I ran out of paper just as the sun dipped down below the horizon. And I felt the words spin and twirl around my fingertips, begging me to release them. But the light was dying, and I had nowhere to spill the ink. I let my eye lids drop heavy, stopping my eyes from soaking in the moonlight. Stars flickering overhead in a gentle push and pull with the waves crawling up onto the shore. And as my mind crashes into slumber, I look up into a dim chandelier. I hear light, twinkling notes catching on the air. Crystals playing iridescent prisms across the massive expanse of a ballroom. I sway in time with the slight rocking of the room. Gauzy, white tulle wraps my body and flows gently, grazing the water that reaches for my ankles. My bare feet meet the hardwood floors just as my eyes take in the flood pouring out from under the doors surrounding the room. It’s salt water drowning me fast. And I have to let my story out before it creeps up my frame. So I dig my nails deep into flesh. I carve the words and fill them with left over ink. My skin the only place to record my truth. My veins scrawling perfect penmanship down my arms and legs. My ribs covered in thoughts. Careening script across my clavicles and my sternum. And the water flooding faster. Reaching ever closer. Memories digging themselves up and covering my throat as I lift my chin to steal a last breath into my water logged lungs. And I wake just before dawn. I wake in the ocean. Salt stinging my wrists as the blood pools.
Can’t tell if my eyes are opened or closed
I try to remember the maroon and the gold
But after the sun sets, there’s not much to hold
I’m tucked in tightly as nightmares impose
I lay here thinking
That the sun will always rise
That the heavenly colors
Will shower my eyes
But I’m still here shrinking
In my late night thoughts
Each corner of the room
Is a demon I’ve fought
A nightly routine
Of getting lost in my mind
The ringing of the quiet
Really slows down time
Will I awake tomorrow,
If I close my eyes?
Or will my last thought be,
About the way that I die?
In The Shadows
After a long day at work I came home and found the note.
-Don’t hold dinner for me, I’m pulling an all-nighter at work.
With a quick look out the window, I confirm the setting sun. Hmm. Father’s out for the night, so no one will miss me if I’m gone. I run a hand over my legs, which are prickly with scales. Time to do what I do best.
I drive to a ledge that overlooks Darrow’s Inlet, strip out of my jeans and tee. Standing at the edge I look grimly into the water. “Here goes nothing.” With the grace of someone well practiced, I jump.
There’s a great splash as my body plunges into the ocean. Adrenaline shoots through me as total submersion equals a temporary transformation, molding my legs into a tail, and soothing my shimmering scales. Saltwater courses through my veins and the waves call to me saying; Come. You belong here. I swim out into open ocean.
Perching on a rock I wait. Seagulls sqauwk above and in the murkiness below my fins, sharks eye me with suspicion. I wave my hand to shoo them off and a boat comes into view. I straighten up, attentive, ready to perform the Song with all the skill I posess. Precision is important if you want the enchantment to bind. You must pick the moment the ocean is at its strongest, which is right after sundown.
The sun dips below the horizon like a fire extinguished, and I begin.
"Ah ah ah. Ah ah ah. Ah lou la ah." The boat shifts its course, enticed by my Song.
"Ah na na la na. Lou la na ah na la."
I have lured it in. Now the ocean takes over. The waters rise up, engulfing the ship. I want to see it go down, I want to see terror on the crew's faces as they meet with their fate. But I can't endure it. Turning my gaze to the sky, I realize it is night. Father, on occasion, will tell me that it is easier to succumb to darkness during the night, because you think no one sees what is done in the shadows.
I whip around, and scream as I lock eyes with the man aboard the doomed ship.
A final tidal wave swallows the vessel whole. No. No he can't be-
I dive down, swimming farther and farther until I reach the depth's. But its no use.
He is gone.
Heat lightning flashed in streaks of promise lighting up the dark sky. I was getting antsy and, yet, a frenzy of anticipation warmed my body and awakened my urgent longing.
Because I hadn’t killed anyone since last Friday, my overwhelming need for power and dominance was building up in a crescendo. I climbed into my car; well actually it was my former girlfriend’s car, but she was already dead. To make a long story short, I called her Friday. I always labeled my victims by the day of the week that they met their end. The moon hid behind dark clouds as I peered through the dead of night to find my next victim. I was fired up and quite titillated when I saw a young woman at the side of the road, looking in frustration at her flat tire on her vehicle.
Her leather mini skirt was hiked up to spotlight her rounded ass as she bent over the tire. But it really didn’t matter what she looked like to me because I knew that control was what turned me on and the rest didn’t concern me all that much. I was superior and would show her how to tremble and fear me until her last drop of scarlet blood leaked out onto the ground. I shivered in expectation as I pulled to a stop behind her and got out of my car. “Do you need help?” I asked her in my best reassuring voice, as I tried to hide my darkness.
