Posts tagged ‘lit-fire’

2012/07/10

Days Before an Incident

by mdjb

She was sweet-faced, silver-haired, imperturbable, as plump fingers turned the pages of her novel every afternoon on the bus going downtown. The roughnecks would laugh a little too loud and their girlfriends would howl at most of what they said as if they were dating the world’s top comedians. Occasionally, they disturbed other passengers, but the old doll never seemed to notice.
Leonard silently fumed. He had never been like that as a youth. Sure, he had done some offcolor things, but never in an ostentatious way. He wondered why the bus driver didn’t stop the bus and throw them off when they got like that. They were daily passengers – too old for school, likely not yet working, piking off parents – and frequently boarded through the back door of the crowded bus, fare-beaters acting haughty because it was easy.
One morning, he was sitting beside the woman. He glanced down at her book, and took in the words, “…and then you stole into her room and took advantage of the situation, didn’t you, Mr. Dodd?” Agatha Christie or somesuch. She looked the type.
“Do they bother you?” she asked.
“Excuse me.”
“I only ask because you look as if you’re ready to boil.”
“They’re punks. For two cents, I’d…”
“They’re just kids. We were kids. Could anybody tell you anything when you were that age?”
“I never provoked people just for the sake of trying to amuse my friends.”
“I see.” She returned to reading, not speaking until the bus reached her stop. Then, she excused herself to pass Leonard, and as she did, said, “My name is Martha. I guess I’ll see you tomorrow.”
She got off and walked westward, but not far, when one of the roughnecks stuck his head out the window and called out, “See you tomorrow, Martha.”
Leonard glared at him. The kid said, “Oh sorry, man, don’t wanna step on your toes. She’s a little old for me anyway.”
Leonard said, “Don’t you respect your elders?”
The kid pointed to his tee-shirt which read QUESTION AUTHORITY.
“Smart ass,” Leonard said.
The kid laughed. His friends laughed. Their girlfriends laughed.
Leonard had never enjoyed being the butt of a joke. In days gone by that kind of thing would have been enough for him to take action. He promised himself if he ever came up against this punk while he was alone, he’d make him sorry for laughing.
Leonard got off on 34th Street, and the kid wolf-whistled through the window at him. He did not turn around as the bus continued toward the Village.
His annoyance fazed him less in the open air. He should be thankful to the kids for one thing. His response to their activity had caused the old doll to break the ice. She must have been a stunner at one time, not so long ago. He recalled his being quite the ladies man, never finding difficulty making small talk. How she unsettled him. He watched her reading every day without ever screwing up courage to start a conversation. He was losing his touch, no doubt, and at only fifty-nine.
He figured she might have a couple of years on him, but kept herself in good shape – stylish hair silver-white in a way that doesn’t occur naturally. And she just let bothersome noise flow past – he envied her calm, lacking in his own character.
Next morning, she was in a window seat, but someone was already next to her. He tipped his hat when she looked up. She smiled.
A few of the kids got on two stops later, but not the wiseguy. He and his girlfriend came onboard three stops further down.
It was not intentional, but Leonard’s foot, a little too far out in the aisle, caused the gangly youth to stumble. His friends laughed as he almost fell. Righting himself, he looked a little foolish. When he screwed up his mouth in annoyance, they stopped laughing immediately.
Leonard said, “Jesus, I’m sorry.”
Intentional, or not, Leonard had triggered a situation. They were enemies. Rather than attempting to move toward the back, the tough stood over him and crooked his leg slightly, pressing his knee into Leonard’s thigh. He couldn’t move because the man in the window seat was huge.
When his thigh started to throb, Leonard said, “Do you mind?”
“Jesus, I’m sorry,” said the kid, imitating him, “But if you weren’t sitting next to Fatso, it wouldn’t be a problem.”
“Hey,” said the other man.
“Watch it, kid,” Leonard said, “You’re going too far.”
“I’m going to the Village. Where are you going?” the kid said. “A nursing home?”
“The hell you say. I’m old enough to be your father.”
“Exactly my point. We put the old man in a home when he started acting feeble.”
“Feeble? Why you punk,” Leonard said. He raised himself with difficulty and backhanded the kid across his jaw, forgetting he wore a signet ring, and regretted his action immediately. The kid’s face was knocked sideways. He lost his grip on the overhead bar and fell onto people behind him. Through the gap, Leonard saw Martha. She was not smiling. Before the kid was on his feet again, a bruise was already evident.
The driver called out, “What the hell is going on back there?”
“You’re dead,” the kid said to Leonard. “You’re dead, old man.”
The driver stopped the vehicle and wended through the passengers to assess the ruckus. Tall and broad, he said, “Son, I think you should switch buses,” and doled out transfers.
He didn’t argue, but as he exited, said with a smirk, “You should’ve warned your boyfriend not to mess with us, Martha.”
That was too much and Leonard started towards the exit also, but felt a tugging on his jacket. Martha was shaking her head. He looked at the kids getting off and looked back at her. Other passengers were staring at him. Several options crossed his mind.

