Sunday, November 25, 2007
Clear Nights of Fire
Jay Miller sat on his front steps and pondered the early fall evening and the sounds of the empty street. He could sit in his space and relish the lack of sights and sounds assaulting his weary senses. A soft breeze shook the first leaves of the dying season and loose trembles of paper skittered down the asphalt.
He held his hands over his closed eyes and thought of the black behind them in an attempt to regain control of himself, if only for a minute. The blistering array running through his head began to drift into the darkness and be carried off by the breeze, flitting down the street, another overused bit of paper.
“Pop! Pop! Pop!” The shots were close enough to shake him to immediate considerations.
“We’ve got shots fired on the north side of campus.” Francis Strundle stated over the radio to the rest of the University Security. Francis pulled the Aggravated Assault and Injury Guidelines from the top drawer of her gray, metal desk and set them before her. She called the Med to get an ambulance on the scene. Her next call was to the police and then protocol reactions to the situation.
“Shots fired.” The words were stuck in her skull. In her fifteen years at the University, she refused to think of them. School was a place that worked to erase the ignorance of violence. She herself had spent five years getting a degree in Anthropolgy.
“What did you do with that?” Her high school son asked her when he told he wanted to drop out to be a pro skater.
“It doesn’t matter what I did with it. School is important. It is one of those things that you’ll find out. If you don’t go, you’ll regret it every day.”
“And if I do go, what is so damn special?”
“No matter what you do, you will grow into a man. What type of man do you want to be?”
She could not convey what it was to learn reason and decency, that they were the great traits of the evolved society. In her years since academia she had forgotten how to make epic statements of Truth but she lived by them.
“Officer Strundle, can you make a call to the President. Let her know that we have deceased student and it looks like a homicide.” The man’s voice sounded like steel about to tear.
“Dear Lord. Yes, I’ll get to her immediately and the police should be there now.”
She dialed the number to Dr. Jennings, the University President, and failed at hiding her emotions.
Marcus Steward was not scared shitless. He was lost in the immediate past; high on power, he pedaled through a labyrinth of cul-de-sacs and roundabouts. He could not remember if he set out to kill the guy but he could still see the man’s body snap at the third shot and turn to get away and collapse around the lead in its chest.
He showed the dead man that he was no bitch. “I ain’t taking shit from no one. If they want to get into my game I’ll blow a hole in their head.” He said to himself as he pedaled through the well-manicured neighborhood. “This shit should be mine. These white folks don’t understand.” He figured his dad might be proud of him for the first time. He looked at the burn on his arm, staring at him with its agonized smile. His dad had put his forearm over the gas burner and made him hold it there until he could smell his own flesh cooking. “You’ve got to be strong to be man. You can’t let no one ever think you’re their bitch. If you do, then you are.” He handed the last of his quart of whiskey to his son who was trying to fight back the tears of pain.
Marcus’s mom ran the bastard off after that. Marcus, in his youth, figured that was just the way the world operated. He saw the kids at school play house or cops and robbers but could never play with them since they seemed wrong and boring. People did not take care of each other, they only worried about themselves. And that is all he was trying to do when he offered the college student four CDs for twenty dollars. The swolled up bastard looked offended at Marcus, “Damn, little man, shouldn’t you be at home studying or playing ball.”
“Are you trying to tell me what to do?” Marcus fired back.
It's too late out for a young buck, like you. I don't like it out here and I eat weights.”
“Man, I ain’t taking shit from you. I’m a grown motherfucker and I’ll show you why.”
It was the look on the man’s face that Marcus really got off on. The eyes were wide and the body was frozen in fearful confusion. He could see that look on anyone now. He knew the way to power and he was a man for it.
In his wandering, he found himself onto the streets he knew and began pedaling toward his refuge. No one would expect anything of him. No one on his block cared. His bike creaked under his steady movement forward.
Jay heard someone riding a bike down the street. Its moans were rhythmic and uncared for. He looked up from his perch on the steps to see a boy riding by. He wanted to tell the kid he should get home, that it wasn’t safe out for an adult, much less a child. He could see something in the kid’s face that kept him from speaking. The youthful body had the face of tormented ghost and it scared the breath out of Jay Miller.
Saturday, October 13, 2007
New Morning, Same Story
Working on something so hard to do in the foul air of laziness. It smells of the barrel of fresh killed dove carcasses on the opening day of season. All the folks come out as genteel though most sure as hell ain’t. They just know how to do it real good so they can get what they want out of folks. Like a damn dove hunt. Just standing around slaughtering birds all fucking day.
