The sun idles out back until 7:00, waiting for the trees to cushion its fall. But their leaves won’t plump up or leaven, since just Tuesday it turned spring after all. But maples know when comes the equinox, as sugar sap rises like a rush of blood. They don’t care a bit about changing clocks, though they might about melting ice and flood. I don’t need a calendar to explain Spring has arrived and Old Man Winter’s done. That rush of blood hits my gray head again, and to my love just watch the old sap run
Yours, Mine and Ours for the Asking
You might think that she stole my heart, but we both know that’s a lie. I threw it to her right from the start, a typical move from this guy. Mostly, she’s sent it right back, each time a little worse for the wear. Like, here, you see this gaping crack? But, that doesn’t mean she don’t care. I know I shouldn’t throw it so hard, even though she’s come to expect it. Protecting herself can leave it marred. But deflected don’t mean rejected. It seems we didn’t need more than what of our hearts we shared all the time. We’ll offer more if we need it, but there’s no need to steal. That’s a crime. And so our hearts beat on without any ol’ larcenous intent. Love is love - that’s what we’re about - best given with heartfelt consent.
Confessions of a Dream Monitor
On the job, I choose not to scan your dreams ‘cause I’m sure my role in any’s not what it seems. And you should know that according to Leslie in HR, you’ve only once in mine been the special guest star. But those are my dreams in what passes for night, when I toss and turn in hopes of catching a sight of you by my side instead of only on some page. But here’s where you’re the star on my dreamy stage: when my imagination takes flight during the day and with all my waking hours I dream I can stay. Then reality comes with a thwack on my head, and soon it’s time for everyone else to go to bed, while I, my shift begin, and other’s dreams I scan. But as I said, never yours, ‘cause I’m not the man who would spy on your imaginings from up above. Besides, the manual says I can’t monitor anyone I love. This started out as a free write to start a flash fiction piece for Writer’s Digest’s February Flash Fiction Challenge. The prompt was to write about a “dream monitor.” Whatever that is. Well, obviously the flash never happened, but this rhyming ramble did.
Reaching Epic Heights
Reaching epic heights was never my hope; I always feared them more than I could climb. Then I thought if I took hold of your rope, I might scale peaks that evaded my prime. But I guess I’m not that good a student, nor brave mountaineer, hero or friend. While my intentions weren’t that imprudent, sometimes they’re hard to comprehend. Now we’re stuck on the side of this mountain, surrounded by these clouds and can’t see. No, looks like by anyone’s accountin’ the regret to reach the peak falls on me. So you can go finish your ascension; reaching epic heights is why you came here. If you wish, I’ll untie this rope for descension to my life of quiet failure and fear.
It Might Have Been…
Of all the words of mice and men,
the saddest are, “It might have been.”
Of all the words of mice and men,
the saddest are, “It might have been.”
The mouse scurried across the kitchen floor and Jay’d had enough. He threw his coffee mug at it. The only result was one less mug and one more mouse running rampant around his house.
“Son of a…!” Jay howled as he jumped up to go for the broom. He hadn’t yet decided whether it was to sweep up shards of ceramic or to swat the rodent. In his rush, he placed his bare foot on a piece of the cup bearing the toothy face of his old cat, Teddy. From time to time, Teddy would stab a claw or fang in Jay’s foot. The feeling now was much the same, including Jay’s anger at stampeding mice. Teddy was a conscientious objector in the war of feline versus rodent.
But Teddy was gone. Two weeks before, Jay had let the old cuss out the back door one night and he never came back. A pack of coyotes from the hills behind his yard or some other predator must’ve made a stop for some tabby-to-go, Jay figured.
“Leave it to you to become the prey instead of the hunter,” Jay said when he found the bloody shadow of Teddy left in the dirt by his mom’s last hydrangea next morning. He always tried to sound so tough, but Jay cried for a couple of hours that morning. He didn’t leave his place to go look for Teddy because he wasn’t sure he could take finding him. He called in sick and retired to his bed, as mice as bold as they were silent raced through the house.
“Didn’t want to find you one way or another, you lazy old cat,” he said to the picture of Teddy decaled to his coffee mug the next night. It was the only photo Jay had of Teddy. Jay’s mother took the picture and had the mug made for Jay as a birthday present just before she died. Mom left her home to Jay and, by extension, Teddy. And Jay left her room just as it was the afternoon she died. It wasn’t difficult. He just closed the door and barely ever looked inside.