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2012/05/10

The Ends Justify the Means

by mdjb

She had sat in the tub writing in a journal alternating with visits to the basin to cough up no more than a phlegmy sputum. She wondered how he could converse with a neighbor while she showed evidence of deteriorating health. Did she not rate as an entity? Was her till empty? Those rare times when he would shave lately, she would find hairs in the sink, and it was frustrating to think he had lost all interest in trying to work things out between them.
*          *          *
Their network was shattered and it was a shame. Though if you asked either to explain what shamed them the most they would be hard pressed to come up with an answer.They met for coffee and discussed how best to confine the bleeding. At that point it was still low, but it could not be stemmed. They had a draft ready to be executed. He might enjoy the promised calm quietude, and she would prefer to continue listening to the bird song mimicking contentment, but a correction was in order and they would have to agree on some points.
*          *          *
The length of his resistance would further enable his impatience. Like a disembodied claw or shed snakeskin his loyalty returned to the wild. There was one hour when they seemed copacetic, but as the music and mayhem of the rioting outside increased in volume, he knew he was a descendent of cavemen, and she? Was she any more civilized, with her talk of torts and measures and sixty-forty splits?
*          *          *
He felt her hesitation when they closed the cottage for the winter. He had always known her type, even in their dating days, all proper and accustomed to nesting behavior. Whence came this false energy, this need to be in motion? She had been no lover of controversy, and now she was ready to screw him into the ground. He could only imagine it came from the others, her so-called friends, those unhappy souls so willing to share their misery.
*          *          *
Andrea sat to one side, listening, like an iPod person self-possessed. Perhaps it was her pride, but she would attempt to carry the burden of their relationship while Ben tried to enforce his rights with Marian. She could only guess at how he might astonish both with the force in which he drove the spade into the ground of what had been lost. If he wanted to express his conviction, he could do no better than act as a one man burial squad, but as the minutes dragged on, and her third coffee grew cold, she wondered if he had asked her to accompany him to this, whatever this meeting was. For moral support or to hint to her that he would not be placed in this position again at some future time when they themselves might grow weary of each other? Whichever his purpose, she was impressed for the nonce, but maintained a non-interested expression, turned up her player drowning the noise outside and in.
*          *          *
Marian asked herself how Ben had had the temerity to bring this chicken along to their ostensibly private session, and had in the back of her mind that she must do some housecleaning when they had finished with the business at hand, for she would keep the house. That much she knew. The bimbo would have to work out a fresh agenda. She wondered why she couldn’t just let it go. All that hair in the sink, the stark reminder of his recently imperceptible presence. Every transgression and oversight noted in her journal should keep her from becoming trapped another time, but there again, she doubted she would foster a resolve. Everything that went into the beginning parts came back to bite one’s ass at the finale, but weren’t the bite marks an indication of strength earned? She noted the weakening of his stance as he blotted yet another minor point. No need for lawyers yet. Entropy was at work.

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2012/04/10

My Armadillo

by mdjb

I went to the market to buy me a pig. Jiggety-jig. Jiggety-jig.
But when I got there, the cupboard was bare. Diggedy-dare. Diggedy-dare.
The man at the counter said, “Boy, what’s your pleasure?”
“An oinker,” I said, with a smile for good measure.
“Ain’t no porkers in sight,” he replied with a cough,
“How ’bout an armadillo? The price is half off.
It’s truly a bargain. You’ll be doin’ just fine.”
I couldn’t resist–bad habit of mine.
Tell me I’m saving, I’ll buy things I don’t need.
You know where the sales are? I’ll follow; you lead,
But give me a moment before we go shopping,
I have to feed and walk Army. He sure keeps me hopping.
I’m not sleeping well lately–he’s cranky and creaks,
And I ain’t had no bacon in five or six weeks.

