life is a game.
You told me,
"life is a game."
I was your toy,
your favourite plaything
before you left me,
you said to me,
"You were a good friend."
I really was.
You tried to play me,
playing with your words.
that you were going to leave me
and I would no longer be a good friend to you.
you were ready to move on.
I was a good friend,
that's the thing,
in that one statement,
two truths, one lie.
Don't I know,
life is a game.
I'll wager that you think you know
the tale of young Pinocchio,
a mar'ionette whose nose sprouts growth-
specifically when lies are told.
He's boist'rous, disobedient
and finds the cricket tedious;
a hammer flies- death hideous-
and conscience becomes vitreous.
The Land of Toys and idleness
draw him and his friend, Candlewick;
indulgence leads to ears that prick,
some hees and haws, and donkey kicks.
Escaping peril, he must flee;
the puppet swims straight out to sea,
where he becomes a whale's small meal-
and then both dad and son break free.
I've lied but once- the rest is truth.
So, now decide; it's up to you.
Which stanza does your youth dispute?
Is it two, or three, or four you choose?
Keeping on the Sunny-side
They say you don’t pick the pup, the pup picks you. It never worked for me though, not up until this last time, that is. I‘m partial to bitches. I find them quicker to learn, and more agreeable around other dogs, so I knelt down to grab a-holt of a red-headed female’s scruff, but when I did that pie-bald male pup pointed me! I’ve had a few dogs in my time, mostly bitches, but I hadn’t never seen an eight week old pup point anything before without any training at all, so I was intrigued. I picked the pie-bald up then, and I seen he had one blue eye and one brown. That pup sold hisself to me. Here was a keeper!
They say too, that a dog is a man‘s best friend. That never worked for me neither, not up until this last time. The rule of thumb is that you can’t spoil a huntin’ dog and expect it to hunt, but that pie-bald with the odd eyes proved the exception. I’d only had him three months when he began to jump into the truck bed before I even started for the keys. I don’t know how he knew, but he knew. And he worked his way up to the cabin by inches, easing away from his box in the barn, and spending a few days on the porch, smart-like, before trying for more. The first time he eased inside he caught my boot toe, but it didn’t faze that pup. That same evening I found him curled up nose-to-tail in the spot of warm sunlight below the kitchen window. I started to give him another kick, but decided some company at supper might be alright, and so it was. It wasn’t a week or two later I was cooking an extry biscuit just for that pie-bald, and I took to calling him “Sunny-side,” after the way he liked to lay in the square of sunlight under that window, but luckily the spoiling didn’t stop him from hunting. Hunting was his time to show-out everything he was made of, and he was made of good stuff. Couldn’t nothing in this world stop that pup from hunting.
I never really taught that pie-bald to hunt, just to sit, stay, and release. When he was big enough to come along he took to it all real easy, loving both woods and water, and having a naturally soft mouth. After his first year I noticed that Sunny-side never took a bad scent, nor missed a point. Six months later he was already the finest hunter I had ever had, or even seen. Just like with men, some dogs are born with the gift. I knew it from the time he pointed me from that box of pups. Sunny-side was a sure enough keeper.
Over time we became inseparable, me and that dog. I’d find myself talking to him, and he seemed to listen, and to cock his head like he understood. The way he looked up at me from those mixed brown and blue eyes like he did, who’s to say? I even laid him a blanket in that square of sunlight in the kitchen, so’s he’d have a soft spot to curl up. That blanket gave Joe Spencer a good laugh when he drove out one Saturday to show me a new fishing lure he was having luck with, but I didn’t care. I liked that dog more than I liked Joe, anyways. At least the dog had the good sense to shut up ever once in great while.
They say that a dog will break your heart in the end. It didn’t work for me though, not this last time. Me and Sunny-Side watched one another‘s hair turn gray in that little mountain cabin, and I wondered sometimes what I’d do should something happen to him, but when something did happen it was a surprise. That something was a cramp-like pain that started in my neck and ended in my gut. It dropped me quick one Saturday morning whilst me and Sunny-side were checking our garden patch for new tomato’s. It was me that ended up breaking that pie-bald dog’s heart, rather than the other way around. When I looked up from the ground where I laid and into those clouding, miscolored eyes, I whispered how sorry I was to the old boy. I wondered what would become of him, and I wished that someone might take care of that dog, and maybe lay a blanket down in a sunny spot somewhere for him to curl up on. I hoped that maybe he might even recall our day’s together on the mountain, from time to time. A good dog deserves that much, and so does a good dog’s best friend.