With a helpless smile on her face, she simpered, “I can’t get the lug nuts to loosen. Would you mind trying?”
I thought I saw something flash behind her eyes but I believed it probably was just relief. She handed me a flashlight and I got down on my haunches to take a look. I turned back to reassure her that I would be able to take care of her tire and almost smirked because I could see right up her skirt to her dark reward because she wasn’t wearing any panties. I felt a surge of excitement because I knew I had her where I wanted her.
When I turned back to her she said in a deceptively sweet voice, “Here’s a lug wrench that you can use.” Was it my imagination or did I see a sly look on her face? Maybe she wanted something from me but it wouldn’t be as much challenge if she was looking forward to a sexual encounter.
That was the last thought I ever had as she smashed the wrench down on my skull so forcefully that pieces of bone and brain matter sprayed in a pink misted arc.
I felt like I was somewhere in space, looking down at the gory scene. I imagined I saw a triumphant smile turning up the corners of her lush mouth as she said, “He is Monday!”
By Drake Patterson
The only sound is the rain and an occasional car swooshing by. It’s 3 am. I should be home in bed. But I’m here at the office, catching up on paper work. I got a tip from someone in the know that the IRS is planning a surprise visit. I’m ready for a paperless world. These old file cabinets are busting at the seams, reminding me of how long I’ve been at it. Before I came to this jerk water town, I was young and ambitious but twenty years tailing philanderers and snapping pictures for insurance companies has worn me thin. Sometimes I look in the mirror and wonder who it is staring back. I’ve gotten gray at the temples and my eyes look like a crinkled bag. I guess we all get stuck in the past, when in the present, we’re knee deep in shit.
Just then I hear the bawl of a child. My first instinct is that someone has abandoned it at the soup kitchen across the street but the screams become long and drawn out like a motorbike stuck in first gear. I look out the window but all I see are the local bums trying to stay dry. I pop out on the stoop to get a better look when I see two cats rolling in a ball of fur. I should break it up but I’ve got a ringside seat. There’s an orange tabby on top –all claws and teeth. It’s a helluva fight. They finally part and I see the other one—a scrawny alley cat that’s missing one eye. There’s blood coming from his nose. I’ve seen enough. I shoo the orange one away but the scrawny one still wants a piece and chases after him. That’s what I get for butting in. Let them kill each other. I should be home in bed. I should burn all my paperwork in a garbage barrel. The IRS would have their suspicions but what could they prove? The only witnesses down here are the drunken bums and who’s gonna listen to them?
Since I’m out, I light a smoke. The rain isn’t hard enough to wash the scum off the streets but it feels good on my face. Just then some mangy bum appears, begging for a smoke. I give him one to just to make him disappear but I know it’s only a matter of time before all the zombies come dragging their wet blankets across the street to bum away my whole pack.
I go back inside. My phone rings. I jump three feet off the ground. Who the hell calls my office at this ungodly hour? It’s probably a wrong number from the west coast, when normal people are up and about. It keeps ringing.
“What the hell do you want?” I yell into the phone. There’s a long pause but I hear breathing on the other end. I soften some. “Who is it?”
“….I need to talk to you.” The voice sounds familiar but I can’t seem to place it.
There’s another goddamn pause. I want to yell, ‘What kind of ass calls at this time of night?’ but now I’m curious.
“Can we meet?”
I knew that was coming. Now I give the long pause right back at them. I hear the two cats ripping each other up again. I look out the window but only see my reflection. What kind of fool have I become?
“I’m guessing it can’t wait?”
“You know Leo’s…the all-nighter off of Front?” It’s almost a whisper.
“The chicken and waffle place?”
“I’ll be there in thirty.”
They hang up. It feels quieter than before. I wasted a whole cigarette. It died in the ashtray. I’ve got a bad feeling about this. But then again, I get a bad feeling about most things. I could go home, crawl inside my sheets and get some well-deserved sleep. I could crack open that bottle of single malt I was saving as a reward for organizing all my damn paperwork. I could grab my pole and waste a morning catching bullheads. With all these options, you’d wonder why Leo’s Diner at four a.m., would be the one I go for.
I drive down the city streets. Bridgeview Falls looks almost decent at this time of night. But I can smell dead fish coming off the river and I realize it’s not night but early morning. The street lights blur in my windshield. A cop pulls up to me at Sixth and Amsterdam and gives me the once over. I nod. He doesn’t nod back.
There’s a small crowd at the diner. It’s mostly iron workers getting a bite before the factory opens. Tough bunch. I usually sit at the counter but these thugs aren’t moving over. I grab a menu and take a booth near the window with a view of the bridge. There’s one lone barge chugging up the river, leaving brown foam in its wake.
