These stories are inspired by the 100 Days project film clips of John Timmons’ (corresponding clips are linked below each title) and each is in response to his own daily piece or that of one of the other participants.
Note: only the most current stories are accessible, to secure the text and particularly, the images from being nabbed by and displayed on public sites. If you would like to read some of the stories that are here, simply email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for the password.
Note #2: Days #72 through #96 may have two stories posted, as part of another project called 24/7 hosted by Folded Word which calls for a story a day through the first three weeks of August.
#90 THE MISSING LINK
Something stirs, floats by before I can catch it. Strings of boxes tied like a lost bunch of balloons against a black asphalt sky. I reach out yet they elude me. The boxes are filled with phrases, paragraphs, words that don’t spill out as they pass.
Just then, my battery dies.
Somewhere, somewhere I know there is paper. I find it along with a pen in a box at the top of the closet. I try to remember just what I’ve seen, what was there for me as a glimpse perhaps of a page of our past. I’d never seen anything like it before. I must try to draw it by hand. By hand.
I know I don’t have them in the right order. Nor the right number of balloon boxes. I never did manage to read sentences but I did catch a few words. I think they were forming a story. But how? No narrative arc like they used in the days of this paper and pen; floating instead in many directions, much like the many levels of time.
My drawing is Stone Age. My memory working on batteries on the trickle of charge coming in. Maybe I’ll wait. Maybe I’ll need full capacity to catch the vision again. The page that sings below or above the expansion of human hearing.
I wake to a dream of the image in high resolution. Higher, I think, than what I’d actually seen. I put on the glasses, now fully charged at 1000%. The screen disappoints, opening to its homing station. How will I find it again? I think History. Blink through the pages. There it is.
I cannot believe what I’m seeing. It looks to be a map of the missing link in communication. What they used to call “hypertext.”
#90B LOST AND FOUND
Tradition–no, history–is your mentor. Your tablets of stone found in the wastes of a desert. Sandblasted, broken, yet strung together in some sort of necklace that strangles me like a noose woven of hatred and hemp.
You are my master (in your eyes and the watchful grins of your friends). I am the jug where you deposit your seed to sprout into clones. I say (not aloud) I will smother the boys with their own pulsing cords. Instead I think deeply, down into my belly, infusing my essence, some part of my being into their brain while they are still sheltered and innocent. Human.
The dinner is not hot enough as you like it. There is a scarcity of lamb (though I have not taken any morsels myself). Isn’t the wine on the vinegar side? I am surprised that you ask instead of declaring. It is not conversation you want.
At night, when you are done with your day as a man, done with me as a woman, I go to another place in time. It is never the past. It can only be a magical land in the faraway future. Away from the history. In the morning I will bury the bracelet you put on my wrist. A shackle that marks off the years. It needs to be lost. It needs to be found someday by someone stronger than I. Wiser than you.
I will cry when I tell you it is missing. Then search for it. I will sweep the house on my knees, burn my hands in the coals of the stove, dig graves in the sand. The loss will be worth the beating if beatings are lost.
#89 THE OLD MAN’S CANDY
Milt Marstein said he wasn’t afraid and he ate some. The treats were wrapped up in little foil papers that he said were written all over inside. He claimed he learned to remember the dates in our history text and it helped him add numbers up in his head.
“You want a piece of candy, boy?”
I sauntered close up to his table. “What kind you got?” I said. My friend Eddy poked me in the ribs.
“Chocolates. Caramels. Hard sours,” he said. Up close I could see he was all the same color of gray. His hair was long and was tethered to rather than grown out from his head. His left eye drooped lower than his right, was half-closed and leaky. He looked like he was missing a gold tooth and a parrot.
“You got a green one?” I asked, then changed my mind. “Chocolate.” The man studied me with his right eye and dug one out of the jar. I handed him twenty-five cents. Eddy was too afraid to get one himself so I wouldn’t unwrap it until I got home.
The writing inside was tiny, too small to read without a magnifying glass, so I laid it aside. I fingered the candy, noticed the smooth curl on the top, and tried to bite it in half. It was impossible, yet the chocolate melted sweet brown on my lips. I popped the whole piece in my mouth.
