Everyone has a vice.  Getting up at 5:30 every morning and spending an hour on breakfast is Ben’s.  Everything else is up for negotiation.  Just not breakfast.  Someday the right woman will love him for it.

He beats the sun out of bed and leaps into the kitchen: four strips of thickly-sliced bacon, two eggs fried in the grease, a pat of butter to grill a handful of potato coins – many different kinds of potatoes have hit the iron skillet over the years, but the Yukon Golds always find their way back home.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Store-bought orange juice to drink and French roast French pressed coffee to punctuate the ceremony.

It’s spring now – early May, so he can take in the meal on the balcony of his sixth floor apartment.  Fork pushes into egg, and golden yolk runs into the spaces around the bacon and potatoes and between the buildings and trees into a bright yellow dawn.  It’s a moment of quiet satisfaction.  One he would love to share with a person who gets it.

The breakfast goes down, and the sun comes up, without incident.

He takes the cozy off his French press and pours himself a cup, and that’s when they come to mind, like the steam rising from his coffee.  A couple.  A guy and a girl, who keep coming to mind like they came into the tattoo parlor a while back, and they stuck.  He can’t shake them from his head, like that last bit of water in the ear after a day at the pool.

*

The guy came in first, alone, to discuss his design.  Word-of-mouth led him to Ben.

“It’s worse than a bald hair stylist,” Ben said regarding his clear skin, and the discussion was underway.  The guy wanted an M tattooed on his chest.  “No problem,” Ben said.

“No,” the guy reacted.  “It has to be perfect.  A perfect M.”

Ben liked the guy.  You don’t just throw together an M.  It’s like a good breakfast.  Do it right.

“What does it stand for,” Ben asked.

“Do you mind if I don’t tell you,” the guy said.

Ben smiled and began sketching different styles and sizes.

*

This morning, on the balcony at breakfast, Ben stirs sugar and a splash of cream into his coffee.  Today feels different.  Something about the sunrise.  The way it shows the steam above his cup today is different.  The streets are quieter than usual.  The air is still and cool, and he almost feels like he’s floating over the city.

*

The M tattoo guy kept coming in, and Ben would show him different sketches.

“That’s not it,” the guy would say.

Or, “Closer.”

Ben wondered about what the M stood for: Marriage, Memory, Mother, Mission, Mystery, Meaning, but never asked.  He began to see Ms everywhere.  It became an obsession.  He saw one on the side of a bus, “M Style.”  A clothing line.  It gave him an idea.

A couple days later he made one more sketch.  He taped it up behind his work station because he knew that was it.  Every time he looked at it, it made him feel like he was floating.  That’s all he knew.  There was no meaning, just a feeling.  A positive feeling.

The guy showed up with his wife and saw the new M taped to the wall and said, “Let’s do it.”  The guy’s wife held the guy’s hand and smiled wonderfully.

Ben thought they were beautiful together, and he inked the M on the guy’s chest.

What he couldn’t shake was the two of them together.  Her hand on the guy’s bare shoulder.  The guy looking into her face.  No big deal if you’re not paying attention, but  Ben could almost see a delicate fabric filling the space between them.
Suddenly the M was done.  They paid, thanked, and left.

*

Just as Ben finishes his coffee, he’s startled by a frenetic pounding on his door.  He jumps up and answers it.  A courier hands him an express envelope.

“What’s this,” Ben asks.

“I got here as soon as I could,” says the youthful courier.

Ben studies the label: “Jane Holden…Apt # 617.”

He hands the envelope back.  “I’m apartment six eleven.  This says six seventeen.”

“That’s a seven?”

“Looks like it to me.”

“Sorry, man.  Sorry to wake you.”

“You didn’t wake me.”

And the courier heads down the hall.  Ben watches him knock on 617.  The door opens.  It’s a woman.

“Sorry to wake you,” the courier tells her.

“Oh, you didn’t.  I was just finishing breakfast,” she says.

Ben takes notice.

The courier says, “Smells great.”

“Don’t you just love the smell of bacon,” she asks and opens the envelope right there.  She slides out some papers.  “Thank you.”

“Sure,” the courier says leaving.

Ben watches as she holds the papers up higher, and on the back of the envelope is a big letter M.  “M Style.”

Ben floats.

The tattoo of the perfect M flashes across his mind.  He watches Jane’s hands fold around the edges of the envelope, and he feels like she and him could be beautiful together.

april 1K

april 1K

Gene was seventy-two and more nervous than he could ever remember. He stood alone in the garage, rubbing his sandpaper hands together, watching the specks of sawdust hang on the beams of sunlight parting the darkness above the canoe.

The project was finally finished.

