Love Unmade In the Shade

Shroud of Sadness by Elle Leee

The dolorous shroud again fell on me
after I thought I’d escaped its dark shade.
And, again, it was dropped by a jeune fille,
this time not because of trouble I made.

Well, just a tad, because my love’s so big,
but love’s only a construct made for rhyme.
I figured this out as I tried to dig
up the right word that sounds like rhyme this time.

Losing your love, whether rhyming or not
gutted me like a dull knife in my chest.
And the blood ran from my heart, cold not hot,
so maybe this shroud’s all for the best.

Perhaps you’ll love this poet when he’s dead,
but if I’m just blue, forget what I said.

Yeah, Valentine’s Day always brings out the loser in me. And I’ve always been a better poet of Loss more than Love.

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Curse of the Assassin’s Class

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In the cool night beneath light tower 13 of the near-empty Target parking lot, the two of them sat in her boyfriend’s car, the motor off, its windows only just beginning to fog from the slow, thought-filled breathing of their long-held simmering silence. It was Erin, who sat behind the wheel, who finally opened the relief valve.

”You never told me you loved me in any of your letters the whole time you were away,” Erin said to Jack.

“I wrote you every week, Erin, even while I was in the hospital ward. Just because I didn’t…”

“Look at you. Your face is turning red. You know I’m right and you’re embarrassed by the fact you never could admit you loved me. Even from 180 miles away. Even while you had nothing but time to think about it,” Erin said.

Jack turned and grabbed Erin by her arm and twisted her closer to him. One-time muscle for an upstate criminal crew, Jack was a mountain of a man whose mere prospect of a thundering avalanche was enough to frighten other large men into obeisant compliance with his or his benefactors’ wishes. But Erin was his sole conqueror. Only she knew the safe way to the top.

“You’re hurting me again, Jack. Please let go of my arm,” she said with a calm certainty. “I’m driving back to the halfway house. This conversation is going nowhere, just like our relationship. In fact, that IS our relationship. I do the driving and you go halfway.”

“Baby, you gotta understand. They read every letter that comes in and goes out. Emails, especially. Just think about that. I was trying to protect you,” Jack said as he released her arm.

“From what, Jack? I mean, really. Who gives a shit about me? Including you. Besides, you know I can take care of myself.”

“Honey, it’s different this time. You don’t really know what I did this last time. The simple assault beef was my short-time payoff. Trust me, you just can’t…”

Swirling red and blue lights bounced off the car’s interior, blinding Erin and Jack with their reflection in the mirrors, stopping the conversation. Jack’s attempt at softness pivoted from the embarrassed pink to a cold blue, as well.

“You let me handle this, Erin.”

“You aren’t in the driver’s seat here, Jack, in any sense at all,” Erin said. “You just do what you do best. Act dumb.”I’ll do what I had to learn to do while you left me.”

The bright white beam of a flashlight ignited at the police cruiser’s driver side door and swung from Erin’s rear license plate through the back as the cop approached the driver’s window. He tapped on it and Erin rolled it down, echoing the flashlight’s brightness with her own radiant smile.

“Good evening, officer. I don’t suppose I was driving over the speed limit, so is this one of those “protect and serve” situations?” Erin said.

The name plate on the cop’s chest read R J Diaz, and he replied, “License and registration, ma’am. Just trying to keep the parking area clear of teen make-out sessions and other….” He swung the flashlight beam over to Jack in the passenger seat, who was opening the glove box to grab Erin’s registration.

“Hey, Jack, good to see you. Now you just put your hands on the dashboard where I can see them.”

Diaz’s free hand didn’t pull his 9-millimeter service pistol from its holster. Instead he retrieved a .22-caliber Beretta 71 from inside his jacket and trained its business end, for Diaz was in the business, on the new parolee. He clicked back the hammer and said, “Papi Esteves sends his regards. Congratulations on your parole. Hands where I can see ’em! Thank you, baby.”

The phony cop was about to squeeze off the quiet round or two of head shots above the eyes that was his trademark, when the crack-crack of another .22 dropped Diaz to the oil stained black top. Erin placed the pistol she’d pulled from beneath her seat onto the center console and turned toward Jack.

“Honey! What the hell? You capped that guy like a pro. I told you I was worried about you. Esteves swore he’d get me for busting up his son for Primo Donatelli. Let’s get the hell out of…” Then a dim light switched on in Jack’s cold dull eyes. “Wait, what the hell did he thank you for?”

Another pair of small-caliber shots rang within the car and blood flowed from between Jack’s eyes, which went wide and ultimately dull. Diaz’s Baretta had fallen into Erin’s lap and she couldn’t let the opportunity slip by after all Jack had put her through over the years.

“You were dumb as a box of rocks, Jack. I’m sure Papi’s offer was a sweet one for Diaz, or whatever the hell his real name was. And Primo? The guy who was your rabbi and protector? He knew you for what you were, a low-life, blabbermouth loser. Either one could’ve ordered this hit.” Erin said.