Well that was thirty years ago. I got more candy–the caramel was exceptionally smooth–from the old man for a few months. Then suddenly he was no longer there. I asked around and finally gave up. I’d saved all the wrappers and finally sat down to read them.
You can only imagine what happened.
#89B THE SUITCASE
Jack Seaton was one of the oldest men in the world. He was kept in a facility especially set up to handle the more than elderly. It had soft green and yellow food and hard stainless steel doors with tempered glass windows. It had full government funding and a full government list of rules.
Jack’s daughter Roseanne visited him daily. If Jack could speak, he would have asked her to take the suitcase he kept in his closet and hide it away. By luck alone, to prepare for his inevitable passing, she took it home three days before Jack died in his bed. The feds were there before she was and she lived only three miles away.
Roseanne spread Jack’s ashes in the Home Depot store like he’d wanted. She did it just before closing to make it more solemn. Her husband Derek went with her since he’d known Jack’s favorite spots like the power tools aisle.
Several days later Roseanne remembered the suitcase and dragged it in from the garage. It was locked but she sawed it open with a kitchen gadget she’d bought at Home Depot while they were there.
The suitcase was filled with official-looking papers, handwritten letters, and a large manila envelope stuffed with photographs, some of them black and white. One by one Roseanne read the papers, studied the images. There was something familiar about the people though she couldn’t name them. Here was an eyebrow, the crook of an elbow, the way someone stood.
She looked through the photos again and again, sorted them out by what looked like dates on the back. When she finally closed the suitcase and went off to bed, she had a hard time falling asleep. In the morning she poured out two coffees and brought the suitcase in to show Derek.
“Honey?” He asked, “You mean that your father was physically really your father, and you had a real mother?”
“Yes,” she said.
“And maybe I had a real father and mother too?”
“So families might once have been real?”
Practice makes perfect. Going through the motions makes it real. Jessica ate a small plate of red hot peppers to acquire a taste, regain some sense in her tongue, but they only made her vomit. She wiped her burning lips.
“You’ve never liked them,” he said. “No reason for you to like them now.”
“No, no,” she said. “It was the wormy cheese.”
She meant the Baby Blue. The veins and holes reminded her of trees sawed down and gutted to reveal a core of sponge. She thought, despite the color posters in her doctor’s office, she must look like that inside. With cancerous blue trails eating through her like a second spine and ribs and dots of hot red pepper paddling kayaks through her veins.
“You’re beautiful,” he whispered at night, but he’d started shutting the lamp off when they made love after she had lost her hair. When his hands searched her body for flesh, she had tried to puff herself up beyond bones that held her skin out like a tent over sticks. Then they stopped making love. When he nearly crushed her one night as he rolled over in sleep, he moved into the guest bedroom. “You’ll sleep better. You need to get rest for strength,” he had said. He had looked away as he said this.
“You must eat something,” he told her. He gave her chicken soup his mistress made for him.
“What does it matter?” she said. “We’re only going to die and turn to sponge. Or maybe turn to sponge and die.” She held her hands out, showed him her palms. “See, I’m turning into blue cheese inside.”
He would not look. She began closing the bathroom door when she showered, the steam whirling up into the overhead fan. It made her think of clouds and some childish version of heaven. She imagined herself being lifted through the fog, naked but whole. As she was when he still looked her in the eye.
She knew his mistress had made the soup but didn’t say so. She was secretly glad he’d have someone, especially someone who could cook. She didn’t want to think beyond that since he would be dying too. So would his mistress.
But Jessica was winning the race. It gave her an advantage. She would be the first and for a while the only one to know that death was real, a thing apart from living. And why we all went through the motions. Why life was not a lovely practice like the first flutter of butterfly wings but instead, a plate of red hot peppers one must resolve to eat.
“Thank you,” she said. “This is very good.” She smiled and sipped at a spoonful of tasteless chicken soup.
#88B WHY BOTHER?
The day hung in yellow curtains
blowing in the pout of an easterly breeze.
It was such a day.
I came to it with an apple bright and
round as a tomato plumped red by July.
The same but different.
I offered it, they sneered and slapped
it from my hand and said, “what we really
wanted was a pear.”
