I watched as the watery surfaces smoothed out. The calming surface rose up and showed me the present that I could choose for her. It was an idyllic scene that showed her waking up on the dunes of a beach. The waters were the clearest blue there were, but it just felt so contrived and devoid of life. I breathed in and sighed out my disappointment. No, this present will not do. My creation needed something else.
I tapped my hand, once again, into the well, and the water, turning turbulent as it was in dismay at my rejection, bubbled up another image. This time, I saw the eruption of a volcano burst onto the scene with a screeching flame blossoming into her shape. A strange present—an intriguing start to life—but one not befitting for her. Deciding her present was more difficult than I thought. The well released a few bubbles to clear the image and then gurgled in disappointment.
What would a present befitting new life look like? I pondered many hours and yet here I was consulting the ancient well for answers. I thought of the dramatic, of the absurd, of the heartwarming, and the damning, but I could not set my heart on what was meant to be. What were the necessary ingredients for her present? I had summoned a few books of myths as inspiration to seek a beginning, a present, available at the moment of achieving consciousness to gift upon her, but all of them seemed dull and sometimes frightening.
It was critical to life that she obtain her own independence but also that she learned to avoid the same mistakes that my brethren made. She must be destined by fate to go beyond the selfish cruelty that left me as the final specimen of a cosmic experiment gone awry. She had to endure as the progenitor and the first sage of her people. She had to understand that life could not endure if it is fractured by sin. She must value life, despite being immortal. She must understand loss, despite having lost no one. She must understand suffering, despite no history to speak of.
The beginning must hold together the infinity of spirit that carried my people forward. The first breath should draw from the courage to thrive in this dying world but the second should draw from humility knowing that even the immortal and knowledgeable have much to learn.
I sat down on the ancient marble grounds, watching as the infernos of the magma swirl around me. The magical barrier kept the castle safe, but watching the magma swirl around, I felt so small. This place, hidden in the deepest core of the planet, is the final hope for us, but here I am trapped in indecision. The planet has waited long enough for healing after my siblings died fighting over it, scarring it beyond recognition. Could I prevent another catastrophe by removing all the original motivators of our hate?
I reasoned that hate could not come out of someone without need, but could it be that need itself is what lended to both our higher selves and our deepest tragedies? I looked at my creation, perfect in every way, but would a perfect present be, in all my hubris, the very folly that will lead to the void I sought so hard to fight back?
The well released a few more bubbles and fell silent again. The collective consciousness of the water seemed to agree.
At that moment and with no warning, I felt the planet shake and the magma chaotically ripple above me. The barrier began to shatter under the weight of the planet ontop. I felt the drain of the corruption on my mind expand ten fold. There was not much time left. I sighed again, and I carefully lifted myself back up, cursing myself for assuming that I had more time than I thought. I walked towards my creation, and created the runes on the ground. Each one needed precision that became increasingly more difficult as my mind became muddled. The roar of the magma rushing in grew faint each time I drew another rune. I redrew one rune a dozen times over, and another—how many times was it? Time was no longer on my side.
When all was ready, my breathing had become dangerously shallow. I summoned the last might of energy from inside of me and started the incantation. Citing the deepest magic ever known to my people, I created her, but during the incantation, whether due to my dying exhaustion, selfish imperfection, or unconscious will, I wove into her mechanisms a single flaw: she could not bare the pain of suffering. No, she would not suffer, because the magic was enough to protect her, but I knew as my eyes dimmed that her children will. She will eventually build them with her own hands with the knowledge and life I gifted her, but until she and her children succeed in rediscovering the most pure ancient magics, she would create life forms that, like her are immortal, but only if they are able to replenish themselves with source material. As mother, she will know the pain they will feel if they fail to do so.
I worried that this might lead to disaster—a mother so protective that she cannot let her children go, but I also knew her children’s sadness at lost independence would also become real in her mind. I thought about this with panic until I could no longer do so. I could not let my anxieties flood me anymore, as the peaceful draw of death was watching and falling over me. I gave her my blessing and faith. She would overcome even if the lessons would be hard.
Her eyes opened at my final moments, and in my final breath I saw her first breath of life. This was not the present that I wanted for her, and my mistakes would be her burden, but I knew it would be the only way empathy could exist. This would be my lasting memory for her at birth: a present that perhaps can only be found in the beauty of the flaw.
