Monthly Archives: March 2010

What Goes Without Saying

Shannah has a big ass and he’ll probably never love her. It’s sexy now, when they’re 25, but it won’t be ten years from now when they’ve settled down and had kids and she can’t lose the baby weight. However well she knows him, he knows himself better and even if she loves him, even if their children are beautiful and in spite of quiet moments on the couch, all of them intertwined with some cartoon or movie in the background when she catches his eye and he sees the woman he married exactly how she was before the spit up on her shirt or the mess of wrinkles near her eyes from where she’s worried—he will still find it in him to look at younger women on the sidewalk and in commercials, thinking and really believing that he’s missing out, even if he isn’t, even if when he’s with her he doesn’t feel any sense of lacking or want. Even if their sex life is exponentially better than it ever was when her body was younger, more in control—even then he thinks he’ll be looking for something that looks (and therefore must be) better.

Even when his parents die and he doesn’t for a moment think of calling the secretary or barista or bartender he’s been sleeping with, and his wife sits up with him on the porch, holding his hand with the perfect amount of pressure and warmth, without the slightest hint of rush or impatience, eventually the immediate and urgent pain will fade. He’ll start returning the girl’s phone calls, going back to where he knows she’ll be, thinking about what color her underwear is.

Tonight when Shannah asks him, “Where is this going?” her S’s turning into a hiss that smells like beer and Jameson, he’ll end up yelling without wanting to but knowing he has to storm out and not return her phone calls for a while. When he finally does return her phone calls, her messages having evolved from apologetic to angry to hateful, he’ll apologize. He’ll beg her to meet up with him, to get some coffee, to get a drink, to let him stand on her porch while he explains. She’ll say yes because her hate for him is some replica of her mother’s love for her dad, and she’ll sit next to the window until she sees his headlights. She’ll feel nervous like it’s their first date instead of their last. She’ll pretend she’s mad until he gives her a reason, not even a good one, not to.

Side Quests

Not to be confused with the main storyline,
even when the depth of flavor/fun
involved enhances your adventure beyond
simple linear experience;

even when much more time/emotion is
ultimately spent on arcs not affecting
the final outcome of your epic;

even when one leads to the discovery
of better weapons/characters/locations
which can be referenced or used again
at leisure during your future travels;

even when the main storyline is
difficult/uninteresting/lost beneath
its own convoluted back-story;

even when you’ve put the game/book/film down,
never finishing what you had started/
never reaching the end of your story/
dreaming up your own conclusions; even

once all your memories are written wrong.
Do not be confused, it is a side quest.
Even after you’ve thrown the game away.

A Suit for Every Season

I wish I had a suit for weddings,
another suit for funerals, but
celebrations start and end the same.

The uniform for every date that
becomes an anniversary, suspended
in an uncertain closet until

the next big day. A mostly monochromatic
costume, with shoulders fitting square
and stiff to help you stand up straight,

and slimming black pinstripes designed
by French-Italian coffee names.
Accessories may vary — try

the skinny tie this time, with matching
turquoise button-down to brighten
the attire and tell the world that

it’s newlyweds, instead of waking life.
But the mourning after either finds it
hanging up again, waiting for the day

when you might lose another friend.

Out of Juice – Part II

The power drought happened faster than we predicted.

The tail end of a Bear market, stocks drop 20 points in two months, Pre-bots become the Wal-Mart of our generation.

Cheap, available everywhere, and creating just enough jobs to not notice the imbalance. We couldn’t resist them. Loan sharks sold them on the streets, no deposit, taking the solar, selling it to stores. They say it got worse overseas. No emissions laws, looser quality standards, people trapped in their apartments, going days with no power, black markets that ran odds on the daily price of solar, dark times.

We all thought solar panels would be everywhere. Pre-bots makers buy the panels in bulk, you’re lucky if you can get enough juice to run your fridge with anything after-market , the demand was so great. Me, I can’t spare fifteen minutes between repairs, and Phil still finds the words to sell me.

“When I sell the bots I fixed, then you’ll get your money, and I can’t sell what ain’t fixed, and I can’t fix what I ain’t got the parts to fix it with.” I think he was born with a coil in his throat.

“You’re making me dizzy, Phil. Just take the damn things.” I liked it better when he sent his bot over to pick up parts. I could ignore the machine. I power up the screen, start reading, he sits. I take notes, face buried in the pile of parts renting my desktop, he stands by the window, lights a smoke.

“Hell of a view.” Phil shuts the window, the last breath of smoke hits the pane. “Gotta get going,” he stretches, opens the fridge. “It’s empty.” I don’t even turn to watch. He finds something, I hear him chew as he puts his shoes on.

“See you tomorrow.” That’s what he always says. Last time it was two weeks before he came back, but I had cash to float myself. Liquid assets.

All this on my mind, and she moves in across the hall. Cheery, perky, time on her hands.

“Whatcha doing, neighbor?” Heaven help me. She’s dressed for the beach every day, bikini top, short shorts, no shoes.

I keep telling myself I only let her over because she shares her food with me. Frou-frou junk, sure, but it beats the 50-flight climb. It was bound to happen, I just knew it.

“Hey neighbor, want some wine? ” Her uncle had a stockpile, mailed her some, she tells me. Girls like this are trouble. First it’s dinner, then wine, soon, you’re watching her instead of your own future, watching her pat down her chest every five minutes as the work day slips away. “Hot summer.”

No kidding, baby, no kidding.

She leans in, finally, tilts her head, grins, looks away, looks back real innocent-like.

“My apartment’s different than yours. I think. Can I see your bedroom?”

Here we go.