“Coffee, baby?” An African- American woman, wearing earrings you could use in a hoop toss, shows up with a pot of each. She has purple eyeshade and fingernails painted like the American flag.
“Is it fresh?”
She doesn’t respond. She just pours some in my cup, which sloshes over the side and onto the table. She doesn’t bother to wipe it up. The fatigue is suddenly on me. No amount of coffee is going to keep me up. This is no time to conduct business. I toss a couple bills on the table and stand to go when someone in a wet raincoat takes me by the arm and leads me to a table in the back. If it was a stronger grip, I’d be obliged to waylay their ass across the counter but the hold on me is more guiding than pushing. I have a feeling this is my contact.
We sit. The person across from me is wearing a scarf and a hood. They look like the Grim Reaper or a visitor from Islamabad with bad intentions . They undo the scarf and pull the hood back. What’d you know? A gorgeous blonde. She looks like a girl I use to know.
“Karissa…what a pleasant surprise.” She hasn’t aged a day since she left me. As good as those blue eyes look, I stand to go.
“No wait.” She stops me with her hand. She smells like a vase of flowers. “I know I was a real shit but we have to talk.”
“Business or personal?”
“Whichever you like,” she says, sliding her lips into that smile that could melt a rock.
“Business.” I sit back down. What did she expect? That I’d wrap my arms around her and say ‘I missed you, baby’?
The waitress is suddenly on us. “You forgot your coffee,” she says, putting it down in front of me, making it slosh again. “We like it when you pick a table and stick with it.” She realizes I have company. She smiles. “Well good morning. Coffee, gorgeous?”
“Is it fresh?”
“I crushed the beans myself.” She pours her a cup and doesn’t spill a drop. “Ya’ll ready to order?”
“No…can you give us few, Honey?”
“I’ll give you anything you want, baby.” She laughs and leaves but not before she gives me a look that says, ‘ I’m a piece a shit and I better treat her friend right.’
“Let me guess…you heard “Reunited” on the radio and thought of me?”
“No…I got real problems Les,” she says, shaking rainwater from her golden locks.
The rain is now coming down with purpose. Maybe we’ll all get washed away in a flood.
“Just to be fair, I’m officially on the clock.”
“I expected as much.”
She must be in the money. She didn’t bat an eye. And a further look at her, I know those fancy clothes and jewelry didn’t come from the local Goodwill. She’s wearing a big rock but I don’t want to know why. I just want her to spill her guts so I can go home.
“I met this guy—“
“Your first mistake.”
“… A real looker. Brazilian, blue eyes, built like a swimmer. What’s a girl to do?”
“Run away. You know, like you did to me?” My coffee’s gone cold but I don’t expect Honey will be back for a warm up.
“Lester…please.” She takes her coffee down in one sip. “This guy…he’s a winer and diner and I’m head over heels before I hit the ground. But it doesn’t take long to realize I’m not the only filly in his stable.”
“Karissa…as much as I’m enjoying the chit-chat …you better get to the punch because I’m about to drop.”
“Ok…this guy…if it’s dirty, his paw prints are on it. And guess what? He’s not the Prince Charming he came off as. He’s a real hot head.”
“He hit you?” I feel my guts twist up. I realize my hand is a fist.
“Easy there Rin-Tin-Tin... just threats.”
“Like…he’s gonna put me a shipping crate and mail me to Sao Paulo where there’s a nice warm whorehouse waiting.” She looks out the window. Rainwater is spilling off the gutters.
“You want me to talk with this guy?”
“He’s no longer the problem Les.” Since her cup is empty, she finishes off mine. “The streets clean up themselves.”
“They found him tied to a pylon under the pier. They stuffed a pipe bomb in his mouth and walked away.”
“I hear that’s not good for the gums.”
She cracks a half-hearted smile. “They identified him by the monogram on his Italian loafers.”
“And you want me to find out who did it?”
“Ready?” Honey appears. She’s got her pad out and it looks like she isn’t coming back. She’s smacking on some gum and blows a pink bubble.
“Give me the Man Slam with sausage,” Karissa says.
I look at the menu. The Man Slam has about everything you could ever order at a dump like this all on one plate.
“Just more coffee.”
She pops her gum again and sloshes me another cup. She grabs the menus and walks away.
“She doesn’t like you.”
She digs some smokes out of her purse. She takes one out and lights it with a lighter that looks like it cost more than my car. She blows smoke rings. Who taught her that?
“He called me Tweety.”
