Done

Fork

Dark clouds are forming overhead and the wind is picking up.

The weather is threatening to ruin our little cookout.

No matter, the rain cannot spoil the day.

Hotdogs, coleslaw, chips and cookies. We even have condiments and cheese.

What else could possibly be missing?

Ah yes, it’s the people we need to eat the forty fresh and ready hotdogs that are sizzling on the grill.

I see the people, plain as day. They are smoking up against the building, tentatively looking in our direction.

Take the bait, come and sample our delicious dogs. I try to lure them with my mind powers.

It’s all to no avail. They throw down their cigs, white flags of surrender in the grass.

Still no takers and a pile of hotdogs to disperse.

Go ahead. Stick a fork in me.  I’m done for the day.

Monday, we’ll try again.

 

 

Be Here Now

Countless

clock

“Sorry I’m late,” the woman said with a wheeze as she set multiple plastic bags on the ground.

A loaf of white bread tried to escape from one bag and a suspiciously trumpet shaped form bulged from another. The bags overflowed with goodies and random trash she had acquired from her daily travels.

The bags surrounded the woman like a hoop skirt forming a wide base from which the rest of her slender, emaciated body emerged.

I looked at the clock on the wall, faithfully ticking forward, minute by minute; it kept track of the time that no one else minded.

The clock’s plain face and black hands represented order and social responsibility that belonged to another world, another place and definitely a different time.

“Want to reschedule?” the woman generously offered as she watch my eyes travel from the clock to my appointment book and back to the clock.

A quick mental calculation left me with approximately 12 minutes before the next person was expected to be 20 minutes late.

Sweat beaded from the edge of the woman’s scalp. Her eyes darted nervously back and forth.

She wore a purse strapped across her chest which she deftly opened with one hand and checked on the contents with a quick glance. Satisfied, she looked back at me.  I assumed from the gentle and loving look in her eyes, she was caring for a baby bird and ensuring its little feathers remained unruffled.

“No,” I said, summoning the strength to be present.

“Let’s meet now.”

Warranted

Grain
hc

Three men in green uniforms stormed the building today.

By stormed, I mean they respectfully walked down the hallway with heavy, black boots. They stopped in front of the designated door where they knocked and politely announced themselves as public servants ready to serve.

Like bloodhounds on a scent, they knew they were close when the front door opened. The men in green had to be calm and patient or the little bunny might just scamper out the backdoor as she had done in the past.

“No reason to look inside,” the man who answered the door explained. “She is gone, like I said. She left out of here about three days ago and I haven’t laid eyes on her since then.”

The men in green were smart and hated to waste gas on a fruitless trip. In fact, they brought an extra roomy vehicle so the bunny would be comfortable as she was transported to her new home.

It took some creative coaxing and a teensy, tiny threat and the men in green got inside where they witnessed a miracle, performed more frequently than expected, especially in their line of work.

Lo and behold, the sudden and unexplainable appearance of the missing woman!

After the woman was gently apprehended and assisted to the backseat of her pre-arranged transportation, the man who answered her door came into the office. He spoke with gratitude that went against his grain, perhaps misdirected or drug induced, but nonetheless genuine.

“Now she’s safe,” he said over and over again.

“Thank you.”

Ice Time

Phase

ice

After a minor disagreement, my only coworker, Earl, stopped talking to me.  I thought he was in a meditative state, reflective and quiet.  Perhaps he was dealing with a health issue or his aunt died seven years ago on this date and he was remembering the cinnamon apple muffins she used to make. 

Then I asked him a question about office supplies and he ignored me.  I asked him another question about the mail and he still ignored me.

Ah-ha, he isn’t wearing his hearing aid, I assumed.  No need to make a mountain out of a molehill. He simply cannot hear me.

I walked by his desk to drop off an extra pack of staples as a good-will gesture and he spun his office chair away from me towards the wall.  He pretended to study the blank calendar.  From his new position, it was clear that his hearing aids were both firmly in place.  Suddenly, I realized what was happening.

This was the silent treatment.

I thought the mostly unwarranted punishment would end by noon.  Much to my surprise, it did not.  In fact, it grew worse as he refused to eat lunch with me. I ate my peanut butter and jelly sandwich alone, remorseful of whatever thing we argued about earlier in the day.  The silence of the office was deafening until he started watching videos of old stand-up comedians, starting with Richard Pryor.

