October 21, 2008

But you can never truly love it till you can love it’s alleys too, she says smoking in the cold, watching her breath catch fire while her frail bones tremble without notice. It’s Christmas time. The streets are filled with wreaths, lights, and illusions of magic but the alley doesn’t promise Maggie anything. The snow is grey and the rats are out. She laughs at the crowd of people in line for church as she stares at her own sanctuary.

Maggie and Jack smoke cigarettes together, noting how much they have in common: their interest in punk music, their distaste for college students, their obligations as an oldest child with a single parent. They both know the money for cigarettes should have gone toward tonight’s dinner but they’d rather have an empty stomach than an itch that goes unscratched.

Maggie works everyday, watching her friends go off to school as she scoffs at their transition into a life of isolated academia. Jack and her know about how the government really works, how the police force deals with crime, how the church takes away her mother’s money. He stayed home too, working. They call each other at night, when their siblings have been put to bed and smoke in the alleyway in between their houses.

The city gets quiet at night. House windows are open and lights illuminate the life that exists inside. Outside, they only hear the sound of teeth chattering. Such a monotonous life calls them to cling to each other for excitement.

After their cigarette, Maggie sleeps over at Jack’s house. The basement hides them, as they take off their winter jackets and scarves and begin to sweat. She’s weak from lack of food and tired from lack of sleep, but somehow her weakness turns to anger. At her mom, her younger sister, her coworkers but not Jack. She wonders if the absence of any anger means love but she doesn’t think so.

They work dull jobs for money. Sex is free and way more enjoyable. Sex is not dirty; it’s just innately private. Everyone spares the details. No one wants to hear about how unavailable Jack’s eyes are after sex or how they never felt self-conscious even with the light on. Jack and Maggie’s life together was a secret. All lover’s lives are. It seems that the line between art and dirtiness exists in every culture.

She screams at night; he pulls out.

“Wait,” he whispers.

“What?”

“The condom broke. It’s fine though.”

He kisses her while she pulls away. “The condom broke?”

“Don’t worry. It’s fine. I pulled out.”

She’s never been one to talk while having sex. Even now, her speech is broken, saying little in the situation. Nodding, she turns to her side. Nothing to worry about, and she believes it. So much to worry about but not this.

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October 7, 2008

The morning light shines through the apartment complex. The illuminated dust, which remains the only source of movement in the restless environment, floats downward. She does not know why she remains tired after ten hours of sleep.

            Listening for a knock on the door to wake her, she waits for Will, the thirty-two year old single man who lives down the hall. They met by passing, engaging in small talk until one of them mentioned D.H. Lawrence. Separating during the day, they exchange books at night, drink tea and wonder how passionate of a kisser the other one is.

            But lying in bed, it’s hard for her keep the window open and eavesdrop on the movement below. The cab-calls, the fall wind, and the café conversation whistle a tune with no concrete rhythm. She promises herself that she believes in life, listening to the noise and wondering why it sings. She’s not afraid of Will, she says to herself. She is just aware of his obligations.

            She’ll pass Will in the hallway and appear to have appointments to go to. A chronic flaw, she must be chased. Fortunately, he always stops to talk, and she focuses on reducing her natural tendency to small talk. She asks, “How are you?” and “Where are you going?” He asks, “How is the collection of short stories you started?” and “When did you chip your tooth?” and “Can I come in for some tea?”

            Over tea one day, her mom calls her. Will sits across from her as she apologizes for taking the call. Her mother asks about the new studio apartment and the promotion while ranting about her younger brother who still lives at home. At first glance, she holds an intelligent conversation with her mom. In reality, she tunes it out instinctively, conversing with Will’s eyes for the remainder of the telephone call. He blinks with a feint smile. She wonders if things have begun.

            When together, they talk of childhood and science and socialism. It’s the kind of conversation that exists when people get to know one another: full of substance and ambiguity. They talk over the neighbor’s creaking bed, and it forces them not to whisper.