And as if making up his mind about something, he stowed both his hands deep into the pockets of his blue overalls. He rocked slowly, heel to toe to heel.

Gene got the idea of building the canoe forty years ago, when his son Will was born and planned to get it done for his tenth birthday.

Will’s big “Over-the-Hill” party was tomorrow at the Moore’s place. He would be forty. The canoe was Gene’s gift to him. Thirty years belated. This would be the first present Gene would ever give on his own. His wife usually bought the presents, wrapped them, and signed both their names. Most often, Gene didn’t know what was under the wrapping paper until it was torn free.

Why did he let that happen?

Thirty years late. The original plan was to build it and take his son on a trip down the Niangua. Camping, fishing, rowing – bonding like a father and son should. But there always seemed to be something more pressing to be done. And instead of just renting a canoe and making the trip, the project grew into an obstacle larger and more insurmountable every passing year, and the very idea that was supposed to bring him and his son closer together kept them apart for decades.

Gene was a dutiful father. He came from a family of men who did their job. They worked. Farming, trucking, welding, repairing. Twelve hours a day – eighteen hours even. He drove a sixteen wheeler for most of his adult life. When a driver got sick or backed out of a delivery, dispatch called Gene. He descended from a family of men who didn’t complain. They didn’t say much of anything. Even at four in the morning, he’d say, “Okay” into the phone and roll out of bed and into his overalls without even grumbling to himself.

Silence isn’t always golden.

Over the years, Gene began to understand that there are two sides to keeping things to yourself: 1. You never say anything bad. 2. You never say anything good.

And when you don’t say anything good, those around you tend to fill in the blanks for you, and they tend to be wrong. So okay, that was three things he learned.

Will was turning forty tomorrow. Gene didn’t really know his son. And he knew his son didn’t really know him.

Will. His boy.

He would be here any minute. Gene ran his hand along the canoe’s smooth finish, his fingers tracing the water-tight seams. He imagined himself at forty, Will at ten, pushing and pulling themselves downstream in the canoe made by his own two hands. Rocks and sticks would knick the finish, making it the boat it’s meant to be. Gene imagines his boy casting a fishing line. The sun shines on Will’s bare back, and the water passes them lazily downstream. Gene reaches out, tousles his son’s hair, says, “You’re everything to me, boy.” Will smiles sheepishly and swats Gene’s hand away. He turns back to his bobber riding the tiny river crests. And that’s okay. Gene said it, and that’s what’s important.

But he didn’t say it. He never said it. It took him this long to even finish the boat. Who gives a gift thirty years late? How would Will take it? He was nervous. When you don’t put yourself out there, you never face rejection.

Will would be here any minute. He wanted to give it to Will in private – not at the big party, in front of everyone. The Moores wouldn’t want a canoe in their back yard anyway.

The side door of the garage opened, and Gene looked over, startled. It was his wife. A loyal woman who’d put up with a quiet man, a man who only says what’s needed, for longer than anyone ever should. He wanted to give her a trophy, or maybe some potted flowers, to make up for it. But that’s not what she wanted. She wanted the one thing, the hardest thing for him to give.

She gave him an extra moment to have these thoughts, then said, “Will’s here.”

Gene nodded.

“Are you ready,” she asked. He didn’t answer. “Come inside when you’re ready.” She started to close the door –

“Wait!” he said.

She looked back surprised. He didn’t say anything right away. But she waited for him like she’s waited almost five decades.

“I love you, lady,” he said.

She marched across the garage and wrapped her arms around him. She took up his sandpaper hands and kissed them. “I know,” she said. “And it’s good…it’s so good to hear.” He looked down to the top of her head and wondered at the impact of those three words. He tried them on again, “I love you,” and he got another squeeze before she let go.

“Now I’m ready,” he said.

She nodded and wiped her eyes. She touched his face as if she was seeing him for the first time after a very long trip. Then she went inside.

Gene reached into the canoe, grabbed an oar by its handle and stood the paddle against the floor, like a cane. He straightened his back and tried to swallow the frog in his throat.

“He’s waiting in the garage,” he heard her say in the kitchen. “He has something to show you.” Will made a reply Gene couldn’t hear. Then footsteps fell hard on the kitchen floor toward the garage.

Gene leaned on the oar and slowly rocked heel to toe to heel. “You’re everything to me, boy,” he whispered. “You’re everything –”

The door started to open, and Gene gripped the oar tightly to keep the rush of thirty years’ anticipation from blowing him over.

march 1K

march 1K

She was thirty-six and considered herself successful. Though the word “unremarkable” always came to mind when she looked in the mirror, she knew what she’d been through to get to where she was today.

Mom had been angry. Even hit her once or twice.