She thought about how Jack always refused to believe the baby was his and about the botched abortion and how it left her. She really had learned to take care of herself. Erin positioned her .22 Beretta in Jack’s hand. She then dropped the thoroughly wiped down preferred pistol of the assassins’ class next to its owner’s gloved hand.

Before she walked away from the scene, she poked her head into the car once more and said, “All I ever asked you to do was tell me you loved me, you stupid prick.”

Trying to catch up best I can for missed days of my Story-A-Day death march. Today’s is about who’s the protagonist and who’s the antagonist/villain when everyone’s moral compass has been smashed by the street life and criminal culture. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter much, does it?

Only Now

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You sit there
in the room with them
when the spirits escape
their earthly shells
upon a final exhalation.
And you gasp, your breath
catching in your throat,
perhaps to capture,
your last chance to share
life with them.
But you do not cry.

You stand there,
as the family says
their finally goodbyes
before the priest
puts away his book,
with a solemn “Amen,”
a wholly holy punctuation
ending this latest story as
holy water runs down
the casket’s cheeks.
But you do not cry.

You hug and say your
goodbyes, because
you know you won’t see
most of your lucky
lachrymose brethren
until the next of you
flies and falls. You
really don’t want to,
because you’re supposed
to be the strong one.
And you do not cry.

Then you go home
to your lonely place,
where you tend all
their memories
like you would adorn
their gravesides, only
upon these pages,
written in this ink
almost none have
ever seen, only read.
Only now do you cry.

A poem written hard, fast and free in my alleged easy chair. It’s based on a prompt from my friend Kellie Elmore: Write about the last time you cried. I’ve had too much reason and opportunity in my life of late to shed tears, but didn’t. Not then. Now you know when I did.

Did You Ever?

Did you ever use the morning sun’s
reflection off the big window
to watch me laugh from across the room?
A silent film to which a heartstring
quartet would play accompaniment.
Did you ever contort your body
in various yogic bends to see me
in 90- to 270-degree tests
of mental as well as physical dexterity.
Did you ever consider orbiting the room,
offering blithe small talk in passing,
even to other creeps, just to see
my dark side? Did you ever look up
at me and smile, wonder if, give me
a walk-on role in an idle
two-fifteen daydream? No,
I guess not. What, did I ever?
Of course not. Don’t be silly.
I mean, seriously! Heh…
Did you ever…?!

It Makes No Difference

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Most of the guests had arrived and were getting into buzzy beat of Jen and Phil’s Valentine’s Day Eve party when the dull pounding started.

“What the hell s that?” Jen’s friend Laurie said, raising her eyes to the ceiling.

Jen said, “Oh, that’s old Manny Blue, the guy upstairs. Whenever we have some get together, or put on some music to…”

“Get busy,” Phil jumped into the conversation, laughing.

“Phil! You know what I mean Laurie. Whenever we’re what Manny thinks is loud, he bangs on his floor and we turn our music lower. Sometimes actually hear him saying ‘Turn it down.’ But not tonight. Tonight, we’re here to celebrate Valentine’s Day with our friends and if Manny has a problem, he can damn well come down to the party and tell us. Maybe loosen up the old crank.”

Nevertheless, Phil turned the stereo down just a notch, which none of their friends seemed to notice, and the pounding slowed and then stopped. After that, the party continued until past midnight.

In the morning, as Jen and Phil picked their way through orange juice, leftover pizza and aspirin for breakfast, they heard it. Above their living room they heard a dull thump…thump..thump.

“What the fuh..?” Phil said.

“We’re not playing the stereo and the TV’s off, God knows,” Jen said and rubbed her temples. “What’s his problem?”

“I don’t know, but I’m going to go up and settle this with the old bastard once and for all. Shoulda talked about this long ago, if he’d ever come out of his damn apartment.”

Phil climbed the stairs two at a time to the floor above, with Jen slowly following behind him.

When they reached Old Man Blue’s apartment door, they heard the sound of music coming from inside. An electric guitar picked single notes and a quavering voice sang, Without your love, I’m nothing at all. Like an empty hall, it’s a lonely fall…

And then they heard thump…thump…thump and a low moaning and plaintive, “Turn it down, make it stop.”

Phil knocked on the door and said, “Manny” Mr. Blue? It’s Phil Hoover from down in 2B. We gotta talk.”

From inside came the sound of a chorus singing, And the sun don’t shine anymore. And the rains fall down on my door. Then, thump…thump, and “Please turn it down. Please go away.”

“Phil, something’s wrong in there,” Jen said. “Try the door. Try the door.”

Phil turned the knob and found it unlocked. When he opened the door, he saw the back of a sofa, an old stereo like his dad’s beside it, a disc of black vinyl spinning away on its turntable. As they moved into the room, they saw a hand with bloody fingers lift the arm and place it back down onto the record with a scratchy buzz and thup.

Hurrying toward the sofa, they looked over its back and saw the cardboard sleeve that read Northern Lights – Southern Cross, a circle of letters, cards and old photos on the hardwood floor and, in the middle of it all, Manny Blue, kneeling, his forehead bleeding.