As the darkness started to take over, the runes triggered and sent her to the surface just as she was about to speak her first words, a mix of grief and exuberance on her face, with dream-like thoughts appearing in my mind. Before the final light went out, I saw her life: her grief overflowing onto the planet at my demise, her first discovery of building her children and home, her first awareness of emotion within them, and her family walking towards the light, that dimming light, drifting smaller and smaller, away, washed onto a shore I will never know.
Three people walk into a coffee shop and do not meet.
There’s a piece of abstract art on the wall and Gilbert thinks it looks like shit. It doesn’t even look intentional—the strokes are messy, the paint-job is uneven, globed on in some places and too thin in others—it's stupidly amateur. The signature is the worst part, in barely practiced cursive, ugly brown stamped on sickeningly bright yellow. He wonders if the artist was proud of it, if they worked hard, how they worked, how long it took them to regurgitate this half-assed window into their half-assed soul. He understands that he’s being a dick, but this is his head, and he’s tired of pretending he’s someone he’s not. Faith, as the Hancock-esque signature proclaims, sounds like a bitch anyways.
Maggie doesn’t like coffee. But, she’s decided she wants to be an intellectual today, and so she is going to sit in this café and drink the bitter caramel brulé latte she reluctantly ordered and jot down notes until someone compliments her outfit, or gives her a longing glance, or her ass gets numb. Whatever comes first. She almost meets eyes with a girl in a tank top that says cherry bomb, but the girl sneezes and the moment is ruined. She sighs, takes a drink, gags, and writes photosynthesis is the process of converting energy from solar to chemical.
Ted is having the worst fucking day. The café is busy, he’s tired, and Miranda is late coming back from her break, which means that Abby will be late for their break, which means Ted will be late for his. The manager won’t like that, which Ted knows, but he’s too caught up with remembering orders to care. The coffee smell is giving him a headache. He’s taking some blond chick’s order—a hot café mocha, bad choice, it’s too strong—and as he’s ringing her up, she says, “Thank you ma’am!” Ted sneers, but Abby is back from their break and tapping his shoulder, so he decides to be the bigger person for the millionth time in his miserable existence and go on break.
The universe is all about stars.
If they do not meet, then who exists—
if not the space between their lips
and the dead language they whisper.
There is not enough time for me to meet you.
To Laugh Again
I remember that laugh.
12am shaking twist bottle caps.
Cool harbor mind deploying frigate fleets,
loading shrapnel cannon rounds.
mental artillery crashing eroded beaches.
Climb claimed machine gun nests,
rest once your weary heartbeat spits
Vacay once voracious riptides,
shove hard liquors down.
Drunk to comatose depths,
swimming past layers of my room's darkness;
I mean, it has to be for her. Just for her. Size or price tag, bless little kids, so irrelevant. Compared to being in someone's mind.
For her, six years old, I had to think of what she liked. How she dressed, what types of toys the family got for her birthday.
She is the girly-girl I found so... inconceivable. Unrealistic. She is much cuter and decidedly more feminine. Certainly prone to grow up into a beauty.
Then, make her feel special and even prettier. Buy her something to catch her eye and the eyes of those around her. What to best stoke her imagination. What would she enjoy wearing on her head?
Flowers. Butterflies. Sparkly is a must.
Though it isn't easy.
Shopping for a little girl as I learned. Maybe it's not having been as sweet and so naturally pretty?
I don't know. All I know is I am the simple, frumpy nerd and weeb.
Though I had only so much money for cute little accessories to go with a pretty colored brush; painless on the hair, handle made for a little child's hand. So she can do her strokes all herself.
When I think of her, I think of what she'd look pretty in. She liked very much to look nice, her mother dressed her up so nice. From the very start it was little dresses and sparkles.
If it ever gets to be my choice, I'll spoil the little kids: my cousins, nephews, and nieces as much as I can.
Picking The Present
Two rules which apply to everyone who's been alive
no matter what happens, they'll dwell on road with empty sides,
The moments which are precious will be carved on the time they'd lived through
And just the bite in hand present will not live long for us to choose.
I will try to be more happy and wise and young while it lasts
But a part of me will worry for the future and dwell on the things of past,
And it's not that I don't enjoy the moments of a perfect puzzle fit
But I have become indifferent of this very present gift.
