Objects In the Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear

Jen sat in her Honda, its engine running, backed into the parking place in the l ot so she could face the riverside walkway north of Albany. She also backed in just in case she and Ashley needed to make a quick getaway.

She could her friend Ashley in the distance walking with her boyfriend Sam. Jen knew what was coming. She and Ashley had talked about it for weeks.

“Ashley, you’ve got to break it off with Sam. He’s an arrogant prick who treats you like crap,” Jen would tell her childhood friend.

“You’re wrong, Jen. He loves me and I love him. You’ve got to understand what he sees every day in the streets. Sometimes it’s hard for him to shake it off when he gets off work,” Ashley said.

“Is that why he tends to stop off at Bogie’s at the end of his shift and drinks for two hours with the other cops before he sees you?” Jen said.

“Like I said, job pressures.”

“Is it job pressure that leads him to call you stupid, a summa cum laude graduate of Boston College? Two masters degrees? Nationally recognized teacher of special needs kids? Really, Ashley? You deserve so much better,” Jen said.

Ashley blushed and Jen wasn’t sure if it was because of the litany of honors she listed or the fact that Jen had heard Sam call Ashley stupid. Or worse.

But Ashley was adamant.

That is until Jen brought the video from the bar capturing Sam yucking it up with the other cops, three pitchers of beer on the table and a table full of St. Rose College girls behind them.

“Just watch this for a second, Ashley. And listen closely,” Jen said.

“Don’t do this anymore, Jen.”

“This will be the last time, I promise. If this doesn’t change your mind, just a little, I’ll give up trying to convince you this guy cares about nothing but himself and has disregard for not only you, but it seems anyone unlike his twisted self”
Jen held her phone up and started the video again. In it, Sam turned in his chair and started talking to one of the college girls.

“Sammy,” one of his cop buddies said, “don’t you have a real teacher waiting on you? These are student teachers, man.”

Sam turned to his friend and said in the way guys will when alcohol meets testosterone in a spontaneous combustion of stupid, loud enough to be heard on the phone’s microphone, and said, “Sometimes Ashley’s more like a student, one of those little kids she teaches, than these ripe young things. She’s always wishing and expressing and not getting down to what’s real. Fantasyland, man.”

“That’s cold, dude.”

“No, that’s the real world, real talk…hey, Jennifer, what the fuck you doing over there?”

The recording froze right there.

For a few seconds, Ashley blinked at the captured final frame of Sam staring cold enmity at whoever had just recorded him. Most probably Jen.

“Why did you need to show me this?” she said.

“I needed to give you proof that he’s a dog, Ashley. An over-the-line stepping, skirt chasing, arrogant and self-absorbed dog,” Jen said.

“While you’re home working for your next day’s classes, he’s out there…”

“Protecting us,” Ashley said.

“Okay, I’ll grant you that, at least for eight hours a day. But for the rest…I’ve seen him, cozy up to coeds and older chicks at the bars. Yeh, he can be damned charming with his blue eyes and self-assured way, but it’s all a lie. He’ll do nothing but hurt you, Ashley. And he won’t care. You’ve got to end this sooner rather than later.”

Shaken, Ashley said, “He and I will be going down for a walk by the Hudson tomorrow. I’ll somehow confront him and we’ll see what happens.”

“Do you want me around for support?”

“No, yes, I don’t know,” Ashley said as her eyes darted around the room and her mind raced behind them.

“I’ll be in the parking lot if you need a lift. No questions asked.”

“All right, but don’t get your hopes up. He gets one more chance,” Ashley said.

“That night, Ashley barely slept, compiling the many instances Jen had pointed out where Sam treated women, especially his doting girlfriend, like any other perp from the South End.
And here they were–Jen could see Ashley turning away from Sam and she knew she’d finally convinced her to walk on this guy.
She pulled from her parking place and glided up to the end of the river walk. With a kuh-lick, Jen unlocked her passenger side door and Ashley climbed in. Ashley motioned for Jen to drive away.

“Proud of you, hon. That took a lot of courage,” Jen said as she eased out of the parking lot and saw Sam stalking nearer the trails end.

Ashley just sat there in stunned silence. Then her shoulder shook.

“Trust me, Ashley. You just gained, by any substantive means, an exciting new life. Trust me, you’re better off with him in your rear view mirror as I have him right now,” Jen said. And she meant that. The charm fell of Sam as he drew closer to her car.

Jen peeled out and headed up the road and back to Ashely’s apartment. But while driving there, she was glad to be going to her doctor’s on Monday.