As I struggled with the peanut butter sealing my tongue to the roof of my mouth, I flashed back to grade school.  I sat alone with a PB&J at the end of a long white table, unfolded from the cafeteria/gym wall with a bunch of confident, athletic, and well-adjusted kids.  In retrospect, I see that they were actually mutants and I was the normal one.  

I wished for a carton of cold chocolate milk to wash down the pangs of childhood loneliness but more so for the all- natural peanut butter as it clung to my throat.

It was only at the end of day that the ice melted and Earl began to communicate again.  I breathed a sigh of relief, it was just a passing phase.  We were both in the parking lot and Earl raised his hand to wave as I got into my car.  I waved back, humming Hakuna Matata, when I realized he was waving to the police officer who had pulled up next to my car, likely investigating a 911 call in the immediate area.

Too bad throwing shade isn’t considered a crime. 

I drove off a little sadder and certain that life is too short for a grudge, even if the grudge is only for a day.

The Fall

Dream

rosie

Falling makes you feel some kind of way, as my friend Mika would say.  It’s a feeling of disconnecting with the ground, going from upright to stretched out flat, and then wondering what happened and if your hip is broken that lingers long after you stand up again.  Falling is unnatural, uncomfortable, and overall, a brutal reminder of our mortality.

Someday, its ashes, ashes, we all fall down.

After a festival this year, my hubby and I walked behind another couple, we were equally overserved and unbalanced.  We laughed and sang and danced and gasped when Ann fell to the ground.  Her body tipped forward and she moved unrestrained through the air and reconnected with the ground in slow motion.

“Noooooooooo,” we yelled from behind her and grabbed the air, interrupted by a lack in depth perception and delayed response time.

Ann hit the ground with a force, and fortunately, her chin slowed the momentum of the rest of her body.  The woman came to a complete stop and lay motionless on her side; red beads of blood started to form on her face and shoulder.  She stared up at her partner, Mark, in disbelief.  He stood over her, wide eyed and open mouthed.

We followed his eyes further down to his clumsy feet, one of which stood firmly on a black flip-flop.  It was obvious, the fall was the flip-flop’s fault, clearly.

Tears blurred Ann’s eyes and she blinked hard, hoping the fat drops of salt water would disappear, reabsorb, and retract back into the depths from which they managed to escape.  The sharp pain in her skinned palms and the red blood gathering on her face and the crushing disappointment in her head assured her that this was not a dream.

“You were supposed to catch me,” Ann said as she looked up at her fiancé.  Her voice accused and questioned at the same as she came to terms with his lack of action.  She was establishing was what real from the ground up.

She was no longer certain that this was the man she wanted to marry.  The fall shook her sense of security in her uprightness and confidence in her destiny.  The world felt a little less safe, less predictable; it was something she might learn to accept someday.

Ashes, ashes, we all fall down.

Exposed

Pensive
A woman wearing a soft red beret on a mess of grey hair clutched her plastic bag of precious things to her chest. She leaned against the window as the bus rolled away from the stop.  Beads of sweat popped out on her forehead and trailed down her face.  The windowglass cooled her feverish cheek and temporarily grounded her thoughts which were racing high above public transportation.  Her heart skipped two beats and returned to its normal rhythm.

Good, it still works, she thought about her old ticker, grateful for the reminder. It was the answer to a pending question that the woman forgot to ask.  She felt a strange relief in the occasional proof of her vitality. She wanted to get home but still had two more transfers to go.

A young mother with a crooked wig sat across the aisle from her, distractedly holding a fussy baby. The overwhelming smell of a soiled diaper permeated the air.  It was impossible to ignore for the other patrons of the bus, yet, the woman stared out the window with blank eyes, nodding in and out of consciousness.  Every once in a while, she remembered the weight in her arms and gave it a jiggle before her head fell backwards or forwards, overcome again with sleep.

Another child stood on the seat next to the young mother and hopped back and forth from one foot to the other. He wore shorts and a dirty Superman t-shirt stretched tight over his round belly.  He looked at the woman next to him and licked the back of the seat in front of him.  He looked at her again and he licked the window.  He looked closely at the woman as she dozed with the infant in her arms and still saw no reaction; he grabbed hold of the seatbelt strap and started licking the metal attachment.

The woman with the soft red beret watched from across the aisle as the boy explored his world by taste and begged for attention. She stopped herself from yelling at the young mother, “Wake up! Your boy is going to fall or catch a terrible disease.”