And how could one choose the present if they don't know what it's worth
People are so casual about the the life they've got on the Earth,
But I won't be a part of crisis, though I might thoroughly enjoy the ride
So I choose the present, for I don't have nothing to hide
Presents or Presence?
He’s been building a train in the January cold for over three hours. It’s nearly midnight, and they haven’t even hit the road yet. The switch list which contains information about the proper whereabouts of all freight is royally fucked. Over an hour of the last three was spent trudging through the knee-deep snow in between each of the ten tracks, marking down the proper numbers and then bringing the crumpled pages upstairs to print out new switch lists and then start again from scratch.
Now the train is built but the customers still need to be serviced. Nick climbs into the engine, where Danny has the heat set to “Surface of Sun.” The drastic change in temperature instantly makes Nick feel feverish and light-headed. He sits down on the torn leather seat of the cab and puts his feet up on the small microwave in front of him. Danny is smoking import cigars from the middle-east, somewhere in Saudi Arabia, he thinks. They’re strong and contain a rich and thick smell. The window is cracked not even an inch. It’s too cold, so Danny makes believe that he’s airing out the cab while he smokes, but it isn’t doing anything. The smoke and strange eminent flavor of the cigars float their way to the back of Nick’s throat and he coughs.
He’s young though, and Danny has been doing this job since before his father was born. He’s pushing 70 and he isn't going to retire until someone forces him to. Until that day, he’s going to sit in the engine, smoking import cigars, whistling ole Dixieland tunes, and not listening to a word uttered from any mouth, unless it’s his own. If it’s his own, then it’s prophetic. Like the Ten Commandments.
So Nick keeps his mouth shut. He’s young and green. Not a railroader in essence. Not one in soul. He’s just a railroader because he passed all the tests in Winnipeg and found his way back to Annandale, believing it was the right thing to do. Believing it was the only thing to do. Months spent on the other side of the country, watching the birth of his son on a cellphone.
The engine takes off slowly, heading east towards the sawmill, then it’ll continue until they reach the peat moss plant, then another sawmill, and on the way back they’ll have the propane, fertilizer, and one last stop at the pulp mill, which will likely take an hour, possibly two. All depending on the list, and if it’s right. Which, the way this evening is going, he’s figuring it isn’t.
Nick looks out the window at a dark river illuminated by the lights on the Van Horne Bridge. Cars drive across slowly. Danny is whistling next to him, and Nick is tired. He isn’t built for this life, he knows it. He supposes in a lot of ways he always knew it. But Cassandra got pregnant. She sat on the edge of their bed gripping their checkered pattern duvet. They’d only been together for a New York minute at that time. She was nervous, and he figured, rightly so. He didn’t react well. He was holding his guitar case, feeling excitement from a great jam session with a buddy of his. They were rehearsing for some weekend gigs. They were doing the rounds of all the downtown pubs, and one uptown bar and grill. He was going to be a musician.
Then she said they were going to have a baby. It didn’t register in his head. Christ, the baby was born now and he still had a hard time believing he was a parent. He looked at his father, and his father’s father, and they were goliaths. He looked at himself and only saw a scared and inexperienced kid.He figured the railroad would cure that. But it didn’t. It just added guilt into the concoction which was his fucked-up head.
And now he sits in the engine, exactly a week from Christmas. It’s been several days since he’s last seen his son. Three, or four. And the last time he did see him, it was just to say goodnight, give him a kiss on the forehead and lay him down in his bassinet.
The engine continues east, picking up speed as it crosses over the Iron Bridge to the highway below. Christmas lights begin to whizz by, turning into a flurry of greens, and reds, and whites. A large blow-up grinch stands nearly 20 feet tall in front of an old house, next to an equal sized T-Rex eating a large sack of presents. It makes Nick smile. His little guy would laugh at this too. He promised Cassandra, and Luke that he’d take them driving through town to look at the Christmas lights one of these evenings. He told Cassandra, he’d make his famous homemade hot chocolate and they’d put it in their mugs, and they’d take a drive. But he hadn’t yet, and he wasn’t feeling overly optimistic about it either.