She didn’t want anyone to know, most especially Ashley and Ashley’s now-former boyfriend, about her terminated pregnancy plans for tomorrow. She hoped to put her one-time-only transgression in her rear view mirror as swiftly as the transgressor, now stalking toward his car in the snowy parking lot.

Today’s story for Day 15 of Story-a-Day May. Was to take a secondary character from a previous story and use that character/story as a springboard for them, or continue that story but in the point of view of a different character. I chose Jen, the girlfriend who picked up Ashley after her breakup with Sam in What the River Says, That Is What I Say. I wrote this in a sleepy hurry to get in Day 15, so please forgive any inherent lameness or outright stank, okay?

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Long Time Between

 

I’d felt nerves in her presence before, but I was just a kid then and she was the nonpareil, the Mt. Everest, the Hope Diamond of my nascent horn-doggedness, if not feelings of love.

I’m sure it was such fear, coupled with that raging hormonal confusion of mine that broke the lines of communication between us. Garbled communication—the staticky two-way expression of thought and opinion—and one or both parties can say to themselves “He’s/she’s not interested” or “What a douche/bitch,” and break off before the climax of their story.

Take “climax” as you will. I took it rather poorly, no matter which definition you prefer using. And on I fell to the denouement. No reviews. No sequel.

One day we went from best chums, the next to inseparable and huggy boy/girl combo to “I love you, but…” to incommunicado one-time acquaintance to “I don’t want to see you anymore” to silence of the grave. Not even crickets. A desert of emotion with no winds to temper the heat nor provide the merest of soundtracks. Only the sound of one broken heart strumming a shuffle beat of the blues.

So here I was, in this little restaurant not too far from the last place I saw Melanie, waiting to meet her again. I say I “saw her” because she deftly avoided making eye contact with me. Maybe she forgot what I looked like. Or maybe she was embarrassed about something else. I saw nothing to be embarrassed about. I was the one left waving at the air, my joyful expression at running into an old friend falling like a red-faced avalanche into the figurative pants around my ankles.

It hurt. It hurt worse than the day she told me goodbye. Worse than the years of not knowing what I’d done, if anything, to cause such a rift.

And then came the messages out of the blue from someone on Facebook calling themselves Lainie the Cat whose profile pic was a gray and black tabby. Cryptic things, gauzy innuendo and allusion to some forgotten connection that even I, the now-sensitive emotion-spilling writer, couldn’t fathom. I’d received messages and friend requests like this before from people——perhaps they were women, I’m pretty sure they weren’t cats——who would turn out to be trolls trying to fracture my testicles. I’d learned my lesson and it only cost me these two scars.

But making, or just as importantly, re-establishing such connections was what God, Zuckerburg or God in the guise of Zuckerberg, made Facebook for.

I know I shouldn’t have. My shrink, my songwriting partner and my bartender all warned me I shouldn’t, but I ended up responding to this hazy Nigerian diplomat of the heart.

No reply. I should have listened to that baritone Greek chorus.

Months go by and up pops another mysterious message that poked awake my curiosity, but jangled alarm bells from my balding head to my arthritic knees.

I was back in full confusion mode, a place I hadn’t inhabited since my last days as friends with Melanie. I had an inkling by now, but didn’t want to know, just to go. I’d even stopped listening to old favorite bands because they reminded me too much of her. I stopped writing anything that could even have been informed by our erstwhile relationship.

The next time, she flat out identified herself as Melanie. I would have liked to have written “my Melanie,” but that ship had sailed, gotten scuttled and sank to the stygian bottom of some uncharted ocean.

So this ghost ship of a woman begins with small talk to which I was even shyer than clumsy younger me. But I was ever the alloy with the melting point of chocolate Easter bunny for her. I couldn’t help myself, even after all these years and all my experiences. There are just some people who vibrate at the same frequency you do. You dial in, connect and whoever has the stronger signal calls what station you’ll listen to.

I listened to hers.

“Let’s meet up somewhere to talk about old times,” she wrote, for I refused to hear her voice on the phone.

“I don’t know, Melanie,” I replied. “Don’t you think we’ve gone our separate ways, taken new paths, broken new bones, bled out a few times, for a good reason?”

“I just think we should clear the air about what happened between us,” she said.

“We can’t do that here? I’m a fair expresser of ideas and emotion—and much younger and taller—in black and white,” I said.

“Okay. I just thought you’d like it if we saw each other, even if it was one last time, just to talk. I’d like to see you and talk to you.”

“Okay, you win. Again. You’re right. This late in the game, I guess I should swap out my wimpy tighty whities for a sturdy pair of boxers.”

“Or, better yet, go commando. LOL”

She always knew how to push my buttons.