“Yesterday morning,” she says, taking a long drag and stubbing her cigarette out, “…there was a dead canary on my windshield.” Her hand is shaking. I want to grab it and hold it still. I want to hold her. I want to dance with her in a smoky bar with a stack of quarters on the jukebox. I want to kiss her deep and taste the gin on her tongue. I want to tell her she’s the only girl who’s done anything to me in a long time and life has gone black and white since the day she left. But I know better.
Honey arrives with the food; a heaping plate of pig meat and eggs. Karissa tears into it like she just came out of the desert on a forty day fast. She looks up and half a ham is hanging out of her mouth but she looks sexy doing it.
“They sent you a message.”
She raises her eyebrows to let me know I got it right. Her jaws are too busy on the Man Slam. The second wave of exhaustion now comes. It’s a tsunami. It’s been close to forty eight hours since I felt a pillow under my skull. I don’t want this job. I’ve got enough problems with the IRS. I promised myself a vacation—a long weekend in Atlantic City where I can booze and whore it up and no one will mind. This is not a little job but I remember that face. It was young and sweet at one time and those eyes once had a shine. She’s someone else, I’ll admit, but I feel a sense of responsibility and it’s a feeling I don’t want.
“It’s gonna cost you plenty.”
She opens her purse and pulls out a folded envelope. She tosses it on the table. She gets butter on it from her toast, which she is now sawing down like branches in a wood shredder. It’s not sealed. I see a stack of Franklins and do the quick math and there’s probably close to three g’s. That should cover my Atlantic City trip quite nicely.
“Where you staying?” I ask.
She wipes the grease off her face. She takes the cigarette out of the ashtray and re-lights it. She looks me dead in the eye and I know I’m about to get swindled again.
“That’s the other problem,” she says.
I wake up somewhere around seven. It’s still raining. The other side of the bed is empty but her heat remains. I have a felling she left hours ago. She’s probably at the airport clutching a one way ticket to Miami or New Orleans or Toledo, for all I know. I wish I could say good riddance but old feelings have been stirred, so I stir some scotch right into my coffee and John Coltrane’s trying to help me to understand.
I wake up the next day slumped over the kitchen table. The bottle of scotch is empty. It’ll make a nice candle holder. I feel like the Belmont Stakes ran me over. Its dark out and I can’t tell if it’s morning or night. The clock says five. A knock. I scramble for my pants and throw open the door expecting to see the one thing that could cure me but instead I see Bridgeview’s finest.
“Lester Waits?” The big one says.
“What I’d do… park in a handicapped?” I hate these guys. I’ve been dealing with them for twenty years and they seem to get dumber and uglier.
“Mind if we come in?”
“I’d mind very much.” Who the hell do they think they are? Think they’d let me just walk right into their place?
“You know a Karissa Quinn?”
I plead the fifth. I’m still reeling from the booze and I don’t want to give these Barney Fife’s anything.
“A waitress pegged you two in Leo’s a few days back,” the runt says. “You got an alibi?”
“I was abducted by a bottle of scotch.”
The runt doesn’t laugh. “Maybe you need thirty days in the drunk tank?”
“Now I remember...cute, blonde, blows smoke rings.”
“When’s the last time you saw her?”
“Look fellas…I got a hangover that could kill big game. This line of questioning will have to wait until I’m rested and my lawyer is present.” I try to shut my door.
The big ape grabs me and throws me into my apartment. These donut munchers have their pistols drawn before I hit the floor. The big ape puts his foot on my chest. The runt gets close so I can hear him.
“Look asshole. We know everything about you. We know why she came to you. We had people watching the whole scene from the parking lot and we saw you leave together.” He smells like salami and shaving cream. “I hope she was a good lay because you’ve seen the last of her.”
He drops a couple polaroids on me. I look. It’s Karissa. Her head is against the driver’s side window of a brand new Mercedes. Her blonde curls hang in her face. It looks like she’s blowing me a kiss. She looks almost perfect except for the blood that runs down her cheek and the bullet hole in her head.
I make some kind of inhuman cry and they let me up. They want me to identify her but I can’t look at the picture again. I want a drink, a tall one. But I know where that will get me and I’m still poisoned from the scotch. The big cop takes me by the arm and leads me over to the kitchen table. He pours me some coffee from the pot. It’s a day old but I gag some down.
“We’ll give you an hour to get it together Waits. We’ll be expecting you down at the station.”
He gives his partner the signal that it’s time to go. I know the little asshole wants to work me over. Let him. I’ll get a few licks in before they knock me cold.
“Don’t make us come looking for you pops. I might not be in a good mood.” He smacks me behind the head. They leave and I lock the door. I fire up a smoke and go out on the deck even though there’s a bite in the air. Poor Karissa. She thought a man was her ticket out. Well, she was right.
