Thursday, January 11, 2007

Go Means Go

They went out the door and never came back. They got in the car and drove away. I didn’t think they would or could but they did.
They didn’t look back until they both got in the car, but by then they were not looking back, but forward really. I could see them and they didn’t even glance at me, or wave. Dad just turned around to look down the driveway, putting his arm out across the back of mom’s seat but he didn’t even touch her. I didn’t see their lips move or their eyes comment. They just backed out of the driveway without pausing.
I kept thinking they would stop to look at me or the house or the lawn sprinkler, arcing slowly in the noon heat, but nothing. Mom never let the water run when she was gone, afraid something might go wrong. I thought at least she might ask me to turn the sprinklers off.
They bought the house twenty-six years ago just before I was born and then I was born, but they didn’t look at either of us.
Dad always noticed small things wrong with the house––small as maybe a nail head rusting in the shingles and my mom, she had a thing about my bras or maybe my lack of one as she was always staring at my boobs. Maybe that was it––she was tired or jealous of my boobs because in that last moment it occurred to me that she wasn’t looking at me––wasn’t looking to correct anything about me and I was very happy for just a second, but then I wanted her to stare at me even if the only emotion I could get was nothing.
But I was a stranger or not even there as though they were driving down a street that they’d been down a thousand times before and there was no need to stare at the brown shingled houses or the girl standing in the doorway, so they didn’t.
They drove off. And in my memory, I could see my dad, shifting through the gears and stopping at the stop sign where he always counted to three or had me do it when I was a little girl. He had a thing about stop signs, or maybe just words. They all meant something and sometimes more. He would always say, stop means stop and I would always say then, go means go. And this time I could see that he was saying it too because he did not stop.
I pictured him running all the stop signs and red lights in town, even though there was only one traffic light and he was buddies with the sheriff, so he could probably get away with it.
Maybe he warned the sheriff, who always responded with, ‘Yeah, uh-huh, sure,’ to anything you said. Maybe he warned him that when the day came, he wasn’t going to stop to think or wait for red lights. He wasn’t going to think about stop means stop but just go means go and he wasn’t going to let my mother think about anything like that either.
It’d just be go means go unless of course, the sheriff, his good buddy, was off work, out of town or dead or something, because it could be a long time before my dad would decide to do something, anything, but he was, so I just assumed they wouldn’t be stopping anywhere too soon and that stop sign was just the start.
I walked out onto the lawn, ticklish grass under my feet and the sprinkler casually arced across me, as though nothing were wrong, and I didn’t move. It was so hot anyway, so why. I just watched for any signs of them looking back, reconsidering me as a daughter or the house as maybe needing new shingles, but nothing––not a brake light in sight and the car just kept getting smaller and smaller as my disbelief grew larger, but didn’t really hurt or want to explode. I couldn’t even think to cry on the wet lawn.
Was that really my parents vanishing down that road? Did they both, after a quiet life of disagreeing, decide to agree and just go.
I couldn’t tell. They were farther than a whisper even farther than a scream, so I did neither, but just watched until they were less than nothing in the distance. I stood there, noticing the gathering of goose bumps on my sweaty, hot skin.
I saw everything for once and yet nothing at all because it all seemed to be happening but not happening. They were gone and I didn’t know it or feel it just then, but they were gone for good and I stepped onto the sun-baked concrete with my wet feet and I looked backwards while I went forward, staring at my wet foot-prints, each one fading as the next one appeared. I walked this way into the house that was theirs that they didn’t want anymore. I walked forward, looking back, saying, go means go.

Failure to Thrive

He was feeling old now and harassed by both his wife and his body. He hated that not only could he not pee straight or heavy anymore, but that his wife constantly badgered him to sit on the toilet, rather than stand and “pee all over her fucking floor, like a dog,” as she put it.
“Marla,” he called out in a not too demanding voice, standing with this thing called manhood dangling in his fingers.
She yelled from down the hall, as she waded through her walk-in closet that had little room left for walking anymore and would one day collapse and kill her.
Meantime she searched not for something that she needed, but just something that nagged, giving her a chance to talk, if only to herself. “Fuck, where is it?
She stepped back from the dark chasm; it’s one light bulb, long burnt out. “Fuck.”

Roger couldn’t pee. Instead he zipped up, flushed for effect and stared at the mirror. He turned on the vanity lights, his gaze wandering, looking for his reflection, but the mirror, over the years had become Marla’s shrine to optimism and dreams. Pasted with quotes of greeting card inspiration, New Yorker cartoons and cut-out pictures of women with beautiful hair.
Marla always wanted this movie star look but couldn’t stand the smell of hair care products and so her hair, although long with possibility, hung limp as drool to her waist.