Now his Mom was gone, Teddy was gone, and the nexus of both of them in his life, that mug, lay scattered on the kitchen floor. One ear lay in front of the sink, Teddy’s calico butt and stub of tail by the fridge. Just for a moment, Jay’s regret surged a bit, realizing he was responsible for Teddy’s tail-ectomy, having closed it in the refrigerator’s door one night after a date with Cassie. He’d heard a short yowl but thought he’d once again stepped on one of Teddy’s five toes on a forepaw. The next morning, Jay’s Mom about fainted when she found four inches of tri-colored Teddy in the lower door tray next to her half-and-half.
So now the only pieces of that mug carrying a decent portion of their portrait was one with Jay’s forced smile and suspicious expression giving a new figuratively missing piece of Teddy the side-eye. The shard with Teddy’s face had elicited Jay’s “Son of a…” when it became pierced Jay’s bare right foot.
Jay hobbled over to the corner where he kept his broom, grabbed it and swept what pieces of Teddy he could see into a pile near the trash can.
“I really gotta clean this place up,” Jay said to Teddy’s blood-stained face he held in his hand. He washed the blood off Teddy and off his own foot, bandaged his cut, but leaned that last piece of his family against the dusty vase of straw flowers on the kitchen table.
“What do you think, Ted? Should I get a new cat or just put a bunch of traps around the place?” Jay said to the pixilated picture of his late companion. The cheap decal Mom had paid twelve dollars for had begun to crackle soon after his birthday and since then Teddy had taken on the appearance of a calico crocodilian.
“I mean, just like with Ma, no one’s ever gonna replace you. I’ll put a few traps out tonight and see if we can’t smash us a mouse or two. What do ya say?”
The next morning, Jay found a fat mouse beneath a flipped over trap. It was the one he’d placed against the wall next to the trash can. Jay had slept fitfully and thought he’d heard some commotion around 4:00 AM, but didn’t want to move. He figured nature, a dab of peanut butter and that length of squared and coiled steel would take their course.
Jay snagged the trap with the hook of an unwound wire shirt hanger he’d mostly straightened and kept in the closet for such occasions. He picked up the deceased, the trap still attached, it’s stiffened tail and legs sticking out like some cartoon creature smashed by an ACME sledge hammer, and headed with it toward the back door. It wasn’t that he was fearful or squeamish, Jay always convinced himself. He just didn’t want to catch any fleas, hantavirus, tularemia or hemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome. The fact that the latter had never been seen in the United States was beside the point to Jay.
He opened the back door and was about to toss the dead mouse in his trash container, the one he padlocked to keep bears away — even though no bear had been seen thereabouts in fifteen years — when he heard it. And then almost stepped on it.
It was a high-pitched meowrr, meowrr. In the dim dawn light he saw the little ball of grey fur with black spots and stripes.
“Holy shit,” Jay said, dropping the hanger, trap and mouse next to the trash can. “Where the heck did you come from, little guy?”
Jay scanned the yard as the sunlight ran over the horizon and through the trees to his back door like a wind from the east. He kneeled down and placed his hand on the kitten just as it opened it’s black rimmed grey-green eyes and bit down on his finger, giving it a healthy suck. He flipped the little one over and saw that its umbilicus was healed and dry and found no other physical issues with it except it was minus its mother.
“Well, little one, if ever a prayer was answered — not sure if it’s yours or mine — this is it,” Jay said. He scooped up the kitten, which let go with even louder meeowrrrrs and hisses, scratching Jay’s hands with its needle-sharp claws, and carried it into his house. While he secured the kitten carefully but firmly in his armpit, he fished about in the cupboard and found a dish which he filled with milk and set both kitten and dish on the floor next to his chair.
The kitten began to lick at the milk but wandered away from it in a few minutes to curl itself around Jay’s stocking feet. If Jay moved his foot, the kitten would move along with it, always staying close, as if feeding off his body heat.
Jay was uncertain what to do. He knew the kitten needed to eat, but didn’t seem interested in the milk. He still had some cans of Teddy’s cat food on the shelf, so he pulled down a Fancy Feast and opened it, all the time trying not to trip on his new house guest and shushing its incessant meeowrrrr.
