Saturday, April 17, 2010

Florescent Light White Walls

"Do we go home?"

His older brother looked away.

"He's hooked up to some machine." The younger paused. "I have class tomorrow."

Looked at the ceiling

"He's so small."

Played with the car keys.

"Maybe we should stay."

Lips turned white.

"Emily's still asleep."

And walked away.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Forgetting Adam (3)


It was of the modern variety and created the illusion of grass, like cloth flowers created the illusion of application. Brian lay on his back and looked at the overcast, fall sky. He wished he was laying on real grass and that he was looking at clouds with definition, rather than clouds that could not be distinguished apart from one another. Today is fixed, he thought: created in subterranean crypts of God's heaven, in secret so as to not upset the oblivious above, His angels devised Brian's downfall and it was to begin with overcast skies and artificial turf.

Mary walked slowly over to where Brian lay. She wore a cream sweater and an old ski hat with a ball of yarn on top. Brian kept his eye's closed, hoping that his girlfriend would leave him laying there for a few more moments. She didn't say anything but she did sit down next to him and fingered the stick that she was holding, picked up as they walked the park path. He was content to let her sit there as long as she didn't speak. He opened one eye to see what kind of mood her face hinted at. She looked vaguely sad. He was more than vaguely sad, though, so he didn't feel much empathy. He closed his eyes again.

Adam had once told him that he could never live in the city. They were waiting in line in front of the Riviera for a show and a homeless man asked them for a square. Adam had never heard that expression for a cigarette before and assumed he wanted drugs. He shook his head no and the bum moved on. Brian told him what the bum meant, and Adam blushed. "I could never live here, I'm too naive."

That was when they were 19. Six years later, Brian was living in Logan Square on Chicago's north side, laying on his back thinking about having a cigarette himself, but mostly thinking about what Adam would think of him if he were still around.

Adam had once said that he didn't want much, just a piece of land and a dog and some vegetables in the ground. That was when he was 18. Even then, Adam knew more of what he wanted in life than Brian ever knew for himself.

Mary got up and went over to the swing set in the playground to poke at the mud and wonder at the broken beer bottles near the landing area of the slide. She was a good girlfriend. They had fun when they went out and stayed in together. He couldn't put his finger on it, and that's why he never left her, but there was something in the way.

He knew what Adam would think of his job. He could never sit in one place for more than an hour, and the thought of sitting at a desk, looking at a computer for eight hours a day would have made him wary, to say the least. Like Mary, Brian didn't mind it if he thought of the job as a temporary thing, but he could never stop thinking about the future and he knew he could not do it forever.

Worse still, was the thought that the wrong person fell off the rail that day. But that thought only crept up during the darkest moments of his regular reflections. Mostly, he blamed himself for not being close enough to help Adam when he fell. He knew he shouldn't blame himself, it wasn't really his fault, but sometimes the moments we have no chance of controlling are the moments that haunt us the most. That's why he imagined himself at the center of a heavenly conspiracy to ruin the rest of his life. If there was justice anywhere, he thought, it wouldn't even be fair in heaven. They wouldn't care if he couldn't have done anything, he was witness to his friend's death and he made the choice to tell people that he had in fact not witnessed it, out of some misplaced instinct that he would be blamed for the death of his best friend if people believed he was there when it happened. He was convinced that he would pay for that lie, harmless as it was. Even if harmless, it was selfish, and he knew it.

Mary stuck the stick in the mud with violence and returned to the soccer field Adam lay on. "I'm going home if your are going to brood here all day." Brian didn't say anything but he did open one eye. She walked away but he knew he would forgive her in the morning. She always did. Maybe that's why he knew he couldn't live with her. He didn't want to be forgiven anymore.

Forgetting Adam (2)


Adam thought he might be dead. He didn't hurt anywhere, if that was any indication. He wasn't asleep either, he was sure. He remembered tripping off of the rail and then everything went black. But he wasn't unconscious: the cement columns to either side of him were solid to the touch and he could feel a cool breeze, with a touch of dankness to it, like his grandmother's basement. He was confused. Maybe he hit his head on a railroad tie as he fell. There had been a train coming in the distance. Maybe the train struck him as he lay unconscious. Either way, he was still drunk. Fear was rising in his throat and after a moment, resting a hand on one of the columns, he leaned over and vomited whiskey and beer onto the scuffed paving stones he was standing on. He wiped his mouth and tried to dispel his rising sense of alarm--he had never thrown up in a dream. He looked around. He was on a road.