I was walking the streets one winter night. I was 24 but I don’t know what day it was. I do know it was cold and dark out. I hadn’t had much too eat in the past week and too much sleep. My mind was driving me crazy and the only escape was in the concrete in front. Many tales have been told of the weird night and many more will come. Something about the drak skies and insane lives that come out under cover inspire us all to wishing we, too, could be a part of it. Even the cruel and grotesque circus of sin that revolves around the diseased clubs and puke stained bars is the romantic’s playground. No one dreams of the nine to five and the daily battle with the alarm clock, they dream of wearing wild costumes and being part of the scene. I watched some of these cats stumble about in every level of intoxication. The drunks are the most annoying but the junkies get you feeling like no place could be more revolting. In those times I amble the streets, I prefer the silance of solidarity to the company the sick creatures make. They speak only of how fucked up life is and I am usually in a state too close to that reality to want someone else’s opinion on it. All I really want is for her gentle caress. A hot meal would be good but kindness is at a premium these days. It seems most have found they can get what they desire through ambitious greed and us givers are used like toilet paper.
Rolls of shit rags is all they see us as and we are the ones that sing the songs they dance to. They come and shake their asses to our blues, read our sad tales, and then treat us like such scum. Selfish pigs think I am talking about them when I say I am so sad and blue. I feel like such drivel is the boredom of nonfiction. We have become boring and so have our memoirs, so I must resort to the lies of a fuller life.
I just looked back at the first bit about dove hunts and it reminded me of a time not so long ago when a young cat I knew realized his father was, like everyone else, a fuck up. Jeremiah Chesterfield was his name. He was a fairly normal lad who led a fairly normal life. He grew up in an unsettled household until he lived in two unhappy houses somewhere near his fifth birthday. Too young to remember the details, he could vaguely recollect a different time before his mother found a worn out apartment on the other side of town.
“I don’t know what to do but I don’t think it’s right to move you away from your father.” She told Jeremiah as they made his new bed with train sheets and a well used stack of blankets.
In her fight through the everyday, she managed to raise a tall son with broad shoulders. He would never know quite how tough it was for her. She took it as her job to shield him from the shit storm so he could live life like the rest of the normal people. He failed his job for he could only succeed at being himself. They did not know better in grade school, hated him for it in High School, and stopped caring by college.
As he grew up, he learned that his father was not always a man of rigorous moral fiber and his mom was justified in some of her irrational decisions. Jeremiah refused to attend to those facts for his Dad was the hero of his world and it takes a lot to take off a hero’s mask.
That was in the early days and our story comes along several years later, but background is an important thing or else these would just be names with no lives and why would you care? With that little bit of information we find ourselves with Jeremiah out on the fields along the West bank of the river.
Not many hours before, he was enjoying merriments with an old friend around a cooker fire. He spent much of the time reminding himself to get some rest since he knew an early morning with his father was confronting him. Whether it was the lies being told, the cold beer, or the warm fire, he could not break himself from the festivities before much of the night had drifted into pleasant memory. As they do, the dreams of the night turned to a difficult morning. Rent was due, his mother needed some money for her light bill and he was stuck at a menial job making just enough to stay broke. “Why do I waste so much damn time doing nothing?” He asked himself as he made the drive to the dove field. “This damn hole can’t be my own doing but no one lends a hand. All I’m supposed to do is go in to the same stupid office every day and change nothinng in the world but make it more of the same....” His pity party usually lasted the first part of the day. As he made the first exit after the old bridge and gone through every reason to detest his lot, wandering through that moldy alley to the open fields of his mind that carried him through life. They looked like the one he was driving along but they weren’t owned by anyone but himself.
His father’s truck was parked under the bridge; he could see his old man sitting on the sit with the door open, a cup of coffee in one hand and a pair of binoculars in the other. Jeremiah remembered the truck like his favorite blanket. Not even the Communist horde could stop them, his Dad was in control and that was all that mattered.
When Jeremiah pulled up beside his father at the designated game killing area the Eastern sky was starting to blister under the new sun. He looked forward to watching the firey orb scorch the heavens of their peaceful evening glow and show to all the dynamic sorrow of the new day.
“This way.” His father directed. His hair was gray but Elijah Chesterfield had the broad shoulders and determined walk of a man that society hangs its hat on. He carried the same shotgun for twenty years. Jeremiah used it once when he was thirteen and ended up staring at the clouds after he pulled the trigger.
The two walked northeast across the faded fall palate field. A friend had told them about the spot near the river where the birds came in and in the first light the rumor spoke of truth as Jeremiah could see fleeting figures sleek in the air overhead. After a few hundred yards they found a small stand of oak trees to hide under and wait. Shooting light would not come for another half hour; even if the hunters knew birds were near, they could not start shooting until they could see them in legal clarity. Jeremiah could find much worse places to wait for the world to turn his way.