To Jay’s surprise, the kitten dug right in to the cat food.
“You must be a little older than I thought, weaned at least” Jay said. “Well, how’d you like a nice warm home here with me? I’ve got a nice bed for you and food and toys and a clean cat box….”
Then the kitten wrapped itself around Jay once more, closed its eyes and fell asleep. To Jay, this cemented the deal. In about ten minutes, Jay also fell asleep. When he woke up, around 2:00 PM, the kitten still lay at his feet, but was whining quite loudly.
“You still hungry or are you hungry again?” Jay asked the kitten. He ladled out another blob of cat food and the kitten tore into that with more ferocity than even before.
This intimate domestic situation went on for two days. Jay was pleased that his new kitten’s gentle nature, but not how it demanded all his waking time. It wouldn’t leave his side and would whine and practically growl every second he left it alone.
But Jay knew he had to go to work. He decided to close the kitten in the mudroom by his back door with all the food and water it would need for eight hours. He peeled the kitten off his leg, gave a gentle toss onto Teddy’s old bed and said, “You be a good boy, uh…Mickey,” and quickly closed the door.
When Jay got home, he found the mud room tossed like a thief had broken in searching for valuables. But he also found pieces of a couple of mice and blood smears here and there, as well as on little Mickey’s mouth fur.
“Dang, bud, let’s not go freaking native my first day back to work,” Jay said in a half-stern tone that turned to pure love when Mickey cuddled up close again.
It went like this for the next week, except on Friday Mickey, who seemed to have grown fifty percent bigger on cat food and mud room mice, had somehow forced open the door to the kitchen. When Jay arrived home and saw the open door, he ran inside to find the kitchen in shambles, but with more signs of mice having met their maker.
“Well, at least you’re earning your keep, Mick,” he said. But once again, Jay could barely leave the kitten’s sight without it whining or throwing a tantrum like a two-year-old child. Except Mickey’s tantrums were those of a two-year-old with a pre-teen’s strength and teeth and claws sharp enough to slice through leather.
The following Tuesday, that’s just what happened. Jay came home to find the living room scattered with debris and his father’s old leather easy chair butchered and eviscerated, right down to the mouse blood on its old white stuffing strewn from its wounds to the kitchen door.
“Mickey! Look what you’ve done to my place. Man, you better come correct or it’s off to the shelter for you,” he said. Mickey curled around Jay’s shins, purred his peculiar purr and licked each of the four toes on both his front paws.
At the end of his third week with Jay, Mickey had grown even more. He put away twice as much food as Teddy ever could, as well as eradicating every mouse that dared show its pointy snout even a half-inch into daylight. And Mickey dug his claws through a section of Mom’s bedroom wall to excise a nest there and all its inhabitants.
“You’re a beautiful beast and probably the greatest mouser ever, Mick,” Jay said one night, “But Dude, I’ve gotta find some way to dial you back or I’m gonna have to let you go.” Mickey gave a growling sort of meeeowrrr and wrapped his front paws around Jay’s ankle, essentially pinning him to his chair. There would be no letting go from Mickey’s end of their relationship.
This was Mickey’s latest behavior, establishing ownership of his domain. Jay thought about it one night as Mickey slept against his back, just like his ex, Cassie, did before she ended what had been an eleven-year relationship beginning when they were ten and her family moved next door.
“Jay, I think we’d better move on with our lives,” Cassie said three months before Teddy disappeared. “I’ve always loved you, but I can’t see much of a future for us until you see someone about…things. I mean look at this place.” Cassie pointed to the piles of pizza boxes, empty bottles, newspapers, mouse droppings and the detritus of a man who’d given up on “things.”
“Maybe when you can open that door again,” Cassie pointed to Jay’s Mom’s bedroom, “then you can call me and we can be Cassie and Jay again…but not until then.”
Jay just nodded and didn’t even look as she walked through the mud room and out his back door.
Now, since Mickey had come into his life, Jay had rectified some of those “things.” He’d begun taking better care of the house, keeping everything picked up and clean lest Mickey go on one of his terror raids. There were no more mice. There was no more mess. Jay looked up from Mickey to the open door down the hall.
