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Category Archives: Creative Work

These selections are works of fiction that I have written for workshops while attending college. In my opinion, they need work before being submitted to professional journals/literary magazines, but others have told me that I have a keen ability to create real-life characters, I take pride in those compliments.

C-Section (Fiction) (12/09)

The sign for Gary’s Funeral Products stares at me from above the entrance. It’s June. I’ve been living with my uncle in Bridgeport, since she left on the day of my graduation. . The rumble of the motor dies off, I open the door of my rusty old Bronco, and walk through the parking lot. The concrete is scarred beyond simple repair. It was better when I first came and was looking all over for a job.  It turned out that my uncle was the proprietor of the only hiring business in the city. It isn’t enough that I have to live with the asshole.  The bell above the door rings as I enter. Gary looks up, his brow lowers in anger and he returns to his work, realizing that I’m not a customer. .  The floor seems newly waxed, so I scan the store for Mina. Our shifts overlap, but she has a kid so Gary lets her leave early sometimes. He’ll complain later to me about her; he always does.

“Mina go home?” I ask, approaching my uncle behind the front desk.

“Yep.”

Uncle Gary is bald with a graying goatee. He  looks polished and pristine in his grey suit, which nobody dares to tell him matches his goatee in color.. The obnoxious red tint of his tie stares at me, and I just want to pluck it from his chubby neck. He’s writing in a vigorous flow and I wonder who got the short end of the stick this time: widow, orphan, or parent? Gary’s eyes don’t judge when it results in another television in the house, a satellite radio for his oversized diesel truck, or a new cherry wood backing for one of his many stuffed deer heads. “Babysitter was bitchin’ again.”. A pause, and then he looks up. When he had orders, eye contact suddenly became important. “The trucks parked out back and the driver’s waiting. Get to work so you can pay me this month’s rent, kid.”

He always used that word. Kid. I hate it more than anything.

However, drivers are the best part of this job.  They rotate so frequently that I began quoting Forest Gump in my mind. ‘The distributor warehouse is like a box uh chocolates, ya never know which driver, you gon’ get.’ Of course, that’s only funny to me. Edgar smoked while he worked, which seemed odd to me. When I think of physical activity, specifically the movement of a coffin from truck to warehouse, why would I want to inhale smoke throughout the process? I didn’t know, but Edgar was a visionary. He proved it in other ways, too. ”You’re probably too young to ‘member Janis Joplin, am I right?”

I nod as we place a coffin next to its mate and lament at my uncle’s necessity to always have two of each coffin in stock. I always wish for models not to sell.  Ed continues, “That’s too bad. She was hot stuff and made some real beautiful music, kid.” There it  is again! And it  isn’t even from a superior. Son of a bitch. “Her music is like listenin’ to drunk songbirds make love in nature, man. I used to drop elephant tabs and listen to it with my buddies in college.” Another long drag and exhale of smoke. “Those were the days.”

I could easily call him out on calling me ‘kid’. We’re in the same rank here, but he might fly off the handle. Mina told me he served in Vietnam for a time. I have little reason not to believe that. “How many of these things we got today?”

Edgar  stands up on the back end of the truck and leans  against the side, throwing a butt out through the docking bay, and grabbing another smoke. He lights it, inhales, exhales. “Twenty, give er take a couple, but Jimmy’ll be coming out later today with the cherry wood floor models, so there ain’t gonna be a ton of breaks.”

I sigh and step onto the truck.

***

                There’s a hill that descends from my uncle’s house with a concrete set of stairs built in. It used to be part of a path leading to the now decaying Catholic Church down the road, and the house he has used to house the sisterhood. I sit on the steps and ease The Garcia Bowl, my glass piece, from my hoodie pocket. Before I pack it, I stare up at the sky; the stars are in their height. They remind me of the first night I went to Mina’s house.

I rang the doorbell and stepped into her living room, in disbelief that that was where the front door opened to.   Mina held her daughter, Isla, in the crook of her left arm. We’d already talked about it via texts, but I was still like, woah. She said for me to come in, and I sat on a couch along the wall of the living room next to her parents. Her mother was between her stepfather and I and she smelled of alcohol and excessive perfume. She had a purple over-shirt that hugged her unsightly rolls, and black capris that led to a pair of tight sandals. She had hardened bunyans on both feet that poked from each sandal and I wondered how she could walk with them. Her stepfather was nearly bald and wore a John Deere cap so it wouldn’t show. He had a greasy five-o-clock shadow and a deflated cigarette hung from his lip. There was a movie playing. I think it was some flick where Toby Keith pretended to act. . The floor was dirty, obviously not vacuumed in a few weeks, and there were  holes in the linings of the couch and recliner.

“Do you want anything to drink?” Mina asked with a smile that showed her embarrassment. She told me that she didn’t want to meet at her house, but I insisted.

“I’m fine. Thanks,” I replied, being immediately followed by her stepfather ordering a beer.

Apparently he had finished his last one. Mina didn’t question him but carried Isla into the kitchen to grab him a Budweiser., After Mina had left, her mother smacked him on the back of the head, “You should fuckin’ say thank you. What the hell’d I marry ya for if you can’t even say thank you to my daughter?” The flannel-clad man smiled and cracked open his beer. In response, her mother crossed her arms, scooting an inch away from him and from their cuddle position. . That sure was some serious punishment. . I think she was drunk, too. Her face was reddened and she slurred her speech just a little.. She slipped occasionally. When she did, she’d concentrate real hard on her next try, her brow lowering, her lips tightening.

“What do you do, Nick? How’s your summer?” Mina’s mother asked, and the fact that those two consecutive questions were pretty unconnected didn’t bother me.  “Have you ever ettin’Cajun food?” she sat back, retried, “Ee-tun Kay-jun food-uh?”

I collected my monologue for the string of questions. “I work for my uncle at his funeral product store. It’s the same place that Mina works. . The summer isn’t going too bad, but I can’t wait until college.” I watched her sit back again, possibly offended by my college aspirations. “Actually, I haven’t had Cajun food. Why do you ask?”

She stood up, already halfway to the kitchen, when she said, “I made some Cajun food last night, kiddo. You’ve got to try some.” Kiddo. Was that better than kid? I agreed to try some of the spicy vegetable and sausage dish. I wasn’t sure if it was actual Cajun food, but I could tell she used Cajun seasoning. Alas, the American way.