What Mary Thinks Before Her Husband Comes In

Both of their kids are in law school. One of them, the girl, is engaged. The boy is dating. He has time because he’s a man and they age better. Even so, he’s only a couple years older. She and her husband have succeeded. Their children have left home, moved on and started healthy lives that will lead them to a place very similar to where she is now. The porch has two rocking chairs with frilly pillows that she brings in each night before bed, and their mailbox looks like a birdhouse. She bought it at a craft fair years ago. When she said she thought it’d be nice to have it, her husband had said, “Well, maybe I’ll build one just like it.”

When he walked away, she’d bought it, said, “If you end up not building it, I’d still like to have it.” He brought the wood home one afternoon and in a week he’d built a perfect replica. When he unveiled it to her she said, “It looks like the other one.” He had smiled like that was the wrong thing for her to say. She wasn’t sure what was so wrong with that, though. He had done a great job; she couldn’t even tell which one he ended up mounting.

She is just so glad they’ve made it this far, into retirement age. They have money, two kids who show promise, hobbies to distract them from isolation, from boredom. She misses making love, but in the way you miss something that’s over because it’s supposed to be, the way she had missed college or the PTA or her sister when she married. She in no way yearns for it. The word alone makes her laugh. She hasn’t yearned for anything since her early thirties, not for any reason other than figuring out that such an emotion doesn’t exist, doesn’t matter. It isn’t the highs or the lows, she decides while sitting on her couch stroking her cat, that define your life. It’s the consistencies. Like those quizzes in magazines she sometimes filled out at beauty parlors–all As, all Bs, all Cs. It was a fair system; it left room for a bad grade, a false accusation, a lie, a flirty gesture. It allowed good people to do bad things without being bad people. Innocent until proven guilty and all that.

Her husband comes in from the garden, and she can smell the earth and sweat on him.

“I was thinking we could go to Golden’s for dinner tonight,” he says. He begins to close the door behind him then decides against it, pulls it open again.

“Yes,” she says, shifting the cat to her other thigh. “That sounds nice.”

Switching Lanes (While Removing a Sweatshirt)

Unintentionally, of course, but not,
in truth, entirely unexpected.
Like sneezing at 70 miles per hour,

panic sets in just after the point where
one can no longer break the commitment.

You’re fairly certain
you know how much room
you’ve got in front, but

the car next to you
doesn’t know that you’ve
lost control, that you’re

not going to turn when the highway does
because a seatbelt is strapping fabric

over your head. So one of you will keep
driving onward, while the other drifts right
with traffic; neither can now veer away.

Everything Must Go!

The old man sifted through bargain bins, like a raccoon for its meal. He wore a collarless tan coat that went down to his ankles, and his eyes neither flinched nor blinked, at least not while I watched him. Instead he panted, like a dog, with each better price tag that he passed. I watched him the way I watched the black kids that came into the store after school.

“You mean I gotta pay you money, to make money?” asked another customer. He was staring at a sign that read Wage-slave 40-hour Work Week with free fake smile: $13.

“You have to spend money to make money,” I told him. “Besides, you’ll make that back in like, two hours. In this economy, it’s a steal.”

He pondered this purchase for a minute more while I watched that old Jew loiter. “Who’s Mike?” asked the customer, holding up my old Wawa uniform. I explained that it was me, clarified that he would literally be taking my job, and he was sold. I helped him suit up, gave him his schedule for the next three weeks, all the while keeping an eye on that Old Man. The customer was a little heavier than me, but I didn’t think the boss would notice.

“Alright. Looks like you’re ready to start,” I told him. “Just be sure to bend at the knees. A job like this weighs at least a thousand kilograms.”

He gave me thirteen rolls of quarters and was off on his way. After six steps, he turned back to me: “Hey, where’s that, uh, the free fake smile ya promised?”

I looked at him with tired, empty eyes — the only kind I could remember — and stretched the skin of my cheeks back, pulling them tight, and raised my ears slightly to upturn the corners of my mouth. My lips remained closed, except when I spoke, a sardonic, flatlined, “Have a nice day.”

He bobbed his head and smirked. A real one, you could tell, by the way it turned his eyes up, too. I watched him walk proudly to his first shift at Wawa and the Old Man tapped me on the shoulder like a Tourettic gnat, the kind you’d love to ignore but know will never go away.

“Ehhscuse me,” he interrupted in his little Yiddish whisper. “How much is eh this one?” His crooked vulture finger waggled towards a sign that said A Sense of Wonder (only slightly used): $8.50. It hung betweet Youthful Ambition: $10 and A Laugh Too Loud & Too Long: $2.75, both of which wore stickers that proclaimed, “Buy One, Get One of Equal or Lesser Value, FREE.”

“You read the sign?” I asked him.

“Yes. I read the sign.”

“Says $8.50, don’t it?”

“Yes. $8.50.” And he looked to me like he was waiting for an answer.

“That’s how much it costs, then,” I said then, sighing. This was the 8th time that he’d asked me the price something that was clearer labeled with a price.

“Is, eh, buy one get one yes?” The bastard would not go away.

“No. Only the ones with the stickers on them. See the stickers?” I was short with him then, and decided to just walk away. But of course he called after me.

“Why no discount on this one, eh?”

“I don’t know. It’s not on clearance. It’s still worth something to me, at least. I don’t just want to give it away for nothin’.” Was it really worth haggling $8.50 for something you couldn’t get anywhere else?

“Why you sell at all then? Is valuable, no?”

I could see the pennies in his beady blue eyes, like cartoons dollar sign slot machines. I waited a moment, gathered my thoughts so as not to lash out. Swallowed several times. Finally, I found it and shrugged:

“Everything must go.”