            “Best break up?” he asks.

            “There’s such a thing?”

            “Of course.”

            “Senior year of high school,” she snaps back, “We were friends the day after.”

            “First year out of college – I cried for three months.”

            She notices how the monotony of his motions contrasts with his spontaneous speech. He combs his fingers through his facial hair, holding the mug with both hands.

            “Ever been to that 7-eleven on the corner?”

            “The one that sixteen year old girl works at?”

            “Yeah, I heard there was a hold up there. I can’t imagine how that girl reacted.”

            “I wonder what she’s up to,” she mumbles.

            Everyday he leaves, she speculates when he will knock again. She lingers around the apartment like a dog waiting for interaction at the welcome mat. She notices how she reduces herself to desperation or anticipation or expectation, not knowing what she exactly feels. The relationship they have created is as healthy as sixth grade relationships, when one would daydream about a passionate, physical encounter but was well satisfied with a kiss on the cheek.

            Reminiscing on Daniel, the grad student she slowly stopped seeing, she realizes that she held onto the relationship for the promise of routine sex. She can’t recall their first encounter or their first date because she never knows how things begin, whether it is relationships or wars or short stories.

            Daniel called at the same time everyday. While the ringing phone annoyed her with its consistency, the silence peeved her just as well. They fumbled with conversation on the phone, both talking at once. It wasn’t right but it was no one’s fault. Her work dulled her, and he kissed aggressively.

            A single date with Daniel sticks out. They went out for ice cream after a night together when spring was just starting to bloom. Too cold for ice cream, they sat inside, and she learned about his old family road trips.

            “We went to Dairy Queens in every state. I remember the one in Florida and Delaware and middle of nowhere Indiana.”           

            “What did you get?”

            “Dipped cones. Everytime.”

            He liked dipped cones. She remembers this vividly. His dark features and little formation of a belly were lost on her, but she remembers he liked dipped cones and wadded in Lake Michigan for twenty minutes before diving in.

           

 

She treks home from the bars earlier then usual now, subconsciously wanting to be home and risk an encounter with Will. On Saturday, he is hand in hand with a petite blonde who wears all black. They smile politely. Although happy with the girl he is with, she still catches him glancing at herself with genuine appreciation in his eyes and nothing hurts, not even the repetitious sound of water dripping from her leaking sink.

 

 

September 30, 2008

 

The stagnant air

reminds her of

airplanes

and

summers coming to a close.

 

Waiting for the wind,

she recalls

her inability to be

poetic,

to be in control.

 

Everything reminds her

of Bukowski

yet

he left her

without a cigarette.

 

Breathing in

clean air,

she notices how

black her lungs are.

How dare he leave her          

 

without a cigarette.

She will always have

knowledge and words

at least.

Always something to read.

 

The air waits

for a bluebird

but heartbreak never

shows itself in tears.

 

 

 

Can you feed me?

September 21, 2008

The crayons are wet from the rain. As the paper on the crayons begin to disintegrate, a layer between Jeremy’s fingers and the melted wax fades. Riding the bus home from school, he grips the crayon tightly, drawing the man across from him in a shade of blue.

                The congested bodies, all wet from the indifferent rain, uncomfortably wait to leave the bus that smells of tobacco, sweat and disinfectant wipes. They eagerly crave their home but not Jeremy. He enjoys the bus too much, where awareness pervades him. The bus not only reminds Jeremy of all the people he walks the streets with but connects him to them. Tuning out the concrete scenery he passes, Jeremy instead draws the surrounding passengers with his jumbo crayons, and when he arrives home, he hangs the portraits on his closet wall. The after school activity has not only become a routine but an awaited moment of pleasure. Now, he can remember everyone’s sleeping faces, the bags under their eyes, the awkwardness in their bones.

