Her Hand Still on His Heart

She was the first one,
back when his armor still shone,
as did the chains that
always dragged him back home.
But for a while,
he held her in his hand,
and she held his,
almost leading him to her promised land.
But promises cut two ways,
like a broadsword drawn.
And swung like a gate,
in two pieces hearts can be sawn.
You can live a long time
on half a heart;
just seems so much longer
when she still holds the other part.

Cheating. Death.

Source: Dreamstime

Edmund Deane pulled his Subaru up to the figure in the gray hoodie and baggie jeans hitchhiking on Rte. 9 and thought how you didn’t see much of that anymore.

“Where ya headed?” he asked when he rolled down the window.

“North,” came the faint reply. 

Now, Edmund didn’t like surprises when driving the back way through the Adirondacks, but the surprise of that voice and the face shrouded within that hood was one he felt he really didn’t need. They belonged to a pretty girl of no more than 18. And as Edmund was about to say he was heading west (Which he wasn’t; he just didn’t need some possibly underage girl in his car alone.), she opened the door and took a seat.

“Thanks, mister. I just gotta get as many miles as I can outta this shit hole before dark,” she said as she put her backpack between her feet.

“Um, okay. Any particular area you want to end up?”

“Plattsburgh, Montreal. At this point I’m in no position to be choosy,” she said, smiling an endearing but practiced smile.

“I can take you as far as Plattsburgh,” Edmund said. “After that, you’re on your own.” She twisted in the seat and looked back over her shoulder as the Subaru maneuvered through an S in the roadway.

“That’d be great.”

After that, she was silent, save for a “hmmm,” “yup,” or “nope.” Edmund guessed he just asked the wrong questions.

Finally, just south of Elizabethtown, the girl turned to him, pointed at his ring and said, “You ever cheat on your wife?” 

“What?!”

“Cheat, roam, cast your seed in distant fields, break your marital vows’s ’til death do us part’ part.”

“I don’t see as that’s anybody’s business but mine. And my wife’s, of course.”

“So should I take that non-denial as a Yes?” she said, studying Edmund’s eyes.

“Look, I’m doing you a favor here, and you haven’t exactly been conversational, let alone forthcoming, for the past forty miles,” he said.

“I kinda thought that’s what I’m doing. Starting a conversation.”

“One would usually expect to talk about the weather or the Yankees or where they’re from or school in a situation like this.”

“I have no control over the weather, I don’t like sports, I haven’t had a home in four years and I don’t go to school.”

“I see. Well, what is it you do then?”

“Fuck,” she said as matter-of-fact as she would, “I’m a checkout girl at Price Chopper.”

“Excuse me?” Edmund could feel his face redden and stomach tighten.

“You know, screw. For money. Though not enough around here. That’s why I’m headed north. To some cities where the markets and demand for my service might be stronger.”

“I see. Aren’t you a little young for such…”

“Are you shitting me? Don’t you read the papers? Listen to the news? I’m almost over the hill for what most of these bastards want these days. So I gotta strike while the iron, among other things, is still hot.”

“I see,” Edmund said. 

“By the way, Allysin.”

“Excuse me?”

“My name. Allysin. You never asked.”

“Thank you. I’d prefer that line of discourse rather than the preceding uncomfortable talk.”

“That’s not my real name, of course.”

“What do you mean?”

“That’s my, shall we say, ‘stage name.’ I spell it A-L-L-Y-S-I-N. Get it? Ally’s Sin. Cute, huh?”

“Just darling,” Edmund said. 

“You never did answer my question, umm… Shit, you never gave me your name, either,” Allysin said.

“Edmund,” he said.

“Really?” she said with a laugh. “You go by Edmund?”

“It’s my name.” Now Edmund’s discomfort was nudging into annoyance. He thought about pulling over and tossing her the hell out near Deerhead.

“Well, Eddie, you still haven’t told me me yes or no about stepping out on the little woman,” she said.

“My wife’s dead. ALS, Lou Gehrig’s Disease,” he said, thinking the roadside here looked like as good a spot as any.

“Sorry, man. That’s rough. I understand those poor folks can just lay there and linger for quite a while.”

“She did.”

“So is that when you cheated?”