#87 THE RECONSTRUCTION OF RAY
“All I tried to do was make you a little bit taller,” she said.
“What? By giving me a ten-inch neck?” He was distraught.
“I can fix it. I’ll work on it today.”
“And what am I supposed to do in the meantime?”
Lynette helped him dress, it was the least she could do. The effect was somewhat tempered by a layering of collars. He barely kissed her goodbye.
Without even bothering to shower or dress she sat down at the computer with a cup of coffee steaming at the ready. The steam gave her an idea. She opened Photoshop and brought up the project called “Ray.” She zoomed in on the top half of the image and clicked “Adjustments.”
By noon Lynette was near frantic. She’d used Liquify in an attempt to squish his head back down on his body. It had the effect of making him look like a frog. His arms hung like a gorilla. To make matters worse she’d clicked “Save.” She tried “Step Backward” again and again but then messed up one of the Layers. She took the phone off the hook while she searched for an older version of Ray.psd and luckily found one to bring him back to a more human moment in time. He was also shorter, she noticed, and got back to work after a shower and lunch.
“Spatter” worked wonders with the chest area. She also used a combination of layering and the Clone Stamp to lengthen his torso for height. It worked very well. She added some blonde streaks to his hair and spent an hour blending them in. Then she changed his brown eyes to blue. Exposure gave him a nice even tan and “Highlight” did a lot for his smile.
At four o’clock Lynette sat back and looked at the results. She was pleased. Since she couldn’t complete the save until she was sure he was alone, she got up and started making a salad for dinner and pulled out two steaks for the grill. On a whim, she selected a bottle of wine and opened it up to breathe. She looked at the clock and smiled when she realized that in just a few minutes he’d be walking in the front door.
She sat back down at the computer and looked at Ray.psd. She grinned wickedly and carefully Selected with the Lasso, made a New Layer from Cut, made one more adjustment, and Saved.
#87B GAUSSIAN BLUR
Doris was putting her key in her door just as Stacey came out and down the hall. She was holding her face. She was crying. Doris said, “Here,” put her arm around her and brought her inside. “You’re safe now,” Doris said, though she knew better. She washed blood off the young woman’s face and gave her an ice pack to hold on her jaw. She let Doris bustle around her. Her head was splitting in two.
“This is delicious,” said Stacey. “I’ve smelled the aroma for months now and it always made me hungry.” Doris smiled. The girl seemed to relax.
“How long have you been with him?” asked Doris. The story unfolded in spurts, but it was the same as a hundred others, dipped in rainbows, blurred with emotion and motion of time.
“Mine was named Aaron,” Doris said. “He died twelve years ago.”
“I’m so sorry,” said Stacey.
“I wish I’d left him long before that. I wish I’d had the confidence, torn through the veil over my eyes. Learned from my own mother.” She got up and went into a back room, came back and placed a small bag on the table.
“This is a makeup kit,” she said. “It’s a cover-up, not a solution.” Then together they painted her face.
#86 CONTRADICTORY EVIDENCE
In the guise of Lady Macbeth, Loretta is frowning. She stares at the stain. Red as blood. Connie Francis sings in the background. It is all just too trite. She drains the sink, pulls out a scissors from the drawer and cuts off all the buttons. Then she cuts a hole in the collar and the spot flutters to the floor. Like an eyeball it glares at her. She steps on it with her foot, grinds it into the tile. The shirt has a shot-out appearance that pleases her senses. She balls it up and throws it into the trash.
At night Loretta goes through his pockets. He snores in the background of a Hitchcock opening scene. She carries his wallet under her wing to the bathroom and closes the door. In the cast of the nightlight the license and credit cards take on a gloom. The two twenties, a ten and three one dollar bills appear dirty.
The morning sun slants at an off-angle. Something has changed. Her lips are purposely cool to his kiss. He turns to leave, turns back around. His face is a Bogart deadpan. Here it comes, she thinks and holds a make-believe cigarette in the V of her fingers as a prop. She blows out smoke in a slow stream that gets tangled in the overhead fan.
“Yesterday’s shirt has a Sharpie stain on it,” he says. “I forgot to tell you.”
“A Sharpie. Red Magic Marker. I think it’s permanent.”