I could go down to the station and tell them what I know but I don’t know much. Maybe they’ll try and pin it on me. It’s not like I can recollect the last twenty four hours. Or I could go do some investigating myself. But like Karissa said, the streets clean up themselves. I go back inside and open the fridge. A beer won’t hurt. Stuck inside my six-pack is an envelope. I tear it open. There’s a note.
Dear Sweet Lester: Here’s everything you’ll ever need. No one deserves it more. Kiss..Kiss, Karissa.
There’s a key attached to a plastic ring that says G-233. There’s nothing to tell me what it’s for. I got a gut feeling it’s a storage locker and an even bigger gut feeling that’s it’s got more than patio furniture inside. It’s then I realize why she left it. She knew she might not get out of Bridgeview alive. I guess she picked me to be her benefactor. I decide against the beer and stick to my coffee. Everything I need, huh? Then why do I feel like crawling back under the sheets and letting Bridgeview just rot in the rain?
303 s. B street
Fairfield, IA 52556
Oracle by Moonlight
Something happens late at night when everyone’s in bed.
My mind at last is free to rest but then I write instead.
Maybe it’s the quiet night and the words inside my head
or maybe there are things that simply can’t be left unsaid.
The night, it speaks, so fluently of things I’ve yet to learn;
and willingly, I lay awake to listen and discern.
Thoughts emerge out of thin air as if they were my own.
Revelation strikes me deep when it finds me alone.
Knowledge streams into my soul and out my pen it pours,
as poems, songs or messages, I’m just a vessel at my core.
Lessons learned and prophecies and theories, ways to cope;
Reflections on philosophy, wisdom gained and hope.
The silent nights give way for meditations to unfold
and lead me to the answers I’ve been seeking more than gold.
So I’ll keep writing through the night, like I don’t need the sleep.
something in me cannot rest ’til after my pen speaks.
When the life cycle of pupae turned the corner, shedding it’s robe, Nana broke out her complementary weapons. Nothing was going to keep her from her merited pastime; books, bonbons and swinging on summer eves. It was time to prepare her coveted porch for battle. Off spray cans were purchased at Woolworths along with boxed matches and citronella candles.
“What’s that for Nana?” My discombobulated nose demanded I ask, even though I knew the answer.
“What’s what for?”
For dramatic effect, I faked a cough, yet another one of my damsel in distress auditions. Instead of speaking, as if I couldn’t, I pointed with my left hand towards the etched glass cylinder holding the waxed oil and wickered flame. With my right hand, I pinched my nose.
“It’s called citronella Suzie,” She said curtly, rolling her eyes. “Haven’t I explained about that already? It helps keep the mosquitoes away.” Yes, she had told me, many times. Did she wonder back then just who or what was the ultimate porch pest? The next question I wanted to ask Nana but decided to quit while I was ahead was, “Could it be there is something smelly about me keeping him away?” But I didn’t, because quite frankly, why should I put dear Nana through yet another one of my pity parties? Even the sultry evening did not deserve another one of my whine fests over my big brother’s eschewal of me.
The years went by as they do, with another calendar tossed unceremoniously on January 1st. At the head of the basement stairs I’d step silently, questioningly over the threshold where there was proof that Robbie and I were indeed siblings. The door jam where Nana had stopped measuring us, was that evidence; hand written dates, flanked by the initials of either SK, or RK, with a one inch line ending in a numerical height. It had been many a New Year’s past since Robbie declared, “I’m too big for this. Enough already.” And just like that one of the few things we did together was in compliance with yet another cease and desist order. Besides outgrowing the ritual, as small as it would be to some, stopping it was patently against my own desire. Blood was just not thicker than water in my house, at least not between Robbie and me, his call only, until one summer night when the cicadas came out to play.
The power was out at our house at a time when hurricanes weren’t measured in categories but in number of days without Johnny Carson. Seven. Bored enough to sleep, but kept awake by the heat and hunger for something other than the defrosted food Nana forced upon us, apparently the desperation worked in my favor. Nana was probably asleep for hours when there was a knock at my bedroom door. This rat ta tat tat could not be from Nana’s knuckles. She did not knock, a mutually agreeable arrangement between us. An intruder? For certainly, the only other human living in our abode, would not be coming a calling on me, would he? Unsure if I should open the door to an intruder, I called out sheepishly, “Who’s there?”
“Who do you think, Peabrain. The man in the moon?” He called me Peabrain often, and nerd, and baby. Baby, not in a good way like babe; like stick your head in gravy baby. I liked that name the least, and never asked Nana why she didn’t tell him to knock it off.
“Want to go for a bike ride?” He said, as if he asked me to pass the salt, so why should I react to his invite as if the neighbor’s cat just got hit by a car?