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2012/03/10

“Emptiness Filled with Insistence”

by mdjb

This afternoon, I was reading a biography of Gertrude Stein, and when I came to a section that told about her brother Leo, the critic and art collector, my mind started to wander and I recalled my odd relationship with Sally Leonard.
Five years ago I was intimidated by Sally. Well, I respected her superior intellect. She was almost ready to retire then. I think she told me she was fifty-eight, a psychiatrist, and a member of the American Philatelic Society and at that time I think her stamp collection numbered in the 60,000s.
The way I met her was by talking to the doorman and mentioning having just renewed my interest in stamp collecting, something I had done as a kid. He told me someone in the building was also a collector and he would give her my apartment number if I wanted. I told him go ahead, why not, I wanted to meet other people who were into it. That evening, she rang my bell. I invited her in and we talked for an hour or so.
She sat on my dining room floor explaining things to me like how I could always tell stamps that belonged to republics of the Soviet Union because they had letters on them in the Cyrillic alphabet that looked like CCCP and NOYTA and how stamps from Taiwan differed from those from mainland China because those from the Peoples Republic had an ideogram resembling a wishbone, the symbol for man, pronounced ren, but I only had to concern myself with that on the earlier issues because the later stamps now said China in the English alphabet and the sets were numbered. She was a free spirit and her hair was unkempt and she reminded of nothing so much as a wilted flower child, but she sounded very intelligent.
She told me I should join the APS and I would get circuits on approval. It was a good way to fill up my collection cheaply and it was a very secure procedure.

The difference in our ages precluded us becoming very friendly but every once in a while I would see her in the lobby on my way out to work or coming home, and I remember when she told me she had officially retired. She was looking forward to more time at home and not having to see patients. They all had so many problems. She said at times she felt like she might bug out.

About a year ago I had a problem with the APS. Someone from the Society called me and told me the next person on the Peoples’ Republic of China circuit did not receive the booklets I had looked at and sent on. He was a Chinese with a post office box for an address and I had my suspicions. The stamps were valuable. I called Sally and asked her advice, because whenever I received a circuit from PRC she was always the prior recipient and this particular time I had foolishly forgotten to save the priority mail insurance receipt.
She told me in her soft-spoken solicitous way, “It’s a test. To teach you to follow the instructions. Why don’t you call the APS and tell them the number and maybe they can track it down without the actual receipt?”
“And if they can’t?” I asked.
“Well,” she said, “It couldn’t cost you more than a hundred dollars. That’s all it was insured for.”
I felt like one of her patients. It was not what I wanted to hear.
I was able to clear my responsibility with the APS with a phone call, but after that I asked them not to send me anymore stamps from China. My collection was pretty full and I didn’t want to be responsible for something that expensive again.
As I say, that was a year ago.

I closed the Stein book and went downstairs to buy some lunch in the new Garden of Eden gourmet food shop that recently opened in our building’s ground floor. It is filled with the delicious aromas of all kinds of exotic foods, fruits and baked items, meats and poultry, cooked and ready to go. I bought some three potato salad and some roast beef and when I entered the lobby I ran into Sally Leonard. I was a little taken back by how she looked. Her teeth were all discolored and her hair was still unkempt but now it was completely gray. It looked dirty and she had put on quite a bit of weight. She was wearing an ill-fitting down jacket with food stains on it.
“You cost me five dollars,” she said, and it sounded like an accusation.
“How’s that?” I asked. I really didn’t want to stand there and talk. I wanted to come upstairs and have my roast beef.
She went on to explain since I wasn’t on the Chinese circuit anymore, she had to walk all the way over to Fourth Avenue to the Post Office to insure her package and send it on to the next person on the list instead of leaving it with the doorman for me.
I asked her how many stamps she had now and she told me she had stopped counting when she went over 100,000.
“How do you catalog them all?” I asked.
“Well, I haven’t gotten around to doing that,” she said. “They’re all in shoeboxes. Some of my friends who are dealers tell me I should, especially if I want to sell them, and I may have to soon. I’m running out of money. I guess I was just bored and looking for something to do when I started collecting them, but it’s like an addiction, you know?”
All I came up with was, “Oh?”
“Yes,” she said, “I just paid October’s rent.”
That really surprised me. It was not the kind of thing I expected from her.