For the sixth time since the preceding night, a man named Rick Danko began to sing It makes no difference where I turn. I can’t get over you and the flame still burns. It makes no difference, night or day. The shadow never seems to fade away… Manny Blue, a lonely man who once knew love, lowered his head to the floor one, two, three times. Then he whispered, “Please make it go away.”

A very quickly penned Hesch-style Valentine’s Day story. A poem is on the way…honest.

Rules of the Game

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The rules of the game
are set in stone.
You can read them
written on each slab
out there on the field.
The great game is summed up
in four numbers on one side,
and four on the other,
of a grooved hyphen.
Funny how those hyphens,
from end to end,
are the width of an N or M,
but a life may be wider
than a thousand thousand alphabets
or as narrow as an I.

You think of these things,
the unwritten,
the randomly ordered
string of letters,
of words, of stories,
of a life lived in
what seems like a hyphen,
a momentary there to here,
then to now,
once to once,
when you sit by a deathbed,
in front of a casket, or
at a graveside.
That’s where they post
the rules for all to see
and no one’s ever broken.

Just Standing Around

All night she sat in her chair across the room as we watched television. Finally, she muted the show, looked over at me and asked, “Do you still miss her?”

I thought it was a silly question. How could I not? But I answered, “Of course I do. She was such an important piece of my life.”

“Well, what do you miss most?” she said, in that hard-wired interrogative way women have in trying to mine men’s emotions. “Playing with her, petting her, feeling her unconditional love?”

See what I mean?

I played along because she was so damned earnest and I understood she wanted to show she cared. I’m an evolved kinda guy like that anyway.

“Well all those things. Sure.” I said.

She aimed those never-miss, sapphire laser-guided eyes into me and said, “But what most?”

Sigh…

“Give me a minute and I promise I’ll let you know.”

So she went to the kitchen, busying herself with fetching me another beer. After all, I was digging way down to bring forth the Hope Diamond of her hope to connect at a deeper level with me. I began running the home movies of my beloved old dog and me on the tacked up sheet of my heart.

She came back into the room and quietly set a glass of beer on a coaster on the side table. She then curled herself up next to me on the sofa in that way girls do—legs and feet beneath their bottoms like nesting cranes—and smiled a softly expectant smile at me. Its message was plain: “Well?”

Women would love it if the whole other half of the planet’s population could just pull out some emotion or feeling (the coin of the female realm) just as easily as they can. In an oddly effective bit of incentive, she played the cuddle card, which signified to me she expected something not necessarily weepy, but at least eye-blinking.

The funny thing is, I had her answer after my first sip of suds.

“It’s kinda a selfish thing” I said.

“Oh? Well what is it?”

“Just standing around,” I said.

Her expression turned a bit rigid and then fell like a sheet of melting ice off the church roof.

“Oh,” she said.

“No, you don’t understand,” I said. “My life no longer has those periods of…how can say this? Momentary stasis, thought, acceptance of now, that it did when my pup was alive.”

I could actually hear her blink, I think. But not the “Could you give me a Kleenex?” sort of blink.

“Every morning around dawn we’d go out the door and were greeted by a waking world. Pink clouds, tangerine windows of other early risers, hoo-hooing of mourning doves, songs of the other birds. Sometimes, I’d whistle back, just to see if they’d answer. And they DID! At night, we’d hang out and watch the stars look like they were doing the moving, instead of the clouds in front of ’em. And all because, for that moment in my life, I could just stand there.”

Her expression appeared to be taking on a little CPR, color and warmth returning to what a minute ago had all the life of a drowning victim.

“So that’s it?” she said, still on the verge of disappointment.

“I didn’t think you’d understand,” I said. “Look, Old Fluffybutt and I would go out there day and night. She’d do her in-the-moment thing and taught me I’d better learn to do mine, because she was in no hurry. I’d feel the air surround me, winter or summer, full of snowflakes, leaves or skeeters, and I could hear it talk to me, telling me to take it easy, don’t freak, life’s pretty good. Ya know what I mean?”

“M-m-maybe,” she said.

“All the while, I would watch her and then the sky, the trees, the clouds, airplanes’ scratching the sky with their contrails, critters and birds, and her shitty loads I forgot to pick up and the shitty grass I wish I didn’t have to. And I haven’t done that since she’s gone. And it’s a double loss to me, maybe a triple.”

“What do you mean?” she said, perking up a bit.

“I mean I don’t have her to share it with me the way we did anymore. I don’t know. Maybe it’s just a guy and his dog thing.”

“No, dear,” she said. “It’s a very, very human thing.”

She hugged me, kissed me warmly and went into full cuddle mode, making these little happy noises as if she’d just enjoyed a fine meal. I’m sure she thought she’d made that brass-ring connection with me. Or a gold one.

I still really don’t think she understood ol’ Fluff’s and my deal, because she’s a woman, ya know?

Not a dog.