fiction

Seasons’ Spell 4

Part 4 of 4, the end. Reminds me: “The temptation towards resolution, towards wrapping up the package, seems to me a terrible trap. Why not be more honest with the moment? The most authentic endings are the ones which are already revolving towards another beginning” (Sam Shephard). Another beginning, a new beginning, or the same beginning, like part 1. Then part 2 and part 3.


He has written a note and left it on the table. The window, now closed and locked, is doing its time-weary best to stand against a wind that creeps disregardfully through the cracks and gaps and spaces, frosting the eight frames’ edges and inadvertently softening the view of a bitter, fuliginous gray sky hanging over leafless brown-black branches, if anyone were there to see.

The oxalis is long-dead but its empty pot remains on the sill, pointless and inert. The curtains have been removed, the tablecloth is gone, and the chairs are tucked in, left behind as if to commemorate shared comforts, and also loss. The photograph is gone but a faint rectangle of long-shaded paint remains on the wall in its place, and the only sounds in the house are the occasional wintry creak and groan of tired timber and the wind’s solemn, discordant breaths. The note sits on bare maple nicked and scratched.

I love the you I’m sure you’ve become even though I’m not there to know and see, he wrote.

*

And spring returns, and the house remains. The trees, the hills, the sky, the night, the day—they all remain with time, ever changing, ever the same.

Standard
fiction

Seasons’ Spell 3

Part 3 of 4. Read part 1 and part 2. Or don’t, it’s up to you.


She sits at the small square table by the half-open window, now in his chair, trying to feel his angle, again wearing the white sun dress but now with gray wool leggings below and a crimson cardigan unbuttoned above. Her hair is down and a single silver strand glints in the gradually approaching dusk. The sky beyond the window is sharp and cloudless, and the fading embers of day are being pushed down over the edge of an uneven horizon of autumn treetops now turned red, orange, yellow, brown, pushed down by the ever-deepening purplishness of evening’s onset. The sweet, pungent aroma of decline is carried into the room by cool air like an offering of resting peace.

She has before her a torn-open envelope which moments ago contained the letter which is now on the floor beside the chair, her left arm hanging at her side above it, hand limp and useless. Her right hand is in her lap and her heart beats slowly, as if out of pure, ignorant reflex, knowing nothing else but beating, and she’s looking, staring out the window to her right, crumpled. The oxalis is wilting and the corners of the tablecloth are as still as painted life.

The house, too, is still and silent, as if it holds the breath that has just been removed from her lungs. There is only the autumnal near-nervous whisper and swish outside, its indifference providing some cover for the dull, pointless beats of her heart. At least it’s not winter yet, she thinks, breaking free from her trance, at least these beats don’t sound like a hammer on cold steel. Because they will, the longer I stay, they will. And in that thought she realizes she does not feel lonely, she feels alone.

It’s the sound. The quiet is different when you’re alone, she thinks—you can hear it like a living, breathing, watching, thinking thing, a bigger thing than you by far, teeth and claws and eyes and all, virulent and terrible. Deafening, near-deathly—the quiet of aloneness, not lonesome presence, only absences drowning out all else, keeping you disclosed and defenseless because it knows no one is coming, knows it has you all to itself, knows how piddling and afraid. How does it know these things, how does it get through like this, she implores, at the edges of frantic, heartbeats hastening, feeling cornered and muted by the vacuity around her. Everything is so loud when there’s nothing in it.

The menacing quiet begins to recede, its work seemingly complete, giving way now to Silence, a silence which she is certain radiates from inside her, pure and terrifying. The wonderland has closed in, closed off, worn thin, turned colors real and sorrowful, but almost apologetic in a last gasping, pleading breath of beauty, a tease of remembrance and a hint of hope for yet another chapter, another turn, at least another page, just one more page, and for a moment she begins to dare to believe that that page has already been composed and lays helplessly, cruelly on the floor beside her, written for her rather than by. She steadies herself, steadies her heart, and closes her eyes and turns inward to face the Silence, seeking its source, much as she had once turned outward to him, opening, she had thought, to the source of Love like an alchemist to her prima materia.