And so I sit here, waiting for she who set me on my path toward easy access to emotions and a fragile heart. I owed her for that. Owe her for some hit songs I wrote, too. Like Harlan Howard said, “I’m always collecting emotions for future reference.” And I guess she owed me an explanation. Though I wasn’t holding my breath for one. Melanie was never one to shift blame, but wasn’t known for taking any either.

I was lost in thought, as is my usual state of being, when I felt the tap on my shoulder, to which I jerked and spun my head around to see who broke my self-absorbed concentration.

The woman looked familiar, like a faded old photo of your grandmother looks when you pull it out of your late Mom’s shoebox. But the puffy cheeks, sallow skin and hat covering her baldness rang more alarm bells than lit light bulbs above my head.

“Jay?” she said in a voice raspier than the one I heard telling me to beat it forty years before.

“Melanie?” I said, quickly rising from my seat, bumping the table and spilling what was left of my glass of bubbling courage. “Shit, some things never change do they?”

As I reached for some napkins to mop up what little beer left in the glass I’d spilled, she reached for me and gave me a gentle hug. It felt the same temperature of the spilled beer.

“Please, sit. I can’t tell you how great it is to…”

“See me? Please. The look on your face when you turned… Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea,” she said.

“No, it wasn’t,” I said. “It was a very good idea.”

The waitress interrupted us to finish cleaning up my mess and asked if she could get me another and anything for the lady.

“Yeah, please, another IPA would be great. Melanie? I’m buying.”

“Oh, nothing for me, thank you. Haven’t had one in a while now. Doctor’s orders.”

The waitress slipped away and we each turned to look at the other, gauging the damages done by the years and whatever mileage we’d put on our bodies.

“Your hair, so silver. I wish I had it,” Melanie said with a laugh, touching her hat.

“Your laugh,” I said. “I wish I had it.”

“You always were a silver-tongued Yankee,” the Virgina-born woman across from me said. “So, tell me your story and I’ll tell you mine.”

“Oh, no. Your party and ladies first, always.”

“I’m not much of a lady anymore, Jay. Never really was. Please, indulge me, old friend,” she said.

“Okay. Still writing, though retired from the old gig after thirty years. Widowed. Three kids and four grandkids. I won’t bore you with the proud grandpa portfolio,” I said.

“Oh, please,” she said, genuinely interested.

“No, your turn. Indulge me this once.”

“Okay. Probably retired. Divorced. One daughter with one granddaughter. Long term relationship. I guess you can say widowed there. More than a few short-term relationships and affairs. Only one ever meant anything,” she said.

“Afraid I lost my head a couple of times sniffing trails other than the one to my door, too. Not too proud of it, but I’ll cop to it. Sorry, Melanie, go ahead.”

“Well, as you can…”

The waitress arrived with my ale and asked if we needed a few more minutes to order.

“Just a few. Thank you,” I said. “Now, as I can what, Mel?”

She sighed.

“As you can see, I’m not well. Liver. Alcoholic. It’s one of the reasons I wanted to see you.”

“I’m not sure I understand,” I said. But I did.

“I’m in AA now. I know, too late to the fair. But I wanted to make things right in my life before… Well, before. And one of the twelve steps is to…”

“Make direct amends to all persons we’ve harmed wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others. Step 9. Yeah, I know,” I said.

“You’re a friend of Bill?” she asked, eying my IPA.

“No, just a close friend of a friend of Bill.”

“That’s one of the reasons I wanted to see you. To explain why I chased you off all those years ago. I was a drunk and wanted to be with other drunks. And you scared me with your honest, naive, altarboy-next-door on a testosterone bender ways. So I cut you out of my life. But I never forgot how you tried to stay in touch, until I…”

“Yeah, but you’re here now and that’s what matters,” said and reached across the table to take her cool hand.

“Not for long, Jay. And that’s the other reason I wanted to see you. I wanted to see you and talk with you and feel you looking at me that way one more time before…”

“The salad arrives? They make a mean Caesar here, I understand. Look, I found out long ago all we really have is living right now. And right now we’re living three feet away from one another. At some point tonight and I hope for many nights ahead, we’ll be closer than that. No strings, just friend sitting with a friend. I’m too old to get all twitterpated over a woman again anyway.”

I waved the waitress down and said, “We’d like two Caesar salads to start off, please. And could you please take this back to the bar and get me a club soda with lime? I want a wet whistle and a sharp mind while I’m catching up with this lovely lady tonight.”

“At least,” Melanie said, and laughed that laugh that always reminded of the glass wind chimes on her front porch thirty-some years ago.

