Air

Transformation
“I don’t think you really believe that, I think you are just saying a bunch of words,” the man flatly stated.

He filled the chair across from me with huge arms and legs and a puzzled expression. A huge silver cross hung from a chain around his neck.   It was possibly removed from a church altar but looked like a normal sized piece of jewelry on his chest.

Confusion and frustration triggered a tic, his left check twitched and his left eye blinked. He clenched his jaw and ground his teeth back and forth.  I almost reminded him of what his dentist recommended after his last visit but decided against it.  The timing just wasn’t right.

I was about to explain that the maintenance man was not leaving spiders in his bathroom, again, when Lazy Man rushed through the door.

“Puney,” he gasped, out of breath from the short shuffle to the office. His eyes were bleary behind thick lenses.  He wore house slippers and a white t-shirt with a hole in the center of his chest.

“My wallet has been stolen. I’ve torn my place up and it’s gone.  It’s nowhere.  I think I know who took it, too.”

He sighed, “She needs help but I need my wallet.”

Lazy Man sighed again and again.

If Lazy Man was a balloon, he would be almost completely deflated by this time, a shriveled piece of rubber begging for air.

The next day, Lazy Man returned.

He shuffled in wearing tennis shoes and jeans with a clean t-shirt. His eyes were clear and there wasn’t a single sigh on the horizon.

“I just wanted to let you know, I found my wallet. It was in my coat pocket in the closet. I hid it too well from myself.”

He laughed and shuffled back out.   A red balloon escaped from a bundle for a birthday and floated up to the sky, a bright spot of color against the sky of blue.

red

Judas

Embarrassing
The investigator barged into my office with the force of a tropical storm. She had a bad haircut and wore a masculine outfit of pleated pants, a button-up shirt and ugly, scuffed leather shoes.  If I had a proper warning, I would have boarded up the windows and left town.

“I’ve been calling and I rang the doorbell. Why didn’t you answer?”

My mouth opened to say that I had not received any calls in the past hour, the doorbell never sounded, and lastly, who the hell are you? Clearly, if I had notice, I would not be there waiting.

The woman continued in an almost apologetic tone, “It doesn’t matter. My name is Debra Dedmaus and I am here to investigate a claim of neglect.”

I snickered in spite of the uncomfortable tension.

“Is something funny?” she asked. “Because there is nothing funny about child neglect. Now, if you will take me to Alison F. Orgets apartment.  I will handle things from there.”

This was not a request. It was a demand.

I led the terrible Deadmouse woman down the hallway past the numbered doors.

One, Two, Three.

We stopped in front of Four. I knocked, with several light tippity-tap-tap-taps.  Deadmouse waited a second and commenced to pounding on the door.  Plaster crumbled from the ceiling overhead and landed on her dark hair.  Ha! I thought, serves her right.

The door opened a crack, a woman in a bathrobe stood behind it. She saw me and opened it the rest of the way.

“Hi Puney, what’s going on?”

Deadmouse stepped in front of me, wielding her official badge from her agency.

“I’m here to investigate a report of neglect,” she repeated the same line from earlier.

She glanced down at her clipboard and went on to add, “It came from a P. Bones. I assume you know each other,” she smirked.

Ali looked at me in disbelief. I used my mind powers to open a hole in the ground into which I hoped to fall until I hit the Earth’s core.  Again, my powers failed me and I remained standing. I didn’t feel so much embarrassed as I felt small and ashamed.  I set into motion an unstoppable chain of events which would prove to be as cataclysmic as the original sin.

I was Judas and had just delivered the kiss of death.

ju

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

Who brought the cake?

cake

The woman felt self-conscious as she took a bite of the cake. Her co-worker kept coming into her office each time she tried to eat it. It was weird, like he was trying to catch her in the act of eating cake on the clock.

I’m on salary, damn it. If I want to eat cake on the clock, I can eat cake on the clock.

Her co-worker waited outside of her door, listening for the crinkling sound of aluminum foil.

Ah-ha! She is eating it, at last!

The man peered into the office where the woman sat with a Styrofoam plate in her lap. She sensed his silent, peering presence as he waited for her to eat the cake.

Aluminum foil was peeled back from around the white plate to reveal a generous slice of moist and rich chocolate cake.

“You brought the cake, so stop trying to catch me eating it.”