It pains her now, all of it, everything around and within—the crispness and the clarity, indescribably profound in its extraordinary this-ness, teeming with absolutes, the colors, the smells, the turn, the radiating silence, the tease and the hint, the faded coffee stains on the tablecloth, the chipping, peeling paint on the sill, the sight of her own empty chair, as if it is she who has departed, now haunting her own home. What does it mean now to be here, to be where they once were and were They, she wonders, but she cannot make herself move. He has taken the life with him, she thinks, feels, knows, all the life, so she just sits, one hand hanging and the other dead in her lap, dark eyes seeing straight through to nothing, astonished it has come to this. I did everything for you and you just took it, took it.

She brings her right hand to the table and traces her index finger along a familiar groove felt beneath the tablecloth, halts, lays her palm flat on the envelope, and reaches without looking for the letter on the floor with her left. Once retrieved, she summons her right hand to help fold the letter back up and return it to the torn envelope as if retracing her steps, maybe even rewinding time, then places the mended missive on the table before her and smooths it flat. Winter is in the air, she thinks, inevitable and portending, but the details have yet to be written.

Standard
prosetry

Strong Oak

I went past him on the bus. Well I could only see his feet but I knew it was a ‘him.’

Sometimes my eyes see things that aren’t there. They are there, because I can see them, but apparently they’re not visible to other people. Like the time I saw a human-sized dog bounding towards me but nobody else saw it, even though my face was somehow covered in its slobber and I had dog hair on my clothes. Sometimes I entertain the things I see, sometimes I assume they’re not really real and ignore them. I wonder how many real things I’ve discredited because I’ve been told that parts of my brain aren’t trustworthy. But him, his feet, felt like something I should investigate.

I got off the bus at the hospital and instead of going to the psychiatric ward where I had an appointment I turned back and walked the way I’d just come, past the little park. I walked slowly but with purpose. I knew what I was going to see and I didn’t know what I was going to see.

I pushed through the willows and hedges and there he was, strung up from the strongest arm of the oak tree. Male. Late 30s/early 40s. 6ft-ish. Looks Eastern European. Blue t-shirt, navy jacket, dark jeans, white trainers. Fists clenched. Gold band on the ring finger of his right hand. Rosary in his left. I hope the Catholics aren’t right about suicide. He doesn’t look like he’s in Hell. And if his life was hell on earth then he’ll be well-prepared anyway. I’m glad his eyes were closed, it would’ve been more disturbing if they were open, less peaceful, less okay.

I stood about a metre away, lit a cigarette and looked at him for a while. He waltzed with the breeze. The only music was the rope creaking. He was a reluctant dancer. His face was pale grey and his lips were blue: he looked like a painting. I looked at the rope. A perfect slip-knot. Would’ve been painless. No broken neck. Boy scout.

I thought about him climbing up this tree, perching on the branch, tying the rope around and around, double-checking it’s secure, putting the noose around his neck, tightening it, triple-checking it’s all secure, taking a moment to look around, to breathe in, gently lowering himself underneath the branch, his arms over it, then placing one hand on the rope, then another, slowly slipping down, one last look at the world and then letting go. Bam.

I reached up to his jacket pocket and took his wallet out. Polish national. Same name as my grandfather. Oh, it’s his birthday today. He’s 38. Shit. I put the wallet back. I found two folded bits of paper in the other pocket. Oh, of course. Notes. One to his brother, one to his wife. I don’t read them even though morbid curiosity tells me to go ahead. No. I might be crazy but I’m not heartless. I put them back in his pocket. They’re not mine to read.

I looked around the tree for other clues. Bingo. A black plastic bag from the off licence. Inside: today’s newspaper, a switched off mobile phone and 4 cans of Dębowe Mocne, a strong Polish lager. In the bush nearby I see an empty can of Dębowe and at the base of the tree trunk there’s another. Creak. I go over to it and pick it up. Creak. It’s half full. Half empty. Half drunk. Half gone. Half left. Around the lip of the can I see saliva mixed with beer.