He nods, his face askew in regret. “Bummer. I liked that shirt,” he says and leaves.
Forgetting the imaginary cigarette, she wonders if she could have gotten it out.
#86B THE WOMAN WHO LOVED BOOKS, MUSIC, AND MEN
She watched the man’s tongue as he reeled off the names of the different cheeses. The pink tip poked out with the Ls. Extra sharp cheddar, smoked muenster, stilton, Roquefort. Yes, tease, she thought, tease me with heavenly scents–except for the aged cheddar and blue–and your tongue now licking your lips.
She moved uncomfortably in the padded velvet seat in the ninth row. Listening to the deep bass with three ears. Reverberating in the crosshairs of her hips. She got up in the middle of a symphony and returned fifteen minutes later, a slight pink blush on her cheeks. When the oboist finished his solo she got up again.
She sat feeding the pigeons. They cooed and strutted in a group at her feet. She imagined the tickle of feathers, the peck of a beak. She closed her eyes in a long drawn out sigh that ruffled the leaves of the tallest oak trees.
Back at her desk in the library, she ran through the list of new titles. Life, she thought, is just what you make it. She looked up at the man in the black overcoat. She watched him finger the books in the reference aisle. A tingle of danger skipped through her. He was, she realized, a spy.
#85 DIALOGUE PUZZLE
The words rise in circles, a spiral of sentences that float in a halo over her head. He reaches for the capital letters, hoping to drag in a sentence, something he can understand with more effort and time. The letters melt on his hand in streaks of black ink. Then fade and drip to the tiled floor.
She is still talking. Her O’s come out perfectly round. There is a back-kick to the S’s as they curl off her tongue and the P’s puff out of her lips. Her mouth distracts his attention.
He tries harder, moves faster, grabbing at lines and circles. He lets the dots of periods and the tailed sperm of commas go by. He has learned what is important–or important to her–he thinks.
He swoops up whole sentences, sometimes a paragraph if it’s short, and stuffs them all into a sack. It is a matter of rhythm, of readiness, of willingness to leap and extend beyond his own natural reach. Then the words suddenly stop.
She gets up from the table, puts her coffee cup into the sink. Hmmph, she says, but he lets that one wisp and float upward where it sticks like a patch on the ceiling.
He puts his coffee cup in the sink, takes out the spoon as she did and sets it alongside hers. Then he empties the sack of her conversation over the table. He sits for a moment, studying the heap. Then slowly, he starts separating it all into piles, like a puzzle, some pieces connected in strands.
By midnight he has them in some matrix of order, by segments, topic and tone. He gives up on a linear arc; this, like hypertext, takes too many paths of direction. He works both from memory, short term and long, and from matching the colors and shapes. It is tough, it always has been, but he tries his best to reassemble it all into something that makes sense to him, yet is untainted by him to remain her.
He maneuvers the letters, pulls words from their place in a sentence and breaks them in half. It’s all spread out in front of him. All the pieces in place–though he’s not sure it matters. He’s worked for hours, days, looks up in shock to find it’s been years. All to make Yes out of No.
#85 THINGS NEVER SAID
She never told him she hated fishing. She never complained about the worms or the silent time standing on the banks of the lake for hours of Saturdays waiting for that magical tug like a sudden thunderstorm on the line. She thought he’d know after a few rounds of poison ivy.
He followed her in and out of booths at the flea markets, table to table, his eyes no longer seeing items but long tables of colors catching the sun. His feet ached, his arms dragged bags of somebody else’s dust that she paid good money for but whispered to him, “It’s a steal!” He never told her he hated these Sunday mornings.
Monday through Friday went better. Routines in place by agreement. He gets up first and presses the button to start coffee. He showers then wakes her up. As he dresses she makes his lunch. They kiss goodbye, their lips meeting in absolute perfect alignment. He leaves, she sits down with a cup and waits for the toaster to pop.
He comes back home, she’s made dinner and it’s always something he likes. He never told her he used to hate salmon loaf. She moves his shoes where he’s left them, out of her way. Days are exchanged, TV viewing compromised, blanket divvied up fairly, nothing that irks anymore.
Then it’s Saturday morning again.
#84 AB DAY
“Hey, Manny! How’s the job goin’?”