“Sure!” I said kinda cool, but then I immediately recoiled like a morning glory; couldn’t help myself, and he watched as I looked at the wind up clock. “But it’s eleven o’clock? What would Nana say? It’s past our curfew.”
“Don’t be a baby, Pea brain.” And for once, I suddenly sorta got why he called me baby.
“Let’s go. NOW!” I retorted, pushing past him as he stood caught off guard in the doorway. Something came over me. A fever of sorts, pumping through my viens. Game on. For once, he was the one to follow me as we began to creep down the narrow hallway. I motioned “shh” canoodling my pointer with my smirk as we passed by Nana’s room. If sawing logs means snoring, sequoias were dropping in there. There was no doubt the coast was clear, and she’d be out cold for the night.
Bike helmets were not a thing back then, so seconds from the front porch, we embarked upon our maiden voyage secretly named by me, “Hoorayzonetime.” One wrong move, or word said by me would surely put an end to the present dream come true, so refusing to throw caution to the wind, I changed course readily and assumed the ancillary position.
Credit to the moonlit clear night, we were off and navigating handily through the aftermath of the storm. “Head towards Chestnut,” he commanded, and I obeyed. “Turn left at Walnut....right at Aspen.....” Following his direction and his pace, things were going rather smoothly, even when I realized we had passed the town line. Nothing was going to hinder my joie de vivre. Robbie stopped giving verbal direction when he realized just how in sync we were. As a gymnast, my stamina and balance were solid. Effortlessly pumping the pedals, with arms outstreched off the handlebars, we almost touched fingertips at one point.
No name calling, without talking at all, the only sound heard besides the cicadas was the deceleration of our bike wheels, when to my chagrin, I looked to my left to see we were at the curb of the Forest Hills cemetery. Robbie motioned his head towards the entrance. Was this a cruel trick? A test of my babyhoodism? Not funny! I hate cemeteries! Bones, stones and soil. All of it. Oh and ghosts, real or imagined. But on the other hand, I had the fever for Hoorayzonetime, so even I surprised myself when I was the first to get off my bike and say, “Let’s do it!”
The first few steps off our bikes were slightly wobbly as our muscles shifted gears from pump to walk. The sign we both read at the lit, ungated entrance read, CLOSED AFTER SUNSET. Another test of my game on approach to this evening, and I passed the test and the sign with ease. I did not protest, even though Biddable was the pseudo middle name I gave myself.
It wasn’t long before we were running deep into the yard of bones, sprinting as if we were two track stars in a fifty yard dash, decidedly fueled by adrenaline, when we heard, “STOP!” The LED headlamp blinded us into submission, more than the command. Before us stood an aged, slightly built, Barney Fife look alike weary rent-a-cop. “What do you kids think you are doing? Didn’t you read the sign? Don’t you have a curfew? Do you know you are trespassing? How would you like to be charged with a class 3 misdemeanor that comes with a $500 fine? Where do your folks think you are right now?
That’s when it kicked in. Partly due to my extensive babyhoodism training, but mostly in celebration of Hoorayzonetime, I was about to execute an academy award performance. The mere mention of my parents always conjured tears, but this time, I drew on that pain, workin’ it to save our asses.
“Mister.....mister.......plluueesssee......don’t......arrest.......us! I choked through every word, punctuated with squeals and gasps that sounded like the inconceivable offspring of a pig and a donkey. At this point I probably only kept him at bay because he might have thought I was having a seizure. I continued, slightly more composed. “How would it feel to you if your parents were both killed in a plane crash? Do you think it’s easy growing up without parents? Thank God for our Nana. Bless her heart; she takes such good care of us and I know it would kill her if we got arrested. It’s the anniversary of their death, and Nana couldn’t drive us over here because her car was damaged in the storm. I told my dear brother that I couldn’t go to sleep without visiting their grave and he was kind enough to honor my request. PLLUUEESSSEE don’t arrest us!”
I lied. About all of it, except the part that it would kill Nana if he arrested us. Truth be told, our father left the country chasing a Russian doll, never to be heard from again, and our mother was so depressed she took an overdose of sleeping pills when we were 3 and 6, but that explanation might not have gotten us the get out of jail free card.
“I’m so sorry about your folks, and no we wouldn’t want to upset dear Nana; regardless, you kids need to follow the rules. Where is the gravesite?”
“Right over there,” I pointed, hoping, for obvious reasons, he wouldn’t lead us over towards the headstones.
“Go on now. I’ll give you one minute and then I’ll lead you out of here.” Thankfully, out of respect for the deceased, he didn’t follow, because from what could be read in the moonlight, we were standing in front of Harvey Whitestone’s headstone, born 1888, died 1941. I continued to weep donkey-pig style counting to 60 and then we walked back to him. “Barney Fife” shook my brother’s hand and gave me a half assed hug like I had cooties. Could I blame him?
