Sifting Through the Dust

The tactile memories have
flown with the winds of time,
carried on the dust
of crumbled happiness.
Would you recognize the voice
if it echoed back, back, back
to your age-muffled ears?
Would you attest, “Yes, that’s
the one,” should they approach
through these dark dreamy mists?
Probably not, since all you recall
are feelings, emotional placeholders,
little more than silhouettes
of erstwhile three dimensional,
wished-for perceptions.
So why do you hold onto
these faded portraits
of the never-really was?
Perhaps it’s because you hope
someone’s sifting through the dust
of shadow-thin memories of You,
and wondering, too.

Just Enough

“Think she’ll answer?”

“I don’t know. It’s been so long since we talked. At least with a civil tone.”

“Then why the hell are you calling her in the first place?”

“To hear her voice again, I guess.”

“A voice you haven’t heard in…”

“Fifteen years or so.”

“Lotta things can change in fifteen years.”

“Or so.”

“Yeah. Like maybe she won’t recognize your name, let alone your voice.”

“Sometimes you just have to take the leap.”

“And all this leaping and listening serves what purpose?”

“Closure.”

“Closure of something for which there never was an open-sure.”

“That’s because I never tried knocking.”

“Oh, is that what they called it in the 90s?”

“Shut up. I’m serious. I never admitted my, my…”

“Infatuation? Obsession? Hallucination?”

“You can always leave, you know. You’re not helping my anxiety about this one bit.”

“And rightly so. Do you seriously believe that a woman you knew as barely a friend will be interested in talking to you for the first time in fifteen years, let alone being open to your ‘knocking’ her?”

“No. I don’t. But if I don’t try, even just saying hi, I’ll never have that moment like at the near end of ‘Love, Actually.’ You know, when Keira Knightley comes running out of her house, with her husband — Chiwetel Ejiofor no less — back inside waiting for her, to chase after Andrew Lincoln, since he professed his pretty much undying love for her.”

“Yeah, and she kissed him and gave him a sigh and a look like, ‘too late, but maybe if you tried hitting on me before MY HUSBAND did, I’d have been down with you being the male half of this It Couple in hip London circles. So maybe…’ Is that what you want?”

“Well, maybe. But actually, I’d be happy with what happens next.”

“Which was?”

“He walks away from his great love feeling somewhat like he’s found a kind of closure. And he says what I want to feel, one way or another.”

“I repeat: Which was?”

“He says, ‘Enough. Enough now.’ I just want that.”

“What?”

“Just…Enough.”

Two weeks ago, I was lucky enough to have a bit of flash fiction I cobbled together selected to win a weekly competition, Siobhan Muir’s Thursday Threads. At 250 words or less, I think I may have just ‘cobbed’ it together. I was stunned and heartened by that honor. To say I needed that approbation of late can’t be overstated. I’m hurting in the creative part of my life as much as the others. So this week, folks were supposed to take a snippet of words from my story (the first line up there) to write a new one. I couldn’t get to it then, but felt the urge today to try. I’m afraid I just let the voices go and this is what happened. First draft, free write., too long for the competition. But for my writing muscles and creative needs? And my heart? Just Enough.

Just Can’t Stop It ~ A Pantoum

She’s not sure even she knows
Why she thinks of him still.
And she just can’t stop it,
Even though she’s tried not thinking at all.

Why she thinks of him still.
She’ll only whisper in the dark.
Even though she’s tried not thinking at all,
It’s his voice she hears there beside her.

She’ll only whisper in the dark.
What she never admitted out loud.
It’s his voice she hears there beside her.
Whispering what she wished he’d said.

What she never admitted out loud,
She’s not sure even she knows.
Whispering what she wished he’d said,
And she just can’t stop it.

An old friend suggested I join her and some of her other friends in creating a special form of poem called a pantoum. It is built on four-line stanzas that repeat certain lines that occurred earlier in the poem. In my present state of creative malaise (AKA paralysis), I thought it would tear my brain in two. But I tried and all it tore was my heart.

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.

That Nothing We Shared

I wish we could talk,
just talk,
but then I realize
talking always
got in the way.
I’d say something
just to fill
the vacuum between us,
and since words
won’t carry across a vacuum,
you’d intuit in your way
that I’d said something
I never meant.
I never blamed you.
I don’t like blame.
Though, if I did,
I’d blame the vacuum,
the nothing we shared
which was everything.

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.

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.