Later that night Mina put Isla to bed, and we drove back here. She held my hand on the center console of the Bronco, as I drove with my left. The night was chilly, but we sat  outside anyways. I had The Garcia Bowl that night, too, but I was too nervous to come right out and show her. She knew I smoked, and she’d said she’d smoked before as well, but I wasn’t that forward enough of a person.

“I’ve been listening to Modest Mouse a lot,” she opened. “That CD you gave me had some good stuff from them on it, but I like their more experimental songs.”

I was about to commend her on her discoveries, but I didn’t want to sound too into her, even though I was. “I think Brock’s musical patterns in his more experimental music don’t match up to his great music like Third Planet and Life Like Weeds.” It was bullshit. I knew it. She knew it and reveled with a smile..

“Uh-huh,” she said with a push to my shoulder. We laughed a little and then sat in the resulting silence for a moment. She followed with, “So, do you have any weed?” I knew I loved this woman. I smiled, immediately showing the fact that I did indeed have said bud. She expelled a timid laugh , and Garcia got his first female kiss.. The first two of hers and mine were long, one  right after the other; the last happening when I took her home a couple of hours later.

The grass I smoked on that night was a similar, passionate high  to the headies I smoked tonight, and I missed her.

***

                “Heave!” Carlos exclaims, as the two of us  throw an oak coffin into its section of the warehouse.. He wipes his forehead with the back of his hand, “Phew!”, but it’s only the first coffin.

I’d worked with Carlos several times before, and his excessive use of the word ‘heave’ made me want to refer to him as one of the seven dwarves. However, he was Mexican, and besides his rather odd, repetitive obsession with that word, he was pretty racially confused. He came into work every time with baggy gray jeans with gold patterns on the pockets, a long white shirt under an obnoxiously colored basketball jersey, and a flat-brimmed cap with dollar signs all over it and the manufacture sticker still on. The second day we worked together he told me the story of his father and mother having a baby together, and how his father couldn’t handle that pressure so he left town. That baby was him. He said his four sisters came after that. Two were with a travelling salesman that his mother met at an AA meeting; one was with the neighbor’s brother, reportedly a pot dealer; and the last, one that he named as Jura, was a mulatto with a one-night stand. He told me that as soon as he was sixteen, he was out of there. Carlos said his mother didn’t cry but threw things at him, saying he was a failure to the family. He said he looked down from his mother’s gaze to see his sister, Jura. She was smiling wide, unperturbed, walking through the living room with her heavy diaper all but falling away. At that point of the story, Carlos paused and stood halfway between the truck and the warehouse. I didn’t even feel the weight of the coffin, but his story was heavier. After a moment of silence, I talked him into finishing the carrying of the coffin. I never mentioned it again and neither did he.

My frown merged with a smile at his use of ‘heave’ and created a smirk. Carlos didn’t notice, but stood wiping the sweat from his forehead with a hankie which he slipped back into the entirely too low back pocket of his jeans.

“You ready for the second one, man?” I asked and patted him on the back. He wasn’t like the other drivers. He was better.

“Sure,” he said, and we walked back to the truck.

***

                The first time Mina and I had sex it was in my basement room at my Uncle’s. We’d drunk a little bit, her more than I, and we were watching Waiting. It was one of my favorite movies, and she hadn’t seen it. It was before I got that couch that I put in front of my bed, so we sat on the edge of the bed. I remember she was wearing a black Tragically Hip tee that hung low with a picture of   a sunset on it. It was one of their album covers, and as much as I loved that band I wanted to tear it off of her. She passed me back the flask, laughing at one of Louis Guzman’s lines in the film, nearly spitting the mouthful onto the carpet. Her laugh was so cute. I listened closely to it before I took a sip. The shot was hard, a cheap liquor that my cousin had bought for me. I gave him thirty, but something tells me he took a hefty tip.

When she went to take the flask from me, our hands touched for longer than I expected. In my moderate drunkenness I’d held the flask back unintentionally. She didn’t take it, but instead slid her hand up further behind my head and pulled me in close. We kissed. I missed her mouth a little, but she straightened me. She was skinnier and took more shots than me, but I was drunk and she was buzzed. After the first long kiss, I sat back, closed the flask, and threw it to the floor. Simultaneously, she shut the movie off, walked quickly to my stereo, and put on Porcupine Tree’s newest album. It was amazing how much focus sex gave to drunken people. At least it was that way with us.

Before reaching the bed, Mina slid her jeans to the floor. White cotton panties with little yellow flowers. I could’ve called it, but for some reason I thought she’d be in black. It must’ve been a personal expectation. I nearly tore my belt, throwing my pants off, followed by the hurried removal of my shirt, but I remember placing my socks neatly, side by side on top of my pants. I still have no idea why I paid them such careful attention, but I suppose the situation needed some odd obsession in my influenced eyes. She stood before me in that black shirt and panties, and said, “Are you sure you’re ready?”

I hadn’t understood the pause she made and went to pull her down beside me, “Ya, Mina. More than ready.”

She hesitated for a second but then fell into my pull, and landed, straddling me. I flipped her onto her back and stood up at the end of the bed. I slid down her panties. It tickled her toe, and she jerked her foot back, but she didn’t laugh or smile. I slid slowly on top of her, pulling down my boxers and slid into her. She moaned slightly, pulling herself back so that we were centered on the bed. We kissed strongly, her hand returning to the back of my head. She was tight, tighter than I’d assumed a mother would be. Mina rubbed her left breast through her shirt. We moved to our sides because my face was reddening from the drunkenness. We were more relaxed on our sides, and Mina pulled me fast. It seemed like she was rushing. I kissed her again, and began to remove her shirt. Her arm fell to hit mine harshly and my arm fell away. I didn’t realize that was intentional and I tried to lift her shirt again. Mina pushed me away from her and sat up at the edge of the bed. She grabbed the flask, quickly and opened it. I was confused and sat up. I moved over to her and saw that she was holding her shirt down stiffly. When I saw she’d  begun to cry, I had to ask, “What’s wrong?”

She paused for a couple of seconds, trying to control her tears. “You’re not going to want me anymore.”

“Yes, I will. Whatever it is,” I replied, denouncing her worry.