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2012/02/20

Almost a Man

by mdjb

A secret is a funny thing. Uncle Jack and Marti and I arrived with the children at the Bensons’ apartment at about three. It was going to be a surprise party for my little brother Raymond.
Uncle Jack always remembered birthdays just like Mom and Dad used to. On the way up the stairs, I remarked, “I wish someone would do this for me.”
Uncle Jack said, “You’re almost a man, Philip.” I was fourteen. “This one’s only four,” he added, trying, I guess, not to spoil the surprise for Raymond, who on hearing the word four seemed to know he was being talked about.
Nobody answered the door.
We walked in and the place seemed deserted. It was so quiet.
We soon found everyone sitting around the dining room table or lying on the floor. At first I thought they were all sleeping, which seemed a strange thing to do at a party. The children with colorful hats on sat slumped forward onto the table. I checked their pulses as I had been trained to do in my Phys. Ed. class. They were all right, just unconscious. The two women, Mrs. Benson and her grown daughter Marion also seemed to be comatose. Then I saw a pair of legs. Ernest Benson had no pulse. He lay in the corner against a smaller table, halfway behind the chair in which he usually sat. His eyes were wide open, but he wasn’t breathing.
Alison had tears welling, and Marti, with her hand over her mouth, backed out of the room; then ushered Raymond and Alison toward one of the back bedrooms, as there came a knock on the door. Uncle Jack went to see who was knocking and I picked up the telephone to call the police.
Uncle Jack opened the door, but there did not appear to be anyone on the other side. Suddenly, he clutched at his chest and fell to the floor. As the door slammed shut, I could see no one in the hall.
I didn’t know where Marti had gone with the children and I could not move. I tried to call out Uncle Jack’s name, but my throat was dry and produced no sound.
I stood rooted to the spot with the telephone receiver in my hand. Not sure what to do next, I stood there a long time.
Somewhere very far away I heard a voice saying, “There appears to be a receiver off the hook. Please hang up the telephone, then lift the receiver and dial your number…There appears to be a receiver off the hook…