Suddenly a yappy little Jack Russell comes running over out of nowhere. He looks at me and looks at the hanging man and starts barking.
“SAMMY! Come here, boy, over here. Sammy!”
I say to the dog, “You’d better be on your way then, Sammy.”
He didn’t move, just kept on barking.

Then comes his owner. A short, tubby Irishman with a red face.
“JESUS MARY AND JOSEPH!” he says, taking his hat off. “Christ! What’s happened?”

I stare at him, blankly.

“Don’t answer that, bloody come here and help me get him down!!!” he yells and he hugs the man’s legs and tries to lift him up. I want to laugh but it’s not the time nor place.

“Fucking well help me then!” he shouts at me.
“He’s dead,” I say, unhelpfully, helpfully.
“Christ!” he says, letting go. “Have you got yer mobile telephone on yer girl, we need to call an ambulance right now, right now!?”
“No, I don’t. Sorry.”
I say.
“WHAT! I thought all yous kids had a phone on yer! Right. Right. Okay,” he says, clearly losing his shit.

He crosses himself. “How very sad it is. It’s a sad thing, suicide, isn’t it? Very sad. Very tragic. Good grief. Right. I live just over that road there, I’m going to run home and call the ambulance and the police and do yer think I should phone the fire brigade? You know, to, to cut him down, like? Jesus. Oh, Jesus. You stay here, won’t yer. Just… watch him… make sure he doesn’t move.”

I don’t know what’s funnier, the thought of this fat little flustered old man running or me watching a corpse to make sure it doesn’t do anything.

Right. Stay here. Come on Sammy, come on boy. Mary mother of God. Right. Police, ambulance, fire,” he muttered, shuffling away.

I was still holding this can of Dębowe Mocne. I took a few swigs because it seemed like the appropriate thing to do. Then I suddenly thought about this dead man’s saliva mixing with mine, on my lips, in my mouth. I decided that I can either think of it as disgustingly disrespectful and too macabre to justify or I can think of it as a sort of last kiss, a kiss goodbye. I looked up at him. The poor bastard.

I noticed that whilst the chubby little man was manhandling this guy’s legs, one of his shoelaces came undone. I did it up. For some reason I said aloud, “There you are. All fixed” like I say when I do my nephew’s shoelace up after he’s fallen over. I wondered about this man suspended above me, about who he is, who he was. I said to him, “What was it that made you so sad?” I wondered if his sadness is equivalent to mine, or if he was even sadder than me, or if I am in fact much sadder than he was when he chose to do this but by some fluke I’m still alive and he isn’t.

I looked at the beer can. Dębowe Mocne. That literally translates as Strong Oak. I wondered if the beer was a coincidence. He killed himself on a Dębowe Mocne, on the strongest oak tree in the park. Maybe he wasn’t strong enough to ask for help or to carry on. Maybe he came to this tree for strength and didn’t find any. Or maybe he just bought this beer because it’s a super-strength lager and it’s cheap to get pissed on it.

I lifted the can up as high as I could, above level with his stomach, and said aloud, “Happy Birthday, Stanisław. Wszystkiego najlepszego. To sadness. To slipknots. To strength. Na zdrowie, mate.” I necked the beer, threw the can in the bag and walked to the hospital.

“Sorry I’m late, fucking roadworks. Can I still see Dr K for my psych review or do I have to reschedule?” The receptionist eyed me suspiciously and said, “Take a seat.”

“You’re late,” said Dr K. “And you smell like a brewery. Have you been drinking?”
“Not really,”
I said.
“Well you stink of beer,” he said sternly, offering me a mint.

We went through the usual charade. How’s my sleep, how’s my energy, how’s my appetite, how’s my concentration, how’s my social life, how’s my sex life, how are my thoughts of harming myself, how are my thoughts of harming others, how’s my drug use, how’s my alcohol use, how many psychiatrists does it take to change a lightbulb?

Dr K asked me if I still see, hear, feel or experience things that aren’t real. I said, “No, not to my knowledge.” He asked if I am still taking my anti-psychotics properly and I said yes, yes I am, and he said great, I’ll see you in 6 months then.