“That’s it.” Edmund said, pulling the car off to the side of the road and screeching to a stop. “Get the hell out of my car.”

“Okay. Okay. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean anything by it. I just like to know more about the male mind. After all these years, it’s still tossing me some riddles I can’t answer. I got a lot to learn. It’s why I had to get out of town so fast back down there.”

“You certainly do have a lot to learn, young lady,” Edmund said, his pulse thumping in his temples.

“Really, I’m sorry. The Life tends to deaden a girl’s feelings for others sometimes. Since all anyone wants from you, on a good day, is what passes for lovin’. You could say your name was Beyoncé, or even be her for that matter, and they wouldn’t give a shit. They just want to get their rocks off. So, while I’m giving them a fair performance, I’m more than likely also thinking about what I’ll have for breakfast at the all-night diner,” Allysin said.

“But that doesn’t give you any right to hurt or insult people you don’t even know. I’m trying to remember my wife when we were young and she was a beautiful, vibrant girl. I don’t need your help in remembering the ugly parts of her last days.”

“Sorry, Edmund. Okay, I’ll get out here. I may not make it to Plattsburgh by dark now, but I’ve been in worst pinches. So, I’ll just leave you and …shit. Is that fucking snow?”

Sure enough, the first flakes of a snowfall rolling down the Champlain Valley settled on the hood and windshield of Edmund’s car and transformed into tiny puddles.

“Damn it. I wanted to be in town before the snow hit,” Edmund said. “I can’t just leave you out here in the middle of a snowstorm. Close the door, Allysin. I’ll get you to Plattsburgh, but that’s it. And no more questions.”

“Sure, Eddie. I owe you a solid, man. I’ve got a few bucks here you can have for some gas.”

“No. I was going this way anyway. You were just going to be a good deed I could do on a crap weather day in the North Country. You looked pretty forlorn there by the side of the road,” Edmund said.

“Well, I was,” Allysin said.

“Yes, you were. How’d you ever end up in this situation anyway?”

“I thought you said no questions.”

“You’re right. None of my business. Sorry. Radio silence from now on. Besides, this snow’s getting heavy and I should keep my mind on the driving,” Edmund said. 

“Nah, it’s no surprising story. Had a mother who drugged herself to death and a drunk ol’ grandma. Each of them had slimeball boyfriends, if you could call the motherfuckers boys. And, depending on the day and the amount of intoxicant they were havin’, I was either in the way or their idea of a guest towel,” Allysin said.

Now it was Edmund’s turn to “hmmm,” “yup,” or “nope.” 

The snowflakes were getting larger, clinging to one another. That combination of their size and the speed of Edmund’s car made them hit the windshield with a constant patter of dull splats. A sign said I-87, the main highway between Albany and the Canadian border was only two miles ahead.

“I think it would be a good idea if we left this road and got onto the Northway. They take care of that better in the snow the nearer we get to Plattsburgh,” Edmund said.

“Sure, Edmund. Quicker you get there, the sooner you’ll be rid of me,” Allysin said.

“Oh, I guess you’re not that bad a traveling companion, Allysin,” Edmund said. “You’ve had it rough. Too much hard life for someone so young. Like I said, I just didn’t need to be reminded of…that time.”

“Sure, Eddie.”

As Edmund pulled onto the main highway, twilight had pulled the curtains on that Thursday. The storm had taken care of the blinds. The headlights of the southbound vehicles glared brightly into northbound lanes of traffic.

“Wasn’t expecting it to get this bad this fast,” Edmund said.

“Well just keep the tires and your eyes on the road, man,” Allysin replied, her voice a little higher pitched, sounding more like the teenager she was than the woman she’d become.

From behind, a speeding Kenworth’s white-hot halogen lamps filled the interior of the Subaru with a harsh daylight, starling Edmund and Allysin.

And as the sliding semi bumped the back end of the car, they each looked at one another and, for a moment, Edmund saw Jill Bentley from work on that late night they had sex under a light in his office building’s empty parking lot.

Allysin looked and wondered if this is what her dad might look like had her mother not been such a party girl she knew who her little Alicia’s father really was. 