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2012/02/10

The Sequel

by mdjb

Russell Crowe, walking on deck, meets a woman dressed in the flouncy skirts of Colonial times. He too is dressed in a costume of the past, the outfit he wore in Master and Commander which took place during the Napoleonic Wars and had nothing to do with Colonial America. It suddenly dawns on him he must be in a sequel to that film, or Hollywood’s version of a sequel, which doesn’t always adhere to the conceits of the original story.
A consummate actor up to any challenge, he steps into character and asks the woman, whom he does not recognize, but nonetheless admires for her lack of artifice, if he may help her in any way. She responds in the negative, thanks him for the uneventful crossing, and says she did not experience the mal de mer customary on long voyages. Russell tips his tricorner, says, “At your service, ma’am,” and walks aft. A moment later he recalls there were no women on board in the first film, but figures it will make a nice piece of acting if he turns to quietly survey this attractive female. However, when he pivots, she is nowhere to be seen. There is only the empty deck.
Perhaps she was a mirage, the scriptwriter’s way of letting the audience know although the ship is filled with solitary males, at least the captain still has manly desires. If that’s what it was, Russell applauds the unobtrusive effect.
His reverie is disturbed by the voice of a deckhand coming from one of the portals. It is Chris Rock who says without humor, “Captain, New York is in sight. Shall we prepare to dock and go ashore?”
“Eh?” he responds, thinking that like several comedians before him, Rock must have taken a serious role like this to get his shot at a supporting Oscar. “Why certainly.”
Chris makes a gesture at tipping his hat while saying, “Yes sir,” but bareheaded, his action only parallels Russell’s of a few minutes earlier.
Nice comic touch, he thinks. Everything cyclical but subtle.
Soon all the men are on deck but the focus is on Russell behind the man steering. Through his eyes we see the low skyline of Olde New York coming into view. Though impressively reconstructed, he’s thinking, this is not how the story goes. He cannot remember how the script develops, and doesn’t recall this scene from the O’Brian books, but not wanting to appear difficult or incompetent, he remains in character and displays a look he hopes expresses longing, or better – knowing anticipation.
Blunt cut to the men disembarking. Many are meandering off to discover the place, but a carriage is waiting for Russell and his firstmate, who has no lines. Maturin is not around, must have gone to research the flora and fauna. Chris Rock puts the captain’s things on top of the carriage along with a little bundle which is his own then climbs up to sit next to the driver. He glances back to see the leather bags and his little red kerchief-tied bundle. These things make their own statement through juxtaposition.
Our attention is soon diverted by the authenticity of the town, appearing more real than Scorcese’s Gangs of New York but oddly, though not disconcertingly, anachronistic for the time period we thought we were in. This is New York of perhaps 1870. Playing fast and loose with history, the designers have gone through great pains to make everything look authentic albeit for another story.
The carriage approaches a square. Chris notices a statue he assumes to be a pilgrim and remembers in the present day a statue of George Washington stands there. “Oh my, will you look at that,” he says aloud. However, as the carriage rounds the statue it disappears so only the plinth remains visible, as if the carriage’s movement has brought everyone a little further back in time before there was a monument to either.
The streets of the town are festooned for a coming or recent celebration. There are garlands of flowers strung from building to building. But people in top hats and tails are going about their work as if festivity were the furthest thing from their minds. In a window of one of the wooden buildings we see the face of the woman Russell had met on the ship. She looks sad. The hint of a smile as she eyes the passing carriage tells us she is hoping for release from a desperate situation. These men from elsewhere may be her salvation.
Inside the carriage we see Russell, the face of stoicism. He’s hoping someone will arrive to cue him on his next lines. It is strange indeed no one has called, “Cut,” in a long time, but grown weary of being known as difficult he will not be the one to break the mood.
Cut to the interior of an old building. Chris and a friend, whom we hadn’t seen before, are waiting outside an office where the captain has gone to speak to someone. On the door is a placard with the name B. Luhrman.
Chris says to his friend, “I think this other door leads to the roof. I’m going to see how the place looks from above.”
The other man says, “Better be careful not to change anything. You know how altering the past can affect the future.”
Chris looks at him as if to ask, “What are you talking about?” then shrugs and proceeds through the door.
Alone in the hallway, the man fidgets and paces. Now is when the viewer begins to question the sanity of everyone involved in this piece. We, like him, feel on the outside of knowing. If things are to proceed any further, an explanation has to come from someone, before the fourth wall fully materializes
At that moment, Russell comes out of the office. “Where is he?” he asks.
“Sir,” the man sputters, “Captain, sir, he went through that door to have a look from the roof.”
“Oh my god! He shouldn’t have..”
“I told him, sir, to be careful. I told him he could affect history. I said…”
“Stop gibbering, man. That’s not the problem,” Russell says, “We haven’t gone back in time.”
“Sir?”
“It’s just been made clear to me we’re in a sequel occurring in an alternate universe. I don’t think there’s any way out.”
Suddenly, Luhrman announces from behind his door, “That’s right captain and remember my advice regarding sunscreen,” followed by the voice of a castrato singing something unfathomable offstage.