“Good, man. What’s with all the pussy around here today? Man, if I knew the hospital was like this I’d’ve come sooner.”
Shak wrung out his mop and clicked it back in place on the cart. “It’s AB day.”
“AB day. Thursday is abortion day.”
Jess would wake up in a cold sticky bed, turn on the light and see the blood drying to a cinnamon brown on the sheets, on her thighs, on her heart. He’d hold her. Tell me, he’d say, what did it feel like? Did its heart beat in rhythm with yours?
Cerise walked in with an attitude. Fucked with an attitude. Tell me, she’d say, tell me you love me. His smile smirked at the edges. His eyes held the sharp of a scythe. He’d say, Tell me you’re sure that it’s mine. She cried from the pain, not the loss. It happened again and again and again.
Jess looked at the screen. In the gray cirrus cloud was a head, curled in tight like a fiddlehead fern. And a foot, or maybe a penis. She looked up at John. He glowed in a haze of near ecstasy. He squeezed her hand and a blue halo enveloped the room.
She thought of a squid. A huge slimy lump with tentacles. She lifted the covers. The sheets between her legs were stained a watery red. Cerise stared at what had come out of her. She’d never been curious before. It looked human, with fingers and lips and that shocked her. She said Shit! and rang for the nurse.
Too soon! Too soon! The drugs couldn’t stop it. Jess prayed the same words over and over. Whispered and screamed them out with each stab of pain. Then it was done. She was empty. She knew when he looked at her, so was he. She wore his hollow shell like a sweater too thin for the cold.
In the arena of white walls and cranberry chairs and the rolling gray rug of the lobby two women stand signing papers. They are both slightly bent like blades of grass beaten by rain. Already the hours have started to fade like washed-away blood. The women look at each other and catch a moment they think that they share. They smile weakly, nod unknowingly, and look down at their bellies, out at the glass double doors. First one, with her husband, then the other, alone, walk out into the street. One stumbles, one struts; one creeps, one runs.
Manny watches, then vacuums their footprints away.
“It’s outside the city,” he says. He groans. “That’s all I know.”
“Tell me, what direction?” she says.
He shoves her off of him. “I don’t know.”
She drives the back roads in a widening Pac-man. Beeping and honking at squirrels that skitter across her path. There is a small pink cottage that attracts her attention. She stops and knocks on the door.
“Tell me,” she says.
“Take a right at the end of the road.” The old woman looks crusty. Her fingers are jumping like toads. “Then go straight for seventy miles. Look for a red-headed boy.”
She turns right and drives straight for seventy miles, watching each mile blink by like an eye. She rounds a soft curve, sees a small boy standing alone.
She rolls down the passenger window. “Take off your hat,” she says. He uncovers a flame. “Tell me,” she says.
The boy has a sly fox in his eye.“Do you have any licorice?” he asks her.
She reaches inside her purse and pulls out two licorice whips. She hands them to him. “Tell me,” she says.
“It’s back where you came from,” he says. And he laughs and runs away.
“That’s it then,” she says. She is panting. Her hair sticks in wet strands to her neck.
“Tell me,” he insists. “You must tell me all that you know.”
#83 THREE RINGS OF THE BELL
They meet. It doesn’t matter how, though for setting’s sake we’ll say it was in a park, both out walking their dogs, or rather, let’s say running since that’s more “in” with the cool people. Not love at first sight–he’s on the short side and she’s got small breasts–but otherwise both are above average. She twists an ankle, gets a leg cramp, or runs into a tree. He gallantly helps.
They talk; about politics–no, not politics, that might divide them before they meld into one–rather about coffee and who makes a better latte, Starbuck’s or Dunkin’ Donuts.
They go for coffee, agree they both prefer Starbuck’s and get married.
2. The Middle, or Round Two
They are both mildly successful. He is a lawyer in a mid-size firm. She is a customer relations manager in a downtown corporate headquarters of a major oil conglomerate. They agree to put off having their planned two children until they’ve purchased a home and have well-padded pensions though, of course, she’ll return to work six weeks after giving birth in both cases.