It led into the distance behind him, disappearing over the horizon. It cut a straight path through the flat landscape like it was conjured up in straight-edge ruler's dream. Dull green prairie grass, waste-high, tumbled in waves across the plains on either side of the road. The light was failing but the sky above Adam was devoid of any setting sun or any clouds. It was as if a painter had muddied his sky-blue with a puddy gray and haphazardly pushed his brush against the canvas.

In front of him the road ended at a wall beyond the two columns he rested between. The wall was black, pitted, and made Adam queasy when he tried to follow its lines as they ran off into the distance on either side of the road. He couldn't be sure, but he thought the wall curved slightly, like it was one immense circle. It was a short wall, only eight feet tall. Where the road ended, there was a brown wooden door.

Adam thought he heard thunder over the wall, as if he was inside a house hearing distant thunder through closed windows. His heart started to beat very fast, and he thought he might be having a heart attack until he recognized the pain in his chest as heartburn. Looking at the door, he wondered at the acid rising in his stomach. If he was dead, he wondered, why did he have heartburn? Why was he still drunk? And if he could feel these things, why couldn't he feel the bruises he should surely have from tumbling off of a railroad tie? And if he was hit by a train... He stopped himself there, and tried to swallow away the rising bile.

Thunder rolled beyond the wall again. Adam looked up and thought he saw light crackling some distance inside the walled circle, like a sparkler on the Fourth of July. The fizzle of the crackling light reached his ears moments later. He took a step toward the door, not knowing where else to go or what else to do. As he approached the door he could feel the ground beneath him shake and then a louder clap of thunder reverberated off of the invisible barrier above the wall.

Wiping his mouth again, and swallowing the taste of vomit and bile at the back of his throat he tried to push the door forward since there was no latch or knob or handle to speak of. The door didn't budge.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Forgetting Adam (1)


Adam couldn't find what he was looking for. He kicked wet leaves around the bottom of the ditch searching. The cuffs of his jeans were sodden from the work. The dark twilight clouds above were struggling against atmospheric pressure. Slowly, they began to lose shape--looking like shrapnel bursts fired in desperation. He heard thunder in the distance.

The tracks running north and south were cold. They ran on heedlessly into the evening, trembling. A red light ahead stared back at Adam kicking. Below, an electrical switch clicked in perpetual frustration. The trembling increased quickly and the stone ballast began to jump in consternation. A growing crescendo was building.

He looked over his shoulder, judging the climax. A glittering light beyond the red eyed him. From the safety of the ditch he kept working. Ignored, the offended burst forward in a flurry of momentum. Speed transformed perception--its velocity suspended, it seemed to catch its breath.

Perception exploded. Speeding metal shattered the muffled cries of kicked leaves. The hood of his jacket agitated in the gust. He ducked against the attack of dust and grit. Silence lived in the cacophony. There was only lumbering inevitability.

But gradually the sound of wet leaves under Adam’s shifting weight returned. He stood erect again and watched the last car race after the others. And then he saw it.

Sitting on top of their comrades, dead leaves hid the dark glass but for one winking shoulder. He brushed away the leaves and picked up the bottle to inspect it.

Brian, who was waiting for the train to pass, joined him on the other side of the tracks. "That's it," he said. It felt empty and the label was waterlogged. They looked at each other and Brian shrugged. "She wanted it back, so well give it to her."

Adam agreed and started to head back, slipped on the upwards slope and fell on his face. He tuned over on his back and looked into the darkening sky. He started laughing and so did Brian. He lifted the bottle above his face to inspect it. It was not completely empty. He unscrewed the cap and let the last of the whiskey fall into his mouth. He handed the bottle to Brian who tried to take a drink and then realized it was truly empty. He kicked Adam.

"There's another train coming."

Brian tried to help Adam to his feet, but was pulled down to the wet leaves. The two wrestled down to the bottom of the ditch. Brian could feel wetness seeping through his jacket and untangled him self. He was out of breath. Adam stayed on the ground, laughing again. The clouds broke completely and one faint star struggled to appear against the last of the day's light.

"I don't want to wait for another train to go by," Brian said. He kicked some wet leaves onto Adam. "Let's go."

Adam struggled to get to his feet and forgot about the star. He asked Brian where the bottle had gone.

"Leave it," Brian said over his shoulder as he climbed up the embankment. "It's no good to us empty."

The girl wanted it back. It had been pilfered from her father's liquor cabinet and she needed it back.

He heard more thunder. Something whistled. Adam saw the bottle on the embankment and stumbled over to it. He clutched it in his arms and climbed to the tracks above. He balanced on one of the rails and was mesmerized by the approaching engine, still in the distance. As he watched, velocity suspended again. Brian called out to him.