The woman glanced at the man and laughed. A dark cloud crossed over her face; it passed as quickly as it arrived. Something was definitely weird.  This was his third cake-related time in her office today, starting with the delivery of “Just a little treat for later” first thing in the morning.

Its no stranger than his usual day-to-day weirdness, she reasoned. I am sure its just a kick he’s on and its kind of nice. He must know how much I love cake.

“I wanted to make sure you liked it,” the man explained, feigning an air of innocence that the woman found hard to believe.

Earlier, the man stood in her doorway, triggered by the crinkle-crunkling of aluminum foil. He saw the plate in the woman’s hand, it was half way unwrapped.

Butterflies released from his stomach, the woman was about to eat the cake. He could hardly stand his excitement and then the phone rang.  His heart fell into his orthopeadic shoes. The woman placed the plate on a stack of papers on the side of the desk and answered the call.

The man crept further into the office, “Just checking for a fax for someone down the hall,” he said with his eyes downcast.

The woman remained on the phone, covered the mouthpiece with one manicured hand and whispered, “I’ll let you know if something comes though.”

He left, heavy and weighed down with disappointment.  Perhaps, she will never eat the cake, he wondered. I must have faith, he reminded himself in an effort to steady his nerves, jangled from the phone call.

Now the time was the right. The man felt relief watching the woman dig into the cake. She forked a massive glob of cake into her mouth and smiled.  Her teeth were brown from the chocolate frosting.

“This is really good, thanks so much for thinking of me especially after I called you a creep.”

The man did not feel bad about what was about to happen. In fact, he felt nothing at all other than an incredible lightness. He took a deep breath and filled his lungs.

“Agree to disagree,” the man said without any expression. His eyes sparkled as he clung to the door frame watching the woman swallow bite after bite.

“We simply have to agree to disagree,” he repeated.  He looked at his wrist watch and noted the time.

Now he just had to wait.

Taken

dark

A pair of gothic, teeny boppers knocked at the office door before trying the door handle. Finding it unlocked, they let themselves quietly inside.  They looked up in surprise to see someone sitting at the desk.

They were dressed up for the day in their good black clothes, like they were on their way to a funeral and had to make a quick stop in my office to pick up a condolence card. The slender one of the two wore a thick layer of black lipstick which created a black hole type of a situation on her face.  The other one had a long black trench coat over black pants and a black blouse and black platform shoes.

“Hi girls, guess what? The forecaster is calling for sunshine and temps in the 70’s.  It might be time to get your summer clothes out.”

“These are our summer clothes,” Trenchcoat responded and walked past me to the kitchenette area.

Trenchcoat poured day old coffee, turned sludge, into two Styrofoam cups. She spooned sugar into the cups until the liquid reached saturation and the sugar fell in a pile at the bottom. Still she spooned the sugar out of the plastic dish into the cups.

Small talk was not appreciated while she worked on emptying the sugar dish.

“We have good news,” Lipstick exclaimed in a flat voice.

I stared at the sugar dish as it was slowly emptied and listened to Lipstick at the same time.

“We will be moving soon,” Trenchcoat continued for her partner, looking up from the work at hand, with only slightly more animation.

“That is good news!” I said, beginning to think of who would replace the pair.

“We need bags and boxes.”

I turned to focus back on Trenchcoat and Lipstick shimmied past me as I stood, leaning on my desk.

Lipstick opened the refrigerator, in spite of the “Staff Only” sign.

“Where’s your creamer?” she asked from inside of the humming machine.  “Oh well, I found some old cookies. Anyone going to eat these?”

She pulled a bag of old wafers from the back, pulled a cookie out and took a bite.

“Nah, these are stale,” she said. She flipped the trash open and tossed the bag inside, letting the lid come back down with a bang.

They slowly walked through the office, each with a coffee in hand. Lipstick picked up a stapler and Trenchcoat peered over a report on my desk. They adjusted the blinds and picked through the lost and found bin.

“We better start packing,” Trenchcoat said with her usual glumness.

Lipstick and Trenchcoat left with their coffee, most of the contents of the sugar dish and a coat from the lost and found. I saw what they took.  Yet, I couldn’t help but to feel an uneasy certainty that something else was out of place and missing, taken by their sticky fingers, soon to travel to new places in one of their many black pockets.

Bon Voyage!