“Get on home now. I’ll lead you out of here. Are you on foot?”
“Our bikes are out at the curb.”
“Well let’s hope they are still there.” I hadn’t thought of that. They were. His parting words were, “Again, I’m sorry, but don’t come back here at night again, OK?”
“We won’t mister. I promise. Cross my heart and hope to die.” OK. That parting line was a little bit much while standing in front of a cemetary.
Back on the bikes, we made it a couple of blocks before we fell off of them, rip roaring laughing. It was my brother’s turn to do all the talking. “That was so righteous and groovy man! Cool daddy-O! Leave it to my punk sister to throw a hissy fit knocking off the fuzz. Wait till I tell my dudes. You are NOT the candyass I thought you were!”
And there it was; the gift I was pining for all along. I’m not going to lie straight up and say we were bossom buddies from that day forward, but something did change. Robbie gifted me a new name. Badass. Nana, for once, maybe because the name is sort of a curse, told him not to call me that, but I decided it was so much better than baby.
As dusk envelopes everything,
I look through the glass window in my condo;
I see city lights slowly come to life
As they flicker beneath the starless night sky.
Five minutes passed I come to
The awareness of my own breathing.
Inspire... Expire... Inspire... Expire...
The rhythm goes on and I close my eyes.
Being alone, I reckon
Can be compared to breathing:
But always necessary.
Now as I inhale oxygen,
As I take in life,
I endure the fact that I am in solitary
In this wild, tumultuous of a metropolis.
So I opened my eyes,
Looked through the glass window in my condo;
I still see city lights but now they're completely alive
My breathing continues as I tuck myself good night.
Where We Drift
The beach is quiet now, just the low rumble of waves that curl rhythmically over the sand and retreat back into themselves. Adam is surprised by this. Dad always warns him about coming to the beach after dark, has always said that when no one was watching, that’s when the sea becomes truly alive. But as Adam steps off the short, wooden bridge and out onto the sand, he doesn’t understand what his father was talking about. He flinches a little at the coolness of the sand between the toes of his bare feet and wonders why he hadn’t thought to bring shoes. Adam is not usually the forgetful type.
He doesn’t have to walk long.
The boat that sits along the edge of the water is big enough for two, but Adam doesn’t have to worry about a second person. His pace quickens as he draws closer, until he can hear the steady plip plop of water against wood. This time he's ready for the shock of the cold water against his feet, and he barely flinches as it slides over his ankles as he nears the left side of the boat. It seems to be waiting for him, slatted edges glistening a little beneath the half-formed moon overhead. Adam swings one leg over and into the boat, using the other leg to push off from the sand and into the calm swell. There are two wooden paddles, one on either side of him, and Adam grips them both with sure hands and begins to row. He thinks of what Dad would say about his nightly exploits, if he knew. He thinks about what Mom would say about them, if she could. And then he decides not to think at all. He lets the small boat carry him out over the water, lets himself get lost in the steady rhythm of rowing to a destination somewhere in the middle of nowhere.
After a while, when his arms are beginning to shake, Adam stops rowing. He knows that if anyone were to venture onto the beach tonight, they wouldn’t even think to look for him out on the waves. Even the strong, sweeping beam from a lighthouse would barely catch the shadow of his outline, and even then, he would be nothing but a small dot of black against the endless dark blue; a speck small enough to be ignored.
It’s all he wants, sometimes. To be ignored. To be the anonymous glint off of a car’s windshield, the little bit of light you blink away from so you don’t miss the other cars on the road or the traffic signs that keep you from colliding with something.
But Mom died two years ago, and Dad still hasn’t stopped staring into that light. The light is Adam, and the collision is coming. It has to, and Adam has to be the one to pull his father’s attention back to the road long enough to feel the impact. Adam lets both oars drop into the boat and leans his head back against the rear seat.
“I got a letter in the mail,” he practices aloud, reaching the fingers of his left hand out to dip into the rippling water that surrounds him. He clears his throat and tries again. “Dad, I got a letter in the mail. A letter. A letter.” It sounds all wrong. Maybe there’s another way to say it.
“Dad, I sent in an application….”
“Dad, it’s only a few hours away…”
“Dad, I know you worry a lot and I know it might get lonely here without me, but we’re both going to be fine…”
And his father will look at him, will search for his dead wife, as he always does, in the matching irises of his son’s ocean-colored eyes, and he won’t understand. Adam knows he won’t, because Dad has been clinging to him for two years like a vine to a dying tree, can’t let go of him long enough to realize that all he’s doing is killing them both slow.