On my way home, past the park, I anticipated the presence of a police car and ambulance, perhaps the coroner’s hearse, the area cordoned off, officials milling about the tree. But there was nothing. I stood there for a moment in shock, surveying the park. Then this yappy little dog ran up to me and started barking.

“SAMMY! GET HERE NOW!” I heard a man shout in a broad Irish accent.
I don’t understand.
This stump of a man strolls up to me and says, “Sorry about my dog. Have yer been at the hospital?”
“I’m sorry, what?”
“Have yer been at the hospital, like?”
“Erm, yeah, just now,”
I reply, perplexed, thinking he’s going to tell me what happened to the hanging man.
“Ah. That’s it, you see,” says the red-faced old man, “my little dog here smells death from a mile off.”

Standard
fiction

Seasons’ Spell 2

Part 2 of 4. Read part 1 here.


She sits in her chair at the same small square table by the same open window, a sultry, hazy sky beyond, air like bath water in both hue and temperature and stillness, air soaked up by the same hills and trees, same curtains, same oxalis, same tablecloth, now still and languid, though, same newspaper, but now laid flat, flat and folded on his side of the table. It’s how she feels too, she thinks, folded and flat, as she looks around the room with an almost purely peripheral gaze, almost at the paper, almost at his empty chair across from her, pushed in, then completely out the window, staring without seeing into the spaces around her.

There and with those thoughts she sits in her white cotton sun dress, a favorite of his, her thin arms crossed, long black hair held loosely up over her slender neck and lithe but sturdy shoulders. The day is waking hot and thick, soon to swelter. The heat’s ubiquity acts as a level, she imagines, aligning her with and to all the rest, and she feels ok enough, sort of, tells herself, for the moment, perhaps, looking up at the photograph on the wall above his chair, the small, dark-framed black-and-white photograph of a sidewalk along a foggy Paris avenue from the Past. It has been hung high at standing eye level so he, tall as he is, can give it a for-granted glance or even stop and peer in for a moment when he comes to sit or stands to leave. Sometimes he will gaze at the photo, lingering, caught, she often mused, by the cimmerian figure of a girl and her little white dog about halfway to the image’s vanishing point, standing and looking back at the viewer between a row of bare trees to the right and a corresponding line of store- and housefronts to the left, together forming a corridor of sight with the sidewalk as its floor, leading straight to the girl. Its origin unknown, he has carried this photo with him for years, and where he hangs it is home, marked.

It must’ve been winter there, she fancies each time she looks, or late autumn, perhaps. The trees are bare and a cold-seeming mist hangs, obfuscous, and a presence of something about three paces short of sinister seems to lurk, just a sense of what if, what if the frozen moment were allowed to play. What would we see? He never talks about the photo, never describes it, never says anything more than that it’s “one of his favorites,” keeping the rest, whatever it is, to himself in his customary self-keeping way. He has never been to Paris, she knows that much. It’s something from inside him, she thinks from time to time, and then placed on the outside, hung on the wall, open to view and most likely best left untrammeled by common language.

It is summer Now, though, no matter what it was in Paris or inside him Then, and her gaze drifts to the window and out to the sky, still thinking of the photograph, losing herself in the vapid, smoky blue marked with incidental clouds, some whisping, some cottoned, all hanging above inert treetops and a thought occurs as a crow swoops through the frame. Chekhov and necessity. “If a pistol appears in a story, eventually it’s got to be fired,” he said, she recalled, and it stuck with her the way her arm feels stuck to the table in the heat, the way she feels stuck now, though she knows implicitly that the stickiness has no meaning beyond itself, and is glad for Chekhov, glad someone has thought thoughts before, glad for thoughts of function and relationality, for necessity, for something more concrete than morals or principle. She sits, ruminative, and time hangs, floats, drifts, slow and quiescent, detached from space.

The dog barks outside—three times, two, then one—and she rises from her seat, draws the curtains, and slips on her shoes.