Danny continues to whistle, lighting another cigar, as the engine hits track speed and they’re heading 50 mph in the darkness. The houses are gone. The lights are gone. It’s the darkness of the engine, and the dull humm. Nick sheds his layers of clothes. Balaclava, soaking wet work gloves which he places on the heater to his left, tuque, jacket, sweater, and the spiked covers that go over his work boots. He microwaves a small cup of green tea, and sips on it, burning his tongue, and spilling some on his chest, as the track bumps.
His eyes are heavy, and he rubs at the skin beneath them. Outside the small window is miles of forest, and he’s miles away from home. His wife is either sleeping lightly and restlessly, or she’s up breastfeeding in a semi-conscious trance. He wishes he were there, holding his son himself and wrapping his arms around her, and whispering that it’s okay to sleep. That he has it covered, then softly kissing the nape of her neck, and holding on to her and feeling her calm rhythmic breathing.
But he’s on an engine, in the middle of the woods, with an old man smoking Saudi Arabian cigars and whistling.
After thirty minutes, they reach the sawmill and the engine slows down to a crawl. Nick is fighting sleep with every fiber of his being. An exhaustion that runs much
deeper than just sleep. An exhausting of the entire body, and the soul.
He takes five minutes to put all his stuff back on and grab the list of the freight at the sawmill, before taking a deep breath and opening the small steel door to the open cold. The wind howls angrily as a warning, that nothing good happens outside in these northern winds, at this time of the night. Again, the quick change from sauna heat to arctic cold makes his body stiffen like he has that disease that renders your muscles beyond the control of your brain.
Nick climbs down the stairs, and jumps off as the engine continues by blowing its whistles deafeningly loud as it approaches a crosswalk. The snow is up to his knees, and he’s looking at the freight going by, telling Danny when to stop. The radio procedure is to tell the engineer how many cars he has left before he needs to stop, telling him every time it reaches half of the preceding number.
Each car means fifty feet, and Nick starts at 10 cars, which is 500 feet. Then he says, 5 cars, which is 250 feet. Then 3 cars, 2 cars, 1 car, half a car, 15 feet, 10 feet, 5 feet, then stop and stretch, meaning that the engine stops and that Nick needs to wait until all the slack is gone before getting in between the freight.
He needs to climb up on eight different box cars and tie handbrakes on them. Cranking them as hard as he possibly can. They’re stopped on a steep grade, and one handbrake not tightened properly could mean a runaway train soaring blindly down the track. He climbs up the ice covered steel railing of one car, trudges in snow up to his knees to the second car, the same thing, all the way to 8 and then trudges back to the starting point. Nick is breathing so heavily, he doesn’t think he’ll ever catch his breath. Icicles hang from his thin beard, and from his nose. His ears are burning, succumbing to frostbite because the balaclava dulls the sound of all the already scratchy and low-fi radios, and he’s taken it off. Now, when he lifts his tuque at the ear to listen to what Danny is saying, his ears burn with cold.
Then he jumps on the remaining cars and backs down a track that’s over 2 miles long. He wants to be in bed. He wants to be in the spare room of their new home where he plays his acoustic guitar and writes songs, or watches videos of instructors providing lessons on better understanding the fretboard. He wants to be playing with blocks on the hardwood floor with his son as he laughs that sweet, depression-curing baby laugh of his. He wants to be in bed with his wife, as her legs are wrapped tightly around his lower back. She’s softly moaning, and smiling, and kissing him. He wants to be present. He wants to be home driving around town, sipping hot chocolate. He wants to be present.
He’s down by the river now. The wind is beyond his ability to explain. A piece of plywood covering an open manhole and being held down by two cement blocks, breaks free and goes soaring through the air like it weighs no more than a single piece of paper. Danny is mumbling on the radio, and Nick is repeatedly yelling, “WHAT? COULD YOU REPEAT THAT?” And Danny is getting mad. He’s sitting in the warmth of the engine, eligible for retirement for the past six years, smoking cigars, and eating crackers and cheese, and he’s getting mad because Nick can’t hear through the open-river wind that’s screaming at him to get out of there. So, he pretends he understands and continues hoping for the best.
He tries to keep the thoughts of the new trainee who was out west with him at the same time, getting killed last week by doing this exact thing. A 35 year old single father, trying to make a living for his kids, gets killed because of assholes like Danny who operate on less than zero patience, and let anxiety and ridicule flood the bodies of new hires like poison, until they’re risking their lives instead of going up to the engine, grabbing them by the scruff of their shirt, pointing a finger in their face and telling them, “You better knock off the horseshit or so help me God, I’ll drive my fist down your fucking throat.” He wishes he could say that, but he just can’t.
