Night So Long

The nights are so long
when I’m alone in my bed,
sleep having left me for another.
And yet I wait, listening
to the tick-tock of my heart
beat out the stretch of time
between laying my head
on the pillow and when that imposter
embraces me until my eyes open
and I find it wasn’t sleep,
but some ragged shadow held me down
while it sucked more time from
my life than just the few hours
I tossed in her arms. Maybe
it would be different if you
were here, too. But then nights
would be too short.

If You Can’t Stand the Heat

Only mad hogs and English majors
would go out in this midday’s sun.
The bacon on the cloven hoof
gallivant because they’re demented
and likely angry they can’t find
a shady mud hole in which they may
submerge their psychoses and hide
their sensitive pink hides.
We who emerged from college with
a passing acquaintance of Chaucer,
Wharton, Cheever and seducing
steamy allusion between the sheets
of their oeuvres, walk from our
comfortably cool writing bogs
for the blast furnace outside
because to sit here and compose
something only we’ll ever read
seems more demented than strolling
Albany’s Venusian sidewalks.

It’s a hot one here in New York’s Capital Region today. Yet here I am sitting at my writing desk, once again wondering why I continue to do what I do here if not for some madness afflicting writers who don’t finish what they stated. For better or worse, I’m a finisher. Oh, and  that illustration up is the 2:30 PM weather graphic for Albany. Oh, and for my non-American readers, I believe 93°  F converted to Celsius is “too freaking hot.”

Tangled Thoughts and Blankets

Another night of the toss and thrash
for reasons I cannot swallow.
Accusations of my alleged misdeeds
echoed ’round my bed, this room,
my life, now left so hollow.
I couldn’t have been so callous
as to ignore the doleful stares and
angry glares stealing my sleep all night.
Were they merely the burned-in faces
of the sun my eyes projected,
after my apologies rejected,
and so gazed too long into its light?
And now dawn leaks over the sill
to fill the room with morning.
Another night lost, adding to the cost
of two lives I ruined without warning.

Misreading Between the Lines

It’s no wonder why most of us hate Mondays. Returning to the scene of that continuous crime. Your individuality and humanity lying there on your desk surrounded by its taped outline.

But by 2:30 PM Friday, I was looking forward to Monday, not because I’m some kind of 9:00 to 5:00 masochist, but because it meant I had survived the weekend.

It was after taking one of my decompression walks by the river—the one that always called to me from ninety feet beneath the pedestrian bridge, “C’mon in, the water’s fine!”—I returned to my office to find this message written in a spooky red script on the wall-hung whiteboard upon which I brainstormed plots against the ultimate plotter:

Whatever happens, don’t die. See you Monday.

No signature, of course. I mean why would someone sign such a non sequitur to the statements I’d left on it when I left for my walk:

We cannot all be masters, nor all masters
Cannot be truly follow’d.~ Iago

I had no idea who defiled my little nook in the office library. It was a space I’d carved out for myself because it kept me from having to listen to the masturbatory ravings and sycophantic mewling of my supervisor, Grant Godfrey.

There had been days in my time under his alleged supervision, though he was more overseer, when I would lift my depression-heavy head from its drool puddle on the desk and begin the staggering trek down to his office, where I sought to confront him, then grasp him in a strong hug of brotherhood. This embrace, preceded my throwing both of us out the fifth floor window to the pavement below. Didn’t matter which of us died. Either or both would do. I saw it as a Win-Win.

But I’d always run out of gas by the time I’d reach his office door and slink back to my quiet space by the water cooler and the collected monthly board proceedings from 1948 to present.

Who the hell left this message? You really can’t recognize whose handwriting it is on a blackboard or whiteboard. It’s larger, vertical and perhaps more legible than any note or signature they might give you.

I walked to the librarian’s desk and asked, “Janie, you see anyone slink into my sanctum sanctorum while I was out?”

“Nope, but I was down on 3 where they had cake for Annie B. She’s retiring AND getting a chin lift next week,” she said.

“Oooh, The Villages here she comes?” I said, my hands up and shaking like I was scared. If I was a guy in that Florida retirement community, I would be.