*

Afternoon now, late, but still not dark, and she sits on the sill in her white cotton sun dress, feet bare and dirty and knees tucked up to her chin, looking, just looking, and hearing without listening to the low, unpunctuated hum of the World. Her gaze drifts down from the clouds—fewer now, and their sky deeper and bluer and yellowing with early sunset—and settles absently on the hills and treetops extending as far as Forever and she wonders where he could be. Wonders, imagines, begins to fantasize that he’s lost in the great wild wonderland on some great wild wonder-adventure, even worries a little, for comfort’s sake, oh familiar and trusty concern, hoping he’s safe and well-fed and thinking of her, longing for her, hoping against a deep gnawing knowing that it’s just foolishness, but a sustaining foolishness nonetheless, she tells herself, her thoughts becoming as boundless as the emptiness she’s beginning to sense within and without. He should’ve been back by now, should’ve been back, this is not like him. But something more than nothing tells her he’s not coming, not all of him anyway, and in her mind their wonderland begins turning to mere land, coarse, tangled, verdant, and overgrown, as if a switch has been flipped in a dimly-lit room and the thin gauze of their swoon-myth evaporated.

No, no, breathe, she tells herself, breathe, remembering she needs a reminder, something essential and constitutive, a mantra against the nothing around and rising dismay within. She inhales and hears it fill her, thinks about the air in her lungs, how it’s hers and she’s captured it, how it gives her shape and for a few seconds she’s an origami swan floating there in the viscid air, then it’s expelled and she’s folded and flat again, like the newspaper still on the table, still untouched. She swings her feet to the floor and leaves the window behind, padding off to busy herself, must stay busy, make sound, motion, life, something against this slow summer crawl of time, this boundlessness. He’ll be back and it’ll be ok, like Before, air in and out, remember.

In the evening he returns, just past dusk, and a pale midsummer moon sits low in a star-flecked sky of majestic blue-black through the window. He is troubled, solemn, and distant, not himself, not at all. She is in her chair again; he does not sit, leaning on the doorframe instead. A few small words are exchanged, a few small glances, then he goes off to bed. She remains at the table, feeling smaller than small and still breathing small breaths, and the world Out There comes In Here and suddenly it seems that there are strange trees growing right up from a grass-covered floor, ivy snaking up the walls, and dark bushes in the corners with little eyes glinting from within, the room’s lamplight hushed and outshined by the night sky ceiling. There is a long howl somewhere off in the distance and a slow-stammered hoo-HOO-hoo-hoo in the branches and she feels the crickets in her bones. Afraid to move, almost afraid to breathe, it is all finally too much for her, and then she goes too, to join him, small steps with small, bare feet, almost silent, hoping the truth won’t hear her and follow and she can at least have the night.

Standard
fiction

Seasons’ Spell 1

This is the first of a four-part storyish kind of thing. Trying something a little new here—well, the story’s old, or the idea for it anyway, but I’m sharing it anew.


It is morning, spring, and he sits by the open window at the small, square table covered in a light linen tablecloth with trim of crocheted lace. The window is hung with aphotic green curtains, almost black, like the undersides of the trees at the forest’s edge a stone’s throw or so beyond, pulled back and fastened with cream tassel to taupe walls. A white-flowered oxalis in a rust red pot is perched on the broad, thick-painted sill, its jittery leaves fluttering each time a gust of forenoon breeze picks up and joins them, and he thinks nothing of it, next to nothing of any of it, nearly nothing at all, just goes on reading his newspaper, absorbing words because they’re there. His long, grey wool-trousered legs are casually crossed, angled from the table so his back is partly to the window, mostly to the wall, the sleeves of his white cotton shirt are rolled to the elbows, top three buttons unbuttoned, and his high-arched feet are bare, the left one firm and assured on the worn wood floor.

From time to time the breeze agitates the corners of the newspaper and teasingly threatens to tousle his curly brown hair, hanging mid-length and in need of pruning. But he does not care—he rather likes it this way, letting it be, all as it may. The tablecloth dances lightly, softly with the breeze too, softer than the newspaper and lighter than the oxalis and things make sense.