She sniffed and looked straight into my eyes. “I had a C-section.”

***

                Mina and I kind of drifted apart from there. It wasn’t her C-section. Or was it? I couldn’t decide. I think it was the fact that she had a kid, or was it? I held her and rocked her to sleep several times. I remember my mother doing the same for me, and we could hear my father screaming from behind the bedroom door. He pounded, and my mother whispered to me about how she’d never let the big bad wolf get me. She promised. She rocked unsteadily, rubbing my back as someone would pet a stingray. The big bad wolf never got into that room, either, but mom left when I fell asleep. She rubbed my back shakier each night, except when my father never came home. Then one night, my father came home from the bar to an empty house. Mom was happy. For a while.

I was leaving for college soon and   Mina wasn’t going anywhere. We didn’t hang out nearly as much after that night we had sex. She didn’t like weed as much anymore either, and she took to pills. Mina got skinny really quick, and when I was around, she was always jittery and nervous when I touched her in the slightest.

Her stepfather hit her mother for the first time in the same week I decided to break it off. She came to me after it happened. Her mother was in the hospital, and she drove Isla in her car to my Uncle’s house. I was sitting on the front porch playing acoustic. She asked me for a glass of water to take a Percocet. I said our faucet was broken, but she didn’t believe me. It wasn’t, and she poured herself a glass. I heard Isla crying from the car, and I walked out from the house, leaving the door open behind me. My uncle woke up from his nap and walked into the kitchen, “Get the fuck out of my house!”

I was halfway to the car to pick up and hold Isla when my uncle stepped out of the house, holding Mina by the wrist; the glass of water fell from her hand and shattered on the gravel of the driveway. “You haven’t been to work in two weeks and you show up in my house popping pills!”

He let her go and she ran into my arms. I didn’t embrace her, but moved her  behind me, away from my uncle’s rage. “You should go back to bed, Uncle Gary. I’ve got it under control.”

He opened his mouth, about to yell and heard the child’s cries. He pointed his fat finger at me from the porch, and exclaimed, “I hope so! You’re mother was the same–”

“Go back to bed, you bastard!” I yelled, my face reddened and my foot stepped forward. He turned around and went inside, slamming the door behind him.

I turned to Mina. She was crying,  leaning against the car. I gave in and hugged her. She cried on my shoulder for a few minutes, shaking from something, probably the pills. I watched Isla cry and squirm in her car-seat, and finally walked Mina to the passenger door of the car. I drove them to the hospital and carried the baby inside. Mina followed timidly with occasional fits of crying.. Her mother, in a room on the third floor, was still drunk and steaming. I watched from the interception desk, as she threw anything she could grab at her presiding nurse: plastic cups, a bed pan, the crackers they’d served to sober her up, anything. The orthopedic surgeon was saying that the fracture in her arm was just getting worse, and I saw  her mother pushing a nurse away from the room into the hall. I didn’t respond to the doctor but  handed Isla to Mina and took the elevator back down to the ground floor without saying goodbye.

***

                I left for college early in August. I didn’t start until early September, but I had enough money to get a place and maintain it until I could find a job. I ended up working at a corner market, a mile away from campus, and I lived at an apartment about four miles further out than that. I lived on the top floor of a three floor complex. There were six apartments, two on each floor. My neighbors across the hall were a couple. My third day there I was unpacking my Epiphone guitar and equipment, when a knock came at the door. It was the two of them, Matt and Holly, with their four year old daughter, Ann Marie. They invited me to take a break from my unpacking and to go to the park with them. I did..

The park was a ten minute walk away. We talked about what I was planning to study at college, where I lived to begin with, and what kind of music I played. It turned out Matt was in a folk band, and once did a session with Isaac Brock in California. I didn’t believe him to begin with, but a couple weeks down the line, he showed me the two song demo they made. Now, I play guitar with Matt every chance I get. It could be that I want to possibly meet Isaac Brock, but the instrumental practice is good, too.

There were kids, couples, and parents all around of different ages and backgrounds. Ann Marie was playing with two other girls on the spiral slide, and I sat on the swing set, taking it all in. Matt and Holly played with Ann Marie from the bottom of the slide and jungle gym. Like the rest of the parents, they didn’t want her to get hurt. A couple of hours later, Holly came to me and knelt down as if I was her own child. She seemed to emphasize the fact that she was older than me, that she was my superior, and I didn’t want Matt to be with her for some reason. “I think we’re going to head back to the apartment. Are you ready to go back, kid?”

I looked up from the ground to meet her gaze. “I think I’m going to stay here awhile.”

She nodded awkwardly and they left.

I stayed on the swing set. Families and kids whirled around the area all day, and some teenagers came around late to smoke some pot on the monkey bars. I watched the sun set.

 
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Posted by on September 30, 2013 in Creative Work

 

Under Your Boot Soles (Fiction) (2/19/10)

I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,
If you want me again look for me under your boot soles.” – Walt Whitman

 I had just finished rolling a cigarette on the dash, when my brother called to tell me that he’d be out of the airport lobby shortly. I acknowledged him and hung up. I lit the cigarette. Ever since dad died, Chris has been in Arizona renting a house near the desert. We hadn’t talked much, but he had sent me a letter accompanied with his first book, Wheatgrass and a Tumbleweed. In the letter, he said that I was the sole inspiration for a character, as was Pop. I wrote back, simply: ‘Don’t write about me.’ A year later, I find myself here at the airport.