                Completely unaware, his mother doesn’t know he takes the bus alone; instead, he assures her that he carpools home from school. His mother doesn’t realize the maturity in Jeremy. A single mother figuring out the world, she feels inept at life and naturally does not assume her son knows more than she. And when it comes to Jeremy, he is not rebellious. Rather, his lies are a product of fear that his mom will take away his after school voyages.

                The bus stops at Ashland, two blocks away from his two-bedroom apartment. The walk up to his house faintly washes off his portraits. The people’s faces become full of tears, and he incessantly feels closer to these figures as he watches them cry. Running to his room, he locks the door and enters his closest holding his twin bed. Adding to his collection, he hangs up the portraits and watches his isolated world grow.

                But much is missing, he says. There are no animals. There are tight knit families, divorced couples, jaded children and productive youth but the walls still needs gardens, trees, and elephants.

                Discontent, he walks into the kitchen and watches his mom boil water while on the phone with Mrs. Vreeland. He waits for the spaghetti she is making and a dull moment where he can interrupt.  “Mom,” he stammers, getting her attention. His mom stirs a pot of water with one hand, blindly looking into the pot while focusing all attention to her phone conversation. He can see her shoulder bones through her t-shirt and notices she spent too much time on her hair. She brushes his comment off, telling Jeremy to hold on while she gossips with Mrs. Vreeland.

                “So this was last week?” she questions, “When Mary took the kids on vacation. That bastard saying he needed to stay home because of work.”

                Jeremy doesn’t care about politeness anymore as he watches his mother converse about affairs everyone thinks they don’t already know about. He chimes in, “Mom, can we go to the zoo on Thursday?”’

                His pervasive voice annoys her, and she simply replies, “Jeremy, it’s gonna be raining all day.”

He stares at the empty bowl on the table.

His mother doesn’t notice his discontent, switching attention to her conversation with Mrs. Vreeland: “Do the kids know yet?”

Jeremy interrupts, “Mom, I’m hungry.”

“I’m making dinner, hold on.”

He knows that water cannot boil any faster but asks, “Mom, can you feed me?”

She drops the pot and violently turns the oven off. “If you can’t wait ten minutes then you are going to have to wait until tomorrow morning.” She leaves the room discussing affairs everyone thinks they don’t know about.

He goes back to his closet, wondering if his friends have empty stomachs as well.

               

August 8, 2008

Kathryn had a perpetual cough. Being an usual kid, she was never sick, never inhibited signs of a runny nose or fever, and never smoked but she coughed incessantly. At times, the coughs came from deep in her lungs. Although at other times, people could not determine how legitimate her ailment actually was.

Kathryn insisted that she met the love of her life as a child, and being too unaware of love, she accepted that her chance was forever missed. She dated guys for pleasure believing that the real thing came and went too early.

Kathryn would go to candy stores as a coping mechanism. Surrounded by naivety, she could forgive herself for letting the sensitive and boyishly handsome nine-year old love go. She could pretend she didn’t believe in regret.

One day at the candy store, she spotted a group of boys congregating by the cow tails. Eyeing the licorice across the store, they are ready to launch their attack, stuff the candy into their pockets, and then walk outside trembling as their stolen candy tasted surprisingly unsatisfying. Or worse yet, the boys will fail, and Kathryn will have to witness their tearful faces aching with apologies.

She knew one of these boys truthfully and instinctively was a rebel. All of the others will learn to be, following the radical one drinking in high school until they regress into their true and safe selves. But the rebellious one will be eyeing the candy forever. Kathryn wondered about her former love, what he exchanged for licorice: a book or a beer.        

In the midst of the orderly setting, the boys hid behind a counter as they took the candy. Their silence gave them away. The clerk began to eye the thieves when Kathryn eruptted in a coughing fit. The clerk turned to Kathryn as the boys sped out the door.

Execution was all wrong, Kathryn thought. They will never succeed at the liquor store, and it is bound to happen again.