I thanked Janie and wandered across the hall to my friend Phil’s office in Legal. He was a jokester with a view of humanity and bureaucracy about three and a half levels below mine.

“You didn’t leave that message on my whiteboard, did you, Phil?”

“Joey!” he exclaimed, for he always exclaimed, never spoke, the name I let only three people outside my immediate family call me. “Nah, I was down in Human Resources checking how many weeks until I’m eligible for retirement. What’s it say?”

“You too?” I said. I’d been doing that since Grant usurped the position of my supervisor when my sainted boss, Jack Peters retired. “Retirement seems to be our biggest seller these days.”

I told Phil what the message said.

“Hmmm, cryptic. You think it might have been The Despicable One? He’s certainly not above screwing with your mind.”

“I dunno, he’d want to watch my reaction. No one was near my space when I got back,” I said.

“You could always ask him if he left this vile intimidation message,” Phil said.

“I don’t know what the hell it is. It’s just that someone came into my space, erased my quote on the whiteboard and left that message in its place. Maybe I will mosey down to Mahogany Row and kick the over-inflated tires,” I said.

When you want to deal with executives, the rule of thumb I established back in my reporter days was to develop relationships with the angelic keepers at the pearly gates——the secretaries. Yeah, I know. And Satan was an angel, too.

I decided to start at the top, the most, shall we say senior secretary in the exec wing, Donna McKenna. She’d been assistant to the previous Director, but when new leadership came in, her boss was swept out. So she took two steps down to the Assistant Director of Not Much.

“Hi, Donna. That a new picture of the grandkids there?” I asked, figuring there were not enough o’s in “smooooth” to describe my rapport with these non-coms who essentially ran this joint. And Mary was the Senior Master Sergeant, despite the fact that the new director’s hot secretary considered herself queen of the hop.

“Same picture as the last time you blew smoke up my skirt. What do you want, Joseph?” she said with her ex-smoker’s rasp.

“Was wondering if you heard if anyone,” I nodded toward The Despicable One’s office, “was down in my office trying to fuck with me.” I told her what I’d found she I returned from lunch and it was like talking to one of the guys in the locker room.

“How the hell would I know? I’m not his keeper,” she said in a combination of annoyance and relief.

“You know lots and you hear even more. You’re the Oracle of the Fifth Floor,” I said. “I trust your knowledge, instincts and counsel.”

“Excuse me while I hose the bullshit off my keyboard. I only know he was talking to his buddy Tom over there. Yucking it up about giving you some crap assignment like letting out his dog at lunch or picking up his laundry. You know, something demeaning because he’s afraid of you.”

“He has no idea,” I said, recalling my flight and drop of fancy fantasy of his demise.

“But he’s been down here kissing director asses and stomping on everyone under him, which is everyone, all day. Never even left for lunch. Princess over there picked it up for him and peerless leader.”

I was in thrall of her supreme bitterness. Olympian in her acerbity.

“Okay, thanks. I can’t see anyone else trying to mess with me like that,” I said.

“Don’t flatter yourself, Joseph. No one around here gives a shit anymore. We’re old and have snakes of x’s winding around our calendars all aiming for that last ring that circles our getting out of here before another purge or he takes over,” Donna nodded toward Grant’s office.

I decided to wander back to the office and erase the offending mystery from my wall and my memory. I figured a few beers would help.

When I arrived back in my lair, the afternoon sun was pouring through the door-to-ceiling windows like a prism and beginning to bake everything.

And there, captured in the otherworldly rainbow light, was my criminal conspirator, Tess Blake. She’d been Grant’s speed bag to my heavy in relation to his training for taking over the hearts and minds of the proletariat on floors 1 though 5. She had been lucky enough to transfer out, but stopped by a lot to talk to me and other friends so unlucky to have been left behind.

“Did you see my note?” she said she saw me coming.

“What note? You leave it on my desk or chair?”

“No. silly. The note I left to remind you to fully water the peace lily and spider plant I left in your care over on the sunny side of the building,” she said, not realizing the extent of my animus and paranoia where Grant came into play.

“Um, that note was from you?”