               The passenger door opens and I jump at the sound of a close car horn. Chris doesn’t have a suitcase, just a duffel thrown between his legs in the passenger seat. There’s a beat-up, yellowing copy of a Dennis Lehane novel stuffed into the side pocket. “You’re smoking again?”
               “Yes,” I say, exhaling. I had started again the hour after he’d called and said he was coming, two weeks ago. I lie to him, “Laura’s been on my back a lot lately.”
               I turn the key; the radio tuned to an acoustic station begins mid-song. Chris asks, “About what?”
There’s a long pause. His question both shatters my claim and paints an immense tension in his own mind. I appreciate, and furthermore thank, his writer’s mind in wait of my escape from explanation to come from his mouth, “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t ask things like that.”
                He produces a pack of cigarettes from his coat, snivels from the winter weather, and then grabs his Zippo. I laugh, awkwardly breaking the tension. “You’re smoking again?”
               He turns, smiles, “I never stopped.”
               We take pleasure in filling the Jeep’s ashtray on the way home.
                                                                           ______________

[ “…I watch her as I wait for my train. She strains to read a novel on a rusting bench at the local station. I sit across from her, opposing her experience with mine. At one page, she tightens, enthralled in the text, leaping into its every word, sending its literary flow outward towards me and other commuters. Yet, at the next page, she relaxes, laughs at an exercise of the author’s wit, a textual jab at reality, simplistic but everlasting. I want to keep watching her, the orange locks of her hair fluttering onto the pages, her black fingernail polish turning with the pages, the slow glide of her wrist.
              A man sits down next to her; and, at this, I tense. She glances, peripheral. The man sets down a suitcase, then a green duffel, possibly from war-times; it’s weathered and the strap is losing its threading. The woman waits a moment until the man is settled to resume her reading; her thought process, broken, no longer enthralled. She begins again, a lowering of the brow, too tense to regain her escape. The man begins to cough through deeply yellowed teeth. He produces a hankie to dispose of what he coughed up.
The woman stops reading; can no longer continue. She produces headphones. My train has arrived…” ]

                                                                          ______________

 

 

Laura left dinner on the table: undercooked spaghetti with canned meatballs.
“Is she working now?” Chris asks.
I smirk. Laura wouldn’t work a day in her life; just doesn’t take orders well, as simple as that. “No,” I reply. “She’s taking night courses at Jackson Community.”
“What in?”          

“Something with animal psychology. I don’t know. Whatever passes her time and keeps her interested,” I say. The truth was that I was damn surprised she hadn’t flunked out yet. She studies with cocktails, reads her assignments with a joint in her lips, and listens to her lecture recordings while simultaneously experimenting with the keyboards her parents bought her last year. I love it, so I lie, “She’s doing well.”
                Chris sets his duffel next to the couch awkwardly. “Is this where you want me?”
                “I was thinking the loft guest bedroom, but that will do,” I crack.
                Chris sits down and takes off his coat. “Can I smoke in here?”
                I stare at him for a moment. His face has gone solemn, dark, bewildered from something. Was it something I said? “Ya. Is there something wrong?”
                Chris pauses before he lights the cigarette, sighs, “You ever just think that you’ve wasted your life? What am I saying? Of course you haven’t. You’re an architect, and you’ve got Laura… I just… I don’t know.”
               I hesitate to mention his novel, because I haven’t read it, but I do, “You’ve already published a novel, Chris. What more do you want?”
               I sit down next to him, thinking I should smoke but declining; my mouth is too dry. My brother starts to tell me about why he left here so long ago but stops, proclaiming that I won’t understand. He moves, “You hungry at all? I’ll take a crack at that spaghetti. I’m famished. The flight only had the options of microwaved fish or pretzels.”
               I didn’t laugh, but frowned at a tear that formed in the corner of his eye. He caught it before he thought I saw it. I reply, “You don’t have to eat that. There’s some Chinese in the fridge you can have. I wouldn’t force Laura’s cooking on anyone.”
               Chris laughs, and his eyes make that watery transition from sadness to complete happiness. I smile and make him a plate.
                                                                        _______________

[ “…My father never really understood my writing, my love. He was an architect, an alcoholic, a token drifter in the minds of his friends. Tuesdays were bar days, every other day of the week was, too, but he didn’t call them such; they were merely days of the week. I remember when my mother was in the hospital, her spine had been sending random pangs through her entire body and headaches kept her awake at night. We were supposed to bring her dinner. We didn’t. Instead, my father saw Harry Miller walk into the Maverick Tavern. The drafts rolled, money changed hands for raffle tickets, the game was on. 
              Peanut shells. 
              Peanut shells were scattered across the bar and floor, discarded, left alone to gather in the corner at the end of the shift. Thrown in the trash with the empty vile of my mother’s medicine. She never said anything to him, watching him web his thread of red-faced lies. She took her hospital food with dignity, spooning day-old mashed potatoes through the pain and the whispers from the nurses. I knew I’d leave then. I knew I’d leave when I was old enough…” ]

                                                                          _______________

 

After Chris and I drank a few on the veranda, we stepped through the sliding glass doors to feel the cold stillness of an empty room. Laura must’ve gone to bed, angered at my drinking. Sometimes she’s just like me, effortless, and other times she makes herself annoyed of me because she believes couples have to fight about something to keep the marriage healthy. Some psychology teacher at her high school filled her head with steps and strategies that apparently didn’t work for his own marriages because she mentioned he was divorced three times. When I asked why she took his theories so seriously and hurled most of what she learned in high school to the wayside, she locked up, wouldn’t talk for the rest of the night. I never felt like bringing it up before, even though she mentions him at least once a week.

                “Dr. Bennet says… But Dr. Bennet thinks… I remember Dr. Bennet talking about that…” She would say. I’d never hated someone that I’d never met more. It was just one of those things she held in her mind, like I remembered the perfect ass of my high school biology teacher. You wouldn’t catch me spouting her evolutionary theories to people, but I remember the wide smile on Derek Hess’ face when I purposefully dropped my homework on the floor for her to pick up.

                Chris starting doing his impression of Uncle Gordon as I crashed to the couch, laughing.

                “There’s a pork chop in every beer. I’ve already had six pork chops today,” Chris said in the cigarette-beaten voice of our uncle.

                I finished the last bottle of two six packs and remembered Uncle Gordon falling down the stairs of the front porch. He just about killed our dog after tripping over him. Then, I remembered Hughie, our beagle, actually dead three weeks later. He’d eaten something with some sort of toxin in it and laid under the porch for almost two hours trying to howl it out of himself. I was at summer camp that summer.

I stopped laughing, coughed and stood up.

“Beer run?” Chris asked.

“I better not,” I replied, and walked toward the bathroom. “Laura’s already going to be putting a pillow over my head while I’m sleeping.”

“Alright. Do you want me to cook breakfast in the morning?” He asked from the living room.

“Sure,” I said, watching a spider inch itself down from the ceiling on a string of webbing too thin for the human eye to pick up. I stood there for a moment, the beer making me sway a little. Where was its web?

I turned off the light.