Meanwhile, Elijiah was clearing his mind of all worries and honing his senses to the immediate world. Hunting was his release for it closed the door on the past and future in order to place absolute importance on the present.
“Pair, two o’ clock.” Elijiah cooed.
Jeremiah looked to see the two birds flying straight toward them. They twisted around each, dancing in the ethereal fluid overhead. He dropped to one knee, pulled the gun to his shoulder, and made himself a straight line to the place where the bird would be. The boom of the gun was silenced by the sudden fall of the larger of the two birds. He could hear a muffled thump as the body with wings folded in hit the dirt five yards away.
“Good shot. Single, five o’ clock.
For the next hour, a steady stream of birds came through and the son managed to bag six while the father was sitting over a full dozen. Jeremiah had killed eight but he lost two in some bushes in the lowest section of the field. Both times he had not heeded his father’s advice to spot and retrieve a downed bird before firing at another. Their sanded gray backs disappeared into the ground unless one watched them fall and marked the spot within a yard.
“It’s wrong to kill an animal and not get it. Then you just killed it for sport and hunting is something far more than that. It is something you must understand to be a man.” His father had told him on many a drive home from the field, stand, or blind they had used for whatever game it was they were after. Jeremiah understood this but he could not always temper his useful exuberance in the heat of the moment. He tried to explain the problem to his dad but the same answer always followed, “The key to a life of integrity is discipline and the key to discipline is good habits.” He was a man of ritual and habits. Woke up at 4:30 every morning to run the dog 2.5 miles and then read both the Wall Street Journal and the Christian Science Moniter while eating grapefruit, granola, and washing it down with two cups of strong tea. The rest of his day followed in a similarly productive and effecient manner. Of course, he had a myriad of bad habits but those were not the topic of conversation as he was only trying to tell his boy the means to a decent life.
Jeremiah saw the bad habits. He knew where the rusted and rotted plates were in the armor of discipline the old man surrounded himself in. He once called him on it but his father ended that charge with a sharp tongue lashing.
“Birds, eight o’ clock.”
Jeremiah turned to five birds speeding briskly away while one twirled to the ground, a wing stuck out in a final gesture of hope. It floated down like the seed helicopters he spent a large part of his childhood trying to catch. Chasing down the darting and twisting bits replaced his boredom with an unpredictable chore.
As he watched the flight speed away he watched the one on the right break from the group and make a wide turn, flying along the backdrop of the downtown with it’s various stone and steel icons of work. The lone dove continued sweeping around until it was headed back toward the field.
The bird was moving a little slower, as if it was looking for something. It flew t near where his Dad was bent over picking up he bird he just killed and started to circle clockwise to get a better look. Jeremiah remembered the game manual the state supplied with their licenses. Each page described habits and identification of a different species of game. They also gave interesting facts in a small gray box titled “Interesting Facts”. The one for doves mentioned that they mate for life. A sudden conflagration fueled by frustration and sparked by his father wringing the head off the animal in his hands flared within the young man.
Jeremiah raised his gun, squared up to the world and leaned into the shot. For a few seconds his world narrowed down to everything between him and the sighting bead on the end of the barrel. Anything else he saw was just a part of that process.
“Nice shot. Now go find that bird.” His Dad spoke out, breaking the human silence along the river.
“Sure, you taught.” Jeremiah muttered to himself as he made a beeline the patch of ground beneath where the bird once flew. As he walked up on the animal, he could see that it was still alive. A beady brown eye was staring toward him in shock, the small body was trying to breath and make it through another day.
He walked back to his camo bucket, loaded it with shells, dead birds, his camera, told his Dad “I’ve gotta go,” and made his was toward his truck.
Labor Day Blues
“It’s hard to find hope these days,” Gabby Bondra told the old man next to her at the bar.
“Ehh, it wasn’t ever to be found. Them bitches at the top got it all to themselves. They just like to sell us a little bit when we really can’t make do without. In the meantime, we get just drunk enough to forget.”
The two stared blankly at the great screen hanging on the wall before them. The red team was losing and to one guy, in a matching jersey, it was very important. They could hear that fellow on the verge of tears at the fate of his team like Hector, son of Priam.
“You know, I got fired today.” Justine told the old man.
“It’s labor day. People don’t get fired on Labor Day.” He lit a wretched generic cigarette.
“At least, I’m not everyone else then.”
“Here’s to that.” He raised his glass and the ice went “clink” and the liquor was gone.