He remembers his father telling him when he first started over 25 years ago, that the guys gave him some shit too. One of the older guys, not Danny, but Billy Dunn, tried that with him and he stood in between the tracks, looking up at Billy who was sporting the world's greatest shit-eating grin, and Nick’s father, yelled at him from the ground and told him to get his ass out of the engine right now, and he guarantees that he’ll never speak that way to him again, with his fists in front of his face like a prize fighter. And that was the end of it. How simple it seemed to just stand up for yourself. Yet, he didn’t have the heart to do it.
The switches are frozen solid and at the mill in Lone Pine, Nick throws his back out. It’s 3 in the morning, and the pain takes him first to his knees and then to his back. He lays on a patch of ice that circles around the concrete of the switch stand and looks up at a clear sky filled with stars. He tells Danny to give him a second, that he fucked up his back, and Danny mumbles something unintelligible into the radio, and Nick lays there.
That’s the moment he decides his short career as a conductor on an old decaying rail line is coming to an end. The money is good, he knows that. He also knows that he’ll never make this kind of money in his life. He’ll likely spend his life struggling to make half of what he makes here. But what does it matter, he thinks? What does any of it matter?
Nick pushes through the pain, telling himself that he just has to switch these freight cars out and then he’ll get to sit for an hour before the fertilizer plant. He still has the pulp mill which will be the worst of all, but he’ll sit for an hour and let his back rest before he thinks about that. Maybe it’ll be better by then, he lies to himself. He’s had these spasms before, and this pain will be circling his back like a ring of hell-fire for at least three to four days, and that’s if he doesn’t fuck it up worse serving the rest of the customers.
The ride west is similar to the ride east. Darkness broken up by the occasional crosswalk and streetlight that reminds Nick he’s actually part of the 21st century. Then there’s the occasional customer track as well, that’s hanging on by God’s will alone. The tracks are on industrial life-support.
After the fertilizer plant and the pulp mill, Danny and Nick pull back into the yard, and it’s now 5 a.m. It’s been over 30 hours since Nick has slept. They put the engine back in the shop track and he exits, and walks slowly on the skating rink which is the parking lot of the shop, and holding on to his work bag and his lower back makes his way inside.
He quickly does the paperwork on the computer upstairs, and then sits on the bench in the changing room and grabs 4 Tylenol from the bag, and swallows them dry. He slowly takes his jacket off, and his boot covers, then his overalls, his sweater, and his slacks. He sits on the bench with just a t-shirt and underwear, both drenched with sweat, and his back is aching. Danny is whistling outside on the computer, happy as a clam. Sitting and waiting, for something. Probably nothing. Just sitting and letting time on the clock drag on. More overtime coming his way.
Nick eventually musters the strength to put his jeans on and change his t-shirt. Then he grabs his work bag, and doesn’t utter a single word to Danny before he makes his way down the steel-grate stairs and out into the cold, and into his car.
The car is cold, he forgot to start it. The glass is covered with a thick sheet of ice, and he turns it on. He’ll wait. He’ll wait until it defrosts, he’s not going outside again. Not until he’s home.
After ten minutes, it’s clear enough to back out and head through Annandale. The streets are quiet, still deserted, at least for another hour or so. Then moderate traffic will begin to appear as the sun rises over the Appalachian Mountain range across the river.
He lives 110 kilometers from the shop. And as he hangs a left onto Route 11, he’s not sure how he’ll stay awake for the hour-long drive in the darkness. He rolls the window down and rolls it back up, he slaps his face. He turns the radio loud, and then puts his music on. Loud heavy metal music. But he’s still in a heavyweight bout with the sandman.
Nick looks into the rearview mirror and sees a man who’s lost. There will be a lot of Christmas presents under the tree this year, of that, there is no doubt. But what’s more important, he asks himself. Presents or his presence? What would be better for Cassandra? What would be better for Luke? He’s lived so long believing that money meant being a good parent. A providing father. But he wants to provide his family with himself.