Mom used to say Dad had an embrace like an ocean wave; a warm swell pulling you close. Adam knows she was right, just like he knows that if he stays, that embrace will swallow him whole. He shivers a little in the pale moonlight, suddenly aware of just how late it is, just how far away from shore he’s drifted. He sits up, repositions the oars, and starts to row back the way he’d come. He leaves the boat where he found it, where it will be again when he needs it next, and walks the half mile back home. It’s still dark by the time he makes it there, and he is shivering a little in the open, sea-salt breeze. He leans a hand against the porch railing and brushes the sand from his feet before sliding the spare key from its hiding place and carefully opening the door. He need not have bothered being quiet.
The kitchen light is on, and Adam can hear the socked footsteps of his father moving lightly across the tiles. His dad is a large man, but he moves like he has a secret to keep. Adam knows the feeling, but he doesn’t try to tip-toe as he begins walking in the direction of the kitchen. There’s no point trying to sneak past, and Adam finds that he doesn’t really want to.
His Dad is standing at the counter in a t-shirt and boxers, a half-eaten orange in his hand with the juice sliding messily over his fingertips.
“Hey, Dad,” Adam says, hovering nervously in the kitchen’s entryway.
“Hey, Bud,” his father answers, taking a bite of the orange and swiping a hand across his mouth when some of the juice dribbles into his beard. Even though Adam is several feet away, his Dad peels off a slice of orange and holds it out to him. “Want some?”
Adam nods and walks the rest of the way into the kitchen, grabbing the slice from his father’s sticky hand and taking a bite. It’s almost too sour, but not quite. Adam freezes and stops chewing a moment later when he notices the piece of paper sitting on the counter beside the orange peel. His Dad follows his gaze to it and inclines his head a little bit. He finishes the last of the orange and wipes his fingers on the front of his boxers.
“Ah yeah,” his Dad nods. “That.”
“Dad…” Adam starts, not sure how he’s planning on finishing the rest of the sentence.
His Dad interrupts him before he can think on it too long.
“Cutting it a little close, don’t you think?”
Adam shakes his head, confused. “Wh…?”
“Deadline’s tomorrow,” his dad clarifies. “You planning on skipping out without telling me?”
Adam swallows hard. He still has half an orange slice in his hand, and he can feel the juice worming its way down along his wrist. He wishes he’d stayed out on the water just a little bit longer, aches to dip his fingers back into the ocean and wash all the stickiness away. “I was gonna tell you, Dad. I promise.”
His Dad nods, seems to accept this. The two men stand in the shallow light of the kitchen, silence holding them for a long, indeterminable moment. Finally, Adam’s father breaks it.
“When you…” he stops and clears his throat, seemingly unsure. Adam has never seen his father without a look of apt determination on his face. It throws him a little, and he waits timidly for the next words. His Dad rolls his eyes, frustrated. “I wish you wouldn’t go so far.”
“It’s only a couple of hours away…” Adam insists, the words feeling stilted and over-rehearsed.
“No, I mean…” his dad shakes his head, rubs his hand along his beard again. “That boat, it’s not built for the bigger waves. Can be hard to pull back into shore if you get her too far out. Especially that late at night.”
Adam blinks. “How did you…?”
“Oh, kid,” his Dad says, and it sounds like he wants to cry or maybe laugh. But instead he just repeats the words, and they sound like confession. Oh, kid.
He does laugh, then. A single, booming guffaw that echoes off the kitchen cabinets and putters out into the living room with the moss-green couch and Mom’s untouched antiques.
“Dad, what?” Adam says, dropping the rest of his orange slice onto the counter next to the white piece of paper with “Congratulations, Adam Reese Evans” printed across the top in bold, black letters.
His Dad looks at him, and for the first time in a long time, he’s not looking for anyone else behind Adam’s eyes; not searching for someone who’s never coming home. He’s just standing there in the kitchen in his boxer shorts, looking at his son, and he’s smiling the way he walks: with a secret pressed into the corners of his mouth.
“Kid,” he repeats, shaking his head and clicking his tongue. “Where the hell do you think that damn boat came from?”
s e c r e t s / o f / t h e / n i g h t
what happens in these
is known by none
but her & him.
the sun is setting.
she knows he’s coming to her.
he knows he’s going to her.
it’s nothing more than a necessity,
a means of survival.
he needs blood.
and hers is the sweetest one,
tasting of vanilla&magic&power.
her blood brings strength to his
as it rushes through his body.
what happens to her
is better left unsaid.
the sun is rising.
the screams are fading.
but no longer has strength
to form words.
and he is the cause.
time passes more quickly now,
and he rushes to
steal as much of that red liquid as possible.
feeling the light scorch of the sun,
he drains the very last bit of her and
in the coming hours she will regain her strength.
tonight they will meet once again.