The tablecloth is one of the First Things they—he and she—got for the house, this small hundred-something-year-old two-storey of timber and stone masonry set back against the rolling foothills by Settlers from Who Knows When, out and away in their very own wonderland, or so they liked to romance, wild and full, surrounded by enchanted things for young-hearted dreamers, nestled and deep-rooted in a bucolic vastness that they’d imagine like starry-eyed children was—is—the center of a great, wide, mysterious galaxy comprised of two fundamental elements: In Here and Out There, with their two souls warm and singularly glowing together like a sun.

That was both Yesterday and Now, and today there is a chair across from him, on the other side of the small, square table. It matches the one in which he now sits—hand-finished oak, finished by her hand—but is empty and pulled out from the table as if its sitter has just absented. The day is still waking outside, still unformed and possible and he breathes it in deeply, listening only to the vernal ensemble of sun and clouds and sky and air and wilderness and dream and memory playing something soft and discordant, a slowly coalescing prelude to the day’s coming harmonics, rising as easily as the steam which gently ascends from black coffee in a white mug near his right elbow and is occasionally stirred and dissipated by the window breaths.

He can hear her in the next room, then in the kitchen, then back again, rustling and bustling and shuffling briskly about, light and nimble and with purpose, easily deliberate, and it makes him feel good, thoughtlessly good, the best good, busy as she is with morning, as he is with it too. All is warm and warming, and they’re serene in their uncertainties.

Standard
fiction

Plastic

In a sinking submarine, sinking, sinking, sinking to the void like das boot, slow and indefinite, with quiet desperate visions of surface trying to push their way in front of day-plain fateful circumstance so we held our breath in a shared act of instinct of the sort that only later gets inflated to solidarity if you make it through.

The reef up there, we thought, sweating, panting, wishing, a consentient mass of unseen presence known, a freedom firm and clear and out of sight, but clenched in mind. And down where we were? Only some deep underwater landside, the underneath and below into which the world couldn’t peer, rocky and oblique in the sloshing, living murk, only that and the hull’s creak for survival, so we closed our eyes wide and held on.

Late had turned to early and I couldn’t find my car. I’d just peeled myself off of the sinking situation with a girl in it, but I knew back home she’d know, knew everyone did, and knew I’d run out of stories, looking for clues for where I’d go in the secrets of how I’d gotten myself there in the first place.

In truth, the submarine had been a room of a rectangle apartment on the fourth floor of a brickstone, up by branches and leaves sprouting from the grand old dark trunks lining the quiet street below and she’d been taken by my self-conscious pedantry and moody banter. Oh, the feeling type, the wayward soul, the unseen seer with his eyes aflame, troubled and boyish.

Morning drew in around us without a sound and steadily turned up the dimmer, up and up and up, slow and even, and when those branches and leaves began to take on their day-color I felt the adrenaline shining bright on what we’d done, on who we were, on the nature to which I’d submitted, etcetera, etcetera, and so on, so gone and afraid of what that made me and sensing what she’d been all along—just a person, like me, fighting and fleeing.

I’d dawdled there against my better judgment, though, sinking, pretending the darkness would only get deeper and soon nothing would show, not a trace of us, not even a bubble to rise and break, looking at that moon-faced clock on her sad wall and thinking of Vonnegut’s Russian POWs instead of what the continued, unaddressed passage of time meant in the simple scheme of the moment, forming inarticulable excuses in a stupor of lazy mental mumbles as the hull’s creaks turned to groans under beautiful, terrible inevitability and the last shards of daydreams of glorious-meadowed authenticity, as if those daydreams had never been daydreamed before, only by we.

I could still feel her eyes on me in the preceding hours’ dimness as I footed it down the sidewalk heading what felt like west, could still see my Gerda Taro, angel of the small death, sitting there in that bed at one end of the rectangle in the deep dark night depths with white sheets pulled up to her chin and only hints of shoulders exposed, eyes like two eels peering out and a mouth aching to speak comforts in which she could not bring herself to believe. And so down and down, deeper and deeper, darker and darker we’d gone, merging two into a secret oneness with a warm blanket pseudonym of a mystifying ideal in which to wrap ourselves till I finally blew the hatch and lurched back out into the open with a remarkable lack of ceremony.