“You were the one opened Mom’s door, you big lug. Shoot, you opened more than that. Maybe I ought to give Cassie a call,” Jay said to lightly snoring Mickey. “Maybe she’d come back to me if she knew I had the most majestic cat, the greatest mouser in the world, and the house was a rodent-free bastion of our inter-species primacy. Because, Dude, as much as we have our own special thing going here, there’s a hole in my life bigger than the one you dug into the basement.”
So Jay called Cassie, feeling her out and casually dropping, “I’ve got a great cat to succeed old Teddy around here, ya know. Great mouser, the best. Helped me clean up a lot of things. I think you’d love to meet Mickey, Cassie. How’d you like to stop by and see how we’ve straightened up the place?”
That last part was a bit of a white lie. While most of the house was neat, Mickey had by that time torn up the sofa, Mom’s mattress, a wall in the bathroom and half of Jay’s shoes. But Jay figured he could throw a little camouflage here and there, just to get Cassie back to see how the place cleaned up.
“Well…. Maybe I can stop by on my way home from work,” Cassie said “I would like to see how you’re doing, Jay, and this cat sounds like a miracle worker. And I want to believe in miracles.”
It was around 5:30 Thursday that Cassie parked her Hyundai in Jay’s driveway, noticed the old hydrangea had actually bloomed this year and how quiet it all seemed around Jay’s place. Not even birds sang in the old maple Jay would climb out on to sneak a peek, and eventually sneak himself, into her bedroom window next door.
Cassie rang the back door bell, since that was how she always came over, and could hear Jay padding his way out from the living room through the kitchen. He opened the door and invited her in with an awkward hug.
“Maybe just for a sec,” Cassie said. “I thought it would be nice to say hi and see this new cat you were…”
From the living room came a crash. Cassie could hear the scratch of claws on linoleum and the growling morrowrrrr. The kitchen door sounded like someone threw a sack of topsoil against it. Then it burst open.
Cassie stood transfixed as twenty-plus pounds of spotted fury looked around the open door. In one twelve-foot leap, Mickey reached them, beat a paw against Jay’s leg and chomped down on Cassie’s shin. The inharmonious sound of the trio meeting in one spot: soprano shriek, baritone ‘No!” and a guttural exhalation served as puncturing punctuation to the hoped-for reunion.
The back door flung open by Cassie’s backward fall, Mickey twisted his head, released his jaws from her leg with a sickening slash and bolted over top of her, across the yard and in one more athletic leap, over the fence and into the woods.
“Jay. Why…?” Cassie cried as she clutched her bleeding leg.
Jay stood stunned looking down at the girl he loved and then out the door as Mickey’s black-tipped tail melted into the woodland shadows as if he’d dived into a pool without a ripple.
Once the various emergency services vehicles — fire trucks, ambulance, animal control, and state wildlife department truck — raced to his front door and then left one by one, Jay sat in the old easy chair which he’d covered with a sheet, explaining to police about the kitten he found near the trash bin in his backyard and how it was the greatest mouser he’d ever seen.
“Honest, officer, Mickey was a one-cat extermination service. And affectionate? Why, he’d never hurt a fly. I mean maybe he was feral once, an orphan who didn’t know any better, but he slept by me every night for a month,” Jay said.
“Look, buddy, that wasn’t a feral cat, wasn’t some stray that wandered into your yard. The wildlife guy said it was almost certainly a bobcat kit that’d lost its mama to some motor vehicle or illness. I mean poor Cassie is gonna have to go through rabies treatment in addition to sewing her up and therapy for the fright she experienced today.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t know. Sure, he was a little aggressive, but we don’t know he went through to get to my back door. And now he’s gone, just like Teddy. Just like Mom. Just like…Cassie.”
“C’mon, man,” the cop said. “We’ll let the brass decide what to charge you with. Possession of a dangerous animal without a permit. Assault with a deadly weapon. Stupidity.”
“It wasn’t supposed to be this way. You don’t understand. Mickey was… I was… The mice… It was all just… what might have been…”
As the cop took Jay by the arm and led him into the waiting cruiser, a field mouse, curious and entranced by the flashing lights poked his head out of its hole beneath the ash tree behind Cassie’s old house.
