A Damn Fine Town
A little boy in a red cape whooshes past me on the early morning train. He’s dead set on flying down this musty subway car headed for the airport. Kid Cape.
Heh, I must’ve had a costume like that for Halloween. Probably wore it too long too.
No one I scouted paid any attention to me thanks to this nondescript jacket in this indifferent pose with this vague stare. But this kid spins around, runs back, and eyeballs me. He’s my daughter’s age.
“POW!” Kid Cape says with a grimace and a tiny, hairless fist pointing at my nose. “I stopped you!”
- The Best American Mystery Stories 2019
- or Down & Out: The Magazine, Vol. 1, Issue 4
- its publication journey
She wonders aloud what his orgasms are like. He lacks the clarity to inhabit what just happened, but he wants to try before the sweat dries.
He shuts his eyes, and reopens them defiantly. No, darkness makes it easier to fill the void with anything but the present. And he wants to linger.
His first ten days of life, he only knew a doctor’s latex touch. Preemie. Such a cruel word for such a cute boy. I needed to rub my cheeks on his. I nuzzled up to him. For a moment his warmth reached beyond his five pounds. But he jerked his head in the unshaven direction of my cheek and filled our apartment with tearless cries. Oh, Alexander.
“What unshaven direction?” Mom asked that evening when I brewed coffee in preparation for another upright night of soothing.
In the hour of creeping light—too late to call insomniac—I trace the highways of sleepless sweat over my body to the chirping song of a lone bird.
Clyde. I always call you first. Your home number was the second I memorized after my own. You sat atop all favorites on the speed dial of every phone I’ve owned. You’ll call back, even if I leave another empty voicemail. “Heeey, it’s Clyde. Leave a message at the…” Beep. I breathe. I can’t. Someone needs to listen.
Mom. Which time zone holds you now? Which one has me? I barely remember life before we started moving apart. But I always throw a rope, try and tie a makeshift bridge across the jungle of our hearts. It falls into the ravine of endless ringing.
“I’ll never buy a real Christmas tree again,” I say as I flip on the car’s emergency lights.
“Huh?” My stepdaughter looks up from the back seat. Pulls off her giant headphones, but someone’s still rapping. Probably about daddy issues.
“Didn’t you see what happened?”
“What?” Her eyebrows squirm like I’m still talking.
Let me tell you why novels don’t get done. You’re young and full of words, so you spend a summer pouring your nights into dawns and crippling your fingers because they can’t curve into how you feel. Neither do the letters, no matter how many fonts you cycle through.
That’s a first draft.
That’s my contribution to this morning’s revision party. A party for me and my friend June, at another cafe where no one’s invited to my world or June’s. They aren’t ready yet.
Once, on a bright June day that freed us to shed our usual jackets, I snuck out of work to meet you. You, in an azure dress like a clear sky glimpsed through sunglasses. I found your smile on that teeming downtown boulevard, glistening light on a cresting wave. Your kindled fingertips danced up my forearms and tickled into my shirt sleeves. I spun you in a hug that lasted three years, only three years.
When I lived in the hushed city, I spent countless lonely hours seeking company on my balcony. On move-in day, sunlight poured in through the glass wall panorama, golden and warm like a fresh cup my fingers could cuddle. This balcony glowed. A welcoming box that peeked out at hundreds of other balconies, possibilities, lives.
lying is the girl
You ready? Last flight leaves in 45!”
She isn’t. Asks me to grab her lipstick. We’re going skydiving; who cares what pink shade wraps your screaming lips at 10,000 feet?
The Price of Chivalry
$65. That’s the price of chivalry. Stop reading. There’s only embarrassment ahead. Whatever curiosity the title sparked should be satisfied. Go on. Live your life. Make your own mistakes.
Still here? Fine. Grab a cup of something good and sip along with the first real sentence.
My wife pointed out the willow tree on move-in day. The branches draped over a hill as round as my wife’s belly at seven months. We’d traded a West Coast high-rise for an East Coast village where the only thing to wake our baby would be other babies. We came to the city in our youth. And we left for our youth.
Before our men all left in ’42, there he’d been. Our windows pointed at their driveway. His cigarettes pulled my chin like a fish hook — sleek, not painless. I’d see the couple next door necking by their truck and leer from our living room, dust clean blinds as an excuse to watch.
When I turned eleven, Mom forgot to buy more birthday candles. So instead of eleven little sticks, I got two. She pretended 1 + 1 made 11, but I knew when I was getting the finger. Funny, she never forgot to buy scented candles that littered our apartment. And I never forgot what a lit candle does to a dark room when I should’ve been asleep.
The Unfinished Death of My Grandfather
I got the call in the Houston airport, stuck in an airplane cabin the color of a deserted dentist’s office. Yesterday, Travis and I attended Duke’s wedding as two single groomsmen on Valentine’s. Today, we squeezed into 31D and E, near the already pungent bathroom. Duke was supposed to be the last of us to settle down. Every five minutes an announcement reminded us they needed another five minutes to inspect the plane. “An ancient American Airlines plane that American’t fly,” Travis said.
If the plane departed on time, I would have missed the call. If I left the reception with Roxana, who spent nine songs teaching my toes to salsa, I could have overslept this morning dance. If I focused on the jaded tingle in my father’s voice a month earlier when he insisted Grandpa would live, I should have been on a different plane. If only I’d answered my phone yesterday…
A Homesick Wanderlust
I detest the word “content.” It implies complacency, a lack of momentum and desire, and a surrender to your life as is. As Jess Walter says in Beautiful Ruins, “we want what we want.” Not wanting is tantamount to not existing. Making an enemy of contentedness makes me re-evaluate my habits and routines, even when it comes to writing.
Read more in Shut Up & Write! Zine
Why I Write
Rebecca Solnit described writing as a conversation across time with someone you haven’t met yet. Isn’t that the ultimate saving grace of a creative ego? Even if you’re dead and forgotten, you’ll survive in the words some reader may find and empathize with one tomorrow.
Read more in Fiction Southeast
blinks of awe
Poetry you can see, touch, and hear. Exclusively for iBooks (iPad & Mac).
aisles of ideas
3rd Place winner at the 2020 KCLS Reel Fest.