Two truths and a lie
(In which only I know which one is the lie)
My eyes are blue
I like to read
I have three dogs
(I have two dogs)
My favorite movie is Pride and Prejudice
I have never been in love
You are my favorite person
We have been friends for years
I wish you happiness
I wait anxiously for your call
I hate the way I look in the mirror
I miss you
You always make me happy
I write about you all the time
I listen to every word you say to me
Your words make me feel good
I think about you daily
You are beautiful
I will be yours forever
The sky is blue
I still love you
The third one is always the lie
They say everything that as a beginning as an end, but there is one thing that as a beginning but refuses to end.
If it won’t end then it didn’t begin, there was never a start to its finish.
My love for you had a beginning. Why must it come to an end?
Am at the church, everyone is weeping. It is you my vanilla cream that melts in his suit. You’ve left me for good, I hope that is not true? As I stand close to you, trying not to think, act confused. I saw you smile, you decietful child, mocking my silence with silence. This was supposed to be your end. Your chimney breath and liquor stench ironed with minty lies twice as fresh. I couldn’t resist your charm and tease.
If I die still loving you,
stuck in your deceitful teasing and caress.
Would I be lying or telling the truth?
That I never loved you,
because if I did
It would have began and ended with you.
Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad.
I should have known something wasn’t quite right when he told me his favourite band was Meatloaf. Over the years there were so many warning signs, little moments I pushed to the back of my mind in favour of the narrative I’d written for us. But that’s the danger of viewing life as a story I guess; you can’t just edit out the parts that don’t fit. You only get one draft.
I met Luke in a bar. My best friend had just broken up with her boyfriend of two years and she needed a distraction. I remember a full bottle of scotch, a Carol King record played on loop in her tiny bedroom and little else of the early evening. The phrase ‘Manic Pixie Dream Girl’ didn’t exist back then, but if it did I imagine Stevie would have thought it a compliment. She believed in free love, that monogamy was a construct made to trap women. She pretended not to for her conservative boyfriend, but now she was free to love however and whoever she wanted, if only for an evening.
Usually I played the dutiful friend; beleagured and luckless in love. That night, however, I was trying to be bold so while Stevie flirted with a young couple I made my way to the smoking area. I’d seen Luke wandering about the edges of the dancefloor, alone. When he made his way outside I followed, practising pretenses in my head; ‘Oh, I just thought you might like some company... That is sooo funny!... What’s that, you wanna marry me -’. I was fairly drunk.
He wasn’t particularly handsome; his eyes were too far apart for that and his back hunched slightly to compensate for his height but I was intrigued by him. He was the only other person in the smoking area. I stood next to him and watched as he brought a lit cigarette up to his lips and desperately inhaled the smoke, his eyes closed in concentration.
‘What?’ he said, breaking my focus.
‘Me? Nothing, sorry, nothing I just umm...’ I said.
He brushed his hair out of his eyes and smirked.
‘You want one?’ he said.
‘Okay.’ I said.
He pulled a crinkly packet out from under his sleeve. I coaxed a cigarette from the pack and drew it to my mouth. I cupped my hands around his lighter as he brought a small flame to my lips, and we stood in silence smoking together.
‘I love this song.’ I eventually said.
‘Me too, it always makes me laugh.’ He said.
‘Not me, I think it’s kind of heartbreaking.’ I said.
‘Really? Paradise by the Dashboard Light? What’s so tragic about sex?’ He said, peering hopefully into my eyes.
‘It’s not the sex, it’s the marriage. That two people could grow to hate each other that way.’ I said.
‘Isn’t that how most marriages go?’ he said.
‘Not mine.’ I said. ‘I mean, whenever it happens, I’m single right now.’
‘Damn straight. I kind of think that even if people aren’t in love, as long as they remember to love each other, they can still be happy together, y’know?’ he said.
‘I guess.’ I said, not fully grasping what he meant.
‘I’m also single right now.’ he said. ‘Just in case you thought I missed that subtle comment.’
I laughed, looking down at my shoes.
‘I’m Luke, by the way.’ he said.
‘Do you maybe wanna dance?’
‘Sure, I have to keep an eye on my friend in there anyway.’
‘It’s a good thing you like Meatloaf.’ he said, interlacing his fingers with mine. ‘They’re my favourite band.’