My much-too-long Day 7 story for Story-a-Day May. The prompt, from author Stuart Horwitz, was to think back to a time earlier in life, and a person from then with whom you’ve fallen out of touch. The writer was to turn himself and that person into characters and get them together and see what happens. How does it reflect on the protagonist’s journey? Well, this story kept on going. Good thing I tend to write poems of only around 100 words most days or you’d never visit anymore.

No Reason, Just to Rhyme

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Ask him what he knows
of the tos and the fros,
the gives and the takes,
the misses and the makes,
and he’ll pause then tell you,
“That’s a good question.”

Ask him when he knew
the sum of two and two,
if he was yang or yin,
what was his original sin,
and he’ll smile and say,
“I’m still waitin’.”

If someone asked you one day,
could you ever think of him some way,
in earnest or just in passing
as something more than the last thing
with whom you’d want to be alone,
to talk about now, not then.

But he’s sure down to the bone,
the first thing he’d say on the phone,
before any give, take, to, or fro:
“My life’s made of misses, so
you know this smile’s vestigial
and all my sins unoriginal.

Silly little free-written musing with lopsided rhymes.

That Kinda Smile

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Today my friend wondered
the last time he saw your smile.
That’s a real smile, not one
of those practiced, pleasant lip curls
with a peep at pearly teeth.
He’s sure you’ve smiled plenty
since then, he just wasn’t around
to see it. And then he ordered
another Guinness.

He can’t remember his last
real smile, relying instead
on grip-and-grin hearsay from
well-meaning, white-lying,
“How-’bout-another-beer?” sweet-talkers.
As far as he’s concerned,
their affirmation of his full-toothed
happy face is akin to receiving
a trophy for sitting at the end
of a CYO basketball team’s bench.

Graphic confirmation remains
as dubious as a half-moon,
full-color, “Say cheese” moment
from Sasquatch or Nessie.
Rather, most photos depict him
sporting a smirk, wearing a wince
or hanging a lopsided half-rictus
upon his face that frightens even he
who shaves its haggard crags daily.

He believes, perhaps the last time
he actually, spontaneously,
perhaps even laughingly smiled
was in honest reply to yours.
He added that chances of repeating
that would be like discovering
George Washington’s dental X-rays.
But he told me he’s willing
to start digging around
Mount Vernon whenever…you know.

And then he kinda smiled.

A Case of Mistaken Secret Identity

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I was never the man
you were so sure I was
then. And you weren’t
the one I thought
I knew. You still
don’t know me, but
I probably wouldn’t
recognize you,
through all the ink,
like milk, spilled since
last together we flew.
So now we’re strangers
living carry-on lives,
none of that old
baggage to check.
I could say, “Hi,
I’m just a guy,
on the last leg
of a journey we
each alone trek.

I wouldn’t mind
if you’d be so kind
to be a friend like
I once thought I had.
Perhaps you’d agree
a simple You-and-I We
would be super,
not like the old bad.
I won’t expect
a super-someone then
and don’t you look
for Bruce Wayne.
New connections
we’ll have made and
our rechecked baggage
permanently delayed;
we’d be just you and me,
with no more cases of
mistaken secret identity.

Above are the Chinese characters for “reconciliation” or “to make friends again.”  My old bones must feel Spring on the way to create something in this kind of mood of amity and hope. I’m sure it’ll pass with the next snow or depression blow.

A Parting Glass, Empty

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I don’t recall we ever
shared a drink,
whether for celebration,
courage or no reason at all.
But then, I don’t drink
for those reasons anyway.
Do you?

I’ve never found bravery
swimming in the tawny puddle
at the bottom of a glass.
Sometimes it takes more daring
not to swim at all. I tend
not to celebrate, either.
Do you?

To party, roister and carouse
aren’t in my nature, though
I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t need
any occasion nor courage
to sit and talk with one another.
Do you?

Just catching up,
for no reason at all,
might be intoxicating enough,
seen through the prism
of an empty glass.
You probably don’t swallow
that notion, though.
Or do you?

Lost in My Storm

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Could you ever stop thinking of me
that way because my arms couldn’t
reach out when you needed them most,
bound as they were by bonds I wove
of confusion and fear? If not,
I wouldn’t blame you, though that’s
a heavy load to carry for so long,
cracking backs and taxing hearts
whose clockworks wind down past
their dwindling supply of twelves.
But if you could, it’d be a blessing
in these latter days granted me,
my leaves tearing from the calendar tree
of this life spent blinded in shadow,
blown from one direction, battered
to another. Ever away from the peace
for which I pray before I fall
and lie forgotten, save for fading lines
on pulp, lost in the emptiness between
the zeros and ones I’ve cast like acorns
in a promiscuous gale of words…
sound and fury signifying I’m nothing
without friends I’ve lost in my storm.