“Yeah, I wanted to make sure you knew what to do for Hortense and Edgar here before you take off and to wish you a happy weekend.”

“I see…” I said my face heating from the sun outside and embarrassment within.

“So will you?”

“Will I what?”

“Hydrate and have a great weekend.”

“Only if you help,” I said.

“Sure, let me get the watering…”

“Already did that before my walk, incase I didn’t come back. I meant why don’t you come help me hydrate at the Blue Bayou and help ensure I get this weekend off to a good start.”

“Oh. Okay, sure. Let me just close the blinds a little bit and run over to Legal and get my stuff,” she said with a smile.

“Thanks, that’d be great.”

As she closed the door, I grabbed my green marker and drew a flower on the whiteboard. Beneath it I wrote:

There is that in the glance of a flower which may at times control the greatest of creation’s braggart lords.~ John Muir

I guess my own suspicions and fears had conspired to scare me into seeing something sinister where there was nothing but nothing. I had met the enemy and it was me.

Story-a-Day May Day 5’s fluffy bit of desperation. It’s based on the premise of finding that first statement on the whiteboard in your office. Started this late and finished before midnight. I’m done until I see you all tomorrow. Another chance to get it right.

The Band Plays On

The heartbeat of Spring
taps on my roof and
the winds turn the trees
into a percussion section.
The band plays on.

As I lie here, I hear
my heart beat in time
with the rain, while
a Springtime cold turns
my breath into woodwinds.
And the band plays on.

Somewhere out in the rain,
a man with no roof,
the opening in the overpass
for a window, hums his anthem.
And his band plays on.

People rush past him
as if driven by wind,
shoulders shrugged,
an audience sensing only
its own music.
The band playing on and on.

Working At It

Ed Snyder laid on his back in the dark bedroom with uncertainty and a touch of anger lying on the pillow next to him. The sun peeked around the bedroom curtains and knocked on his locked eyelids with the persistence of a teenager’s mom. Begrudgingly, his peepers responded to the maternal illumination and his ears to the music of the cheepers dancing from one leafy party to another. Even the dust motes floated in amiable ambling through morning’s cataract of light flaring in the cataracts of his sight. His phone decreed it was 7:00 AM and he couldn’t remember of which day. They all had become the same in his lonely retirement. He thought these days would be like heaven but discovered it could be just like the lingering death of his final years on the job, when he would dream of all the things he’d do in his life when he retired and hadn’t started even one yet. The talking hairdo on the television said today was Thursday and he realized he’d reached what would have been the end of a week having accomplished nothing. Again. He shrugged on a jacket and stepped outside into the world. He whistled into the trees, joining their orchestra, and let the sun carry him along like a sentient and content dust fleck on this first day of his new job…Working at Living.

I think we’ll use this piece for Day 4’s shot at my Story-a-Day challenge. It’s written in the form of a prose poem (I guess) and it hits the right buttons in meeting the basic prompt for today from author LJ Cohen, a version of Writer’s Clue:  Mr. ___________ in the _________ room with a __________.

Tomorrow, Yesterday and Today

As she flumped down onto the macramé throw covering her grandmother’s old sofa and clicked on the television, Alice Ann Gibbons was thankful for the bag of Cheetos, the can of Dr. Pepper and the coming escape from reality in the new show she’d discovered on channel 66.

She didn’t know its title because it was always on and never broke for commercials, which made offloading that Dr. Pepper a last-second decision. She could barely tear her eyes from the screen while she had it on, and she had it on every day now.

It’d been another day at Jackson Junior High School like all the others. One in which Alice Ann wished she could be home-schooled, or maybe just disappear altogether.

Things weren’t much easier in elementary school, where the kids always teased her about her too-big nose and too-little eyes, but junior high school had become agony. This was where she’d been shoved into the interior of more lockers than a week’s worth of bologna sandwiches. Where whispers and giggles about her thick-lensed glasses became jeers and howls while they were tossed about the classroom. Where the choice left to a sensitive 13-year-old girl of being bullied every day or totally shunned and isolated was never a decision. She was either or both and never by her own choice.