He never knew what hit him.
Today, I received an email from Reedsy, the editing and publishing service, with notice of their weekly short story writing contest. The prompt this week had to do with cats. Out of a choice of five, I selected the fifth: Write about a human and a cat that come to some kind of mutual understanding. Here’s an old story idea I had about just such a situation. I just gave it a twist of its l-o-o-n-g tail/tale.
Objects In the Mirror Are Further Away Than They Appear
I rolled up on them outside the club on Madison around 9:00. Three women out for a misty evening on the town. Early bird special of the mahjong and Metamucil class.
I hate myself when I think like this, but my Sirius XM subscription ran out and now I’m left with horrible terrestrial radio, limited hours on my phone data which I need for the ride-share app and the thoughts of a lonely 69-year-old widower.
The ladies tumbled into the back seat in a chattering, scooting line and I asked where to first. They all pointed at the one in the middle — including the one in the middle — and two said, “Meg’s.” So with that address and a chorus of giggles, off we went.
I’m not exactly fond of this job, people being people and other drivers often being less than that, but these ladies were nice enough. Meg gave my ear a breathy, “Thanks, handsome,” on her way out of the car and one of the remaining two said, “Now Debbie’s,” and off we went.
Every now and then the street lights and traffic signals or the neon of a neighborhood joint or gas station we’d pass filled the interior of my car with flashes of rainbow that reflected off the women’s faces and hooked my attention to the rear view mirror. They looked like a blur of Vegas showgirls under stage lights or something. Yes, I notice faces, but not every pothole.
“Careful there, Robby. Hands at 10 and 2, eyes on the road,” the non-Debbie one said. Robby. Not Bob, Bobby nor Robert as it reads on my license. Robby. I didn’t know echoes could last that long.
I walked Debbie to her door, she needing a little more help because of too much ice on her walkway and probably not enough in her drinks. When I got back to the car I saw the bottom half of my remaining fare’s face in the windshield. She’d moved to the front seat.
I walked to the passenger side back door, opened it.
“They ask us to keep our riders in the back, Miss,” I said to the back of her head, hair cut short, but still ebony brown as the fretboard on the guitar I used to play for her. Completely that color. Like one you’d see if she did it in a sink. No gradations to it like an expensive and skilled dye job that one might think it was still her natural color. Like all those years ago.
“C’mon, Robby. Let’s take me home. You know the way. I didn’t know it was you until I saw your name.”
I moved back to my place behind the wheel, checked the rear view mirror and winced at the empty back seat and put the car in gear.
“You don’t look quite the same,” she said as my face reddened. I couldn’t look to my right to see if she did. But I’m sure it was close.
“Remember the last time we sat like this, Robby?” she said.
“If I recall, it wasn’t quite like this.” I shot a glance toward her as we passed the Mobil on Western. For 68 she looked better than good. Of course she did.
The park and the pond were up ahead three blocks and over two more on the right. She looked a lot like she did under the street light shining through my windshield that night. But my eyes are 69, too. But I’ve had a tendency to see things through vague memories and rose-colored peepers my whole life.
“Marion Avenue still?” I asked.
“Yes, Robby. Daddy left it to me.”
Of course. Good old Daddy. Only the best for his little princess. As I came around the corner, I saw the white colonnaded entrance standing out in the lawn spotlights against the red brick. Always the show.
I stopped behind an old BMW at the top of the driveway. Dented, even a little rust on the bumper. Exhaust hanging to that with a twist of wire.
“Would you like to come in, Robby? Maybe we could catch up for a bit.”
Just then my phone sang out. Another fare was looking for a ride.
“Let me look at this, please.” I said as I fished out my phone. The request was only a couple of blocks away, headed over to a West Hill address in a neighborhood where I lived as a kid. Couple of streets over from the tenement where that kid cut my chest when I was 15.
She stepped closer to me and I saw something in her eyes that she probably saw in mine a long time ago.
“Thanks, but I’m sorry, I’ve got to run for this ride,” I said as I tapped the glass on my phone screen.
“You know how to reach me if you need a ride, Barbara. Good night,” I said as I backed toward my car.
Better to present my chest to the memory of a knife wound, than my back.