He’ll find another job. He’ll find something in an office that’s warm. A nice cup of coffee next to him. He’ll find something that doesn’t pay great, but allows him to be home for supper every evening. And allows him guaranteed time with his kid.
A thin smile begins to spread across his face. He knows himself, and he knows when he’s made a decision. And this decision has been made.
No more of this shit. He’s coming home and he’s staying home.
Picking the Present
I want the very best for everyone. I suppose in the end, on second thought, I want it for myself. Gift giving has inevitably something to do with the feeling one gets-- the anticipation of the receptive look, the special intonation, or significant gesture; and then that irreplaceable satisfaction of having favorably guessed.
That is the pleasure. Our pleasure.
If we are gift giving in mind set, we do not pick the occasion. It presents itself. Always. Walking along, I happen upon something, found or bought, and it is Self-evident. There is already a name tag on it. Ahh, this is ----!! Perfect! And already it is packaged, mentally, waiting on the shelf for the next opportune moment, waiting for that special Someone.
Timing is, as is said, critical. The present must never be a moment too late.
I accept the challenge of gift giving, and the responsibility it presents. It is a more subtle matter than it may objectively seem. I have over time understood that I want always to pick the Present-- the instant of gifting, before the exchange of artifact-- that blessed moment when I am thinking about Somebody other than myself.
Be with Someone
Being a virgin for 27 years, Yara never thought of having a man in her life. While everything seems perfectly fine in her career, the talking from other people has disturbed her mind lately.
"You are too naive", said her friend. "Come on, the world is changing. No one will judge you for taking a man to your house or being with anyone. What are you looking for?"
The older the woman is, the more rushed it will be. She had never seriously dated anyone before. Even when someone tried to touch her, she refused it. She was born into a religious family with a good background, she was told not to make any mistakes that make her family down. She had followed the rules all of her life, and the thought of having an affair, just because she is still single is somewhat unacceptable to her mind. "I am just too comfortable with who I am today", she says.
"You missed the biggest pleasure in the world!", her friend continued, "what is the meaning of rules anyway? In the end, when you are alone and sad, you sometimes disturb me. You need someone else, I can not do it for you."
Her friend's talking makes her think that is the end of their friendship. She learned two things: she made her friend feel disturbed all this time, and also that they had different values. Their friendship has been running for 4 years, and it seems that Yara still prefers to be alone. So Yara gives her best smile, "You know, I had seen my Mom crying because my father was too busy for us. I saw my grandmother, give all of her wealth to my grandpa, but it was used for gambling. I saw my schoolmate, married early because of the accident, and her husband was a drunk without work. I saw my favorite couple of celebrities were divorced because of 3rd person. I keep wondering about love in all my journey. It is not that I don't need a man in my life. I know I am, but I don't want a cheap love that makes me feel a momentary pleasure. I want a real thing. Am I wrong to keep the rules? Am I wrong to keep myself for the fittest person I will trust my life to?" Yara started to cry. "Look, I am sorry if you feel disturbed. You were a good friend to me, but if you keep pushing me to be with someone, please refrain."
They were both silent until her friend said "We both are bad at talking about the hard topic". and They laugh together.
"Do you ever think about what we could be?"
She asks the question as she unsnaps her clutch. Reaching in, she pulls out a single menthol cigarette and an electronic one-touch lighter. I watch as she concentrates on setting fire to tobacco, clicking three times before the spark catches.
"My mom had a phase where she went through those lighters. Smoked the same menthols, too."
She rolls her eyes and closes her clutch. Subconsciously, I notice she crosses her legs, closing off herself, as well.
I can't help but chuckle.
"What's so funny, guy?" Her words are sharp daggers of smoke, and she's trying to cut me.
"You don't like being compared to my mother."
"I don't think any woman wants those dots connected by the man in her bed."
"To be fair, I'm in a chair."
"Don't be a smartass."
"Sorry, it's the default setting."
"Answer my question."
Instead, I watch her dump ashes into a nearly empty can of Tab. I hear the sizzle, and I can't help a grin that sneaks back across my face. "I didn't think they still made that shit," I gesture to her improvised ashtray.
"It is hard to find."
"I remember the first time I had that stuff."
"Is this where you tell me again how I remind you of your mom?"