But here on the saggy old couch in her grandmother’s basement, where she’d always spent her after-school afternoons and early evenings waiting for her grandmother to get home, she would always read teen urban fantasy books, books about teen heroines in dystopian societies and science fiction novels with spunky girl lead characters. All the type of girls she longed to be, but knew she never would.

One afternoon, having finished her latest book and with nothing left to read, Alice Ann turned on the television and clicked through the channels, hoping against hope she’d find something as interesting and full of imaginative possibilities as her books. Her grandmother’s basic cable service offered a quite limited menu of options during the hours: comedy reruns, twenty-year-old crime dramas, cable news, vapid teen and tween shows and alleged reality tv programs. She went from channel 0 to 60, the end of Grandma Gibbons’ basic cable tier, but kept her thumb on the clicker, flipping through five channels of snow and white noise until it hit channel 66.

There she saw a girl her own age staring into the camera as if she was looking directly at Alice Ann. She usually was dressed in tight-fitting outfits of stretchy material that Alice Ann would be embarrassed to where, but intrigued her nonetheless.

“What in the world is this thing?” Alice Ann said to herself the first three afternoons she watched. She’d watch the girl push buttons with her thumbs on the surface of, and talk into, a shiny flat instrument as thin as a third of a deck of cards. She’d see the girl, whose name she learned was Allie, look right at Alice Ann but talk to girls named Bella and Quinn. And sometimes the room would be empty, save for the flashing of lights and the gurgle of Allie’s aquarium.

But on the fifth afternoon, Alice Ann’s natural curiosity hit a wall when three things happened.

First, Allie started typing into a keyboard of some kind that she balanced on her lap, speaking as she typed: “May second, 2077.”

“What”” Alice Ann said.

“Today, I think I found a lead on my great-great aunt. Turns out she’s that famous author…”

“Alice Ann, I’m home!” Grandma’s voice called from upstairs. She was home an hour early and Alice Ann hadn’t cracked a book for homework yet.

“Um, down here, Grandma,” Alice Ann said as she muted the television and opened her Math book.

“What in the world are you watching, honey?” Grandma Gibbons asked.

“Oh, just this weird show I sometimes turn on while I do my homework. Mindless stuff. I’ll turn it off.”

“Why bother, Alice Ann. All that’s on the screen is static.”

“What? You don’t see…?”

“Dinner in thirty minutes, honey. You keep your Channel 66 white noise on and keep working. Just don’t flip it over to that stupid MTV,” Grandma said and scooted upstairs.

“No, of course not, Grandma. Thanks.”

Alice Ann turned to the television screen and saw Allie smiling while staring intently into the camera. She turned the sound back on just as Allie said, “Yup, now I’m gonna find out more about you, Aunt…”

“Allie, dinner!” A tall teenaged boy poked his head into the bedroom and shouted.

“Get out of here, Gio. I’ll be down in a minute. I just need to close this research file for my family history project.”

Who the boy left, Allie turned to the camera once more and clicked something on her desk.

“Okay, you, I know your real story’s out there somewhere and your either gonna tell me it or I’ll dig it out myself. I know this back cover bio is bull,” Allie said to no one but just as easily to Alice Ann.

She held up the book and Alice Ann saw the blur of a book cover framing a photo of a dark-haired woman with a prominent nose and close-set eyes.

“Yup, now that I’m sure, I understand why I always read so much of your stuff and want to write my own stories,” Allie said as she looked at the back cover. “And now I know where I got this silly name of mine.”

Before Allie put down the book and headed downstairs for dinner, Alice Ann caught a look of the cover of the book Alllie held. On a blue field were the words, “Tomorrow, Yesterday and Today,” and below that it read:

“By Six-Time NY Times Best-Selling Author A.A. Gibbons.”

For Day 2’s Story-a-Day May piece, I was charged to write a story based on the following prompt from best-selling author Jerry B. Jenkins:

 A socially awkward girl in her early teens is a latchkey kid, alone at home after school as usual. Flipping through channels she lands on one she soon realizes only she can see—and it’s from the future.

I worked pretty quickly, but this is the first draft sketch of an idea for a story about as far from my wheelhouse as I want to reach. And that’s what makes Story-a-Day May so damn much fun.