                                                                          _____________

 

[ “…I took my first date to The Garden Wall, a local venue that she suggested. We were shoulder to shoulder to see a band I’d never heard of. She asked me if I remembered them from high school. I said no. She asked if I wanted a beer, had to repeat herself over the crowd. Sure, I said. While she was gone, I watched the lead singer scream with his eyes closed, dancing with the microphone stand, silhouetted by the stage lights; together, they warmed the crowd. When she didn’t come back, I walked to the bar.

                “Have you seen a girl about 5’9” with red hair in a white skirt?” I asked.

                “This is an Irish band, dude. I’ve seen about thirty girls with the same description you just gave me.”

                I didn’t know what to say, but then, I saw her toward the back, talking to what looked like a bouncer. I pointed her out to the bartender, but he just nodded and moved on to somebody else.

                “Hey, you were gone awhile,” I said. “I was getting worried.”

                “Hey! This is Eric. He knows the band.”

                I put my hand out but he didn’t shake it. I lowered it awkwardly as Sarah just danced next to the two of us, not making conversation, occasionally singing along. “This is a great song,” she said.

                Eric was about 6’7” with short red hair and biceps that could be mistaken for hips. He didn’t dance but just rocked his head, slowly and with an awkward amount of anger in his eyes. Sarah smelled like vodka. He must’ve bought her a shot at the bar. By the way she danced; I wondered if it was a double.

                “Do you want to back toward the front?!” I asked over the band.

                “Sure,” she said, and followed me back to our earlier spot.

                When there was a break between songs, I saw that Eric had moved closer to us. I asked Sarah if she knew him.

                “No, but he bought me a drink.”

                “How many?”

                “Don’t worry about it,” she said. A new song started.

                She puked in the alley across the street when the show was over. I held her hair back and blocked her from the people walking out. She was crying.

                “I’m sorry,” she said, face turning flush.

                “Don’t worry about it. It’s fine.”

                She was nearly sleeping when we reached the car. I opened the passenger door, and slipped her inside. I walked around the car to be hit in the jaw and knocked to the ground. I saw Eric standing above me, and I brought my hand up to my jaw. He kicked me in the ribs and the pain flooded my torso, raced to my head, and I leapt to my feet. Eric swung again, I ducked, his fist crashed into the back window of my car. Sarah got out, starting to scream hysterically. I rushed to the passenger side, making sure I was between her and Eric the whole time.

                “What’s your problem?” I asked, and quickly reached under the passenger seat for my crowbar. Before I could prepare for a good swing, he grabbed my arm and twisted, sending the crossbar into the parking lot. Another punch to the jaw and I was on the ground again. Everything was getting hazy. A guy ran over, attempted to tackle Eric to the ground, but just leaned him up against my car. I reached the crowbar, stood up, and started swinging. The first hit landed on Eric’s shoulder, the second to the top of my car, and the third to the left side of his knee. He went down on one knee. I swung again, striking the left side of his face. Blood flew onto the passenger window.  Sarah kept on screaming and I kept swinging the crowbar. I flattened his nose, broke his jaw, knocked him out, and spilled the most blood I had ever seen before. An officer pulled me off of him. Sarah’s crying turned to a whimper, her mascara running, sitting on the back of the patrol car.

                What a first date…” ]

                                                                                _____________

 

Chris didn’t make breakfast in the morning. He was still surrounded by covers on the couch, snoring, drooling. Laura got up with me though, made over-easy eggs and toast. My eyes were glued to a sketch I was making for a hotel plan. Laura sipped at a cup of tea. There wasn’t a word spoken until I reached my last bite of toast. Chris had walked into the kitchen and back out toward us with a cup of coffee in his hand.

                “This coffee’s shit, Jack,” he said.

                “I didn’t make it; Laura did.”

                Chris stalled, “Did I say shit? Excuse me, I must’ve meant delicious.”

                “Mhm,” Laura nodded, another sip of tea. “I’ve better get going to class.”

                She kissed me on the forehead as I added to the sketch. “Have a good day, babe.”

                Chris brought out two pieces of notebook paper from the pocket of his flannel pajama pants, stole a pen from the middle of the table.

                “What’s that?” I asked.

                “Part of my next book.”

                “What’s it about?” I forced the last drink of coffee down.

                Chris looked up. “Mom.”

                                                                         ______________

 

[ “…I remembered that we couldn’t afford much that summer, even walked to school a few times. My dad woke up next to her one morning, wondering why he didn’t smell coffee.

                He slid his jeans on, “Are you getting up, Audrey?”

                She didn’t answer, and he realized she wasn’t breathing, cold to his touch. He fell back down to the bed, began to cry, his head in his hands. My brother and I walked in, “Where’s mom? Hughie found a dead robin.”

                Both Miller’s and Polermo’s cemeteries wanted over a thousand for a grave plot. We’d just bought school clothes. McLane’s wanted almost two thousand for their cheapest casket. The health and car insurance just went out that morning. Harper said he could do a gravestone, but it wouldn’t be a cheap matter of business. He and Uncle Gordon just paid for chicken meal to help with fertilization. Dad didn’t get much sleep in those few weeks after mom died.

                When it came time for dad to make a decision, we came home to find him digging a hole in the loose soil of our backyard. He cried the whole time, and Hughie licked at the worms in the soil. He had mom wrapped in her mother’s tablecloth, which we never used. My brother and I didn’t know what to think, but we changed into old clothes. I remember crying with my dad, but my brother was stoic, helped lower mom in and everything. None of us said much to each other. Hughie howled as we shoveled dirt on her. Dad stopped occasionally, prayed and wiped his forehead. When I stopped shoveling, my father never told me to keep going. He didn’t want to do this either, but it had to be done. We couldn’t afford anything else.

                The soil of her grave hadn’t even dried fully before Hughie died. Dad started drinking a lot more. We got jobs to get out of the house, but we always had to come back at the end of the day. I always put flowers on her grave, picked from the neighbor’s garden. I tried to replant them but they wouldn’t catch. My brother had some money saved up by his thirteenth birthday. When we said we wanted to take a bus to Aunt Haley’s place, he gave us another ten dollars.

                On the bus ride, my brother snuck shots from my father’s flask and I thought of that night we buried my mother. We couldn’t drag my father away from her side.