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2012/01/20

Neurosis

by mdjb

So, I’m sitting in a chair at the end table at Angie’s party because I smoke and most of the others do not and I ask my friend Bill to change seats with me so I can sit next to Elly and speak with her about what is bothering her. Earlier in the day, between classes, she had told me she was troubled, very troubled, about something, and I suggested we could discuss it at Angie’s.
When we engage, the first thing I have to mention is how beautiful she looks with her longer hair, but that I can see by the way she keeps pulling and twisting it, it is obvious she plans to have it cut short again. She nods and thanks me for the compliment before we get into her problem. It seems one of the students who do social service for their scholarship, and with whom she has previously worked has been unilaterally assigned by my young assistant to work with Inez, a teacher with whom Elly used to feel much closer, but has lately grown away from. The reasons for their separation are various, but chief among them is that since Elly stepped down from the post I was promoted into, she sees intrigue everywhere, and she is not totally off in this because I can feel it, too. The group of English teachers who formed a close faction, Mexicans who learned the language and native speakers from the United States alike, in earlier days, are now aligning themselves with whomever they sense can do the most to help them preserve their jobs. This means several who used to consider themselves close friends are now wary of each other, and watch what they say in most situations. I, myself, inherited twenty-five year-old Alberto, fresh out of university, in a position that did not exist before, and am always aware of his eagerness to get ahead at any cost. Most of the other teachers have found him difficult to like, and it was in an attempt to exert authority that he wholeheartedly took on the job of assigning students as helpers.
I had had a moment with him over this when he told me of the two students he had placed with me, and I reassigned them, choosing my own favorites, most likely out of sheer cussedness and not liking an underling to be telling me how my job would go.
Anyway, Elly and I clear up the student issue. She tells me she no longer wants the girl to work with her, and I am guessing for the same reasons I had in changing my “two assigned helpers.”
“I don’t like Alberto,” she says, “He takes too much for granted.”
“Well, you know,” I say, “I never wanted this job. I wanted you to stay on as coordinator,” and she is already shaking her head, indicating that that would have been impossible, “And I find it hard to get along with him also. Try sitting in the same office with someone like that for several hours a day.”
“I understand there is a lot to do,” she says, “You know that’s why I stepped down, but this kid is too much. You need to tell him where to get off.”
I don’t say to her that I don’t appreciate her issuing directives. I am concentrating on how her long dark hair falls on her shoulders.
“Ramon,” that’s our Director, “told me you never let him do anything,” she says.
While I am trying to figure out why she is giving me two opposing points of view, she goes on to explain, “I’m just saying you also need to watch who you trust. I know you get along with Ramon, but the kid is also sucking up to him, and you may be asked to allow Alberto a freer hand in spite of his pushiness. Did you know a group of them,” and she emphasizes the word clearly indicating they are in the enemy camp, “went out together, and had such a great time, that Ramon’s wife had to talk about it on FaceBook?”
Then before she has time to go into more detail, or I can ask another question, Angie comes by and draws her away to introduce her to a friend visiting from Austria.

Now, all sorts of things are going through my mind. I have to realize that Elly is suffering sour grapes over the bad move, which she initiated, but which did not turn out to her advantage when her Master’s scholarship was discontinued, but I think, too, there must be some truth in what she has told me.
I recall the triangular meeting among Ramon, Alberto, and myself when the big boss expressed dissatisfaction over the way the two of us were not getting along, and at that time he told Alberto that I was the superior in charge and that due to my many years of experience in teaching at the school, he must follow my lead. He was not to sign letters as the representative of the department; he was not to make decisions on his own about how things should be handled, and so forth. I believed then that my authority was without question, and had since been giving him more and more chores to handle in an effort to make it clear that so long as he played the game correctly, he could be trusted.
This belief, too, is now in question.

Later, snagging a ride home with Bill, I complain about the situation and tell him I am thinking of handing in notice.
“Stop acting like a diva,” he says to me, “Knowing what’s going on gives you an advantage. Don’t act stupid.”
“But, I don’t know,” I say, “Someone is lying to me, and I don’t know who. I didn’t leave the rat race in New York to come down here and spend seven years playing at teaching only to find I’m in the same game.”
“Who do you think is lying?” he asks.
“If Ramon is placating me by telling Alberto to stay in line, and then hanging out with the kid, where all sorts of deals can occur, he’s lying to me. If Alberto is ostensibly watching his step, and then taking things too far when given the odd task, he’s being false, and quietly continuing to attempt a backstabbing, and…”
“And? something worse?”
“And if none of this is happening this way, then my old friend Elly, who by the way is looking very good these days, is lying about what she claims to have been told. I don’t even want to think I can’t trust her.”

“Have you checked FaceBook?” Bill asks, and I can almost swear there is a smile forming on his lips.
“Yes. I signed in on my Blackberry. That’s another thing. How come I saw your name on one of the response comments?”
“I ran into that group of jimopes at Zapata’s. I just said hello and kept going, but I’m not burning any bridges the way you seem to be planning to do. This guy’s a kid for chrissake. He’ll get in too deep, and hang himself one of these days.”
“Yeah, but I’m getting too old for this shit. I don’t want to wait out the time it’ll take for that to happen. If it ever does.  And just knowing there’s all this intrigue going on makes me want to crawl in a hole and die.”
“Pfft. Pussy,” he says. “By the way, Elly—she’s no great shakes, for all her good looks. Crazy as a hatter, and a bit neurotic. You’re not missing anything there.”
“You mean, you two…?”
And then I do see a full smile when he says, “Give me one of your cigarettes, will you? I’ve been good all night, and I’m dying for a smoke.”