I laugh out loud. "No, this time it's the grandmother. She bought some in an effort to get me to switch from sugary colas. My grandfather always had real Coke in the bottles. He bought it that way up until he died. Claimed it tasted better that way. I never had much of an opinion on that subject, but the bottles did actually stay colder longer than the cans."
"Cute story. Why are you ignoring my question?"
"I'm not ignoring it, I just haven't yet answered it."
I look around her room. It's tastefully decorated, in an almost whimsical combination of vintage and modern. Her artwork is a mix of thrift-store finds and some of the furniture is Ikea; there's a framed movie poster for a classic Hepburn film next to a signed Broadway playbill for a show I've never seen. A waterfall dresser, complete with mirror and bench, takes me back to the Kennedy administration while I sit in a sleek Swedish chair that barely holds me. At least her bed is sturdy.
One thing I like about this bungalow: the ship-lap walls and hardwood floors are all pre-war original, and they make for very, very nice echoes when things get exciting.
I sigh. Her eyes narrow at me through another exhaled cloud, and I'm reminded of a cartoon dragon regarding an intruding knight in shining. Before she can decide to burn me to ash, I speak.
"The only moments we really have are the ones we live now. Yesterdays fade and tomorrow is never a guarantee."
It's her turn to laugh, and it's a bitter, dry sound. "Cliché much, douchebag?"
"I think we should accept whatever comes our way, and enjoy the present."
"So you don't consider the future. Our future."
"If we pick the present every day, we live in the moment, and we avoid expectation. Disappointment. Sadness."
There's a more pronounced hiss as she drops the butt of her menthol into the soda can. She takes a deep breath, smooths her hair behind her ears, and stands.
My eyes roam and we're both standing, but I don't leave the chair.
Seeing my reaction, she smirks.
"I would say let's live in the moment again, but my kid will be back from her dad's house in an hour. I feel like that short of a future may lead to disappointment."
I can't help but laugh as she gets dressed and tosses my clothes at me.
A Man Receives A Letter
One night, a man received a letter in the mail. It had no envelope, as if someone had simply placed it in the box. Perhaps the mailman? Oh well, it's not like it matters, he was bound to receive the letter some day.
"You have been invited to the Roselock Mansion, where you will meet Simon Roselock and pick your present." Well that was unexpected. Why would Simon Roselock want to meet him? The man flipped the paper to see a single sentence on the back. "Bring nothing but yourself, and do as you will."
Pay had been low recently, so the man took the bus to save on gas. It took a little bit longer, but he had finally reached the Roselock Mansion. The gates were as shiny as when he had first seen them. So many years ago, and the place was still in perfect condition. His old friend hadn't changed at all. But then... what did he need them for?
"What did you do, Simon...?" The man muttered to himself, pushing open the gates. His childhood friend was always the independent, cocky type, so he would only ever request his help if he was in serious trouble. And clearly today was one of those times. The man knocked on the door, only for it to swing open. He took a cautious step in and was met with a well-dressed older man. "Ah, Mr Kaden. We've been expecting you."
"Did Simon mess something up?" The man asked. The older man shook his head, guiding him to the conservatory. Simon Roselock was standing with a drink in hand, facing the windows. "Glad you could make it." Simon turned to face him. "Glad... to be here." The man nodded. "It's been a while, I haven't seen you since you went to..."
The man's words trailed off. Simon gestured to an armchair, and the man took a seat. As Simon poured him a glass of wine, the man observed his surroundings. There were significantly more flowers since the last time he had visited. The man guessed that meant Simon had regained his passion for nature. "You're probably wondering why you're here." Simon took another sip from his glass. "After all, we haven't spoken to each other since... you know, what happened to the rest."
Of all his memories, this one was the most painful. The mere thought of their old friends sent a twist in his gut. It was a horrible incident and caused him and Simon to grow apart. The man cleared his throat, hoping to divert the subject. "Your letter said something about... picking a present?" Simon set down his glass, picking up a small box from the nearby table. "That's right. I figured I should give you this option, for old time's sake." The man's heart jumped in his chest. Simon held out the box, and he took it in his hands. "I'm giving you the choice to pick what happens now. Open the box, or don't." Silence enveloped the room, and the man gulped. So this was why Simon wrote him... "Alright, I'll pick." He choked out, opening the box to see a single sentence inscribed at the bottom. I REMEMBER THE FIRST AND LAST THING YOU SAID TO US.