                He slept there. In the cold. In the dirt. Under your boot soles… ]

 
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Posted by on September 30, 2013 in Creative Work

 

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Playground Hustle (Fiction) (7/10/10)

Holding a cluster of tissues to his nose, Greg listened to the mind-numbing repetitions of his fellow Jehovah ’s Witness. “Worse has happened to us.”

It kept repeating over and over in his head.

When they arrived at the motel, their room number falling limp on the door, a poor half-crooked 5, Greg dropped his bible next to the television and immediately went to the bathroom. Blood eased its way down his forearm, under his ironed white button-down. He noticed that some had even splattered onto his necktie, even though its navy blue color made it barely visible. In front of the mirror, he began to undress, from his cufflinks down to his shin-high navy blue socks. His nose was swollen and turning a pale yellow. He thought of Hollywood movies where the hero would take his nose between thumb and forefinger, jerk the bone back into place, and attempt a masculine cry toward the heavens. He wondered if God would heal this wound.

Leaning over the sink, he took a long look into his own face. Dark circles had started to form under his eyes, his chest hair had begun to grey and yet he’d only just turned thirty-one. Eventually, his gaze fell to his penis. He rolled it around in his hand. It was slightly longer than the spread of his hand. He smirked at its undeserved profundity, at the statue of David, and all the pictures of Adam and Eve he’d been subject to throughout his recent years. When he entered the shower, the waves of water soothed his broken nose, and he stood there under the running water for ten minutes before grabbing his washcloth.

He left the bathroom in a white cotton tee shirt and boxers. He walked to his bible, picked it up and sat limply on his bed. Sal had already picked the bed closest to the door and unpacked his acoustic guitar. Greg wasn’t in the mood for hymnals, so he flicked on the TV and drowned out Sal’s soft finger-picking. Sal stopped and arose, also in boxers and a white cotton tee. “While you were showering, I began reworking the Job theory. We need to show more clearly why he chose not to curse God when God took away his flock and his family. Don’t you think we’ll reach more people that way?”

Greg coughed, put his bible on the bedside table, and shut off the TV. Sal put down his guitar and the two of them sat next to each other on the bed for a few minutes. Greg stared at the wall, while Sal reached into his boxers. When they kissed, Greg missed the shower, the hot water, that short instance of pain.

~ 50 years earlier ~

Teddy learned quickly the rules of the playground. Palmer Harris’ son had the swing-set, Mayor Graw’s daughter was queen of the sandbox, and Jimmy Thomas reigned the monkey bars. All that was left for him was the rusty spinning wheel which all of the kindergarteners and first graders got sick while riding, and it wasn’t left for only him. Every kid in the second and third grades, who weren’t friends with these playground Castros, took residence on the same wheel. Teddy’s older brother, Reese, would come over on occasion, saying things like, “She used to spin in my day,” or “D’you sit in the kindey puke, Tuddy?” His brother was in the fifth grade, so naturally nobody defended him. Willie Draven would mumble things like, “Go back to the fifthees, snail-eater,” but the collective of them thought that if the day came where Reese heard such a thing, we’d have to section off a portion of the grounds for a grave, a big grave, one to fit a boy who loved the more than occasional Hershey bar.

On a sunny day in late September, Teddy never saw it coming.

Reese was about to leave the playground for lunch. All fifth graders had to do so at quarter after noon. It was state law. On his way toward the door, he turned toward the kindergarteners, specifically Willie Draven.

“Where’d you get that jean jacket, Philly?” Reese asked. It was Willie’s fathers from when he was a kid. It barely fit. The teacher referred to it as a ‘sensitive subject’ on Willie’s first day there. “From the trash?”

Teddy turned to his left, expectant to here Willie make his nearly silent rebuttal. There was no voice to be hear, or boy to be found. ‘Philly’ had already scaled the few feet to where Reese stood and laid a fist to him unlike anything anyone had ever seen. Drew Harris stepped down from the swing, Lacey Graw came up from the sandbox, and Jimmy Thomas lanked his way to the ground from the monkey bars. Before the teachers knew what happened, the playground children encircled Reese. Willie stood over him, fist still clenched, mouth closed tight. Nobody could stop staring. Mouth agape, Teddy watched his older brother on his knees, blood slowly coming from his nose. Teddy smiled.

This was the same day Teddy knew he wanted to be a boxer.

~ 9 years later ~

“Theodore Richland?” his high-school English teacher presented during attendance.

He raised his hand, “its Teddy.”

He watched her make some sort of marking on her attendance sheet and move on to the next student, “Paula Thompson?”

Teddy’s eyes returned to the window to his left. Outside, two juniors in sweaters talked with a sophomore girl. They held books, the boys’ at their sides and the girl’s to her chest. It seemed as though every time the boys would say something, the girl would laugh hysterically. He sat in class, putting words in their mouths.

‘My hair looks like a poodle’s ass,’ he imagined from the boy in the red sweater.

‘N’yut, n’yut, n’yut,’ the girl laughed. He remembered her from home-ec, stirring a bowl of cake batter with her girlfriends. Teddy pondered the face she would make after undoing his belt, after she came. He pondered whether these poor excuses for guys thought they were actually funny or if they thought she was legitimately crazy.

‘My grandfather and father both played football for this Jackson High, and I plan to do the same, or my name ain’t Pickle Johnny,’ said the blue sweater.

Another n’yut, n’yut, n’yut from home-ec girl.

He hated them, stared solemnly. Teddy remembered his grandfather leaning toward him at the last family reunion. It being a year that ended in five, the menu was seafood: imitation crab, barely defrosted mini-shrimp, lobster bisque from the can, and grandma’s “famous” oyster stew. His grandfather always got rather ruffled after a few ales, distressed, restless. That year, his grandfather pointed bluntly at a group of men in sweaters who were discussing something with his daughter, Teddy’s aunt. He never made eye contact, but Teddy wouldn’t forget the words.

“Sometimes a man in a sweater needs unraveling.” With this, his grandpa got up from the table. When the Sweaters raised their hands to receive a handshake from the esteemed old man, his gramps came out swinging. That was when Teddy’s mother put all the whiskey back in the cabinet upstairs.