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2012/01/10

The Din

by mdjb

The television volume was on high, at least 25.
“But, Evelyn, you sleep all the time!”
“Only to avoid the draft from the swinging door.”
“Sweetie,…”
“Don’t touch me. There’s no quickie sex here. No on-again-off-again, got-fifteen-minutes-between-meetings, try-to-keep-her-quiet sex here. Get it from someone else, but, you get it—I go, and the gravy train ends.”
The gigolo undone.
Almost the story of my life, Theresa thought.
“Bull shit. Bull shit,” kept ringing in her ears. Her own words from two hours earlier.
From across the courtyard, the discordant sound of one of the Mexican pop songs being rehearsed by the as yet unprofessional neighbor’s band came to layer itself over Evelyn’s retribution on the television.
Theresa sat watching a tiny bodied, long-legged spider weaving its web in the corner where the windowed wall met the bare one. What a waste of time, she thought, as she could also see the little gecko who would soon make dinner of the spider, only a short distance away. “Bull shit. Bull shit,” still reverberating.
Through the window, with its makeshift curtain tied back, which was on an angle to the living room, she could see Armando’s leg dangling from the couch. He was oblivious to Evelyn’s melodrama. She didn’t know it then, but he had stopped breathing fifteen minutes earlier. She would be told that he had died of alcoholic poisoning by a relative a week later over the telephone.
She thought for tonight she would rather not sleep here and went upstairs to pack a little bag. She would check into the Sheraton near the plaza. In the morning, she would purchase a one-way ticket back to New York on the last of her Mexican pesos.
With her overnighter in hand, she clicked off the television.
On her way out, she noticed Armando was not snoring, but her thoughts turned in another direction as the raucous neighbors finished rehearsing and the sound of crickets filled the courtyard.

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2011/12/20

Ebb Tide

by mdjb

Great waves of sadness that came in with the tide now with it return to the sea. No joy comes in their place; only the waves’ reflux. There is emptiness now where sadness dwelt. A cavernous shell of a soul longs for sadness to return. It was something at least. I will not speak of God.
This emptiness is unbearable, whereas the sadness could be borne. In pain, one felt alive. Empty, one feels nothing, perhaps the greater pain. If only the ebb tide could be grasped as it flows, if one could be pulled along with it to a new place—doubtless a place of pain, but one that could be learned.
Days passed and the feeling was learned, was absorbed through the roots until the soul said, “Yes, this I can live with.” Fate said then, “You will not. For everything that comes must leave. It is a way of learning. Take nothing for granted except: that which you accept will be taken.”
The wind dies and the water recedes. It laps the shore as if it will rise, but it is only a tease. On each return it only approaches nearly as close but recedes further and further. Here is a secret. The water will return in full but it will not be the same. It will be from parts somewhere vastly different. It may bring sorrow, but it will be a new kind of sorrow of a different provenance. Or it may bring joy, but again, it will not be the joy that preceded yesterday’s. Can one ever be ready for what the waves bring?
A wag said, “If you want to make God laugh, just make plans.” The tide of happenstance is God’s joke.
I vowed I would not mention Him, but had to because I wanted to get to the angels.
In the eerie silence of ebb tide before the wind picks up, if you listen intently, you can hear the murmur of angels. They have an inkling of God’s intentions, but they are not allowed to speak unless they are called as messengers, and that happens so rarely; hardly ever anymore, in a world waiting to be called to judgment.
Be reminded: when the tide is high, life will be rich with emotion, sadness, joy, fulfillment or loss, but in the interim we cannot know what to expect, we can only wait and see. If you go alone to a beach at the edge of the world and sit long gazing toward the sea, and even if you can hear the slightest murmuring of the angels when the tide is at ebb, you will never be prepared for what may come in with the waves tomorrow

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2011/12/10

Rat

by mdjb

“It sounds mercenary and it smacks of rats leaving the sinking ship. But get real, when everyone is bailing out, you don’t want to be the last man standing.”                             –Robbie Fowler

I was so tired that Saturday the rat came to stay. It was hot. I was living in southern Mexico, well into my second life.

I had had to go into school early to apply an exam that had been postponed from the week before. Only nine people showed up but I tried to assure myself that it is never a wasted trip (all the way across town) so long as somebody is there for the learning or the testing.

