Archive for February, 2011



by mdjb

Was I too nervous to eat?
Near the fountain,dark-haired twin boys of eleven, Nigel and Trevor, stood and silently observed me in my confusion. On one side of the bench lay an open lunch pail, and to my left a ream of paper documenting in a haphazard way moments we had survived.
Was there a song that played consistently or could we just perceive the tinkling of wind chimes and likened it to voices from our past? A haunting melody? The boys tapped sticks on the fountain railing, but they weren’t keeping time.
Inside the gift shop, Muriel had gently run fingers over the smallest items. She pondered probability, but came up short on likelihood. The task of tallying had not fallen to her.
Intense as the hunger was, it morphed quickly into a rationale with which I could live, and I wondered if life would be better in America. It was a dream of progress. It was an excuse.
Instead of leaving the village as she had sworn to do, she would make it her home. Some dreams are the stubs of candles too short to burn at both ends.
I will add a touch of color to avoid the notion that anything silhouetted in black and white must be compared to a penguin. There are no penguins in these parts save those which live behind bars, and we waddle freer than they.
It will soon be time to don my yellow shirt and travel to North Carolina. Muriel wants to know if I will write to her or of her, and I nod, but am certain my prepositions will remain scattered along the cobbled lane.


59 Years Minus Two Days

by mdjb

Life wasn’t always like this. I used to have loads of friends who understood me when I was being playful. They have all moved away, or died, which is a form of moving away, I guess.
I sit alone in the corner booth of one of the newer restaurants in town. In front of me a plate of scrambled eggs more like rubber than anything edible, and this place doesn’t offer a decent salsa verde. What’s left of my teeth cannot handle a steak, even a tender one, these days. One more year, and I’ll be sixty, and probably toothless by then, or dead myself—up the proverbial creek without a paddle.
In the evening, I head on over to Es-Tres for a michelada, extra picante. All things being equal, it’s probably my only remaining vice. A spicy beer, some ancient rock music, and a memory of another place and time, and then it’s off to the house I share with a stranger. She calls me güero, and means it.
I thought I’d make a life here, and some would say I have. There are plenty who remember, but when it mattered, they were teenagers with concerns of their own. One of them, an attractive young woman, handed me my prescription at the clinic yesterday, and I could swear she did so with a twinge of pity in her eyes, almost sorry to have recognized me as her old English teacher.
Forty-four years ago over 6,000 sheep died at Skull Valley. Nerve gas, they said. My hands still tremble, but I remember my grammar. All kinds of clauses my specialty. No, life, which once had purpose beyond the day, wasn’t always like this, but I find it difficult to recall it being any other way.
Kids were different then. Oh, the substances I used to ingest! Fifteen and untamed, I babbled for hours after the sight of all those sheep corpses. Truly must have been the longest and worst trip I experienced, but I don’t remember the circumstances clearly, only the aftermath.
That señorita at the clinic has no idea! Xiomara! That’s her name! Couldn’t remember for the life of me. The rubbery eggs brought it back.
April’s page hanging behind the counter with eleven red circles looks as if it were building to something awful, but it’s too early in the year. If all goes according to rumor, come December there are going to be a lot more than 6,000 sheep lying around. When that old Mayan calendar goes pffft, we’re all going to be in the same little red boat, marking our time from the new Day One.


Where Do I Go from Here?

by mdjb

Where do I go from here? There are a bunch of people waiting for me at the church, not least of all, Danny, who doesn’t deserve to be dumped, but likewise wouldn’t understand given a hundred years to do so. He’s such a townie, as am I. “Janine,” he’d say, “We’re gonna be important people in Oblivion.” If he could only feel the irony in such a statement…Perhaps, if he had been there with me this morning, instead of abiding by that old rule of not seeing the bride before the wedding…If when my mother was fixing my hair, and she and Dad started arguing, and he cut his finger with the knife he was using to cut open an orange, so much blood! And, still, Mom wanted to make her point, and left him bleeding in the kitchen while she hunted around for something old, something borrowed…If Danny had been there to talk to me while I tried to bandage Dad’s finger…Perhaps, things might be different now. I might not have looked into my future.
Just outside of town, the VW stands behind me with its motor still audible as I walk down the road looking into my past. I see feeble Thomas standing in the brush, and pray he doesn’t come up to me to ask me what is wrong. He would try to understand, I know, but he cannot help me now. And when we were children, I thought of him as my best friend. He didn’t seem so simple then.
If I could climb into a time-travel machine and pick a date to revisit, it would surely be that day at the beach when Thomas and I were pondering big thoughts. I would return to the moments before he went under and swallowed so much water and had to be rescued by Danny’s brother Gavin, the lifeguard with the American flag tattooed on his arm. Nobody ever asked why he didn’t serve his country while wearing its emblem so proudly. That was my introduction to his family—his saving my best friend, who when he was better, was never really the same. Yes, if I could travel back, I would go back to that day, and prevent Thomas from walking into the water when he did not know how to swim. And perhaps he would be more in a position to help me now, but then again, he might not need to.
My father’s finger bled so profusely this morning. Thank god, Mom didn’t see the drop that fell near the hem of my dress! I thought Dad would bleed an ocean, and felt so bad that Mom appeared unconcerned. I felt worse that Dad was not upset over the way she ignored what should have been his distress, but then it seemed he was leaving that to me. Here’s an ocean for you, he seemed to be saying, I trust you know how to swim. I do, but what good did it ever do me?
I turn to see Thomas has flown with wings big enough to carry both of us, and wonder when will I learn Trust?