He tripped and fell as he dismounted his balancing rail.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

lowercase in '55!

this is how i lost my shoe last summer. drinking whiskey. tripping over my cat. i flipped one way, she jumped head long the other. when i came to my left foot was cold. my cat gone. i found it in a bush while hanging lights that winter. frozen. wish i could find that shoe.

Friday, April 18, 2008

This is the Best Part

I walked up the stairs to the platform. Dull gray and sleepy oranges appeared over the trees and squat buildings. Perched on that island of rock, wood, and iron rails, I watched the city-sad twilight horizon drift east. I could hear the commuter train barreling in from the south, escaping from dusk-swallowed skyscraper lights.

It did not slow down and some on the platform were startled when a whistle blew in suggestion. I turned my back and tried to hide from the approaching gust of dirt and cigarette butts. There was a gathering of momentum, a crescendo, and then it was gone. I arrived earlier than I thought. My watch was wrong.

I looked south again searching for a light floating over the tracks in the distance and I waited.

I was in a hurry. My bike had been stolen the week before so I had to walk to the train. It was a Sunday and I knew I couldn't waste time waiting for a bus that might not feel like coming. I did stop on the corner and look west just for a moment. There was another man standing at the bus stop but he was resigned to waiting. He leaned against the brick wall of the liquor store and closed his eyes when I looked at him. He took a deep breath and I think he was about to smile. I walked by without another glance and headed south.

The trees were getting greener on Leland street. There were baby carriages and fathers, and kids on bicycles with training wheels. There was a freshly opened scar on the pavement in the middle of the street with warning cones surrounding it. A cat was sleeping on a front step as I passed. It rolled its eyes at me and scoffed. I picked up my pace. A dog and his man were walking toward me. The dog was dragging the man, intent on moving forward. I winked at the dog. The dog's man, bleary-eyed and smoking a cigarette, mistook this gesture of solidarity the wrong way and dropped his eyes. I looked at my watch and cursed petty bike thieves.

At the next corner I had to pause at an orange, blinking hand. I could see the raised train platform blocks away, laughing in its rust. I looked up the cross street and then down hoping for a window to make my move. When I looked to my left again a woman in a wide brimmed summer hat distracted me and I stared. She was reading a book, sitting on the bench outside of the coffee shop. There was a white ribbon around the trough of her hat with a blue flower held in place. She took a sip of her coffee and caught me looking at her over the top of her book. I looked away, avoiding the awkward moment in time to see the orange hand turn to a happy walking man.

I surged forward and forgot about the blue flower in her hat. On the next corner was a Catholic church with its doors swung open. I spied inside as I surged by and saw a handful of people sitting in pews. There was a priest in a white and purple costume with his arms raised over his congregation. I didn't hear what he said but I heard the organ say goodbye. I thought it was a train whistle, leaned ahead, and put my shoulder into the distance between the church and the platform.

My watch gave me mere seconds. I tried a jog for a few steps then returned to a walk; I trotted for a couple of sidewalk squares and then thought better. the entrance to the platform, though I could see people on it ahead and above me, was half way down the street it ran parallel to. I took the right turn at speed, jumping around a startled squirrel, and fixed my eyes on the stairway at street level. As I approached, I noticed a couple sitting on the bottom steps close together. The man had his arm around the woman. They were looking at their feet but were smiling. As I came up to them I heard the man say, "this is the best part."

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Cowered and In Charge - A Meditation on New Year's Eve Dogsitting

The dog is driving me crazy now. I don’t know exactly what I should do. If I stand up it stands up and snarls. Its eyes. Ice and blue. Dull, though. I sit, and then it sits and plays. All I have to do is sit. But for how long?

A while later now. I haven’t tried to stand up. I am comfortable enough sitting here. There is a game on. A very patriotic scene. The Air Force academy is facing off against the University of California. I think it is in a southwestern state. So it is sunny and warm. Everyone is smiling. The service academy boosters and alum lend it a Fourth-of-July-parade type feel. There are American flags everywhere. Aviator sunglasses, too. And then there are the Californians. We all wear our costumes, I guess.

It’s all very American. I am an American.


Crowd goes wild with a red, white and blue frenzy.

But the dog. Shhh. I think it is finally a sleep. I think I might try and stand up-- Oh no. It groaned. Was that just a sleeping groan? Here I go!

It’s back up! It’s prowling. There is a singer on now pleading as loud as he can, “Relief!” I nod in agreement.