Despite his seeming bravado, he was rather sweet. He said that he wanted to take things slowly, to really get to know me. It was five long months before we had sex. I remember him shaking as we undressed, whether from excitement or the cold I couldn’t tell, but I thought it so endearing that I made him nervous. The act itself was bad; creaky and wooden like a broken rocking chair, but I didn’t mind. The part of sex that I enjoyed was the intimacy - the vulnerability that came with sharing my body and the trust that came with him sharing his with me. When it was over, I told him that I loved him. He held me in his arms and told me three things; that he’d never been with a woman before; that he knew right then and there that we would spend the rest of our lives together; and that he was completely and utterly in love with me. Only two of these statements were true.
We married a few years later. He cut his long hair short and gave up his dreams of joining a rock band. He worked in the same office for twenty-five years, but we were content. He didn’t seem to mind settling. We were rarely intimate, at least physically, but that didn’t matter either. He regularly told me that I was beautiful, that I was the perfect woman, the perfect wife, but there was always a hint of sorrow in his tone when he said these things.
After our first child, he started staying later and later in the office. I never suspected an affair, no women worked in his department and besides, he was hardly a sexual creature. No, I never suspected him of that. Even though there were parts of himself that he locked away, even though he sometimes gave me reason to doubt. Every couple of weeks he would come home after midnight, his head held low, his eyes avoiding mine, and walk straight to the shower without saying a word. I knew on those nights not to ask him what was wrong, that prying would only make him more distant. The only thing I could do was hold him in my arms as he fell asleep, and pretend not to feel his tears running down my arms.
I don’t mean to imply that we were unhappy because we weren’t. Every couple keeps secrets from each other. Everyone is occasionally upset by issues too personal to share. The only time I remember him being uncharacteristically upset was when a work colleague of his died. He quit his job a week later, and was inconsolable for months. I thought it must have been the shock of it; Brian was young and healthy, if AIDS hadn’t taken him he probably would have lived a long life. We had him over for dinner once. I remember thinking he might have been gay, I rather respected him for it actually, I knew how difficult Stevie found her fluid sexuality. I didn’t dare ask, though. It wasn’t the sort of thing people talked about at that time. I honestly thought Luke too oblivious to notice. I thought that when Brian died, Luke was upset because he in some way blamed his friend for his death - that was the dominant discourse in the media at the time anyway. I realise looking back on it that Luke was scared.
It’s been almost a year since Luke died. He was right, we really did spend the rest of his life together. It took a long time to gather the strength to move his things; to take our photos off the walls and put them in a scrapbook, to pack his clothes away into boxes, to start sleeping in the middle of the bed. It was only two months ago that I found his letters. I was clearing away his shirts and found a loose panel in the back of the closet. Some were dated from before we met, but most from the time we were married. Twenty-eight of them were to Brian, the rest to two other men I half-knew. The last letter in each series asked for his letters back so he could get rid of them without anyone finding out. I read them in order, trying to match the timeline of Luke's love against mine. He spoke about adoration and longing and lust in a way I didn’t think him capable of. He wrote of ecstacy and muscles and torment and laughter and caresses and passion and envy and guilt and our children and me.
I should have known. If I had paid more attention, if I had just said something all those nights he slept in my arms, then maybe things would be different. Then again, maybe things would have been worse. Maybe it was meant to be this way, maybe it was better that we lived a lie but lived together, maybe it was only better that way for me. I keep replaying what he said to me the night we met; ‘Even if people aren’t in love, as long as they remember to love each other, they can still be happy.’
We were happy. I know we were.
The Kismet Kids
In the end, the fence was still there, aged, beaten by weather and secrets, secrets that lived and hid under the guise of family.
It was an optical theodolite charged with the responsibility of defining their property lines, long before the fence was installed, long before the two houses were built, long before the "I do's", the promises and the mortgages; a human eye looked through the instrument intently, considering every negative and positive polarity on top of the fertile ground.
It was the best of times and they would become the best of friends. What could be wrong; what could go wrong when the facade and roof colors were considered, when the grain of the wood cabinets was selected and the square footage was determined to keep them close to their dreams of becoming parents, to shield them from storms, from predators, from their own mortality.
People on the street behind them could hear them, never looking away from the childless couples with disdain, instead they would lean in, cupping their ears, longing to hear more of the laughter, wishing they could be in on the joke, join in on the splashes, the late night sing-a-longs, eventually surrendering to their own slumber totally unaware of the utterly deafening quiet defining diversified love.