~ 3 years later ~

It was his first summer after high school. Teddy, known better at this time as Theo, was selling weed. Andrea was his girl then. She worked at the local ice cream shop on the corner of 8th and Juniper. Vanilla was his favorite, but it wasn’t hers. She grew out of liking it after it stained her black skirt one afternoon. Theo should’ve known it was going to melt, but it was her decision to fuck him before putting it away. It ran down over the counter and under the two of them. She didn’t want to stop. Neither did he.

When Andrea got off work, the two of them retreated to the basement of his parent’s house. He made it his own world. Posters of Neil Young were hung up all over the room: most with his shirt on, one with his shirt off. It seemed that every time they got high, she’d ask why he had a poster of a shirtless dude on the wall. Theo always repeated, “He’s a man that felt more comfortable with a guitar than in a sweater.” He knew she didn’t understand, but she hadn’t ever questioned further. In the corners, he had guitars: two electric, two acoustic. One of the acoustics was signed by a local boy before he got on a bus for Vietnam. Theo hadn’t wished the boy well, or even thanked him for the signature. The two of them had just shook hands. That was the extent of it. About three feet off the wall from the signed acoustic was a punching bag. It was brown in color and looked as if it had been through a war. There were several tears near the top and a small hole near the base of the bag, letting sand sprinkle occasionally onto the floor. He used it a lot lately, especially when he came home from working at the new McDonalds.
Andrea pulled apart grass from his tin of it and rolled a joint. When they first started going together, she would always tell him that she was rolling a jay and let him spark it. Instead, she lit them by herself and would smoke the whole thing unless he went over, sat next to her, and reached for it. When Theo asked why she didn’t stick to her old protocol, she responded, “War changes people, man.”
Theo laughed to himself.
They talked of possibly going to the university, but let it pass. He talked of leaving Jackson and starting north with his friend, Gale, a back-up drummer for Jim Morrison. She talked of throwing her stepmother from the kitchen window and finding a way to come with him.
Theo laughed again.

~ 8 years later ~

Brooke Fenham was on his arm in late 1981. A man walked up to them on the sidewalk, a tall African-American with arms that could’ve reached the moon. Teddy saw the right hook before it connected. He nudged Brooke out of the way, twisted so that his back faced the man, and elbowed him right in the muscle that joined his shoulder and his neck. The attacker went to one knee, but got up quickly, producing a switchblade. Teddy backed up, but didn’t back down.
“Why are you doing this?!” Brooke cried from behind him. He didn’t look toward his girl, just said, “Everything’s going to be alright, baby.” A swipe from the knife, a miss. Another swipe. This time, Teddy caught the man’s wrist, moved in with a left hook to the right eye. The attacker went down. Teddy stole the switchblade to his pocket and straddled the man’s chest. He threw blow after blow into the eyes, the temples, the ears. When he thought the man deserved no more, he finished. He was still breathing, but most would’ve confused him for dead, a mass of swollen face. Teddy didn’t wipe his hands. Instead he lit a cigarette and stood up. He turned to Brooke, holding out a blood-stained hand. She stared at it, silent.      He asked if she was alright, still nothing. Teddy moved closer to her. Brooke moved further away, and further still when he took more steps. He knew it was over. After a scattered repetition of the words, “self-defense”, Teddy walked on.
“Fine, fuck you!” He yelled, rounding the street corner. Her tears just came in stronger waves. “Do you always walk away when somebody saves your life?!”
Days later, Teddy would serve his last day of classes at North Carolina University. He never finished his music major.

The drive from North Carolina to wherever the hell he was going would for sure be a long one. Teddy brought his last ounce of grass. He was getting over the stuff. He had to, or there was really nowhere to go. He placed a joint in the front pocket of his button-up and hit the road hard. Most would’ve guessed Teddy Richland to have grabbed nearly every damn thing from his run-down apartment on 35th, but he only took a handful of clothes, of money, of weed, and three books: Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, Different Seasons by Stephen King, and a battered old copy of Frankenstein by Mary Sheilly. He wasn’t sure if those were his favorites.
The second night of driving north on I-86, Teddy stopped at a gas station. Thirty-seven-years-old and counting, his hair had begun to grey slightly. To his surprise, it didn’t affect the amount of girls he got. Even after deciding to quit college, it just seemed like they just kept falling into his lap. He met Paula Sobel that afternoon at the gas station. She was standing outside smoking a cigarette. Teddy thought that her tie-die shirt made her look like she was desperately holding onto the sixties, but never the less he ran his eyes around her curves. They started with her long, curly black hair, still wet with hairspray, moved down to her round shoulders and perfect chest. Teddy could do nothing but smile wide, following the rest of her hourglass figure. She took a drag and blew it in his direction as he went in to pay, “Where ya headed, cowboy?”
Teddy laughed hysterically on the inside. If she weren’t wearing a tie-die, he would’ve thought that she popped right out of a ‘50s film. He thought that line to be pricelessly cheap. He responded with a raised finger that said wait a minute. Teddy paid and returned outside. She was finished with her cigarette and was looking rather puppy-like and bored. He gave her another and lit one of his own. “So, where you headed, cowboy?”
That question again, really? He smiled wide immediately, but replied, “I don’t know exactly. Maybe New York, Maine, Jersey –”
“D’you say Jersey?” She asked, pushing off slightly from the wall and standing on her own. “I’ve got a cousin in Jersey. Boxer. Started givin’ lessons to amateurs about three weeks ago back at his place. He’s a pretty cool dude. Maybe you’ll meet him. Whereabouts you think you might go in Jersey?”
She had him with ‘boxer’. He took the last long drag of his cigarette, and the spirit of cheesy old Hollywood lines, he asked, “Honey, you lookin’ to go with me to Jersey?”
She smiled and nodded. The two of them climbed into the Ford Ranger and headed even further north. Maybe the ring was where he wanted to go. Maybe he just wanted to fuck someone else. Either way, Teddy had his truck, his books, his weed, his girl. Nothing but the Jersey line was going to slow him down.