They buy a home in the suburbs, buy a second car that is roomy enough for groceries, trips to Home Depot, and a couple of car seats. She gets pregnant a year earlier than planned, but they do some finagling and get a smaller big screen TV and hold off six months on replacing their cellphones. She buys the cheaper Kindle for him as a gift. He buys her the expensive GPS.
3. The End, or The Final Bell
The kids are grown, two are married and the other away at graduate school. She’s been let go in the downsizing and hasn’t been able to get another job. She’s sure it’s because of her age and starts coloring her hair. Their house has been remortgaged six times with the lowering of interest rates so that they still owe half of what they paid for it; three-quarters of what it’s worth.
She’s tired of dragging the vacuum hose around nine rooms. She’s learned to close the doors on three bedrooms and two of the baths. A daily glass or two of wine helps her cope.
He goes to work each day not knowing if it’s his last. He wonders what he’ll do if he gets laid off. He doesn’t have an affair because the last time stressed him out more than it helped.
“Good morning,” she says. She is smiling wider than he’s seen her smile in years. He believes she understands his worry and is trying hard to help.
“Morning, babe,” he says. He kisses her and thinks she tastes like wine.
#83B SIGNS AND SENSES
He can pick donuts by scent. He knows his cigars by the same. Nobody need help him or cheat him or notice he’s different at all. On his glasses he’s painted new eyes except blue because that’s what he remembers she liked. On his ears he’s placed buffalo horns. On his feet he wears Reeboks and if he can’t find them he may just settle for some other brand.
People living next to him behind cardboard-thin walls have sometimes complained of the noise. They knock on his door. He asks them to describe what it sounds like. “The knock or the music?” they ask.
He used to work as an architect. Designed bridges and buildings that cut into the sky. Lines, he loved lines. Though curves had their place in his mind.
One morning he woke up and decided it would be the last day of his life. He dressed in his best casual Dockers and a pleasant plaid short-sleeved shirt. He put on his glasses, took his white cane, and drove out of town to the seashore close by.
He pulled breadcrumbs out of his pocket to feed to the seagulls. In the other pocket were worms for the fish. Then he sat on a rock with his toes in the edge of the ocean.
He let the waves carry his cane out with its tide where a horseshoe crab hopped on and rode it away. His glasses he tossed way out to the horizon where a dolphin caught them and squeaked in glee. He waited. He listened to the rhythm of life, felt the rotation of earth in his feet.
Then he saw the Mexican sleigh bells ring and tapped his fingers to the beat. For a long time he listened and then, as the sun splashed into the ocean, he followed the seagulls home.
(First publication rights belong to Apocrypha and Abstractions, April 2011)
#82 A PIECE OF THE PIE
On the screen, the pie chart looks precise and professional. Colored segments covered with data. Graphic and easily understood. Glaringly clear.
“And me? That blue sliver I can’t even read?” asks Mel. “That can’t be right.” He’s mumbling and whispering to the woman who sits next to him. She has on a Charlie Chan face. Wants to laugh out loud but knows too well that she can’t because they’ve painted her sliver pink.
Stephen is the only one standing. The others circle a table like crows. Some stir their coffee as if that is really important right now. It’s a tactic Stephen recognizes from his own days walking the edge. It’s used as a display while the mind runs through fields, hops fences, slays dragons, recalls anything one has ever done to evidence a right to a place at this table. Knowing it’s really just musical chairs.
Stephen points at the pie. “The largest piece, the highest sales versus cost considered, as you can see, is the western sector. Ed’s territory.” He looks at Ed and smiles. Ed is all false blushing grins and relief.
Mel watches as the slices are called out, names and numbers. He shrivels inside. Feels an incessant need to fart. Nerves do that to him. He clenches his ass cheeks tight. Sucks in his anus. His whole body is fighting to keep control of his physical self while his mental, his emotional self is dancing a flashing-ball disco so loud he can’t think.
Almost over. Stephen lumps the three smallest slices in one final serving. “Obviously, we need to see improvement here.” With that he closes the meeting. Chairs are shoved back, bodies rise like let-go balloons. Stephen’s not smiling.
“Mel, can I see you a minute?” he says. The room hangs likes the stuck hand of a clock for hours, a lifetime. The others file out.
Mel nods, sits back down and silently farts.