Dad left. Coward.

She left too. At sixteen. Old enough to feel invincible and self-sufficient. Too young to know she was wrong.

Then again, she was here at her desk on the sixteenth floor of a 72-story building that stood as tall as the other monoliths stepping across the skyline. A professional. Working hard at working hard. Successful at becoming successful…

“Kelsey, did you get ‘Figure 5’ for the June article on untreated diabetics?” She didn’t turn. She knew it was Brad. And she wanted to look busy because she had plans to cut out early. She had somewhere to go. Same place she’d gone this day, every year, for twenty years, and he was now standing in her way.

Brad tapped his long, weird fingernails on the file folder in his hands. It reminded her of a guitarist she knew when she was homeless, but Brad wasn’t homeless, nor, she was fairly confident, was he a guitarist. “Yes…” she said, clicking her mouse. “The gangrenous foot.” The image expanded over her monitor, and she felt Brad take a step back from her chair.

“Okay okay close it,” he said. “I swear, working for a medical journal isn’t worth the money. Email it to me? I’m supposed to write a caption.”

“Lucky you,” she said. “Is there anything else? Because I’m leaving early today.”

“Where you going?”

“I have an appointment.” She still didn’t turn, hoping he’d leave.

“You’re not pregnant are you?” he laughed.

“I could get you fired for saying that.”

He took another step back. “I swear, you can be so uptight. I didn’t mean to intrude I was just…”

Mom could snap over the littlest things. Toast fell butter-down on the floor. Snap.

Dad Kissed Kelsey goodbye one morning before work and never came home.

Brad still talked. “Are you even listening to me?”

“Do what you have to do,” she said, “But this article isn’t going to lay itself out.”

Brad released a burst of compressed air and shuffled off. A bit of him still rested on the top of her head where his breath had moved some of her hair.

*

When you’re sixteen and homeless in a town that gets bitter cold, it’s hard to find a place to warm your hands and feet without having to buy something or absorb sideways glances. So she made herself at home in a laundromat. It’s always warm. Open 24 hours. Everyone there is washing the good clothes and wearing the bottom of the drawer, so she kind of fit in. The laundromat kept her alive. She made friends. Mooched snacks. Escaped creeps. Washed clothes. Even washed herself in the big sink on slow nights.

It’s where she made the decision to get her high school diploma and go to college. And every year after that, on the same day, she visited to remind herself how far she’d come.

Mom yelled a lot. Hit her even.

Dad was…

The doorbell sounded, as she stepped into the laundromat, and no one looked up from the books, magazines, or clothes. She crossed the open space and sat at the wobbly round table where she first read To Kill a Mockingbird. This was her equivalent to other people’s annual homecomings. Hers just happened to smell like fabric softener and dryer sheets – to sound like 50 motors drumming to the undercurrent of buzzing fluorescents.

It smelled and sounded like home.

This home’s family never seemed to change. The old lady with large-framed glasses who seemed too frail to carry even two loads of laundry. The middle-aged man who paced the floor until his loads were finished, as if this chore was a big waste of time. The mom with four kids who washed and folded eight loads and never looked tired behind the skyline of whites, darks, colors and denims. She always smiled.

Her mom had so much hatred. Dad…

For twenty years, Kelsey came back to imagine her teenage self walking in, half-starved, half-frozen.

But this year was it. She stood up, and the table wobbled. She didn’t belong. She was out of place, like the middle-aged man pacing the floor. She was in her business suit – not the bottom of her dresser drawer. Just like the decisive day that created this anniversary, this would be the day she erased it.

Mom was dead.

And Dad washed away. Like the sacks and baskets of clothes that walk in dirty and walk out clean, she too would leave washed, spun, dried, and evergreen fresh.

The doorbell sounded behind her as she stepped onto the sidewalk and took in the city. The building’s edges were more defined. The cars driving past were like toys, as if she could reach out and pick one up and shake the passengers out into the palm of her hand to explain to them her new world. She wanted to see her transformation in action.

*

She stood over Brad’s shoulder – Brad with the long fingernails he liked to tap.

“Hey, Brad,” she said and smiled. He smiled back. He was an unremarkable looking guy, and that was perfectly okay. “I sent that figure, but you don’t have to look at it. I talked to Leanne, who said it doesn’t need a caption. Just ‘Figure 5.’”

“Thanks,” he said, a little surprised. She liked that. She wanted to surprise people from now on.

“Brad, I’m sorry I can be uptight sometimes.”

“That’s okay…”

“No really,” she said, and the next words got stuck in her throat for a second. She’d never said them out loud. She wanted to explain the laundromat…

“No really,” Brad reinforced, “I swear it’s okay.” He meant it.

