That Last Hug

“How are you today?”
I ask too often,
speaking it into that empty space
where something of you remains.
Not like a photo,
since my memory is of someone
who probably doesn’t or never did exist.
This is the space where
I’ve kept something you wore that
conveys more than a fuzzy, faded look
of care-less I never did accept.
Even with years of hanging
in the back of my mind’s closet,
I can hold it by the hand,
impart some of my own warmth
to it, hoping it might echo
the sense of a hug and the aroma
of perfume and sweat that’d
mean more to me now than a slight smile
suspended from red-reflected eyes
an Instamatic caught in
a moment of surprise…
or maybe disappointment.
So I ask, “How are you today?”
though I probably wouldn’t
recognize your voice,
just the warm smell of you
from a last hug I made last.

Reverse Flip With a Half-Twist

“I don’t need you.”

“No, I suppose you don’t. No one does.”

“But I want you.”

“You’re the only one then, I’m pretty sure. But if you don’t need me, taking care of a want is a relatively simple fix. Temporary, too.”

“Why must you always look at things so squarely, so black and white? Can’t you just live for the moment?”

“I tried that and ended up worrying how long I could do it. Figured until Thursday next. Nope, mindfulness didn’t take.”

“Oooooh, you’re so exasperating. I don’t know what in the world I saw in you.”

“Couldn’t have been my sterling personality. Though the snappy repartee has its merits.”

“You think this is ‘snappy?’”

“We’re at least talking. Can I hold your hand, too?”

“Um, sure. I’d like that.”

“I don’t think I ever realized this about your hands. Soft here, firm here, and the nails…”

“Okay, I chew my nails. It’s cheaper than Xanax.”

“That might be true. I wonder which is harder, quitting Xanax or chewing your nails.”

“I don’t know. I’ve never tried to quit Xanax. The nails I’ve tried since I was eight. My mother and the nuns…”

“Takes discipline and maybe a lot more want-to than you might be willing to give.”

“Like I said, I want you. Maybe that’s where all my want-to goes.”

“It really doesn’t have to take all that much.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, I kinda want you, too.”

“You do?”

“I’m still here talking aren’t I?”

“True. How much do you want me?”

“I want you more than… Well, let’s just say I’m the one who needs you, maybe even more than I want you. And that’s plenty.”

“That’s kind of confusing, but also kind of sweet…I think.”

“I know. My communication skills aren’t as polished as yours. And I have more rough edges than I should. But you smooth a lot of them down.”

“I like you smooth. Like your skin. I noticed you shaved.”

“Yeah. I hoped maybe we might be getting a little closer after we had this talk you wanted.”

“Why don’t we get out of here and go to my place and continue this talk. First though, I’ve got to go to the bathroom.”

“Okay. The men’s room is down there on the right. Where that hot guy with the bubble butt just came out.”

“So much for the smooth portion of tonight’s programing, Jennifer. I’ll be back in two minutes.”

“Bobby, when we get back to my place, I’m gonna show you something you really need. Five feet, three inches of smooth.”

“I’ll be back in one.”

“That’s my boy.”

“That’s my girl.”

Sat down and wrote that first sentence. Then I began hearing this conversation. Even envisioned the couple. But about halfway through transcribing my fictive eavesdrop, I realized the gender roles weren’t what one would think they “should” be just by “hearing” their voices.. That’s when the thought came to me of what this little exercise was all about. The roles we play, that society expects of us. Labels. Expectations. Roles. I think Jennifer and Bobby are fine just as they are. And there’s just enough weirdo, voyeur writer in me to want to be a fly on the wall back at Jennifer’s an hour from now.

But Never Fell

The wind is a harsh mistress,
pushing the trees away one minute
then caressing and singing songs
older than time to them the next.
She fills their leafy lungs
and billows their chests with
faint whispers and panicked panting,
giving them voice as over decades
they reach skyward, their arms open
to accept as much of her attention
as they dare.

You know that feeling, that sense
of the cold shiver following
the touch that sends your skin
to chattering chill and then heat
like August’s exhalation exultation
when storm is near. You’ve felt
the caress and heard the whispers
that shaped you and carved initials
if not into your skin then for sure
your heartwood.

Thank you, my winds, my zephyrs,
my barely-there passing-throughs,
my gales, my limb-lifting,
branch-breaking darlings.
I bow in your memories as I bent
to your whims. Bent, but never fell.

The Only Thing Left I Can Do

I suppose I’ve got nothing more to lose.
That’s the consensus of all the voices I hear,
though none come from out there with you.
I’ve been scraping along for quite a while
with this rudderless, leaky vessel,
which probably is why it’s still so busted.
I just can’t stop trying to make it go,
when I know it wants to sink in a final dip
from where it will not rise. You didn’t wreck it,
nor did any other You.
I did.

And now it’s time, I’ve made my decision.
I’m pulling it from it’s upstream fight,
because I need to make that final stretch,
with you aboard or not.
It won’t hold the sinking out
and it can’t keep the love in.
Whether anyone admits it or not,
we’re not done yet. So now
the only thing left I can do with
old, adrift broken hearts…
is mend them.

In Tennessee Whiskey Veritas

At Pete and Ginny’s cafe cum gin joint, the bar runs from the bright front window down to the shadows by the kitchen door. The light here gets progressively darker as you walk along the mahogany and brass path from our perky entrance to possible perdition, as if you’re diving deeper into the ocean.