My feet were heavy on the implacable concrete, eyes scanning and glancing, head on a swivel spinning with the waking day and still-fresh scenes of night, not a soul for miles, it seemed, and a solid line of cars down my side of the street, a street that ran perpendicular to hers with the brickstone forming an upside down T on any map I might’ve had and I knew that wasn’t the proper word for it—brickstone—and lingered some more, slowing, overlooking the blatancy, losing track, stalling for answers I could only taste as questions, anything to distract, anything abstract.

What if I were less gentle? Do you want me to be gentle, less? Tell me to be less gentle. Tell me to be anything, more or less, anything you desire. Tell me to be

and I will.

Standard
fiction

Evidently

The waitress from Santa Cruz served me seafood on the boardwalk, in a restaurant so situated, and I sat by the window and looked down into the tides. She seemed to like me and I spotted a sea lion or two and that seemed like a big deal. The sea was more blue than green that day and the sun was sinking and I wondered why I didn’t live there, scratching idly at a small indentation in the edge of the little green table with pine-colored trim and hoping she didn’t notice my fidgets.

The floor was tiled white and I had fish and chips because that’s what I always get under such circumstances, always have. I ate and looked and watched and imagined and wondered and the waitress from Santa Cruz came by and checked on me like the guest I was, warm and hospitable and easy. We chatted passingly of life things, small things, each of us asking small safe easy questions, and I listened to her replies and responded with my own and noticed her shoes.

Somehow we got onto philosophy on one of her passes—not into it, only onto it—and she did not write her number on the bill but after I paid I walked away into the late afternoon silently wishing she had, walking out the door and onto the boardwalk and out over the more blue than green water with the sea lions in it, feeling like a tetherball on a string connected to she the pole with those shoes gliding over that white tile through the rows of small green tables with pine-colored trim and into the kitchen full of cooks and bussers who I was sure must like her and weren’t afraid to tell her so.

I walked, thinking, not thinking, out and back inland again, back past the restaurant, and when I looked in through the windows and the open kitchen door where all the cooks and bussers who surely liked her were, I did not catch that last glimpse. I remembered her name, though, and was glad it wasn’t Cinnamon or Candy or something sugary and absurd like that, and I also remembered where she said she went to school because the mother of the other university-aged boy at the table next had asked while I tried to sit in my seat and eat my food like a normal solitary person and emit the allowable amount of self as if I might be fined by the EPA if too much of the noxious stuff got through my filters, nodding and smiling in acknowledgement of good service when it was my turn to receive and also at the smoothness of our exchanges, wishing the scene would continue but also hoping for a curtain call before someone was put on the spot and the smoothness shriveled and lost its lustre like the skin of a rotting orange, a moment expired, drawn out and moldy.

She did not write her number on the bill but she did write, in the space beneath the restaurant’s name and address, the only immediacy is the moment of creation, with quotes and a double underline for “only” penned lightly in a fast and practiced hand like it just came to her and those were the kinds of things she didn’t bother to stop—that’s what gusts through my mind right now and for a moment catches me like a filthy seabird suspended mid-flight and propped up in place by springly rumbustious breezes while the world turns with its customary imperceptibility so I put down the quill and look at what I’ve scrawled in my defense.

A letter, not to her, likely to no one. It lacks both feeling and idea, you’d say, has a bland aftertaste and smells like wet cardboard, if words can be said to aromate. Words, that’s all they are, and perhaps that’s why. There are hundreds of them, it seems, swirling in no apparent order, looking shriveled and wrinkly in the light of recollection, and beside me on the desk are stacks of papers with thousands more, thousands and thousands more, a lifetime timeline string of words strung together by virtue of nothing more than placement and position and passage, nothing more.

I’m an old man now, I think, and nothing more, looking at the papers, the unsent letters, the words on the page before me, the string tethering me from then that time all those many years ago with the waitress from Santa Cruz to now, alone and scrawling in my quiet room, and no matter how many words I use I can never get back to that moment of creation when she wasn’t real and neither was I.

Standard