“I’ve always wondered,” she started. “Do you play the guitar?”

february 1K

She was four and the prettiest girl in her circle. She wore it as naturally as the smile on her face. She drew attention – not like rubbernecking to see an accident, but like a compulsion.

Eyes followed her.

Her own eyes were not blue. Her hair was not blonde. She wasn’t tall and striking or small and irresistible. She was the brand of beauty that artists fear. One direct look from her made a person feel important, like the center of the world, if even for a split second. And after that look, the person was forever changed. The desire to receive that look again was planted in the back of the head with the memories of tricycles and earthworms that only the smell of a fresh box of crayons can recollect.

Some called her “dangerous.” Many said, “She will go far.” Others loathed her with the kind of disdain only jealousy can spawn. But others didn’t make up who she was. She was her own person.

She began every day with a large breakfast: oatmeal, vanilla yogurt with blueberries, orange juice, and toast. Lunch simply meant her favorite time of day was approaching. Because at 3:15, Rich would come home from school, and the two of them would go for their daily bike ride.

He on his bike. She on her tricycle.

Two blocks north. Two blocks south. They would ride in the afternoon sun.

Men cutting grass would pause in their work to watch her pass. Women just leaving for, or just arriving from, the grocery store would catch themselves with a hand on the car door, hypnotized by the prettiest girl in her circle riding her trike as if the sun rose that day for the single purpose of shining on her face.

She didn’t know or care about the complicated thoughts and emotions her simple beauty inflicted on her neighbors. She loved her big brother, Rich. She loved watching his knees pump the pedals of his two-wheeler and his blonde hair standing up in the wind. She loved how he would slow down when he got too far ahead, just when she would start to fear being left behind.

He was her hero.

This day, he rode too far ahead, and the fear of being left behind stung her belly. Just then he stopped and turned. He smiled and propped his bike up with his foot.

“C’mon!” he said.

She pushed her nose into the wind and pushed her pedals toward the ground. The tricycle jumped. It bucked her off, and everything went black, but she wasn’t hurt. She found herself standing firmly in the street.

“You oughtta watch where you’re pedaling, little miss,” said a big voice. She looked up to the big man. He took a knee in front of her and gently picked a dandelion seed from her hair. “You’re lucky I caught you, or you’d be nursing your noggin about now. You drove straight into my person.”

She nodded. She waited for him to pat her on the head and move out of her way, but he seemed perfectly satisfied to kneel there and look at her. She leaned to one side, looking around the man, and she saw Rich still there in the distance, propping himself up on his bike. He wasn’t smiling anymore. The fear stung her belly again, but this time she couldn’t name the cause. The man shifted his weight and blocked her view of Rich.

He touched her cheek. “I see you ride past here almost every day. I’ve always wanted to tell you how much I like your tricycle.” He seemed like a nice man.

“Thank you,” she replied, and his upper lip twitched at the sound of her voice.

“I like your pretty voice too,” he added. “I can grease the pedals and wash this trike right up, if you want. It’ll sparkle like new. Think your big brother’d want to help?” With that he turned. She leaned over again, just in time to see Rich pumping his bike away and around the corner as fast as he could. The man turned back to her and said, “I guess he had someplace else to be. It’s just you and me then.”

The fear stung her belly. She backed the tricycle up and started to pedal around the man, but he grabbed the handle bars and lifted the front wheel off the ground just a little bit. Just enough.

“Hold on, now. Just hold on,” he said patiently. “I don’t mean to scare you. I just think you’re a very pretty girl. Your eyes… When you look at me it… Well, you don’t care about a grownup’s crazy head, do you?”

He set the front wheel back down. She wanted to scream for Rich. But she knew he wouldn’t hear her, and she started to cry. This made the man stand up and look around. She started to pedal away again, but he grabbed the handlebars again. “Now look, I’m sorry, okay? You’re a dangerous little girl, and you shouldn’t be out without your mom or dad. There’s no need to say anything about me to them. Understand me? Understand?” He shook the trike. She yelped.

“Get away from her! Get away!”

The girl turned to see her mom running toward her. The man let go of the handlebars and hurried toward his house.

Then she saw Rich pedaling his two-wheeler toward her faster than she’d ever seen. His blonde hair stood up in the wind. He leapt from the moving bike and hit the street running. He scooped up a rock and whipped it at the man. It hit him in the side of the head, and he collapsed onto the driveway.

Rich stood at the end of the drive until she was wrapped safely in Mom’s arms, and even long after that, until Mom said, “Rich come on,” and they made their way back home, Rich walking both the two wheeler, and the tricycle.

soon

hi there. david and i are excited about this new project. we hope you are too.