Today, it looked like one of our regulars, Ben Frazee, was exploring the Marianas Trench of alcoholic melancholy. At the far end of the bar, Ben seemed to be sucking in darkness as much as booze, like he was hoping to suffocate — or drown — whatever lick of flame he still carried for his now-ex Kasie Dellasandro.

“Hey, Ben. What’s happening, brother? Pete been taking care of you?” I said as I came on shift. He merely raised his chin in greeting, mumbled something and then stared back into his glass, somehow deeper than the six inches of melted silica, Tennessee ethanol and frozen H2O that sat before him.

“Dude, if you looked any lower you’d be staring at the world from under those rocks,” I said.

“Does it matter? Maybe that’s what I need, a different point of view, like looking through the bottom of this glass. Even at six bucks a shot,” Ben said as he sucked down that last puddle of whiskey. Then he crunched on an ice cube and I shivered a little.

He pushed the glass toward me, saying, “Y’know? Things looked much better. Gimme another glass of enlightenment, Kenny.”

“Girl trouble?” I asked while shoveling him his Jack and Coke.

“Does it matter? All us birds perched on this mahogany are here for some sad reason, otherwise we wouldn’t start drinking at noon on a Tuesday. Now would we?”

“Well, that makes the boss glad. But even after five years of distributing liquid psychotherapy, sometimes serving the tail end of this early crowd makes me feel kinda guilty.”

“Don’t. I’m fine. We’re all fine. And no bitch will ever drive me to drink. Or that’s what SHE said. I can drive just fine on my own and if not, then there’s always Uber. Of course, then a bitch might be driving me FROM drink.” Ben, quieted for a second and then let out a laugh at his own drunk joke. But I couldn’t laugh at the poor guy.

“So maybe you might slow your roll for a while. Okay? Make me feel a little better.”

“Aw, okay, Kenny. You know, I always liked you. Straight shooter, good listener, you don’t overdo the ice , you don’t stick any fruity-ass fruit in my glass and you don’t chintz on the whiskey. You’re a saint, brother,” Ben said as he extended his hand to shake mine. When I let go, I noticed there was a ten-spot stuck to my palm. 

I told him the next one was on me, but that would be it for a while. I thought he was going to cry right there, but I wasn’t sure of the exact reason. Sometimes drunks are hard to figure out.

At my break I slipped away from the noise to call Kasie to tell her how Ben was handling their breakup.

“It doesn’t matter, baby. Don’t forget to pick up some milk on your way here after closing time. Gimme a call so I can…turn the on porch light for ya. Okay?” she said. Then hung up.

When I got back behind the bar, I noticed Ben was gone and never touched his last drink. I took a sip before I dumped it. That’s when I realized I forgot to ask Kasie what kind of milk she wanted. I decided it really didn’t matter. I’d go home to my place after work instead. 

Sometimes women are hard to figure out. Just like some drunks. Love is too. But what the hell does that matter, either?

 

A Touch of Memory

Why I can never let go?
Is it because your invisible grip
remains on my memory,
that guilelessly smooth
expanse where the world
has left ridges, whorls
and smudges to mark its passage
through the my library halls?
Despite the Hands Off signs
I’ve scattered, the mess
everyone left has rendered
any of my reflections
impossible to grasp.
Except where you’ve left
your glancing caress.
I keep that hidden
so no onecan mar where
your fingertips will linger
upon my face whenever I look
on this space I hold dear.
And where I hold you, dear,
never to let go.

Crumbs

Photo by Jody McKinney

Becky loved her brother, Ben, but hated how he’d chase guys off from dating her.

“He’s not good for you, Becks. You deserve so much better,” he’d say.

So Becky would look for solace in the kitchen, baking — and eating — cookies and cakes that would drive Ben crazy with their seductive aroma.

“Oh, man, Becks, that smells incredible. Lemme have a piece,” Ben would say.

And Becky would slap his hand, replying, “It’s not ready yet. It needs time before I can make it pretty.”

“But, Becks, it’s pretty enough now.”

“Sorry. And Coach Babbitt will pitch a fit if you can’t make weight this week. Besides, it’s not good for you,” Becky would remind her wrestler brother.

After a match, he’d burst through the door looking for whatever Becky had made. “Did you leave anything for me?” he’d always say. But, inevitably, he’d find Becky had finished most, if not all, of her creation.

In April, Becky started seeing Art Linski. He was looking for some of Becky’s delights, too. Just not the baked kind.

“No, Art, I’m just not ready,” she said.

But Art wasn’t to be denied and violently took what he could.

In an alley the next night, Art Linski looked up with his one good eye at Ben Stenson, and whined through swollen, bloody lips, “I’m sorry. Please, please, no more.”

Then Art heard a girl’s voice from the shadows. “Thanks, Ben. Did you leave anything for me?”

“Just a crumb, babe,” Ben said.

A super-quick flash story in response to this week’s Thursday’s Threads friendly competition on novelist Siobhan Muir’s website.  The story was prompted by, and must include, the phrase, “Did you leave anything for me?” I’d say not too bad a first draft batter of words. Fluffy, bittersweet and ready for a little more to make it pretty.