“Marla,” he yelled.
“What?” she yelled back. Twenty-five years in this rented place and they’d spent most of their time trying to hear one another from room to room.
He stared a moment longer at the mirror, at the brittle papered promise of greatness, and then he closed the door, stepping into the dusty, dark, hallway.
He could hear her now. The same thing she’d always asked. “Did you pee?”
“Did you hear me flush?”
“Is my floor clean?”
“Thank you Roger.”
He stared at the front door, then grabbed his coat and dug through the change bowl, trying to be quiet.
“Use the pennies,” she yelled from somewhere. She could hear, smell, sense, anything to do with their money.
“I’m going out,” he said, not loudly, but only enough that she might hear something, so that he could at least defend himself without guilt when he got home.
She always asked where he’d been, but she didn’t really care; in fact she waited for the day when he’d come back and tell her he’d been having an affair or maybe he’d been drinking. Something, but he never did.
She trusted his ineptness at anything; she called it failure to thrive, a term of doctor-speak that she’d picked up at her job in the medical records department at the hospital.
Roger collected ten pennies and change from the bowl, and stuck his notebook and a pencil in his pocket in case any thoughts flowered in his mind. His day was filled with notes to self––post-it notes were his vice.
He opened the door and stepped out, unsure of his footing as though he were landing on the moon for the first time, then, as he pulled the door closed, he remembered.
“I love you, “ barely escaped his lips and hurried through the closing door, up the stairs and dissipated in the warm air of three portable heaters, going full blast.

“Roger, Roger?” She knew he was gone. “Fuck.”
She even knew that he said he was going and she knew that she didn’t hear him, that he said, ‘I love you,’ as he closed the door. She knew all of this but it didn’t matter. She was still pissed. It gave her something to do.
She closed the closet door, putting her shoulder to it to get the latch to catch. “Where the fuck could it be,” she said as shuffled down the hall in her dirty brown slippers.
She stopped at the bathroom, tilting her head just so to catch the light around the toilet, noticing to her satisfaction, a clean floor.
Roger glanced, furtively, behind him as he walked. Smudgy farts propelling him down the block towards the gas-n-go.
The bathroom door was cold and locked, so he went inside the station to face the mechanic who knew he didn’t have a car.
The mechanic’s name changed with his shirts. “Phil,” with his dirty fingers and yellow teeth looked at Roger.
“Large coffee.”
“Thanks.” Roger laid out the change––ninety-eight cents to the penny, putting the extras in the tray next to the register.
The air in the shop smelled of oil, rubber and dying cars, hoisted towards the heavens. Phil scraped the change off the counter, tossed it into the register, slammed the door shut and stepped outside.
There was just ninety-eight cents worth of coffee in the pot, which barely warmed his hand when he picked it up, but he poured it into the styro cup and took the same slow cautious sip he’d always taken, only to have the warm liquid pass almost unnoticed down his throat.
He turned and watched Phil outside, exhaling, his head a cloud of smoke as it seemed to come from every orifice.
He’d watched Phil smoke a cigarette so many times before and never had the urge, but almost sensing the frail man of fifty-two watching him, Phil turned around and looked through the window as Roger said, in that weak voice of his, “Got a smoke?”
Phil thought he heard what he heard, but he opened the door. “Do you need something else?” Roger had second thoughts but blurted it out, pointing at the pack of Marlboros he knew to be in Phil’s shirt pocket. “Could I get s smoke?”
Phil looked at Roger and then his eyes swept over behind the counter and he pointed to the packs of cigarettes on the rack. “ four-eighty-five, plus tax.”
Roger shrank into himself at this denial and then suddenly, with a big smile Phil pulled out the pack, “Just fuckin’ with you. Sorry man.” He held out the pack.
“Sorry man, but it’s a reaction, like instinctual or something, ‘cause so many stooges come up here and see me smoking and it’s like I gotta think, you’re a pimp, you’re driving a hot car and you got a stylin’ cell phone. Buy your own fucking smokes.”
Roger pulled a cigarette out of the pack and said, “But I don’t drive a car.” Phil looked at Roger, “Yeah, but you pimpin’ drinking my great coffee.” And with that, Phil pulled out his lighter, laughed, and extended its flame to Roger, who inhaled and coughed and the two of them laughed.
Roger took a chance asked “Phil,” what his name was and Phil looked down at the name knitted in his shirt and said, “Lihp, no Phil . . . Phil today, gone tomorrow. Gonna be Johnny tomorrow.” And Roger put out his small hand to Phil, “Roger,” he said.
“Alright, alright Roger, my real name is Theodore but there aren’t too many gas pumping black dudes named Theodore, so I get to be the white dude, Phil.”
“Can I call you Theo?”
“Sure, just as long as you don’t act like my mom.” Theo Smiled at the thought.
“Actually, if I was in trouble it’d be Theodore, hard on the T-H, hard on the dore and hard on me, like your mom calling out, Roger, get in here. Didn’t you know you was in a hurt when she called you by your whole damn proper every syllable pronounced name?”
“I still know that.”
Theo looked past Roger, through the glass, towards the bathroom. “You came here to use the bathroom didn’t you Roger, ‘cause it’s open now.” A short fat bald man with a newspaper waddled across the weedy parking lot to his car.
“Don’t worry, I got everybody’s number. Dude there had the cup just before you and a refill.”
“Roger turned towards the bathroom. “We like good coffee,”
“I’ll make a fresh one, on the house for you.”
All that talking had made him forget he had to pee but it came at him as soon as he saw and smelled the bathroom with its lovely trough urinal––no chance of a miss-hit.
His gritted his teeth and his knees almost buckled and fingers fumbled and then, angels floated above his head and the graffiti on the wall came into focus and the stench increased and everything was good and elevated, but relaxed and he thought of Marla, back home doing something to keep going in the circles she liked to go in and then he thought he’d like to have another smoke, maybe even buy a pack.