#82B PIE MAN
It was all over the city. Pie Man they called him. I’d gotten hit only once and was on constant alert. Everybody in work talked about it. Everyone knew someone who knew someone who had taken a pie in the face.
Slippery as lemon meringue the man was. Dressed in a clown suit–you’d think he’d be caught. The police called it random. They said it was a homeless man down on his luck.
Not me, I knew better. This guy had a serious grudge. He picked by Armani suits and Italian loafers. By the way, the only reason I got it was my suit was from the Salvation Army. You got to go outside the city, up towards Westchester County and see what the rich folk give away. That suit cost me seven dollars, fit like a skin on a snake. It cost me fifty-five dollars to have it cleaned after I ran into the Pie Man. Still worth it, I’d say.
The city was changing. Everyone met everyone’s eye. Is it him? Is it that old guy coming at me, faking a limp? That young girl looks shifty and her hair is clown red. Look at this one: is that dog really a guide or a prop? This, because we knew he lived among us. Maybe worked in the cubicle next door. I can see him, staying late, claiming a “just want to get this last item done” and waiting, listening for that hollow ripe sound of an office emptied of people. Sneaking off to the men’s room, briefcase in hand. Pulling out purple silk pants and a polka-dot blouse. Carefully painting his face with huge collagen lips and black stars for eyes and maybe a teardrop for the poor working man.
We never found out who he was. He never was caught, but it stopped. Still, I look over my shoulder in these post-recession times just in case. This suit cost me full price and more.
#81 TIME LINES
The man in the seat next to me in the airplane was telling a joke. It took me a few seconds to realize that he’d switched to Spanish in mid-sentence.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we have just crossed the border into Spain and will be on schedule for landing in Barcelona.”
The man was now laughing hysterically at the punch line. I’m staring at him like a fool. He shrugged at my lack of reaction. Eventually he turned and talked to the lady on his right. In Spanish. Which I don’t understand at that speed of words that rush by like a race horse in a dead heat with the devil. Though I suppose our colloquial slang sounds much the same way.
Everyone in Madrid wears tight pants and stockings. The women wear long dresses and shawls. It is a hot August day. I’m sweating and barely can lift one foot then the other with the humid weight of the afternoon. Around me, they’re stomping and dancing or teasing big nasty bulls with red capes.
In France it’s the same way. Pencil mustaches and berets. Though I do like the slit skirts and tank tops of the women. At least on the young skinny girls. At meals I point at the menu or nod.
In Poland, again, no one speaks English. Or French or Spanish of which I’d finally come to understand a few words. Colorful country. Full of flying ribbons and whoopin’ and hollerin’ wild dancing. I almost got killed; caught between an accordion and a rotund middle-aged lady with breasts like overstuffed potato pierogi.
“Old World Tour” they’d advertised. But really, this is a bit much. I’m heading for Germany and looking forward to schnitzels and beer. I pull the Volvo over to get my bearings, check the map. I check the guidebook. It says nothing about the furry fellows on horseback racing toward me, shouting and waving their swords.
#81B THE GAME
On both sides, children played the same games. Tag, hide and seek, games with a ball. If they all played together without speaking, one would imagine the ball still being kicked, carried beyond goals. There are few misunderstood points and cheers in a game.
The shadow of Diego’s house just touched the hills that touched the border at late afternoon in the month of July. This, said Diego’s mother, was the place where small children and men could be lost. No one would know what had happened but you would never see that person again. Her eyes were a serious black. Her mouth, a tightly drawn line.
Boys grow into men but their eyes may still shine with the mischief. Someday they would challenge the eater of men. Each day it grew in importance rather than died with their childhood dreams. They still planned in whispers; they still caught the gleam of the line as, touched by the sun, it beckoned with flashes of silver light every day at high noon.
On a night dark and moonless, Diego and his closest friend Juan bellied up to the border. The sand cradled their knees. Their breath panted with excitement and fear. Their eyes met in agreement. They nodded, touched hands for an instant. Then as one, they sprang up and ran.
They ran as if chased by black devil bulls. They ran as if night had no end. Diego heard the crowd cheering, saw the ball flying, heard the crack, felt the weight in the small of his back as he fell.