Edmund saw the light reflected in Allysin’s eyes and for the first time realized they were flecked with gold, just the way his Susan’s were. How they read his eyes from a face and body unmoving while a machine gasped air out and coughed air into her lungs. Those gold-flecked eyes he couldn’t look at for long because he knew she couldn’t know, yet was certain she did.

And Allysin blinked and saw Boomer Grandjean about to hit her again and again, just like he always did when he’d had a day’s worth of Spice. Okay, and whenever she cheated him on some of his cut of her take. The way Edmund’s eyes grew so large were just like Boomer’s after she’d stuck him four times in the chest that morning.

The Kenworth blew past them going about 80, swerving a little too and fro, while Edmund tried slowing the Subaru and his heart. With a sigh, they each knew they had cheated death at that moment. The truck had kicked up a cloud of white which now surrounded them like they were flying through a cloud, a whiteout illuminated in Edmund’s headlights.

Allysin grasped the dashboard and said, “Sweet, Jesus! I half expected I’d be seeing angels in this stuff a few seconds ago.” 

Edmund reached over and placed his hand on Allysin’s, taking his eye’s off the road for a second. In that moment, though, the trailer appeared out of the snow in front of them, jackknifed, ninety degrees to the roadway. 

And that was that. Two people, each cheaters in their own way, had cheated death together. Maybe Death has a moral code, though, recognizing there should be some kind of penance for such sins. Or maybe Death is a vindictive bitch who does not stand for being cheated at its own game. Ultimately, Death always wins.

First story-ish thing in a long time. This was supposed to be a response to writer Cara Michaels’ weekly Menage Monday feature. I was to write a flash fiction piece of no more than 250 words using three prompts: That photo up there, the phrase “can’t cheat death,” and the premise of a road trip. As you may know, I’ve been struggling lately with my creative life, so I just jumped in and kept writing until I thought I was done. I’m not, but this is as far as I’ll go with this first draft.

You’d Even Knock First

A guy can scour his life
to collect all the keys
so no one can slip into
his heart without asking.
But it seems one or two
will always escape
his protective diligence.
Maybe one fell from his pocket
that day as he walked out
of their heart.
Or perhaps someone purloined it
just to mess with his key count
when he thought he was safe
from anyone looking into
his unmentionables in there.
Or maybe (most likely probably),
he just slid it under their pillow
or at the bottom of a pile of
memories he left with them.
In that case he’s abetted
his own breaking and entering,
which is interesting
when you think almost anyone
can enter what’s already broken.
But only you would use the key.
Probably would even knock first.

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.

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.

The Struggle Continues

I think of you too much and not enough,
these days and nights since you left me behind.
The “thinking” is something that feels so rough,
while the “not” just makes me feel so unkind.

But kindness is like beauty to a beholder,
and beholders can wear glasses of rose.
My flaw was choosing when to be bolder,
but too often instead of choosing I froze.

That’s how I lost what was a thing unique,
and now I know it’s more than that I’ve wasted.
But this is what comes from being so meek,
not daring to take Prufrock’s peach and taste it.

So today I just sit here and fritter
instead of sharing some time, just you and Joe.
If I’d spoken up would I still be bitter?
Perhaps, but I didn’t, so we’ll never know.

But I like to think this poem you’re reading,
and it’s collecting some transcendent due.
Someday, again we’ll share two souls beating,
since just one heart’s left whole instead of two.

This is such a struggle. The writing, the creating, the imagining, they’ve all gone away it seems. Too long under the pall of my losses. Even though one’s now somewhat mitigated. But I keep trying. If I can’t keep lit that old candle, maybe I can strike a spark and start a wildfire with the dry leavings of what once was so verdant and alive.

Wherefore and Why

He thought he’d search today
for that old photograph.
And he was not sure why.
They never talked anymore,
the bloom off that rose like
the youth off that old image.
But still he rummaged,
through notebooks and pens,
books and file folders,
memories and other memories,
real and imagined.
And he was not sure why.
Until then he found it,
dogeared and scuffed,
within a spiral bound
remembrance he’d created
when he wasn’t looking,
not even thinking of it.
And he was not sure why.
But there was the smile
that lit so many dark days
and darker nights, like
the sun continues to glow
in its recalled place
behind his closed eyes.
And then he knew why.
With one smile he knew why.