If asked, neither couple could say whose idea it was to build an aftermarket gate in the recently installed backyard stockade fence. "Why go all the way around in a wet bathing suit?" One of them asked. Coulda' been, Ted or Tina, Tom or Tara.
And then the blessings came, two due dates were marked on respective calendars, ironically within the same week, one gender reveal party including both sets of families and friends, why go through all that fuss twice? Pink confetti emerged streaming simultaneously from the hand held cannons while the two couples stood side by side, vulnerable in their clothing, seams barely held by an abundance of good fortune, immediately ambushed by hugs and congratulatory words too many to count.
"Two girls!" "Congratulations!" "Best friends to be, like their Mommies and Daddies."
And destiny played its role as it does, born two days apart in the same hospital, the four became six, inseparable, offspring like kin, twinlike, crawling harmoniously in tandem on bent knees diapered; the disposable kind holding a pint or more it would seem, swelling beyond the manufacturer's recommendation before their parents would take notice, never begrudgingly breaking from the grill, or gin rummy or their think tank talks about everything from the universe to the advantages and disadvantages of the minivan, private schools vs. public, Republican vs. Democrat, always agreeing to disagree late into the night under the stars.
Life was grand, so grand that not even the birds or the bees could land without knowing they chose the right place to procreate and so it went for the second generation as one year became two, four parents in real time, observing first steps, training two wheelers, coaching little batters, leading cookie sales, and with a wink a decade had fallen right into the next fast forwarding into S.A.T. studies, cheerleading practices, dolled up dances and bashful first dates, two pretty sweet girls, Sophie and Sonia, always together, joined at the hip, the very best of friends, nicknamed the Kismet Kids they were never coerced, always agreeable even into early adulthood; what God had joined together let no entity part.
"Whosoever said life was fair," quite suddenly slipped from a tongue, mighta' been Tom or Tina or Tara, not Ted, as he had become the first one to leave them, against his own will. "Brugada syndrome," explained the pathologist, "typically undetectable electrical disturbances to the heart, resulting in sudden death," the remaining five endured constant comfort by so many mourners, words too many to count.
"Too soon," "So very sad," "So very sorry for your loss."
The suggestion was made, soon after the settling of tears, of sadness, of bones to take investigative action. Dr. Stevens was his name, DNA was his game, "Sophie, see to it that your DNA is tested to see if you carry the gene. This could be a matter of life and death."
Facts do not lie, neither do the dead; six feet under Ted could not speak or explain as he rolled and rolled over, under the ground far from the scene of the ancient misdeeds. He'd have to leave that task to the living. Ducks in a row, what else could be said to dispute the indisputable, to right the wrong, to cover the tracks that traversed the happy backyards through the custom made gate all those years ago. Never did they consider back then, prompted by a death, the possibility of both offspring, joined at the hip, of course they would trace their genes together, along with their ancestry, highlighting a close blood relative right next door. The technology just wasn't there; back then.
No. In the end, the Kismet Kids, Sophie and Sonia were not just best friends, they were genetically half sisters, both left with a bullet in their hearts shot from the barrel of a lie.
Open and Shut
The year is 2015. And I am very concerned.
I am at the Adolescent Rehabilitation Clinic in Greenfield, Massachusetts. And I have just used the microwave.
Open. Close. Open. Close. Open. Close.
Eventually, the microwave beeps - and shuts off. I’ve literally broken a microwave; at this point, this is a record for my OCD. How many times until it closes, just right?
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder in which time people have recurring, unwanted thoughts, ideas or sensations (obsessions) that make them feel driven to do something repetitively (compulsions).*
“Abby, there are clients outside. Let’s get going.”
I look down at my phone, at the texts I’ll have to re-read until I’ve read them all precisely ten times; ten is just right. (To think: I could have been pressing the buttons on my phone this whole time instead. It’s mine to break.)
All these adolescents who need help with their mental illnesses, and here we are, with no working microwave. How will Will heat up his hot cocoa? The most severe schizophrenic case in the clinic, and his own counselor has to have her own excuses? It’s all so ridiculous.**
But that’s my job. I need to figure this out.
(We’re going to need a new microwave.)
OCD is just an open and shut condition.
*Our friends at www.psychiatry.org; and I’m sure, the DSM V.
**This is neither truth nor lie; it is purely speculation on behalf of the author.