Maybe the licking is a part of a terrible disease that he already has, she wondered, probably caught from licking the window on a previous ride.  She pursed her lips and bit her tongue; it wasn’t her place to say something.  You don’t tell other people how to take care of their kids, she reasoned.  Guilt made knots in her stomach as she nervously watched and hoped her next transfer would come before disaster struck.

The boy continued to lick the seatbelt, perhaps absorbing some necessary minerals otherwise missing from his diet. He was a little deer at a salt lick in need of mineral nutrients or in this case, bus goobers.  Then the baby began to move about.  She reached up with a pudgy arm and grabbed at her mother’s blouse; her chubby fingers surprisingly strong.  She pulled the edge of the shirt lower and lower, and exposed a single sagging breast, indecent even by the standard of bus culture.

And still the bus rolled on.

bus

 

 

Simple Things

sheets

 

Flourish

He stretched out on the firm bed and kicked off one dirty sneaker and then the other. They fell with heavy thuds, weighted with mud and water. He peeled off his wet socks, once white now brown, with little difficulty. The socks sagged around his ankles, stretched and unwashed. His feet were snakes shedding their skin for new growth, wrinkled and pruned in their newness. Without hesitation, the old skins were dropped over the side of the bed, following the muddy shoes.

The bed was covered in a bright patchwork quilt of connecting rings and had fat down pillows in white cases. Patiently, the pillows waited for his weary head, while resting on tightly wrapped sheets with perfectly folded corners. The man struggled to loosen their hold and released the smell of sunshine, still fresh from drying on the line.

He hesitated, the bed was so clean, but he was so tired. Giving in to the tiny invisible hands pulling his eyelids, he dropped onto a pillow and let his eyes close. His head slowly sank deeper and deeper. He wrapped the colorful blanket around his aching body and gave into the sinking.

The stars searched for the man, they watched him drift into sleep last night as they had for the past thousand nights. They watched him curl up in pile of moldy blankets under a tarp, tucked into the back lot of an abandoned property. They silently twinkled and worried, never knowing if a few good nights of rest could restore a man’s heart and ability to plan for the future.

Boiled Peanuts

South
Earlier this year, I met a select group of people in Georgia who believe that the South will rise again. They shout things like “Roll Tide” and snarl with all of their teeth if you happen to mention the Obamas or women in power or healthcare.  They drink cheap beer and sing bad karaoke. They like to eat boiled peanuts and wear confederate flag t-shirts and camouflage pants.

Although my Yankee sensibilities were initially offended, I have to admit that there is very little difference between these folks and those special few of my hometown with Trump signs in their front yards, impatiently waiting for America to be great again. Just swap out “Roll Tide” for “Hoo-hoo-hoosiers” and there you have it, home away from home.

Sadly, I find myself a misfit at home and far away when in the midst of these conservatives.

Yet there is something that we can all agree upon, if given the chance. Something the South can share with the cooler states of the North, just as the conservatives can share with the liberals and we can all find a common ground on which to build a better future.

Boiled Peanuts.

They are whole peanuts boiled in various concoctions of salty liquid ranging from spicy to spiciest, scooped into a paper or Styrofoam cup, and sold at gas stations, stands in parking lots, and out of the trunks of cars.

Those hot and juicy little treats are so packed with sodium your fingers and lips start to swell almost immediately after messily removing the nut from its softened shell. They are not for the faint of heart or taste, but they might be the single best product of the South that the North would do well to adopt.

We can become a Nation strong again, unified through our love for goober peas, as they were first called, if we just give ourselves the chance.

bp

Buddy

buddy

Buddy
Buddy appeared as unexpectedly as he disappeared. A flash, a flame, and he was gone.

It was a steamy hot, summer day in northern Indiana, the backdrop to all of my childhood memories, when he came into our lives. Tar bubbled up from the road and squished underfoot. Birds sighed in their nests and old men carried around handkerchiefs to wipe off their sweaty foreheads and dripping noses. Everything felt hot, unless we were lounging in a tree or swimming in the “pool.”

The “pool” was actually a large, yellowed plastic container, originally used for farm chemicals with the top cut off. Nobody knew that chemicals absorbed into plastic at that time and if they did, it didn’t matter.

We were the invincible riff-raff. We ran around topless and barefoot, living on red popsicles and white bread baloney sandwiches and only coming in at dark.

Yes, we were those kids, living that life, if you happen to be wondering.

Brains, my brother, and I splashed around in the pool.  We zipped back and forth across the plastic container, dodging horseflies and pretending to be otters, when Brains popped up from the water. We heard the same things, yipping and barbed wire banging against a fence post, the rustling and shaking of something big and wild.