When I finally arrived home, after spending three hours at Plaza Crystal, I took a shower, opened my laptop and put the chronological CD I had compiled of pop MP3s from The Chordettes beseeching Mr. Sandman through Air Supply confirming I’m All Out of Love on the player. I lay on the studio bed to close my eyes for just a bit before starting to grade the pile of papers which had backed up on me, and promptly drifted off into some other time frame. I slept through the ‘Fifties and awoke to Ray Charles.

In my dream, I attended a Broadway show for which I had won tickets, lottery-style, and had an argument with my brother who died in Vietnam. I was at a party and just about to meet my future ex-wife when Ray Charles reminded me to, “Hit the Road, Jack.”

I got up to take a pee and discovered the water was low and I had to turn on the bomb, but was reluctant to go out back of the house because it was already dark, and I’d had trouble with rats lately. There was half a bottle of warm Coke on the table, and an opened pack of cigarettes. I tried to convince myself they would be enough until morning even if I did get up and work a while. It was 9: 30. I had slept for almost five hours. I never drink water from the tap here in this place, but if I wanted to wash my hands or even flush the toilet, I’d have to go out back and it would be later and visitors would be more likely. So I set my resolve and went downstairs.

I didn’t see anything moving, but I wasn’t convinced that something hadn’t slipped past me and I would discover the plastic bread wrapper chewed and a corner of the loaf missing in the morning.

I put the Coke in the little fridge to chill some of the warm out of it and went back upstairs, figuring if something furry began investigating in my kitchen I wouldn’t hear it under the music. Now Skeeter Davis was asking if they didn’t know this was The End of the World. I wondered how I could have slept for so many hours and woke up still in the ‘Sixties. Then thought I had spent far too many nights downloading old songs. I reckoned the CD could play for another couple of hours and it wouldn’t take me up to the time I had decided to move to Chiapas. It wouldn’t even take me to the time Alma and I split up. That much was by artful design. I never recorded those songs.

She had always told me she hated her life in Mexico. I could see why almost upon meeting her for the first time. She was sophisticated, an art lover, a business major who had trained herself to speak perfect English. In those days, I had never even vacationed here and from her poverty-laced stories thought I probably never would. Who could have seen that I would one day be sharing a house with a guy in Tuxtla Gutierrez? A guy who’s never around. Who has a full social life and plenty to do, and all those stories of deprivation, though ostensibly true had proven to have extenuating circumstances.

I had left the bomb working a little too long and only realized it when during a pause in the string of memories I heard water gurgling outside in the street, meaning the tank on the roof had overflowed and the excess was running off. So I had to go down to the damp, dank yard once again to pull the plug. By this time Johnny Cash was falling, “…down, down, down into a burning ring of fire.” I paused and smiled when I realized I must have been entering college then. Another couple of hours and I’d be dropping out to go work in the paper making factory. What a time I had there in Brooklyn, in those disco-inundated nights and sweaty, underpaid days, working hard to get nowhere and listening to sage advice from old, overweight George Sklar, who would shortly die of a heart attack while eating one of his wife’s greasy burgers. I didn’t even know I had a mission in those days, but I did store George’s philosophy in snatches of my favorite songs. The daylight songs, of course, the ones we heard from the tinny little radio in the lunchroom. You couldn’t associate anything meaningful with what I was listening to at night. That music was created for a different purpose. I still didn’t see anything moving when I re-entered the kitchen and locked the back door, but as I said, I take a lot of convincing, and so hurried back upstairs.

My housemate is a 39 year-old Tuxtleco who, though he pays half the rent on the house, still lives, to all intents and purposes, at home with mom and dad. That’s the way of things here in Mexico. I sometimes think, boy, you haven’t seen anything of the world. You’re settling for this life, and for better or worse, I made my own choice. Several women have drifted through these days, mostly friends of his friends, but none of them with Alma’s drive.

I graded papers for about an hour and a half until a rash of Beatles’ songs reminded me that Alma would soon be walking into my life and the music would end. I was getting hungry, and thought I’d have a peanut butter sandwich and finish off that Coke. However, when I went down and reached for the bread, I noticed it had already been got at. There was a sizeable chunk missing. I didn’t feel like opening another can of beans, so I took the jar of peanut butter, a spoon and the soda and headed back upstairs.

I closed my bedroom door. It was warm in the room and I knew the fan would not cool it off sufficiently even with the window opened. But the Coke was cool now, and I’d go back to sleep soon. I had another CD to plop onto the player. The late ‘Nineties were bearable. I could deal with the rat in the morning.

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