He felt tall again, in spite of being only five four and thin as a straw. He stared at his reflection in the empty towel dispenser, then stepped outside and walked into the gas station office.
“Alright, the man Roger is looking good, feeling good, needs a coffee and a cigarette.”
“Can I buy a pack of Marlboros?”
Theodore smiled. “Is that a question, or . . .”
“Okay, give me a pack of Marlboro, please.”

Theo slapped the pack of smokes on the counter as Roger pulled out and opened his wallet, but instead of taking a bill out of the fold, as Theo noticed a lack of green in there, Roger emptied one of the card slots and searched out a finely folded ten dollar bill.
“That’s some origami you got there, Roger.”
He placed the multi-folded bill on the counter, “Thank you Theo.”

Roger nervously picked up the first pack of smokes he’d ever bought as Theo rang through the register.
“Tax man says it’s an even five dollars leaving and coming back at you.” He placed the bill on the counter and slid it towards Roger, who wrestled the cellophane off the package then looked at him. “Cigarette?”
Theo came around the counter and pointed to the two cups of hot brewed coffee.
“Been working hard, so yeah, I think I need another break.”


Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Dead Life

One day while doing nothing more important than walking nowhere, he crumpled to the sidewalk and died. He didn’t notice.
No one else did either as he turned to see a stranger slumped sadly on the sidewalk.
He’d seen many of these unknown husks–––but they concerned him no more than the leaves that blew around his feet, always silent, gathering, then moving on and sometimes, strangely beckoning him to catch them in their tornado of energy and spirit of which he could not conceive and so did not enjoy.
Nothing gave him pleasure or made him question the origin of his next breath. No one spoke to him, or he to anyone else. Why? He didn’t even ask this question.
And so it was that he kept going, wandering the same blocks of life-less houses, past people who did not see him and sounds he could not hear until one day his spirit tripped over itself and he found his foot lodged inside this husk of a man, cigarette dangling from his swollen lips, arms spread out as if welcoming him home.
The spirit got down on his knees, strangely comfortable in this skin. He smelled, like piss, cigarettes and dirt, tasted blood on his chapped lips. He could hear the passing of footsteps and cars. The sun touched his face and he felt the warm urge growing in him and then let go.


Monday, January 08, 2007

Billy's fists

Billy’s fists were rockets, ready to launch from his pockets. But there they stayed, aware that they were only trouble. They were a document to his anger, scuffed and bruised at the knuckles from too many times spent punching walls, cars, people and mostly her, Gina.
But Gina didn’t care so much as the bruises he left on her skin reminded her that she was someone. They seemed to her to take away her invisibility in this world and she liked to show them off as though they were medals won in various campaigns.
She enjoyed the looks she got and passed off the comments of sympathy as merely envy that she could endure so much. Life was tough and she could take it.
Billy Didn’t like what he had become but for him, there was no stopping his anger.
She was wearing a tank top and shuffling around in her drunk mama’s kitchen like she had nowhere to be, but Billy had an eye to take her away from the house for a while and give her some attention out back at parker’s quarry. She knew it, really and considered her shuffling and meandering across the dirty kitchen to be a primary source of foreplay, seeing as how Billy really wasn’t too much for anything close to what she might have imagined foreplay to be.
Billy considered getting his hand in her pants foreplay enough, and so here he was angry at the world and mostly angry with the shuffle noise that her dirty pink slippers made and he wanted to be there in that moment soon enough, rather than standing in the kitchen of some mean old bitch of a mom, even though he’d already had her one really drunk night. He was Gina’s now, or more importantly and without never a second thought, she was his and he wanted some star light and love back up behind Parker’s Quarry.