Story prompted by Writer’s Digest’s February Flash Fiction Challenge. Today’s prompt was ride sharing. This one barely fits the definition of flash at about 850 words. But I got started and couldn’t stop. Longest first draft in a looooong time.
Dreams Like the Tiniest Snowflakes
The tiniest of snowflakes have returned to the tableau framed by the window where I sit and stare at dreams of you. Etheral, gossamer, with a lifespan as small in my hand as the hopes speckling those dreams. How many winters have I sat here where imagination drove these dreams past my sight like the tiniest snowflakes I frame within this pane of vacant day, empty even of lies I tell myself? They’re coming faster now, soon enough clouding my view of the reality I’ll always be alone, and trying to hold onto the tiniest of dreams I wish were true.
Overture to My Soul
My soul has gone numb. Can’t see, hear nor feel, it’s tongue dead and dumb. Can’t tell what is real. But I thought I sensed before all went black something had commenced and then was pulled back. So now I wonder, here in my dead soul, how great a blunder and how great the toll. How much will I pay, for missing the cue to join in and play in concert with you? An overture missed to my soul that day, those lips left unkissed, mine useless to say my soul has gone numb, can’t see, hear nor feel. It’s tongue dead and dumb. Tell me, was it real?
After his fourth day on the run with no food and little water, the fine horse he’d stolen from the Cheyenne herd lying dead 300 yards away, Cleve Mason settled to rest in an old buffalo wallow.
Gathering some buffalo chips from the rim surrounding the nearly dry depression in the prairie, Mason lit a smokeless fire. Once it settled into a good glow, he began cooking off a piece of the horse’s haunch on the point of his Bowie knife.
“Hell, I left ‘em ol’ Jubal. Left ‘em ol’ Jubal AND his horse,” Mason muttered about his most-certainly, now-former partner. “A’course my ‘ol chestnut Ginny and Jubal and his mount couldn’t a’caught us if they’s tails was on fire. But a prairie dog hole don’t care how fleet a mount is, huh, Hammerhead. It’ll bring even Pegasus to a right quick halt.”
“Thanks for nuthin’, Hammerhead,” Mason said to the dead animal. It was the name he’d given the sorrel stallion three mornings ago, the first time he saw that group of young Cheyenne men crest a rise a couple of miles to his west. With a kick of his spurs and slap of the reins on the former Keezheekoni, Cheyenne for Burning Fire, he yelled, “C’mon ya damn hammerhead.” And that was that.
Mason was indeed thankful, though, to have been lucky enough to evade his pursuers this long. But tonight fatigue and hunger proved too much. He figured it was only a matter of time before the marauders rolled over him like a red, relentless wave.
“The hell with this, just let ‘em come,” Mason said, as he gorged himself on a huge chunk of horse meat. He closed his eyes and tried not to think that only an hour before it had been both the reason he was being chased and the reason he hadn’t been caught yet. He was too hungry to appreciate more than the rare-cooked meat anyway.
So intent was he with his meal he didn’t think much of the roar from the northwest. If he did, he’d probably just shrug it off as the rumble of a thunderstorm crossing the Platte River. Or maybe it was his stomach disagreeing to agree with meeting ol’ Hammerhead.
No, his mind was so intent on satisfying the hunger of four days adrift on the ocean of prairie in western Nebraska Territory, Mason never saw nor smelled the red wall of flame speeding toward him like a herd of sorrel stallions hungry for the dried grass surrounding the wallow. By the time he noticed, the prairie fire set upwind by the Cheyenne rolled over him like a red wave. Relentless, just not the wave he expected.
Thought I’d give Writer’s Digest’s 2023 February Flash Fiction Challenge a try again. Today’s daily prompt theme was HUNGER. I’d say hunger can blind a person to most anything, even thoughts of saving his own life. Now that could be hunger for food, property, even, shall we say, companionship. I’ve felt them all and then some. How about you?
the perhaps moment ~ a triolet
perhaps that moment once existed when I could’ve been The Man. but I blinked and therefore missed it, any perhaps moment that once existed. But that’s okay, she probably would’ve resisted, if I played my loser's hand, at the moment that perhaps once existed when I could’ve been The Man. A little exercise in dented form poetry -- a triolet, of sorts -- and hitting on the prompt “the lost moment” from Robert Lee Brewer of Writer’s Digest.