“Get me two more. Make hers a double.”
The calm bar light eased her weary spirit long enough for it to walk away. The liquor in her chest burned away enough of the worry for her to remember to smile.”
“Is this how people become drunk?”
“It’s the only reason. I’ve seen many a fine man pack hope into a trash can of empty bottles.”
She sat in the high stool and smoked and enjoyed the intricacies of it. The paper crackled and smoke swirled into fan blades overhead.
“We’re doomed,” the red shirt guy moaned.
She did not want to think about her life but the alcohol was only strong enough to let her look at it without getting scared for the future.
“Why do bosses only think about money? They make decisions on numbers, forgetting that it’s people’s lives, hopes and dreams that they toy with.”
“They have to. I know this one fellow who ran a plant that made clothes. He threw a 4th picnic one year, had everyone show up with their families. He just wanted to do something to make the guys feel appreciated, part of something. At some point, this fellow looked at the group a hundred families with kids running around and parents chasing them from sharp sticks. He looked at them and saw that he was responsible for three meals and a roof for all of these people. He told me he couldn’t take another step after that. So he walked away from the plant he had built up and ran for 25 years.
“I bet he was a good man.”
“One of the few left. Now he just takes care of his gardens.”
“Does that leave only the assholes running the show?”
“Makes you want to get drunker, doesn’t it?”
“I should go. I have a family of my own to get home to.”
“Take care of yourself.”
She stepped outside as the sun began to tuck the world in. The warm streets were embracing in the cool shadows of twilight. A bag lady was shuffling a cart down the street, muttering to the man who was not there, searching for something worth something. A haggard gentleman scrambled up to her and made her stop and turn around. His thrift store suit was tight across his chest and falling off his waist but he had a carnation in his buttonhole. In his hand, he had a clump of inpatients tied with twine.
Justine watched as he gave flowers to the bent up woman and gave her a kiss on the cheek. He turned around and skipped off toward the setting sun. The bag lady returned to her basket but kept staring the flowers as something worth something because they were given to her and they were pretty and Gabby walked home.
Today Won’t Come Tomorrow
“I hate you,” she said with a steel-piercing gaze. He sat silently. “Everything that is you, I don’t like and I am stuck with you, lying to all who ask about how great you are and wishing I could believe it. I can’t stand it, them, us. We have nothing. We are nothing but a failed dream of you being a man.” Still he sat; her anger was as fierce as her passion. “Do you have nothing to add? I can’t believe that you, of all people, have nothing to say.” “How could I have nothing to say?” he said to her. “With the world dying at its seams and you yelling in my brain, telling me that I ain’t worth a damn, how could I have nothing to say?” She turned and went to the bathroom mirror, where she could continue speaking while hiding her grace behind a veil of carefully applied powders and compounds. “I don’t mean to offend you but I just don’t see a future with you. I can’t find that reason that made me feel like you were the one because I don’t believe it anymore.” She spoke as she pulled her hair back from her face, cursing the few strains of grey peaking out the flowing mane. She brushed a powder over her face in the first step to hide the lines next to her eyes. He felt a deep sadness looking at her when he could see that she had cried more than anyone had known. She would clench her jaw in the face of suffering in public, but felt tremendous sorrow at the world and worry over her place in it. The foundation could not hide the deep lines from the sad curve of her mouth. She liked to believe that she was a happy person but the handful in her circle knew differently. The sign of age bothered her.
He had tried to remind her that aging was not ugly. “Aging shows the depth of a person’s experiences,” he told her over peanut butter and jelly sandwiches he made one afternoon they had used to refinish a pair of yard-sale chairs. “Oh, come on, do you think old people are pretty?” “Why is pretty so fucking important?” “So people don’t know how filthy life is.” Her response made his chest shudder and made his eyes want to cry. He closed his eyes and listened to the breeze bring mollifying change to all things. “Is life really that wretched?” “Some days, yes.” “Today?” “No, today is all right,” she smiled at admitting what she had become afraid to feel. That memory flitted through her presence as she filled her brush with something to shade her features. The make-up kit’s smell, reminiscent of that time, pulled the past to her and she could feel the leaves dance together in those branches so high overhead. The beautiful woman looking back at her surprised the memory to its elegant vault and brought a smile to her eyes.
Thursday, July 19, 2007
All I know is that I need to get something written and it would be a boon to my existence in this kalleidescopic quagmire of love and work.
As I get some grip sorted out, I'll get more stories posted. Today is just an end so maybe we shall get to start tomorrow. It's a cheap trick, I know, these silly, inverted sayings but it works in my mind and that's where I live.