“Puney, let’s investigate.”

I nodded at Brains. Investigate was our favorite word for adventuring into an abandoned barn or open garage. We jumped over the brittle, plastic edge of the pool and shook off like little wet dogs.

Like the little wet dogs that we were, we trotted off after the noise. We made it across the hot road, popping tar bubbles with each step and discovered the source. A dog with shiny black fur and white teeth, whimpered for help. Its powerful back legs were twisted up in the barbed wire fence. The more the animal fought, the worse its predicament became.

“Brains, this is bad,” I said.

My little brother nodded, “Let’s get Mom.”

He took off for help, a first responder and action taker from an early age, and returned with a basket of garden tools.

“There’s no time to find Mom. We have to do this now.”

With a pair of wire clippers and four little hands, the dog was liberated from the fence.

“There you go, Buddy. You’re free.”

The dog looked at us with gratitude in its deep, brown eyes. And like that, Buddy was off leaving behind only a ruined barbed wire fence, but that was for the grownups to figure out.

Man to man

Ralph had been missing for two days. He had not come in for bus passes, canned goods, or dish soap.  There were no requests for leftovers from lunch or burned DVDs.  Not once had he stopped by the office for a cup of coffee and a separate cup of sugar and creamer filled to the brim.

Something was definitely wrong.

After reviewing the facts of the situation, or lack thereof, I left the office to further investigate the situation. I envisioned a car accident or beating, he was likely hurt and holed up in his apartment, too weak and injured to come out for help.  It was time to check-in.

I jogged up the creaky stairs and down the hallway, dodging dust bunnies as they rolled across the dusty hardwood floor. Worry and dread propelled me towards Ralph’s apartment door more quickly than my usual leisurely stroll.

I tapped at his door and waited. Hearing no noise from within, I tapped a little louder.  Shave and a haircut, two bits.  I put extra emphasis on the two bits.  Still no response.

“Ralph,” I softly called. “Are you in there?”

Suddenly, the sound of footsteps started up the stairs. My co-worker, Mr. Jay emerged from the stairwell and proceeded towards me and the unanswered door.

“Still not answering?”

I shook my head. He pounded on the plain, white door.  Bang, Bang, Bang, Bang, Bang.   The sound reverberated down the hallway, triggering a sprinkle of plaster chips to fall from the ceiling.  There was no mistaking that someone was at the door.  One might even think it was the police from the aggressive knocking.

knocking

A chair scraped across the floor and someone limped towards the door. My suspicious were about to be confirmed, I grimaced and braced myself for the worst.

“He’s in there all right,” Mr. Jay said with a knowing nod and left to return to the office.

The door knob turned and the door opened a crack. A dark eye peered out, recognizing his visitor, the door opened a little wider.  A sliver of face appeared through the crack.

“I’m sick,” Ralph whispered.

Long fingers wrapped around the edge of the door and a bare shoulder appeared; it was the same smooth brown as his face.

“Are you hurt?” I asked.

“It’s just an old injury,” he said, evasively. “I haven’t been able to walk for the past few days.  Sorry I haven’t been into see you,” he apologized.

“How did this happen? I asked.

He looked off and away, “It’s just an old injury. I’ll be better in a few days.”

“Did someone do this to you? Tell me who did this to you. “

I demanded names. He naturally refused with a sad giggle.

“Could you send Mr. Jay back up here? I need to talk to him about something.”

“Of course,” I agreed, “I will send him right up.”

I left, certain of a break-through in this mysterious case. We would get justice for Ralph.  Whatever crimes had been committed again him would not go unpunished.

“Mr. Jay, Ralph wants to talk to you, man-to-man. I think its something important.”

Mr. Jay stood with a stoic face, already understanding the importance of this request, “I’m on my way.”

He returned no more than eight minutes later. It was enough time to go up the stairs and down the hallway, knock and wait for Ralph to answer the door to reveal a terrible secret and to return.

I met him just inside of the door in the office.

“Well, everything ok?”

There was a lot of buildup to this moment, I felt anxious and excited, ready to spring into action. Some things can only be shared man to man. I respected that space and stepped back to let the mutual sharing take place.

“He asked if we have any extra pizzas,” Mr. Jay said in an irritated voice. “He just wanted pizza.”

And so it goes.

Thanks Vonnegut for providing the only possible phrase to end this short story.

von

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