It was in the middle of Pennsylvania, late June 1982. Larry Holmes had just fought the White Hope, Gerry Cooney, for the Heavyweight title. Holmes retained his title, throwing Cooney from the spotlight. Teddy and Paula had stopped at a diner. Next to that headline on the daily paper, he saw the words, “William Draven to Receive Additional Sentence”. He bought the paper from the machine and began reading before they even sat down at a table. Paula was concerned when she saw the look on his face, “What’s the matter?”
Teddy didn’t answer until he was done reading.
On Wednesday, William Draven – prisoned in 1976 for murder by assault – has been sentenced to an even larger prison term due to actions taken within prison walls. Witnesses and officers state that Draven was illegally fighting in the common area. “It was a set-up fight,” says Officer Delham of Johnstown’s death row sector. “The two prisoners agreed to fight each other. There was an assembly of prisoners encircling the two of them. Draven gave most of the damage but was handcuffed quickly. Other inmates informed us that this hadn’t been the first organized fight of recent weeks.” Our reporter was later told that Draven is eligible for another four years for assault and battery. His court date is set for June 29th at 12 pm in the Johnstown Judicial Building.
            “Shit on me, Sally,” Ted blurted. “My brother just shed a tear for his stereotypes back in Jackson. We never knew he had it in him.”
Confused, Paula asked, “What are you talking about?” Before Teddy could answer, the waitress came and the question was never brought up again.

The first time that he met Uri Sobel, a boney underground boxer from Soviet Russia. His accent was much thicker than hers but could still be understood. When Teddy walked in he saw Uri standing in the corner, shirtless, hopping like a true fighter against a speed-bag. He was abnormally skinny yet nearly seven feet tall with veiny, defined muscles on his arms. His hair was buzzed, a black and white tattoo of an eagle over Russia’s outline on his stomach. He stopped bouncing, “How are you?”
“Good,” Teddy said, stepping further into the establishment. It was rusted, old, and decaying. “This is quite the training room, huh?”
Uri just looked at Paula. “He is funny guy?”
She shook her head. “He wants to be a boxer. He was mugged, and he beat up the mugger.”
Uri’s eyes came back to Teddy, gazing up and down over his whole figure. “You can’t be fighter. You dress like big pussy man. You think Heavy Holmes got to be who he is today by wearing khaki-pant? Try and hit me.”
Teddy wasted no time. He lunged forward into the reach of this absurd character, attempting a right hook. It was blocked with ease, and he received a hard uppercut to his abdomen. Teddy coughed, but kept going. Each swing blocked and countered. Each move was opposed and strategized against. “I thought I said hit me.” Swing, counter, swing, counter; Teddy stopped to catch his breath.
“Did you think this easy, American boy?” Uri questioned, barely having broken a sweat. “I will train you if you really want be boxer, but you get own trunk and glove. Okay?”
‘Did I really lose that much strength in a year?’ he thought. ‘I guess I was fitter in college.’
Teddy started by selling the weed for ‘trunk and glove’ and ended his stay in this town outside Scranton with a Middleweight Championship. Uri Sobel died shortly after, reportedly too far into a Russian mafia syndicate. Teddy’s last fight ended like many other fighter’s retirement discoveries: by the hand of up-and-coming Mike Tyson. After that attempt at the Heavyweight Championship in ’86, Teddy drove to Maine. A pregnant Paula came with him. It was to be their second child.

They’d moved to Maine and life wasn’t easy for the 41-year-old. There was beginning to be a trend of college-level importance in the workplace, and with Teddy having dropped out in ’81, he went back to school. He studied English thoroughly, while working two jobs to support his family. All in all, Paula had three children: Julie, Paul, and Theodore, Jr. He called the latter, Teddy Jay. In college, the subject matter came easy to him. It was a much easier regiment at the University of Maine than the honors program at the University of North Carolina. Teddy received a bachelor’s degree in English, and began teaching it at Julie and Paul’s high school. They weren’t very big fans of their dad’s homework, but learned very quickly. As a matter of fact, most kids in his courses learned quickly and scored high on their state tests.

When the school received more funding, Teddy got a large bonus.

With this bonus, he bought an agent. The agent helped him sell his first book, The Boxer’s Guide to Professional Writing. It was a satire instructional book on developing the craft of writing, told through the narrative voice of a boxer. The already established writing community, in large, saw it as “amateur-ish” and “a novice at work”, but when the current population of up-and-coming writers picked up copies, the views changed as a lot of great local works utilized his formulas. Teddy went on to win an award in April of 1994 for Best Instructional Book of the Year from Writer’s Digest. After his one-millionth copy sold, he decided to go back to school for his doctorate and became a college professor for the very college he graduated, the University of Maine.
A new millennium rounded and Teddy Richland was surrounded by pain. Paula came down with pancreatic cancer and couldn’t beat it. Julie, at age 20, got caught up in methamphetamines with a shaky boyfriend and drove south against his will. Paul, at age 16, turned from high-school soccer to the attention of the only street gang in northern Maine. He was shot by an officer of the law after first firing, himself. Teddy Jay, now 12, didn’t know what to do without a brother, sister, or mother. He wasn’t made to go to school for the first few weeks after these events and Teddy Jay became gradually mute as the days passed.
On this particular afternoon in late November, the boy stood and watched the backyard out of the expansive dining room window. His father attempted to talk to him but received no reply. Teddy was working on his second publication, this one a novel of poetry mixed with prose. It examined the states of mind during unconsciousness in the boxing ring. It was a dark piece of work that started off rather faith-oriented in the first few chapters and dropped quickly into a haunting aesthetic that frequently threw religion to the wind. Critics would call it the result of his family problems.
Three knocks on the door.

At the age of 57, Teddy answered in his University of Maine overcoat. He was shirtless in boxers. The two sweater-clad men coughed at the sight of his grey-haired chest. They were obviously uncomfortable. “Hello?” Teddy questioned over the rims of his glasses.
“We’re with the Jehovah’s Witness Organization of Maine, or J-WOM. If we could have a minute of your time to talk about our mission and the book of Job, we would be very appreciative,” the one on the left said, holding a bible with his two hands against his waist and smiling wide.
Teddy Richland took it all in. The Jehovah’s witnesses, his awaiting laptop with his next book being stalled, his silent son by the window, the absence of the rest of his family, and the sweaters. He hated the fucking sweaters. Teddy hauled back and laid a fist to one of those Jehovah’s witnesses, and he sprawled into the Maine snow. Teddy closed the door.
He was later convicted of the assault, paid bail and medical bills, but it didn’t affect his writing career.

Everyone understood that sometimes a man in a sweater needed unraveling.

 
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Posted by on September 30, 2013 in Creative Work

 

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